Fancy Hearts of Spinach?


No. I’m not asking what you’d like as a side dish with your Chicken Kiev or talking about a veggie that costs more at a farmers market. I’m talking about some pretty damned creative scientists who had the fancy idea to create beating human heart tissue using a spinach leaf as scaffolding. Scientists have been able to create large-scale human tissue using 3-D printers no less, but needed to find a way to obtain the small delicate blood vessels to support the tissue.

Like many  why-didn’t-we-think-of-that ideas, the fact that leaf veins and small human capillaries perform similar functions makes the attempt seem natural in hindsight. The leaf veins indeed turned out to  be capable of conveying blood-like fluid. The teamremoved the plant cells from a spinach leaf, leaving a frame of cellulose and bathed the structure with live human cells, simulating a mini-heart. Fortunately, cellulose is biocompatible with our human parts, and the leaves can be layered to the required thickness. There is much work still to be done, but results to date are most promising. I like this idea better than growing human tissue in pigs or other animals, and I’m not a vegetarian.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to create replacement tissue for hearts damaged by heart attacks, heart disease, or injury. The scientists who did the studies propose wood might be used to replace damaged bones some day.

I assume spinach was chosen because its vein configuration and size work best for heart tissue. It was the graduate researcher who noticed the main stem of a spinach leaf resembled an aorta. Presumably different leaves could be used for other parts of the body. Check out the leaves in your next salad.

  1. Joshua Gershlak,  Glenn Gaudette, Taqnia Dominko, Pamela Weathers, Marsha Rolle  of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and collaborating researchers at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and  University of Wisconsin-Madison.


 Adapted from: (Check out the pix!)

Can a cell have an idea?

This brain has bright ideas

That’s the idea that fascinated  Marian Diamond as a young girl,  propelling her to a career on brain research and becoming a woman known for toting a pickled brain around in a flowered hat box . As the first female graduate student in the Department of Anatomy at UC Berkeley, she achieved her PhD and became the first woman science instructor at Cornell University. Continuing her achievement of firsts, she with two colleagues conducted experiments on lab rats, providing evidence that the brain was not genetically fixed as conventional wisdom long held. Instead, a rich environment expands the brain’s capacity. Today, brain plasticity is a fertile area of research, but during her first conference talk her results were denigrated by the male audience.

Not satisfied with conducting research with rat brains, she launched experiments in areas of the world lacking quality educational resources. Her success not only established environmental impact on the human brain, it served the humanitarian purpose of vastly improving education. Later she established that brains of the elderly also benefit from stimulation. Motivated by her love for her husband she found evidence that love increases longevity as another of her significant achievements.

She requested and to her excitement received slices of Einstein’s normal-sized brain and became the first to delve into the secrets of his remarkable mind, discovering, as in rat brains, a higher ratio of glial cells to neurons. It had been thought that the only role of glial cells involved housekeeping, namely supplying nutrients and destroying dead cells. Electrical signals between neurons conveyed by synapses accounted for thinking, While glia cannot produce electrical signals, recent research found they produce chemical signals and do play a role in our thought processes. Score another profound advancement  to our heroine. The purist in me needs to point out that a single cell probably cannot have an idea. It takes a village of well-connected cells, but Dr. Diamond’s point remains. Single cells, electricity, and chemistry amazingly produce ideas.

Marian Diamond raised four children and taught more than 60,000 adoring students over her academic career. An attractive, well-dressed woman with a sense of humor, she threw a piece of chalk at the end of her lectures and took the lucky catcher out to lunch. She combatted sexual discrimination by ignoring it and wildly succeeding. I could identify with her retirement in her mid-80s despite her continuing vitality, echoing my thought that it is best to go before people sigh with relief at your leaving. The PBS documentary on her life, My Love Affair With The Brain is an inspiration and can be seen online. In writing this I discovered there is an entire web series on her life. I’m signing up.

