Post List

  • February 17, 2011
  • 07:00 AM

Health Halos: A Class Experiment

by pennydeck in Feedback Solutions for Obesity

I’m currently co-teaching an upper level university course on obesity with my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Diane Finegood, and recently gave a lecture exploring topics related to food consumption (the course is modeled around the clusters and variables of the Foresight … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 17, 2011
  • 06:29 AM

Carnivorous plants suck up fast food

by GrrlScientist in GrrlScientist

A small aquatic plant has evolved one of the fastest and most sophisticated suction traps known... Read more »

Vincent, O., Weisskopf, C., Poppinga, S., Masselter, T., Speck, T., Joyeux, M., Quilliet, C., & Marmottant, P. (2011) Ultra-fast underwater suction traps. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2292  

  • February 17, 2011
  • 06:10 AM

Genetic counselling and schizophrenia tests

by Wellcome Trust in Wellcome Trust Blog

Genetic testing has many ethical implications. These can be particularly sensitive when it comes to psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia that are open to misconception and stigmatisation. Although knowledge of one’s risk of developing a disorder can lead to positive changes in behaviour, and allow for early intervention, these come mixed with disadvantages, including feelings [...]... Read more »

  • February 17, 2011
  • 05:55 AM

The pros and cons of tablet computers

by Ann-Kathrin Lindemann in Elements Science

Tablet computers have become the latest must have gadget to hit the shelves. Elements resident technology experts, Anka Lindemann and Louise Ogden, beg to differ on their benefits

Related posts:Looking at The Daily – New journalism for a new device?
... Read more »

Julian, T., Leckie, J., & Boehm, A. (2010) Virus transfer between fingerpads and fomites. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 109(6), 1868-1874. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2010.04814.x  

  • February 17, 2011
  • 05:34 AM

When a client confesses to murder

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Dr. Jennifer Melfi: What line of work are you in?
Tony Soprano: Waste management consultant.Client confidentiality in psychotherapy only goes so far. If a client threatens the therapist, another person, or themselves, and the threat is perceived as serious, then most jurisdictions (including the BPS ethics code) recognise this as a valid reason to breach the client's privacy and go to the authorities. But what about the situation in which the client confesses to a past violent act for which they were never prosecuted? What if they tell their therapist that they've previously murdered someone?

Steven Walfish and his colleagues have investigated this issue in a survey of 162 US psychological psychotherapists recruited randomly via the National Register of Health Service Providers. Astoundingly, 21 of the psychologists said that on at least one occasion they'd had a client disclose in therapy that they'd murdered someone, but never been found out (one unlucky psychologist said they'd encountered this scenario six times!).

One hundred and three of the psychologists said they'd had a client disclose having committed an act of previously unreported sexual assault, and 111 of them had had a client disclose a previously unreported act of physical assault. The majority of psychologists said disclosure of past physical assault had happened on three or more occasions; one of them said it had happened more than 200 times!

From an ethical point of view these disclosures of past violent acts are trickier to resolve than threats of future violence, especially if there's no other reason to believe that the client remains a threat. Among the psychologists surveyed in the current research, the majority (63.2 per cent) said such disclosures had had a neutral effect on therapy, 18.8 percent said it was harmful to therapy and a similar proportion (17.9 per cent) viewed it as beneficial.

From a therapeutic perspective, the researchers pointed out that those therapists who viewed the disclosure negatively were at obvious risk of 'negative counter-transference'. This is a fancy way of saying that the disclosure could negatively affect the way the therapist relates to their client, especially if the therapist has themselves previously been a victim of violence. Psychotherapists could be trained to guard against this, but Walfish and his colleagues point out that it's not unusual for therapists to be attacked or threatened by clients and so: 'fears of potential client violence may not always represent an unresolved conflict on the part of the therapist. The psychotherapist knowing this piece of clinical information [the disclosure about past violence], and knowing that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, may be concerned that they themselves may become a victim of violence.'

Somewhat worryingly, nearly one fifth of the current sample did not feel fully informed about what to do when a client makes a disclosure about past acts of violence, and nearly two thirds felt inadequately prepared for the situation by their graduate training.

Walfish and his colleagues concluded that therapists need to be prepared to hear any material in their consulting rooms, 'regardless of how unusual or unpleasant.' They also need to be aware of their own emotional reactions to disclosures of past violence, how to maintain their own safety, as well as their legal and ethical obligations. 'Graduate training programmes, internship and postdoctoral training settings, and continuing education courses should be encouraged to explore this often difficult topic area in greater depth,' the researchers said.

