Reading | Blood Work by Holly Tucker

Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker is a book that I first read almost 10 years ago. I got it as a gift from a dear friend, for my birthday during the time I was a student at School of Medicine (as you can guess, I decided to start anew and switch to Biology). However, this book has always stayed with me, not only because it was the first book of this genre I’ve read – I loved it because I thought it was the perfect mix of history, medicine, and macabre.

Blood Work follows a fascinating tale of the history of human transfusion, something what in today’s world we almost take for granted. Back in high school, we learned all about Rh factor and blood types (and how there is a possibility of A and B parent having an O or AB child) and voluntary blood donations are common occurrence in my country. Despite all this, I never wondered when did the actual blood transfusion procedures start and how did physicians know whose blood to use.

In the book, we follow Jean-Baptiste Denis, a 17th century French physician who administrated first documented transfusion. Since this transfusion included using sheep’s blood, it was called a xenotransfusion, which is a term that describes blood transfusion from one species to another. This experiment was successful, probably due to small amount of transfused blood and, I dare say, luck, since at the time, blood groups and agglutination were not known facts.
Denis’ last transfusion experiment is, however, the one we learn about in a detail – after trying to treat an illness of psychiatric nature, and transferring a large amount of calf blood, his patient dies, and he is accused of murder. Denis was ultimately acquitted (with a true crime worthy twist in the case), but all further transfusions were banned, first by French government, then by English and even the Pope.

Blood Work doesn’t focus solely on this event – the writer masterfully describes political events of the time, both in France (rivalry with another physician, Henri-Martin de la Martinière, tensions in French Academy of Sciences founded by Louis XIV) and abroad (a competition between French and English Academies), as well as the religious ones (“playing God”, fear that this kind of transfusion could produce some sort of half-human half-animal creature). Furthermore, as Neil Blumberg wrote in his review for Journal of Clinical Investigations, these kinds of experiments were primary conducted due to the belief that transfusion could treat, or even cure,  mental illness, sometimes we now know is not possible.

Lastly, it doesn’t actually matter if you have health and/or science background to find this book interesting, as long as your’re interested in history and historical non-fiction. Blood Work offers a captivating look on the beginnings of one of the most important medical procedures in the world and does it so vividly you almost feel like you’re transported to Paris, in the middle of the scientific revolution.

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I would very much liked to hear your opinion – did you read this book, and if yes, did you like it as much as I did?
Do you have similar book recommendations?  Please let me know in the comments 🙂

Biology in popular culture – neuroscience & movies

Hello everyone, and welcome to my new post! Yes, I’ve decided to try and write more often, and this time I will do a bit of self-promotion. As you may, or may not, know, I love watching movies – I think they are great past-time and I find them relaxing. Lately, I have had some troubles concentrating for more than an hour, but for now I would like to think that’s because I wasn’t choosing good movies to begin with. What does that have anything to do with neuroscience?

 

gyruslogo


Well, apart from writing this blog, I also write and edit for Gyrus Journal. Gyrus is student journal of neuroscience, where we write review articles about different topics: basic neuroscience, neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry. I have written some articles, and if you stumble across them, don’t judge me too hard – they are meant to teach us how to search databases, cite, and write in English, since our mother-tongue is Croatian. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this journal, since it helped me a lot in understanding of many scientific terms in English language, primary language of science; it also helped me to learn how to communicate with my authors, as well as how to dissect a topic I’m supposed to write/edit about. Of course, we also have reviewers, wonderful professors and scientists from University of Zagreb, who do the last editing before publication. (I would just like to say that we didn’t have reviewers from the very beginning, hence why some of the earlier articles perhaps lack in quality.) Lately, we have been struggling a bit with latest editions, but started to publish articles online – you can access them all on the link above. You can also follow us on Facebook page as well as Twitter!

A cover photo of the Gyrus Journal; light pink stylized brain surrounded by Gyrus logo and topics
A cover photo of Gyrus Journal


In Gyrus Journal, you will also find shorter articles and movie&book reviews, where title of this post finally comes in play! So far, I have written five movie reviews, with three still waiting to be published. For my first one, I picked the obvious choice: Memento (2000) by Christopher Nolan. Apart from being one of my favourite movies in general, I think it truthfully portrays anterograde amnesia.