My love affair with the brain
My love affair with the brain—all web episodes 
Marian Diamond by Wikipedia
Conversation with Marian Diamond
Brain Facts 


Are hospitals designed to make you sicker?

Feeling trapped

Everyone knows you can’t rest in a hospital with the constant beeping of equipment, uncoordinated visits by nurses—medication, blood draws, change of IVs all at different times—chatter of visitors, and the list goes on. I just read an article by a doctor who adds the design of hospital buildings to the list of problems. Number one on his list is shared rooms, which exacerbates the problem of hospital-acquired infections affecting up to 30 percent of intensive care patients, i.e. the most vulnerable. While private rooms are more expensive, the cost is made up by shorter stays when the number of infected patients is reduced.

Further, private rooms are essential to preserving confidentiality of one’s medical condition. Patients in curtained spaces have been known to withhold part of their medical history or refuse exams. One commenter to the article described being party to his roommate’s overpowering, gag-inducing stench when his colostomy bag was changed. Sorry, I hope you’re not eating breakfast while you’re reading this, but imagine if you were eating next to this in the hospital.

In addition, installing easier-to-clean surfaces, well-positioned sinks and high-quality air filters can further reduce infection rates. Falls can be reduced with improved lighting, less slippery floors, toilets at a proper height, and unobstructed paths to bathrooms. Nurses can get to patients more quickly if stations are decentralized. Noise can be mitigated through sound-absorbing acoustic panels, thicker walls, and fewer unnecessary alarms.

Another commenter described a hospital building, which required using an elevator, which only ascended to the first floor and then travel through a maze of hallways to a second bank of elevators.

Then there are the aesthetics that improve healing through inducing calm and lifting spirits. Studies show the more nature the better. Views of trees from windows that open to fresh air shorten stays and need for pain medication. Similar research found that patients with bipolar disorder did better in east-facing rooms with morning sunlight. Psychiatric patients require fewer medications for anxiety when photos of landscapes hang on their walls, and patients watching nature videos have higher tolerance for pain, more positive emotions, and lower heart rates and blood pressure.

The article by Dhruv Khullar M.D., M.P.P. concludes with: research supports an urgent need to change the way we build, maintain and work in hospitals, and many facilities could do more to promote rest and healing while preventing stress and infection. It’s clear that evidence-based medical care will require evidence-based hospital design.

PS The more nature the better motto goes for everyday life and is more important than ever when too many of us are wired to our de-vices.

Based on NYTimes: Hospital Design Article


Save the chocolate!

The Amazon rain forests are disappearing at an increasing rate and along with them the best exquisite-chocolate-producing cacao trees.

From August of 2015 through July of 2016, the  Amazon forest lost nearly 8,000 square kilometers of area to clear cutting, compared to a year earlier when 6,207 square kilometers were lost. That’s an area considerably larger than the state of Delaware. Delaware may be small, but like a 1000 piece puzzle covers a large picture, the annual loss amounts to ultimate devastaion..

The Amazon has long been dubbed the lungs of the planet due to its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Rainforests can also be characterized as the medicine cabinet of the world as they are filled with medicinal treasure both discovered and yet to be discovered. Quinine, novacain, and cortisone to name a familiar few. In fact, half of the top ten prescription drugs in the U.S. are of animal, plant, or microorganism origin. 70% of plant-based cancer drugs come from plants only found in rainforests. Many plants and animals—potential sources of vital medicine—have gone extinct. Only a small percent of the existing known plant and animal species have been thoroughly examined for their medicinal potential.

About a decade ago, the problem was highlighted in the news and measures were taken to stem the destruction. Evidently, we spanked our hands on the problem and turned to other issues. Without the spotlight, Cargill and other agri-companies are not sufficiently ensuring compliance with their stated policies of only buying products from agricultural lands. The Brazilian government has become lax about enforcing legislation to protect the forest by forgiving those who have engaged in the practice.

