Visualizing human development from conception to birth

[I]n a recent TED presentation, technical/medical artist Alexander Tsiaras dazzled his audience with an amazing visual journey. Using state-of-the-art medical sensing and scanning devices, powerful computer technology, and his largely self-taught but nonetheless stunning artistic abilities, he has created an animation that documents the full development of the initial conception of a human being through his or her birth event.

One of his comments early in the talk really stuck with me, as he was discussing the structure of collagen and how it is arranged in the human body, “… it was hard not to attribute divinity to it.” He uses words like “marvel” and “wonder” when describing what he discovered and modeled on the way to producing this piece.

You can read a biography about Tsiaras here:

Please watch this 9-minute video and marvel, as I did, at the Creator’s handiwork in making you, me, and all of our fellow human beings, from the instant of conception until our birth.

(10 minutes)

Discussing Christian apologetics among the learned

Matt Crouch hosted a lively 2-hour discussion on the TBN broadcast this week among a panel of learned scholars. One of my strongest initial reactions to it was the civility of the tone and demeanor of the discussants. Unfortunately, these types of forums all too often quickly turn into bitter arguments laced with ad hominem attacks by at least one or more of the participants against one or more of the others, especially when the facts of the physical events and timing of the creation of the universe and of the earth are part of the topics of discussion.

This discussion, however, was fairly and evenly moderated, and all participants made good points while remaining professional and civil in their approach and tone. My congratulations go out to all of them for this outcome.

If Christian apologetics interest you at all, then I encourage you to invest the two hours in listening to this enlightening discussion. Full disclosure: I am a certified volunteer apologist for Reasons to Believe, the organization founded and presently led by on of the panelists, Dr. Hugh Ross, and I am one of the chapter leaders for the Kansas City chapter of that organization.

Using dance in place of PowerPoint to illustrate complex concepts?

I just saw a fascinating presentation about creating more powerful presentations by NOT using PowerPoint. Indeed, the talk illustrates the point by using live dancers on the stage with the presenter to help illustrate the points of the message. The speaker, John Bohannon, is a microbiologist, and has started a contest called “Dance Your PhD,” encouraging science researchers to employ professional dancers when speaking or illustrating their concepts to a live audience. Search for this term on and see some of the winning entries.

I think you will enjoy and appreciate this TED talk.

Amazing healing for moms from fetal cells – automatically!

This article is a fascinating report that scientists are discovering that fetal cells actually migrate into the mother’s body during pregnancy. Many of these are fetal stem cells, which seem to migrate to areas of the mother’s body that may be abnormal or damaged and actually work wonderful healing activity at the site. Even more amazing is that these cells appear to remain active for decades, if not the entire lifetime of the mother, for ongoing healing benefits for the mother!

Read the entire article here:

Unborn child just a ‘parasite’? Cutting edge science shows fetal cells heal mother for life

Here is an informative NPR radio broadcast about the topic:

Babies’ Cells Linger, May Protect Mothers

Can you imagine?

What was it like for God to observe the initial building materials of the universe, before even a single star or planet came into existence? How did He perceive the history to come, which He already fully knew? What was it like to envision a perfect future for us as imperfect beings that He created? How could that be a “good” creation? But He indeed declared it so. And he is graciously and lovingly allowing us to experience it, with His greater purposes at work all the while.

I wanted to share this video that asks those questions and more. Please watch and ponder.


Studying life-like but nonliving chemistry for inferences about life and how it works

[A]t a recent TED conference, researcher Martin Hanczyc gave an intriguing report on his work of creating and studying what he calls “protocells.” He believes that these nonliving chemical packages exhibit some characteristics of living cells, and indeed that does appear to be true. At the beginning of his talk he gives a nice overview of the fundamental charateristics we expect to see in a living organism:

  • A body
  • A metabolism
  • Inheritable information

The first two characteristics might be further operationalized as Movement and Replication. Hanzyzc adds that satisfying each of these characteristics could lead to Evolution, a notion he presents without qualification. I would say that a given, truly living system might be expected and/or enabled to adapt to some aspects of its environment (i.e., microevolution), but many of us who espouse a literal creation model (regardless of the time over which the creation of living creatures occurred) would reject the notion of mutating and changing into entirely new kinds of organisms (i.e., macroevolution), to which Hanczyc appears to be alluding, or at least leaving the door open. Nonetheless, I found his presentation of his findings interesting. He demonstrates how some very simple chemical assemblages (that he is very careful to stress that are strictly nonliving) do indeed exhibit some “behaviors” (in a chemical sense) that closely approximate the first two characteristics of forming bodies and turning resources into motion (i.e., a “metabolism”). And then he even shows us one experiment where the chemical assemblies appear to replicate.

He presents these findings in a very matter of fact way that I find engaging and honest. Although he didn’t take it in this particular direction, it would appear to me that his work might be engaged by honest and ethical researchers to create some testable theory about the viability of certain kinds of postulated synthesis of living material from nonliving material, at least at the chemical level. As such, it seems to be much more useful than the now infamous Miller/Urey experiment reported in 1953, which is now mostly viewed as insignificant due to it now-understood incorrect assumptions about early earth chemistry. However, a careful observer will note that Hanczyc may be precipitously close to having similar assumptions his work regarding available input chemistry in the early Earth. Nonetheless, I found his work of considerable interest to ponder.

Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe has made some important points about studies such as this one from Dr. Hanczyc regarding how such experiments lend credence to the necessity of design for them to be successful. For more reading on this subject I recommend the article, Artificial Life: Ready or not here it comes.

