As the Ancient Greeks used to say, “Know Thyself.” It probably was meant a little more philosophically that we’re choosing to interpret it, but learning about how your body is put together and why is some seriously fun stuff.
We’ve all marvelled at our fingers and toes, wrinkling into prunes in the bath. We’ve all stared at that weird fleshy appendage hanging down in the back of our throats.
We’ve all known someone – or been that someone – with an emergency appendectomy. “It’s fine,” they say, “the appendix is completely useless anyway.”
But our bodies are amazing machines, and, while we may not need some of its features any more, there’s very little in our anatomies with no purpose whatsoever.
And about those things we don’t need any more? They’re evidence of where we’ve been – and that we continue to evolve even to this day.
Turns out the human appendix – that weird structure attached to the colon that seemed to have little purpose but to occasionally inflame – isn’t just an evolutionary vestige after all.
Recent research has found that it might play a key role in our immune systems by harbouring good bacteria that help fight infection. Good work, little buddy!
That extra ear hole
If you look carefully at your ears, you might notice you have a tiny additional hole just where the helix meets the side of your head.
This is called the preauricular sinus, and only a tiny percentage of people have them. It’s actually a rare birth defect first documented by Van Heusinger in 1864.
We don’t know why we have them – but evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History has hypothesised that they’re an evolutionary remnant of fish gills.
If you spend too long in the swimming pool, you’re going to notice that your fingers and toes start to look a little like raisins. This might not be pointless, according to a paper published in the journal Biology Letters in 2013.
They conducted experiments and found that underwater objects were manipulated much more adroitly by wrinkled fingers than unwrinkled fingers – suggesting that the feature exists to give us improved grip in both handling objects and walking when wet surfaces are involved.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
We have a lot of DNA in our body that, until recently, didn’t really seem to do anything.
It doesn’t create proteins, and it seems to make us more susceptible to damage and disease – but it makes up a significant part of our genome. If it wasn’t somehow beneficial, evolution would have at least started phasing out this so-called “junk DNA,” but that hasn’t happened.
Recently, researchers may have figured out what it’s for – it plays a critical role in holding out genome together by ensuring that chromosomes bundle correctly inside the nuclei if our cells. Without that function, cells die – so it seems like “junk” DNA is not so junky after all.
“Useless” immune cells
We have these immune cells in our bodies that nobody could figure out what they were for.
It was a real head-scratcher, because these “silenced” lymphocytes are present in our bodies in large numbers and only seemed to emerge to attack the body in autoimmune diseases. It looks like a liability, right?
But it ain’t. It turns out that the cells represent a new type of immunity that we didn’t know about before – they attack dangerous infections that otherwise evade the immune system by disguising themselves as part of the body. A pretty useful line of defence to have, wouldn’t you say?
There’s a reason that experts have recently suggested that we all start referring to ourselves using the royal “we”.
In recent years, research has found that the microbes that live inside of us, especially our intestines (our microbiome), are symbiotic – and they have far more of an effect on our lives than we realised.
They have been implicated in such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome, which means they may be pretty danged important. But they also seem to play a role in regulating other things, too – such as our appetites, and even our moods.
Turns out we may have an organ wrapped around our other organs, and it’s been hiding in plain sight for all this time. The newly classified organ is called the interstitium, and previously scientists had just thought it was relatively unremarkable, relatively solid tissue to fill the space between our organs.
It’s actually filled with fluid, supported by a collagen lattice, and it helps protect our organs from external shocks as we move around, much like air cushions in running shoes.
The pink bit in your eye
If you look in the mirror, you’ll see a little pink bit of conjunctival tissue in the corner of your eye. This is called the plica semilunaris, and these days its primary function is to help with tear drainage and eyeball mobility.
But once upon a time it was a nictitating membrane – what we call a third eyelid, a translucent eyelid that can be drawn over the eye to keep it moist and protected while maintaining a measure of vision.
If you have a cat or a dog, you may have seen their third eyelid while they’re sleeping. Humans and most other primates don’t need this feature any more, so it evolved away a long time ago – but we still have that vestigial lump of tissue.
Last year, doctors reported the second known case of a nictitating membrane in a human. A nine-year-old girl had a persistent membrane across her left eye that could not be retracted. It was surgically excised, and her eye underneath was fine.
A version of this article was first published in June 2018.
Cyborg Plants Can Move Themselves Around Autonomously
First we find out that someone has created a computer that acts like HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Then we hear of a robot on the International Space Station who gets moody like Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” Now, researchers at MIT have developed a cyborg plant that can move around on its own like the monster plants in “Seedpeople.” Is it time to ban inventors from Netflix? Is it too late?
“Elowan is an attempt to demonstrate what augmentation of nature could mean. Elowan’s robotic base is a new symbiotic association with a plant. The agency of movement rests with the plant based on its own bio-electrochemical signals, the language interfaced here with the artificial world.”
