Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Selective memory

I can't remember if I've already mention this to you yet . . .

Researchers recently found that they were able to erase specific memories in rats. Really. They tell all about it in the current issue of the journal Neuron.

By blocking the enzyme alpha-CaMKII (which is a kinase) in neurons of the brain, the researchers were able to completely block recall of mild electric shocks given when a certain piece of music was played. Apparently, this specific kinase performs a critical step in recalling memory.

It's just the beginning of a road that may lead to the ability to therapeutically erase traumatic memories in individuals who suffer post-traumatic pathologies. Or it might not. But it's an interesting development, nonetheless.

Even more likely, however, is the possibility that this research pathway will lead us to a clearer understanding of how memories are formed and recalled.

Want to know more? Check out these resources:

Science News Web edition : Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
[Brief article that summarizes the research and its implications]

Inducible and Selective Erasure of Memories in the Mouse Brain via Chemical-Genetic Manipulation
Neuron, Volume 60, Issue 2, 353-366, 23 October 2008
Xiaohua Cao, et al.
[The original research article in the journal Neuron; free brief summary]

Requirement for alpha -CaMKII in Experience-Dependent Plasticity of the Barrel Cortex.
S. Glazewski et al.
Science 19 April 1996: Vol. 272. no. 5260, pp. 421 - 423
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5260.421
[Journal article showing related functions for this enzyme]

You may want to go back and look at my recent article on memory at The A&P Professor blog.

Growing a new prostate

This letter in the 22 October 2008 advanced online issue of of Nature caught my eye . . .

Scientists at Genentech, Inc. have identified an adult stem cell type in the male prostate that can can be transplanted and generate a new prostate in the donor!

Generation of a prostate from a single adult stem cell
Kevin G. Leong, et al.
Nature advance online publication 22 October 2008 | doi:10.1038/nature07427
[Original article; summary is free]

'New prostate' grown inside mouse
BBC News online, accessed 24 October 2008
[Summary of research and its context; cool image of a prostate cancer cell]

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Changes in sensory mapping of the brain

We all know about sensory mapping of the brain, right. Somatic senses detected on the right side of the body are processed in the somatic sensory area of the cortex in the left hemisphere . . . all mapped out in a way that can be represented in a homunculus or little map of the body transposed on the cortex. The image shown here is a snapshot of a three-dimensional homunculus on exhibit at the London Natural History Museum. Or the 2-D homunculus shown in Chapter 14 of my textbook Anatomy & Physiology.

And we all know that plasticity of brain function allows us to reorganize the sensory map of the brain when we lose a body part . . . as in an accidental amputation. (Yet another reason to be careful when dissecting specimens, eh?)

A recent article in the journal Current Biology tells us that a man who received a hand transplant several decades after an accidental amputation experienced a reactivation of the old "hand map" within his sensory cortex. In other words, his brain went back to the original pre-amputation configuration.

. . . a nice little bit of current research to throw into your next discussion of the concepts of sensory mapping and plasticity.

Check out these resources:

Chronically deafferented sensory cortex recovers a grossly typical organization following allogenic hand transplantation
By Frey, S., et al.
October 14, 2008, Current Biology, vol. 18, no. 19, p. 1530-1534, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.08.051
(original article; summary is FREE; article contains interesting images)

Science News Web edition : Thursday, October 9th, 2008
(great FREE summary and interpretation of the findings; has photos of the subject)

handtransplant.com com
(site about hand transplants)

Hand transplant video
(YouTube video with the story of a hand transplant . . . can't be embedded)

For "something completely different," there's this odd video that parodies the fringe hypothesis that a transplanted organ may carry with it memories of the donor . . .

[If you don't see the video viewer in your newsletter or feed version of this article, please go to The A&P Professor blog site to view it.]

drop.io Firefox Extension

Wow this drop.io thing is fun!

What, you ask, is drop.io? Just go back to my original article on drop.io to find out that it's a nifty FREE web tool to communicate and share with students, colleagues, or total strangers.

I just found out that they have a Firefox plugin that adds just one more set of magical features to an already crazy magical tool.

