Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Nature’s Solutions

Could pitcher plant enzyme treat celiac?

Pitcher plants are a known enemy of insects, but perhaps beneficial for people suffering from celiac disease. Chemist Dr. David Schriemer at the University of Calgary was studying the pitcher plant Nepenthes x ventrata (shown above) in his search for an enzyme similar to pepsin for use in his experiments. Pitcher plants secrete digestive fluids with a pH similar to own digestive juices. Through his research he found the enzyme from pitcher plants could […]

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The ultimate desalination plant: the eel esophagus

I love fish. The diversity of these aquatic creatures is so vast, I find them fascinating. Take the eel for example: In a study published this month in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, researchers wanted to link information they learned from sequencing the RNA of eels with understanding how the animals adapt to saline environments. During acclimation to saltwater, fish have no choice but […]

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Ant ‘love’ hormone may help prevent preterm labor in humans

Happy Valentine’s Day! Inotocin is the insect form of the so-called “love” hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, as you may know, is responsible for inducing labor in pregnant women. A recent study published in Scientific Reports describes the work of a team of researchers that created a synthetic version of inotocin which could bind to both oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in human tissues. Vasopressin is important for preventing water loss in the kidneys, which is how it gets […]

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The cause of stomach rumbling

The stomach and small intestine of many species moves rhythmically during fasting, something called the rhythmic ‘migrating motor complex’, or MMC. The MMC has 3 phases: no contraction, intermittent small contractions followed by regular large contractions. These contractions are thought to help clean the GI tract by moving along debris and bacteria as well as preparing our guts for the next meal. They are also the cause of ‘stomach rumbles’ when we are hungry. If […]

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Reindeers may pave way for discovery of nerve regeneration techniques for humans

I came across a neat article in Scientific American that described how reindeer and elk regrow their antlers every year. Could you imagine putting that much energy into growing new bone each year complete with a velvety cover containing nerves, skin, and blood vessels? Although full-grown antlers lose their blood supply and animals scrape the velvet layer off to reveal just bone. Researchers have explored whether understanding this amazing process of […]

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Cat-tongues inspire new technology?

If you have ever been licked by a cat, you have experienced just how scratchy their tongues are. If you have not had the pleasure, it is much like being licked by a piece of Velcro. In fact, Mechanical Engineer Alexis Noel (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta) recently described the tiny claw-like structures on a cat’s tongue after observing a cat getting its tongue stuck on a blanket. Her research team decided to create […]

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Polygamous deer mice have faster sperm

Deer mice are known for being quite promiscuous. In fact, it is not uncommon to find a litter of deer mice with multiple fathers. Dr. Hopi Hoekstra and colleagues at Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology discovered that the tail of deer mice sperm have longer midsections than found in monogamous mice. What this means is that their sperm can swim better and faster, thereby reaching an egg sooner than sperm from other prospective fathers. […]

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Amazing longevity of Greenland sharks

A multi-national team of scientists sought to determine the age of Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus). These animals grow rather slowly (about 1cm per year) and are the largest fish in the arctic (>500 cm long), but their longevity was not yet known. The team used radiocarbon dating of crystalline proteins found within the nuclei of the eye lens. Because these proteins are formed prenatally, they offer a rather accurate way to […]

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Extreme Physiology: Radiation Tolerance

  Don’t let their small size fool you. Tardigrades, or ‘water bears’, are really tough animals. According to a review published in the American Scientist, these microscopic invertebrates can survive extreme variations in temperature from near absolute zero (-459 deg F) up to +302 deg F. They can also tolerate pressures that are 6 times greater than the deepest ocean, exposure to ionizing radiation (UV and x-ray) and the vacuum of space, as well as exposure to […]

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Cancer resistance developing in Tasmanian devils

Tasmanian devils are rather large carnivorous marsupials. By large, I mean the world’s largest. In only 2 decades, the population of Tasmanian devils have declined by about 85%, landing these animals on the endangered species list. The cause: an infectious cancer called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). As the name implies, this cancer causes facial tumors that grow so large, the victims starve to death in as little as 6 […]

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