Tag Archives: biology

Tracks of My Tears: Design Observer

Tracks of My Tears: Design Observer.


Tears of ending and beginning, Rose-Lynn Fisher ©2013


Tears of grief, Rose-Lynn Fisher ©2013


Onion Tears, Rose-Lynn Fisher ©2013


Tears of possibility and hope, Rose-Lynn Fisher ©2013

1.
You can’t be impersonal when it comes to tears. They are by their nature intimate, as unique as the patterns of a snowflake or the swirl of the skin on your thumb. As Rose-Lynn Fisher’s photographs make clear, your tears are yours alone and each one is different.

2.
Fisher used a standard light Zeiss microscope and a digital microscopy camera to make these images. She photographed over one hundred tears in her quest to discover their distinctive formations. She worked like a surveyor mapping the topography of a new land. But rather than surveying the mountains and valleys of an external landscape her explorations are of the proteins, hormones and minerals of an inner world.

[…]

4.
Medieval theologians grouped tears into four different types:

Tears of contrition
Tears of sorrow
Tears of gladness
Tears of grace

Twenty first century scientists have identified three different types of tears:

Basal tears which moisten the eye
Reflex tears caused by an outside irritant, like a stray eyelash or chopping an onion or a smoky wind.
Emotional tears that are triggered by sadness, grief, frustration, ecstasy, mourning, or loss.

5.
Emotional tears are packed full of hormones, up to 25 percent more than reflex tears. In Fisher’s photographs a tear from chopping an onion looks very different than tear of possibility and hope.

Emotional tears contain the Adrenocorticotropic hormone, which signifies high levels of stress, leucine-enkephalin, an endorphin that reduces pain, and prolactin, a hormone that triggers breast milk production (and found in higher levels in woman’s tears).

William Frey, of the St. Paul Ramsey Center in Minnesota, discovered that tears contain thirty times more manganese than blood, and manganese is a mineral that effects mood; it’s linked to depression. All of these elements build up in the body during times of stress, and crying is a way for the body to release them. A good cry slows your heart rate; it helps you to return to an emotional equilibrium.

In other words, you can cry yourself back to mental health.

[…]

7.
Samuel Beckett once said “my words are my tears.” But the opposite is also true: tears are your words. Tears are a language, a means of communication. Overwhelmed by emotion, babies cry out in need, having no other way to express their feelings. A lover, not getting the response that she craves, cries in frustration: tears of distress as a plea for emotional connection. Tears flow when mere words don’t.

8.
Rose-Lynn Fisher writes that “the topography of tears is a momentary landscape.” Isn’t it strange that a tear, which is transitory and fragile, can look just like the topography of an actual landscape: the solid stuff of soil, water, stone and vegetation, and which has been in formation for thousands of years? How is it that the microcosm of the tear mirrors the macrocosm of the earth?

9.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice cries when she grows to be nine feet tall, and she can’t get into the garden. She reprimands herself just like a parent scolding a child: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a great girl like you to go on crying in this way! Stop it this moment, I tell you!” But she can’t stop and she cries gallons of tears that form a large pool around her that is four inches deep.

And then Alice loses her sense of self. “Who in the world am I?” she asks, like a person experiencing a breakdown. She becomes more and more confused, imagines herself as someone else, and yearns to be told who she is really is (“If I like that person I’ll come up”). She then bursts into tears again when she realizes how lonely she feels.

And then Alice shrinks and she finds herself swimming in the pool of her own tears, the same tears that she shed when she was nine feet tall. She meets a mouse, and later a Duck, a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and they all fall into the pool as well, and then they all climb ashore, and are saved.

Alice’s tears of distress become her means of salvation.

Why do we have blood types? | Mosaic

Why do we have blood types? | Mosaic.

Blood groups illustration by Elena Boils

Why do 40 per cent of Caucasians have type A blood, while only 27 per cent of Asians do? Where do different blood types come from, and what do they do? To get some answers, I went to the experts – to haematologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, virologists and nutrition scientists.

