Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cilia can taste

We know that primary cilia occur in just about every cell . . . and that in many cells these more-or-less nonmotile primary cilia have a sensory function. For example—in the sense of taste. But did you know that the motile cilia found in the lungs have a sensory function, too?

New research shows that the motile cilia of the respiratory airways can sense bitter-tasting molecules . . . a good sign that the molecule is potentially toxic. And researchers showed that these cilia then begin beating faster in response to the bitter compounds.

Yikes! That means that when cilia sense a toxin right there in a specific spot in the airway, they can quickly brush it out of there. Hmmm. How elegant.

Want to know more?

Airway cilia taste toxins
Posted by Bob Grant
The Scientist 23rd July 2009
[Summary of the new findings]

Motile Cilia of Human Airway Epithelia Are Chemosensory
Alok S. Shah, et al.
Science Published Online July 23, 2009 DOI: 10.1126/science.1173869
[The original research article]

BONUS . . .
Click here for a FREE image of bronchiolar cilia (SEM) that you can use in your course.

Metabolism Case Study

This just in from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science . . .

Our latest case study is “Why Is Patrick Paralyzed?” by Maureen Knabb, Department of Biology, West Chester University.

This clicker case introduces students to a rare genetic disease in which an enzyme is deficient in a critical metabolic pathway—the first step in aerobic respiration. This case challenges students to make connections between energy production, enzymes, and metabolic diseases.

Students are exposed to a real life story that serves as a basis for discussing the uses of energy-rich molecules and the importance of complex metabolic pathways catalyzed by protein enzymes.

Overall, students should appreciate the importance of each step in a metabolic pathway and the side effects as well as treatments that can emerge from discovering the underlying enzyme deficiency.


Teaching Notes:

Case Collection:
This module also includes a nice PowerPoint slide presentation.

If you use this case in your course, why not let us know how it works for you?

Top 10 Celebrity Professors

Since many of us are taking a deep breath and preparing ourselves to begin a new academic year, I thought it would be a good time for little inspiration.

Amber Johnson over at Masters Degrees Online just alerted me to their new post Top 10 Celebrity Professors. This brief list runs down some of the more famous . . . and most inspirational college teachers. Check it out!

While you're at it, you may want to check out my favorite book about college teaching

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SlideWorld--FREE slides for your A&P course

I've stumbled across yet another source of FREE slides you can use in your A&P course!

The website has a collection of nearly 8 million PowerPoint-compatible slide presentations, many of which cover topics in human anatomy and physiology. The site focuses on "medical" content, but there's quite a bit that's geared toward undergraduate anatomy and physiology education. But even some of the professional-level material can be mined for content useful in your secondary or undergrad course.

Each presentation has a number of slides--sometimes a hundred or more--any one or more of which could be added to your presentation.

Once you're there . . . and signed up (membership is FREE) . . . then you search or browse for the topic you are interested in.

Once you find a presentation that you want to borrow from, you can . . .
  • preview it in an embedded slide show viewer (see the embedded viewers below)

  • copy the code (provided on the page) to embed the slide show (with viewer) into your webpage (such as a course syllabus, outline, or module page in you online platform)

  • download the slide presentation file (which you can then edit, borrow selected slides, add your own slides, etc.)

  • save your favorite slides in your personal Myworld collection
Of course, you can also upload and share your own A&P slide presentations for others to use.

Here's the link to get started:

One of two issues that I have with the site is that it's kinda quirky. For example, links sometimes take you to a totally unexpected (and unrelated) presentation. And there seem to be a lot of hiccups where the server is down or returns bizarre error messages that are readable only by a network programmer. But for a FREE collection of a bazillion or so slides . . . I think I can put up with the quirks.

The other issue is a bit more serious (meaning possible fines or disciplinary actions) . . .

While, as some of you already know, I'm a huge fan of sharing and "open access" teaching material, there is one very troubling aspect to this collection. Some of the slide shows that I found use COPYRIGHTED images that CANNOT BE USED LEGALLY in your classroom.

