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Dr. Bortrum

 

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01/16/2008

A Heart and Antarctic Melting

This will be brief. One of the hazards of old age is falling. My
wife fell last week and was in the hospital overnight before
returning home. However, the pain was not under control and
she is back in the hospital. Through all this I have not thought
about the column until today.

I had planned to write about colliding galaxies and the universe
but two stories seemed much more important for us Earthlings.
Both made media headlines. One was the rat heart story, which I
found in a news report by Josephine Marcotty in the Star-Ledger.
A team led by Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota
stripped a ratís heart of all its cells, leaving only the network of
connective tissue behind. The researchers then took living
cardiac cells from newborn rats and put them inside the
scaffolding from the stripped heart. According to the report,
these cells then grew into a fully functioning beating heart!

This to me is a mind-boggling feat and the implications for
curing human heart problems are enormous. Of course, the
problems remaining to be solved are also enormous and the
growth of a viable human heart may be decades away. I imagine
a future step will be to implant one of these ďsyntheticĒ rat hearts
into a rat and see what happens.

The other story is of more global concern and deals with global
warming. For years Iíve been reading articles about the situation
regarding the melting down in Antarctica, with its huge volume
of ice. As I recall, researchers seemed to be finding that, while
melting of certain portions of Antarctica was speeding up, others
parts of that frigid continent were picking up ice from snowfall.
Overall, I got the impression that perhaps the melting down there
was relatively small compared to the alarming melting and
warming in Greenland and the northern Polar Regions.

However, according to another article in the Star-Ledger from the
Washington Post, the picture has changed. Quoting Eric Rignot
of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lead author of a paper
published online in the journal Nature Science, this benign
picture of the Antarctic melting has changed. Despite the fact
that most of Antarctica has maintained the same cold land
temperatures, Rignot says that thereís now no doubt that the
continent is losing ice. Furthermore, itís losing ice at an
increasing rate. In fact, the amount of ice loss is approaching the
rate of ice loss in Greenland.

The scientists are postulating that the loss of ice is accelerating
due to warmer water in the so-called Antarctic Circumpolar
Current that flows around much of Antarctica. The current
doesnít appear to be well understood but it seems as though
changing patterns have brought the warmer waters closer to land
and the speculation is that the current is melting the edges of the
glaciers deep underwater.

Well, this has been a hurried column and itís time to check up on
my wife. To finish on a lighter note, I took another look at the
hat I mentioned last week, when I described the hat as being of a
plaid nature. I decided it was definitely not a plaid and showed
the hat to Harry Trumbore, our StocksandNews cartoonist. He
suggested it was more like a houndís tooth design. You could
fool me.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-01/16/2008-      
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Dr. Bortrum

01/16/2008

A Heart and Antarctic Melting

This will be brief. One of the hazards of old age is falling. My
wife fell last week and was in the hospital overnight before
returning home. However, the pain was not under control and
she is back in the hospital. Through all this I have not thought
about the column until today.

I had planned to write about colliding galaxies and the universe
but two stories seemed much more important for us Earthlings.
Both made media headlines. One was the rat heart story, which I
found in a news report by Josephine Marcotty in the Star-Ledger.
A team led by Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota
stripped a ratís heart of all its cells, leaving only the network of
connective tissue behind. The researchers then took living
cardiac cells from newborn rats and put them inside the
scaffolding from the stripped heart. According to the report,
these cells then grew into a fully functioning beating heart!

This to me is a mind-boggling feat and the implications for
curing human heart problems are enormous. Of course, the
problems remaining to be solved are also enormous and the
growth of a viable human heart may be decades away. I imagine
a future step will be to implant one of these ďsyntheticĒ rat hearts
into a rat and see what happens.

The other story is of more global concern and deals with global
warming. For years Iíve been reading articles about the situation
regarding the melting down in Antarctica, with its huge volume
of ice. As I recall, researchers seemed to be finding that, while
melting of certain portions of Antarctica was speeding up, others
parts of that frigid continent were picking up ice from snowfall.
Overall, I got the impression that perhaps the melting down there
was relatively small compared to the alarming melting and
warming in Greenland and the northern Polar Regions.

However, according to another article in the Star-Ledger from the
Washington Post, the picture has changed. Quoting Eric Rignot
of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lead author of a paper
published online in the journal Nature Science, this benign
picture of the Antarctic melting has changed. Despite the fact
that most of Antarctica has maintained the same cold land
temperatures, Rignot says that thereís now no doubt that the
continent is losing ice. Furthermore, itís losing ice at an
increasing rate. In fact, the amount of ice loss is approaching the
rate of ice loss in Greenland.

The scientists are postulating that the loss of ice is accelerating
due to warmer water in the so-called Antarctic Circumpolar
Current that flows around much of Antarctica. The current
doesnít appear to be well understood but it seems as though
changing patterns have brought the warmer waters closer to land
and the speculation is that the current is melting the edges of the
glaciers deep underwater.

Well, this has been a hurried column and itís time to check up on
my wife. To finish on a lighter note, I took another look at the
hat I mentioned last week, when I described the hat as being of a
plaid nature. I decided it was definitely not a plaid and showed
the hat to Harry Trumbore, our StocksandNews cartoonist. He
suggested it was more like a houndís tooth design. You could
fool me.

Allen F. Bortrum