This is Really Weird, if not Spooky

True Togetherness

Over ten years ago I read an article about fetal cells  crossing the placenta into the mother’s body proper and remaining there for decades. Male DNA in a mother may be how this was discovered. I told a friend who suffered a loss that a part of her daughter is still with her.

Previously, I imagined a  womb to be like a hammock with a feeding tube. The article made me envision some fetal cells shedding and Mommy’s body putting them in a keepsake box.

A few days ago an NY Times article describing a strange protein coursing through the veins of pregnant women, changed my perception. This protein called Hemo is not made by the mother but by her fetus and placenta, via a gene that originated from a virus infecting our mammalian ancestors over a 100 million years ago. Scientists don’t know its purpose if any. I’m reminded of the Sci-Fi series, Extant with Halle Berry, but I exaggerate. Nevertheless, a poorly understood exchange is going on between mother and fetus.

I did not expect a virus to be involved. A virus is defined as a microorganism that can only replicate by usurping a living cell. According to that definition it doesn’t necessarily cause disease. Part of the communication from fetus to mother may be to prevent her immune system from harming the fetus, to keep that food coming, and to prep the mammary glands. Maybe it’s related to those strange pregnancy cravings?

Fetal cells are like stem cells. They can transform into a variety of different cells (heart, lung, whatever), depending on what they are told to be by molecular signals, another process that is not well understood. When they drift into the mother’s body, they may be assimilated into the surrounding tissue. If not, they are sluffed off after  birth.

8% of the human genome consists of viruses. Aris Katzourakis, a virologist at the University of Oxford, conjectures these ancient viruses may play a positive or negative role, but feel they have an effect on human health. Virologists also conjecture that studying them may help in understanding cancer. A retrovirus takes over a cell and replicates much as a cancer cell does.

I met a woman over the weekend who became allergic to chocolate after her second pregnancy. Hmm?

I hope we’ll find the purpose of what’s going on some day. I find all of this most bizarre.

Sources:
Ancient Viruses in our DNA
Baby’s Cells Can Manipulate Mom’s body
How Do Stem Cells Know What to Be

 

 

 

 

Gut Feeling, a Scientific Reality?

 

Vagus Nerve System

After disheartening weeks of climate chaos I sought news to  combat depression. I found it in an unusual source: our guts. Gut bacteria and human health is a relatively new area of research. it began with incurable GI problems being treated by implanting fecal material from healthy folks  Then studies began to look at the role our bacteria played in other diseases. Brain Maker, by Dr. Perlmutter, catalogs problems of a number of people who received heavy doses of antibacterial medicine as youth. They later developed a variety of diseases, but rapidly improved with introduction of probiotics. Yogurt aficionados proclaimed “We told you so.” I’ve fallen in love with Kombucha, good for gut beasties and tastes like ginger beer with a bite.

Science is now looking at the connection with mental health. Anecdotal evidence supports the value of probiotics for depressed persons.

From Psychology Today: “There is growing evidence that the trillions of microbes inhabiting our gastrointestinal tracts (commonly referred to as microbiome or gut microbiota) play a mysterious yet significant role in many aspects of our mental health—ranging from psychological resilience to neuropsychiatric disorders.”

OK, Eloise, if none of this is  truly new, get to the point. Let’s suppose our microbes battle depression. . How do those little guys down there message our minds up here? What’s new to my understanding is the microbiome-gut-brain axis, a bidirectional feedback loop facilitated in part by the vagus nerve. This longest nerve in our body is like Hwy 66 with exit and entrance ramps being the nerve fibers which carry messages up and down. I still wonder how those little guys down there create messages or prod the gut to do so.

In a previous blog, Buzz Your Pain Away I wrote about zapping with electricity to control pain. Continuing with the super highway analogy, medical science long knew that pain impulses jump on entrance ramps to alert our brains  to get our hands off the hot stove, but more recently they discovered  the brain sends electrical anti-inflammatory signals out exit ramps to pain sites. Ambulances? As a result, medical science is engaged in research  on Implanting devices to generate such signals via a zap of electricity. .

