Re-growing a Lost Leg

No problem (if you are a newt)

When in 1987 I applied to obtain research funds to continue a project on spinal cord regeneration that I had started with Dr Alibardi from Italy, I was unsuccessful. However, the question of spinal cord regeneration is still a compelling one. Mammals and birds are poor regenerators and usually cannot replace lost or malfunctioning parts of the central nervous system, but in lower vertebrates and many invertebrates the situation is different. Starfish, as most people would know, have no problem re-growing severed arms, but they aren’t vertebrate animals. Among the vertebrates most lizards can at least replace a lost tail, but in newts (my favourite animals) and salamanders the ability to replace lost or injured body parts is even more remarkable and goes much further. —>


Hot and Scalding

Some organisms manage to harness extreme heat

We all know that dragons and other mythical beasts are frequently given the power of fire-blowing or fire-spitting, but I also know that fire and life don’t mix well and can therefore categorically rule out the existence of fire-producing creatures (with the exception of fire-blowing circus and stage acts). What I am less certain about, however, is what I am supposed to make of stories I heard in rural France, spending 7 months in Moulis, namely that gas production by cows in crowded and badly ventilated stables is said to have been responsible for the occasional explosion. OK, cows produce methane, but who would ignite it? Stranded and decomposing whales on a tropical beach build up gases inside their body due to bacterial activity and can, indeed, explode, but generating fire? No. —>

Life on the Fast Track

Mayflies don’t have time

I once had to examine a fascinating German PhD-thesis; fascinating not just because of some real beauties of single-word monstrosities (you could find in the text words like “Windgeschwindigkeitsdurchschnittswerte” and “Trefferwahrscheinlichkeitsoptimierung”, but fascinating because of the topic: the visual behaviour of mayflies. Mayflies are an ancient order of insects and have nothing to do with ordinary flies, hence their spelling in a single word (if they were true flies one would spell them as “may flies”). —>