Organs to Go, Germs to Keep

17 Little Hearts & the
Wildlife in Your Fridge

While you were arguing about what will finally bring peace to the Middle East, science was busy creating things, discovering stuff, taking care of its business.
So it may be as good a time as any to find out about two radically different directions modern research is taking, both aiming loosely at improving your life twice fold.
We assure you, if these scientists succeed in their quest, you, and the tribes of Libya, and the refugees of Gaza, as well as the job seekers in Atlanta, and the immigrants from Mexico, and pretty much everyone else and their nieces, will have a lot to benefit.
The first time the heart of a human being was implanted into the chest of another was in 1967 in a breakthrough surgery conducted by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
It may have been the most classic example of the surgery being a complete success, despite the patient dying a short while later.
Whether it was worthy, though, is now completely beside the point: since that new heart added a few more days to the life of a South African man, organ transplantation has become almost as common as hip replacement.
So much so that, as we speak, the next stage is already about to be unveiled. That is, as soon as the 17 human hearts that have been growing at the Center for Cardiovascular Repair in Minnesota by Dr. Doris Taylor, start to beat.
The new technique developed by Dr. Taylor washes cardiac cells out of everything but a fibrous matrix, a “ghost heart,” on which cells can divide, grow and contract, giving, she hopes, a vital pulse to the hearts.
Work is already underway on other organs too. At the center, human liver cells, for example, grown in a rat liver matrix, have been shown to metabolize drugs out to thirty days, which is another breakthrough, this one on the quick development of critical medicines.
The obvious upside of such developments is to meet the growing worldwide demand for healthy organs. And the fact that the process eliminates the need for the death of another human being to succeed.
But the very concept of creating organs for future harvesting can be downright scary.
Since in such procedure, ethical considerations are in fact reduced to an acceptable minimum, though, fear can be no excuse to trump the benefits of scientific research.
For unlike the nightmarish concept found in a handful of sci-fi classics, there’s no talk of raising human beings to serve as forceful donors for organ harvesting just yet.
Fear should never trump our exploration of the unknown either. It’s a fact that some of the wildest species in the world, still unnamed or little understood, live side by side with you, in the comfort of your home.
We know what you’re thinking: the toilet seat; the front door knobs. Your cellphone. Close but still cold. What some ecologists at the North Carolina State University would like to identify are the tiny wild life living inside your refrigerator.
And on your bed pillows too, if possible. It’ll all be part of the Wild Life of Your Home project, which aims at collecting and identifying the flora and fauna of our places of living, with a little help from the dwellers themselves, the masters of such domains, us truly.
Altogether, they plan to collect samples from rural and urban homes in 50 states. They will either come over or teach you how to do it yourself. If they do come to your place, don’t be stingy: offer them brownies. Their effort may, ultimately, help us all live in healthier environments, while learning a lot about those tiny creatures who share our most intimate moments.
Volunteers, armed with collection kits and a roadmap for action, will need only a sense of adventure and the willingness to overcome disgust (and aching backs). That’s because, at the end of the day, most of these invisible dwellers will be found at the places we spend most of our time: beds, bathrooms and beyond.
Soon, these Indiana Joneses of suburbia will be in to the quantum realization that there are more critters living within a dot of dust (or inside our own belly button) than in all visible universe. The same way someone once said that traveling the stars is great and all, but close to nothing when compared to traveling within, to the depths of the human experience.
You’re right, we deserve to be squashed like a bug just for invoking such a deplorable piece of psychocrap. You’d do better, we’re sure. And so will the folks at this project, who’ll will identify the organisms, let the volunteers know what they are living with, and post (anonymous) results online.
Now that you’re ready for your midnight snack, you also know who may be looking right back at you, when you open your refrigerator’s door.

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