Bizarre Starfish Wasting Syndrome

By Anupum Pant

Up in the Washington state a videographer and also a diver, Laura James noticed a couple of  dead Starfish on the coast one day. The dead bodies looked like something mysterious had happened. There were broken bodies and splats all over the place as if the fish had been zapped by a laser.

Laura videographed some of the tens of thousands of starfish bodies all over the north america’s pacific coast. No one was sure what was actually happening. And then there were reports of these mysterious starfish deaths from all over the west coast of North America.

For some time, only the sunflower starfish were thought to be affected by this. However, on further investigation, it was found that almost 12 different species of starfish were dying mysteriously all over the west coast (and some on the east coast too). When this was confirmed to be an epidemic of some sort, they started calling it the sea star wasting syndrome and notified the scientists.

Ben minor, a western Washington university professor of biology started collecting sea stars at the coast. They found a number of normal sea stars. Later when the search continued a pile of sea star arms and twisted parts of them were found at different places. Some of the live starfish were collected and were studied in the laboratory.

It was confirmed that the starfish which were affected by this epidemic experienced twisting arms and lesions first and then the arms crawled away in different directions, tearing the body of a starfish apart. All of it in under 24 hours. This bizarre disease then left a spill of inside parts of the fish and broken body parts all over the place.

No one knows for sure what causes this bizarre disease among the sea stars.

A Ghost Heart

By Anupum Pant

Before I begin, I’m happy to announce that Awesci’s feed has been featured on a smartphone app, Dabblr. I covered it a couple of days back in the interviews section. If you missed it, you might want to know what Dabblr can do and why you should use it, especially if you are a student. 

At any given time, thousands of people are there on the heart transplant waiting list. Some of these people are eventually able to find a donor, while others aren’t able to. Hundreds of people who fail to find a donor, die every year. It’s a grim state, but little can be done to change it. Texas Heart Institute (THI) had a solution for this problem – use a Pig’s heart.

(There have been cases where people have survived for some time on artificial hearts too. It’s incredible how these things work.)

A pig’s heart is a lot like our own, in shape, size and function. Of course it can’t be just taken away from a pig and installed in a human. Or people from ancient times would have done it. The researchers from THI proposed this – make a ghost heart out of it first.

For making a “ghost heart”  – a kind of a structural scaffolding – they used a simple soap solution. Once they washed the pig heart in it and may be after some other processing, they had a pure protein scaffolding, stripped off of all living cells (decellularized), which could be customized and could be used to grow a custom heart for a specific human being – by using the patient’s bone-marrow stem cells. That way the new body where it would get installed won’t reject it.

In the near future, there’s a chance we could have humans with the hearts of pigs!

A Disease That Doesn’t Let You Sleep And Kills

By Anupum Pant

Background

In my very first article on this website, I talked about a 17-year-old boy, Randy Gardner who remained awake for an incredible 11 days and set a world record which no one had beat for a very long time. And then, in the 90s, Toimi Soini, of Hamina, Finland, set a new record of 276 hours of sleeplessness.

Well, no one should even try to beat it because depriving yourself of sleep can have some serious health issues and can even kill you. The seriousness of health consequences associated with such attempts is the reason that these records are no longer recorded in the Guinness books.

The disease

Not always do people decide to voluntarily break sleeplessness records. Some times, they can be the victims of a horrific and an extremely rare disease called fatal familial insomnia (FFI) – A progressively worsening form of insomnia discovered only 10-15 years ago. When it affects someone, the person starts having bouts of insomnia at first and then they aren’t able to sleep at all. Hallucinations, delirium, and confusional states occur and a person usually dies within 18 months from the first insomnia. 

The disease is caused due to a defective gene and the people having it start seeing symptoms from the age of 30 (never at an early age). It has been believed to have originated from an Italian man in the year 1765 (not necessarily).

Symptoms in detail

  • For the first four months there is an onset of insomnia and the person starts getting panic attacks and unfounded phobias.
  • For the the next 5 months the hallucinations become severe.
  • In the next 3 months, rapid weight loss and serious deterioration of mental ability happens,
  • Next comes dementia, unresponsiveness, and may be death.

[A list of couple of people who never slept]

Here’s a 10 minute documentary which discusses FFI in detail.

[Everything else you need to know about it]