Tag: Lungs

This Lung-Like Device Can Transform Water Into a Clean Source of Fuel

A device inspired by human lungs can split water into oxygen and hydrogen

Get water in your lungs, and you’re in for a very bad time.

But when water enters a new type of “lung” created by researchers at Stanford University, the result is hydrogen fuel — a clean source of energy that could one day power everything from our cars to our smartphones.

Though this isn’t the first device to produce hydrogen fuel, the unique design could be the first step along the path to an efficient method of generating hydrogen fuel.

Looking to Nature

The Stanford team describes its device in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Joule.

When air enters a human lung, it passes through a thin membrane. This membrane extracts the oxygen from the air and send it into the bloodstream. The unique structure of the organ makes this gas exchange highly efficient.

Combine hydrogen with oxygen, and you get electricity — and unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the only byproduct is water.

For that reason, researchers have been looking into hydrogen fuel for decades, but they simply haven’t found a way to produce it that is efficient enough to be worthwhile.

This is mainly because hydrogen doesn’t often exist on its own in nature — we need to isolate it, often by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Take a Breath

The Stanford researchers’ lung is essentially a pouch created out of a thick plastic film. Tiny water-repelling pores cover the exterior of the pouch, while gold and platinum nanoparticles line its interior.

By placing the pouch in water and applying voltage, the researchers were able to compel the device to create energy at an efficiency 32 percent higher than if they laid the film flat.

They claim this is because the lung-like shape did a better job than other fuel cell designs of minimizing the bubbles that can form — and hurt efficiency — during the energy-generation process.

The geometry is important,” Stanford research Yi Cui said.

The team will now focus on scaling-up its design and finding a way to get it to tolerate higher temperatures — right now, it doesn’t work above 100 degrees Celsius, which could be a problem for commercial applications.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

First Fossil Lungs Found In Dinosaur-Era Bird

For the first time, researchers found the presence of what they believe to be lung tissue in an avian dinosaur fossil.

About 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China, a bird met its end during a volcanic eruption.

Ashfall buried the animal so suddenly, its soft tissues didn’t have time to decay, and over millions of years, minerals infiltrated these tissues and preserved their form.

Now, researchers have unveiled this breathtaking specimen, which contains the first fossilized lungs ever found in an early bird.

The species Archaeorhynchus spathula lived alongside the nonavian dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period.

The newfound fossil, which preserves feathers and considerable soft tissue, shows that this primitive bird’s lungs closely resemble those found in living birds.

This suggests that birds’ hyper-efficient lungs, a key adaptation for flight, first emerged earlier than thought, and it underscores how birds—the last living dinosaurs—inherited many iconic traits from their extinct ancestors.

Everything we knew about lungs, about respiration, about evolution of [birds] was just inferring based on skeletal indicators,” says study coauthor Jingmai O’Connor, a paleontologist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China.

“And now we know that we were inferring less generously than we should have.”

A newly identified Archaeorhynchus specimen showing the preserved plumage and lung tissue.

O’Connor presented the discovery on October 18 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the finding will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This is an exciting discovery,” says Colleen Farmer, an anatomist and physiologist at the University of Utah who reviewed the study.

Finding bird-like lungs in this group of dinosaurs is to be expected, but it is incredible to uncover hard evidence of this soft structure.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Lab-Grown Pig Lungs May Signal The Future Of Organ Transplants

Researchers at the University of Texas say they have successfully grown pig lungs in the lab — and it may help pave the way for use of lab-grown organs in humans too.

In research published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the U of Texas researchers say they used a lung scaffold — literally the outer casing of lung tissue, called the extracellular matrix — and coated it with a concoction of growth factors and chemicals that stimulate the cells to turn into lung cells.

Previous studies cultured cells for one week and the transplantation ultimately failed. So researchers used a 30-day time frame for this study and were able to develop an immature bioengineered lung, with cells and proper tissue formation.

While our bodies build organs as fetuses, there have been a lot of hurdles to producing lab-grown organs.

One of the most significant hurdles has been getting the blood supply to marry up with the organ so that it can survive in the body.

In the U of T research, one pig lung was removed and replaced with the lab-grown lung, and the other natural lung was left.

In this case, the transplanted lungs were integrated into the body and grew normally, the researchers say. Once they connected the lab-grown lung to the blood supply in the host pig’s body, blood flowed to the new organ.

The blood vessels that carry that blood were mature enough to handle the pressure and the lungs looked almost indistinguishable from a natural lung.

The future of organ transplants

The new findings are good news for anyone on an organ donation list, according to one of the researchers.

Here’s the possibility of us making lungs for people who are waiting on that list and giving them hope,” said Dr. Joaquin Cortiella, from the University of Texas medical branch.

