Stories tagged Human Organism


Smear campaign: climate scientist relates his own experience from anti-science attack
Smear campaign: climate scientist relates his own experience from anti-science attackCourtesy CECAR - Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R (adapted by Mark Ryan)
Several months back there was a lot of hoopla revolving around the so-called "Climategate" scandal. Climate scientists' emails were hacked, posted online and taken out of context as they were disseminated around the internet and through the news channels. Some researchers were charged with manipulating climate data to bolster their own point of view, and indignant investigations were launched against them. As the story fermented in the media, the blogosphere, and political circles, it grew into an over-inflated bag of hot-air. But, eventually, the truth prevailed, and those accused were exonerated by the facts. Michael Mann, a climate change researcher at Pennsylvania State University, was one of key figures in the "scandal", and has written (both here and in a new book) about his experience dealing with the kind of smear campaign that was hurled his way. He terms it the "scientization" of politics. It's involves some of same anti-science tactics used by the tobacco industry and creationists: mainly to cast doubt on the facts, and fabricate controversy where there is none.

Michael Mann at


The man behind the video: Drew Berry is a biomedical animator who is responsible for the fascinating scenes in Bjork's music video.
The man behind the video: Drew Berry is a biomedical animator who is responsible for the fascinating scenes in Bjork's music video.Courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArther Foundation
In the same vein as this Buzz post, here is another interesting blend of art and science. Bjork teams up with a biomedical animator to create a music video for her song "Hollow."

The animation is a mesmerizing, slightly creepy exercise of scale: it takes you down to the nanoscale, where you watch DNA replicate, then all the way back out to the macroscale, when you zoom out of Bjork's forehead. Interesting, indeed.


Zombies are not real right now because it is impossible. Well, until a scientist screws up. In the movies zombies are people that get infected from a source, it is unlikely that it will happen in our lifetime, but scientifically it will be brains( how ironic ), not bronze that prevails over this threat of zombies. The virus would most likely be like the T virus in Resident Evil, but we probably will never know. What do you think??? I was reading a article from the CDC and they say that it might be possible for a zombie apocalypse to happen! How do you think you would prepare for this??? Well we don't know. We honestly don't. Scientifically we would never truly be ready. And for an Awnser I don't want, "my dad has a gun"!!! Actual science reasons here. Heck, it might be a parasite for all we know, then again, your mom or dad may get it first( that would suck! ), or your sister, or brother. We will never know until we realize that nothing is impossible in science. Scientifically I should say, ELECTRICITY would go down first! Then GAS would eventually run out. Cities would be safe most of the time, because all the people would go out to the country.

Then all the people left would be in shock, and/or, injured and extremely prejudiced, but some will still be sane, like me, I know how to keep alive in a Z.A. but some people would not, but, scientifically someone will be smart and start remaking our civilization, but who knows maybe we will all die? You never know how things will turn out. What are your comments??? I would love to hear them.
EDITED BY LIZA, 11/1/2011: Hey, Buzzketeers! Still need a post-Halloween zombie fix, like ZombieDestroyer here? Head on over to the zombies page. You'll find out about a new zombie-fighting weapon, a real-life zombie-making parasite, and a very long-running thread about whether or not a zombie apocalypse is possible. (And if you feel a need to argue zombie-fighting strategies or likelihood, take it over to that last thread and keep it science-y, y'all!)


Sometime on or around October 31st, the world's population will hit seven billion people.

Population map: A map from the Worldmapper World Population Atlas: (c) Sasi Research Group, University of Sheffield
Population map: A map from the Worldmapper World Population Atlas: (c) Sasi Research Group, University of SheffieldCourtesy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

(There are a lot of challenges to supporting seven billion people. Want to know more about that? Check out the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, where folks are working to find solutions to some of those problems.)

That's all fascinating and all, but...what about me? Luckily, the BBC has come to the rescue with a lovely little interactive that's, well, all about me. Or you. Whatever.