Walfish, S., Barnett, J., Marlyere, K., and Zielke, R. (2010). “Doc, There's Something I Have To Tell You”: Patient Disclosure to Their Psychotherapist of Unprosecuted Murder and Other Violence. Ethics and Behavior, 20 (5), 311-323 DOI: 10.1080/10508422.2010.491743 [ht: Ian Leslie]

A further note on the BPS Ethics Code: The code emphasises the importance of peer support and supervision. If you are a psychologist and unsure how to proceed following a client disclosure, you should seek guidance from your peers and supervisor, fully evaluate the situation, consider alternative courses of action and fully document the process of decision making [thanks to Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard for this advice]

... Read more »

  • February 17, 2011
  • 05:30 AM

How to read a genome

by Becky in It Takes 30

What makes you the unique human being you are?  Partly it’s nurture — what your mother ate while she was pregnant with you, whether she smoked, how much you exercise, which drugs you take — and partly it’s nature.  The part that’s nature is sometimes clearcut — if your biological father and mother both had [...]... Read more »

  • February 17, 2011
  • 01:37 AM

Episode 3 – Be My Valentine

by Rift in Psycasm

Wherein Jess, Matt and Nerisa cover the classics of Valentine’s day – Falling in (and out) of Love, infatuation and Jealousy (with a dash of Oxytocin for good measure). Jess covers her perfect Valentine’s Day date, Matt wonders what his personal ‘fatal attraction’ is, and whether it’s ignorance is bliss. Finally, is every criticism of... Read more »

Campbell, A. (2010) Oxytocin and Human Social Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(3), 281-295. DOI: 10.1177/1088868310363594  

GUASTELLA, A., MITCHELL, P., & DADDS, M. (2008) Oxytocin Increases Gaze to the Eye Region of Human Faces. Biological Psychiatry, 63(1), 3-5. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.06.026  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 10:25 PM

Kayenta Warfare

by teofilo in Gambler's House

I’ve written quite a bit here about warfare in the prehistoric Southwest, but I’ve only said a little about one of the areas where it has been most carefully documented and studied: the Kayenta area of northeastern Arizona.  This is partly because this area seems to have had very little contact with or influence from [...]... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 07:55 PM

Do Doctors Really Have Bad Handwriting?

by Maria P. in noustuff

Trying to kill time and not my neighbour who enjoys listening to loud music after midnight, I found myself wondering why do most GPs have bad handwriting! Or is it a myth? Naturally, Google came up with some very interesting results including some actual studies! It seems like there are peer reviewed papers on almost [...]... Read more »

Sokol DK, & Hettige S. (2006) Poor handwriting remains a significant problem in medicine. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(12), 645-6. PMID: 17139073  

Rodriguez-Vera, F., Marin, Y., Sanchez, A., Borrachero, C., & Pujol, E. (2002) Illegible handwriting in medical records. JRSM, 95(11), 545-546. DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.95.11.545  

Berwick DM, & Winickoff DE. (1996) The truth about doctors' handwriting: a prospective study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 313(7072), 1657-8. PMID: 8991021  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 06:56 PM

When Crossing or Responding to Your Opposing Expert Witness, Look for the L.I.E. (Large Internal Error)

by Persuasion Strategies in Persuasive Litigator

By: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm - When the case comes down to 'expert versus expert,' one important question is, what makes jurors believe one expert witness over another? Applying the rational model of law, we would like to think that jurors would evaluate the credentials, the methodology, and the strength of the conclusions offered, and compare the competing experts based upon the appropriate standards of the field. That would be rational, but alas, not really typical in the courtroom. Instead, jurors can bring a wide variety of tools to the assessment of experts, including their own visceral reactions to the individual...... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 05:35 PM

