Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Google Body Browser

My editor Jeff recently pointed me to a story about Google's recently launched Body Browser.  I was amazed at this latest creation of Google Labs.

The Body Browser is a FREE online tool that you and your students can use to explore the anatomy of the human body in a "virtual dissection" format.  Using the familiar Google Maps navigation tools, you can . . .
  • Peel (or fade) away layers of the body . . . removing the skin, then muscles, then bones, to reveal the internal organs

  • Select systems (skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiovascular) to view

  • Click on any structure to show its label

  • Type the name of any structure in the search box to find it in the body

  • Tilt, zoom, turn the body to a variety of positions to see organs in more views that usually available in a textbook, atlas, or chart
The Body Browser runs inside any WebGL-enabled browser, meaning that you don't have to worry about having the latest Flash or Java plugins installed.

I think Body Browser a is a great FREE tool for A&P students to have access to an online model of the human body that can be used for a beginning study of anatomy.  Because it allows the user to type in the names of organs for which they are looking, you don't need to worry about it being too high (or too low) a level for your course.

There are a few minor limitations of the Body Browser:
  • The only available specimen is female (that is, there is no male specimen available to complement the female specimen)

  • The specimen is partially clothed.  Although one can see some of the underlying surface structures as the "skin" layer fades back, it's not the same as seeing these structures clearly.  An odd feature that makes certain regions of the body "off limits." (I've seen some hacks to fix this, but none of them work for me using the Chrome browser)

  • Some of the organs are roughly rendered, so it's not as detailed (at least in some areas) as you may like to see

  • Only a few systems can be shown in entirety.  Some useful system views that are missing are the lymphatic system and the respiratory system

  • You cannot select or hide individual organs for display
  • I could find no documentation or even a help button (pretty typical of Google Labs resources)
Even with some minor limitations, Body Browser is still a fantastic study and teaching tool.  As an A&P professor, you might use Body Browser as . . .
  • a presentation tool during a class lecture or discussion to demonstrate the location and structure of specific organs

    • you could use it live or you could record a session with Jing or similar recording tool and use the pre-recorded exploration

  • a tutoring tool with which you can send the URL of a specific view (perhaps with a label) to a student or group of students

  • a testing tool with which you can create specific views that can then be used to test from on a quiz, test, or lab practical . . . perhaps using a screen capture tool such as Jing

  • alternative lab model to use along with, or in place of, physical models in the lab

    • it may be useful as a reference to side by side with a laboratory model

    • use it in place of a laboratory model in a distance learning course
I'll be listing some ideas for student  uses of Body Browser at my blog The A&P Student.

Do you have some other ideas for using Body Browser in an undergraduate A&P course?  Just use the comment feature and share your ideas with us!

Check out this video to see a demo of the currently available features of Body Browser

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

See you in Sarasota?

I plan on attending the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) Southeast Regional Conference on January 22, 2011, in the Sarasota FL area. 

Will I see you there?

These regional HAPS meetings are wonderful.  Not only do you get to meet and chat with folks doing what you do from all kinds of institutions, you'll hear loads of ideas on how to better help your students succeed in A&P.

And what better time of year to head off for coastal Florida, eh?

Want some details?

Go to the official meeting website my-ap.us/f7HO2K for more information on invited speakers, available workshops, travel info, etc.. . . and a handy online registration form.

And I'll be presenting a workshop there:

Helping A&P Students Succeed:
Using Supplemental Courses to
Reinforce Concepts and Promote Learning Skills
Do your A&P students struggle with the whole process of learning?
Do they seem ill prepared in their study skills and their knowledge of basic principles of biology?
Explore a case study in which short supplemental courses provide underprepared and unskilled students
with knowledge and skills that make them better able to succeed in the A&P course and beyond.
You will also receive free resources to help your own students succeed.

I hope I see you there!  I'd love to chat with you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Father of Fractals

You may have already heard the recent news of the passing of Benoit Mandelbrot, originator of the iconic Mandelbrot Set (pictured) and founder of the field of fractal geometry.  It brings to mind the deeper understanding of human structure and function that has resulted directly from applying principles of fractal geometry.  An important set of principles that I believe we A&P professors could do a better job of helping our students appreciate.

Mandelbrot's pioneering efforts in understanding the roughness of nature led to the discovery of basic principles of fractal geometry.  A key characteristic of fractal structures is self-similarity (the parts resemble the whole).

In human anatomy, this self-similar characteristic is observed in surfaces that have folds, which have bumps, which in turn have their own bumps, and so on . . . producing unexpectedly huge total surface areas.  For example, think of the loops of the intestines, which in turn have circular folds of mucosa, which in turn have villi, which in turn have microvilli, which in turn have membranes embedded with bumpy molecules, and so on. 

Fractal self-similarity can also be observed in branched structures, such as the respiratory tract and the cardiovascular vessels.  These structures have branches that have branches that have branches, and so on for many levels . . . producing large numbers of pathways and huge surface areas.

