Tag Archives: anatomy

Did You Know… Your Skin Can Smell. And the Scent of Candlewood Makes It Heal Itself

Olfactory receptors are the cells which give us our sense of smell. The average human has five to six million of these olfactory receptors in their nose.

Though there are other creatures with more powerful noses (dogs have up to 220 million olfactory receptors), the human sense of smell is actually one of the more acute in the animal kingdom.

But olfactory receptors aren’t just in the nose. In recent years, scientists have been finding them in all kinds of strange places: the spine, the kidney- even in sperm!

Recently, a group of researchers from the Hanns Hatt’s lab at Germany’s Ruhr University of Bochum discovered that these smell cells are also in our skin. And what’s more, these olfactory receptors seem to be involved in the healing process. Their results were published in the journal Nature.

Ruhr University of Bochum

One of the olfactory receptors they found in the skin is known as OR2AT4. Furthermore, the researchers found that Sandalore (a synthetic sandalwood oil that’s often used in aromatherapy) bonded to the OR2AT4 receptors in the skin.

But rather than sending a signal to the brain when it bonded (like the receptors in your nose do), the Sandalore triggered the skin cells to divide and migrate- the two processes that your skin uses to heal itself.

In their experiments, the researchers mixed skin cells with Sandalore in test tubes and cultures for five days. They found that in the presence of Sandalore, new skin cells were created (through cell division) 32% faster and migrated 50% more than skin cells that hadn’t been exposed to the oil.

Pieces of Sandalore wood (Courtesy of PBS)

The results were undoubtedly impressive, but the researchers also pointed out that just like everyone’s noses are different, so are the smell receptors in our skin. Some people have more, some have less.

Just how much of an impact sandalwood oil has on the healing process depends on the amount and the type of olfactory receptors in your skin.

Check out the original story from PBS here.

Korean Scientists Just Built A Two-Legged Robot That Can Outrun Usain Bolt (Video)

They call it the “Raptor”, and its design is largely based on the anatomy and dynamic movement of the velociraptor which roamed the Earth nearly 100 million years ago.

At 46 km/h (26.8 mph), it is the fastest two-footed robot ever, faster even than the world’s fastest man Usian Bolt, whose top speed has been clocked at 43.92 km/h.

The robot, designed by scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), uses a number of elements from nature, including an “achilles tendon” which helps with shock absorption and a tail which assists with balance.

These features allow the robot to navigate over obstacles without hardly breaking stride.

However, the robot is still confined to the treadmill, needing a bar for support.

For more, check out the original story from the International Business Times here.

Doctors Are About to Start “Deep-Freezing” Humans For Suspended Animation Trials

You’ve probably seen it in sci-fi books or films before: some doctor or mad scientist will deep-freeze a patient only to bring them back to life later on. Well, suspended animation, as the process is called, is no longer a figment of the science fiction imagination.

This month at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 10 people will be put into suspended animation. But rather than using the process for intergalactic travel or some other futuristic application, the doctors will use it to try to save the lives of patients with wounds that would otherwise be lethal.

The real process is arguably crazier than the methods typically seen in science fiction. Rather than cooling the body externally (as is usually the case in science fiction), the doctors will actually drain all of the blood out of the patient, replacing it with a cold saline (saltwater) solution.

The solution cools the patient, slowing bodily functions to a halt and significantly reducing the body’s need for oxygen. Keeping the body in a state of suspended animation buys doctors and surgeons more time to repair the damage.

The technique was designed by Dr. Peter Rhee, who successfully tested it on pigs in 2000. Rhee and his colleagues induced fatal wounds to the pigs by cutting arteries, then replaced their blood with the saline solution, which cooled their body to 10º C (48º F).

Dr. Peter Rhee (Image: Tucson Sentinel)

All of the pigs in the control group (the ones that weren’t put into suspended animation) died, but the pigs who were put into suspended animation and then resuscitated at a moderate rate had a whopping 90% survival rate. Even more impressively, these pigs showed no signs of physical or mental impairment as a result of the process.

The procedure will be tested on patients who have gone into cardiac arrest and lost at least half of their blood as a result of a traumatic injury, a group with only a 7% survival rate. Though the body can only handle the suspended animation for a few hours, any increase in the survival rate of these patients will be a huge step forward for the medical field.

Read more from CNET here.

New Discovery: HIV Can “Cut and Paste” In Our Genome, Allowing Us To Use It to Repair Genetic Conditions

Researchers in the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark just did something truly amazing: they altered particles of the HIV virus to simultaneously “cut and paste” within our genome. Here’s Jacob Giehm Mikkelsen, associate genetics professor at Aarhus:

“Now we can simultaneously cut out the part of the genome that is broken in sick cells, and patch the gap that arises in the genetic information which we have removed from the genome. The new aspect here is that we can bring the scissors and the patch together in the HIV particles in a fashion that no one else has done before.”

