New Worlds: Of men, mice and medicine

A new book by Hebrew U. bone lab researchers that examines murine skeletal structure demonstrates similarity between the rodents and humans.

October 27, 2007 20:00
4 minute read.
New Worlds: Of men, mice and medicine

mouse 88 ap. (photo credit: )

Are you a man or a mouse? A new book by Hebrew University bone lab researchers that examines murine skeletal structure demonstrates a surprising similarity between the rodents and humans. The book,Micro-Tomographic Atlas of the Mouse Skeleton, was written by bone lab director Prof. Itai Bab; Dr. Carmit Hajbi-Yonissi and Dr. Yankel Gabet, with Dr. Ralph Müller of the ETH of Zürich. Published by Springer of New York, it reveals mouse skeletal structure in great detail, utilizing micro-tomographic imaging. The authors observe that there are many areas of comparison between the mouse and human skeleton, with the exception of the facial, hand and foot bones. This is vital information because, for example, mice - like people - suffer from bone-thinning osteoporosis. Thus research on osteoporosis in mice can have great relevance for humans. The same is true in relation to other problems related to fractures, skeletal development and illnesses, including testing of drugs. According to Bab, earlier anatomical works on the mouse skeleton were based on visual observations only, and are insufficient for modern research. Those books contained inexact material, insufficient detail, and only partial descriptions of the various skeletal components, said Bab. He explained that in the past decade, computerized micro-tomographic technology provides excellent skeletal imaging. Using this technology, one can see two and three-dimensional images showing details down to one six-thousandth of a millimeter. The new atlas presents almost 200 such images, showing all external portions of the mouse skeleton and the internal anatomy of the bones. Also presented are three-dimensional images of the relationships between bones at various joint positions. One chapter of the book, based on measurements of skeletons at various ages, describes aging and also the differences between males and females. GOLDEN SHOWERS Scientists in Finland have discovered a cheap organic crop fertilizer of which there is an unlimited supply - human urine. Although the yellow liquid has been used as fertilizer since ancient times, its use is rare today. But in some parts of the world, farmers are again becoming enthusiastic about urine for organic production that minimizes the use of chemical fertilizers. When urine comes from healthy donors, it's free of pathogens and naturally rich in nitrogen and other nutrients. University of Kuopio scientists Surendra Pradhan, Helvi Heinonen-Tanski and colleagues recently collected urine from private homes in Finland and used it at cabbage farms. They then compared the urine-fertilized crops with those grown using conventional industrial fertilizer and no fertilizer. The analysis showed growth and biomass were slightly higher with urine than with conventional fertilizer. There was no difference in the nutritional value of the cabbage. "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products," the scientists reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. A RAINY CAVE The University of Haifa, the Hebrew University and the University of Freiburg in Germany have created artificial rain in a cave above Nahal Oren in the Carmel in an experiment. The precipitation was equal to half the rain that falls in the area in a year. Some 270 millimeters of "rain" fell. The rain came from water supplied by fire trucks, which sprayed the water at the roof of the cave, which is 100 meters high. In a complex logistical operation, the water was "tagged" with special material so the "flood" movement could be observed as drops fell off the mineral "icicles" on the roof. Why did the researchers do this? They wanted to see if the flow of water was via holes in the rock or through the ground, at what speed it moved and what materials it collected on the way, said Dr. Noam Breenbaum of the University of Haifa's geography department. This is important to know when real rain seeps into the ground, they said. BLUE, WHITE&GREEN Blue Planet, a package for middle-school students written by Weizmann Institute scientists on the link between man and the environment, has won recognition by UNESCO as a worldwide model. This organization is financing the translation of this program into various languages, and helping distribute it in schools worldwide. Blue Planet was launched by UNESCO's deputy assistant Prof. Andras Szollosi-Nagy, director of water sciences; Weizmann Institute vice president of resource development Prof. Israel Bar-Joseph; Prof. Nir Orion from the science education department (who developed the program with his former student Dr. Orit Ben-Zvi Assaraf), and the Weizmann Institute's Prof. Dan Yakir, head of the environmental sciences and energy research department. The program focuses on the water cycle in the Earth's ecosystems, and is intended for use as a learning tool through its systematic approach, including various activities, experiments and field work. The ceremony was held in the EcoSphere - a glass-enclosed geodesic dome at the Rehovot institute's Clore Garden of Science, where a Spanish version of the book was presented to the UNESCO representative. The authors plan to visit Latin America soon, where they will help teachers implement the program. The book will then be translated into Chinese and three other languages.

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