A particularly interesting characteristic of such complex fractal structures is that they are produced with relatively simple mathematical formulae.  Which means that very little genetic information is needed to produce highly complex structures like intestines, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, bronchial trees, cerebral convolutions, etc.

Fractal structures are also chaotic, a mathematical concept of "constrained randomness."  Put simply, chaotic structures have an element of randomness but within limits.  So when our body applies fractal geometry during development we can be certain of a particular type of structure without being certain we'll know exactly where each individual bump or branch will lie.  In other words, we can more or less be certain where the main arteries will be (with some individual variation) but not so much for the various arterioles and capillaries . . . at least not precisely.

Principles of chaos also play out in human physiology when we observe the aperiodic (nonrhythmic) patterns of heart rate, brain waves (as in an EEG), and certain other functions.

Mandelbrot opened up a whole new understanding of human structure and function that is only now becoming understood widely.  I've been introducing the concept of chaos and fractals in my courses, and more subtly in some of my textbooks, for several years now.  My experience is that introducing simplified principles of chaos and fractals at the beginning of A&P 1, then reinforcing them when encountered throughout both semesters of A&P, help student appreciate an intriguing and important concept of human structure and function.  A concept that is increasingly playing a central role in science's understanding of human biology.

Want to know more?

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924–2010)
Ralph Gomory
Nature Volume: 468, Page 378, Date published: 18 November 2010, doi:10.1038/468378a, Published online: 17 November 2010
[A brief synopsis of Mandelbrot's life and contributions from the journal Nature]

Chaos in the Human Body (Mini Lesson)
Kevin Patton
Lion Den http://lionden.com/chaos.htm
[Brief outline that I use with my own students in A&P 1]

Applications of Fractals - Human Body
Oracle Education Foundation. online (accessed 2 Dec 2010)
[Brief student-produced outline of some fractal principles of the body]

Fractal Geometry in Biological Systems: An Analytical Approach
Philip M. Iannaccone, Mustafa Khokha
CRC Press 1996
[Book outlining the initial discoveries of fractals in humans.]

Chaos: Making a New Science
James Gleick
Penguin 2008
[Reprint of the classic bestseller book that outlines in simple terms the concepts of chaos and fractal geometry.  Highly recommended.  Includes some applications/examples in human biology.]

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nobel Prize: Test Tube Babies

This morning, we heard the news . . . the 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology is awarded to Robert G. Edwards "for the development of in vitro fertilization."

Professors and students using my Anatomy & Physiology (7th ed.) textbook can access an article on in vitro fertilization (IVF) at A&P Connect online at evolve.elsevier.com

If you are thinking of mentioning this award in your classes this week, which I am planning to do myself, you are welcome to use the following information from the Nobel Committee, as well as the images linked to the thumbnails presented here (scroll down to the bottom for more).

Of course, be aware that the use of IVF is condemned by some religious groups (for example, see Dignitas Personae) and thus classroom discussions may become heated.

There is also advanced information available at the Nobel website.  This is a nice publication that summarizes the science.

If you want a short set of slides that you can use today in your class, then use this link:



Robert Edwards is awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for the development of human in vitro fertilization (IVF) therapy. His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity including more than 10% of all couples worldwide.

As early as the 1950s, Edwards had the vision that IVF could be useful as a treatment for infertility. He worked systematically to realize his goal, discovered important principles for human fertilization, and succeeded in accomplishing fertilization of human egg cells in test tubes (or more precisely, cell culture dishes). His efforts were finally crowned by success on 25 July, 1978, when the world's first "test tube baby" was born. During the following years, Edwards and his co-workers refined IVF technology and shared it with colleagues around the world.

Approximately four million individuals have so far been born following IVF. Many of them are now adult and some have already become parents. A new field of medicine has emerged, with Robert Edwards leading the process all the way from the fundamental discoveries to the current, successful IVF therapy. His contributions represent a milestone in the development of modern medicine.

Infertility – a medical and psychological problem

More than 10% of all couples worldwide are infertile. For many of them, this is a great disappointment and for some causes lifelong psychological trauma. Medicine has had limited opportunities to help these individuals in the past. Today, the situation is entirely different. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an established therapy when sperm and egg cannot meet inside the body.

Basic research bears fruit

The British scientist Robert Edwards began his fundamental research on the biology of fertilization in the 1950s. He soon realized that fertilization outside the body could represent a possible treatment of infertility. Other scientists had shown that egg cells from rabbits could be fertilized in test tubes when sperm was added, giving rise to offspring. Edwards decided to investigate if similar methods could be used to fertilize human egg cells.
It turned out that human eggs have an entirely different life cycle than those of rabbits.  In a series of experimental studies conducted together with several different co-workers, Edwards made a number of fundamental discoveries. He clarified how human eggs mature, how different hormones regulate their maturation, and at which time point the eggs are susceptible to the fertilizing sperm. He also determined the conditions under which sperm is activated and has the capacity to fertilize the egg. In 1969, his efforts met with success when, for the first time, a human egg was fertilized in a test tube.
In spite of this success, a major problem remained. The fertilized egg did not develop beyond a single cell division. Edwards suspected that eggs that had matured in the ovaries before they were removed for IVF would function better, and looked for possible ways to obtain such eggs in a safe way.

