When zoologist Ivan Sazima went for a walk in the park in southeastern Brazil on a warm September day in 2013, he was hoping to find noteworthy animal behavior to study.

But he did not expect to witness lizard necrophilia. Right in front of him, he saw a male reptile trying to court and mate with a dead female of the same species, Salvator merianae, commonly known as the black-and-white tegu.

“I felt a sense of wonder, because I did not observe this behavior in lizards before, only in frogs,” said Sazima, of the Zoology Museum of the University of Campinas in São Paulo.

Necrophilia occurs in other lizard species, but it’s the first documented instance in black-and-white tegus, one of the most common lizards in South America.

Sazima watched the male lizard flick his tongue at the deceased female—a common courtship behavior—and try to mate with her for about five minutes. Then a group of geese showed up, causing the confused suitor to flee.

The scientist returned to the same spot the next afternoon. By that time, the corpse was bloated and had begun to rot and smell.

But even the stench did not discourage another male black-and-white tegu from attempting to have sex with the dead body—this time for nearly an hour.

During this time, the new male embraced the dead female and bit her head, another courtship behavior. He rested on her body from time to time, taking breaks from the exhausting sexual activity, before finally flicking his tongue on the corpse and leaving, according to the study, published in January in the journal Herpetology Notes.

Sazima’s encounter adds to several reported instances of necrophilia in the animal world.

Henrique Caldeira Costa of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, reported necrophilia in male green ameiva lizards in Brazil in 2010. The female had likely been hit by a vehicle on the road, he wrote in the journal Herpetology Notes.

In another incident, Kamelia Algiers, a biologist at Ventura College in California, described a necrophiliac long-nosed leopard lizard in Nevada, in the western United States.

The animal attempted to copulate with a roadkill female, whose “intestines were sticking out, and there were ants crawling all over it,” said Algiers, who described the event in 2005 in Herpetological Review.

What’s more, mating with the dead isn’t restricted to reptiles and amphibians: Ducks, penguins, sea lions, pigeons, and even ground squirrels have also been caught in the grisly act.

Why Mate With the Dead?

So, what exactly draws some male lizards to female corpses? Despite many scientific observations, “necrophilia in lizards is still poorly understood,” said Costa, who wasn’t involved in the new tegu research.

But as for those amorous black-and-white tegus, the Zoology Museum’s Sazima has a theory: The males may have been simply fooled into thinking the female was alive.

For one, the dead female lizard was still warm: Though dead, her body temperature was probably close to that of the ambient air. And her pheromones, likely still detectable on her body after death, may have allured the male admirers.

Federal University’s Costa agrees this is a valid theory, and suspects that the female’s high body temperature and pheromones might have explained the lizard necrophiliac he described in 2010.

Interestingly, necrophilia seems to be beneficial for at least one species: a small frog in Amazonian Brazil called Rhinella proboscidea.

A 2013 study showed that R. proboscidea males can extract eggs from dead sexual partners and fertilize them, a process called “functional necrophilia.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150227-necrophilia-lizards-animals-mating-sex-science-brazil/?google_editors_picks=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

testicle

A man in Moscow had the shock of his life when he awoke from an amorous encounter to discover that his testicles had been surgically removed.

The 30-year-old man was sitting in a bar when a woman approached him and began chatting to him, he told LifeNews news website this week. “We drank beer together, and then she suggested we go to a sauna. We went to the sauna, and after that I don’t remember anything,” he was shown saying from his hospital bed in a video posted by LifeNews.

He woke up early the next morning and at first, the only items he noticed were missing were his cell phone, tablet computer and some money. He felt a pain in his groin, but it was only when he undressed at home that he noticed the incision.

“It was a shock,” said the unidentified victim, who is married.

“I saw an incision, the stitches,” he said.

Even then, the man could not imagine what else had been taken from him during the hazy encounter with the mystery blonde, and it was not until he went to hospital after the pain in his groin became unbearable and swelling appeared that he was told the terrible truth.

The LifeNews video showed a doctor saying that the operation had been carried out by a professional — “by a veterinary doctor at the very least.”

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/moscow-man-wakes-up-to-find-his-testicles-stolen/516664.html

head-transplant-rhesus

IT’S heady stuff. The world’s first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.

The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June. Is society ready for such momentous surgery? And does the science even stand up?

The first attempt at a head transplant was carried out on a dog by Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov in 1954. A puppy’s head and forelegs were transplanted onto the back of a larger dog. Demikhov conducted several further attempts but the dogs only survived between two and six days.

The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn’t attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn’t move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible,” says Canavero.

This month, he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International, doi.org/2c7). It involves cooling the recipient’s head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero.

The recipient’s head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.

Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.

When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.

