6 Hilarious Ways Scientists Are Solving Life's Mysteries
In science, cold pragmatic logic is king. One of those kings who doesn't care how many lab rats might die to get the perfect shampoo/conditioner combo. But sometimes following the tried and true scientific method isn't always enough. To get answers to life's mysteries, scientists need to be creative. And by "creative," we mean making the kind of leaps in logic that usually require a three-day molly bender. For example ...
Fixing Damaged Heart Tissue With ... Spinach?
Science can be a fickle mistress. We can put a man on the moon or grow a brand-new nose on your forehead, but we can't get blood to where it needs to be when our ticker doesn't tock well anymore. Until recently, that is, when scientists realized they just had to listen to their moms' advice on how to stay healthy: Get some green vegetables in you.
Regenerating tissue is such fiddly work that not even our best 3D printers can successfully construct capillary systems. But you know what can? Spinach! Its network of veins is surprisingly similar to that of a human heart, only covered in yucky green plant stuff. So scientists removed all the plant cells, took the remaining cellulose skeleton, and together with some human heart cells, they managed to create a surprisingly effective highway to health.
But why stop there? Ideally, we could get the entire vegetable garden involved in fixing our failing meat bodies. The scientists have also managed to decellularize parsley and other backyard herbs, and they speculate that broccoli or cauliflower could stand in for lung tissue. That means there could be a future in which we eventually become more plant than human -- especially once we start decellularizing cucumbers.
Scientists Fiddle With Roadkill To Learn More About Dinosaurs
Because million-year-old skulls can't exactly chat about the good old days, biologists have had to get creative with dinosaur research. That's where roadkill comes in. As modern coastal floodplains have similar ecosystems to the ones in which these extinct monsters dwelt, the species currently living there are of great value to paleontologists. And when we say "living" species, we actually mean the dead ones. Paleo-biologists rummage around these corpses, identify the isotopes found in their last meals, and compare those with the isotopes they've found in dinosaur teeth (which retain information for tens of millions of years). This allows them a window into the past, all thanks to the hard work of shovel-smashing armadillos and alligator decapitations.
But getting their hands on specimens is a challenge, one that involves being around the rotting flesh of sun-baked highway fatalities. "The first few were really gross," said Tom Cullen of Chicago's Field Museum, whose team ventures into critter-filled Louisiana swamps for samples. "But we got desensitized." Which may be great for paleontology, but it hasn't been good for their social standing, as paleo-biologists are developing "a well-deserved reputation for picking up random dead things everywhere," eagerly "braving maggots and corpse cheese" in order to fiddle with the furry casualties lining the roads.
Play The Didgeridoo To Stop Snoring
Snoring is caused by something obstructing your air movement, most likely (and terrifyingly) your own temporarily collapsed airways. To help with their breathing, heavy snorers and sleep apnea sufferers need the assistance of a CPAP, those machines that make you look like you're cosplaying Darth Vader in a medically induced coma. But those loud, unwieldy devices can cause as many problems as they solve, so doctors have found an alternative to strapping yourself to a very awkward machine: strapping yourself to a very awkward musical instrument.
A 2006 study has shown that playing the didgeridoo can effectively treat moderate sleep apnea, drastically reducing daytime sleepiness in both your and your sleep partner -- and not just because you're keeping everyone on edge with your constant didgeridooings. So how does the third-worst musical instrument improve your health? Because it's so massive and hard to play, practitioners need to learn a technique called circular breathing, which allows them to inhale through the nose while at the same time exhaling via the cheeks and mouth. This sort of breathing magic allows didgeridoo players to sustain sound production, and researchers discovered that it also strengthens the muscles in the airways, which makes it harder for them to collapse, which in turn makes it harder for you to saw logs in your sleep.
In fact, learning to play the didgeridoo is such a good way to stop snoring that special medical didgeridoos have been developed for maximum efficiency in combating sleep apnea. And there's no better excuse you can give all your angry neighbors than a musical doctor's note.