In addition to portraying Leonard’s fragile mental state that makes us question not only his current objectives, but also whether his recollections of past are reliable, or simply figments of his imagination and almost fatalistic wishes, Memento is different in comparison with other films of similar genre, simply because it truthfully portrays the slow agony of losing the principal neurobiological process – a human memory.

You can access the full text here: Gyrus11-Memento

The second review I did was about movie that might not seem so obvious, but was quite intriguing: Side Effects (2013) starring Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This movie also has a crime aspects but it deals with the psychiatric illness, for which we don’t know, until the very end, if it’s real or faked.

You can access the full text here: Gyrus12-Side-effects

Although dealing with semi-real thesis, the question still remains how the movie influenced real world cases. Did it help with recognizing the ones feigning the illness, or just put extra strain on the patients dealing with the illness that is already under deep historical stigma? Regardless of being the rather entertaining thriller, we are left wondering whether the movie deepened the negative view of the various psychiatric illnesses in the general public.

Three, still unpublished, reviews are:

  • 100 Minutes of Glory (in Croatian) – a biopic about famous Croatian painter Slava Raškaj, who was born deaf, suffered from depression, and lived her last days in Psychiatric hospital “Vrapče”. In Croatian, title of the movie is also a wordplay on Croatian word “slava”, her name; it’s literal translation to English is “glory”
  • A Different Brain – famed documentary by Loius Theroux; it follows four patients who suffered through some sort of traumatic brain injury and consequences it brings
  • Still Alice – movie that earned Julianne Moore an Academy Award for Best Actress, Still Alice is a touching but often times difficult story about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease

What about you? Do you like watching movies – which ones are your favourite? If you watched any of these, please tell me what you think! I would love to discuss movies with you & I’m really interested what you watch in your free time 🙂

RTŠB 2019 – biospeleology field trip – PART 1

Finally, I write about this astonishing field trip which has taken part from 17th to 27th July this year in Ivančna Gorica, a small town south of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Me and Bruno were part of biospeleology group, and my friend Paula, who was the only other participant from Croatia, was a part of reptile group. Paula has a nice Instagram page about biology as well.
This camp, organized by student’s biology group from Ljubljana is very popular with students from the ex-YU countries, and this year there were also colleagues from France. Also, being a biology student is not a must, we had humanities student as well.

cave
A detail from one of the caves

How does the camp work?

First, you have to apply; you can choose between three groups (my choices: biospeleology, reptiles, botany) and with the application you pay the 93€ fee that includes breakfast and dinner every day and driving around during the camp. When there, we sleep in our sleeping bag in the gym of the nearby school. Breakfast is every day 7-8.30am, and dinner was usually 4pm+. There was also one rest day (during which us three went to Ljubljana) and one day when couple of us were on duty – we were cleaning and cooking for that day.
One group usually consisted of 5 members, and every day we went out to field, trying to find caves or catch some cave dwelling insect.

gym
Our place in the school gym

We travelled, you guessed it, by train. I have already mentioned 9€ one-way-ticket from Zagreb to Ljubljana, and then we went to Ivančna Gorica, that ticket was around 3€. The way back was almost the same, with the difference we went by bus to Ljubljana, since there were no trains at that part of the day.

How was my experience?

Honestly, I would really like to go again next year, but honestly I don’t know how I made it. I was not in a shape I should have been, I had migraines, I got stuck, I had very suspicious bruises and I strongly disliked walking around under sun.

How many caves I visited?

Number of caves: 9
Total number of cave visits: 11
Number of water springs visited: 4
I also spent one evening with bat group & one day with amphibians group.

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Me, before first cave visit, unaware what was waiting for me

A short summary of my days in Slovenia

Day 1

We  met other members of the group: Ester, group leader, Tjaša and Eva. Anja was also part of our group, but she joined us couple of days later. Apart from going to the field, every evening we were supposed to try and determine our specimens we collected in caves, label them, and fill out special documents about our visit (who, when, why, where, what was collected and how).
We also prepared live traps for small insects. The traps we made consisted of putting tuna fish with gorgonzola in small tubes and closing them off with cotton pads.  The insect we were trying to catch was Leptodirus hochenwartii, member of Coleoptera, the only beetle that lives in the caves. This species is endemic to Slovenian, Croatian, and Italian caves. For other creatures we had prepared small tubes filled with 70% ethanol which we held in the pockets of our overalls, together with pincers.

live-trap
One live trap, buried in the ground – it also needs to be covered with a big rock.

