May 2013 Revisit: Roadkill Amphibians from Atlantis… or Something

Lots of updates this month, so let’s get to it!

In March we took a look at the most spectacular feats of regeneration in the animal kingdom while simultaneously realizing such superpowers are likely beyond our reach.  Enter the axolotl salamander and its mighty macrophages.  The specialized immune cells are present in human beings too, but in the axolotl they seem to foster the regrowth process in ways ours don’t.  Amphibious amputees depleted of their macrophages by an Australian group developed stumps and scarring like we do, instead of brand new limbs.  When the stump itself was lopped off and the macrophages reintroduced, voila!, the magic was back!  There’s obviously something else at work here that we don’t quite understand, but seeing the role that similar cells play in another animal’s miraculous recovery at least drives our prospects from “impossible” to “really goddamn unlikely.”

Earth and planetary scientist Michael Wysession sees something fishy about the “Brazilian Atlantis,” and not just the way its discoverers went about publicizing the find.  He quibbles with the interpretation that the uncovered continental crust submerged when Africa split off from South America, noting that it could have alternatively been brought to that location by ice rafts or glaciers.  But hey, there is a lost underwater city off the coast of Suffolk, England, or at least what’s left of it.  Much like Hurricane Sandy deposited New Jersey’s Jet Star roller coaster in the Atlantic, storms in the 1200′s brought down much of the port city of Dunwich.  The burgh was abandoned in the 1400′s and its buildings continued to slip away as erosion ran unabated.  New surveys show the ruins  in greater detail than ever.  Obviously a very slow disappearance, and not one involving the fracturing of crust.

Despite the tricky tactics of the cliff swallow, it seems roadkill rates may actually be rising, according to numbers provided by the Insurance Information Institute.  And that’s just the big stuff; the animals that do enough damage for a claim to be filed.  Not many people care about turtles and some of the other guys least likely to get a quick evolutionary boost.  That’s why Matt Aresco made the problem a priority in Florida.  He and supporters were eventually able to leverage the state into employing engineering controls such as high roadside fencing and additional crossing culverts to facilitate the reptiles’ safe transport, dramatically reducing turtle death on the highway.  If nature can’t give its critters a fast kick in the pants, we may have to take it upon ourselves to devise other solutions.

Going back to February, new research may show that a protein-lipid complex found in human breast milk may actually make antibiotic resistant bacteria more vulnerable again.  And if that doesn’t work, we might be able to send OTHER bacteria against their malevolent brethren.  Fight fire with fire!

MRSA may soon meet its match.  From the-scientist.com

On a more personal note, I had the opportunity to practice what I preach earlier this month.  I had been burdened by throat and chest congestion for over a week before finally breaking down and seeing the doctor.  Not being able to tell if my infection was caused by bacteria or a virus, the young physician handled the situation admirably.  She wrote me a prescription, but told me to wait and only take it if I hadn’t “turned the corner” in a couple days.  Sure enough, I was feeling much better two days later, and I let the scrip set.  Conversely, if she had just blindly given me antibiotics without thought… what would I have done?  I may have made the wrong decision.  This was instead a great example of doctor and patient working together to avoid unnecessary drug consumption.  We can all manage that!

June starts off on Monday with an actual look at an electron orbital!  No shit!

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