Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Amazing Human Eye!

The human eye is an extraordinary member of the body. The human retina contains 125 million rods and about 6 million cones. This is 70 percent of all the human sensory receptors for touch, taste smell, hearing and sight all put together. That’s how important vision is to our survival. But how does the eye actually see?

Light bouncing off an object goes into the eye, through the cornea and the oval-white lens, which focuses that light on the retina. That’s a thin layer of tissue covering the eye’s back wall (inside the sclera). The retina hosts the eyes’ rods and cones. At the center back is the fovea. Most color-sensing cone cells are here. These cells relay signals that move through the optic nerve to the brain.

Read it all here.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Nile Crocodile and American Crocodile Linked

The 7 million year skull of Crocodylus checchiai from As Sahabi, Libya 
was found in the 1930s.

This C. checchiai specimen predates the earliest known crocodile in the Americas by about 2 million years. Genetic research indicates that the animal also was a close relative of the Nile crocodile. 

According to Massimo Delfino, the extinct Crocodylus checchiai “fills a gap between the Nile crocodile in Africa and the four extant American species.” 

It is interesting that the oldest known American fossils of Crocodylus are older than the oldest known fossils of the Nilotic crocodile (C. niloticus). This fossil is older than both. Apparently, these ancient beasts were swimming between continents.

“It’s not so surprising,” Delfino says, "given today’s crocodilians’ ability to survive saltwater and travel hundreds of kilometers when helped by ocean currents."

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Saving the Largest Online Linguistics Database

In 2015, spare funds started to dry up at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a Bible translation group that revolutionized the documentation of endangered languages in the mid–20th century. SIL’s budget had long supported a massive online database considered by many to be the definitive source for information on the world’s languages.

The SIL Ethnologue has served anthropological and linguistic research for decades, but it has become to expense for many researchers.

Simon Greenhill, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said, “In the last few years, [Ethnologue has] gotten increasingly expensive and locked down."

Since 2013, SIL Chief Innovation Development Officer Stephen Moitozo has been trying to grow Ethnologue and make it self-sustaining. After the first paywall went up, interactive maps and customer service chatbots were added. Ongoing costs include website maintenance, security, and paying researchers to update the databases whenever new information comes in from independent researchers or SIL’s 5000 field linguists.

To pay for its valuable data, SIL is counting on institutions and corporations, as well as individual subscribers. SIL is planning to sell tailored access to corporations, including business intelligence firms, and Fortune 500 companies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Gene Edited for Sickle Cell Disease

Victoria Gray is the first person with a genetic disorder to be treated in the United States with the revolutionary gene-editing technique called CRISPR.

As the one-year anniversary of her landmark treatment approaches, Gray has received good news: She is functionally cured. The billions of genetically modified cells infused into her body are alleviating virtually all the complications of her sickle cell disease.

Gray hasn’t had any severe pain attacks since the treatment one year ago. Nor has she had to receive any emergency room treatments, hospitalizations, or blood transfusions.

In each of the previous two years, Gray required an average of seven hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to severe pain episodes as well as requiring regular blood transfusions. She has been able to significantly reduce her need for narcotics to relieve her pain.