Stories tagged amazingly cool

A total solar eclipse was visible across the extreme north of Australia yesterday giving residents, tourists, and eclipse-chasing scientists the thrill of a lifetime. Here’s a timelapse and informational video of the event. Total solar eclipses occur about twice each year but since the Earth is 70 percent water, they often happen in remote, unpopulated locations. But remember folks, in less than five years, the Moon’s shadow will sweep across the mid-section of the United States when a total solar eclipse takes place on August 21, 2017. Whatever you do, do not miss it. It is truly something amazing to witness live.

Sorry for the short notice, but this evening (May 5, 2011) at 6:30pm EDT (5:30 here in the Twin Cities) the American Museum of Natural History will present a live streamed discussion with famed paleoanthropologists Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson entitled Human Evolution and Why It Matters: A Conversation with Leakey and Johanson. Here's what the AMNH website says about it:

"Celebrating decades of groundbreaking exploration in East Africa, renowned paleoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Richard Leakey will share the stage to discuss the overwhelming evidence for evolution in the hominid fossil record and why understanding our evolutionary history is so important.

Known for such landmark discoveries as "Lucy" (Johanson) and "Turkana Boy" (Leakey), the work of these two scientists has produced much of the fossil evidence which forms our understanding of human evolution.

Looking back over careers spanning 40-plus years, these men will share the stories behind their monumental finds and offer a look at what's ahead in human evolutionary research.

Want to join in? Then go to the AMNH live streaming website around 5:30 CDT to catch this rare opportunity to watch two giants of the field of paleoanthropology exchange ideas and stories.

Going to the Minnesota State Fair is mostly about putting bad things into your body. Occasionally on the midway, things can come out of your body. But University of Minnesota researchers will be at the 2010 State Fair with hopes of taking DNA out of about 500 kids. And those who donate will get lots of cool stuff. But some wonder if this is the proper way to conduct medical research. What do you think?


Twin-ed: Chang (left) and Eng were a famous set of conjoined twins from the 1800s. They were known as Siamese Twins, but medically and ethically, such sibilings are better called conjoined twins.
Twin-ed: Chang (left) and Eng were a famous set of conjoined twins from the 1800s. They were known as Siamese Twins, but medically and ethically, such sibilings are better called conjoined twins.
What’s been the hottest story this summer -- besides the hot weather?

Conjoined twins, of course.

It seems that every other week we’re reading or hearing about some conjoined twins being separated. Between those accounts, and working in the Body Worlds exhibit where there is a conjoined twins fetus on display, I’ve suddenly become a lot more interested in conjoined twins.

The topic hit close to Minnesota early this summer when the Carlson Twins from Fargo, N.D., were separated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Another pair were separated a few weeks later in New York state and then just last week twins in Salt Lake City were separated after a marathon 25-hour surgery.

Did you notice what was common in all three cases? The conjoined twins were all girls. That shouldn’t be surprising as about three out of every four pairs of conjoined twins are females, according to information provided at Interesting, among the birth rate of regular maternal twins, it’s more common to have boys than girls.

That website also shared some other stats about the frequency and common locations of birth for conjoined twins. Conjoining happens in about one in every 40,000 conceptions, but only about one in every 200,000 live births. The rate of conjoining is much higher in Africa or India than in China or the United States.

What’s happening to make the twins stick together?

When a developing embryo begins to split into two – the process that happens to make identical twins – the division stops part way, leaving the two embryos connected. They can be connected in a variety of forms and places. The latest twins to be separated had two complete torsos, but only one set of legs.

The problem that occurs at the time of the embryo’s division could be caused by genetic or environmental factors. The failure to separate usually happens after the 13th day after conception.

Only about 40 percent of conjoined twins survive to be born. The numbers don’t get any better after birth, with 75 percent being still born or dying within 24 hours of birth.

To separate or not, that is the question. Depending on the degree to which they share internal organs, conjoined twins can successfully be separated. In the case of the Carlson twins earlier this year, doctors had to carefully figure out and cut apart the two livers the girls shared which had grown intermeshed with each other.

The first successful separation actually happened in 1689. And with advances in medical technology, it’s becoming ever-more possible to separate conjoined twins. But there are other questions than just getting the twins apart.

Ethically, doctors and parents struggle with the question about if separation surgery would kill one of the twins, but let the other twin survive. That’s especially a sticky situation if one of the twins is much healthier than the other twin.

Alice D. Dreger, a Michigan State University medical historian, points out that no conjoined twin has gone on live a regular, healthy life, if its “sacrificed” partner has been killed in the process. The survivor has never gone home to live or eve be free of a ventilator.

If you want to be politically correct, or especially medically correct, don’t called conjoined twins Siamese Twins. That term dates back to a pair of Chinese brothers – Eng and Chang -- who lived successful, adult lives in the 1800s. They were known primarily as sideshow attractions at circuses and carnivals. So, the term “Siamese Twins” carries with it the baggage of freak shows and oddities.