First, if you haven't been using Firefox browser, which is a FREE download from Mozilla, then why not?!

It's a great browswer and has a bazillion (or so) plugins and ways to customize it.

Firefox 3

One of the plugins is the one from drop.io, which adds "drag 'n drop.io" features to Firefox.

After downloading and installing the plugin (just a few keystrokes as you regular Firefox users know), a small red drop.io dot (see the logo pictured here) will appear in the lower toolbar of the browser frame. You can drag files or web items to the red dot and a drop.io drop is created automatically with your item(s) right there already in it! Wow.

Or if you have a particular drop open, you can just drag things into the screen where the drop appears and they'll now be part of the drop.

Click here for the link to the drop.io demo on this plugin. It does even more that I'm saying, but they say it better than I do! I'll also drag it into the A&P Professor sample drop using the plugin itself (hey, I want to play with it, OK?).

Go ahead into the drop (especially if you have yet done so), and be sure to sign up for notifications of new drops (by email, text messages, or whatever). That's because I continue to drop things there and you'll want to see/hear/watch them.

AND you'll want to gain some experience with drop.io so you'll be comfortable using it for your own courses/committees/poker clubs.

[Remember the drop password? APROCKS]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Just as I predicted . . . this year' Nobel Prize for chemistry has an A&P connection!

The announcement came as scheduled on October 8 . . . and the same day I notified you via a voice message at our drop.io drop . . . .

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2008 jointly to

Osamu Shimomura,
Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, MA, USA
and Boston University Medical School, MA, USA,

Martin Chalfie,
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA


Roger Y. Tsien,
University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA

"for the discovery and development of the
green fluorescent protein, GFP

So how does this discovery relate to human anatomy & physiology? GFP (shown in the ribbon model) is that bright green stain used in all those micrographs of important structures and processes in the cell!

As the Nobel Committee states, "With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread."

For an example of how this protein can be used, look at Figure 16-36 in our textbook Anatomy & Physiology 6th edition. The image in part A shows GFP used to identify the location of insulin in pancreatic tissue--thus outlining the beta cells and establishing the overall structure of a pancreatic islet. Just one of many examples, of course.

And it's not just green that can be used . . . Tsien is the laureate (sharing this prize) who built on the original discovery to develop a whole palette of colors that can be used to study the human body (and other organisms).

For a nice summary, check out these FREE publications (PDF format) from nobelprize.org

Information for the public
(basic summary and significance of the discovery; has COOL multicolor photos of brain tissue)

Scientific background
(More in-depth information)

Also visit the links at the main page for this prize at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2008/index.html

Here's a great article from Science News (with links to previous articles related to this discovery):

Nobel Prize in chemistry commends finding and use of green fluorescent protein

Here's a video explaining the reasons for awarding the prize . . .

(go directly to the blog if the video viewer does not appear in your email or news feed)

Here's a video clip explaining the concepts involved . . .

(go directly to the blog if the video viewer does not appear in your email or news feed)

For the "how-to" on how to embed these clips in your webpage, email, or PowerPoint slide, please go to the YouTube page at The A&P Professor website

Also read my article from last week regarding how I use Nobel Prize winners and their discoveries in my course . . . and how they are linked to my textbook Anatomy & Physiology.

Near death?

No--I'm not asking about how your semester is going . . .

I suspect that I'm not the only one who gets questions from my students related to things that have been seldom if ever studied by reliable scientists . . . but are accepted (or rejected) as "facts" nonetheless.

Take the "near death experience" frequently reported by individuals and often relayed by the popular press . . . as well as portrayed in popular fiction.

Physiologically speaking, what may be behind this phenomenon?

Last month researchers University of Southampton in the UK announced that they are going to launch the biggest investigation into the "near-death" phenomenon so far. The university's Hu­man Con­scious­ness Proj­ect is calling their new initiative AWARE (A­WAre­ness dur­ing RE­sus­cita­t­ion. It is to involve a large team of researchers from all over the world.

Dr. Sam Parnia, leader of this effort, states, "Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment. It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning – a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death."

