Enjoy Your High-Tech Body and Brain
No need to feel insignificant in a lonely universe. You are loaded with great equipment for an exciting life.
Grab a cup of coffee: How common, how simple; gripping a cup or other object. Do you realize what that involves? Ask any robot designer who tries to program a machine to do it. Researchers at Brown University studied how the brain plans for gripping an object. It kept them pretty busy. They found that “the brain can formulate different grips on the same object or the same grip on different objects.”
Eye coordination: You’re not a cyclops. You have two eyes, but how does the brain put the two inputs together, so that you see a single unified image? Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked into that, and found that three visual centers in the brain work to unify the visual field. See details in the UWM press release.
Stable view: “Without us being aware of it, our eyes constantly perform tiny corrections of their viewing direction,” a press release from the University of Tubingen begins. Seeking to understand these movements, called saccades (and tinier movements called microsaccades), “They have discovered a direct link between tiny eye movements and the focusing of attention needed to perceive our visual environment.” There’s a purpose in these seemingly-negligible microsaccades that go on unconsciously and automatically. “This mechanism allows our brain to ‘keep an eye out’ even when our eyes are busy, keeping tabs on the environment, warning of danger, and thus allowing our active perception to rapidly re-focus on anything that might happen.”
Twitter for cells: Like the chatter on the internet, your body’s cells talk to one another in a multitude of ways. That’s the subject of an interesting article on Medical Xpress that shows how intercellular communication provides division of labor, signaling, and functional coordination.
Brain’s got rhythm: Consider your brain’s challenge. “The human brain has 86 billion or so neurons all trying to talk to each other in this incredibly messy, noisy and electrochemical soup,” a lead researcher from Berkeley says in Science Daily. The brain’s rhythmic waves and periodic synchronizations, like downbeats, help “brain networks quickly come together and break apart as needed.” The Duke Ellington reference in the title is clever: “It don’t mean a thing if the brain ain’t got that swing.”
4-D Organization: Speaking of rhythm, we all keep sync with rhythmic cycles of day and night, seasons and years. Researchers publishing in PNAS tried to decipher the “4-D nucleome,” how our genetic code acts in time. Looking at the human genome as a dynamical system, they “interrogated the dynamical relationship between genome architecture (structure) and gene expression (function) and its impact on phenotype,” and found some interesting patterns:
Using genome-wide intragene and intergene contact maps, we identified gene networks with high potential for coregulation and colocalization, consistent with expression via transcription factories. In an intriguing example, we found periodic movements of circadian genes in three dimensions that entrained with expression.
Bone repair: Aren’t you glad bones can heal? This doesn’t just happen. It took planning and design for there to be bone progenitor cells ready to fix things, and protocols to get them working. A paper in PNAS shows that there are layers of readiness in the system. “Our results indicate that the skeletal progenitor population is functionally stratified, containing distinct subsets responsible for growth, regeneration, and repair. Furthermore, our findings suggest that injury-induced changes to the skeletal stem and progenitor microenvironments could activate these cells and enhance their regenerative potential.”
More than a sperm donor: Sexual reproduction is a couples thing. Both sexes contribute to one another and the next generation in unique, crucial ways. One might think a male just contributes his sperm and is done with it, but there’s more to semen than sperm. New Scientist reports that “Semen has controlling power over female genes and behaviour.”
Tongue update: Time to rewrite the textbooks on taste. “That neat and tidy map of tastes on the tongue you learned in school is all wrong,” Medical Xpress says. But is anything in biology simple when you look at it in detail? “Indeed, results from a number of experiments indicate that all areas of the mouth containing taste buds – including several parts of the tongue, the soft palate (on the roof of your mouth) and the throat – are sensitive to all taste qualities.”
Readers of the Pentateuch can’t fail to be impressed with God’s anger at grumblers. These news items show why. It’s a crime to be thankless for the gifts we have been given. Look at any one of these magnificent wonders in the human body; how could anyone fail to be astonished at the level of creative genius behind them? He made it for you, so that you could have a rich, fulfilling life with endless pleasures of taste, sight, and relationships. Even if some of your systems are broken, the majority of your body and brain are functioning beautifully if you are reading this or hearing it. If you are a grumbler, stop it! Be thankful for what you have been given.
One of our goals here at CEH is to grow your appreciation for your body, the living things on our planet, the earth, and the universe, so that we all become more humble and thankful before God. If anyone should be thankful, it should be us, with all that science has revealed about the details. Yet this is a proud, stubborn, arrogant generation—just like in the days of Noah. There will be a stern warning given in the last days to grumblers. Revelation 14 predicts a mighty angel delivering this message to all those who remain in rebellion against their Maker: “Fear God, and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:7). That’s a command. Don’t put off obedience till it’s too late.