News That’s Spit To Print
The North American moose (Alces alces), which can reach more than 1,500 pounds, is a voracious eater, mostly grasses, forbs and fresh shoots from trees like willow and birch. Many plants, of course, have developed defense mechanisms to dissuade consumption by predatory ungulates. Think thorns or a bitter taste.
Which brings us to red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), which harbors a toxic fungus called Epichloe festucae that can make grazing animals sick, sometimes to the point of actual death. But moose eat lots of red fescue grass without apparent harm, which piqued the curiosity of researchers at York University in Canada.
In this month’s Biology Letters, they provide a possible answer: The saliva of moose (and reindeer) contains an anti-fungal agent that counteracts the grass fungus.
Specifically, the moose saliva anti-fungal agent inhibited fungal growth in red fescue grass, making it safer to eat more of it. “We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” said study author Dawn Bazely. “This study is the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”
While the York researchers’ work offers no immediately obvious clinical applications for humans, it does prove at least that a moose is nobody’s drool.

News That’s Spit To Print

The North American moose (Alces alces), which can reach more than 1,500 pounds, is a voracious eater, mostly grasses, forbs and fresh shoots from trees like willow and birch. Many plants, of course, have developed defense mechanisms to dissuade consumption by predatory ungulates. Think thorns or a bitter taste.

Which brings us to red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), which harbors a toxic fungus called Epichloe festucae that can make grazing animals sick, sometimes to the point of actual death. But moose eat lots of red fescue grass without apparent harm, which piqued the curiosity of researchers at York University in Canada.

In this month’s Biology Letters, they provide a possible answer: The saliva of moose (and reindeer) contains an anti-fungal agent that counteracts the grass fungus.

Specifically, the moose saliva anti-fungal agent inhibited fungal growth in red fescue grass, making it safer to eat more of it. “We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” said study author Dawn Bazely. “This study is the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”

While the York researchers’ work offers no immediately obvious clinical applications for humans, it does prove at least that a moose is nobody’s drool.

You Might Hear A Cricket Chirp
Ormia ochracea is a tiny, parasitical fly and the bane of crickets. The fly listens for cricket chirps, homes in and deposits larvae on the back of the cricket’s back. The larvae then proceed to burrow into the cricket and eat it alive.
While this scenario is nothing for crickets to sing about, it’s absolute inspiration for researchers trying to develop the next generation of directional hearing aids, who describe a new, fly-inspired prototype in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
What’s particularly notable about the fly’s hearing abilities is that they derive from ears that are, well, extremely small. Human ability to detect the source and direction of sounds derives significantly from our large heads and widely separated ears. The latter receive the same sound at slightly different times. Our brains analyze that time difference and use it to locate the sound source.
The heads of flies, though, are just a millimeter or so wide, about the thickness of an average fingernail. (Incidentally, the fly above is resting on a fingernail so you can get a good sense of scale.) Flies overcome their size limitations by creatively tweaking the internal hearing structure. Between the two ears of a fly is a sort of see-saw that moves up and down, amplifying the incredibly small time differences of incoming sounds. It allows the fly to find chirping crickets quite well.
Researchers at the University of Texas have used the fly’s ear structure as a model to create minute pressure-sensitive devices out of silicon that they hope can eventually be used in new directional hearing aids that are smaller, more comfortable and longer-lasting.

You Might Hear A Cricket Chirp

Ormia ochracea is a tiny, parasitical fly and the bane of crickets. The fly listens for cricket chirps, homes in and deposits larvae on the back of the cricket’s back. The larvae then proceed to burrow into the cricket and eat it alive.

While this scenario is nothing for crickets to sing about, it’s absolute inspiration for researchers trying to develop the next generation of directional hearing aids, who describe a new, fly-inspired prototype in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

What’s particularly notable about the fly’s hearing abilities is that they derive from ears that are, well, extremely small. Human ability to detect the source and direction of sounds derives significantly from our large heads and widely separated ears. The latter receive the same sound at slightly different times. Our brains analyze that time difference and use it to locate the sound source.