Dr. Parnia wants to explore what brain processes may still be intact during those moments after the heart stops beating. Wow, what an intriguing question.

I don't think I'll be volunteering as a subject for this one, however!

Want to know more?

World's Largest Study of Near-Death Experiences to Start
World Science published online September 11, 2008
Summary article

Press Release
University of Southampton published online September 10, 2008

Problems with images and videos in Outlook & other email

I recently found out that images that I've been using in my blog articles are working fine in browsers and browser-based email programs. But if you are getting the Newsletter versions of my blog entries, then you are often getting huge or distorted images imbedded in the articles.

Oh my gosh, sometimes they're humungous!

Anyway, I've tracked down the source of the problem and from now on this should not happen again!

Also, it turns out that YouTube videos that are embedded in the blog articles will not always show up in the feed or newsletter. That's not something I can fix . . . it's the nature of the technology. But there is an easy work-around . . . just click the link of the title of the article to go to the blog entry directly to see the article WITH all embedded videos.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Yesterday, the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three people, with half the prize split in half for each notable discovery:

Harald zur Hausen

for his discovery of

"human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer"

and the other half jointly to

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier

for their discovery of

"human immunodeficiency virus"

Although these discoveries are "common knowledge" now, they represent critical shifts in our understanding of immunity and disease processes in the body.

For a detailed outline of these contributions visit http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2008/press.html At this site, you will also find a great FREE diagram you could use in a PowerPoint slide, with a link to a high-resolution version. (Please observe relevant copyright laws.) Click here for the PDF version of the press release announcing the prize.

A full complement of photos, summaries, videos, etc, is (or will be shortly) available at the regular entry page for this year's prize at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2008/index.html

I like to use the Nobel Prizes in my course to spark interest in the topics that we cover in A&P and to engage students in the current world of science. Nearly always, the prize in the category of "physiology or medicine" relates to a principle explored in our course. In our textbook, Anatomy & Physiology, we provide a list summarizing some of the key awards in this category for the previous hundred years or so. The list identifies the chapter(s) in which the discoveries appear as part of the story of human anatomy and physiology.

[In the 6th edition of Anatomy & Physiology, the list appears as an appendix in the book; in the upcoming 7th edition, the list is called out in the first chapter and appears in the online A&P Connect feature new to this edition. In A&P Connect, students can link directly to the Nobel website for more information . . . and the list can be updated as soon as new awards are announced.]

This year's prize include an extra bonus in terms of observing how the scientific community operates . . . a prominent American researcher, Robert Gallo, is also often recognized as independently identifying HIV as the agent of AIDS. So this prize is not without some juicy controversy, eh? For a discussion of this issue, check out this article:

Nobel Medicine Prize Row as Scientist is Excluded
Mark Henderson
Times Online October 6, 2008

FYI, the website for the Nobel Prizes at nobelprize.org is rich with other resources for your teaching. For example there are free diagrams and animations related to the Nobel-recognized discoveries. There is a link to the Nobel Museum and even educational games!

And stay tuned to our sample drop.io drop . . . if the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry relates to A&P (and it often does), then I'll be posting a voicemail or text message there to alert you.

Here's a FREE video of the announcement:

Here's a video clip that explains the reasons for the award more fully:

For the "how-to" on how to embed these clips in your webpage, email, or PowerPoint slide, please go to the YouTube page at The A&P Professor website.

Urine luck!

If you discuss urine sediment in your course, you might find the urine sediment images at Cornell's Urine Sediment Atlas interesting and useful.

It's set up for veterinary students primarily, but is very useful for human biology as well.

These might be good for linking to your lectures, labs, case studies, test/quiz items, wallpapering your desktop, whatever.

Check out more image sources at The A&P Professor website!

Science Debate 2008

Where do the presidential candidates stand on issues relating to science and science education?

Find out at Science Debate 2008, a project that presents the views of two major candidates* Obama and McCain on some of the major issues and concerns related to science and and science education. I like the fact that the candidates are laid out side by side for easy comparison.

[* FYI, I have withdrawn my request to be considered as write-in candidate this time around. I'm just too busy with other projects!]