Stories tagged Cells


Fire Salamander: Fire Salamander. Image courtesy Miaow Miaow.

A currently featured Scientist on the Spot is Dr. James Kakalios, a physicist at the University of Minnesota who teaches people about physics through the amazing stories of superheroes in comic books. The magazine New Scientist recently had an article on animal "superpowers" — and some ways that people could obtain them!

For example, the character Wolverine has a heightened sense of smell due to his mutant abilities. Researchers at Florida State University have discovered a gene, called Kv1.3, which could be tweaked to increase our sense of smell. By deleting this gene in mice, researchers have been able to significantly increase their sensitivity to smells, and also their ability to discriminate between different smells. Humans have this gene, and if it could be blocked... Could we develop a superhuman sense of smell?

Wolverine also has a superpower that allows him not only to survive his battles with evil doers, but also to get back to full health quickly — a superhuman healing factor. In the animal kingdom there are a number of animals that have the ability to regenerate lost limbs, such as the sea star or the salamander. Regeneration is more common in invertebrates, but is present in a more limited manner in vertebrates, such as humans. For example, the human liver is a capable of regeneration. Regeneration is possible in these cases because the the cells in the affected area revert into stem cells.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are now using "scaffoloding" that they incorporate into cells to cause the cells to revert, not to stem cells, but to an earlier stage of their development, which can then help regenerate skin and nerves. While this is a long way from regrowing an entire limb, it's amazing progress, and the salamander is here to show us that it is possible.

What other abilities that animals have can you think of that would be of use to people? For example, there is a strain of bacteria (Deinococcus radiodurans) that is thousands of times more resistant to radiation than humans. Even if it is possible to give people "superhuman" senses or abilities, do you think it is okay to do so? Why?


Biotherapy is the use of animals to diagnose or treat diseases or to assist the ill or impaired.

A leech: it does a body good?
A leech: it does a body good?Courtesy Michael Jefferies

One biotherapy that many of us are familiar with is seeing eye dogs. A less common biotherapy is the use of household pets, such as dogs or cats, in long term care facilities to improve the mood of and provide companionship for the people living there.

But other, less familiar animals have been put to medicinal purposes, too. Leeches have been used for thousands of years for various "medical" uses, and have recently been approved as a medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Doctors use leeches to restore blood circulation after cosmetic or reconstructive surgery.

Maggot therapy has also staged a comeback. Doctors use maggots to treat and clean problematic wounds.

Honey bee therapy (or apitherapy), is the use of honey bee venom—which contains anti-inflammatory substances—to relieve pain in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Apitherapy can also help treat some neurological syndromes, such as multiple sclerosis.

What do you think of biotherapy? How would you react if a doctor told you that they were going to treat you with leeches or maggots?

Want to learn more about biotherapy? The BTER Foundation is an organization dedicated to supporting patient care, education, and research in biotherapy and symbiotic medicine. The International Biotherapy Society is another organization devoted to supporting the use and understanding of living organisms in the treatment of human illnesses.


We recently reported on the discovery of a Tyrannosaurus Rex femur bone with preserved fleshy tissue inside. Thanks to Science Magazine we can bring you some close up photos of these unique finds. Some of the photos here are of a modern ostrich. Try comparing the Tyrannosaurus Rex finds with those of a modern bird like the ostrich (pictured below).

Tyrannosaurus Rex Vascular Canals


Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found a way to use measles to fight cancer.

Viruses are parasites. To reproduce, they seek out sites on a healthy cell, get inside, and then take over the host's cellular machinery. For years, researchers dreamed of using viruses to hijack cancer cells.

The Mayo team knew that measles kills most cancer cells, too. But to use the virus as an anti-cancer treatment, they had to change the virus so it wouldn't attack healthy cells. They eliminated the virus's ability to bind to its natural receptors, and retargeted it to zero in on ovarian cancer cells.

In lab animals implanted with human cancer cells, the virus hunted down and destroyed only infected cells. Clinical trials on patients with ovarian cancer began last summer, but it will be at least three years before the treatment is approved for use in hospitals.