Day 2

Frist cave we visited was Velka jama nad Trebnjem. The way up to the cave was steep and exhausting; it was very hot & moist in the forest. However, I took my camera with me, and took many pictures. I was surprised how many invertebrates live there, since Croatian caves I visited were almost completely empty. However, these animals are not usually found in the caves, here they are living kind of opportunistically, since the cave was also filled with garbage. We set up the traps for Leptodirus, and went back. We had a small lunch next to our car, and then went to the cave number two, called Rojska jama 2. We had GPS coordinates, but Ester was sure they are wrong (they were), so we asked a local villager for help. He kindly led us to the cave entrance, where we suited up, and in we went. The cave was quite interesting, we spent an hour or so inside. After we returned, mr. villager welcomed us back with home-baked strudels and soda. It was honestly, very nice. We also visited two water springs, and went back to the school. After dinner, Ester taught us how to fill out the papers I mentioned, and we tried to the best of our ability, determine all the specimens. The most important we had to discern were small freshwater crabs called Niphargus and Gammarus. The main difference is that Gammarus have eyes, and we really wanted to collect the other one.

skakavac
Caves were usually full of these grasshoppers, and they were scary huge!

Day 3

During day three, we visited one cave, Pekel pri Kopanju. We did find some cool animals, like Colembolas, but our trip was short, since main channel was full of tree branches and garbage. We tried visited the cave number two, but soon realized that we would need a 40m rope to climb down, so we gave up on that. We also visited two water springs, and headed back earlier, since one of the mentors had a lecture about global warming. After that, back to determination. We found some Niphargus (yay!), Gammarus (fine), and rat-tailed maggots. What are those, you wonder? Those are the larvae of certain species of hoverflies. What are hoverflies, you wonder? Those are flies that pretend to be wasps.

fly
The great pretender

Day 4

This day was tough for me, we walked 5-6km on the trails and through the woods, but we also visited three caves! First two (Dolnja vodena jama & Antokov skedenj) were close one to another and extremely spacious inside. I roamed around with my action cam (results were so-so, not enough light) and Bruno and me found a bunch of Niphargus in one puddle. I also saw some fox bones, and Ester was kind enough to fetch them for me! The third cave (Rivčja jama) was the one we visited three times all together and was really interesting. The walk towards it is around 1km on the forest trail, next to beautiful river Krka. The entrance to the cave is enormous – I would use the phrase “you need to be blind not to see it”, but that’s incorrect – even from the trail you can feel temperature drop and the specific smell of cave air.And this cave had bats. Bunch of bats (Myotis myotis), and they were loud, much louder than people would expect. We climbed up, on mountains of their poop, in order to take pictures, and the temperature soared at least 10 degrees there. Afterwards, we went through a narrow passage (here I took neat footage) and tried to catch some Proteus anguinus, the olm (I wrote about them here!). These traps were different, since they live in the water. We also tried to lure them with pet cookies (can’t remember if it was cat or dog food, sorry!).
After all this, we went swimming in Krka, water was around 15 degrees, but it was so nice and relaxing. The river is truly beautiful, and I would like for everyone to experience this kind of nature at least once in their life.

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The only not-blurry photo of me in the cave

End of part 1

I hope you liked this not-so-short overview of my time in this summer camp, part two will be up soon. Please tell me what you liked the most and about what would you like me to write more! I would like to thank all of you who read this, thank you for time and attention!

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All of us; photo by Ester Premate

Another Vienna adventure!

Hi everyone, if you follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram, you have probably already seen my pictures from Vienna this last weekend. However, I would like to share a bit more, and write about it too!