From experiment to clinical medicine

Edwards contacted the gynecologist Patrick Steptoe. He became the clinician who, together with Edwards, developed IVF from experiment to practical medicine. Steptoe was one of the pioneers in laparoscopy, a technique that was new and controversial at the time. It allows inspection of the ovaries through an optical instrument. Steptoe used the laparoscope to remove eggs from the ovaries and Edwards put the eggs in cell culture and added sperm. The fertilized egg cells now divided several times and formed early embryos, 8 cells in size (see figure).
These early studies were promising but the Medical Research Council decided not to fund a continuation of the project. However, a private donation allowed the work to continue. The research also became the topic of a lively ethical debate that was initiated by Edwards himself. Several religious leaders, ethicists, and scientists demanded that the project be stopped, while others gave it their support.

The birth of Louise Brown - an historic event

Edwards and Steptoe could continue their research thanks to the new donation. By analyzing the patients' hormone levels, they could determine the best time point for fertilization and maximize the chances for success. In 1978, Lesley and John Brown came to the clinic after nine years of failed attempts to have a child. IVF treatment was carried out, and when the fertilized egg had developed into an embryo with 8 cells, it was returned to Mrs. Brown. A healthy baby, Louise Brown, was born through Caesarian section after a full-term pregnancy, on 25 July, 1978. IVF had moved from vision to reality and a new era in medicine had begun.

IVF is refined and spreads around the world

Edwards and Steptoe established the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, the world's first centre for IVF therapy. Steptoe was its medical director until his death in 1988, and Edwards was its head of research until his retirement. Gynecologists and cell biologists from all around the world trained at Bourn Hall, where the methods of IVF were continuously refined. By 1986, 1,000 children had already been born following IVF at Bourn Hall, representing approximately half of all children born after IVF in the world at that time.

Today, IVF is an established therapy throughout the world. It has undergone several important improvements. For example, single sperm can be microinjected directly into the egg cell in the culture dish. This method has improved the treatment of male infertility by IVF. Furthermore, mature eggs suitable for IVF can be identified by ultrasound and removed with a fine syringe rather than through the laparoscope.
IVF is a safe and effective therapy. 20-30% of fertilized eggs lead to the birth of a child. Complications include premature births but are very rare, particularly when one egg only is inserted into the mother. Long-term follow-up studies have shown that IVF children are as healthy as other children.
Approximately four million individuals have been born thanks to IVF. Louise Brown and several other IVF children have given birth to children themselves; this is probably the best evidence for the safety and success of IVF therapy. Today, Robert Edwards' vision is a reality and brings joy to infertile people all over the world.

Robert G. Edwards was born in 1925 in Manchester, England. After military service in the Second World War, he studied biology at the University of Wales in Bangor and at Edinburgh University in Scotland, where he received his PhD in 1955 with a Thesis on embryonal development in mice. He became a staff scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London in 1958 and initiated his research on the human fertilization process. From 1963, Edwards worked in Cambridge, first at its university and later at Bourn Hall Clinic, the world's first IVF centre, which he founded together with Patrick Steptoe. Edwards was its research director for many years and he was also the editor of several leading scientific journals in the area of fertilization. Robert Edwards is currently professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge.

Edwards RG. Maturation in vitro of human ovarian oocytes. Lancet 1965; 2:926-929.
Edwards RG, Bavister BD, Steptoe PC. Early stages of fertilization in vitro of human oocytes matured in vitro. Nature 1969; 221:632-635.
Edwards RG, Steptoe PC, Purdy JM. Fertilization and cleavage in vitro of human oocytes matured in vivo. Nature 1970; 227:1307-1309.
Steptoe PC, Edwards RG. Birth after the reimplantation of a human embryo. Lancet 1978; 2:366.
Edwards RG. The bumpy road to human in vitro fertilization. Nature Med 2001; 7:1091-4.

The preceding information is from "The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - Press Release". Nobelprize.org. 4 Oct 2010 http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2010/press.html

Some images you may find useful (click each thumbnail)

Sperm injection into oocyte

Human embryos developing in vitro

Robert G. Edwards

PDF from the Nobel website

Nobel medal

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More FREE images!

I've recently posted some more FREE images in the collection posted at The A&P Professor website.

Although it's just a beginning effort in a project that will take years to complete (if it really ever is "complete"), I do have quite a few images available in many different topics within A&P.

I've been focusing mainly on images that are not likely to already be present your textbook or lab manual.  That's so you can supplement your course with these additional images.  Perhaps you could use them in PowerPoint slides or online tutorials.

Some images are additional examples of specimens (such as tissues) where additional specimens are helpful (but would never all fit in a typical textbook).

As always, if you have any specific requests for images I'll do my best to track them down for you and add them to the collection.  And if you have any images you've found that you think I should add, let me know that, too!

And stay tuned for next week's announcement of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology!  I'll be posting links to resources you can use in your course to "bring the news home" to your students.

I'm predicting that the discovery of the hormone leptin will be the focus of this year's prize. Let's see if I called it correctly!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Looking at cilia

In a recent article in The Scientist, Peter Satir points out that the cilium was the very first distinct organelle ever directly observed by scientists--van Leeuwenhoek noted their existence in the 1660s.  But we are only now starting to fully understand these amazing and vital structures.

Until only the last decade or so, we thought that cilia were organs of cell motility--period.  But as I've noted in recent editions of my textbooks (e.g. Anatomy & Physiology, p.82-83), we now know that cilia play a critical role in a cell's ability to sense its surroundings.

Not only is this sensory function useful for, well, er, mediating senses such as hearing and equilibrium, it's also critical for cells to figure where to go (and when) during embryonic development.  In fact, it's been shown that situs inversus (the condition in which internal organs are flipped in their left-right orientation) is caused by a mutation affecting the structure of the primary cilium of developing cells in the embryo.

Cilia, it turns out, are centrally involved in a lot of different cell functions.

If you want a quick and interesting review of the history of cilia from one of the pioneers in cilia research, including answers to "why do we have to learn this stuff if I'm going to be a [insert health profession here]?," then check out this article:
Eyelashes Up Close
Peter Satir
The Scientist Volume 24 | Issue 7 | Page 30 2010-07-01
[Brief, well-illustrated review of what we know about cilia so far.  Includes great graphics and useful references.]
For more FREE images of cilia you can use in your course, see The A&P Professor website's FREE Image Library of Cell Structures.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sex differences in body fat distribution

When discussing sex differences in body fat distribution in my A&P course, I off-handedly refer to the roles of sex hormones in regulating the development that leads to these differences.  But how much do we really know about how that works?  Some recent work sheds a bit of light on that.

For example, a research review recently appearing in Obesity Reviews shows that indeed estrogen is responsible for promoting fat deposition in adult women.

Another recent article, this one in The International Journal of Obesity, suggests that there is a huge difference between the gene activity in male fat vs. female fat.  That is, the anatomy and physiology of male fat and female fat differs far more than anyone has yet realized.

Why Do Women Store Fat Differently From Men?.
University of New South Wales.
ScienceDaily 4 March 2009. 17 May 2010
[Brief synopsis of a research review from Obesity Reviews]

Does oestrogen allow women to store fat more efficiently? A biological advantage for fertility and gestation
A. J. O'Sullivan
Obesity Reviews Volume 10, Issue 2, Date: March 2009, Pages: 168-177
[Research review]

Belly Fat or Hip Fat: It Really Is All in Your Genes, Says Researcher.
UT Southwestern Medical Center.
ScienceDaily 16 May 2010. 17 May 2010

A microarray analysis of sexual dimorphism of adipose tissues in high-fat-diet-induced obese mice. 
K L Grove, et al.
International Journal of Obesity, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2010.12
[Research article]

Sunday, May 30, 2010

FREE image of cerebral tracts

I recently posted a new image to the FREE Image Library at The A&P Professor website.  This one is an amazing map of white matter tracts in the cerebrum that was made using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tractography.  Click on the thumbnail to see the large version of the image (and the source with copyright/use info).

This image could be used in a PowerPoint slide in your class to make a dramatic point about the structure and function of the brain, eh?

If you want some background on how this image was made:
Estimating the Confidence Level of White Matter Connections Obtained with MRI Tractography.
Gigandet X, Hagmann P, Kurant M, Cammoun L, Meuli R, et al. 
PLoS ONE 2008 3(12): e4006. 

Want more information on the FREE Image Library at The A&P Professor website . . . and tips on how to use it?  See my recent article in this blog.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New blog feature

This blog now has a new feature . . . AnswerTips. If you double-click any word or phrase in this blog, a floating box will appear with additional information.

You can use this handy feature to:
  • look up the meaning of an unfamiliar term
  • find the acronym or abbreviation of a term (or, conversely, find the meaning of the acronym)
  • get a written and audio pronunciation guide for a term
  • find the word origin and word parts of a term
  • find related links
Try it right now by clicking this term . . . erythropoietin (used in a recent blog posting).

Now try it on ANY other word in this or any other post on this blog.

Yes . . . I've also added this feature to The A&P Professor website that serves as a resource-rich companion to this blog.

Oh, and another thing . . .YOU can add this feature to your online syllabus, class notes, blog, wiki, or other online resource for FREE!  It's incredibly easy. You can automatically and instantly give your students access to audio pronunciations (especially useful for ESL students) and definitions to unfamiliar terms.

If you want to see how that works, check out this example from my course website: Learning Outline for Skin.

And did I mention that AnswerLink is free? 

Just go to http://my-ap.us/bwkmpX to learn more.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Latest in blood doping

The subject of blood doping has come up a few times in this blog.  Recently, we heard the latest in the Floyd Landis blood doping story . . . now, after years of vigorous (and costly) denials, cycling champion Landis has now admitted that he DID dope to prepare for competitions.

Landis states the he used EPO (erythropoietin) to increase his hematocrit to improve performance during cycling events.(EPO is pictured here.)

He has also stated that Lance Armstrong, another champion cyclist, gave him EPO and discussed his own blood doping experiences with Landis.  Armstrong denies these claims.

Listen to the story from NPR:

I have an article on doping at The A&P Professor website that includes a lot of resources, as well as tips on using the topic of doping to engage students in a deeper understanding of human structure and function.
K. Patton
The A&P Professor, accessed May 21, 2010
[Tips and resources regarding doping for A&P courses.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artificial life?

Once they "get" the basic idea of molecular genetics, my A&P students become fascinated with those teeny-weeny molecules can have such huge impacts on the structure and function of the body.  On the drive home from campus today, I heard a great story on NPR about the announcement by Craig Venter that his team has successfully created a living, reproducing cell using completely synthetic DNA.  

They did this by using yeast cells to assemble smaller, synthesized bits of DNA and transferring it to living cells, which then reproduced the genome in offspring cells. 

While this is a long way from the claims (and concerns) of "creating artificial life," it is a huge discovery.

If you want to hear more about this, listen to the story yourself at Scientists Reach Milestone On Way to Artificial Life.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Encouraging students to start their library

Today, I posted an entry at The A&P Student blog encouraging students to begin a personal library of professional books.  I encouraged them to start with their A&P textbook.

Many students sell their textbooks back to the bookstore as a regular thing . . . without stopping to realize that SOME textbooks should be going into their individual professional library.
A professional library is the set of references that a student can begin to build NOW and continually add to throughout their professional career. Such individual libraries serve as indispensable tools to help professionals survive and excel in a health-related career.

For health professionals, the A&P textbook will be needed for  upcoming health professions courses and clinicals/practicums. It will also serve well later, when students finally begin their careers.

You may want to post one or more of these links to share with your students:
[Recent blog post from The A&P Student]
[Blog post from The A&P Student from May 2009]

[Brief article from my Lion Den collection of Study Tips and Tools]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nature and Science to merge?

Will it be called Natural Science or Science Nature?   You can vote on it when the esteemed journals Science and Nature combine to form a new, open-access journal.

Want to know more?

Science, Nature Team Up on New Journal
John Travis
Science NOW, 1 April 2010

I hope you all have a crazy April 1!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Crazy artificial genetish

This is just crazy.  I'm still not decided whether it's mad-scientist, what-could-they-possibly-be-thinking? crazy or it's brilliant, why-didn't-they-think-of-this-sooner, life-is-now-complete crazy.

According to a recent post at TheScientist.com, scientists have recently created an artificial system in which a bizarre, created ribosome reads codons in mRNA that are four bases long. You read the correctly . . . instead of reading bases three at a time (like in real life), these little monsters can read a whole different form of genetic language—or genetish, as author Matt Ridley calls it.

This breakthrough allows scientists to build a whole new system of creating proteins—one in which there could be up to 256 different possible amino acids available.  This means that instead of being limited to using only the 22 naturally-occurring amino acids currently available for playing around to produce crazy new proteins, scientists can now also use synthetically modified amino acids with a variety of chemical properties. Modified or synthetic amino acids have no 3-base codons to represent them in natural genetish.

Just a few months ago, we were lauding the Nobel laureates who helped us figure out the structure of the ribosome.  Now we're seeing the creation of artificial ribosomes that translate artificial genetish. I guess this is a huge breakthrough for chemists hoping to synthesize new types of proteins.  It may also provide opportunities for synthetic biologists (scientists attempting to create artificial cells, tissues, and organisms).  It certainly is a great starting point for a sci-fi novel!

Want to know more?

Genetic coding revamp
Jef Akst
TheScientist.com 14 Feb 2010
[Summary of development of a new genetic language.]

Some background from the primary literature:

A chemical toolkit for proteins — an expanded genetic code
Jianming Xie et al.
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 7, 775-782 (October 2006) doi:10.1038/nrm2005

An evolved ribosome for genetic code expansion
Caroline Köhrer et al.
Nature Biotechnology 25, 745 - 746 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt0707-745

A network of orthogonal ribosome·mRNA pairs
Oliver Rackham et al.
Nature Chemical Biology 1, 159 - 166 (2005) doi:10.1038/nchembio719

Monday, February 22, 2010

FREE digestion images

Although there's still a lot more to go, I have recently updated the library of images for digestion in the FREE Image Library at The A&P Professor website.

In a previous post I outlined a few of the many ways you could use supplemental images like these.  In this batch, there are some dramatic images of gall stones, laparoscopic views of digestive organs that I may use to spice up our classroom discussions a bit.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New discovery about sperm's ability to swim

Scientists have found the trigger that gets sperm swimming in the female reproductive tract.