Brain Stimulation for Parkinson Disease: Expert Opinion

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Parkinson disease is a chronic progressive disease with significant impairment and distress.  A host of pharmacological options are available. Unfortunately, drug treatment often is only partially successful in reducing symptoms and can produce problematic adverse events.  Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has emerged as a potential therapeutic option for those with severe Parkinson disease.  DBS involves a neurosurgical procedure that places an electrode or electrodes into the brain with a device to modulate an electric current.  The brain subthalamic nuclei has become the most common site for DBS electrode placement.Many questions remain unanswered in DBS therapy for Parkinson disease.  A recent consensus conference assembled 49 experts in the use and care of patients receiving DBS therapy.  They have published their recommendations in a recent manuscript published in Archives of Neurology.  I will summarize some of their recommendations:Surgical Selection:  Expert selection of candidates for DBS is viewed as the most important variable in getting a good DBS outcome.  Best candidates for DBS include those with the following features:Excellent response to the drug levodopaYounger ageNo or few axial motor symptoms that do not respond to levodopaLimited cognitive impairmentLimited or well-controlled psychiatric diseaseSurgical Complications: Surgical complications are not common but are not trivial and need to be taken into account when considering DBS surgery.  Complications can include intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding), stroke, infection, erosion of DBS leads, and death.  Advanced age and medical comorbidities appear to increase the risks for surgical complications but should not be absolute contraindications.  Surgical team experience is important and patients and their families should select centers with extensive experience with the procedure.  There is a need for a standardized system of reporting DBS complications to allow for comparison across treatment sites.Parkinson Disease Outcome: If a patient has improvement in gait and speech with levodopa, they are more likely to have improvement in these domains with DBS.  Initial improvement in gait and speech with DBS may later fade as the disease progresses.  Some patients experience increase in depression after DBS and this may be related to the site of the electrodes.  Patients need to have depression, anxiety, apathy, psychosis and impulsivity levels assessed before surgery as these parameters may complicate outcome.  Improvement in some aspects of Parkinson disease has been demonstrated for up to 5 years.  Nevertheless, progression of disease commonly occurs in good DBS repsonders and DBS does not prevent the late stages of Parkinson disease including freezing of gait, postural instability and cognitive decline.This expert consensus guideline will aid clinicians, patients and family members in considering DBS as a therapeutic option.  A patient resource for those with Parkinson disease considering DBS can be found here ( affiliate of the Parkinson Alliance).Figure of coronal section of brain showing subthalamic nuclei (STN in yellow)--common electrode placement site in DBS for Parkinson disease.  Figure courtesy of Creative Commons from Wikipedia, author Andrew Gillies.Bronstein, J., Tagliati, M., Alterman, R., Lozano, A., Volkmann, J., Stefani, A., Horak, F., Okun, M., Foote, K., Krack, P., Pahwa, R., Henderson, J., Hariz, M., Bakay, R., Rezai, A., Marks, W., Moro, E., Vitek, J., Weaver, F., Gross, R., & DeLong, M. (2010). Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson Disease: An Expert Consensus and Review of Key Issues Archives of Neurology, 68 (2), 165-165 DOI: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.260... Read more »

Bronstein, J., Tagliati, M., Alterman, R., Lozano, A., Volkmann, J., Stefani, A., Horak, F., Okun, M., Foote, K., Krack, P.... (2010) Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson Disease: An Expert Consensus and Review of Key Issues. Archives of Neurology, 68(2), 165-165. DOI: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.260  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 04:49 PM

Prehistoric Brits made the world’s earliest skull-cups

by Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science

“The skull of Wynric Lance, failed claimant to the throne of Eirea, does not make as good a wine goblet as Lord Shryke had imagined, the despot revealed Monday. “This damn thing is practically impossible to drink out of,” said Shryke at a banquet celebrating the defeat of the Army Of Light… Shryke concluded that [...]... Read more »

Bello, S., Parfitt, S., & Stringer, C. (2011) Earliest Directly-Dated Human Skull-Cups. PLoS ONE, 6(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017026  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 04:23 PM

Mark Burnett VS Charles Darwin in an Epic Battle of Immunity

by Dr. Carin Bondar in Dr. Carin Bondar - Biologist With a Twist

On this, the eve of the 100th season of Survivor, I have myself contemplating the state of immunity.
Perhaps I’ve also been contemplating it since I’ve spent the last 3.5 weeks dealing with a nasty flu bug that has made its rounds to all members of my family.  This month of fitfull sleep, endless vomit and [...]... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 03:38 PM

Are cows magnetic sensors? Re-examining northern alignment

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

A couple of years ago, a paper by Begall and colleagues made a big splash by claiming that cows could detect, and align to, earth’s magnetic field. This report took on a life of its own. I heard it within the last week on one of the science podcasts I listen (though I can’t remember which one).

This paper got attention not only because this was an unusual claim, but for the way that they determined this. Instead of generating their own data, they looked at pictures of cows in Google Earth.

We know that some animals have a magnetic sense; this is pretty much beyond question at this point (for bird, see Ed Yong’s posts here; here; here). But particularly in mammals, we’re not quite sure how they do it.