At Saturday at 3.30 in the morning, my sister & me boarded the bus in Varaždin, and started our one-day adventure. Our destination? Vienna, capital of Austria! With the trip we booked through Galileo Travel came scenic sightseeing of the city, and a visit to Schönnbrun castle, but we skipped that and with U4 headed directly to city centre, Schwedenplatz more correctly. After short breakfast in McDonald’s (I know, I know), we headed to Natural History Museum. On the way there, we took some typical tourist pictures, in front of Stephan’s Cathedral, at Hofburg… And then we finally reached NHM.


I’ve visited the museum two times before, but my enthusiasm was still through the roof. Firstly, the museum is huge. Permanent exhibition spans two floors and numerous specimens. Roughly divided, first floor is mineralogy and second floor is dedicated to zoology. I took some pictures, which I will share with you, but I didn’t take my camera; everything is taken with my Huawei mobile phone.

Student’s entrance fee is only 7€ (~8$), and taking photographs is allowed. The whole museum is, honestly, overwhelming. I have never before seen so many specimens at once place. My sister, who visited it for the first time, often commented that a building itself could be a museum, due to it’s rich, ornate walls. First floor is, like I already mentioned, full of minerals. I don’t have much interest for them, but I made me think about how old our planet is, and what makes it. Also, one of the rooms is completely dedicated to jewellery, both modern and historic.

The floor dedicated to zoology was full of models and real specimens of animals around us, as well as evolutionary artifacts. As is common, first rooms were dedicated to invertebrates, building it’s way up to vertebrate groups. I was particulary amazed by the size of dinosaur bones – no matter how many times I see it on the TV, or visit this museum, I stand in awe in front of them.


Unfortunately, due to morning sun, I wasn’t able to capture nice photographs of invertebrate collections, but trust me when I say those are so beautiful. Everything is o neat and organized that, since then, I’ve been toying with idea of collecting my own specimens. There are also rooms dedicated to fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds… Those are usually held in special containers or stuffed. There are also many skeletons on display on the walls. With dinosaurs, there were also animatronic models, which both excited and frightened children in the museum.

Latimeria
Latimeria chalumnae, a living fossil!


There is also a separate room dedicated to evolution of human. I already posted that interesting picture where an app transformed me into an early human, but in this part of the museum, you can see many different skulls belonging to Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo habilis… I consider this part of the exhibition very important, especially in today’s time, when so much misinformation is present on the Internet.
Another important historic specimen is Venus of Willendorf figurine, which is dated to 30 000 years BC.

Venus
Venus of Willendorf

 

What would you like to see, if you could go to Natural History Museum in Vienna? Would you like me to write about something in more details?
Please let me know in the comments 🙂

Biology in popular culture – HEAVY METAL

Many of you might not know this, but I was (and still am) a big fan of metal music. I included word “heavy” in the title, but I actually prefer doom, melodic death, death, some black metal and also gothic/love metal. What does this have to do with biology? Well, many bands use animal imagery in their music videos or album art, with some of them being really interesting.
Of course, there are many that are obvious (Powerwolf, anyone?), and some animals are used more than others (crows, snakes). However, I wanted to see which animals dominate the heavy metal world, and which bands, that are usually not connected to such artwork, would use it.

Now, I would very much like to include these album covers in this post, but they are copyrighted and I’m not 100% sure I can do that, so if you’re not already familiar with the covers, I would kindly ask you to use a search engine, or links I’ll provide to each cover.

Paradise Lost

A doom/gothic/synth-pop band from the United Kingdom, Paradise Lost often uses biological motifs in their album art (Medusa, 2017; Tragic Illusion 25, 2013; Tragic Idol, 2012), but I would like to focus on the art that dominates the picture – in this case, we have Symbol of Life (released in 2002), its single Erased, and Believe in Nothing (2001).

Link to the official Paradise Lost web-page.

Symbol of Life and Erased are, at least to me, very interesting album covers. Yes, the animal in question is a snake, but it’s an x-ray of a snake. Now, I don’t know which species, or even a family, but I’m pretty sure it’s a snake. I don’t know how these photos were made, but are really special and distinct. For a better view, you can visit this blog. Erased is done in a very similar way, only with different coloring scheme. The animal theme is also presen in the music video for the single – there are scenes of a cougar and something that I believe is Thompson gazelle (I might be wrong on this one). I don’t know in which ecosystem could these two ever meet, outside of Paradise Lost video.