The technology will allow doctors to repair the human genome in a new way, and will also be invaluable in the treatment of hereditary and viral diseases as well.

HIV particles (yellow) infecting a human T-cell (Image: NIAID/NIH)

The cutting and pasting process isn’t actually a new one- we have been able to “cut and paste” parts of the genome using cells for a while now. The problem with this process, however, is that these cells would keep producing more “scissors”. Mikkelson explains,

“In the past, the gene for the scissors has been transferred to the cells, which is dangerous because the cell keeps on producing scissors which can start cutting uncontrollably. But because we make the scissors in the form of a protein, they only cut for a few hours, after which they are broken down. And we ensure that the virus particle also brings along a small piece of genetic material to patch the hole… We call this a ‘hit-and-run’ technique because the process is fast and leaves no traces.”

We have known for years that HIV particles can be turned into transporters of genetic information. However, this new discovery that they can also be altered to carry proteins that can have a direct effect on infected cells, rather than just on the genes, is huge.

Artist rendition of the HIV virus (Image: Russel Kightley)

Ironically enough, HIV infection is one of the main fields in which the researchers plan to employ this new process. Here’s post-doctoral professor Yujia Cai, who was also part of the research team:

“By altering relevant cells in the immune system (T cells) we can make them resistant to HIV infection and perhaps even at the same time also equip them with genes that help fight HIV. So in this way HIV can in time become a tool in the fight against HIV.”

Read more from Aarhus University News here.

A Team of MIT Students Is Developing A Wristband That Could Totally Replace Air Conditioning

Sam Shames is an MIT student who had spent a lot of time dealing with a fairly common problem: he tends to run hot while his mom tends to run cold. Sam realized that there had to be a better way to accommodate them both.

Sam Shames doing a presentation on solar fuels last year

He set about doing research on how our bodies regulate temperature. In one particular paper, he found some key information: the study talked about how locally heating or cooling small areas on our body can have major effects on how cold or hot we feel overall.

The research suggested that any change in temperature faster than 0.1º Celsius per second would produce the perceptual sensation of feeling cooler or warmer. Using this information, Sam and a team of fellow MIT students designed Wristify.

The key is keeping the wearer from getting acclimated to the colder or warmer temperature. Here’s Sam discussing this concept:

“The human body and human skin is not like a thermometer. If I put something cold directly on your body at a constant temperature, the body acclimates and no longer perceives it as cold.”

A volunteer tests out the device

To avoid this problem, Wristify has a 15 second cycle: 5 seconds on, then 10 seconds off.

By sending these regular shocks of cold or hot temperature into the wrist (they are able to change the temperature by up to 0.4º C per second), the device tricks our mind into thinking we are either cooler or warmer than we actually are.

The device is still very much a prototype, made of $50 worth of various electronics and wires strapped to an old fake Rolex band. The team is extremely excited to take the next step of development, making the device more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

They are also confident that their idea has the potential to revolutionize how we heat and cool ourselves. As Sam puts it,

“Why heat or cool a building when you could heat or cool a person?”

87% of Americans used air conditioning in 2007. While developing countries like Brazil (11%) and India (2%) used significantly less air conditioning than the U.S. in 2007, it is predicted that by 2025, large emerging countries like these will account for more than a billion new consumers.

Click to enlarge. (FSU=Former Soviet Union, ie. Russia)

Despite having less than 4.5% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for nearly 20% of total energy consumption. 16.5% of our total energy use here in the States comes from air conditioning.

So with the amount of demand for air conditioning expected to explode over the next decade, Wristify may be our way of limiting how much energy we consume.

Not to mention you can share a room with both your always-cold and always-hot friends and family without igniting a civil war over the thermostat.

Read more from Wired here.

Visualizing Size and Scale in the Brain (Infographic Video)

The average human brain weighs only about 3 pounds, but contains upwards of 80 billion brain cells, or neurons.

Nearly every detail about who we are and how we behave is locked in the connections between these neurons. Check out this awesome infographic video from Nicolás Borie Williams which helps you visualize things on the same tiny scale that our brains operate on.

Examining Tears Under a Microscope Will Totally Change How You Look at Emotions (Pictures)

Rose-Lynn Fisher is a world-class photographer. Back in 2008, she was going through a particularly rough time- she had recently lost a number of people who were close to her, and had been doing a lot of crying.

One day while weeping, Fisher stopped herself from wiping the tears away and instead examined them closely. It gave her an idea: what would you see if you put tears under a microscope? Would they all look the same?

“You know that classic science experiment where they show us all the life that’s present in one drop of pond water? Well I wanted to find out what was present in one tear.”