For example, according to the BBC calculator,

  • At the time of my birth, I was the 3,840,942,641st person to live on Earth.
  • And the 78,068,048,685th person to live since history began.
  • This morning, the United States has a population of 311,284,287 people,
  • In the US, there are 484 births, 288 deaths, and a gain of 113 immigrants every hour, for a total average yearly population growth of 0.9%. (The country with the fastest growing population is Qatar, experiencing an increase of 514 people every day. The country with the fastest shrinking population is Moldova, experiencing a decrease of 106 people every day.)
  • As a woman in the United States, I can look forward to an average life expectancy of 80.5 years. Men in the US, however, enjoy an average life expectancy of only 75.4 years, dragging the US total average down to 78 years. Thanks, men. (The Japanese have the longest average life expectancy in the world, at 82.7 years, while folks in the Central African Republic have an average life expectancy of only 45.9 years.)

Not too shabby!

To give you a sense of just how fast our population is growing, here's a crazy little fact: by mid-century, the world's urban population will equal the size of the world's global population in 2004. Wow. Cities are efficient, and concentrate us so that we can use land for other purposes, but they're also ecological hotspots. Curious about how your household measures up? Try the household flux calculator, or check out the Q&A with Scientist on the Spot Daniel Nidzgorski.

Not enough for you? Check out "Seven billion in seven stories" and "Will people numbers keep rising?"

Oh, and let us know: #whatsyournumber ?


Danse Macabre: Artwork Inspired by the Black Plague.
Danse Macabre: Artwork Inspired by the Black Plague.Courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons
Halloween is coming up soon and what better way to scare the tar out of everybody than with another Black Plague story.

Researchers from Germany and Canada have now determined that the pathogen existing today that infects the human population with bubonic plague is the same one that caused the horrific pandemic known as the Black Plague (aka Black Death) during the Middle Ages,

In the 14th century (1347-1351) the the plague devastated much of Europe. It was brought on by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and thought to have originated in China. Rats, infested with fleas carrying the bacteria, spread the fatal pathogen via the trade routes and across Europe, wiping out one-third of the human population. This is a conservative estimate; some claim as much as 60 percent of the population was eradicated!

Whatever the case, imagine even a third of all your acquaintances, friends, and relatives suddenly dying from what one 14th century chronicler described as “so virulent a disease that anyone who only spoke to them was seized by a mortal illness and in no manner could evade death.”

And it was an extremely horrible death, to say the least, as Michael Platiensis makes clear in his writings from 1357:

“Those infected felt themselves penetrated by a pain throughout their whole bodies and, so to say, undermined. Then there developed on the thighs or upper arms a boil about the size of a lentil which the people called "burn boil". This infected the whole body, and penetrated it so that the patient violently vomited blood. This vomiting of blood continued without intermission for three days, there being no means of healing it, and then the patient expired.“

[Above quoted in Johannes Nohl, The Black Death, trans. C.H. Clarke (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 18-20]

The Black Plague was the second of three great waves of plague that raged across Europe during historical times. The first, known historically as the Plague of Justinian, took place in the 6th century and affected the Byzantine Empire and much of Europe. The last major wave, known as the Great Plague of London, killed about 100,000 of the city’s population in 1664-65. In the two centuries that followed, waves after wave of the plague continued to devastate the European population although on a lesser scale. These outbreaks although sometimes as virulent, were often more isolated regionally or within a city and kept Europe’s population from rebounding for a good century and a half.

The plague presents itself in three ways: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. All three infections are caused by Y. pestis. With bubonic plague, the lymph nodes become painfully swollen into what are termed buboes – hence the name bubonic. Scepticemic plague, the rarest of the three forms, infects the blood. Both bubonic and scepticemic, if left untreated, result in death between 3-7 days after infection. Pneumonic is the most contagious since it infects the lungs and is easily spread through the air in a spray of water droplets. It’s also the most lethal and usually kills its victims in one to three days. Each form can present itself on its own or can progress into all three. It’s thought the Black Plague was mainly a combination of the bubonic and pneumonic forms. (The practice still used today of saying, “Bless you” after someone sneezes is a holdover from the 14th century plague) The only defense against the pandemic was avoidance of fleas and the fatally sick. Not easy to pull off when rats and the afflicted were widespread. Infected families were generally quarantined, their houses marked with a red cross, and left to fend for themselves.