A gazelle
Nick Holmes in his apparent natural state

(Photo by Tobias Adam on Unsplash)

Believe in Nothing cover is simply straightforward: it’s a picture of bees. To be more precise, it’s a picture of a honey queen bee surrounded with bee workers. I will go out on the limb and say the species is probably Apis mellifera, Western honey bee.

Katatonia

Another one of my favourites, Katatonia and their dark melodies have adopted a bird from the Corvus genus as a motif that often appears on their album artworks (Dead End Kings, 2012; Tonight’s Decision, 1999). They were also the main focus of one of the earliest Katatonia’s albums, Brave Murder Day (1996), and latest, The Fall of Hearts (2016). Just by looking at these, I honestly can’t tell if it’s a crow, raven, or something in-between, but it does compliment Katatonia’s music perfectly.

A crow
Insert random lyric about crows, ravens, or E. A. Poe

(Photo by Sergio Ibanez on Unsplash)

Opeth

To me, Opeth always had interesting, dark album covers, but two caught my attention – art for their debut album Orchid (1995) and Sorceress (2016). For Orchid, the artwork is, you guess it, orchids; apparently the pink flowers on the cover were ordered from the Netherlands.
Sorceress is a different story – it shows a peacock with blood dripping out of his beak. This might seem odd, since most people, including me, always picture birds as eating seeds, but peafowls (name that includes male and female individuals, and three species) are actually omnivores, and their diet can include insects and even small reptiles.

Satyricon

Satyricon is a black metal band, with different sounds, and with that, different artwork. Some animal species, however, still remain!
On the cover of Nemesis Divina (1996) is a bird of prey, which one, I honestly can say. It could be a falcon, or a hawk, I have to admit that my bird knowledge is weak. Volcano (2002) album cover is kind of simplistic – in the main view, we have a head of a snake. At first, it looked to me like a python, but I actually believe it’s a boa, Boa constrictor even. For their 7th album, The Age of Nero (2008) they went back to their raptor roots and choose… Some kind of eagle?

Brown and black snake on a tree branch; black bacground.
Metal’s next top model

(Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)

Gojira

Gojira is a death/progressive metal band famous for often including environmental themes in their songs. Their album From Mars to Sirius (2005) is completely dedicated to these issues, and as such, has a very nice album art, with the drawing of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) being a centerpiece.

Slipknot

A heavy metal from Iowa, Slipknot chose a goat for the cover of the 2001 album titles Iowa. These kind of imagery is usually used by black metal bands (see honourable mentions, also Baphomet), but in this case, I think it works nicely.

A goat
Felt cute, might grow human limbs later

(Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash)

Honourable mentions

Bathory – Bathory (1984) – goat
Behemoth – Zos Kia Cultus (2002) – baphomet
Dimmu Borgir – Stormblåst (1996) – goat
Immortal – All Shall Fall (2009) – ravens?
Mayhem – Grand Declaration of War (2000) – dove

Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines (2002) – snake

Rammstein – Herzeleid (1995) – flower (chrysanthemums?)

Bring Me the Horizon – Count Your Blessings (2006) – jellyfish, shark, fish

The Rasmus – Hide from the Sun (2005) – butterfly

Old-school Master’s thesis

A while ago, while roaming through the halls of my University building, I stumbled upon some old Master’s thesis (theses?).  They are all dated from mid 60’s to late 80’s, and are written on a typing machine. What really drew my attention were illustrations –  they are all drawn by hand, using ink. I honestly don’t know if the authors did them themselves, or hired someone to do it for them (I believe it’s the former), but these are just gorgeous!


All three of these theses are in Croatian, but I translated the titles:

  1. Chromosomal structure of salivary glands of Chironomidae larvae and its importance in the determination of species by Vladimira Tavčar (1964)
  2. Gene segregation study of HLA, AB0 and Rh systems by Gordana Puškadija (1980)
  3. Effect of adriamycin and epirubicin on DNA cell synthesis in culture by Dijana Abramić (1987)


Also, these are all on the topic of Molecular biology – I will visit libraries at other departments of my University (Zoology, Botany, Microbiology, Animal Physiology) to try and find similar ones! Which one would you like to see first?