To make your use legal, you'd have to get permission from the copyright owner to use it in your course. Since many of the images do not have their sources listed, well, good luck with that.

Wait! Doesn't teaching/education constitute "fair use" under copyright law? NO . . . you have NO RIGHT to use copyrighted images in teaching without the permission of the copyright holder.

I don't want to make this article about copyright issues, so I'll save that for another time. But if you upload any of your own presentations, make sure that they do not contain copyrighted images unless you are certain you have permission to do so.

All the FREE slides for A&P that I share are copyrighted by me . . . but I've given blanket permission to use them in your course. For more information, or to browse my slides, go to:

Here are some samples from . . .

Heart Anatomy and Physiology (contains copyright images!)

New Concepts, Guidelines, and Clinical Management

And now for something silly . . .
Why women live longer than men

[The video players embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Professor blog to access the video viewer. Go to The A&P Professor website to learn how to embed the video players in your PowerPoint or webpage . . . or how to simply link to it from your own email or webpage.]

more FREE slides for your A&P course?

See my FREE slide page at The A&P Professor website!

FREE video on renewal of intestinal lining

A recent "Hot Paper" summary in The Scientist not only brings us up to date on the latest skirmish in the battle over which cell is THE stem cell of the intestinal crypts, it also gives us a great Flash video that we can use to illustrate the process of maintaining the lining of the small intestine.

In my textbook Anatomy & Physiology 7th edition, Figure 25-18 (p. 853) shows the process by which stem cells in the intestinal crypts (of Lieberkuhn) produce daughter cells that move up and out of the crypt to replace cells lost at the apices of the intestinal villi.

The video embedded in the article in The Scientist is not narrated, and rather slow-moving at times, but it does a fantastic job of animating the process shown in textbook figure 25-18.

To link directly to the video, go to:

To view the video within the article go to . . .
Gut Churning: The discovery of an intestinal stem cell marker fuels an ongoing debate over the cells' location and properties
Alla Katsnelson
The Scientist Volume 23, Issue 7, Page 51
No matter how you get there, I suggest previewing it (duh-uh) and taking note of particular times in the sequence to which you may want to quickly navigate to avoid the slow parts (or skip parts not useful in your course). Or just slide the timing bar to the spot you want.

BONUS! Here are some FREE images of the intestinal villi and intestinal crypts from an early edition of Gray's Anatomy:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Human echolocation

Did you know that any human can learn to "see" by using sounds alone?

During my seven years at the World Bird Sanctuary, I worked very closely with owls . . . including my favorite, the barn owl. Of the many fascinating adaptations possessed by barn owls, one of the most intriguing is the accuracy of their ability to find a mouse at a distance using sound alone.

Of course, many mammals have evolved mechanisms to use sounds to navigate their worlds by echolocation . . . making sounds that bounce off surfaces and are then analyzed to map out nearby objects.

It turns out that we humans have an incredible, although seldom used, ability to navigate our world by echolocation. Not just blind individuals or carnival freaks . . . anybody can learn how to echolocate! Really . . . would I make up something like that?!

So when we're listing the functions of the ear, I'm thinking maybe we better expand our list . . . at least adding echolocation as a "possible" function for hearing.

Don't believe me? Check these out . . .
Humans Can Learn to "See" With Sound, Study Says
Kate Ravilious
National Geographic News July 6, 2009
[Summarizes the recent research]

Physical Analysis of Several Organic Signals for Human Echolocation: Oral Vacuum Pulses

Rojas, Juan Antonio Martínez et al.
Acta Acustica united with Acustica, Volume 95, Number 2, March/April 2009 , pp. 325-330(6)

[FREE abstract of the original research report (first in a series)]
FYI . . .

On a related note, I've worn a beard continuously (except during two plays in which I performed) for over 30 years . . . so that I can use my whiskers to navigate like cats do. I haven't yet mastered the skill . . . but I'm still working on it.

{The image that appears in the original blog post features Ben Underwood, a blind individual who uses echolocation to navigate. Photo from}

Placenta, anyone?

