5 Insane Things Science Just Found Out About the Human Body
After centuries of cutting each other open and rigorously documenting the prizes found inside, you would think we human beings would have discovered pretty much all there is to know about our bodies. But, you would think wrong ...
There Are Tiny Spiders Living in Your Face Right Now
Sometime in 2014, scientists pointed a high-powered electron microscope at the surface of the human face, and they still haven't stopped screaming. What they saw in the high-resolution moonscape of the average human mug looked something like this:
Sleep well, everyone!
Those blue things are tiny arachnids known as "Demodex brevis," and they live in your pores right now. Yes, in your pores. Researchers discovered that precisely 100 percent of people examined were home to massive colonies of microscopic face spiders.
Whoa, hey -- stop clawing at your skin; you need that to live.
You'll just make the spiders angry.
As you can imagine, some people react poorly to mites holding massive raves all up in their grills. It's now thought that a common skin condition called rosacea, which leads to rashes and inflammation, might be caused by an immune reaction to these scaled-down Lovecraftian monsters. But, hey, life isn't exactly rosy for our face friends, either: They don't live long, so nature never bothered to give them an ass. They stick around just long enough to gorge themselves, lay eggs, and die. So, that's sort of an upside: At least the millions of arachnids living in your face aren't using it as a port-a-John.
Oh wait, it says here that they just store all that poop up, and, when they die, it releases all at once, all over your face.
Manure: fertilizer for your skin, by your skin.
Sorry. There is no upside to this news.
The Bugs in Your Guts Influence Your Daily Life
Medical science has always known that we're packed full of tiny critters, known as "intestinal microflora," which help or hinder us in various ways. But, it's only recently that we've been able to glimpse the full extent of their influence. So much so that many now consider our internal ecosystem to be an actual organ in and of itself, as important as the liver or the pancreas or the dong bladder.
What? Did we spell dong bladder wrong? We didn't pay much attention in biology class ...
The bugs in your guts help to regulate the metabolism, assist the immune system, and fight disease. And they're no small deal -- there are about 100 trillion of them living inside you right now, accounting for about 1 to 2 kilograms of your total body weight. That's right: You're not fat, you're just big bacteria-ed.
And good luck convincing those fatasses to get on a treadmill.
But, not all gut microbes are benevolent. After the germs learned how to hijack our body like the Statue of Liberty in Ghostbusters II, some of them decided to use that power for evil. Recent studies have suggested that certain kinds of gut microbes have evolved to influence the vagus nerve (the nerve that links the brain and the gut), as they can force us to crave certain foods.
These microbes happen to prefer sugary or high fat foods to healthier alternatives, and they may be part of the reason some of us have the uncontrollable urge to binge on cheese until we sweat skim milk. By releasing chemicals that stimulate our nervous system to affect our cravings, or to light up our satisfaction nodes when their demands are met, they can effectively dictate our dietary choices according to their own whims. As such, it's thought that these greedy internal puppet masters might be partly responsible for today's epidemics of obesity and diabetes.
"But, sure, go on about what a marvel your brain is. We'll just be here, playing you like a violin."
Fortunately, it's possible to beat them at their own game -- by abstaining from microbe-driven cravings, no matter how hard they kick and shout, you can essentially starve them out. Dieting is basically genocide. Listen closely, and you may be able to hear their anguished screams.
They Recently Discovered a New Body Part in Our Knees
We've always pretty much assumed that knees are just fleshy hinges that allow us to reach things on the ground without falling over. But, our knees are surprisingly complex pieces of machinery -- so much so that knee surgery is notoriously difficult and prone to failure. It's often been documented by frustrated surgeons that, even after repairing an injured knee, many people just can't walk quite right again. Unwilling to believe that this reflected poorly on their own abilities, surgeons have always chalked it up to the fickle nature of human biology or possibly some kind of voodoo curse.
"You haven't entered any fiddle contests with strange, hooved men, have you?
That was until a couple of knee surgeons in Belgium decided, in 2013, that something must be missing from their understanding of anatomy and went in search of the hidden secrets of the knee. They discovered that there was a previously unknown ligament in our knees that more or less solves the whole knee conundrum. In fact, the missing ligament had been theorized as far back as 1879, when a French surgeon named Paul Segond insisted that there must be more ligaments in our knees than the four that we knew, in order for their function to make basic physiological sense. He even maintained that he had discovered such a ligament, but failed to elaborate -- presumably waving vaguely and saying, "somewhere over there," when people asked where it was -- so his colleagues dismissed him.
The anatomical diagrams of the time may have been a contributing factor.
Now that the Belgian discovery has confirmed the existence of the thing, which they have named the "anterolateral ligament," deeper investigation will likely lead to great advances in the field of knee surgery. Which also makes us wonder: How many body parts have yet to be discovered as a result of centuries of medical hubris? Like, most of us would be really happy to learn that there's a second liver floating around in there somewhere. This one's a fun Saturday away from being totally shot.
Scientists Find Stem Cells in Adult Human Teeth
Stem cells are the T-1000 of your body -- they can transform into basically whatever they want. They're the holy grail of medical science, since mastering stem cells could ultimately mean being able to grow new organs on demand, instead of relying on donation systems and chainsaw-juggling accidents.
YOU'RE COSTING LIVES, SAFETY SWITCH!
Of course, the catch is that stem cells were previously only known to exist inside human fetuses. There's something about the concept of "harvesting embryos" that tends to upset people for some reason. Fortunately, scientists may have discovered a way to investigate stem cells without establishing some kind of The Matrix-style dystopia because they've recently found stem cells chilling out inside adult teeth.
The discovery also disputes the long-held assumption that stem cells only go one way. Meaning, they start off as stem cells and turn into something more specific, but not the other way around. In this case, scientists who discovered the unexpected cells were baffled about how the cells got there until they observed nerve cells within the teeth spontaneously reverting back into stem cells. It's the biological equivalent of un-baking a cake.
Clearly, these so-called "biologists" never read Animorphs.
After noticing the same phenomenon in rats, researchers decided to see what happened if they shot a laser at them because it's lonely in the lab, you've got some rats, and you've got a laser -- what the hell else are you supposed to do? In the experiment, the laser-stimulated stem cells regenerated damaged teeth twice as fast. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Lasers are magic.
Now, scientists are looking into whether or not they can harness the power of the soft, gooey innards of our teeth in order to grow other kinds of tissue -- hopefully by writing us all a prescription for lasers.
Which, really, they should have been doing all along.
There's an On/Off Switch in Our Brains
In Hollywood medicine, if you get hit on the head, you lose consciousness for however long it takes to transport you to the next plot point. If this happens to you in real life, the odds are stacked against you ever waking up again. But, until recently, scientists weren't sure why it happens at all. That is, until 2014, when scientists (possibly mad ones) were probing around the human brain and discovered that there is a literal on/off switch to consciousness. And it's right here:
Go ahead, try it at home!
The experiment was conducted as part of an investigation into epilepsy, but what they discovered instead is like the biological equivalent of holding down the power button on your PC until the screen goes black. That little blue thing up there is called the "claustrum," and scientists recently found that by stimulating it with a tiny electric shock, they could knock a person unconscious. Stimulate it again, and they would come right back up -- presumably with a short notice about how you turned them off incorrectly and should always be sure to exit human conscious properly to avoid corrupting their personality.
For more things we may not realize about ourselves, check out 6 Freaky Things Your Body Does (Explained by Science) and 5 Seemingly Impossible Things Your Body Does Every Day.
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