Out of a total of 850+ posts I’ve ever written (not bragging, just having a reality-based Holy Cow Moment), this one is probably one of the most exciting for me to write. I know I’ve been a little list-happy lately, and this post is no different, but I think this one is worth enduring yet another “list”. 😉
By now, it’s pretty cliche that “the human body is amazing” and all that. Most of the world has pretty much gotten that point.
But I’m going to explain just how amazing I think it truly is. And I’m going to back it up, with fascinating facts and scientific links.
Fascinating Fact #1: The body is essentially governed by a Neuroendocrine Immune “Super-System”.
Usually, we think of the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system (hormones) as separate systems. We really don’t think about hormones like estrogen or testosterone affecting neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like serotonin and dopamine, nor do we usually think of either of these interacting with the immune system in any way.
The truth is, all three systems are intricately and intimately interlinked and intertwined. None of these systems functions in isolation without input from–and influence of–the other two. Each system speaks its own language, and only its own language, but understands the languages of the other two.
Link to a research abstract from 2001 that summarizes this in technical terms.
Fascinating Fact #2: Human cells are actually built from remnants of ancient bacteria.
Animal cells contain little power-plants called “mitochondria”. Much like the analogy implies, these mitochondria manufacture a chemical form of energy that powers and drives all of the functions for that cell. Mitochondria have an unusual structure…that even looks similar to today’s bacteria. Consider them side by side:
The resemblance between the two is still pretty uncanny, considering millions of years of evolution and the extreme genetic difference between bacteria and humans. It appears that eons ago, aquatic bacteria were thought to condense and congeal into groups that sort of either helped to spawn, or perhaps grew around, other cellular components as they evolved and developed. The ironic part is that the actual energy-generating machinery (remember the Krebs cycle from high school Biology?) actually works in reverse to that of human mitochondrial energetic processes.
More from Rice University about the “Evolutionary Origin of Mitochondria“.
Fascinating Fact #3: Fascia, formerly thought to be “inert” connective tissue, generates electric current when pushed on.
Those of you who’ve ever prepared chicken for dinner are probably pretty familiar with the thin-but-durable, almost-transparent membrane that surrounds the chicken meat itself (its muscle), just under the layer of skin. Many people remove it, thinking nothing of it. (And that’s OK.)
The interesting part is, humans have the same tissue. It surrounds every organ, muscle/tendon, bone and ligament, and just about everything else, in sort of a saran-wrap-like fashion. And then, certain elements of the body get grouped together (for example, a group of individually-wrapped muscle fibers), and the group gets another layer of this biological saran-wrap.
The saran-wrap I’m describing is known as fascia, a stretchy, thin net of connective tissue that surrounds everything. We used to think of this tissue as just as I described it: a net that is mostly inert and otherwise inactive. Except that it’s not. In fact, when “mechanical stress” is applied to it, it generates electrical current, a phenomenon known as a piezoelectric effect. The funny part is, gravity is actually considered a form of continuous mechanical stress, so our fascia is always generating electricity.
I’ve written a recent post on this, which contains several links to scientific sources, so I won’t repeat the rest here. 🙂
Fascinating Fact #4: The human brain is much more adaptable than we thought.
Old-school lines of thinking maintained that once formed, the developmental windows of opportunity closed, and what you ended up with is what you’d be blessed/stuck with for life.
As it turns out, the brain is much more adaptable to its environment than originally thought. The brain doesn’t simply go dormant when we pass certain physical/chronological ages or developmental benchmarks. It actually keeps going, continually rewiring itself throughout our entire lives, even into our elderly years.
The brain does this in response to stimuli (or at times, the lack thereof). These stimuli can come from a variety of sources, including the five special senses (vision, hearing, etc) and especially physical movement.
A fascinating article from BigThink.com goes into even greater detail, naming names (of research and researchers).
Fascinating Fact #5: People who receive organ transplants start to take on the personality of the donor.
At first, I didn’t quite believe this when my partner wowed me with this FunFact at the end of a day of acupuncture school classes. He had learned this from an instructor, and his instructors are quite credible and rational people, with lots of experience and knowledge, and also a little short on the citable research (likely because most of it was not published for release outside of China, where it originated, which is, incidentally, a little on the secretive side regarding their information).
My mild skepticism came from the common-knowledge assumption that the brain was the brain and the organs were the organs, and the brain was the sole site of personality characteristics, and brain information is not stored in organs, nor vice versa. So it seemed intriguing-but-supernatural to me.
A person cannot call themselves science-oriented without keeping an open mind about that which they do not know, so naturally, I looked into it. Holy cow, he was right! It’s happening, and yes, even to westerners–as in, here in the States and in the UK.
Mesmerizing story from the Telegraph UK, detailing several individual US- and UK-based cases. Granted, these are anecdotes right now, and I’m not sure enough of the search terms to use to look this up on Pubmed, so the anecdotes will have to do for now. But just remember–every single scientific paper ever written started out by being motivated by a bunch of anecdotes, without which science wouldn’t have progressed nearly as far or as fast.
I had originally planned to include all ten FunFacts in one post, but I got a little excited and inf0-sharing-happy about the topics, so in the interest of this post loading decently on your browser without sucking up too much memory/bandwidth/time, I’ll chop the list in half and there will be a Part 2 sequel super-soon. 🙂