Sperm cells in the testis are pretty quiet . . . they don't seem very interested in swimming.  However, after they are ejaculated into the female reproductive tract they become activated and get with the program. We already knew that the sperm cells need to raise their pH in order to kick into their swimming mode . . . but we didn't know how that is actually done.

In an article in the journal Cell, researchers report that they have the answer . . . one-way proton (H+) channels called Hv1 that open when sperm enter the female reproductive tract.  Increasing the intracellular pH triggers the influx of calcium ions, which in turn activate the sperm flagellum.  And they're off!

The increase in intracellular sperm pH also enables the sperm's acrosome to become activated and get ready to do its job, too.

Hv1 may be a key to triggering the hyperactivation and capacitation of sperm necessary for male fertility.

The researchers also found that a chemical similar to the active ingredient in marijuana inhibits the Hv1 channels and thus reduced fertility.  Perhaps this explains low fertility among males who are chronic users of marijuana.  And perhaps this opens the door to discovering chemicals that can be used to regulate the sperm fertility.

Want to know more?
Science News web edition : Thursday, February 4th, 2010
[Summary article includes a cool fluorescent micrograph.]

Acid extrusion from human spermatozoa is mediated by flagellar voltage-gated proton channel. 
Lishko, P.V. et al.
Cell Volume 140, Issue 3, 327-337, 5 February 2010
[Original research article with some fabulous images in the graphical abstract and an excellent movie that features the scientists explaining their discovery. ]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Any dopes in Vancouver?

If you're like me, I mention the concept of blood doping when covering the life cycle of red blood cells (RBCs) and the homeostatic mechanisms that regulate the population numbers of RBCs.

In 2008 and 2009,  beginning around the time of the Beijing Olympics, I wrote a series of articles on doping in this blog and an extended version at The A&P Professor website.

I recently updated that extended doping article with a link to a recent news story from the Canadian Press service regarding the possibility of doping with the experimental anemia drug Hematide.

The doping issue is a great way to tie an unfortunately unending series of "real life" high-profile cases to the concepts of blood physiology.

Check out my Doping article, which includes several resources from major anti-doping agencies plus hints for incorporating doping issues in your A&P course.

You may also be interested in the PBS video Doping for Gold, which chronicles doping in a generation of European athletes. In the 1970s, female East German athletes came from nowhere to dominate international sport. Behind their success lay a secret, state-sponsored doping program that distributed untested steroids to athletes as young as 12. Many of these girls had no knowledge that they were being doped, and now, their damaged bodies and psyches deal with the cruelty of a government that pursued international glory at the expense of its most acclaimed citizens.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prions are our friends

OK, let's see if I can remember what I just read about prion proteins (PrPs) . . . I think I read that they can help us store memories.  Oh yeah, that's right . . . and it turns out that they are needed to maintain the insulating myelin sheath around neurons that enables proper conduction of action potentials.

In my Anatomy & Physiology textbook I define a prion as
a term that is short for “proteinaceous infectious particles,” which are proteins that convert normal proteins of the nervous system into abnormal proteins, causing loss of nervous system function; the abnormal form of the protein also may be inherited; a newly discovered type of pathogen, not much is known about how the prion works; see bovine spongiform encephalopathy, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD)

Well, it turns out that prions are not all bad, after all.  In a recent article in Nature Neuroscience, scientists report that certain prions are needed for the axonal signaling to Schwann cells that is needed to maintain the myelin sheath (pictured) and thus maintain normal conduction of nerve impulses.

In another finding reported in the journal Cell, scientists working with prions in sensory neurons of the sea slug found that the clumping of prions that we previously associated only with prion diseases plays a role in preserving memory.  Typically, when prions clump, they for tangles called amyloid plaques in a cell. Apparently, the clumping of certain prions at synapses increase the length of time that a memory is stored at that synapse.

Researchers also found that the neurotransmitter serotonin promotes the formation of the memory-preserving clumps.

More work needs to be done, of course, but these findings may lead to the discovery of a central role for prions in retaining long-term memories.

Want to know more?
Axonal prion protein is required for peripheral myelin maintenance. 
Bremer, J., et al.
Nature Neuroscience. 24 January 2010. doi:10.1038/nn.2483
[Original research article]

Prion protein is not all bad
Tina Hesman Saey
Science News February 13th, 2010; Vol.177 #4 (p. 17) 
[Summary article describing the role of prions in maintaining the myelin sheath, as well as some general insights on the emerging new view of prions.]
Aplysia CPEB Can Form Prion-like Multimers in Sensory Neurons that Contribute to Long-Term Facilitation
Kausik Si, et al.
Cell Volume 140, Issue 3, 421-435, 5 February 2010
[Original research article included a nifty graphical summary of the central findings.]
Click here for an audio interview with the scientist about this breakthrough

Protein clumps like a prion, but proves crucial for long-term memory
Tina Hesman Saey
Science News web edition : Thursday, February 4th, 2010
[Summary article explaining new research findings and their importance.]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

FREE respiratory images

You already know that I'm slowly adding to the Free Image Library at The A&P Professor website.  I've recently added a few images related to the Respiratory System to the collection.

