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Trepidations About Trepanation?

"I need this like a need a hole in the head."  What is Trepanation? It is one of the oldest known surgical procedures. It has been in practice throughout different parts of the world since the late Paleolithic period. Out of 120 prehistoric skulls found at one burial site in France dated to 6500 BC, 40 had trepanation holes. Many prehistoric and premodern patients had signs of their skull structure healing, suggesting that many of those subjected to the surgery survived.

See historic images and engravings on Trepanation

Trepanation is basically a hole that is either bored or scraped into the skull. Cave paintings indicate that people believed the practice could be used to cure epileptic seizures, migraines, mental disorders or to release evil spirits. Sometimes bone that was trepanned was kept as a charm to keep evil spirits away. Hippocrates gave specific directions on the procedure from its evolution through the Greek age, and Galen also elaborates on the procedure. 

Evidence also suggests that trepanation was used as a primitive form of emergency surgery after head wounds to remove shattered bits of bone from a fractured skull and clean out the blood that often pools under the skull after a blow to the head. Such injuries were typical for primitive weaponry such as slings and war clubs.

See images dealing with Brain Surgery

Today, trepanation is a treatment used for epidural and subdural hematomas and intracranial pressure monitoring. Modern surgeons now generally use the term craniotomy. The removed piece of skull is typically replaced as soon as possible. If the bone is not replaced, then the procedure is considered a craniectomy.

Images above © Science Source

BY9267 (Trepanned Skull, Amman, Jordan)

BP9645 (Skulls Showing Trepanation)

SB1785 (Trepanation kit from the nineteenth century)

With Men’s Y Chromosome, Size Really May Not Matter

by Rob Stein/NPR

Basic biology has it that girls are girls because they have two X chromosomes — the things inside cells that carry our genes. Boys are boys because they have one X and one Y. Recently, though, there’s been a lot of debate in scientific circles about the fate of that Y chromosome — the genetic basis of maleness.

Click to see SEMs of Human Chromosomes

Very early in the evolution of the Y chromosome, explains Dr. David Page, a geneticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, something pretty dramatic happened: The ancestral Y lost most of its genes. And scientists basically ignored the little that was left.

"The Y chromosome was essentially written off as the runt of the human genome," Page says, "as a sort of genetic wasteland that didn’t really merit anyone’s serious attention."

When the Y did get any attention, it wasn’ t good news. Some scientists, like geneticist Jennifer Graves at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, speculated that the Y might be destined to just keep, sort of … rotting away.

"As soon as it becomes a male-determining chromosome, then the rot sets in," La Trobe says. "That’s kind of the kiss of death for that chromosome" — meaning the Y chromosome could be headed toward oblivion, completely disappear.

But other scientists, including Page say: Not so fast. Step away from my Y chromosome.

"I’ve really spent the better part of my career defending the honor of the Y chromosome in the face of insults of this sort," Page says.

For the Y, size really doesn’t matter, he says. Page has done a detailed analysis of the chromosome’s evolution and says the string of genes has been solidly stable now for millions of years.

"The idea that the Y chromosome might disappear altogether, possibly taking men with it — I think that idea has now been firmly dismissed," he says.

Read the entire article

A Big, Beautiful Bacteria Bath!

Grand Prismatic Spring, a large hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, is the largest in the United States and the third largest in the world. The pool is warmed by volcanic activity beneath it. This is because Yellowstone is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent.

Click to see more photos of Grand Prismatic Spring

The bright colors come from minerals deposited around the pool, and from colonies of heat-loving bacteria and algae. The vivid colors in the spring are the result of pigmented bacteria in the microbial mats that grow around the edges of the mineral-rich water. The bacteria produce colors ranging from yellow to green to red. The amount of color in the microbial mats depends on the ratio of different bacteria and on the temperature of the water which favors one bacterium over another. In the summer, the mats tend to be orange and red, whereas in the winter the mats are usually dark green. The center of the pool is sterile due to extreme heat.