The doctors are hoping that within a decade, lab-grown human lungs will be transplanted into patients to save them from chronic lung diseases, cystic fibrosis and anything that threatens life and lungs.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Deadly Parasite Discovered In Chinese Family Shows You Should Never Eat Raw Centipedes

Centipedes mean business. They can slay animals 15 times their size, even devour whole snakes if they want.

But the true horror of the centipede may be something else, hiding unseen inside their many-legged forms: a dangerous parasite, which scientists say has never been observed in these segmented critters – until now.

The stowaway in question is the parasitic roundworm Angiostrongylus cantonensis – aka ‘rat lungworm’ – a food-borne parasite typically found in snails and other mollusks, which has now for the first time been detected in centipedes too.

As for the strange reason we know this? It starts with headaches.

A 78-year-old woman was admitted to Zhujiang Hospital in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, saying she’d experienced headaches, drowsiness, and cognitive impairment for weeks, although she had no other signs of illness, such as fever or vomiting.

Subsequent examination suggested symptoms of meningitis, but not a viral or bacterial cause for the condition. Her cerebrospinal fluid did however indicate traces of antibodies against the rat lungworm, indicating a diagnosis of A cantonensis eosinophilic meningitis.

What was unusual was how she’d presumably contracted it: by eating raw centipedes.

While centipedes aren’t a common foodstuff for most of us, dried or crushed centipedes have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, and live, wild specimens are sold in some Chinese agricultural markets.

In this case, the lady’s son had served the fresh produce variety to his elderly mother – and uncooked.

If that sounds unreasonable, don’t be too hard on him: he himself turned up at the hospital only a few weeks later, presenting the same symptoms, having shared in the meal.

We don’t typically hear of people eating raw centipedes, but apparently these two patients believed that raw centipedes would be good for their health,” says the treating physician, neurologist Lingli Lu from Zhujiang Hospital.

“Instead it made them sick.”

Fortunately for mother and son, both patients were ultimately treated successfully with a course of anti-parasitic drugs that rid them of their A. cantonensis infection.

But they were lucky. Cases of Angiostrongyliasis, the infection caused by the roundworm, can cause permanent damage to the central nervous system, and are sometimes fatal.

As for why the pair consumed their centipedes uncooked, according to Lu, the son had been told that eating the arthropods raw could prevent winter colds.

It’s not immediately clear if these Chinese marketplaces sell the venomous animals to be consumed raw, or if they’re merely offered fresh, so consumers can later boil, pickle, or otherwise cook them.

In any case, Lu says as a matter of courtesy, serving suggestions are not dictated to shoppers at the live centipede stall.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Amazing Bodies Of Dolphins


Dolphins have a number of extraordinary features so that they can thrive in their watery world.

The most obvious thing that dolphins need is air. They glide through the water so effortlessly, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath. Dolphins can dive to 200 m (600 ft).

Marine mammals take more air with each breath than other mammals, and they exchange more of the air in their lungs with each breath.

Their red blood cells can hold more oxygen and they have a much higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than we do. During each breath they exchange 80% of the air in their lungs, while humans only exchange 17%.

Even so, given the size of their lungs, they should run out of oxygen and drown before they can get that deep! How do they do it?

When diving, they cut off blood circulation to their skin digestive system and extremities, leaving only the heart, brain and tail muscles working. However, even these measures give insufficient time to plummet to those depths.

Dolphins and other marine mammals don’t get the bends (nitrogen narcosis) when they plummet to the depths of the ocean.

In human lungs, air remains all throughout the lungs and gas exchange continues in the alvoli, allowing nitrogen to be forced into the blood.

The alvoli of doplhins collapse at 3 atm of pressure, forcing the air back into the bronchioles where gas exchange does not take place.

How do dolphins (and whales) sleep without drowning?

Marine mammals have two basic methods of sleeping: they either rest quietly in the water, or sleep while swimming slowly next to another animal.

Dolphins also enter a deeper form of sleep at night where they become like a log floating on the water. When a baby dolphin is born it does not have enough body fat to float easily.

The baby stays afloat by being towed in its mother’s slipstream or wake even when it is sleeping. This means that the mother cannot stop swimming for the first several weeks of her baby’s life!

To avoid drowning, it is crucial that cetaceans retain control of their blowhole and recognize when it is at the surface. When sleeping, dolphins shut down half of their brain and one eye.

The other half stays awake at a lower level of alertness. The semi-conscious side watches for predators, obstacles, and signals when to rise to the surface for a breath of air.

After 2 hours, things are reversed, the active side goes to sleep and the rested side looks after vital functions. Amazing!

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Pass it on: Popular Science