We are genuinely wired, but I refuse to view myself as a robot.

 

  1. Psychiatry and Psychotherapy departments at the University of Regensburg in Germany

Psychology Today Article

 

So long, Cassini, so long

Beautiful image of Saturn-NASA

For 20 years, the Cassini spacecraft has been sending information to NASA about Saturn, its rings, and its many moons. Almost everything scientists know about Saturn have come from this highly successful mission. Two of the moons, Titan and Enceladus are primary targets in the search for life. “Are we alone?” is one of the big questions NASA attempts to answer. I’m not sure I’d find microbes company, but. . . Last Friday, Cassini crashed into Saturn, committing suicide, as programmed. Or was it crafticide? Cassini was dying and scientists deemed the planet a safer place for its fiery death.

It seems we have become complacent about NASA’s missions to discover the nature of our universe. Since our maiden efforts to launch into space, success is taken for granted, but it blows me away to think that we can send a spacecraft out hundreds of millions miles away and arrive on target. I can’t hit a dartboard within 8 feet. As a mathematician I can understand the calculations can be made, but the results depend on  accurate data. How all of the necessary data can be accumulated amazes me. Then there’s the transmission of the radio wave signals back to earth. If I drive far enough away from home I lose my favorite radio station. In fact, if not for the back and forth transmissions, they wouldn’t be able to make mid-course corrections. Setting initial conditions successfully seems improbable..

On the other hand,  check out a PBS special on one of these missions and discover how scientists hold their breath at every launch. I saw one on the two Voyagers and witnessed the love, the excitement, and the relief related to these two craft. They were slingshot into interstellar space—beyond our solar system— by planets at a time of ideal alignment. Voyager I carries a gold-plated disc carrying sounds of whale calls and Chuck Berry with visible directions on how to play it. The disc is expected to last 40,000 years.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought I saw the most excitement on the faces of the female scientists. It must be wonderful to know your work contributes to understanding who, what,  and where we are.

Sources:NYTimes  

Washington Post

Voyagers  

What’s Mother Earth up to?

What’s Mother Earth Up to?

The mind boggles with recent disasters. Hurricane Harvey drenching parts of Texas, Irma not to be outdone in the Caribbean and Florida. Fires in California. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. At least two beautiful natural areas, Yosemite in California, and the gorge containing Multinomah Falls in Oregon, and an 8.0 earthquake in the ocean near Mexico and Guatemala with a threat of tsunami. The only thing left is a volcanic eruption.

Houston is probably not alone in its construction of a concrete floor allowing water no place to go but into buildings. An area, which Hurricane Andrew hit over 20 years ago has been populated with domino-arranged high rise buildings. The potential for damage and loss of life much worse.

I wonder if our divided country is up to the challenge of long term planning.

On the lighter side, did you know?

  •  An elderly couple with first names Harvey and Irma have made national news for the first time in their over 9 decades of life. By the way this may seem an amazing coincidence, but for mathematical reasons such a coincidence is  likely, just not very likely for a particular couple such as Kenn and Eloise.
  • Scientists are designing cultured meat complete with taste and protein because it is  real meat. The lab meat  began at a cost to make billionaires gasp, but is dropping rapidly and will soon be competitive. Initial cells come from animals, but once the cells reproduce they can provide starter cells for the next batch. It reminds me of homemade yeast.  One of my favorite jokes is that if God didn’t want people to eat animals, he shouldn’t have made them out of meat.
  •   Animals who are organized in packs are democratic. Grunts, barks, or other sounds indicate a positive vote. The most unusual are wild dogs of Africa which sneeze for approval of a hunt. The research isn’t definitive and it seems if the alpha dog sneezes first, fewer need to follow for the hunt to begin.
  • Those I spoke with felt the trek to see the full eclipse was worth it. Further, I’ve heard no reports of eye damage despite some profiteers manufacturikng fake glasses. The url for the website which will stitch together eclipse pix accross the country is:http://www.citizencate.org/

 

New Evidence for Sleep Learning

It’s known that our brains can review what we’ve learned during the day increasing the chances of retention. A recent study also suggested that the brain retains best what we most desire to learn.