OK, if you have a weak stomach DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS MESSAGE.

Or better, I just won't even comment on this one . . . just read it for yourself:
Cooking with Joel Stein: How to Eat a Placenta
Joel Stein
Discover Discoblog accessed online 9 July 2009
[no comment!]
Want a FREE slide with a photo of a placenta? Click here for a slide from the Lion Den Slide Collection. FYI this is a "family photo" . . . the placenta seen in the image was photographed shortly after the birth of my youngest son, Luke. The maternal side of the placenta is clearly visible.

FYI, we ate SALAD and BURGERS for dinner that evening!

For more FREE slides, see FREE SLIDES at The A&P Professor website.

To access FREE editable slides from the Lion Den Slide Collection, including "bonus slides" not seen on the website, then go here.

{Click here to access the FREE image seen in this blog post . . . although I think a sprig of cilantro and contrasting cloth placemat would have made for a better presentation.}

The A&P Professor toolbar

The A&P Professor now has a new toolbar that you can add to your browser.

Besides a high-speed Google search box, the new toolbar has a list of news feed headlines related to A&P, human science, and teaching that I've selected especially for A&P professors.

The toolbar also features a handy drop-down list of direct links to FREE stuff for A&P professors . . . FREE images, FREE slides, FREE books and journals, and many other useful resources.

There's also a tiny "radio" that I've preloaded with podcasts from science sources . . . or just use it to play your favorite internet radio station (mine is set to NPR)

Plus, you can add your own features such as local weather, email notifications, and more.

The toolbar is SAFE, FREE, and if you don't like it, you can completely uninstall it in less than a minute.

Want to know more?
Click here for details:
The A&P Professor toolbar

toolbar powered by Conduit

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New NIH policy on human stem cell research

For those who want to be "up to speed" on official policy when the inevitable discussion of human embryonic stem cell research pops up in class, this is just in from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) . . . revised guidelines that permit research on embryonic cell lines go in to effect TODAY.

From the official notice:

"On March 9, 2009, President Barack H. Obama issued Executive Order (EO)13505 Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells. The EO states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of NIH, may support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, to the extent permitted by law. NIH published draft Guidelines for research involving hESCs in the Federal Register for public comment, 74 Fed. Reg. 18578 on April 23, 2009. The comment period ended on May 26, 2009. Approximately 49,000 comments on the draft Guidelines were submitted to NIH by patient advocacy groups, scientists and scientific societies, academic institutions, medical organizations, religious organizations, private citizens, and members of Congress.

The final NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research implementing the EO and establishing policy and procedures under which the NIH will fund such research, were released today and are available at They will be effective on July 7, 2009. Public comments on the draft Guidelines were also released today and are available at

The Guidelines will ensure that NIH-funded research in this area is ethically responsible, scientifically worthy, and conducted in accordance with applicable law. Internal NIH policies and procedures, consistent with the EO and these Guidelines, will govern the conduct of intramural NIH stem cell research.

The Guidelines prescribe the assurances and supporting documentation that must accompany requests for NIH funding for research using hESCs, and describe research that is not eligible for NIH funding. NIH will provide additional guidance concerning the implementation of the Guidelines and the status of pending applications in future Guide Notices.
Ongoing NIH-supported research involving previously approved hESC lines may continue. No new uses of hESC may be initiated in ongoing funded studies unless reviewed and approved by the NIH."

Read the new NIH Guidelines at

Check out this article about the new guidelines, including the context and background:

NIH loosens stem cell consent rules
Elie Dolgin
The Scientist (online) posted 6th July 2009 07:58 PM GMT

Read my recent blog article Science controversies in the news

Monday, July 6, 2009

Body map when using tools

New brain research shows that when we use a tool, the mind's map of our body changes to include the tool as "part of our body."

Although by no means the definitive word on the subject, research recently published in the journal Current Biology may help us better understand how tool use in humans really "works." Metaphorically, we often describe tools as "extensions of our body" but the new findings show us that may also be literally true in terms of how the mind perceives the tools.

