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Spanning the Globe VIII

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

Have you used Google Earth? As many know, the program uses satellite imagery and geographic data to let you explore the entire planet and zoom into your country, state, town, street, and practically your living room. It’s a marvelous tool. Now, scientists and technologists are busy developing a Google map of the human body. (This idea has been in the works, we know, for many years.)

The zoomable tool will allow users to examine individual cells. Sounds pretty nifty to explore for fun and curiosity. But researchers are keen on using it to better understand and treat diseases. One scientist said that she has been using the technology to research osteoarthritis. When cells lose their connectivity, there are major implications for bone health and this technological development shows elements such as cell connection. The mapping will allow her team to research in weeks what it would have taken decades to explore. Read more here and here.

Hands Down Those Anatomy in Clastudents with a particular interest in hands will love this project by Kendahl Servino, a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her honors thesis: Human Touch: Storytelling through Anatomy, focused on interviews about hands with 19 individuals. Hands are part of our utility, our identity, and our history.

Throughout her thesis defense, Servino supported the idea that, while there is a cultural divide between arts and sciences, collaboration between the two can open up conversations and make for more productive learning environments. She pointed to a study around elementary school children who were introduced to sciences in more artful ways. The study found that these methods resulted in higher engagement and retention. We’re sure Anatomy in Clay’s® Jon Zahourek, an accomplished artist and instructor, would agree!

“Get some backbone!” It is a term we might throw around without thinking, when we’re encouraging someone to have courage or determination. But did you know that ninety percent of animals don’t have spines at all? Vertebrates—animals with spines--evolved gradually from spineless animals. Most recently on the evolutionary calendar, us vertebrates came from ancestors with notochords.

Think of notochords as flexible rods, running the length of the body. They are firm tubes filled with fluid and considered to be predecessors to the backbone. Lancelets, little filter feeders you might find in shallow marine waters, have notochords. They are called chordates. In contrast, vertebrae bones are much more complex and have more sophisticated jobs. They have spiky parts which help them stack together and align. Myriad ligaments and muscles connect to the vertebrae, which have different shapes depending on where along the spine they exist.

Vertebrae have holes in the middle through which runs the spinal cord, the all-important cable of nerves which sends messages from the brain to the rest of the body. It’s the vertebrae’s job to protect it. Lest you think that us vertebrates left lowly chordates behind, think again: Our back discs, little pancake-shaped features sandwiched between our vertebrae, are remnants of notochords. These discs are made up of collagen fibers on the outside and a network of fibers suspended in a protein gel on the inside. When we’re born, these squishy discs are 80 percent water.

All of this was recently explained in the answer to a question at “Ask Doctor Universe,” a very cool project at Washington State University.







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