However, it’s never been clear that something new going on during sleep can be accessed by our brains. Now, a team of neuroscientists played complex sounds to people while they were sleeping, and afterward the sleepers could recognize those sounds. Such learning has been a debated topic for years according to one author of the study1.

Researchers in the 1950s dismantled claims that sleepers can learn facts, so you can’t learn a new language or concrete subject matter by playing DVDs while you sleep. Don’t bother putting a book under your pillow. However, it seems that the sleeping brain can take in some sensory information and store it in the subconscious. This is only possible during REM sleep according to the team. In a 2014 study, Israeli neuroscientists had 66 people smell cigarette smoke coupled with foul odors while they were asleep. The test subjects avoided smoking for two weeks after the experiment.

Maybe we can learn to break bad habits during sleep. Hmm, if there are smells associated with projects we want to complete, we could combine those smells with the smell of fresh-baked bread or lilacs while we doze the night away.

I assume—correctly—that the sleeping brain cannot tune into visual cues. I wonder if touch has been studied. Might wake us up and I can’t think of a useful experiment or application.

It seems to me the practical implications are minimal, but I find the fact that our brains are not completely out of it during sleep is fascinating and adds to our understanding of how that 3 pounds of matter works.

1, Thomas Andrillon, a neuroscientist at PSL Research University in Paris

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/08/08/your-brain-can-form-new-memories-while-you-are-asleep-neuroscientists-show/?utm_

PS: Still in Eastern Europe and the farewell dinner is on our anniversary.

Time is running out for your free copy of Glimpses

Dragons & Magic Oh My

One of my stories, Reboot, is included in this e-collection of fantasy stories and will only cost you a few clicks if you act soon.  Glimpses is free during a prepublication period. Reboot is realistic until the surprise ending.

Glimpses is an eclectic collection including humor and creepy stuff, some not for the faint of heart. I found The Eresutna, the funniest, Wolf of Wool Street and Spots All Over, the most droll. Lots of dragon-like critters. Go to https://anthologers.com/ and claim your free ecopy. I

The goal is to collect fans.Feel free to share with anyone you think likes fantasy. What’s nice about short stories is you can read when you’re in the mood and not have to worry where you left off.

Not headed for a solar eclipse traffic jam?

The diamond ring

Not to worry. 60 science stations across the countries  have volunteered to take great videos. I’ll be cruising on the Danube on the 21st, so I was delighted to hear I won’t miss it entirely. I’m also too cheap to spend $500 to $999 on a Hotel 6.

Those who have experienced a full solar eclipse describe it as a unique situation where unexpected things happen. Matt Penn from the National Solar Observatory in Arizona, says, “The world goes still. The wind dies down. The temperature drops. Birds are silenced mid-song. You feel the shadow of the moon pass over you, and you really feel that something is wrong.” Oooooo, being a fan of the creepy, I really like that.

But my darling hubby does all the work of trip planning so that’s life. OTOH, these 60— that’s six-oh volunteers— who call themselves the Citizen CATE (Continental-America Telescope Eclipse) Experiment. will stitch together 90 minutes worth of film for the longest movie of a total solar eclipse ever made.  Sounds like a perfect way for me to sit and get over jet lag.

At any rate, that’s my plan and when I get back from my cruise, I’ll dig up the url and post it so you can enjoy watching the eclipse with popcorn.

I’ll still be on the cruise on the 30th, my next scheduled post, which I still have to write. So it will be September 10th before I post the url. If you haven’t noticed my plan is to post on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month. (OK, in February it will be the 28th.) At any rate, I just figured out how to write my posts in advance and schedulre WordPress to post them on my multiples of ten. Is my mathematical side coming out? OTOH I suspect my followers are savvy enough to find ithe url for the video on their own before I post. Hey, use reply to this post to share with others and even save me a step.

Hmm, I have two sisters under the path. I’ll have to try to figure out the time change and toast with them.  Cheers!

Resourced from click here.

And if you are heading out,  a NY Times article says being in a crowd may enhance the experience.