The plague had a tremendous effect on European life in the Middle Ages. The Hundred Years’ War actually paused briefly in 1348 for lack of soldiers. The plague had wiped out too many of them. Economically, wages rose sharply because the workforce was also greatly reduced. Shop owners suffered because no one dared step outside the confines of their own homes, so supplies rose and prices dropped. The removal of the rotting corpses required relatives either doing it themselves and further risking infection, or paying premium prices for some other poor schlub to do it. The dead were buried as quickly as possible, often in mass graves.

In the recent research which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Johannes Krause and his colleagues extracted DNA from the tooth enamel of five corpses from one of these 14th century mass burial sites in London (under the Royal Mint!). Using the latest technology to sequence the DNA fragments, the researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany, and McMaster University in Canada, decoded a circular genome called pPCP1 plasmid that comprises about 10,000 positions in the Y. pestis DNA. When they compared it with the genome of the pathogen’s current strain, the genetic information appeared to have changed very little over the past six centuries. (It should be noted that the researchers suspect the pathogen that occurred in the 6th century may have been a now-extinct strain of Y. pestis or one completely unrelated to bubonic plague.)

So, that means the very same nasty contagion – the one that terrorized and devastated so much of Europe for so many centuries in the Middle Ages - is still with us today. Luckily, the bubonic plague can be held at bay with antibodies if treated in time. But what happens if Yersinia pestis mutates into a strain against which current antibodies are useless? If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, I don’t know what will.

Happy Halloween!

Scientific Computing story
The Black Plague by Dr. Skip Knox, Boise State
Plague symptons and signs – in case you get it
Nifty Black Death quiz – thanks Liza!


The yeti is definitely a cryptozoological mystery - the Siberian equal of Bigfoot. A group of scientists were invited to Russia to search for proof of the yeti. As reported by the regional government, proof of the yeti has been discovered. Article resource: Siberian Kemerovo region claims proof of yetis

All about these boasts

Kemerovo, Siberia’s governor asked researchers and journalists to join him. He was in Russian country in the coal-mining area. Researchers from many countries, including the United States and Canada, attended the conference. A lot of stuff was discovered in the Azasskaya cavern. This includes coarse hair, footprints and a bed of sticks. The local administration calls this evidence "indisputable proof that the Shoria mountains are inhabited by the 'Snow Man'," the colloquial term for the yeti or Abominable Snowman.

Hair to be tested

Many scientists do not believe that this is proof of a yeti, although the regional government claims it is. There has never been anything from the so-called yeti that has been captured, and the hair has to be tested for DNA still. The evidence used to prove the existence of a yeti is the same proof used to prove the existence of Bigfoot. In North America, that is the fantasy humans are attempting to prove. Scores of evidence have been collected, but no physical specimen or incontrovertible evidence has been collected.


A number of people believe that the yeti discovery is simply a tourist stunt. The Kemerovo area of Russia has been very heavily focused on industry and mining. Tourism isn’t very big in the Western end of Siberia. The government is hoping to get more tourists there though as the mines are slowing. The regional government didn’t say anything specific in the press release. Still, it might:

"create a special research center to study the Yeti" in the regional university and "create a journal" dedicated to the science of the Yeti"


Daily Mail



What would it be like to have a "Spidey sense"? Or radar senses just like superhero Daredevil, who could acrobatically find his way through a small area full of traps ready to kill, despite the fact that he's totally blind? Dr. Bradley Voytek, U.C. Berkeley neuroscientists, believes it wouldn't be far outside the bounds of normalcy, as human beings have potential super senses that they seldom spend time creating.

According to a post on,

We need to work on them

There are super abilities that human beings can acquire, according to U.C. Berkeley scientist Dr. Voytek. He said humans have always had access to them. The power of the human mind is extraordinary, Voytek reminds us. Our perceptions are facilitated by receptors that enable us to see and hear. Our senses work with and from our conscious awareness. The degree of sensitivity is not basic by any means.

