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Spanning the Globe VI

Once again, it’s time for another round-up of all the anatomy news that’s fit to blog about!

This one got a lot of attention—for good reasons. Scientists discovered a 60-million-year-old tumor in the fossilized tail of a young dinosaur on a prairie in southern Alberta, Canada. What’s incredible, however, is that the same tumor can be found today, particularly in children under the age of 10. The tumor is part of the pathology known as LCH (Langerhans cell histiocytosis). The tumor from the dinosaur tail matched tumors found today. High-resolution micro CT scans matched-up the pattern of the tumor. It turns out there is a new field of science called “evolutionary medicine.” It’s a relatively new field that investigates the development and behavior of diseases over time. “We are trying to understand why certain diseases survive evolution with an eye to deciphering what causes them in order to develop new and effective ways of treating them,” said Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research. The bottom line, to our way of thinking, is that we are connected to all that came before us—in more ways than we know. Incredible.

Stupendemys geographicus was first described by academics in the mid-1970’s—an ancient species of turtles. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich along with experts from South America have found impressive specimens of this extinct creature in Venezuela and Colombia. We are talking large, with a carapace (outer shell) reaching almost three meters. Estimates suggest the turtle’s body mass at 1,145 kilograms (2,524 pounds). This is almost 100 times larger than the big-headed Amazon river turtle, its closest living relative. Horns on the fossils suggest there were males and females—apparently the first example of sexual dimorphism between the sexes of side-necked turtles (dead or alive). In addition, bite marks suggest these turtles had predators. So, what happened to these ancient turtles? Why did they go away? We’re glad to know that scientists are hard on the case.

Who will be Idaho-bound this summer to check out “Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out?” Yes, the same people behind “Body Worlds” have a new exhibit focused on the animal kingdom. The new exhibit opens in Idaho Falls at the Museum of Idaho on June 18. The exhibit will feature everything from dogs, cats and horses to more exotic creatures, like giraffes and sharks. We have nothing to add other than the “Body Worlds” shows are amazing and this is a great chance to observe similarities among all of us vertebrates. Plus, Idaho is a great place to visit—especially in the summer. The link above includes a one-minute video clip of the exhibit. You’ll get the idea.

Okay, let’s close out with an item about human anatomy. An item we spotted in The Scientist highlighted the fact that there are still new things being learned about us.

“What’s really interesting and exciting about almost all of the new studies is the illustration of the power of new [microscopy and imaging] technologies to give deeper insight,” says Tom Gillingwater, professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh. “I would guess that many of these discoveries are the start, rather than the end, of a developing view of the human body.” Such as? Glad you asked:

· The human brain does include a lymphatic system. (It was long believed to be absent from the brain.) Neuroimaging to the rescue! The interconnected network of glial cells facilitates circulation of fluid.

· The mesentery—the large, fan-like sheet of tissue that holds our intestines in place—is a single unit. It was long thought to consist of multiple fragments. (Even Leonardo DaVinci got it wrong.) There’s a healthy debate going on as to whether the mesentery constitutes an organ of the body—or not. (We’re not going to take sides.)

· The fabella is making a comeback! The fabella is a tiny bone located in a tendon behind the knee. And (drum roll, please) it’s becoming more common in humans, according to a study published last spring. After reviewing 58 studies on fabella prevalence in 27 different countries, researchers reported that people were approximately 3.5 times more likely to have the little bone in 2018 than 1918. The cause? Nobody knows for sure. The authors of the study theorize that changes in muscle mass and bone length—driven by increased diet quality in many parts of the world—could be one explanation. Okay, we ask, but why?

Those are just a few examples from under “new discoveries.” As long as we continue to look—and explore—there’s no doubt there will be more. See you next time on Spanning the Globe!







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