Analyze This: U.Va.'s Stephen Macko Checks Out Diane Sawyer's Hair

March 13, 2008 — U.Va. environmental sciences professor Stephen Macko served as a science consultant on "Good Morning America" Thursday, March 13, for a segment about the documentary film, "King Corn." Macko and his stable isotope lab are featured in the film, which is about the ubiquitous use of corn in the American diet.

Macko recently analyzed a sample of Diane Sawyer's hair for "Good Morning America" and his findings were presented during the “King Corn” interview segment (he found that Sawyer consumes corn, but not as much as most Americans). The segment featured "King Corn" producers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis in the studio. The two filmmakers approached Macko two years ago to obtain the services of his lab for the film.

The food we eat is stored as a sort of permanent chemical signature in our hair. Corn is in nearly every processed food or drink that Americans consume, and therefore its signature is in the very chemistry of every American and any person in the world who consumes a modern diet of processed foods, much of which contains corn syrup.

Macko is known for his wide-ranging research, including analysis of hair from ancient mummies of Egypt and Chile, Jamestown colonial residents and the 5,200-year-old "Ice Man," whose frozen body was found in the Oetztaler Alps. In each case, he was able to determine the diet of these people — some of whom never ate corn, or very little of it.

"King Corn" documents the journeys of the filmmakers as they travel the United States from Macko's lab to the cornfields of the Midwest, to grain mills and processing plants, to the grocery stores and restaurants where corn-based products are sold.

The film has been screened in Washington, D.C., New York, Boston and Los Angeles. It is available on DVD, and is preliminarily slated to appear on PBS next month.

— By Fariss Samarrai