It’s very unsatisfying when you don’t have a mechanism for a phenomenon. This is why “And how does that work?” is such an incredibly powerful question to ask people selling expensive water that they claim benefits health, holographic bracelets that improve strength, and so on. If you can’t find a plausible mechanism, you don’t have a good understanding of what’s going on.

Hert and colleagues set out to try to replicate the earlier findings, again using Google Earth images.

They found cows were oriented randomly with respect to direction.

And I should add that they also had two sets of data, that were analyzed separately. So it’s not as though this is a one off fluke; maybe a two-off fluke, but not one time happenstance.

Nature abhors a contradiction. How can these two dramatically different results be reconciled?

One possibility is that this study measured the directions of individual cows. The earlier project measured the direction of herds. Begall and colleagues argued:

Cattle of the same heard might not orient independently of each other, and we therefore calculated a single mean vector per pasture that was used in further analysis(.)
There are other subtle differences between the two studies. Begall and company measure to the nearest 5°. Hert and company apparently measured more precisely, but added 4° random “jitter” to the measurements “to account for imprecision in the measurements”.

It’s also important to note that this study doesn’t mean the earlier one was completely wrong. It presented data from three species, and the cows actually showed the weakest trend to northern orientation of the three. The apparently preference for a northern orientation in deer were much stronger.

The good news in all this is that because these data are fairly easy to get (you don’t have to take all those aerial photos yourself!), the fact of the matter should come clear fairly quickly as more people try to find the effect.

The bad news is that if it turns out that there’s nothing to it, unfortunately, there will be a lot of “Did you know cows orient to the north?” out there for a long time...


Begall S, Cerveny J, Neef J, Vojtech O, Burda H. 2008. Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(36): 13451-13455. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803650105

Hert J, Jelinek L, Pekarek L, Pavlicek A. 2011. No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found Journal of Comparative Physiology A. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-011-0628-7

Photo by clarissa~ on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.... Read more »

Begall S, Cerveny J, Neef J, Vojtech O, & Burda H. (2008) Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(36), 13451-13455. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803650105  

Hert J, Jelinek L, Pekarek L, & Pavlicek A. (2011) No alignment of cattle along geomagnetic field lines found. Journal of Comparative Physiology A. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-011-0628-7  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 02:42 PM

Can we feed the world and save its forests?

by Tim De Chant in Per Square Mile

Nine billion is the number that will define the 21st century. That’s the number of people expected to live on this planet by 2045. But 9 billion mouths are a lot to feed, and each of them will hopefully have more than enough to eat. Achieving both goals—feeding 9 billion and feeding them properly—will be a [...]... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 02:03 PM

Don’t read this article and drive

by Mike Braverman in ionpsych

Does your best friend put on makeup and eat barbecue (weird right) while driving? Do you shake your head, disbelieving and worried, when she tells you, “But I’m great at multitasking! I’ll be fine!” Could she be right? It’s possible. … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 01:14 PM

Abort! Abort!

