The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

The nurse in Annemasse, France, could tell from the label on the blood bag destined for Paris that this blood was pretty unusual. But when she read the details closely, her eyes widened. Surely it was impossible for this man seated beside her to be alive, let alone apparently healthy? Penny Bailey at Mosaic Science gives us a look at the world of people with extremely rare blood types in The Man With the Golden Blood.

The death cap, the fool’s mushroom and the destroying angel. Inigo Thomas at the LRB blog on fatal fungi and ‘mycophobia’.

For a purely visual treat, here is the winner of the 2014 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

Roos Eisma and Tracey Wilkinson at PLOS Biology remind us that cadavers are a vital part of medical education: (…) human anatomy is taught through whole body dissection, in which students have the opportunity to dissect organs and muscles, tracing their blood supply and innervation in all regions of the body. The bodies used for this purpose, generously bequeathed by donors to advance medical science and education, are often referred to as “silent teachers”. They teach the students what they cannot learn from models, textbooks, or 3-D programmes: variation between individuals, the effect of disease or lifestyle on the body, and the way different tissues feel and behave. But, they ask, are we getting the most we can out of them?

Anne Buchanan at The Mermaid’s Tale delves into what genetic risk statistics in complex diseases mean (…) what I was really interested in was this 40% statistic.  It was mentioned but not discussed — where did it come from, and what did it mean?  Do we now have a very significant explanation for the cause of type 2 diabetes?  

Richard Preston’s 1994 bestseller ‘The Hot Zone’ is probably how most people first heard about Ebola. I read it in college, and the vivid descriptions of patient’s ‘crashing’ are hard to forget. Tara Smith at io9 tells us why “As an infectious disease epidemiologist and a science communicator in the midst of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history, The Hot Zone is one of the banes of my existence.”

Still on viral epidemics, Carl Zimmer at the New York Times examines how flu and Ebola spread: When scientists refer to an airborne virus, they mean one that gets into droplets called aerosols that are so tiny they can float on air currents instead of falling to the ground. Influenza can spread this way as people cough and sneeze. All the evidence scientists have gathered about Ebola, on the other hand, indicates that it spreads through contact with fluids from infected people. During an infection, the virus makes huge numbers of copies that contaminate the victim’s vomit, blood, diarrhea, urine and saliva.

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