The heads of flies, though, are just a millimeter or so wide, about the thickness of an average fingernail. (Incidentally, the fly above is resting on a fingernail so you can get a good sense of scale.) Flies overcome their size limitations by creatively tweaking the internal hearing structure. Between the two ears of a fly is a sort of see-saw that moves up and down, amplifying the incredibly small time differences of incoming sounds. It allows the fly to find chirping crickets quite well.

Researchers at the University of Texas have used the fly’s ear structure as a model to create minute pressure-sensitive devices out of silicon that they hope can eventually be used in new directional hearing aids that are smaller, more comfortable and longer-lasting.

Food for thought
Admittedly there’s no known scientific or therapeutic value to the brain image above. It’s not likely to satisfy our hunger for knowledge in, say, the way a tractograph or fMRI might. Instead, it’s just likely to make you hungry – for more.
Feast your eyes on Sara Asnaghi’s similar cerebral takes of the edible brain here.

Food for thought

Admittedly there’s no known scientific or therapeutic value to the brain image above. It’s not likely to satisfy our hunger for knowledge in, say, the way a tractograph or fMRI might. Instead, it’s just likely to make you hungry – for more.

Feast your eyes on Sara Asnaghi’s similar cerebral takes of the edible brain here.

Uh oh!
A diagnosis of prostate cancer can be an “uh oh” moment. After skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in American men, with more than 238,000 new cases diagnosed each year and almost 30,000 deaths.
However, the confocal micrograph above, produced by Xiaochen Lu and C. Chase Bolt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is not an uh-oh moment. Rather, it may be an “ah-hah!”
It depicts the actual prostate and ureter of an embryonic mouse – a winning image from the 2013 Olympus BioScapes competition.
Mouse models of prostate cancer are widely used, in part because the disease is often very slow progressing in humans and typically not detected in men until their 60s or older.

Uh oh!

A diagnosis of prostate cancer can be an “uh oh” moment. After skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in American men, with more than 238,000 new cases diagnosed each year and almost 30,000 deaths.

However, the confocal micrograph above, produced by Xiaochen Lu and C. Chase Bolt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is not an uh-oh moment. Rather, it may be an “ah-hah!”

It depicts the actual prostate and ureter of an embryonic mouse – a winning image from the 2013 Olympus BioScapes competition.

Mouse models of prostate cancer are widely used, in part because the disease is often very slow progressing in humans and typically not detected in men until their 60s or older.

“Den” of leaves
Dendritic cells get their name from their surface projections, which somewhat resemble the dendrites of neurons, the branchlike extensions that increase the surface of a cell body and receive information from other neurons.
Dendritic cells are found in most tissues of the body, most abundantly in those that interface between internal and external environments, such as the skin, lungs and lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Here, they’re suitably placed to serve their primary function, which is to continuously sample their surroundings for antigens, such as dead cells or invasive microbes. They are a key player in the body’s immune response system.
Once exposed to an antigen, say a virus, the sheets of the dendritic cell entrap it so that it can be degraded by internal lysosomes into peptide fragments and then redisplayed to circulating T cells, which develop the appropriate immune response. 
The image above is an artistic rendering, based on ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy developed at the National Institutes of Health.

“Den” of leaves

Dendritic cells get their name from their surface projections, which somewhat resemble the dendrites of neurons, the branchlike extensions that increase the surface of a cell body and receive information from other neurons.

Dendritic cells are found in most tissues of the body, most abundantly in those that interface between internal and external environments, such as the skin, lungs and lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Here, they’re suitably placed to serve their primary function, which is to continuously sample their surroundings for antigens, such as dead cells or invasive microbes. They are a key player in the body’s immune response system.

Once exposed to an antigen, say a virus, the sheets of the dendritic cell entrap it so that it can be degraded by internal lysosomes into peptide fragments and then redisplayed to circulating T cells, which develop the appropriate immune response

The image above is an artistic rendering, based on ion abrasion scanning electron microscopy developed at the National Institutes of Health.

