Stories tagged Human Organism

Feb
08
2010

The Discovery of King Tut: Howard Carter, staging the discovery of King Tut, in 1922.
The Discovery of King Tut: Howard Carter, staging the discovery of King Tut, in 1922.Courtesy Wiki Media Commons
Science Buzz bloggers have been buzzing about this topic for some time, but as the time draws near, I thought I would jump in for those new to Science Buzz. The rapidly expanding field of DNA analysis is now being used to verify the genealogy of the great kings of Egypt. Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, has announced that on February 17th, 2010 he will be revealing the results of DNA testing on the famous mummy of the boy king, Tutankhamun. DNA testing has already been done on King Amenhotep III (who reigned from approximately 1388 to 1351 BCE) for comparison as he is believed to be either Tut’s father or grandfather. The mummy of Amenhotep’s son, Akhenaten (who could be Tut’s father), has yet to be found. Researchers also plan to test the DNA of two mummified fetuses found in the tomb to determine if they are related to Tut and shed light on whether King Tut’s bride, daughter of Akhenaten, was his full sister or half sister.

Despite the popularity of King Tut and the splendid artifacts found in his tomb, he is actually only a minor figure in the history of Egyptian pharaohs, reigning for a mere 10 years in a time of great unrest. The story of Akhenaten is more interesting. Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352 to 1336 BCE, is famous for changing both religion and artistic style in Egypt, what is now known as the Amarna Period. Akhenaton introduced a new monotheistic cult of worship surrounding the sun disc Aten and excluded all other Egyptian gods from being worshipped in an effort to suppress the powerful priesthood of Amun.

Pharaoh Akhenaten: Classic Amarna Period sculpture of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.
Pharaoh Akhenaten: Classic Amarna Period sculpture of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.Courtesy Hajor and Wiki Media Commons
Artwork during the Amarna Period took on a more naturalistic style and often emphasized affectionate family scenes of the Pharaoh with his wife Nefertiti and their children. Of interest to many art historians is the depiction of Akhenaten himself. He is represented with an accentuated feminine appearance, rounded protruding belly, wide hips, long slender limbs, and a long thin face. Some believe it is a purposeful political depiction stressing his belief in equality of the sexes, some suggest he was a hermaphrodite, and others suggest he had Marfan’s syndrome. People with Marfan’s syndrome are usually very tall with long thin arms and legs, have thin faces, and funnel shaped chests. Unfortunately, until his mummy is located this will remain a mystery.

When Akhenaten died, the priests of Amun regained power, striking Akhenaten’s name from Egyptian records, reversed all of his religious and governmental changes, and returned the capitol to Thebes. His son, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun to honor Amun and became the now famous boy king ruling from 1336 to 1327 BCE.

Mr. Hawass has announced plans to test all the royal mummies using their new $5 million DNA lab in the Egyptian museum. However, there is some concern in the scientific field that he will not submit results to labs outside Egypt for independent verification as is common practice in DNA testing. For example, DNA results of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s famous, powerful and only female pharaoh have never been released. Our fascination with the pharaohs is sure to continue for many more centuries.

Feb
01
2010

hamburger: what is it really made from?
hamburger: what is it really made from?Courtesy PixelAndInk
No fries. I’m watching my diet.

Yeah, I said ammonia burger. Haven’t you heard that your favorite fast food beef gut –bomb was most likely treated with ammonia? It’s not like the teenage fry cook at the burger joint reaches under the counter and grabs the bottle of floor cleaner to splash on a sizzling grill. However, there is still extra ammonia used to treat a ‘portion’ of your burger. Just a little extra ammonia injected during a specially patented process that makes up a percentage of the meat to form a patty. That ‘portion’ is where I think the real story lies.

Over the last few months, the news wires have been releasing stories about this specially patented process, including leading breaks by the New York Times. The stories center on the company, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) located in South Dakota. BPI developed the procedure of treating beef trimmings with ammonia to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. Coli. Some of their main customers include McDonald’s, Burger King, and local food conglomerate Cargill. BPI had performed so well during USDA inspections that by 2007 they were exempted from testing. Its customers have stood firmly by its side. Last summer, things changed when school outbreaks of salmonella resulted in a banning of BPI meat products in some states. The pressure is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture now to investigate any issues.