Buy postcards or framed prints of Yellowstone National Park

The deep blue color of the water in the center of the pool results from the intrinsic blue color of water, itself the result of water’s selective absorption of red wavelengths of visible light. Though this effect is responsible for making all large bodies of water blue, it is particularly intense in Grand Prismatic Spring because of the high purity and depth of the water in the middle of the spring. Yellowstone National Park is the world’s oldest national park and contains thousands of geysers and hot pools.

Images above © Science Source

SA7783 (Grand Prismatic Spring)

BJ7314 (Bacterial Mat, Yellowstone National Park)

BU9410 (Grand Prismatic Spring bacterial mat and iron oxides)

BC1493 (Grand Prismatic hot spring, Wyoming)

Fireflies Of The Deep

In the deep, dark ocean there lives a tiny bioluminescent creature who’s light show puts all others to shame. The Firefly Squid is a small member of the squid family, growing to a length of only three inches. It is equipped with special light-producing organs called photophores. These are found on many parts of the squid’s body and emit a deep blue light.

See more sea creatures that light up the deep

For much of their lives, firefly squid live in the deep cold waters of the temperate Pacific Ocean. They return to shallower waters around Japan when it is time to breed. It is at this time each year that hundreds of thousands of the squid are harvested. The Japanese word for firefly squid is hotaruika. 

Buy a framed print or postcard of Firefly Squid!!

The firefly squid is an active predator. It is believed that the squid can use their blue lights to attract prey. By flashing the lights on and off, they can attract small fish and then pounce on them with their powerful tentacles. Firefly squid spend their days at depths of about 1,200 feet (365 meters). At night, they migrate up to the surface to search for food before returning the the darkness below.

All images © Dante Fenolio / Science Source

Feds Tighten Lab Security After Anthrax, Bird Flu Blunders

by Richard Harris/NPR

In the course of trying to understand a laboratory accident involving anthrax, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled upon another major blunder — involving a deadly flu virus.

Click to see images of Anthrax

The flu incident apparently posed no health risk, but it went unreported to top brass for six weeks. Those officials now recognize a pattern of problems in their world-class laboratory. And these incidents are raising broader questions about the safety of high-security germ labs.

The flu incident started earlier this year, when scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked the CDC for samples of an ordinary flu virus for some experiments. But the USDA scientists noticed the virus wasn’t behaving as they expected. On close inspection they determined that it actually contained a deadly flu strain called H5N1.

Click to see images of H5N1 Avian Flu

"Everything we know today suggests there was no human exposure — the materials are all either destroyed or contained," says Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. But he found the incident "distressing." The CDC’s flu lab has a sterling reputation, and "to me the fact that something like this could happen in such a superb laboratory is unsettling."

It suggests deeper safety problems at the CDC.

Frieden also said he was disturbed that he didn’t learn about the incident until this week — even though the error came to light six weeks ago.

Read the entire article

It All Stems From Stems.

 Xylem and Phloem tissues are found together in vascular bundles in the stems of plants and trees. The xylem transports water and soluble mineral nutrients from the roots throughout the plant. It is also used to replace water lost during transpiration and photosynthesis. Xylem sap consists mainly of water and inorganic ions, although it can contain a number of organic chemicals as well. The transport taking place in the xylem is passive. Surface tension caused by the evaporation of water to the atmosphere pulls more water and minerals up from the roots like a straw.

Click to see more amazing light micrographs of Plant Stems

Unlike xylem, which is composed mainly dead cells, the phloem is composed of still living cells that transport sap. The sap is a water-based solution, but rich in sugars made by the photosynthetic areas. These sugars are transported to non-photosynthetic parts of the plant, such as the roots, or into storage structures, such as tubers or bulbs. During the plant’s growth period, usually during the spring, storage organs such as the roots are sugar sources, and the plant’s many growing areas are sugar sinks. The movement in phloem is multi-directional, whereas, in xylem cells, it is uni-directional (upward).

