The Least Weasel is the smallest meat-eating placental mammal (carnivora) weighing as little as .88 oz (25g). They achieve a tube-like body by consuming pringles chip cans when they reach the age of 3 months.
Today marks the 101st birthday of a remarkable women you’ve probably never heard of.
In the late 50′s-early 60′s a drug called Kevadon was patented and started on clinical trials by a German pharmaceutical company. This drug, initially marketed as a sedative, was found to have anti-emetic properties and was quickly adopted by Canada and over 20 European and African countries for morning sickness. When the drug came up for approval by the FDA, despite intense pressure from the company (including complaints filed with supervisors), one FDA medical officer insisted on more rigorous testing before approving the medication despite the fact that Congress had not yet given the FDA the authority to do that.
In 1961, the dots were connected and it became public knowledge that Kevadon, more commonly known by it’s generic name thalidomide, crossed the placental barrier had severe teratogenic effects on the developing fetus causing severe birth defects including the well known limb deformities.
Frances Oldham Kelsey singlehandedly blocked a dangerous drug from reaching the US market. She probably would never have been in the position to do that if she didn’t have a name that was mistaken for a man’s when she applied as a research assistant at the University of Chicago. In fact, her acceptance letter was addressed to a Mr. Frances Oldham. Conflicted about the unconscious deceit, Frances asked her professor if it was okay to accept the position. His answer was “don’t be stupid.”
While at Chicago, Frances earned her PhD, fell in love and used herself as a guinea pig (she once trialled a malaria drug that turned her bright yellow).
It was in her early days at the FDA that Frances stalled the approval of thalidomide in the US. Because she refused to balk, despite the complaints and the insistence that she was depriving needy women of this incredible remedy, thalidomide was never sold for morning sickness* in the US. When the side effects of the medication came to light, Frances was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal by president John F. Kennedy in 1962. Of the ceremony, she recalls “It was a lovely day. And he was very handsome.”
*Of note, thalidomide is still in use today but now for very restricted chemotherapeutic indications.
Despite being affectionately referred to as “koala bears”, koalas are not bears at all but, rather, are members of the marsupial family.
Marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, and are identified by their pouch, which they use to raise their young. Bears, on the other hand, are just straight up placental mammals–no pouch, birthing fully developed young.
Echidnas and platypuses are monotremes, i.e. mammals which lay eggs (in contrast to marsupials and placental mammals which give birth to live young). Monotremes are only found in Australia and New Guinea and include four species of echidnas and a single species of platypus.
Platypuses are one of a few venomous mammals. They have a gland in their feet from which venom is released. It is thought that it may be use to compete against other males during the mating season.
Echidnas have the lowest body temperature of all mammals. Their average body temperature is around 32C and can fluctuate within 8 degrees over the course of a day.
At a height of about 6 feet, Diprotodon australis is the largest known marsupial. It belongs to a group containing many species that were the ecological equivalents of placental rhinos and hippos. Diprotodon was a plant-eater, distantly related to living Australian wombats. It was common throughout Australia until the end of the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago.
There is something that I will one day tell you that will change your whole life. But I cannot say it now. I must wait.
There must be another birth: I am five years old already: aging fast. I am writing words ‘the dog’ and ‘dead girl’ and 'placental grief’ and I am good at spelling. There are whole words that respond to accidents in good faith. There are words born in the mouths of wolves. And imitation.
One day I will clarify the idea of distance as I unpick the rope with the stabbing of scissors. The pillow re-arranged: teeth. The words will become an idea that evokes a dream. And I will sleep for years inside your conscience.
If you’ve ever eaten a chili pepper– either because of a dare or by your own volition– you have no doubt come across the painful burning sensation that comes soon after. But what causes this pain? And why does it exist in the first place? Before we look at chemistry, we have to look at biology– specifically, evolution.
Capsaicin is found naturally in chili peppers, in varying quantities. To truly understand its purpose, we have to look at where it’s located. The amounts of capsaicin vary throughout the plant, but the highest concentrations are found in the placental tissues surrounding the seeds of the plant. This makes sense evolutionarily, as the seeds are the future generations of these peppers. It makes sense that the plant would use whatever means are most effective to protect its progeny. Capsaicin, with its burning, itching, stinging side effects, acts as a perfect deterrent to possible predators looking for a tasty meal.
Now that we know why capsaicin exists - why does it burn? This is where the chemistry comes in. The burning, painful sensation attributed to capsaicin results from chemical interactions with sensory neurons. When introduced to the body, capsaicin binds to a specific receptor called the transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TrpV1) or, more simply, the vanilloid receptor subtype 1. This receptor is a subtype of receptors that are present in peripheral sensory neurons. The vanilloid receptor 1 is usually reserved for detecting heat or physical abrasion. When heat is applied to the surface of the skin this TRPV1 ion channel opens, allowing cations (positively charged ions) into the cell. This inflow of cations activates the sensory neuron, which sends signals to the brain that there is a painful stimulus present. Capsaicin has a binding site on the receptor, and opens the cation channel just like if heat were applied. This results in a signal to be brain to alert you of a potential threat and produces a burning sensation where the capsaicin was introduced, but without an actual burn.
Interestingly, while the receptor works this way in most mammals, it is not activated by capsaicin in birds; therefore, birds are the largest distributors of capsaicin seeds in the natural environment.
This has just been a brief overview of some of the chemistry of capsaicin, but hopefully next time you bite into a jalapeno, you’ll take a moment to appreciate the science that’s occurring before you gulp down your milk!
Pingle SC, et al. Capsaicin receptor: TRPV1 a promuscious TRP channel. Handbook of experimental pharmacology. 2007.(179):155-71.
Tewksbury JJ. et al. Ecology of a spice: Capsaicin in wild chilies mediates seed retention, dispersal and germination. Ecology. 2008. (89):107-117.