Monthly Archives: November 2011

Untangling the Brain

This video describes the Human Connectome Project, where scientists try to map the neurons and connections within the human brain.


Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot?

Plants have been waging a war with animals-and humans alike-for a long time. As herbivores and omnivores rely heavily on plants for nutrients and survival, they can easily live on without us. Due to this, many plants have developed techniques to rebel animals from eating them (e.g. vile smell, thorns, unappealing, difficult to reach, etc.). However, other plants will try to attract animals (e.g. colourful, sweet smell, etc)  to eat their fruits so as to spread their seeds and germinate.

So what makes hot peppers so special?

This peculiar fruit attracts animals through its bright colours and sweet scent. However, as we all know, these signs are misguiding as they fill our senses with a fiery explosion of pain.

The reason for this pain is due to the chemical, capsaicin, which attachs to receptors called vanilloids which are found at endings of trigeminal nerve (sensory and motor fibres in the face). These receptors are typically found inside the mouth and-when bound by capsaicin-creates a sensation of pain.

Hot Peppers

As researchers began studying on the reasons for this “backwards” phenomenon, they discovered that vanilloid receptors are found in all mammals but not birds.

In this article Bora Zivkovic talks about how:

 Back in 1960s, Dan Johnson had an interesting proposal he dubbed “directed deterrence” which suggested that some plants may make choices as to exactly which herbivores to attract and which to deter. 

Following this proposal, researchers found out that mammals tended to chew, crush or semi-digest the seeds. While birds are able to eat through to the seeds and keep them fertile even after digestion.

For more details, check out:

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot? | A Blog Around The Clock, Scientific American Blog Network.

Is clinical neurology really so difficult?

According to this study published by The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Neurology has developed a reputation of being reserved for the elite, a difficult career path among difficult career paths. This study narrows down on the factors that could be responsible for the spread of this reputation. Below, the graphs A, B and D are based on a survey of 345 replies from 101 are medical students from St George’s Hospital, 85 medical students from the Royal Free Hospital , 100 SHOs (Senior House Officers-junior doctors undergoing training in a certain specialty), and 59 general practitioners. While graph C is based on 159 responses from general practitioners and SHOs.

Histograms showing questionnaire results based on 159 replies. Car, cardiology; End, endocrinology; Gas, gastroenterology; Geri, geriatric medicine; Neu, neurology; Res, respiratory medicine; Rhe, rheumatology.

In Graph A, they depicted the responses to the question of what their current level of knowledge was in the areas; cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, neurology, respiratory medicine, and rheumatology. They were given a chance to rate each area from 0-5. As you can see, Neurology was rated as one of the least known subjects.

0 = not known or other; 1 = little or none; 2 = some; 3 = moderate; 4 = fair; 5 = great.

In Graph B, they were asked to rate the difficulty of each subject from 0-5. As expected, Neurology was rated as the most difficult among the subjects.

0 = not known or other; 1 = very easy; 2 = quite easy; 3 = moderate; 4 = quite difficult; 5 = very difficult

Graph C is based on the responses of SHOs and general practitioners who were asked to rate there clinical confidence in diagnosing or performing surgery in each one of the areas from 0-5. Once again, Neurology was rated as the subject that doctors are least confident about.

1 = very uneasy; 2 = uneasy; 3 = averagely competent; 4 = confident; 5 = very confident.

However, in Graph D, when applicants were told to rate their interest from 0-5, 5 being the highest. Neurology turned out to be the 3rd most interested area of study.

As researchers dug deeper for the reasons of “neurophobia” (a fear of the neural sciences and clinical neurology held by medical students and doctors), they discovered that most of the applicants blamed poor teaching for the difficulty of the subject. They mention that the curriculum needs to emphasize on what is “simple, basic, straightforward, and important”.

Remember that this survey is based on how difficult neurology is FELT to be. It does not necessarily mean that students or doctors actually know less neurology, do worse in neurology questions in examinations, or handle neurology cases less adequately.

For more details on the study, check out the link below:

Is clinical neurology really so difficult? — Schon et al. 72 (5): 557 — Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry

Do any of you guys have any input on why neurology is percieved as so difficult?

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