All images above © Dr. Keith Wheeler / Science Source 


NASA engineers use origami as inspiration when they fold up solar panels for their trip to space. Shown here: the Miura fold. Once a piece of paper (or solar array) is all folded up, it can be completely unfolded in one smooth motion. You can read more about origami in space here, and learn how to do the Miura fold in this video:

Image: Astronaut Scott Parazynski repairs a damaged ISS solar panel (NASA)

Our artist, Arie van’t Riet, was recently featured on the Today Show:


Inner Beauty: X-rays Expose Flowers, Animals and More

by Lance Booth/Today

Dutch physicist Arie van’t Riet specialized in low energy X-rays in hospitals when he stumbled across an interesting form of art. 

Click here to see more of his beautiful X-ray Art.

According to a recent TED talk, a colleague asked him to make an X-ray of one of his paintings. After seeing the interesting results, Arie van’t Riet wanted to X-ray something even thinner. “I started with a bouquet of tulips,” he said in the TED talk. “Some people told me that’s art and I became an artist.” 

After creating that piece, he started to experiment with a variety of creatures and different scenes, looking to capture nature’s beauty.

 "I sampled a lot of animals that I can use in my X-ray images," he said. "I take a number of plants with flowers, I take a couple of animals, lizards, I put them all together in one composition." 

Story courtesy of the Today Show

Images above © Arie van ‘t Riet / Science Source 

An Orderly Single File Line

Image SD3426 (Ruptured capillary)

A scanning electron micrograph showing one red blood cell squeezing out of a torn capillary. A capillary is the smallest type of blood vessel, often only just large enough for red blood cells to pass through in single file. Red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, are biconcave, disc-shaped cells that transport oxygen from the lungs to body cells. The oxygen transfer occurs in capillaries, where carbon dioxide is also removed and then taken to the lungs for exhalation. Red blood cells are the most abundant cell in the blood. They have no nucleus and are about 7 micrometers across.

© Steve Gschmeissner / Science Source

(via sciencesourceimages)

It’s Time For A New Toothbrush!!

Colored scanning electron micrographs (SEMs) of dental plaque on the bristles of a used toothbrush. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that naturally occur in the mouth (such a Streptococci) embedded in a glycoprotein matrix. The matrix is formed from bacterial secretions and your own saliva. Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay. The bacteria feed on sugars in food, producing acid as a waste product. This acid corrodes the teeth’s enamel coating, resulting in dental caries. A build-up of dental plaque can also lead to inflamed and infected gums. Severe gum disease can lead to teeth falling out.

Click to see more photos of Dental Plaque

The ADA recommends that consumers replace toothbrushes approximately every 3 to 4 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed with use.

In recent years, scientists have studied whether toothbrushes may harbor microorganisms that could cause oral and/or systemic infection. We know that the oral cavity is home to hundreds of different types of microorganisms therefore, it is not surprising that some of these microorganisms are transferred to a toothbrush during use. It may also be possible for microorganisms that are present in the environment where the toothbrush is stored to establish themselves on the brush.

Images above © Steve Gschmeissner / Science Source

SG9033 (Used toothbrush bristle, SEM)

SH1766 (Used toothbrush bristles, SEM)

SG9023 (Toothbrush bristles, SEM)

Color Me: Deadly!

Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer but it is easily the most dangerous. It is the leading cause (about 75%) of death from skin cancers.

Click to see more images of Melanoma Skin Cancer

Above (top image) is a colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of melanoma cancer cells. This cancer arises from the skin’s melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment (melanin) that give skin its color. It can even involve the colored part of the eye. Melanoma is an aggressive cancer that often spreads (metastasizes) to other tissues of the body. The long cell processes, seen here in this micrograph, help the cells to move. Once the cancer has spread the prognosis is poor. In general, cancers are caused by damage to DNA. Melanomas are usually caused by DNA damage resulting from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun.