In 1900 the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner first discovered blood types, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research in 1930. Since then scientists have developed ever more powerful tools for probing the biology of blood types. They’ve found some intriguing clues about them – tracing their deep ancestry, for example, and detecting influences of blood types on our health. And yet I found that in many ways blood types remain strangely mysterious. Scientists have yet to come up with a good explanation for their very existence.

“Isn’t it amazing?” says Ajit Varki, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego. “Almost a hundred years after the Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery, we still don’t know exactly what they’re for.”

[…]

Renaissance doctors mused about what would happen if they put blood into the veins of their patients. Some thought that it could be a treatment for all manner of ailments, even insanity. Finally, in the 1600s, a few doctors tested out the idea, with disastrous results. A French doctor injected calf’s blood into a madman, who promptly started to sweat and vomit and produce urine the colour of chimney soot. After another transfusion the man died.

Such calamities gave transfusions a bad reputation for 150 years. Even in the 19th century only a few doctors dared try out the procedure. One of them was a British physician named James Blundell. Like other physicians of his day, he watched many of his female patients die from bleeding during childbirth. After the death of one patient in 1817, he found he couldn’t resign himself to the way things were.

[…]

The first clues as to why the transfusions of the early 19th century had failed were clumps of blood. When scientists in the late 1800s mixed blood from different people in test tubes, they noticed that sometimes the red blood cells stuck together. But because the blood generally came from sick patients, scientists dismissed the clumping as some sort of pathology not worth investigating. Nobody bothered to see if the blood of healthy people clumped, until Karl Landsteiner wondered what would happen. Immediately, he could see that mixtures of healthy blood sometimes clumped too.

[…]

Landsteiner found that the clumping occurred only if he mixed certain people’s blood together. By working through all the combinations, he sorted his subjects into three groups. He gave them the entirely arbitrary names of A, B and C. (Later on C was renamed O, and a few years later other researchers discovered the AB group. By the middle of the 20th century the American researcher Philip Levine had discovered another way to categorise blood, based on whether it had the Rh blood factor. A plus or minus sign at the end of Landsteiner’s letters indicates whether a person has the factor or not.)

[…]

The blood from people in group O was different. When Landsteiner mixed either A or B red blood cells with O plasma, the cells clumped. But he could add A or B plasma to O red blood cells without any clumping.

It’s this clumping that makes blood transfusions so potentially dangerous. If a doctor accidentally injected type B blood into my arm, my body would become loaded with tiny clots. They would disrupt my circulation and cause me to start bleeding massively, struggle for breath and potentially die. But if I received either type A or type O blood, I would be fine.

[…]

Each person’s immune system becomes familiar with his or her own blood type. If people receive a transfusion of the wrong type of blood, however, their immune system responds with a furious attack, as if the blood were an invader. The exception to this rule is type O blood. It only has H antigens, which are present in the other blood types too. To a person with type A or type B, it seems familiar. That familiarity makes people with type O blood universal donors, and their blood especially valuable to blood centres.

[…]

The most striking demonstration of our ignorance about the benefit of blood types came to light in Bombay in 1952. Doctors discovered that a handful of patients had no ABO blood type at all – not A, not B, not AB, not O. If A and B are two-storey buildings, and O is a one-storey ranch house, then these Bombay patients had only an empty lot.

Since its discovery this condition – called the Bombay phenotype – has turned up in other people, although it remains exceedingly rare. And as far as scientists can tell, there’s no harm that comes from it. The only known medical risk it presents comes when it’s time for a blood transfusion. Those with the Bombay phenotype can only accept blood from other people with the same condition. Even blood type O, supposedly the universal blood type, can kill them.

The Bombay phenotype proves that there’s no immediate life-or-death advantage to having ABO blood types. Some scientists think that the explanation for blood types may lie in their variation. That’s because different blood types may protect us from different diseases.