The trickiest part will be getting the spinal cords to fuse. Polyethylene glycol has been shown to prompt the growth of spinal cord nerves in animals, and Canavero intends to use brain-dead organ donors to test the technique. However, others are sceptical that this would be enough. “There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation,” says Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

If polyethylene glycol doesn’t work, there are other options Canavero could try. Injecting stem cells or olfactory ensheathing cells – self-regenerating cells that connect the lining of the nose to the brain – into the spinal cord, or creating a bridge over the spinal gap using stomach membranes have shown promise in helping people walk again after spinal injury. Although unproven, Canavero says the chemical approach is the simplest and least invasive.

But what about the prospect of the immune system rejecting the alien tissue? Robert White’s monkey died because its head was rejected by its new body. William Mathews, chairman of the AANOS, says he doesn’t think this would be a major problem today. He says that because we can use drugs to manage the acceptance of large amounts of tissue, such as a leg or a combined heart and lung transplant, the immune response to a head transplant should be manageable. “The system we have for preventing immune rejection and the principles behind it are well established.”

Canavero isn’t alone in his quest to investigate head transplants. Xiao-Ping Ren of Harbin Medical University in China recently showed that it is possible to perform a basic head transplant in a mouse (CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, doi.org/2d5). Ren will attempt to replicate Canavero’s protocol in the next few months in mice, and monkeys.

The essence of you

Another hurdle will be finding a country to approve such a transplant. Canavero would like to do the experiment in the US, but believes it might be easier to get approval somewhere in Europe. “The real stumbling block is the ethics,” he says. “Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it.”

Patricia Scripko, a neurologist and bioethicist at the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in California, says that many of the ethical implications related to the surgery depend on how you define human life. “I believe that what is specifically human is held within the higher cortex. If you modify that, then you are not the same human and you should question whether it is ethical. In this case, you’re not altering the cortex.” However, she adds that many cultures would not approve of the surgery because of their belief in a human soul that is not confined to the brain.

As with many unprecedented procedures, there may also be concerns about a slippery slope. In this case, it would be whether this would eventually lead to people swapping bodies for cosmetic reasons. However, Scripko – who doesn’t believe the surgery will ever happen – doesn’t think this applies here. “If a head transplant were ever to take place, it would be very rare. It’s not going to happen because someone says ‘I’m getting older, I’m arthritic, maybe I should get a body that works better and looks better’.”

Unsurprisingly, the surgical community is also wary of embracing the idea. Many surgeons contacted by New Scientist refused to comment on the proposed project, or said it sounded “too outlandish” to be a serious consideration.

“This is such an overwhelming project, the possibility of it happening is very unlikely,” says Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, Davis, who has performed one of the few surgeries that enabled someone with a spinal cord injury to regain the ability to walk. “I don’t believe it will ever work, there are too many problems with the procedure. Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for four weeks – it’s not going to happen.”

Nick Rebel, executive director of the US branch of the International College of Surgeons, says that although his organisation, along with the AANOS, is giving Canavero a stage, it is not sponsoring his ideas. “We’re creating a venue for him to launch the project. There will be a lot of top international surgeons at the conference and we shall see whether it is well received or not.”

Mathews is more enthusiastic about the project. “I embrace the concept of spinal fusion,” he says, “and I think there are a lot of areas that a head transplant can be used, but I disagree with Canavero on the timing. He thinks it’s ready, I think it’s far into the future.”

Canavero is philosophical. “This is why I first spoke about the idea two years ago, to get people talking about it,” he says. “If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else. I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530103.700-first-human-head-transplant-could-happen-in-two-years.html?full=true

Scientific tests have revealed that an ancient Buddhist statue contains the perfectly preserved remains of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk, in what is believed to be the only such example in the world.

The monk, who is sitting in the lotus position, is thought to have starved himself to death in an act of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. His preserved remains were displayed in his monastery.

Some 200 years later, perhaps after his remains started to deteriorate, his mummified body was placed inside the elaborate, lacquered statue of Buddha.

The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Experts were unable to remove the mummy due to the risk of disintegration, so they could do little more than peer into the darkened cavity of the Buddha.

Now, an international team of German, Dutch and Italian scientists has conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail.

“It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research. “It’s the only known example in the world.

“Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Using an endoscope, experts took samples from inside the mummy’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and discovered that the monk’s organs had been removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.

Samples of bone were also taken for DNA testing.

The Buddha statue was bought several decades ago on the art market by a Dutch private collector, who had no idea that the mummy was hidden inside.

It will go on display in museums around Europe, and is currently in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.

“The monk died in a process of self-mummification,” said Dr Rosendahl.

“During the last weeks he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died. He basically starved himself to death.

“The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet.

“He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realised that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”

Mummified monks were not only the focus of religious devotion, but important for the economy of the monastery because they attracted pilgrims who would offer donations.

Mummified-monk-revealed-inside-1000-year-old-Buddha-statue

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

There have been tentative steps into thought-controlled drones in the past, but Tekever and a team of European researchers just kicked things up a notch. They’ve successfully tested Brainflight, a project that uses your mental activity (detected through a cap) to pilot an unmanned aircraft. You have to learn how to fly on your own, but it doesn’t take long before you’re merely thinking about where you want to go. And don’t worry about crashing because of distractions or mental trauma, like seizures — there are “algorithms” to prevent the worst from happening.