Voytek sees potential beyond standard senses

According to Voytek, our abilities are remarkable. The upper and lower thresholds are much farther away than we realize. As few as two photons in the retina can be seen by humans. With the right landscape and weather, it is possible for a human to see a candle flame from miles away.

A human should be able to focus and hear the random movement of atoms in particle theory, called Brownian motion, although it is commonly considered to be from 20 Hz to 20,000 kHz.

As few as 30 molecules of something can be smelt by a human. That is another great thing.

The reason why 'super senses' aren't regularly used by human beings

Too much attention is needed to use mega sense which is why humans do not use them, according to Voytek. That much focus is too much for many people. People don't want to have to focus like that. Human beings are required to focus intensely on one sense, ignoring the others, when testing the physical limits. You have to tune out senses consciously. This is how you get a hold of super-human senses. It is essential to focus on perception. The longer we focus, the more 3-D images could be created.

Examples around

This idea points to an age-old belief that if you lose one or more senses, the remaining abilities become hyper-acute. Ben Underwood and Terry Garrett are examples. They're both blind. Underwood is able to get around however he likes with echolocation as a teenager. He can even roller blade and skateboard. His brain is able to work together to create a sonar sense with clicking, just like a bat or dolphin. Both Garrett and Underwood are able to use sound to play video games also.

Dr. Voytek and other scientists will not give up until they have developed the understanding they need of the brain and the brain's senses. We will continue to move forward until we know exactly how to acquire these super human abilities.


CBS News

Oscillatory Thoughts



Ben Underwood has overcome his blindness without surgery


Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.
Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.Courtesy Another Pint Please...
Ok, Buzzketeers, buckle up for some meaty issues, juicy discussion, and humorless punnery. But first:

Do you eat meat?

Let me say off the bat that this isn’t a judgment thing. Yeah, I am judging you, but only on your grammar, clothing, height, gait, pets, personal odor, and birthday.

But not on your diet. So there will be no bloodthirsty carnivore or milquetoast vegetarian talk here. Y’all can have that out on your own time.

This is more of what I like to call an entirely unscientific poll about meat, the future, and your deepest secrets. (Depending on what you consider secret.)

When you get to the end, you can see what everyone else voted.

Tell us, do you eat meat? (click here for the poll)

Or jump right to the results.

Or go ahead and discuss this stuff.


What’s in a super hero?
Superhero schmuperhero
Superhero schmuperheroCourtesy karla_k

Growing up, my dad had the classic Marvel comic heroes like Spiderman and Captain America whereas my brother and I watched and played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. These days I ask a little more from my heroes. I want them to increase energy efficiency, vanquish upper respiratory diseases like asthma, stop world hunger, and -- Wait! What?? Who’s this?! Gaba-gaba and Plumpy’nut to the rescue! -- Strangely named heroes they may be, but these are among the super foods fighting global malnutrition.

Food insecurity and hunger is a big deal. It affects about 200,000 households in Minnesota, about 13 million households in the United States, and 925 million people (more than the population of the U.S., Canada, and European Union combined!) worldwide. You are more likely to be among these effected populations if you live in a developing country, are female, and/or are a child. With a global population racing towards 9 billion (that’s 9,000,000,000) people, worldwide food insecurity and hunger is increasing rather than decreasing. As we say here in Minnesoooota, “Uff-da! Dat’s a big problem dere.”