Tears of ending or beginning

When Fisher examined her first tears she was surprised to see that on the microscopic level, the tears looked like aerial images, with the water, proteins, enzymes and other structures within the tear organizing into almost alien-like landscapes.

Fisher continued to collect tear samples, eventually collecting multiple samples of the three types of tears: basal or lubricating tears, reflex tears, which are secreted in response to irritants like onions, and the tears we release when we weep.

Check out more pictures of her tear samples below. Click an image to enlarge it and see what emotions produced the pattern.

Fisher is curious as to whether these landscapes within our tears could be almost a sort of map of the emotion that spurred the crying in the first place. While she stresses that she is not approaching the project as a scientist, Fisher is,

“still interested in asking questions through my visual exploration.”

Read more from Wired here. All images courtesy of Rose-Lynn Fisher.

Why Are American Eggs Illegal In Britain and British Eggs Illegal In America?

It all comes down to the debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to wash eggs before putting them on the shelves. In the United States, USDA standards require that all eggs must be washed before being sold to consumers.

The standards specify that American eggs must be washed with an odorless detergent and water that is at least 90°F and a minimum of 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the egg. The eggs must then be thoroughly dried.

This last step is where a lot of the controversy arises. A completely dry egg is almost completely impervious to bacteria, but even a thin layer of moisture facilitates the flow of bacteria into the egg.

Eggs being washed

Health officials in Europe are worried that washing eggs may do more harm than good, fearing that the drying process won’t be meticulously carried out every single time.

They also fear the possibility that some eggs could end up soaking in cold sanitizing water that hasn’t been changed out in a while. Cold water causes eggs to contract inwards- this contraction pulls liquid from the shell’s surroundings into its interior. If this liquid happens to be old, cold water, there is a high chance it contains bacteria.

Then there’s a little something known as the cuticle. As a hen is laying an egg, she applies a thin, mucous-like coating to the outside of the shell. It is wet for the first few minutes, but it quickly dries and creates a protective layer that keeps out carbon dioxide and moisture which can spoil and contaminate the egg.

Anatomy of the egg (cuticle is in the SHELL section)

The EU’s egg regulators say that the egg’s natural cuticle provides,

“an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties.”

This is one of the main reasons why they oppose the washing of eggs, which often removes part or all of the cuticle layer.

Finally, there’s the issue of refrigeration. In Europe eggs are on non-refrigerated shelves and stay close to room temperature from the time they are collected to the time they are bought and consumed.

This is because when you take a cold, refrigerated egg out into warmer air, moisture in the air condenses on it. According to the EU regulations, this facilitates the growth bacteria both outside and inside the shell.

So why would we refrigerate eggs in the United States? The answer in related to another major difference between American and British eggs: salmonella vaccination.

Salmonella is the main bacterial culprit of contaminated eggs. It can come from feces getting on the egg,  but it can also come from feces getting into the hen’s reproductive tract before the shell even forms. When this happens, the salmonella is inside the egg from jump- no amount of washing can de-contaminate it.

During an outbreak in the late 90s, thousands of people in the UK got salmonella poisoning in a very short period time. Ever since then, British farmers have been vaccinating their hens against salmonella to avoid the costs of being the source of a health crisis. While hen vaccination is not required by law, farmers must do it if they want their eggs certified by Britain’s official Lion Quality Mark.

Today, 90% of all eggs in the UK are from vaccinated hens, and most of the remaining 10% come from small farmers who don’t sell their eggs to retail chains. Reported cases of salmonella poisoning in the UK dropped from 14,771 in 1997 to just 581 in 2009.

Here in the United States, there’s no vaccination requirements. Consequently, we have about 142,000 cases of illness from consuming salmonella-contaminated eggs every year.

So back to refrigeration. A study in the early 90s showed that non-refrigerated eggs didn’t experience any significant salmonella growth in the first 21 days. After that, however, the eggs quickly became contaminated. More research has shown that storing eggs in colder temperatures inhibits the growth of bacteria over a much longer period of time.

So, to keep eggs from our unvaccinated American hens on the shelves longer, we refrigerate them. What do you think?

Read more from Forbes here.

This Mind-Blowing Skin Gun Is Revolutionizing How We Treat Burn Victims! (Video)

The skin cell gun was created by Jörg C. Gerlach of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, along with colleagues at Stem Cell Systems GmbH in Berlin. It takes stem cells from healthy skin and puts then in a solution with water. This solution is then sprayed onto the burned area using the specialized cell gun.

Scientists have been able to grow sheets of skin from stem cells for decades. However, it takes weeks for this skin to grow, and the new skin is very fragile. The skin cell gun works in days, and the skin it grows is healthy and strong.

Check out this National Geographic video that talks more about the process and tells the story of one of the first people to receive the ground-breaking treatment: