Ocellated icefish live deep underwater in the cold oceans surrounding the Poles. They have clear blood. If you remember your childhood biology classes, you should remember that this kind of makes no sense. After all, blood is red because of hemoglobin — the iron-rich protein that carries oxygen around in your blood stream. No hemoglobin, no oxygen. No oxygen, dead fishies. Right? Popular Science explains how ocellated icefish get around this little conundrum
. — Maggie
At Double X Science, Jenny Morber has an excellent piece about the wide range of diversity seen in human lady parts
. "Are you normal? Yes. Are you average? No. Most likely," she writes. What follows is a fascinating tour of human biology, from the different lengths and colors of labia to the wide range of shapes exhibited by the inside of the vaginal canal, itself. Even better, all of this can change over the course of an individual woman's life, rendering "average" even more meaningless. — Maggie
If you think about lactation too hard, it starts to seem a little strange — like the biological equivalent of saying the word "that" over and over until it's just a weird sound you're making. But, writes Nicholas Day at Slate, the sort of existential weirdness of breast milk is nothing compared to what's going on in the stuff at a chemical level
. For instance, breast milk contains sugars that aren't actually digestible by human infants. That's because they aren't meant for the infant, itself. Rather, your breast milk is helpfully feeding your baby's intestinal bacteria. Freakier still: In monkeys, the chemical composition of breast milk can change, depending on factors like your baby's sex and whether your baby is showing signs of illness. — Maggie
At Wired, Ed Yong has an incredible long-read story about the researchers who are figuring out how and why individual animals sometimes turn into groups operating on collective behavior
. That research has implications far beyond the freakish, locust-filled laboratories where Yong's story begins. Turns out, bugs and birds can teach us a lot about the brain, cancer, and even how we make predictions about our own futures. — Maggie
Another great ramble from the always-fascinating Venkatesh Rao entitled "The Dead-Curious Cat and the Joyless Immortal," considers several explanations for our species' curiosity, and asks whether our weird, ubiquitous artificial life-forms (corporations) share this trait, and why:
Alone among the curious animals (though this seems like a conceit that more research might invalidate), we seem to be curious about clearly useless things. Or at least, things that have no obvious and immediate use. Humans seem to frequently poke at things that yield returns, if at all, only generations later. And often in ways unsuspected by those who do the poking.
We stare at the stars, we peer through microscopes, we climb mountains and we dive to the ocean floor.
This behavior, so natural to humans, is incomprehensible to human organizations. So things like space programs or other pure curiosity driven efforts have to be justified by politicians on the basis of “will improve life here on earth through the discovery of new materials and advances in medicine.” This is probably the mother of all idiotic fictions. Fortunately, we don’t seem to require our institutional fictions to be credible. Merely sufficient to stop conversations we don’t want to have.
There is an interesting symmetry here. Organizations naturally try to avoid pain — the pain of business model obsolescence or national decline for instance – through institutionalized “curiosity.” They find joy-seeking unnatural and in need of justification (hence the paradoxical notions of “efficient” innovation with high “yield” or “impact” and the relentless war on waste).
This has even been turned into a depressingly banal formula for innovation: what pain are you seeking to relieve?
For humans the reverse is true. Curiosity driven by pain-aversion is unnatural, but curiosity driven by joy-seeking is natural and requires no further explanation. Efficiency is the last thing on our minds when we are being curious. The concept does not even apply: efficiency pre-supposes a goal. Waste is pain in the efficient pursuit of goals.
The Dead-Curious Cat and the Joyless Immortal
Say you're a marine biologist and you want to study the little bitty creatures of the sea — shrimps and worms and things like that. How do you go about capturing them?
Why, with an underwater vacuum, of course.
At the PNAS First Look blog, David Harris writes that this "SCUBA-tank powered vacuum, called an “airlift,” inhales shrimp, sand fleas, marine worms, and 'things that would swim away if they had the chance.'"