All the images are either copyright-free or provide a free license to re-use them with permission.  So you can use them to . . .
  • Add them to your PowerPoint slides.

  • Use them in handouts or outlines.

  • Use them in tests or worksheets. Many of them have numbered and/or unlabeled versions that make this easy for you.

  • Provide them to students to use for their reports, projects, or concept maps.

  • Use them as icons for your website or learning management system.

  • Illustrate case studies with medical images or clinical procedures.

  • Use pathology images to hammer home concepts of normal anatomy and physiology.

  • Make your own anatomy T-shirts using iron-on transfer paper to print the images.

  • Receive inspiration to become a scientific illustrator.  (Then call me, I can use your help!)
Why not just use the images provided by the publisher of your textbook?
  • No textbook contains all the variations of how to draw a structure or concept.  Use alternate images to help drive home a particular point.

  • Students aren't really learning their anatomy and physiology if they memorize a particular diagram.  Using alternate diagrams on worksheets and tests pushes them to learn where things really are in the body. . . not where they happen to be labeled in the book.

  • Textbooks must conserve space to remain a practical tool.  There are many images that would be great to show students . . . such as medical images, portraits of A&P heroes or sources of eponyms, or amazing micrographs . . . that are simply not appropriate for a beginning-level textbook.

This image of an iron lung is not appropriate for a textbook, perhaps, but it might help you explain the concept of how pressure affects the mechanics of breathing.

Please send me your ideas for images that you need (maybe I can find them for you).

I'll be updating you when I add more topics to the Free Image Library.

If you have any suggestions for additional subjects for images, let me know and I'll try to find them for you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lipid rafts

Having lived most of my life near the river banks at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, I guess I have a special place in my heart for rafts. A few years ago, when scientists discovered organized domains within cell membranes and named them rafts, I guess it all felt pretty obvious to me . . . and comfortable.

I was thinking about rafts today when I received this month's issue of  The Scientist, which features a cover story on the evolution of the lipid raft concept.

My Life on a Raft
Kai Simmons
The Scientist Volume 24 Issue 2  Page 24 February 2010
[Brief article by a pioneer in the discovery and study of lipid rafts]

In my textbook Anatomy & Physiology I define a membrane raft as . . .
"a structure made up of groupings of molecules (cholesterol, certain phospholipids, proteins) within a cell membrane that travel together on the surface of the cell, something like a log raft on a lake; also called lipid raft"
 When I first added the concept of lipid rafts to our introductory chapter on cellular structure a number of years ago, some of my colleagues were a bit put off by this addition.  Some reviewers suggested that I drop it because it wasn't, well, standard in the texts with which they were familiar.

First, I think that when we form our own cohesive idea of what a cell is, it's hard to break that apart easily to accommodate changes and (especially) radical new concepts.  It's even harder to imagine that any new concepts of cell structure and function have any place in an introductory conversation about cells. 

Second, it isn't always immediately clear that a beginning student is really going to encounter significant applications of such a new concept in their studies . . . or in their practice.

With lipid rafts, the concept was used several times in other parts of the book to understand such central ideas as endocytosis.  As a science, we continue to learn about significant medical application opportunities, such as a possible effective therapy for HIV infection and other viral conditions (for example, see New non-drug fix for HIV).

Similarly, come colleagues question my textbook's coverage of the cytoskeleton and motor molecules, when this dynamic system seems to play a basic, central (and increasingly well understood) role in many mechanisms typically covered in a beginning A&P course . . . not to mention applications in clinical science.

So updating a textbook can be quite challenging when it comes to deciding how to handle new ideas that come along. 

When, if ever, is a new biological concept ready to be put into an introductory textbook?  If one puts it in early, then some users are alienated by the unfamiliar.  Some may even be suspect of something different than the orthodox and time-tested A&P curriculum. If one waits until everyone has already become familiar with the new idea, then isn't it a bit late to be first introducing into a textbook?

For me, the central question is, "Do textbook authors have any responsibility to introduce new concepts into the curriculum?"   I think the answer is yes.  Of course, curriculum issues are guided by more than just textbook content.  Many agents interacting on many levels help guide the evolution of curriculum in anatomy and physiology (and any other discipline).  I think textbook authors are in an unusual . . . and sometimes scary . . . position of offering some of the latest ideas available.

Of course, introducing additional concepts has to be balanced with the concern that too much information, no matter how up-to-date or relevant, may make it hard for the beginning learner to establish a meaningful foundation upon which to build later, fuller understanding of human structure and function.  Another difficult and scary task, then, is to determine what is essential at the beginning level and what can be held off for a later time when the additional information will be more easily incorporated into a student's understanding.

I'd love to hear your comments!   What is the role of the textbook author when in comes to incorporating new or changed concepts in the A&P curriculum?  How can one determine which concepts are better left for later learning?

