Hiding In Plain Sight

Don’t you just love to read stories that have words like: “In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching”?

I know I do.

I’d like to recount two recent discoveries that share a particular trait: really narrow tubes. Really, really narrow tubes.

It’s even better when these involve something that has been staring everyone in the face since forever … and it just takes one person noticing that thing that everyone else discounts or ignores.

First I’d like to recount my recent learning experiences with the human Brain and how it gets rid of it’s crap. Not talking bad thoughts here, nope, I’m talking the waste products of cellular activities. Chemicals created when cells work that have to be disposed of or things get all gummed up.

In most of the body that is done by a system of tubes that looks very much like the blood system. Except instead of blood it carries Lymph. The gray water of the billions of cells we call Me. And up until recently there was a big mystery about the lymphatic system in humans – there was none in the brain.

That’s correct, we could find one every place we looked in the human body except the brain. No one had ever seen one there. So it sat there, a mystery at the heart, er, brain, of medical science. I found out about this in a TED talk which I watched for the first time a few months ago. (Jeff Iliff: one more reason to get a good night s sleep)

In this talk Jeff Iliff talks about a discovery about how waste products are dealt with by the brain. During sleep the cells of the brain lose a little size and the gaps between them spread and the Cerebral Spinal Fluid can suffuse into the brain and flush these things out. No one knew this until recently and it solves that mystery. And it’s also showing a behavior of the organ, the brain, we were not aware of before.
And it’s wrong.
Or at least not the whole story.

Because that missing brain Lymphatic system?someone found it. Antoine Louveau PhD. PostDoc fellow was the person and he had imaging help from Igor Smirnov. You can read more about it in this article: ( or here

Turns out the tubes in this lyphatic system are really, really small and right next to othe tubes that are quite large in comparison. It took some fancy imaging techniques to see them but there there all along. Hiding in plain sight.

The other discovery has to do with how cells communicate with each other.

How do they do that?
Do they physically touch and pass chemicals on to each other?
Do they emit chemicals into the environment and rely on these brushing up against another cell?

That last is kind of like broadcasting a shout out … What about if you want to have a private conversation?

Well it would appear that some Stem cells use really thin nanotubes to reach out and touch each other. ‘Wired’ instead of ‘Wireless’ communications.

Another Post Doc researcher, Mayu Inaba, saw these thread-like connections and asked her mentor about them. She went and looked at previous studies and found them there as well. But Mayu had asked what they were …

And what do these particular wires do?

Well in a previous blog post I mentioned how the chemistry in a cell’s environment can shape it’s behavior, which code in its DNA gets activated. In researching how split Stem cells in developing fruit flies can express differentiated development while coming from the same progenitor cells. Where does this identity come from if the cells are immersed in the same chemistry? It would appear to be via cell-to-cell tubes …

You can read about it here:

Or in this article:

I kind of experienced this last week.

Friends from China were visiting and wanted to spend some time in a lake or stream. The first place was a small stream just after it passed under a bridge. We’d been in the water for a while and then I saw something move on the bottom. It turned out that there were not only the expected minnows but also a number of crustacean like creatures which we figured out to be dragon-fly nymphs. I was seeing them them for around 5 or 10 minutes before I actually noticed their presence.

The more we looked the more we saw. A turtle, a garter snake and a horse-hair snake were a few of our other ‘discoveries’. If we had not noticed the horse hair snake in motion we’d have never given it a second thought.


Reactive Drink

So last night we were enjoying the summer evening on the back deck and once the sun went down the lights under the table gave me an unexpected surprise.

I was drinking an alcoholic slush drink and it was in a clear glass. The lighting system is one of the ones with LED strips that changed colour and intensity (if you want) over time. I was staring at my drink and noticed a vivid change …

360 degree video Nature

Drink Deadly Delight For Wasps

Along the drive home from Vancouver we stopped for a while at Bromley Rock. This is a place along the Similkameen River which has been a popular spot for summer water fun. Some jump off the rock into the stream while many just have fun in the river. It’s not uncommon for floaters to stop for a while, we used to years back.

And there’s a Provincial Park with picnic tables. Which is were this sorry tale of woe occurs …

I had a drink, a smoothie, from Dairy Queen. My friend Ken and I sat at the picnic table while his wife went down to the water. We weren’t alone … a few ants wandered the table and a Wasp hovered nearby.

It didn’t take too long for the wasp to become interested by something and it began a serious search mode behaviour darting here and there to find the thing that smelled so good. Pretty soon it was clear that my drink was the object of its desire.
I tried covering the wide mouth of the hemispherical lid. Not enough.
I moved it under the table … eventually the wasp found it.
I moved it back above and the wasp followed.
Now had it on my hand and when I waved it to shoo the wasp away the opposite happened: it found my hand smelled good too so it followed my palm around!

So I eventually let it have the remains of the drink and backed away. Shortly the wasp was joined by friends … watch and see what happened then. (I will point out that you need the Google Chrome web browser to view this video correctly.)

NOTE: I DID dump the drink onto the ground shortly after turning the camera off. The last I saw one of the wasps was managing to drag itself out of the slime to safety. Maybe it lived and maybe it became someone else’s snack – we didn’t stick around to find out.

360 degree video Nature

Soothing Stream Video

Okay, it is soothing? Really? Well I don’t know … I used the word because it worked with ‘Stream’. Maybe you’ll find yourself needing to use the facilities …

Anyway … as I was touring my friends around we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls Park to have a bite to to eat. (No there is no video of the falls, my friend’s fragile physical state precluded taking a 15 minute hike to see them.) But a small stream ran through the park and right by where we were eating. So I placed my 360 degree video camera on a few rocks in an attempt to capture something of the essence of being by the water as it burbled by. In order to shift your view around you need to be using Google’s Chrome web browser (as of this date Aug 1/2015)

There are actually two videos, the second one starts after a minute. You can hear children in the background and see a bit of them at one point as they pass by on a trail. It’s a scene of a segment of summer seen from a stream on your screen.