"The earliest sawfishes likely arose in the shallow Tethys Sea, that ocean surrounded by the ancient continents of Godwanda and Laurasia, during the Cretaceous period at least 60 million years ago," writes Dr. M. at Deep Sea News.
These "sole survivors of an ancient bloodline" now number only seven species which roam the muddy bottoms of coastal areas, bays and estuaries.
All sawfishes can move easily between fresh and saltwater and often venture deep upstream into rivers. The sawfish lifestyle puts this both their size and saw near humans. All seven species are considered critically endangered by the IUCN. As much as we have impacted them, sawfish have also greatly influenced our culture.
And now, they're one of the most threatened species on our planet. Thanks, humans!
More: Exaltation to Extinction for Sawfishes [Deep Sea News]
Thanks to Jurassic Park, we tend to focus on one use for the DNA of extinct creatures — resurrecting them, in full, to live here in the modern age. But it's not necessary to go that far to learn a lot about those animals, and the evolution of life, in general. At the Experimental Podcast, Stephanie Vogt talks about the paleophysiologists who are reconstructing the proteins of extinct animals
using fragments of DNA found in long-dead remains. Those proteins, simple as they may seem, hold some amazing stories. For instance, reconstructed haemoglobin from wooly mammoths could someday help doctors get oxygen to the brains of high-risk human surgery patients. — Maggie
Getting tipsy is more than just a simple equation of "Insert booze, receive stupid behavior". There's some complicated chemistry at work — especially when you begin to factor in the stuff you mix your alcohol into. For instance, the sugar in soda actually prevents your blood stream from absorbing as much alcohol as it otherwise would. Which means, as Allison Aubrey explains at NPR, your choice of mixer could be the difference between a blood alcohol level that is within legal limits and one that is most decidedly not
. — Maggie
On the left is a picture of me with my bike, taken by my friend Laura Kling. On the right is the same image, as it would be seen by a person with protanopia — a relatively common (as in, still very rare) form of color blindness that affects the ability to see green, yellow, and red colors.
The Color Blindness Simulator will allow you to do this with your own photos.
On the Vintage Ads LJ group, the awesome Man Writing Slash has rounded up a series of old ads that use mechanical methaphors for the human body.
One of my favorite ad tropes is the Body=Machine/Body=Factory idea, because the imagery is often more detailed and also more hilarious than in most ads. As a kid I used to LOVE any illustrations of the body that depicted tiny workers inside, such as The Human Body, for example. :D This link to a book about Fritz Kahn's Der Mensch als Industriepalast is also fascinating (although not advertisement). Brief video version of that book HERE (well worth 3 minutes of your time.) This series of articles and illustrations in the same vein (XD) appeared in the Berliner Morgenpost in 1931 and is simply breathtaking.
Body = Machine: A Series
According to a new book, the human overbite developed at different times, in different places — and was always coincident with the widespread use of eating utensils. In Europe, for instance, evidence suggests that humans have only had an overbite for about 250 years. — Maggie
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? President Obama refused to address this pressing question. But science has the answer
. (Via Tim Maly and kottke) — Maggie
This article from the British Medical Journal
should give aspiring space tourists some food for thought. The basic gist: Traveling into the heavens is not really comparable, physically and medically, to Earth-bound travel. In fact, up until now, extreme physical fitness has been a major factor in how we select space travelers. What happens when less-fit people start flying? What happens to sick people? These are questions that matter a lot, given the fact that current astronauts report everything from reduced eyesight to potentially dangerous immune system changes. (Via The Inkfish blog) — Maggie
If you're in London this weekend, you should know that the Wellcome Trust is sponsoring a two-day bioscience hackathon with prizes
awarded for the best ideas in four categories: Open Me — collecting data on yourself and making it useful to yourself; Open Research — making biomedical data produced by professional scientists more accessible and useful to everybody; Open Data — creating apps and hardware that allow doctors to better follow what's really happening with their patients; and the idea that is most useful to the public at large. — Maggie