The TED site characterizes the Dr. Hanczyc’s talk this way:

In his lab, Martin Hanczyc makes “protocells,” experimental blobs of chemicals that behave like living cells. His work demonstrates how life might have first occurred on Earth … and perhaps elsewhere too.


Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job

[I] have been reading the latest book from Dr. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job. It is fascinating! Like many people, I’ve always considered Job to be primarily a treatise on patience and longsuffering. While it is indeed a profound study on how one can maintain the perspective that God is in charge no matter what the circumstances in which we find ourselves, Dr. Ross has peeled back the covers to show that there is signficantly more in the book.

First of all, it is quite signficant to note that, according to many scholars, Job is the oldest book of the Bible. Therefore, it predates Genesis, and it is reasonable to surmise that Moses was familiar with its contents when he was inspired to write Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch. When Job, Genesis 1, and the other 24+ chapter-length Biblical accounts of creation are considered in aggregate, it is amazing and enlightening to see how they complement and reinforce a unified, coherent, and consistent account of all the events surrounding the creation of the universe. And as Dr. Ross points out in the new book, there are significant predictions in Job of what scientific researchers would one day discover about the nature and origins of the universe — not the least of which is dark matter, which was only recently discovered and explained within the past few years.

The following is a thought-provoking promotional video for the book. I encourage you to watch the video and then read the book for yourself as soon as possible.


U of Kansas researcher finds way to multiply adult stem cells

In a brilliant new discovery recently announced by the University of Kansas Medical Center in the scientific journal Stem Cells, Dr. Soumen Paul has found a promising new method of multiply a special class of adult stem cells, called “pluripotent” stem cells. According to an article on the KUMC website,[pullquote]”If these results can be replicated in humans, Paul believes, the technology may ultimately be used to generate human cell types, thus bypassing the need for human embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine.”[/pullquote]

Soumen Paul, PhD
Soumen Paul, PhD, assistant professor in KUMC's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

“Like embryonic stem cells, pluripotent stem cells have the ability to develop into all different cell types of the human body. This means they could be used to create an unlimited supply of cells, tissues, or even organs that could be transplanted to restore functions lost to disease and injury.”

The initial research has be conducted in mice, but holds promise for human application. The article goes on to say,

“If these results can be replicated in humans, Paul believes, the technology may ultimately be used to generate human cell types, thus bypassing the need for human embryonic stem cells in regenerative medicine.” (emphasis mine)

I, like many others who watch such developments, am very much encouraged by this research. I have noted from a number of news and commentary sources that research in embryonic stems cells has not been successful in any studies so far, in terms of curing disease or reconstructing body parts, and instead has resulted in freakish manifestations of side effects and deformities when attempts are made at reconstructive or multiplicative applications. Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, has already begun to be used for viable medical applications with very promising results. For some examples please see:

Just as many like-minded colleagues near and far off, I am in favor of completely banning embryonic stem cell research on the ethical and moral basis that the materials can only be harvested from killed (dare I say murdered?) human beings. We should, rather, be putting all of the funding and efforts that would go to embryonic stem cell research into adult stem cell research, or into other more promising research areas.

Here is a fascinating report from NOVA about this area. Some amazing progress has been made in using an individual’s own cells to create new body parts. In particular, researchers have discovered methods to remove living tissue from a previously living body part from even another species (for example, a pig’s heart), and then recreate a new functioning body part from it by implanting the recipient’s own cells upon the residual scaffolding/framework. This approach potentially eliminates any rejection problems we currently observe in organ donations.

Watch this and be amazed as I was!

[EZWebPlayer VideoID=b7d6cdbb-7c70-49d4-b647-9ea3c4dae3a3/]


What a creative brain looks like

Here is a fascinating talk given by Dr. Charles Limb, a neurosurgeon who also happens to be a jazz musician. He has a particular research interest in how the brain works when it is being creative. He uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to create a picture of the brain of talented musicians as they create improvisational jazz music.

Watch this and enjoy!

From the TED website:
About this talk

Musician and researcher Charles Limb wondered how the brain works during musical improvisation — so he put jazz musicians and rappers in an fMRI to find out. What he and his team found has deep implications for our understanding of creativity of all kinds.

About Charles Limb

Charles Limb is a doctor and a musician who researches the way musical creativity works in the brain. Full bio and more links

Illustrating truth and beauty inside a functioning cell

David Bolinsky has done some awe-inspiring work to give us a glimpse of the complexity, beauty, and wonder associated with the functioning of cells in our bodies. He is engaged with the biology faculty at Harvard to develop a wondrous set of images and animations that help students understanding the structure and functioning of cells. Please watch this video to see some of the products of his work, and listen as he tells about his approach to this task. As you do, ask yourself the question, “How could my subject become more visual and how might I better illustrate what I want my students to learn?”

About David Bolinsky, from the TED website:

Medical illustrator and animator David Bolinsky has devoted his career to displaying scientific and medical concepts in a clear, fresh light.

Since the earliest days of computer animation, he knew this art could be a powerful tool for explaining scientific concepts in ways that traditional medical illustration simply couldn’t. Now, with XVIVO, the company he co-founded, he works with schools and with medical and scientific firms, turning complex processes into understandable, compelling films.

“The Inner Life of a Cell,” highlighted at TED2007, represents the leading edge of medical animation, in both its technical achievement and its focus on compelling, memorable action. Created as part of the BioVision initiative to help explain cellular processes to students at Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the clip has captured the imagination of the press — and reportedly, of Hollywood.

“Who would have thought the inner workings of a white blood cell could be visually stunning? For those who fell asleep during high school biology classes, David Bolinsky’s presentation at the TED conference was a revelation.”

Wired News