3 September 2005
The miracles that are daily
before our senses come to be discounted as commonplace with time and
familiarity. Sometimes it takes an illness to restore to us a fitting sense
of wonder and gratitude. Dickens put it thus:
"I found every breath of
air, and every scent, and every flower and leaf and blade of grass, and
every passing cloud, and everything in nature, more beautiful and wonderful
to me than I have ever found it yet. This was my firs gain from my illness.
How little I had lost, when the wide world was so full of delight for me."
Bleak House, Ch
2 September 2005
we put walls up
not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.
(I've found these words quoted anonymously. Is there anyone who can
tell me whose they are?)
1 September 2005
If a salamander loses a leg,
it can grow a new leg. A flatworm that is cut in half can grow into two
whole worms. This process is called epimorphic
regeneration, and we don’t
have it. Mammals have limited power to heal. Large wounds are covered over
with scar tissue and the body does not attempt to recreate the shape and
function of what was there.
But in her lab at University
of Pennsylvania, Ellen Heber-Katz has identified a mutant strain of mice (MRL)
that have the power of epimorphic regeneration. Cut off their tails, and
they grow new tails. What’s more remarkable - and potentially clinically
significant - is that ordinary mice can be given this same ability, with
injections of cells from these MRL mice.
"When we injected fetal
liver cells taken from those animals into ordinary mice, they too gained the
power of regeneration. We found this persisted even six months after the
After a humans heart attack,
the heart never recovers. But MRL mice are able to regenerate a heart, good
as new. Heber-Katz is identifying the genes responsible for the powers of
the MRL mice, and investigating ways to transfer this gift to humanity.
This has the potential to transform the way we think about recovery from
injury, from surgery, from amputation, spinal injury and
from The Australian
31 August 2005
This week in Poland, there is
a 25th Anniversary celebration of Lech Walesa and the birth of
In the summer of 1980, Walesa was an electrician, working in a shipyard
in the port of Gdansk. He encouraged his fellow workers to form a labor
union, and led a strike against the Polish government.
Poland was, at the time, a Communist client state of the Soviet Union.
The Communist party line says that their government is a "dictatorship
of the proletariat". Workers were supposed to be king, according to
Communist ideology, though in fact labor organization was suppressed,
infiltrated, and disrupted by the Secret Police. A genuine labor uprising
was an embarrassment that had to be treated gingerly by the government
The Solidarity movement had the vision to demand not just a pay raise,
not just improved working conditions, but the basics of democracy: freedom
of speech and assembly, the release of political prisoners.
Dictatorship cannot tolerate such.
25 years ago today, the Polish Government acceded to Walesa’s ‘31
Postulates’. This was the four years before Gorbachev came to power in the
Soviet Union, but in retrospect it was the beginning of the collapse of
dictatorship and Russian domination of Eastern Europe.
Today, Poland has a representative government, and is struggling toward
30 August 2005
Our common misconception is
that science is a plodding work of logic, collecting evidence and stringing
syllogisms together. We forget that the whole enterprise is driven by
intuition: the inspired guess that forms the germ of a theory whose
consequences are duly worked out and that ultimately leads to satisfying
explanations of diverse phenomena.
It was fifteen years ago that
one such flash of intuition came to Constantino
Tsallis, a Greek physicist
who had emigrated to Brazil. He was musing on phenomena that are poorly
explained by the 19th century brand of thermodynamics, with its standard
definition of entropy: turbulent fluid flows, spontaneous self-organization,
life. He toyed with a small mathematical modification of the standard
equation for entropy. The new equation has proven to be a rich source of new
insight, and thousands of papers have been written in the intervening years,
exploring its consequences and debating its applicability.
29 August 2005
Giving birth, nourishing life, shaping things without possessing them, serving without expectation of reward, leading without dominating: These are the profound virtues of nature, and of nature's best things.
Tzu, Tao Te
Ching, Walker translation