Singing Mice Are The Key To Better Speech Therapy
Singing mice, like talking chandeliers and snarky luck dragons, usually only pop up in Disney movies to help princesses get their mojo back. But here's a pleasant surprise: Not only are they as real as a pumpkins and twice as cute, but their singing could also be the key to unlocking the mysteries of human speech.
Scientists have taken a keen interest in these mice for the treatment of speech disorders. The species in question, Scotinomys teguina (also known as Alston's singing mouse) comes from Central America, and has the ability to bust out 100 unique notes and perform musical duets. And these jug-eared sensations act the part, too. When kept in captivity, the mice have been described as "divas" who require larger aquariums, demand a specialized diet, and presumably carry a rider which forbids roadies from making eye contact.
However, their back-and-forths aren't merely practice for when they hit it big on Broadway. It might be the first known case of non-human mammalian dialogue. Mice singing to each other know when it's their turn, and their singing will change in response to what they've heard. A team of dedicated researchers at New York University's School of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin studied their brains and found a "vocal coordination center." And tinkering with these pathways could lead to discoveries to help people who have problems communicating due to autism or a stroke. Just try not to picture some cold scientists dissecting an adorable singing mouse for it.
Running Over Speed Bumps Is A Great Way To Diagnose Appendicitis
No longer only good for reducing the amount of midnight drag racing in your neighborhood, speed bumps have turned out to be a whole different kind of lifesaver. A group of researchers from Oxford University discovered that they are an almost foolproof way to diagnose patients with appendicitis. Doctors are now encouraged to ask patients if they felt anything strange when driving over a speed bump, because doing so gives a very specific jolt to your body -- one an inflamed appendix gladly uses to rock your world with pain.
The study's analysis showed that more than nine times out of ten, painful bumps meant the subject did indeed have acute appendicitis. So if you ever feel severe abdominal pain, head down to the school and drive around the parking lot a bit. Or wait, no, call the hospital. That makes more sense.
Honey Bees Make The Most Efficient Algorithms
Way back in the 1980s, Cornell University biologist Thomas D. Seeley was trying to figure out how bee colonies could be so good at coordinating their searches for nectar out in the wild. He realized that to maximize efficiency, a hive has scout bees go out and evaluate possible bonanzas. When they hit pay-sugar, a scout flies back to recruit forager bees by doing that little waggle dance we all learned about in elementary school.
That back-and-forth continues until the scout no longer has a reason to be all boogie-woogie about the find, at which point no more foragers are sent out ... at least, until another bee comes in and performs "Dancing Queen" for them.
But we're not here to talk about something as unimportant as bee populations. In 1988, Seeley's bees came to the attention of a bunch of brainiacs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, or GIT (they're not famous for their linguistics department). Together they developed an algorithm that captured the honey bees' pathfinding efficiency, which was as easy as f(x)=f(y+yT/w(y))=y/w(y)!
There was only one problem: Nobody yet needed this super specific/efficient way to allocate resources for the appraising and fetching of microscopic units. So the bee algorithm sat collecting dust instead of honey for nearly a decade, until visiting Oxford grad student and early internet adopter Sunil Nakrani came to one of the researchers with a question: Did he by chance know of a way to better guide computer servers to take on constantly variable internet traffic? And as luck would have it, he did have one idea buzzing around his head. The pair adapted the bees' algorithm to the internet's needs, drastically improving the profitability of web hosting by allowing them to always track and advertise on the most profitable websites at any given microsecond (and helping create a $50 billion industry in the process). This earned them a Golden Goose (the Nobel Prize of slightly silly scientific breakthroughs).
After finally getting the recognition it deserved, the bee algorithm has served as more than a way to squeeze every last bit of ad nectar out of Facebook. The self-organizing system has since been cited more than 230 times by researchers, who have used it to research everything from optimal fuel utility to workload balancing to energy usage. It really is the bee's knees. (Sorry not sorry, suckers.)
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD that's due to be released in September. He's practically on his knees begging that you pre-order it now from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leave a scathing/glowing review.
This is Jack R. Loun's first crack at writing a Cracked Article. Well, part of one at least. Baby steps. He's got a lame little writing blog that he's been working on HERE if you want to check it out for some reason.
Christian Markle just wanna say Juju Bajuju.
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