Visual diagnosis of melanomas is still the most common method employed by health professionals. Moles that are irregular in color or shape are often treated as strong candidates. To detect melanomas, it is recommended to learn what they look like. 

A popular method for remembering the signs and symptoms of melanoma is the mnemonic “ABCDE”:

A=Asymmetrical skin lesion.

B=Border of the lesion is irregular.

C=Color: melanomas usually have multiple colors.

D=Diameter: moles greater than 6 mm are more likely to be melanomas       than smaller moles.

E=Enlarging: Enlarging or evolving

Image above © Steve Gschmeissner / Science Source

No Ball Playing In The House!!

A stroboscopic image of a Trebuchet launching a ball. It does so by using the potential energy of a falling weight. It is sometimes called a counterweight or counterpoise trebuchet, to distinguish it from an earlier weapon called the traction trebuchet, which employed pulling men working the mechanism.

Click here to see more amazing stroboscopic images

Technically, trebuchets are a type of catapult as they launch objects into the air.  What most of us deem a catapult though, uses tension instead of a falling weight. Catapults generally used a large, springy piece of wood which would have been wound up.  This then give tension to the wood and when released the arm pulls up and hits a stop then releasing the projectile.

Trebuchets, in contrast, use a weight which pull down a lever arm, launching it up into the air. A sling is attached which then released the projectile.  Trebuchets are generally capable of hurling great amounts of weight and became much more common in medieval warfare in later years.

Image ©  Ted Kinsman / Science Source

New Artwork for Sale!

Tokay Gecko Feet
©Fletcher & Baylis

The rear foot of a Tokay (Gekko gecko)viewed as it clings to a glass window, Kui Buri National Park, Thailand. Millions of microscopic hairs (setae)on their feet allow Tokays and other geckos to do this by the van der Waal force.

Mississippi Child Thought Cured Of HIV Shows Signs Of Infection

by Richard Harris/NPR

A baby who generated great excitement last year because it appeared she had been cured of HIV is infected with the virus after all, health officials say.

This discovery is a setback for the child known as the “Mississippi baby.” It also complicates efforts to test what had seemed like a promising new treatment for infants born with HIV.

Click to see more images of HIV

The Mississippi baby was born to an HIV-positive mother in 2012. The mother had not received prenatal care, so wasn’t identified as being positive for HIV until she was in labor. To stop the baby’s infection, doctors tried an aggressive combination of drugs right after she was born.

HIV-positive babies rest in an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Treatment right after birth may make it possible for HIV-positive newborns to fight off the virus.

Normally HIV-infected infants would stay on the antivirals for life. But in this case, the mother stopped bringing the child to the clinic after 18 months. When the two showed up again, five months later, the mother said she had long since stopped giving the baby medicine. But blood tests showed no signs of HIV infection.

Thousands of babies are born to infected mothers every year, mostly in poor countries, and it would be wonderful if a strong dose of medicine at the time of birth could eradicate the virus from their bodies.

The news from Mississippi generated a lot of optimism. But Dr. Hannah Gay, who had treated the baby at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, remained on the lookout for HIV infection.

Read the entire article on NPR

"Hey Buddy, Your Gills Are Showing!"

Nudibranches, also known as true Sea Slugs, are some of the most colorful creatures on earth. In the course of their evolution, these members of the mollusk family, lost their shell while developing alternative defense mechanisms. The name, Nudibranch, means “naked gills”. These gills (branches) can clearly be seen in each of the images above. The twin structures at the opposite end of these creatures are called Rhinophores and are used to sense chemicals in the water.

Click here to see more photos of Nudibranches

Nudibranchs are carnivorous, feeding on invertebrates like sea sponges, hydrozoids and sometimes other nudibranches. Some of them are even known to store toxins from their prey for future use. The bright colors of these creatures warn predators that they are poisonous. Nudibranchs are hermaphroditic and bear a set of reproductive organs for both sexes, though they cannot fertilize themselves.

Images above © Scubazoo / Science Source