No one wants to eat meat products contaminated with E. Coli or salmonella. But the whole idea of eating something treated with ammonia just doesn’t sound safe. Was it too many years of Mr. Yuck stickers as a child? I realize ammonia is a naturally occurring substance and can be already present in meats. When I really began to search my inner self about this angst, I found that what truly bothered me was the product being treated. This ammonia process wasn’t used on all beef. Slaughterhouses don’t give the fated bovines an ammonia bath before packaging. This process only is used on beef trimmings. Just say those two words to yourself slowly… pause and contemplate. Beef Trimmings.

raw ground meat?: i'd guess that the pink slime is what holds it together.
raw ground meat?: i'd guess that the pink slime is what holds it together.Courtesy cobalt123
Described by one source as a “pink slime”, trimmings are the last vestiges of muscle tissue left from a good butchering. It has been separated from the ‘majority’ of bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It is then spun by centrifugal force to remove fat, pressed, screened for metal, frozen, chipped, and pressed into 60 pound blocks. In the end, it only need be 12% visible lean tissue to classify as trimmings. The USDA has standards on what constitutes both meat and trimmings. This scrap used to be regulated to pet food and cooking oil. Do we really need to be mixing some into each of our double cheeseburgers? I’d be curious to know what percentage of trimmings makes up that quarter pound patty. Take out the trimmings and we can skip the whole ammonia question.

Recent questions are being plumbed by many parties about these food safety issues. Requests for documents have been met with some resistance by BPI. They seek to block any release of the research done by the Iowa State professor who published supportive findings. Now the courtroom waltzes begin and the delay of answers drags on. I’m certain this won’t be the last we’ve heard of those tasty ammonia treated trimmings.

I think i'll change that order to a chicken sandwich. That's 'free-range' correct?

Jan
18
2010

Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.
Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.Courtesy Cayusa
Alzheimer’s disease, that is. A technique developed by researchers at University College London (UCL), located on Repetitious Redundant Lane, allows your optician to not only find the proper lens prescription, but also screen you for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Their method takes advantage of the fact that the cells in the retina (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye) are direct extensions of the brain. As shown in the picture below, the retina is continuous with the optic nerve (also known as cranial nerve II), which then leads straight into the brain. The UCL researchers have found that the amount of retinal cell damage corresponds directly to the amount brain cell deterioration. They have also identified a particular pattern of retinal damage that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s patients.

Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.
Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.Courtesy William Vroman
The way to measure this damage simply involves using special eye drops that highlight dying retinal cells. Your optician can then observe the extent and configuration of the deterioration. Research shows that cells start to die ten to 20 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms start to surface, so this procedure could be used to diagnose the disease in its early stages. This test would be quick, easy, and inexpensive, and being able to detect the disease early would allow doctors to treat, and possibly reverse the symptoms of this disease.

So far, the researchers have only tested this technique on mice, but they will start to test human subjects in the near future. According to UCL, you might be able to receive this test within the next five years. However, there are some reasons that people might not want to screen themselves. There is fear that insurance companies could increase the premiums of middle aged people who test positive. There are also people who would just rather not know they may have this devastating disease in their future. How about you? Would you want to know?

Jan
17
2010

Finally, an objective test for autism

Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.Courtesy Tom Holroyd
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD), up until now, has been subjective. No hard evidence, like a blood test or some other machine measurement could be used to verify ASD.

Researchers now hope that by scanning brainwaves, early recognition and treatment might be possible. Autism spectrum disorders, which includes Aspergers, is now being found in about one per cent of the (US) population.

In the current study, published in the journal Autism Research, Dr Roberts used a magnetoencephalography (MEG), a scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
The children with ASDs had an average delay of 11 milliseconds (about 1/100 of a second) in their brain responses to sounds, compared to the control children. Telegraph.co.uk

Jan
04
2010

Chicken soup
Chicken soupCourtesy Mullenedheim
I am frugal and am careful when spending money. I remember a businessman telling me there was lots of money to be made in soap and food supplements. They both end up "going down the drain".
Billions of dollars are spent every year on vitamins, medicines and doctor visits. Are there scientific studies that verify how effective various remedies are in our battle against the common cold or flu?

Learn what science says about cold or flu remedies

I think most people accept that adequate rest, water, exercise, hand washing are fully supported by science. What does the scientific literature say about doctor's visits, antibiotics, vitamin C, echinacea and zinc, cough medicine, "Airborne", or chicken soup. I recommend you read the Patient Money column in the Jan 1, 2010 New York Times. Here are just a few tidbits from the article.