Inside of the Master's thesis (no. 2)
Inside of the Master’s thesis (no. 2)


I am honestly so fascinated by these illustrations, they are wonderful! So detailed and neat… However, the oldest one is my favourite, because the author not only had to do her research in the lab, but also did the fieldwork, which is precisly something I would like to do one day – combine field Biology with Molecular biology.

As you can see, the photographs were also used, but they were glued in the thesis.

DSC_0260
Inside of the Master’s thesis (no. 1)

This aspects is fascinating to me as well – the hand-drawn map!

 

That’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed these beautiful drawings as much as I did! I have a few more photos, so if you’re interested into seeing more, please let me know!


 

A weekend in nature, with a sprinkle of cave!

Speleology adventure continues, if just for a little bit! Last weekend in March, as a part of this year’s speleology school, I visited a cave in Tounj, that is actually part of a quarry. And yes, for all of you wondering, my curse did strike again, and I fell. Again. And I hurt myself. Again. I guess this is the time where I realize this is some kind of a message from the Universe?

I would like to specially thank to two amazing women in science, that are still attending university, but are amazing scientists already! They helped me with the determination of the wildlife photos I took – Iva studies Environmental Sciences, is an expert spider lover and extremely talented artist! Petra Vizec determined all the plant species; she studies Botany and can determine every plant in Croatia and surrounding area 😊


Anyway, in the Saturday morning, we started our excursion, from Zagreb to Tounj. The car ride lasted for around two hours, and after a communal breakfast, we put up the bivouac, for five people. During the school, tents are now allowed, as I already mentioned, so we are basically improvising one with two tarpaulins. The Saturday was really interesting for students, because they were learning the basics of using rope. It was interesting for me as well, because I decided to try out my phone lenses and shoot wildlife. Honestly, the results were better than expected! Many plants, many spiders, some insects, and even a lizard. I honestly wasn’t sure it was warm enough for reptiles, but even snakes have been spotted in the area. This part of the day is not really interesting to write about, so I will let the pictures do the talking 😊


During the evening, we lit a nice fire for dinner, and socialized a bit, and then of course, went to sleep. I can say I had a really cozy night, since just before the excursion, I bought new sleeping bag (more about this in another post AND YouTube video!). In the Sunday morning, students had some additional lectures, and around noon we finally set for the Tounj quarry cave. Part of the cave is also underwater, and during this particular excursion, one of the speleo-divers from my association dived down and proved that two caves, Tounj and Tounjčica are in fact, connected. I have to admit I had quite a big problem with walking to the cave entrance – we went at the noon, with the Sun high up, and the light reflected so hard from the rocks around us, I could barely see. However, my attitude changed the moment I entered the cave. This one was just “walking”, without any ropes or anything similar. Of course, when I use verb walking, I don’t mean old fashioned walking on the streets – this involved a bit of light uphill climbing, crawling, wriggling… And a lot of strength and flexibility and rolling a bit in the mud. At least my new overalls proved quite water-resistant! Tounj cave is, at least to me, very similar to Veternica – if someone put me there in the middle of the night (or day, really), I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between two, just that Tounj seemed to be a tad more spacious, at least when compared to the part of Veternica I visited. We saw only one ne bat and a lot of stalactites – I even brought some that have broken off back with me. Almost end of the story, right? Doesn’t seem too impressive, not even with the anecdote of me somehow slipping and hitting my right arm so hard I stopped feeling my fingers for couple of minutes.


The thing is, to experience the cave, you should visit the cave. More experienced speleologists could probably describe the visit much better, but for me, entering the cave is something so profoundly special I lose all my words. All of a sudden, I enter a part of this world that always exist in total darkness, where moisture seems to mean almost the opposite thing, where water drops are as loud as my heart beats, and after I turn on my head-light, everything is in calming, monochrome beige colour. Everything stops, it’s just me and the cave, absorbing my surrounding and focusing intensely on walking forward, until I see the sunlight again.

Left picture: exhausted, after trying to actually catch some lizards
Right picture: exhausted, after spending half my day in the cave; also sunburned!


Would you like to know more about plant and animal species I found? If yes, please let me know in the comments!


DSC_1337
Pisaura sp; nursery web spider