At the same time, Mark Christian is turning to producing premium chocolate he calls wild chocolate from rare cacao trees in the Amazon forest. He is not only hoping to promote the specialty chocolate as an industry there, but hoping that it will contain  the amount of clearcutting for other crops.

I confess to attempting to trick readers who may be weary of the plea to save rainforests and view people like me as tree huggers. We might not know if we could benefit from some undiscovered medical cure or how the air we breath is affected, but I hope that the love of chocolate in all of us  will help rally the world. Truffles, anyone?

If you want to do something, click here for a list of worthy organizations, which are fighting to save this natural resource.

Sources: Medicinal treasures of the rainforest 
Preserve rare cacao resources in the Amazon
Amazon deforestation increases when our planet can least afford it.
Deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia roars back  
Video photos taken by NASA 



The Rare Lenticular Clouds Phenomenon

I found these breathtaking photos amazingly beautiful. Be sure to click on View Original Post below the first picture to see them all.


Lenticular clouds (altocumulus lenticularis) are sky phenomena often interpreted like UFO presences. These particular clouds can be generally seen on the top of the mountains, where different wind streams merge.

View original post 39 more words

Do you know what normal means?

The Normal Distribution with average in the center.

The Normal Distribution with average in the center.

One meaning of normal is what is typical, i.e. what most people do. But a recent paper in the journal Cognition argues when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. In other words, normal is a blend of statistics and model behavior.

Ask yourself, “What is the average number of hours of TV that people watch in a day?” Think of an answer before answering the next question.

“What is the normal number of hours of TV for a person to watch in a day?”

If you are like most participants in an experiment, you didn’t give the same answer. The experiment’s participants averaged four for the first question and three for the second. The results were the same for other scenarios.

So why did I find this interesting? Or why does anybody?

The researchers found it potentially dangerous as human minds are blending what is right and ideal with what is typical, and it is this blending that is of concern. It suggests that it is human nature to think that if everybody does it, it’s okay because it’s normal. Every parent rejects the “everybody does it” excuse from their offspring, but may harbor a tendency to that kind of thinking, themselves.

An argument I have always disliked is the slippery slope. If we accept A, it will lead to B and on to Z, which is perfectly horrible. Therefore, reject A. I have always argued that we are in control at each step we wish to take and will stop when appropriate. Now, I wonder if I am wrong and that as A becomes normalized, B looks less atypical and so on. Upon rethinking I  may agree that the slope is slippier than I thought, but that means we need to wear track shoes and be vigilant about our thinking.

Never should be normal

Never should be normal

We must take charge of our brains. We cannot let daily occurrence of atrocities become acceptable because it is typical. In today’s world, all of us can provide numerous examples that should cause outrage and not be normalized.

Inspired and adapted from:

Forget Atlantis. A lost continent has been discovered under the Indian Ocean!











South African scientists including Geologist Lewis Ashwal of Wits University announced that three billion year old zircons have been found on the nine million year old tropical island of Mauritius. They believe the only explanation is that the island, which is near Madagascar off the eastern coast of Africa, sits atop a lost continent, which was once part of Gondwana, the huge land mass from which Africa, South America, Antarctica, India and Australia split off.  The continent dubbed Mauritia is described as having to have splintered off in a complicated way. Check out the first website below to see a conjectured outline of Mauritia which extends from the island of Mauritius to north of the southern tip of India. I have no idea how they were able to formulate the shape unless it is a missing sliver from Gondwana.

When ancient small zircons were first found on the beaches in 2013, it was speculated that they could have blown there or arrived on the shoes of tourists. Now that  the oldest mineral on Earth has been found embedded in rocks on the island paradise, scientists are completely convinced the point of origin comes from a contnent below.

What I found fun about this discovery is that I am writing a novel about an intelligent human-like species which lives under an unnamed sea floor. If Mauritia splintered in a complicated way, it could provide the home for my imagined tetrapeds. Hooray!


Adapted from: