People Smell All Over, and Other Body Surprises
Here are some new discoveries you probably didn’t realize about the human body.
You smell all over
We think of the nose as the organ of olfaction, but scientists have found the same olfactory receptors throughout the body. The American Physiological Society reports that “Smell Receptors in the Body Could Help Sniff Out Disease.” This is a fairly new realization for physiologists. Look at some of the possible functions for olfactory receptors in different parts of the body:
- Receptors present in heart muscle cells may be a metabolic regulator of heart function.
- Receptors activated in the immune system have been seen to promote the death of certain types of leukemia cells.
- Smell receptors in the liver reduce the spread of liver cancer cells.
- Receptors in the skin increase the regeneration of skin cells and help speed wound healing.
A new paper in Physiological Reviews considers the possible functions for some of the olfactory receptors that are being discovered outside the nose. They may help or harm depending on location, the scientists believe, but investigation is just beginning.
Your ear has a pressure relief valve
Something weird was going on. Science Daily says that Harvard Researcher Ian Swinburne was puzzled by oscillations of a small organ called the endolymphatic sac near the inner ear. This sac is connected to the inner ear by a long duct. It’s been known for some 300 years, but its function has been uncertain. Working with zebrafish which, being transparent, are easy to see, Swinburne noticed that the sac would inflate and deflate like clockwork. His team injected die into the fluid, and could watch it flowing in and out. The “eureka moment” came when new imaging techniques allowed them to discover overlapping flaps called lamellae inside the sac. These act like baffles to control the amount of flow. Aha, they realized; it’s a pressure relief valve!
The team’s analyses revealed that normal endolymphatic sacs contain an extremely thin shell of these overlapping lamellae, which they termed “lamellar barriers.” In most tissues, cells are tightly connected and water cannot pass between them. In the endolymphatic sac, however, cells appeared to have small gaps between them, which are covered by lamellar barriers.
When fluid pressure builds, the sac inflates and the barriers begin to separate. Once a certain point is reached, the barriers open, allowing fluid to flow out of the sac and relieve pressure.
The discovery of a pressure relief valve for the inner ear is leading the team to wonder if other organs utilize similar mechanisms. It will be interesting to find out if the eye, brain and kidneys, which also need to control fluid pressure, have this kind of valve.
Your biological clock may be tunable
Almost all organisms have clocks. Biological clocks control rhythms according to day/night cycles and seasons, regulating sleep and eating times and many other physiological functions. Frequent flyers know the trouble with flying distances east or west, when the body clock gets out of sync with local time. New discoveries may help relieve the common problem known as jet lag.
The VIPs of the nervous system—a tiny population of neurons holds a master key to the body’s clock (Medical Xpress). Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have identified key cells within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the brain, where sleep rhythms are known to be regulated. These cells secrete “vasoactive intestinal polypeptide or VIP, an essential compound that neurons use to communicate and synchronize their daily rhythms with one another.” Studies with mice in controlled lighting conditions show that these cells go haywire when light cycles get out of sync with biological rhythms. Adjusting the VIP “juice” might allow scientists to reset the clock.
“We are really starting to understand how the timing system in the brain is wired together, and found that the code used by VIP neurons is really key to setting our daily schedule,” Herzog said.
In the future, the researchers hope to learn ways to encourage VIP neurons to release their VIP to pick the clock’s lock and reduce jet lag for human travelers and shift workers.
New gears in your sleep clock (Medical Xpress). On the other side of the globe, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have identified the push-and-pull reactions involved in the biological clock. One reaction protects PER2, a key circadian protein, and the other destabilizes it. Acting like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, these two reactions come from different forms of the same kinase (an enzyme) named CK1D1 and CK1D2, which differ by one amino acid. “The opposite activity of CK1D2 was completely unexpected,” a researcher said.
“Circadian clock mechanisms can be found in bacteria, insects, plants and vertebrates. Understanding these fundamental mechanisms allows us to understand our relationship with the rhythmic environment,” concludes co-corresponding author Hitoshi Okamura. “Our discoveries indicate that the circadian clock can be adjusted between these kinases, and provides new targets for the treatment of circadian disorders.”
Circadian disorders can include “familial advanced sleep phase syndrome” that makes people get up at 3:00 a.m. and fall asleep in the early evening, making it difficult for them to relate to normal societal schedules. Insight into biological clocks won researchers the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Wiring, codes, gears, valves, regulators, clocks – these are terms of design. They’re not just metaphors. Consider that the same kind of function can be instantiated in very different forms. Clocks can be analog or digital. Thermometers can be made of mercury fluid or electronic parts. It doesn’t matter if a clock or valve is made of cells; if it performs the same function as a machine made of metal, it is a clock or a valve. In a very real sense, Paley’s watch has been found. It was right within his own body! (30 March 2018)
If a watch was sufficient to infer a Watchmaker, how much more should we infer a Designer when confronted with a whole suite of machines: pressure relief valves, metabolic regulators, gears and repair systems among them? Your body is loaded with sophisticated mechanisms far better designed than man-made machines. If we give honor to those who build sophisticated machines, let’s not neglect to honor the Creator of the most awesome mechanisms we have ever observed. David said in Psalm 9:1, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” That’s what we like to do here at Creation-Evolution Headlines, too. One of the best ways to do that is to recount his wonderful deeds in detail, where the glory really shines forth.