OK, so I get excited. I guess I’m easily amused lol (grin). And the human body most certainly ranks within my top tier of amusements (purely on a scientific, intellectual level, of course; I’m not into the Other Stuff).
Without further adieu, I’ll pick right up where I left off on my last post; with Number 6.
Fascinating Fact #6: The enzyme that does the final step of cellular energy production has a light receptor.
Sunlight isn’t just for plants, nor is it just for making Vitamin D in humans. We can actually use (and in reality, we need) sunlight in order to change oxygen into water to drive the pumping (i.e., the physical movement) of protons that work to generate energy at the very end of the electron transport chain that follows the Krebs cycle.
Interestingly enough, this occurs within the mitochondria (those little power-plants from the previous post that make all the cell’s energy) which resemble bacteria more than they resemble anything human.
More information about the mechanism of this enzyme (Cytochrome C Oxidase, commonly known as COX) can be found in this research study abstract (from 2005), and more information about its reference to bacteria can be found in this one (from 2002).
Fascinating Fact #7: Fungi and even viruses are normal residents of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
I remember being floored enough when I learned that the intestinal tract carries several hundred species of bacteria, and that not only were these bacteria not life-threatening or otherwise harmful, but they were actually beneficial! And not only do they help us out, they’re not a luxury–they’re necessary. Show me one person with a very reduced number (and diversity) of GI bacteria, and I’ll show you a very sick person. We’ve come to know this gastrointestinal ecosystem (it really is a jungle in there) as the microbiome, a fun technical term that sounds cool (which it is). It has become an almost-household word.
A few years ago, two new words began to surface in the scientific literature:
- the Mycobiome, and
- the Microvirome (or “virome”)
This came on the heels of new research that established that yep, certain types of fungi and viruses, in certain amounts (and probably ratios between different types), actually inhabit the normal intestinal tract. They’re proper residents; they have permission to be there (!).
Although their specific roles have not yet been uncovered, they’re generally regarded as being beneficial, too, so long as nobody (no one particular species) gets out of hand, plays King of the Hill, starts bullying the other species, or otherwise starts behaving badly. We’re realizing that our hyper-germophobic approach has worked against us the entire time, leaving an avalanche of intestinal distress in its wake. Meaning, says the proposed theory, that our super-sanitation methods have sterilized our environment such that we’re killing off all of the “good guys” that are supposed to be in our GI tract and without them, we’re losing the anti-inflammatory action/protection they contribute, and we’re developing Irritable Bowel Syndromes and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in record proportions.
Fascinating Fact #8: Fat tissue isn’t just tissue anymore; it’s actually a hormone-producing organ.
Wait–what? Yeah, this information is relatively new-ish, too. I’ll back up for a second. Most people (health professionals and the public population alike) have been given the impression that fat tissue is a relatively inert, inactive tissue that just sits there. It might get bigger or smaller as we gain and lose weight, but that’s about it. It has traditionally served two functions: keeping us warm and storing energy in case food becomes scarce in the future.
And that was all there was to it.
Until relatively recently. As it turns out, fat is actually a pretty active tissue type. In fact, fat cells joined together as a whole unit qualify for classification as an organ. What does an organ do? Well, it serves functions to maintain health in the body, so that’s nothing new. But what is new is that it’s now considered an endocrine organ.
Yeah, that’s right – it produces hormones. No kidding.
But wait–there’s more. It doesn’t just produce hormones. It also produces neurotransmitters (considered the signaling language of the nervous system, kind of like what hormones are to the endocrine system), and it even makes cytokines (the immune system signaling counterpart; think of them almost like the “hormones” of the immune system).
Wait–what? Yep, that’s right. Fat is a pretty active little tissue, and it pulls shenanigans at times.
Here’s a picture of the major biochemicals it’s responsible for making and releasing:
Link to a research review article abstract from 2004.
Fascinating Fact #9: Humans can actually regenerate some tissues.
We know that some animals (like salamanders, for example) can regenerate body parts. For these creatures, the regeneration capabilities are pretty profound, and they include not only limbs, but organs, too.
Most people are under the impression that in humans, the ability to grow new tissue is limited to wound healing and scar tissue formation.
Not quite! We actually do have some tissue regeneration capacity beyond that of wound healing. Ours is quite limited (for now; the future may hold much more promise), but it’s there. We can regenerate parts of fingertips and whatnot, making whole new ones, including the skin, fingerprints, and the associated blood vessels and nerve endings. With the right nutrition, we can also regenerate nerve coverings, heart tissue, and liver tissue, among other types.
Link to a good Wiki article on current human naturally-occurring regeneration capabilities.
Fascinating Fact #10: Human cells might just make the hard drives of the future.
Human DNA can store massive amounts of information; one gram (1,000 milligrams) of DNA can store about 700 terabytes (each terabyte being roughly 1,000 gigabytes) of data, a record set in 2012.
Scientists are currently working with fossilized DNA to find ways to pack DNA with even more information, (a term known as “DNA density”), believing that this capacity could eventually reach 455 exabytes, with one exabyte equaling a billion gigabytes. That’s apparently like saying you could house the servers for Google and Facebook in a single gram of DNA, and still have room left over. Other researchers have successfully encoded all of Shakespeare’s sonnets onto DNA storage media.
And MIT is working on a way to use this DNA to store analog (non-digital) memories as well.
Well, there it is – I have just disclosed to the world just how little of a life I have. 😉 (Lol!)