“Elowan” – in case you haven’t figured it out yet – is the ready-for-a-movie name of the plant-robot cyborg developed at the MIT Media Lab under the direction of Harpreet Sareen, the Assistant Professor of Media and Interaction Design at Parsons School of Design in New York and Director of the Synthetic Ecosystems Lab that focuses on biological futures and their implications in interaction design. Harpreet describes his work on his web site as sitting “at the intersection of Material Science, Biology and Electronics.” In other words, he’s a mad scientist.
“As humans, we rely on technological augmentations to tune our fitness to the environment. However, the acceleration of evolution through technology needs to move from a human centric to a holistic nature-centric view. I created Elowan as an attempt to provoke thought as to what augmented plants would mean.”
As you can see in his video (and possible movie trailer), Elowan is a plant connected via silver electrodes and wires to a pot on wheels with an electric motor driven by a chip that interprets signals from the plant. Previous studies have identified and differentiated the various signals for water, humidity, temperature, oh-no-here-comes-that-leaf-eating-cat, etc., and isolated just the photosynthetic light-seeking response. How do they know it’s the right one? They put Elowan plant between two lamps, flicked them on-and-off and the cyborg plant moved itself to the one that was on.
It’s not complicated or frightening (yet) or even a good plot for a horror movie, but it’s a start. As the scientists point out in the MIT press release:
“Instead of building completely discrete systems, the new paradigm points toward using the capabilities that exist in plants (and nature at large) and creating hybrids with our digital world.”
Capabilities like going to the sink and turning on the water faucet? Sending a signal to a robot that its fruit is ready for picking? Prodding Seymour to let him know Elowan/Audrey III is ready for some more blood or meat?
Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be human?
Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be mine?
Audrey II: Feeeed me!
Seymour: Where am I supposed to get it?
Audrey II: [singing] Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long – That’s right, boy! – You can do it! Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long / Ha ha ha ha ha! / Cause if you feed me, Seymour / I can grow up big and strong.
“Little Shop of Horrors”
Never happen? MIT’s press release closes with the brag/warning:
“Elowan, the robot plant hybrid, is one in a series of such of plant-electronic hybrid experiments.”
Feed me, Harpreet.
Documentary Reveals Small Town “UFO Capital of the World”
Filmmaker Mark Borchardt visits a local UFO hotspot to document the curious characters who have been experiencing strange things in the area for decades.
Remember Mark Borchardt, the Milwaukee filmmaker whose struggle to produce a short horror film was the subject of the award-winning documentary American Movie? Mark is back, this time with a documentary about a UFO festival that’s been happening here in the backyard of Cult of Weird HQ for decades.
2018 marked the 30th anniversary of UFO Daze. The gathering began in the 1980s after residents of the unincorporated community of Dundee, Wisconsin decided they should get together to discuss the bizarre phenomena they had been experiencing in the area.
Bill Benson, owner of Benson’s Hide-A-Way on the shore of Long Lake, has been keeping track of alien encounters in the area since crop circles appeared on a neighbor’s farm in 1947 when he was a child. Since then, he has personally witnessed his own share of unexplained activity over Long Lake and around nearby Dundee Mountain. He hosts the annual gathering, and has converted his tavern into a shrine to little green men.
According to Benson, Dundee is the “UFO capital of the world.”
Robert “UFO Bob” Keuhn
Borchardt’s film The Dundee Project is the result of years of filming at UFO Daze, from 2001 through 2007 or 2008. The film includes interviews with some of the area’s most fascinating characters.
Robert “UFO BOB” Keuhn, for example, co-founded UFO Daze with Benson in 1988. He once told a local news outlet that he maintained ongoing telepathic communications with an alien named Ezeata from the Plaidian star system. “Ezeata visits Long Lake occasionally,” he said, “even though the journey takes about 500 light years.”
The Dundee Project made the film festival rounds last year, and is now available to order on DVD and digital download from the Found Footage Festival website right here.
Spanish writer builds his own 60ft ‘spaceship’
87-year-old Lucio Ballesteros hopes that mankind will one day use the vessel to travel to an alien planet.
As far as unusual hobbies go, this one just about takes the cake.
Built on a budget of 100,000 euros, this impressive saucer-shaped spacecraft is constructed from aluminum and methacrylate and sits in its own custom parking space outside Ballesteros’ house.
The vessel does not have any means of propulsion, however the 87-year-old hopes that mankind will have one day evolved enough – both psychically and spiritually – to fly it to the stars.
Its destination will be ’10/7′ – a fictional alien world from a series of books he has written.
The peculiar nature of his creation has captured the imagination of Xoel Mendez – a documentary filmmaker who is in the process of putting together a film about Ballesteros and his work.
News footage showing the ship, as well as its rather sparse interior, can be viewed below.
Source: Huffington Post
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