Even lipstick won’t help
Pig kissing contests are popular attractions at many county fairs and fund-raising events. Participants might want to reconsider. The image above, courtesy of Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego, depicts assorted bacteria on a pig’s tongue.
No outraged claims of grossness here, though. The human mouth is positively awash in bacteria. Fortunately, they’re mostly benign and neighborly, residing on teeth and gums, helping to digest food and occupy oral real estate that might otherwise be filled by invasive pathogens. At least 700 known species of microbes are known to call our mouths home. Not all of them live in all of our mouths. We each possess our own unique, multitudinous microbiomes. 
Just like pigs. Only our kisses are sweeter than swine.

Even lipstick won’t help

Pig kissing contests are popular attractions at many county fairs and fund-raising events. Participants might want to reconsider. The image above, courtesy of Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego, depicts assorted bacteria on a pig’s tongue.

No outraged claims of grossness here, though. The human mouth is positively awash in bacteria. Fortunately, they’re mostly benign and neighborly, residing on teeth and gums, helping to digest food and occupy oral real estate that might otherwise be filled by invasive pathogens. At least 700 known species of microbes are known to call our mouths home. Not all of them live in all of our mouths. We each possess our own unique, multitudinous microbiomes.

Just like pigs. Only our kisses are sweeter than swine.

Slime sublime
Sometimes a closer look reveals a beauty unseen from a distance.
Case in point: The scanning electron micrograph above by Eberhardt Josue Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Roderiguez Canas at the Universadad Autonoma de Madrid.
The micrograph depicts sludge from an industrial farming process after it has been burned. In the foreground, silver oxide structures (colored pink, purple and green) and structures rich in calcium carbonate (colored brown) can be seen. The background (blue) shows the surface of a zirconia crucible (a container that can withstand very high temperatures), which was used to hold the sample as it burned.
The sludge was burned to measure how much carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur it contained. A wide range of organic and inorganic samples can be analyzed in this way, including soils, sludge, water, fuels, polymers, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. This technique can also be used in environmental studies to verify the quality or contamination of fuels and soils.
The image was among this year’s Wellcome Image Awards winners.

Slime sublime

Sometimes a closer look reveals a beauty unseen from a distance.

Case in point: The scanning electron micrograph above by Eberhardt Josue Friedrich Kernahan and Enrique Roderiguez Canas at the Universadad Autonoma de Madrid.

The micrograph depicts sludge from an industrial farming process after it has been burned. In the foreground, silver oxide structures (colored pink, purple and green) and structures rich in calcium carbonate (colored brown) can be seen. The background (blue) shows the surface of a zirconia crucible (a container that can withstand very high temperatures), which was used to hold the sample as it burned.

The sludge was burned to measure how much carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur it contained. A wide range of organic and inorganic samples can be analyzed in this way, including soils, sludge, water, fuels, polymers, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. This technique can also be used in environmental studies to verify the quality or contamination of fuels and soils.

The image was among this year’s Wellcome Image Awards winners.

Fuzzy mouth
You know how some mornings (or evenings) you can wake up with cotton mouth, a dry and deeply unpleasant sense that your oral cavity is wallpapered in fuzz? Well, the above critter isn’t the reason, but it’s certainly evocative and it does reside in your mouth.
This is a scanning electron micrograph of an oral bacterium, taken by Steve Gschmeissner, an award-winning and much-published English scientific photographer.
This particular microbial masterpiece is singular, but inside your mouth, it’s much more crowded, a veritable zoo of up to 700 bacterial strains, though most people are host to just 34 to 72 different varieties.
Most oral bacteria appear to be harmless, with no impact upon our health. Some are probiotic and actually aid in digesting food. Some protect our teeth and gums, usually by crowding out more harmful species.
Speaking of harmful, two bacterial strains to be avoided as much as possible are Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis. The former feeds upon sugars and starches in the foods you eat, producing a enamel-eroding acids that are the main cause of tooth decay in humans. The latter are usually not present in a healthy mouth, but have been strongly linked to periodontitis, a serious and progressive disease that affects gum tissues and alveolar bone that support teeth.