Dec
11
2009

You will never have to buy these again
You will never have to buy these againCourtesy very little dave
One hates to be outdone. I mean, all of a sudden I’m given to understand that not only am I the resident poop expert (and how do you think that feels) but that I’ve been shirking my duties in covering the scatological sciences, and that fecal subject matter is slipping right between my fingers! It’s humiliating on several levels.

Thank goodness for the internet, eh? Because look what just fell in my lap: an eleventh-hour entry for most bizarre poop story of the year. A couple of 20-something designers with years of experience in the arts and a couple crazy weeks of education in synthetic biology were the talk of the town at this year’s International Genetically Engineered Machine Jambori. Why? Because of their briefcase full of human feces.

It wasn’t real human feces, of course—they’re artists, not miracle workers. But it represented a coming revolution in pooping. The wax poop models, you see, were all the colors of the rainbow (over a predictably colored base). The team of undergraduates they collaborated with have been working on genetically engineering strains of the E. choli bacteria that will change color in the presence of certain compounds. Currently, the new strain (now called, har har, E. chromi) will turn orange, red, brown, purple or yellow in the presence of arsenic, the exact color depending on the amount of arsenic. (“Brown”?)

Aside from brightening up the gloomy bowel movements of people suffering from arsenic poisoning, the team of scientists and artists has proposed that the technology could be used in the future for diagnosing diseases. Just swallow a little capsule, say, and the bacteria inside could tell you if you have cancer. It would be like reading tea leaves, kind of, but in a bigger cup, and without the leaves. (Imagining finding out from your Technicolor poops that you have cancer.)

Sadly, this application is a long way off. Aside from color-coding the bacteria to different diseases, it would have to be engineered so that our immune systems couldn’t destroy it before it changes color. One wonders, too if creating a strain of E. choli that is invisible to our immune systems might have a new set of issues to overcome.

I hope that they realize the recreational potential of any drugs to come out of the project.

Dec
01
2009

Vat grown meat?: In five years, it could be yours.
Vat grown meat?: In five years, it could be yours.Courtesy Jorren
These are confusing times we live in. Are vampires legitimate objects of sexual desire, or is wanting to make out with a 100-year-old man still weird? What are dolphins thinking about? And what will you be eating in ten years?

It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? But Science Buzz is here to help. Here are the answers to the preceding pressing questions, in order: Yes, because when have millions of teenagers ever been wrong?; depends on the 100-year-old man, and if he’s interested too; sex, hunting, and horrible combinations of the two; and lab-grown meat.

We’ve talked about “artificial” meat here on the Buzz before, because it’s so weird, sciencey and awesome, but that was four years ago, and some wild things have developed since then.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, scientists in the Netherlands have created artificial muscles… for eating! The articles I found about the announcement were, unfortunately, pretty vague, and I’m not sure exactly what this muscle mass is like. It’s not a huge challenge to get a bunch of muscle cells to reproduce outside of a living animal, but getting them grow into a real muscle (and recognizable meat, instead of a formless mass of cells) is more difficult. It’s a similar problem to growing new organs for transplant, and similar methods have been tested; researchers are experimenting with using a collagen “skeleton” of a muscle for muscle cells to grow on. I think that the researchers in the Nethelands may have done something like this, because they’ve grown pig cells into what they’re referring to as “soggy pork,” a substance like “wasted muscle.” Just getting the structure right, it seems, is not quite enough for having lab-grown meat (or “in vitro meat”) that tastes and feels like the real thing. The scientists still need to figure out a way to “exercise” the bodiless muscle, but they think that they’re close enough to a solution that they claim the artificial meat could be on sale within five years. But, then again, that’s what this guy said five years ago, and in the 1930s, Winston Churchill said we’d be growing meat outside of animals within 50 years, so what do they know? Maybe they’re onto something this time, though—a sausage company is backing the research, and it’s thought that the first real fake muscles will be pretty small, and best used in ground meat applications. Like sausages.

It’s an interesting idea, in vitro meat. Unlike cloned meat, which still comes from a living, cloned animal, in vitro meat would never come from a whole animal, so there would be no animal cruelty. The original cells could be taken via biopsy, too, leaving the animal unharmed. It’s also hoped that meat-growing processes could eventually be better for the environment, because they wouldn’t require land to live on, or for growing feed crops, or as much fuel to move around, and they wouldn’t constantly be farting and producing methane (A very potent greenhouse gas). And while scientists in laboratories are doing these early experiments, commercial scale operations would be more like yeast- or yogurt-producing facilities. Even PETA, ever looking for trouble in the oddest places seems to be ok with the idea of in vitro meat, because it doesn’t require animals to be hurt or killed.

