Limbs, Prosthetics, and Tusks, Oh My!

Prosthetic arms improve; narwhal tusks are as neat as ever

Narwhals Breaching

Glenn WIlliams/NIST

This video of narwhals migrating through channels in the Arctic ice does not need the dramatic music to be astounding. These are some very elegant creatures.

Also in today's links: watching for post-partum psychosis, picking apart more fossilized dung, and predicting Amazonian fires.

  • Today's fun fact: "meat-eater dung can make an effective hair preservative." And so it is that scientists have found what seems to be the earliest known human hair in fossilized hyena poop.
  • In an effort to identify what climate patterns could affect the Amazon, researchers are showing how fires set by humans could destroy the dried-out region in the future. While the article does not make this comparison, for a model of this kind of devastation, look no further than Australia, where scores of people have been killed in recent bushfires, some burned in their cars as they tried to flee.
  • A technique called targeted muscle reinnervation is allowing people with prosthetic limbs an unprecedented range of motion. Using a system of reattaching nerves from the missing limb to chest muscles and sending signals from electrodes in the chest to a prosthetic arm, it requires only as much conscious effort as the movement of a normal arm. I'm surprised the article doesn't touch more on what kind of joy or frustration comes from having a limb back. I know there are already performance artists out there along these lines, but how long until someone starts to develop prosthetic third limbs for people working in tight situations where an extra hand would be -- well, handy? I'm holding out for a prosthetic narwhal horn.
  • If the Andrea Yates case scared the bejesus out of you, you may be relieved to read findings that postpartum psychosis is most likely in the first month after childbirth, possibly due to hormone fluctuations or the trauma of giving birth. Not that Andrea Yates fit this profile, but still -- good to know.
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