Recent discoveries in human physiology should cause us to stand in awe of the design of our earthly dwelling, especially at the scale of cells.
Minicomputers in your mainframe: You don’t just have a mainframe that outshines all processors in the world combined (see 2/11/11). Each of those 100 billion neurons has dendrites (branched endings) making a total of a quadrillion connections, Live Science reminds us. But that’s not all. Those dendrites themselves act like minicomputers, new research has found. The complexity of the brain has just shot up by orders of magnitude:
“Suddenly, it’s as if the processing power of the brain is much greater than we had originally thought,” study lead author Spencer Smith, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement.
No longer seen as just channels passing signals, the dendrites now appear to help sort and interpret the barrage of inputs continually coming into the neuron. “Dendrites thus act as miniature computing devices for detecting and amplifying specific types of input.” See also the Medical Xpress article on this find announced by University of North Carolina researchers.
Another Medical Xpress article reported that an assumed “primitive” or “ancient” part of the brain (the thalamus) helps us avoid accidents by interpreting edges in the visual field. Still another Medical Xpress article said a lot in its headline: “The glial menagerie: From simple beginnings to staggering complexity” – and that’s just about the glial cells in roundworms. And yet another Medical Xpress article discussed “Sensational barrels in the brain” involved in “circuitry for high resolution signal processing” – and that’s just in mice. For more on the processing power of the human brain, see 9/14/08, 11/19/10, 2/11/11, 9/20/12, 2/24/13, 4/24/13, or search the “Mind and Brain” category.
Galaxies in your gut: Science Daily described the “galaxy within us” – the horde of bacteria that help us digest our food. We have 10 times as many gut microbes as our own cells. Research is underway trying to understand all the ways this community of microbes helps us. “Research is starting to show that the food we eat has a huge bearing on the composition of this collective and also that the profile of the collection of bacteria can be associated with a person’s health status,” the article says. Update 1/11/2016: Nature reports that the ratio of microbes to human cells has been revised downward from 10:1 to about 1:1.
Sugar babies in your colon: Medical Xpress discussed how certain microbes recognize sugar molecules in the lining of the colon to help the good bacteria colonize the gut. Those sugars are associated with mucins, protein molecules that make up the mucus lining. “We live in a symbiotic relationship with trillions of bacteria in our gut,” the article explains. “They help us digest food, prime our immune system and keep out pathogens.”
Guards in the mucus: Science Magazine elaborated on the role of mucus in the gut by describing how it delivers immunoregulatory signals to the microbes, regulating the immune response to create homeostasis (dynamic equilibrium). “Thus, mucus does not merely form a nonspecific physical barrier, but also constrains the immunogenicity of gut antigens by delivering tolerogenic signals.”
A hair is grown: There’s been news recently about a possible cure for baldness. To shed light on what goes on in a hair follicle, PNAS published a commentary titled, “Environmental reprogramming and molecular profiling in reconstitution of human hair follicles.” Suffice it to say the process is complex. “The mature HF [hair follicle] undergoes a cyclical pattern of hair growth (anagen), regression (catagen), rest (telogen), loss (exogen), and renewal.” Plucking a hair stimulates the dermal papillae to regenerate the hair follicle from epidermal stem cells, but if there is no follicle, it is possible for new ones to form. If scientists can understand these processes better, cures for baldness may be a reality.
See & sniff: The deeper scientists look, the more amazing the body becomes. Two papers illustrate the point: Current Biology found combinatorial rules that dictate how millions of unique receptors are formed in the nose out of just a few precursors. Another Current Biology paper found that the assumed “broadband” sensors in the retina actually contribute to color discrimination. Scientists found these things out by studying the humble fly. In humans, the systems are bound to be even more wonderful.
We hate to rub it in, Darwinists and materialists, but you have a lot of ’splainin’ to do.