But would you eat it? Are you more or less comfortable with meat that was grown in a vat than with meat grown in an animal’s body?

Nov
29
2009

Wadena county, Minnesota
Wadena county, MinnesotaCourtesy wikipedia image
During the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to spend four weeks in the field doing actual scientific investigation. From mid-June until mid-July, I was a participant in the University of Minnesota's archeology summer field school run by Professor Kat Hayes. The mission of the field school was to attempt to confirm the presence of a European footprint in this remote part of what would become a young Minnesota territory.

The site of Little Round Hill is located in Wadena County, Minnesota, part way between the towns of Staples and Wadena. Currently, it is part of a county park system. Located at the confluence of the Crow Wing River and the Partridge River, Little Round Hill is believed to be a historical site from the early French fur trading days.

The story goes something like this. In the mid- 1800's, William Warren wrote an account of Ojibwe life in a growing Minnesota territory. In his work, Warren interviewed an elderly Ojibwe man. This elderly man recounted days spent at a fur trading encampment while he was just a young boy. The encampment centered around the dwelling of a French fur trader and his handful or so of Coureur-des-bois . Staying with this trader were around ten Ojibwe hunters and their families. According to the account, Little Round Hill became the focus of contention between rival bands of Ojibwe and Lakota hunters. By oral recollection, there was an incident of more than 200 Lakota warriors approaching and attacking the outpost. The Frenchmen and Ojibwe held the attackers at bay with guns while barricading themselves into the main encampment. The attackers, with only a few guns and armed mainly with bow and arrow for projectiles, were unable to overcome the defenses and eventually retreated.

The site itself had been recognized for its historical implications for quite some time. For years, local residents have pondered that possible remains may lie buried at the Little Round Hill location. In 1992, Douglas Birk conducted an initial survey of the site. While artifact remains spanning several centuries were recovered in his explorations, they didn’t produce evidence of any of the structures described in the oral account.

The summer of 2009 excavations started out with a whimper. Rain and uncooperative weather hampered our beginning efforts. As the clouds passed, the field crew opened a handful of excavation pits and began searching for artifacts. The results were productive and encouraging. Items of distinct European influence started to appear in most of the test areas including musket balls, cut pieces of finished copper, small trade beads, a couple pieces of worked metal (still of undetermined nature), a few pottery shards and even a small ring (possibly silver).
musket ball: the first such item found and it came from my pit!
musket ball: the first such item found and it came from my pit!Courtesy K.Kmitch

Additional materials such as a stone arrowhead, lithic debris, and animal bones both broken and charred were recovered. After a month of work and close to a dozen open explorations, much more habitation evidence was revealed. While no sign was uncovered of the fortifications mentioned in the oral account, at least three of the excavation points did expose strong support for likely hearth locations. These may have been centered near the possible dwellings of the occupants.

Alas, the season of excavation is a short one in Minnesota. After a month of work, the crew retreated home with bags of evidence in hand. During the 2009-2010 academic year, the materials are being analyzed and cataloged at the University of Minnesota. A full report on the findings is expected this coming spring. While the preliminary data does not show conclusive evidence of the mentioned encampment, enough material was recovered to warrant further investigation. Plans are to return to the site next summer to resume excavations and expand exploration of the area. I, for one, can not wait and hope to have my hand in the dirt once again come summer 2010.

Nov
21
2009

Hair and the chemicals we put in it.

Do you know what you are putting in your hair when you dye, perm, or relax your hair?
Hair dyes contain harsh chemicals. Para Phenylenediamine is a potent allergen. It is also a possible carcinogen which is cancer causing. Reports suggest over exposure to hair dyes might increase the chances of forms of cancer such as lymphoma, multiple myeloma, breast cancer, and leukemia. Another chemical in hair dyes is lead acetate and lead is said to disrupt the function of your brain.
Hair relaxers are mostly used by African Americans to get straight silky hair. I used to get these relaxers and thought they were great but now my hair has lots of breakage. So I no longer get them. Relaxers contain a chemical called lye also known as sodium hydroxide which are used in drain cleaners. This is a very strong potent chemical The relaxer breaks the protein bonds in the hair. If relaxers are misused the scalp can be severly burned and hair can fall out leaving bald spots. Even without misuse lye breaks down the protein in the hair leaving hair dry with breakage. It can also lead to brain damage. Watch the video below…Would you want the foil to be your head?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2zSWhf4VUgsodium hydroxide burn
sodium hydroxide burnCourtesy ......