by Vasili Hauryliuk in stringent response

Sometimes things go so wrong that it is just easier to start all over again. Bacteria have these situations too - it's not just us, humans! - and the central dogma of molecular biology (DNA replication, transcription and translation) is no exception.In essence all the three steps of the central dogma share the very same basic topology: there is a message that gets read, there is a tool that reads it and there is a product. It looks like so:Say, in the case of translation mRNA (the message) gets read by the ribosome (the tool) and protein (the product) is produced. And when things go wrong, there are three things you can abort: the message, the product and the tool. Let us see how it goes.ReplicationDNA polymerase (the tool) reads the DNA (the message) and produces DNA (the product). And when wrong nucleotide is incorporated, DNA polymerase can excise it and continue making the product using so called  proof-reading mechanism. Complete abortion of the growing DNA strand does not happen, and if mistake is done, it is done and you live with it. Surely, there are ways to fix it later (recombination and so on), but not on the spot, during the replication.TranscriptionRNA polymerases can proof-read too. However, many more things can be done. Special set of transcription factors, called GreA and GreB in bacteria and TFSII in eucaryotes, can activate intrinsic hydrolytic activity of the RNA polymerase and cleave off the growing product. Stalled complex is resolved and now we can try again.TranslationFirst, there is a proof-reading mechanism, but rather than cutting off the mis-incorporated letter, GTP is hydrolyzed by GTPase EF-Tu which brings the aminoacyl-tRNA.Second, if the mistake is done, and wrong amino acid was incorporated after all, bacterial class-1 release factors RF1 and RF2 become prone to peptide-release independent of the stop codon, thus removing the product (the growing protein chain). In mitochondria translational system is bacterial-like, but much more insane, and several (as many as 4 in humans!) class-1 release factors are present, with some of them lacking the ability to recognize the stop codon at all (ICT1, for example), and these resolve stalled ribosomal complexes by cutting off the peptide as well as their bacterial counterparts.Third, bacterial toxins such RelE and the like are resolving ribosomal complexes by cutting the message (mRNA) rather than the product. Calling them toxins is rather misguiding, they are more of the rescue factors.And lastly, eukaryotic translational factors Dom34 and Hbs1 (related to termination factors eRF1 and eRF3) are splitting the stalled ribosome into subunits, re-setting the tool.So it seems the further we move from the DNA, the more dispensable the production complex becomes: in the case of DNA polymerases we have only proof-reading, RNA polymerases can do that and also cleave the message, and translational machinery can do it all: cutting the message (RelE), cutting the product (release factors) and resetting the tool by splitting the ribosome into subunits (Dom34 and Hbs).References:Borukhov S, Sagitov V, & Goldfarb A (1993). Transcript cleavage factors from E. coli. Cell, 72 (3), 459-66 PMID: 8431948Toulmé F, Mosrin-Huaman C, Sparkowski J, Das A, Leng M, & Rahmouni AR (2000). GreA and GreB proteins revive backtracked RNA polymerase in vivo by promoting transcript trimming. The EMBO journal, 19 (24), 6853-9 PMID: 11118220Pedersen K, Zavialov AV, Pavlov MY, Elf J, Gerdes K, & Ehrenberg M (2003). The bacterial toxin RelE displays codon-specific cleavage of mRNAs in the ribosomal A site. Cell, 112 (1), 131-40 PMID: 12526800Orlova M, Newlands J, Das A, Goldfarb A, & Borukhov S (1995). Intrinsic transcript cleavage activity of RNA polymerase. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 92 (10), 4596-600 PMID: 7538676Kassavetis GA, & Geiduschek EP (1993). RNA polymerase marching backward. Science (New York, N.Y.), 259 (5097), 944-5 PMID: 7679800... Read more »

Borukhov S, Sagitov V, & Goldfarb A. (1993) Transcript cleavage factors from E. coli. Cell, 72(3), 459-66. PMID: 8431948  

Orlova M, Newlands J, Das A, Goldfarb A, & Borukhov S. (1995) Intrinsic transcript cleavage activity of RNA polymerase. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 92(10), 4596-600. PMID: 7538676  

Kassavetis GA, & Geiduschek EP. (1993) RNA polymerase marching backward. Science (New York, N.Y.), 259(5097), 944-5. PMID: 7679800  

Richter R, Rorbach J, Pajak A, Smith PM, Wessels HJ, Huynen MA, Smeitink JA, Lightowlers RN, & Chrzanowska-Lightowlers ZM. (2010) A functional peptidyl-tRNA hydrolase, ICT1, has been recruited into the human mitochondrial ribosome. The EMBO journal, 29(6), 1116-25. PMID: 20186120  

Antonicka H, Ostergaard E, Sasarman F, Weraarpachai W, Wibrand F, Pedersen AM, Rodenburg RJ, van der Knaap MS, Smeitink JA, Chrzanowska-Lightowlers ZM.... (2010) Mutations in C12orf65 in patients with encephalomyopathy and a mitochondrial translation defect. American journal of human genetics, 87(1), 115-22. PMID: 20598281  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 01:03 PM

Light bending to the extreme

by Joerg Heber in All That Matters

How does a lens work? Well, as the light arrives at the lens it gets bent towards the focal point of the lens. The denser the lens material is in comparison to the surrounding air, the more it is deflected. The materials property that quantifies this effect is the refractive index. For lenses, the general [...]... Read more »

Choi, M., Lee, S., Kim, Y., Kang, S., Shin, J., Kwak, M., Kang, K., Lee, Y., Park, N., & Min, B. (2011) A terahertz metamaterial with unnaturally high refractive index. Nature, 470(7334), 369-373. DOI: 10.1038/nature09776  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 01:00 PM

