Thursday, April 21, 2011

An unlikely cure

In the 1920s through the middle of the century, deliberate innoculation with the malaria parasite was used as a treatment for late stage syphilus infections. The characteristic high and prolonged fevers caused by malaria are thought to inhibit and kill the causative bacteria of syphilus. The risk of death via malaria was thought to be less than the threat posed by advanced syphilus, especially with the availability of quinine, a potent anti-malarial medicine.

From the Wikipedia article: "This discovery was championed by Julius Wagner-Jauregg, who won the 1927 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery of the therapeutic value of malaria inoculation in the treatment of neurosyphilis. These treatments were finally rendered obsolete by the discovery of penicillin, and its widespreadmanufacture after World War II allowed syphilis to be effectively and reliably cured."

Source: Wikipedia
Photo source: Wikipedia

Semen displacement theory

Evolutionary processes have shaped the human penis to scoop previously deposited semen out of the vagina during intercourse in order to prevent impregnation by another male. The cessation of thrusting during the male orgasm prevents this scooping of semen from occurring. The recovery time for men in between orgasms is thought to be a mechanism for preventing the male from removing his previous ejaculate from his partner's vagina and thus potentially lowering chance of impregnation.

Image source: Wikipedia

Owl governance

A group of owls is called a parliament.

Source: Wikipedia

Why you'll never see the movement of your own eyes

The brain does not process visual information when the eyes are moving, a phenomenon called saccadic masking. This results in a brief moment of "blackness" which the brain is adept at hiding from the viewer. Thus, it is nearly impossible for one to observe the movement of one's own eyes (try it!). It is thought that saccadic masking is an adaptation which prevents confusing and useless motion blur, a potentially disorienting phenomena observed in particularly kinetic video and in certain styles of non-stabilized filming.

Source: Wikipedia

Exponential progress and destruction

"In 1903 the Wright brothers flew for 59 seconds.

38 years later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

28 years after that, we landed on the moon.

We went from gliding a few feet off the ground for less than a minute to launching rockets out of orbit, traveling for hundreds of thousands of miles, landing on the moon, and then returning, all within a single lifetime."

Source: travishenrichs on

Of white blood cells and stars

"If you brought the Sun down to the size of a white blood cell (7 micrometres), and then brought everything else down to scale, our galaxy, the Milky Way, would be the size of the continental U.S.A."

Source: Tredid on reddit
Picture credit: Michael Richmond

Surviving a jump off the Empire State Building

On December 2nd, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped off the Empire State Building's 86th floor observation deck but a gust of wind forced her to land on a ledge on the 85th floor. Elvita was hauled to safety and suffered a broken hip.

Smells like shit

Skatole, a digestion product of the amino acid tryptophan, is a major player in the smell of human feces. In low concentrations, skatole has a flowerly smell and is used in perfumes and other scent products. Perhaps unsurprisingly, skatole is a common flavor additive in cigarrettes. Its name is derived from the Greek root skato- meaning "dung."

Source: Wikipedia

Butyric acid, the chemical responsible for that fresh vomit smell

"Butyric acid is found in butter, parmesan cheese, vomit, and as a product of anaerobic fermentation (including in the colon and as body odor)." Butyric acid's owes its chemical prefix -but to its presence in rancid butter and is found in various wines.

Source: Wikipedia

More than you ever wanted to know about pill bugs

Pill bugs, belonging to the family of woodlice known as Armadillidiidae, are a member of the subphylum Crustacea and are thus more closely related to crabs and lobsters than to insects like beetles or centipedes. Utilizing gills to undergo respiration, pill bugs require a moist environment to avoid suffocation via the drying out of gill membranes. Pill bugs do not urinate, and instead excrete nitrogenous wastes through their exoskeleton and into the air as gases. In addition to curling into a ball when threatened and the ability to drink out of its anus, pill bugs eat their own feces in order to sequester precious excreted copper used in hemocyanin, an oxygen transporter similar to hemoglobin, which grants pill bug blood a blue color.

Sources: and Wikipedia

Blue fields and white blood cells

"The blue field entoptic phenomenon is the appearance of tiny bright dots moving quickly accross squiggly lines in the visual field, especially when looking into bright blue light." Fast moving red blood cells in capillaries overlying the retina efficiently absorb blue light, creating a dark web in the visual field which the brain learns to constantly ignore and filter out. Slower moving white blood cells in these capillaries are poor at absorbing blue light, and thus manifest as the bright dots in the visual field.

America's first natural born president

Martin Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States and the first natural born president. As a native Dutch speaker, he was also the only president not to have spoken English as a first language.

Steel spires and zeppelins

The steel spire atop the Empire State Building was originally intended as a terminal for zeppelins carrying civilian passengers. Unstable updrafts created by the massive building prevented this use. A broadcast tower was added to the top of the spire in 1953.