Fuzzy mouth

You know how some mornings (or evenings) you can wake up with cotton mouth, a dry and deeply unpleasant sense that your oral cavity is wallpapered in fuzz? Well, the above critter isn’t the reason, but it’s certainly evocative and it does reside in your mouth.

This is a scanning electron micrograph of an oral bacterium, taken by Steve Gschmeissner, an award-winning and much-published English scientific photographer.

This particular microbial masterpiece is singular, but inside your mouth, it’s much more crowded, a veritable zoo of up to 700 bacterial strains, though most people are host to just 34 to 72 different varieties.

Most oral bacteria appear to be harmless, with no impact upon our health. Some are probiotic and actually aid in digesting food. Some protect our teeth and gums, usually by crowding out more harmful species.

Speaking of harmful, two bacterial strains to be avoided as much as possible are Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis. The former feeds upon sugars and starches in the foods you eat, producing a enamel-eroding acids that are the main cause of tooth decay in humans. The latter are usually not present in a healthy mouth, but have been strongly linked to periodontitis, a serious and progressive disease that affects gum tissues and alveolar bone that support teeth.

Harden your heart
In 1981, the pop group Quarterflash sold one million copies of “Harden My Heart,” their most popular hit. In the same time period, roughly three-quarters of a million Americans have a heart attack (one every 34 seconds) and 600,000 Americans die from heart disease.
There are lots of ways to hurt the human heart. One is depicted above. In this Wellcome Images Award-winning scanning electron micrograph, Sergio Bertazzo shows the surface of a human heart valve covered by clumps of calcium salts (the spheres colored orange). The process is called calcification and over time, it can cause soft tissues to harden and prevent the valve from functioning properly, resulting in heart disease.
To quote Quarterflash: “Darling in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d go…”

Harden your heart

In 1981, the pop group Quarterflash sold one million copies of “Harden My Heart,” their most popular hit. In the same time period, roughly three-quarters of a million Americans have a heart attack (one every 34 seconds) and 600,000 Americans die from heart disease.

There are lots of ways to hurt the human heart. One is depicted above. In this Wellcome Images Award-winning scanning electron micrograph, Sergio Bertazzo shows the surface of a human heart valve covered by clumps of calcium salts (the spheres colored orange). The process is called calcification and over time, it can cause soft tissues to harden and prevent the valve from functioning properly, resulting in heart disease.

To quote Quarterflash: “Darling in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d go…”

Pretty painful
Kidney stones are formed when salts, minerals and chemicals in urine clump together and solidify. Usually because the urinary contents have become too concentrated, i.e. not enough water mixed in. If the stones are small enough, they typically are excreted without notice. Larger stones, however, can get stuck in the urinary tract and cause problems. Passing them is often quite painful; some require surgery for removal.
The scanning electron micrograph above depicts a stone roughly two millimeters in diameter, about the thickness of a nickel. It was taken by Kevin Mackenzie at the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences, who also produced and provided the subject matter. It’s among this year’s Wellcome Image Award winners.
It’s pretty.
For painful, there’s the tale of a Hungarian man who had a two-and-a-half pound stone surgically removed in 2009. It was reportedly the size of a coconut.
And then there’s 64-year-old Don Winfield, a Canadian who claims to have produced (and passed) more than 6,504 kidney stones since 1986.

Pretty painful

Kidney stones are formed when salts, minerals and chemicals in urine clump together and solidify. Usually because the urinary contents have become too concentrated, i.e. not enough water mixed in. If the stones are small enough, they typically are excreted without notice. Larger stones, however, can get stuck in the urinary tract and cause problems. Passing them is often quite painful; some require surgery for removal.

The scanning electron micrograph above depicts a stone roughly two millimeters in diameter, about the thickness of a nickel. It was taken by Kevin Mackenzie at the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences, who also produced and provided the subject matter. It’s among this year’s Wellcome Image Award winners.

It’s pretty.

For painful, there’s the tale of a Hungarian man who had a two-and-a-half pound stone surgically removed in 2009. It was reportedly the size of a coconut.

And then there’s 64-year-old Don Winfield, a Canadian who claims to have produced (and passed) more than 6,504 kidney stones since 1986.

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