An ode to Mike, the headless chicken

by Bradley Voytek in Oscillatory Thoughts

(This post amuses me. This is the strangest juxtaposition of research papers and topics I've written about. You'll see.)An ode to Mike, by Bradley VoytekThere once was a farmer from FruitaWhose chicken caused quite a hoopla.     For what happened next,     Made farmer Olsen quite perplexed!And as for the chicken, no "clucks", just some "ooh-aahs".For that farmer had wanted a snack.So he went and grabbed his old axe.     He took a big swing,     And said, "this might sting".And for Mike the Chicken there was no turning back...I first learned about poor Mike the Headless Chicken from Aubrey Gilbert, my neuroanatomy TA. Aubrey used to run these semi-annual lectures for the Berkeley Cognitive Science Student Association called "Feel Dead Brains". After Aubrey graduated, I took over these events and had the pleasure of doing lots of lectures for the CSSA.And although Mike never really made the final cut in my version of the Feel Dead Brains lectures, he always had a special place in my heart.To give a bit of a background about Mike, he was just a chicken raised on a farm by Lloyd Olsen. Olsen went out to behead Mike one day, but cut slightly higher on the neck then he should have. Like my brilliant limerick above says, instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and then dying like normal, Mike just kept on running around. According to Wikipedia:The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact. Despite Olsen's botched handiwork, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither. After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. When used to his new and unusual center of mass, Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat, leaving him unable to crow at dawn. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.As far as anyone can tell, Mike's brain stem was still intact after his decapitation. As the Dick et al. paper linked to below discusses, the brain stem contains a host of important pontine nuclei that control respiration and heart rate. Basically, the brain stem controls the functions vital for life. And although Mike wouldn't be writing any sonnets (or limericks), his basic life functions were still intact. As long as farmer Lloyd kept feeding him, Mike could keep gurgle-clucking around.Okay, quick anatomical lesson. Some of you may know by now that I'm a stickler for neuroanatomy. Whenever I teach neuroanatomy, I like to make sure my students have a solid understanding of the cranial nerves and their associated nuclei. The central nervous system (CNS) communicates with the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to maintain vital life functions. Most of the communication with the organs is via the tenth (of twelve) cranial nerve: the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects to three brain stem nuclei: the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve, the nucleus ambiguus, and the solitary nucleus.If you've ever felt faint or passed out when having blood drawn (the "vasovagal response"), this is because of the mix of emotional stress and over-stimulation of the vagus nerve. But that's not all the vagus nerve does. So check this out: some women with spinal cord injury can no longer experience genital orgasm, because the signal from the genitalia to the brain has been cut (see my previous post about "phantom" orgasms). Well, it turns out that some of these women can experience a vagus nerve orgasm (see Komisaruk et al.). So, you know, over-stimulation of the vagus nerve isn't always a negative thing.Awkward transition from orgasm back to the headless chickenTo this day, Mike's got quite a cult following. He's got his own website, as well as his own annual festival featuring a lawnmower race, 5k run, and the beautiful tagline:Attending this fun, family event is a NO BRAINERMike's been featured in LIFE:And had his own PBS special:Again, according to Wikipedia (there aren't that many sources about Mr. Mike):Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed calf. Mike was on display to the public for an admission cost of 25 cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken earned US$4,500 per month ($48,000 in 2010 dollars) and was valued at $10,000. Olsen's success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheadings, but no other chicken lived for more than a day or two.That's right. Let me reiterate:"copycat chicken beheadings"Oh humanity, your beauty and grace brings a tear to my eye ::sniff::But clearly, there could be only one. (How AWESOME would it have been if the Kurgan just kept running around headless because the Highlander cut a little too high, by the way?! Oooh, actually, I think I've found my follow-up topic for what to do after all my zombie brain stuff.)Sadly, Mike's reign as the headless emissary had to come to an end:In March 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back home from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. As the Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, they were unable to save Mike. Lloyd Olsen claimed that he had sold the bird off, resulting in stories of Mike still touring the country as late as 1949. Other sources, including the Guinness Book of World Records, say that the chicken's severed trachea could not take in enough air properly to be able to breathe; and therefore choked to death in the motel.There you go. Now you know the story about my favorite headless fowl. Please, no copycat beheadings though.Dick TE, Baekey DM, Paton JF, Lindsey BG, & Morris KF (2009). Cardio-respiratory coupling depends on the pons. Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, 168 (1-2), 76-85 PMID: 19643216... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 11:44 AM

Demythologizing Arctotherium, the Biggest Bear Ever

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Quite a few years back, so long ago that I can’t really remember much more than the fact that I once visited it, my parents took me to Space Farms Zoo and Museum. Tucked away in northern New Jersey, the roadside attraction is not so much a zoo or a museum as a throwback to [...]... Read more »

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