We just won’t let Tycho Brahe be.
A colorful character and a father of modern astronomy, Brahe died in 1601 and was buried at Tyn Church near Prague’s Old Town Square. But the popular explanation for his expiration—a bladder infection—just doesn’t satisfy modern scientists seeking the truth about Tycho. So this week, Danish and Czech scientists (Brahe was Danish but died in Prague) got permission to exhume the long-dead stargazer to find evidence of his true cause of death.
His body has been exhumed before, in 1901. Tests on a sample of hair from his moustache, taken at that time, have been conducted as recently as the 1990s and indicated unusually high levels of mercury. Brahe was also an alchemist and some have suggested that he would have handled mercury and may have administered it to himself as medicine. Others have suggested he was poisoned. [BBC News]
Molecular biologist Mark Roth has found a way to bring frozen worm embryos and yeast cells back from the dead: he makes them hold their breath. In a paper to appear in the July 1 issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell, Roth questions the relationship between low oxygen, low temperatures, and life after death.
Freezing almost any living thing means certain doom, but, on occasion, organisms inexplicably make it through the cold. Even some humans have come back from what seemed an icy demise, for example the Canadian toddler Erica Nordby. In 2001, Nordby’s heart stopped beating for two hours and her body temperature dropped to 61 degrees Fahrenheit before rescuers found her and brought her back to life. Apparent miracles like these inspired Roth to hunt for the biological mechanisms at work.
This study did not freeze humans. Instead, Roth looked for a common life-preserving link in two frozen organisms very different from each other. He chose the nematode embryo and the yeast cell, and found that successful resuscitation in both organisms required extreme oxygen deprivation before freezing.
We know that skimping on sleep gives many of us heavy eyes and sends us on an early afternoon run for a large coffee (or, for those with an iron stomach who don’t mind ingesting 8,300 percent of our daily value of vitamin B12, an energy drink). But studies out this week outline possibly dire health consequences for depriving ourselves of lengthy slumber.
A small study In the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism says that even a single of night of sleep deprivation can cause the body to show signs of insulin resistance, a warning sign of diabetes. And in the journal Sleep, a long-term study by a different team chillingly suggests that continuously snoozing less than six hours per night can increase your risk for an early death.
First, the insulin study: Esther Donga and colleagues examined nine patients, first after the patients had slept a full eight hours and then again after they’d slept just four. The scientists say that insulin sensitivity was reduced by as much as 25 percent when the patients were sleep deprived.
“Our data indicate that insulin sensitivity is not fixed in healthy (people), but depends on the duration of sleep in the preceding night,” Donga wrote in the study. “In fact it is tempting to speculate that the negative effects of multiple nights of shortened sleep on glucose tolerance can be reproduced, at least in part, by just one sleepless night.” A study by U.S. scientists published last year found that people who slept less than six hours a night were 4.5 times more likely to develop abnormal blood sugar readings in six years compared with those who slept longer [Reuters].
Do chimpanzees truly understand the concept of death–and do they grieve for their dead? Two separate studies due to be published in journal Current Biology suggest that chimps may have emotional responses to death that aren’t so different from humans’ reactions.
In the first study, researchers observed an ailing female chimp in a Scottish zoo. The elderly chimp, called Pansy, was believed to be more than 50 years old. As Pansy’s health began to falter, other chimps, including Pansy’s daughter, began to exhibit signs of concern that seemed remarkably human. They groomed Pansy more often than usual as she became lethargic, and after her death, her daughter stayed near the body for an entire night, even though she had never slept on that platform before. All of the group were subdued for several days afterwards, and avoided the place where she had died, spending long hours grooming each other [BBC].
In the second study, scientists working in the forests of Guinea observed two chimp mothers carrying around the bodies of their dead infants for weeks after their deaths. One chimp carried her dead baby around for more than 60 days, an unusually long period, according to the scientists. During the period, the babies’ bodies slowly mummified as they dried out. The bereaved mothers used tools to fend off flies [BBC].
For an in-depth examination of what these two studies reveal about our closest ancestor’s understanding of death and mortality, read Ed Yong’s post in the DISCOVER blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science.”
DISCOVER: Chimps Show Altruistic Streak
DISCOVER: The Discover Interview: Jane Goodall
DISCOVER: Chimps Plan Ahead. (Plan #1: Throw Rocks at Humans.)
80beats: Chimps Don’t Run From Fire—They Dance With It
80beats: Chimps Catch Contagious Yawns From Cartoons
80beats: Scientists Tickle Apes & Conclude Laughter Is at Least 10 Million Years Old
Human remains found at a 7,000-year-old burial site in southwest Germany have markings similar to those found on animals that have been spit-roasted. According to lead researcher Bruno Boulestin, these markings are signs of cannibalism.
The team also found cuts suggestive of meat being scraped from the bones, and bones with the ends broken, as if to facilitate scraping out the marrow. Dr Boulestin said the cuts and markings on the bones provided evidence the bodies of the more than 500 victims, including children and fetuses, were intentionally mutilated, and the victims were butchered and eaten in the same way as animals [Physorg.com]. However, other scientists say the findings, which are published in the journal Antiquity, could have another, less gruesome, explanation.