NOTE: Get some FREE images of lipid rafts to use for your class at The A&P Professor FREE Image Library.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

FREE Neuroscience Workshop at Univ of Missouri

Those of you with easy access to the heart of America (Missouri) may be interested in the

Fourth Annual Summer Workshop on ‘Experiments and Models for Teaching Undergraduate Neuroscience’, 4-6 Aug 2010

I attended this workshop the summer before last a had a great time . . . and I learned a lot.  Besides some interesting perspectives and a really cool earthworm-based lab experiment I was able to expand my network of other colleagues interested in learning better ways to teach.  Besides the actual hands-on learning and demonstrations, you'll get a rare chance to observe the recordings of action potentials in a state of the art neuroscience laboratory.

The University of Missouri—Columbia (MU) Colleges of Engineering and Biological Sciences are sponsoring this two-day workshop focused on novel curriculum development in neuroscience that will be held Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, August 4, 5 & 6, 2010, on the Columbia campus. The Workshop is targeted to undergraduate faculty from biological sciences, psychology, physics and engineering with an interest in teaching and learning more about neuroscience.

The workshop was initiated by a National Science Foundation grant to MU to develop undergraduate curriculum in the area of computational neuroscience. This is the fourth time we are offering this annual workshop, incorporating input from past years.

For more information, go to

If you are interested in applying to the workshop, send an email stating your interest to my new friend Satish Nair at MU: NairS@missouri.edu

FREE cardio images for your A&P course

Although the images in the textbook I use are excellent, I often want to supplement my presentations or outlines with additional images.  

For example, a photo of Karl Landsteiner working in his lab can add a bit to the discussion about blood types.  An unlabeled heart diagram might be just the thing I need to add an alternate question to my online test bank.  Dramatic micrographs, medical images, and animations can spark and hold the interest of my students.

I've recently added a few more FREE images to the Image Library at The A&P Professor website in these areas:
Click on any link above to get to these images.

This is a work in progress, so I don't have a huge number of images yet.  Check back frequently to look for more images as I add them.

If you have any additional images to suggest, send the source URL to me and I'll add it.  If you have images of your own that you are willing to donate to the image library, let me know that, too.  Just contact me at kevin@theapprofessor.org

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Now's the time for FREE student bookmarks!

It's time once again to get our students thinking about ways to organize their time and implement some study strategies and learning shortcuts so they can survive and thrive in a new semester of A&P.

What better way to start a new semester than with the blog that's all about student survival and success . . . The A&P Student?

Just send them to theAPstudent.org for tips, tricks, resources, and secrets to success in A&P.

To help them find it (and remember it) . . . and start off the semester by giving them gifts . . . why not order some FREE eyeball bookmarks to give them?  Just go to the EYEBALL BOOKMARK page at The A&P Professor to order yours now!

Even if your students don't use the blog with all the FREE learning resources, at least they'll have a cool anatomy bookmark to use, eh?

And don't forget to tell them about the handy Survival Guide For Anatomy And Physiology: Tips, Techniques And Shortcuts

More graduate biology courses at the HAPS Conference

OK, so you missed out on that cool cadaver class presented by HAPS Institute (HAPS-I) in San Diego this winter . . . because it filled up faster than I could tell you about it!  But now's your second chance for some great graduate biology courses especially for teachers of human anatomy and physiology courses:

1. Advances in Anatomy and Physiology 2010  (Ellen Arnestad and Kevin Patton)

2. Advanced Cardiovascular Physiology: The Heart at Work and at Rest (Robert Carroll)

3. Concepts in Human Embryology (Valerie O'Loughlin)

4. Molecular and Cellular Basis of Disease (Kelly McDonald)
These are great courses that feature both useful content about human A&P and experience with best practices in teaching these subjects.  These are courses that are MEANINGFUL to what you do every day in your own teaching.  And you'll be there with folks just like you . . . who teach secondary, college, and university A&P.

Each course earns you 2 graduate credits from the Biology Department of the University of Washington (Seattle). 

These courses begin with online work on April 13, involve seminars and/or workshops during the Denver HAPS Conference (May 29 - June 3), and continue with online work through August 19.  Each syllabus has additional details.  Conference registration (plus lodging, meals, and transportation, if needed) is required (in addition to HAPS-I course fees). 

Want to know more? 

Remember . . . THESE COURSES FILL EARLY.  So you want to get on this ASAP.  I mean it this time!

In fact, some spots have already been taken by past HAPS-I Scholars and by members of the HAPS-I Update email list, who all received notice of these course openings a few days ago.  (If you want prior notice of HAPS-I courses, go to http://www.hapsweb.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=234 to subscribe to either the HAPS-I Scholars Google Group or the HAPS-I Update Google Group.)

Registration is now open at http://www.hapsweb.org/displayconvention.cfm?conventionnbr=7898

For more information on the HAPS Annual Conference in Denver, go to http://www.hapsweb.org/displayconvention.cfm?conventionnbr=7450