The experiments involved having people use a tool to grab an object (see the video below) then try to grab the same object without the tool. Longer response times without the tool may show that the user had to reprogram their perception of their "body map" to account for a shorter "arm length" without the tool.

Possible applications of this idea, if it indeed holds up to further testing, include ergonomic design of tools, occupational safety, physical and occupational therapy, and athletics.

Want to know more?
Tool use alters brain's map of body
E. Dolgin 22 June 2009
[Summary article describing the research and its implications.]
Tool-use induces morphological updating of the body schema
Lucilla Cardinali et al.
Current Biology Volume 19, Issue 12, R478-R479, 23 June 2009
[FREE abstract of the original research article]
Video showing the tool use explored by researchers:

Element 112

Just in case you mention the total number of "known" elements when reviewing basic chemistry at the beginning of your A&P course . . . you should be aware that we're now up to 112.

Ununbium (Uub), as well as several proposed elements beyond 112, are listed in the periodic chart in Figure 2-1 (p. 34) in Anatomy & Physiology. As I stated, this is NOT essential information for A&P students, but a little bit of background to keep you up to date on the state of science. And you NEVER KNOW when it might come up, eh?

Researchers in Germany, then later in Japan, were able to manufacture atoms of Uub. The first succesful team (in Darmstadt, Germany) will be suggesting a permanent name to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to replace the placeholder name "Ununbium." The IUPAC should be announcing the new name within a few months.

Here's a video from the Periodic Table of Videos (background)

Here's another video updating the Periodic Table of Videos

{Image of electron shell diagram for Ununbium, the 112th element in the periodic table of elements from Pumbaa (original work by Greg Robson)}

Cardiac arrest teaching moment

Sadly, we have another teaching moment in the news: the "cardiac arrest" reported as a cause of death for music artist Michael Jackson.

Recently, I described how the unexpected death of Natasha Richardson from an epidural hematoma could be used as starting point for a discussion of the structure of the coverings of the brain and how things can go wrong.

Scientific American's blog 60-Second Science has a nice article that describes the different between a "heart attack" and "cardiac arrest," a distinction lost on most folks. But A&P students, especially those headed into health or athletic/fitness fields, should be aware of what these terms mean and how it illustrates the normal function of the heart in maintaining the blood flow needed for healthy survival.

I think the contents of the blog article, and its clarification of what is usually meant by the term "cardiac arrest," is a great starting point for possible discussions of:
  • Whether the terms "heart attack" and "cardiac arrest" are useful enough or precise enough for (a) public reporting and/or (b) medical reporting and recordkeeping.

  • How are these two situations similar? What do they have in common? Can one lead to the other?

  • What is "heart failure" and how does that relate to the above conditions?

  • What factors may lead to any of the above conditions?

  • What happens to blood flow when the heart beats too fast? too slow? too weakly?

  • What effects might the illicit/unsupervised use of drugs have on heart function?

  • Can the supervised use of drugs have harmful effects on heart function?

  • Can educated observers reading the public media really deduce what happened to Michael Jackson? What do we (think we) know, and is that enough to form a solid hypothesis? What information would we like to have to form a theory of the cause of death?

  • There are conflicting reports of the state of health of Michael Jackson immediately preceding his death . . . are any of them reliable as scientific evidence of cause of death?
As you can see, there are several different directions one could go in to use this tragic (but popular) news story to "bring home" various topics of A&P, the scientific method, and the role of science/medicine in society in your course. Perhaps you can share with us some other questions one could pose for a class discussion.

In any case, this story presents yet another opportunity to leverage the interests of students in a particular case to explore the concepts of an A&P course.

Michael Jackson and cardiac arrest
B. Borrell
Scientific American 26 June 2009
[60-Second Science blog article calling attention to the subject of "cardiac arrest"]
Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death
WebMD accessed 6 July 2009
[Excellent article explaining cardiac arrest]

Here's a video with an M.D. explaining "cardiac arrest" relative to the Jackson case:

[The image that appears with this article is a FREE image depicting the international symbol for an AED (automatic external defibrillator]