Gaba-gaba and Plumpy’nut are being deployed around the world to fill bellies.
(Like) Gaba-gaba: These are probably your everyday, run-of-the mill sweet potatoes.  Super food sweet potatoes usually wear capes.
(Like) Gaba-gaba: These are probably your everyday, run-of-the mill sweet potatoes. Super food sweet potatoes usually wear capes.Courtesy Wally Hartshorn

Essentially, gaba-gaba is a naturally bred (read: not genetically engineered) variety of sweet potato containing an insane amount of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, iron, and folic acid (needed for healthy red blood cells). These nutrients build immunity, improve digestion, strengthen the heart, hydrate the body, improve eyes, and provide energy. But wait! There’s more!! Not only does it do all that, but gaba-gaba is fast growing as well as drought and disease resistant making it ideal for tough climates in places like Mozambique, Africa. Mega-extra bonus: I’ve heard gaba-gaba can be eaten raw or cooked and can even be squeezed for juice or ground into flour! Talk about a versatile veggie.

According to the International Potato Center -- Pause. Did you even know there is an International Potato Center? It’s totally legit. Bono went there with some of his U2 band members! Play. -- As I was saying, the IPC reports that Bono has eaten gaba-gaba to get in shape. “Gabba Gabba Hey!” is also a lyric to “Pinhead” by the Ramones. Clearly, this means that gaba-gaba is pop star endorsed. Coolness.

Meanwhile, Plumpy’nut is a “ready-to-use therapeutic food,” which, to my notion, looks like the kind of food astronauts eat in outer space. Also cool, right?

I imagine the Plumpy’nut recipe card to read something like, “ Step 1: Gather your peanuts, sugar, vegetable fat, milk powder, vitamins, and minerals. Step 2: Pulverize into a smooth paste. Step 3: Enjoy!” Ridiculously simple for a paste that can provide 500,000 calories per 92 gram (about 3.25 ounces) serving, and can be used at home, making it possible to treat severe acute malnutrition without hospitalization. Nutriset, the makers of Plumpy’nut, thought of everything! They even made sure the nutritious paste can last up to two years without refrigeration. Neat, huh?

It’s pretty amazing what science and technology can do to make the world a better place to live. We’ve written about food security, rising global population, and hunger before on the Buzz. I wrote this post a little over a year ago on the subject. It highlights the role of the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative’s efforts to stretch our agriculture resources and feed a growing population.

I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more super foods and modern day heroes. If you know of any, share them in the comment box below!


Half the chicken she used to be: Checking with a scale today, we've discovered Nefertweety has lost about half of her body weight through the mummification process, going down to 1.75 pounds from her starting weight of 3.5 pounds.
Half the chicken she used to be: Checking with a scale today, we've discovered Nefertweety has lost about half of her body weight through the mummification process, going down to 1.75 pounds from her starting weight of 3.5 pounds.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Summer is coming. Do you need help fitting into that swimsuit or other short, summer clothes? Then try the chicken mummy weight loss program. Call 1-800-CHICKEN-MUMMY and for the low, low price of $19.95 you can learn the ancient secrets of how to lose half of your body weight in just 33 days!!!!!

Okay, we’re really not encouraging anyone to wrap their body in natron (that combination of salts used inside and outside of organisms you want to mummify) for a month to loss major amounts of weight in one month’s time. But that’s exactly what has happened to Nefertweety, the chicken we are mummifying here at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

With this week's check of the bird, we brought a scale to measure the impact of what a month's worth of mummification work has done to the bird. The 3.5-pound fresh, store-bought chicken we had at the start of the process has now reduced down to 1.75 pounds. And she appears to be flattening out even more.

Chicken mummy uniforms: You must be wearing light blue in order to work on a chicken mummy on a Tuesday.
Chicken mummy uniforms: You must be wearing light blue in order to work on a chicken mummy on a Tuesday.Courtesy Mark Ryan
When we greeted Nefertweety today, her smell was not as noticeable as it has been in the past, but it’s still there. Less smell means we're getting close of the end of the mummification work. Poking around, it appears that some of the, um, rear tissues are still being slow to mummify. That darn chicken butt just doesn’t want to mummify. (BTW: I believe the last time I said the words “chicken butt” in succession was in fourth grade.)

We’re going to give Nefertweety another week to finally work through her final mummification issues and hopefully have a fully mummified bird next Tuesday. You can learn more about this whole project by following this link to our Making a Minnesota Mummy section of the Buzz, including how to mummify your own chicken at home.