You probably won’t be using Brainflight to fly anything larger than a small drone, at least not in the near future. There’s no regulatory framework that would cover mind-controlled aircraft, after all. Tekever is hopeful that its technology will change how we approach transportation, though. It sees brain power reducing complex activities like flying or driving to something you can do instinctively, like walking — you’d have freedom to focus on higher-level tasks like navigation. The underlying technology would also let people with injuries and physical handicaps steer vehicles and their own prosthetic limbs. Don’t be surprised if you eventually need little more than some headgear to take to the skies.

http://www.engadget.com/2015/02/25/tekever-mind-controlled-drone/?ncid=rss_truncated

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN

How long will the data last in your hard-drive or USB stick? Five years? 10 years? Longer?

Already a storage company called Backblaze is running 25,000 hard drives simultaneously to get to the bottom of the question. As each hard drive coughs its last, the company replaces it and logs its lifespan.

While this census has only been running five years, the statistics show a 22% attrition rate over four years.

Some may last longer than a decade, the company says, others may last little more than a year; but the short answer is that storage devices don’t last forever.

Science is now looking to nature, however, to find the best way to store data in a way that will make it last for millions of years.

Researchers at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, believe the answer may lie in the data storage system that exists in every living cell: DNA.

So compact and complex are its strands that just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of containing all the data of internet giants such as Google and Facebook, with room to spare.

In data storage terms, that gram would be capable of holding 455 exabytes, where one exabyte is equivalent to a billion gigabytes.

Fossilization has been known to preserve DNA in strands long enough to gain an animal’s entire genome — the complete set of genes present in a cell or organism.

So far, scientists have extracted and sequenced the genome of a 110,000-year-old polar bear and more recently a 700,000-year-old horse.

Robert Grass, lecturer at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, said the problem with DNA is that it degrades quickly. The project, he said, wanted to find ways of combining the possibility of the large storage density in DNA with the stability of the DNA found in fossils.

“We have found elegant ways of making DNA very stable,” he told CNN. “So we wanted to combine these two stories — to get the high storage density of DNA and combine it with the archaeological aspects of DNA.”

The synthetic process of preserving DNA actually mimics processes found in nature.

As with fossils, keeping the DNA cool, dry and encased — in this case, with microscopic spheres of glass – could keep the information contained in its strands intact for thousands of years.

“The time limit with DNA in fossils is about 700,000 years but people speculate about finding one-million-year storage of genomic material in fossil bones,” he said.

“We were able to show that decay of our DNA and store of information decays at the same rate as the fossil DNA so we get to similar time frames of close to a million years.”

Fresh fossil discoveries are throwing up new surprises about the preservation of DNA.

Human bones discovered in the Sima de los Huesos cave network in Spain show maternally inherited “mitochondrial” DNA that is 400,000 years old – a new record for human remains.

The fact that the DNA survived in the relatively cool climate of a cave — rather than in a frozen environment as with the DNA extracted from mammoth remains in Siberia – has added to the mystery about DNA longevity.

“A lot of it is not really known,” Grass says. “What we’re trying to understand is how DNA decays and what the mechanisms are to get more insight into that.”

What is known is that water and oxygen are the enemy of DNA survival. DNA in a test tube and exposed to air will last little more than two to three years. Encasing it in glass — an inert, neutral agent – and cooling it increases its chances of survival.

Grass says sol-gel technology, which produces solid materials from small molecules, has made it a relatively easy process to get the glass around the DNA molecules.

While the team’s work invites immediate comparison with Jurassic Park, where DNA was extracted from amber fossils, Grass says that prehistoric insects encased in amber are a poor source of prehistoric DNA.

“The best DNA comes from sources that are ceramic and dry — so teeth, bones and even eggshells,” he said.

So far the team has tested their storage method by preserving just 83 kilobytes of data.

“The first is the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 — it’s like the Swiss Magna Carta — and the other was the Archimedes Palimpsest; a copy of an Ancient Greek mathematics treatise made by a monk in the 10th century but which had been overwritten by other monks in the 15th century.

“We wanted to preserve these documents to show not just that the method works, but that the method is important too,” he said.

He estimates that the information will be readable in 10,000 years’ time, and if frozen, as long as a million years.

The cost of encoding just 83Kb of data cost about $2,000, making it a relatively expensive process, but Grass is optimistic that price will come down over time. Advances in technology for medical analysis, he said, are likely to help with this.

“Already the prices for human genome sequences have dropped from several millions of dollars a few years ago to just hundreds of dollars now,” Grass said.

“It makes sense to integrate these advances in medical and genome analysis into the world of IT.”

http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/25/tech/make-create-innovate-fossil-dna-data-storage/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_latest+%28RSS%3A+Most+Recent%29