Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amazing Pictures...

If you are grossed out to know how your body works, don't read this.
It is science, and amazing.

When you consider how detailed our understanding of the biological processes of the human body are, down to the DNA helicases which unzip the foundational blueprints for life, our understanding of the reproductive cycles of women seem fuzzy at best.

Physiological study of the processes and disorders that affect only women have historically been behind the times, but there is more to it then just that. Men are constantly producing sperm, so we investigate the exact processes surrounding this process basically anytime.

We can constantly see the immature sperm, known as spermatozoon, forming and growing within the seminiferous tubules. We have filmed this process, and we have thousands of close-up photos of sperm as they are swimming, and photos of the sperm bonding with the ovum.

One of the reasons that we have such amazing photos of sperm while they are swimming is because we can create a laboratory environment to keep the sperm alive and allow them to flourish. We can even film conception in a petri dish, taking away variables of time or physical constraints.

Ovulation, however, has always been a tricky little bugger. It has been assumed that ovulation in humans is quite similar to that which occurs in other animals, such as this film of rabbit ovulation, but most photos of human ovulation have been blurry and often only showed the follicle before it released the ovum.

NewScience just published an article announcing that Jacques Donnez, a Belgium scientist, accidently captured the clearest detailed photos of human ovulation yet. He was performing a hysterectomy on a woman, and happened to capture the ovulation. The most interesting feature, apparently, was the amount of time that the ovulation took. It has been assumed that the actual process of ovulation took only seconds, but in this instance Donnez reported that it lasted at least fifteen minutes.

This is really exciting, if only because it means that we have cooler pictures for future editions of overpriced textbooks. For centuries our only understanding of the human body came from a limited number of autopsies which had been done in Alexandria, before the church had outlawed human dissection completely. When Rene Descartes finally explained to the church that the soul was located in the pineal gland, in the mid 17th century, they began to allow scientists to dissect human bodies.

Even after dissection was allowed, the female reproductive system was not well understood. Even the most basic anatomy of the female sexual organs was misunderstood. For instance, a Stanford science teacher says that our understanding of the uterus has changed greatly over the years:
"For centuries, its structure was thought to reveal the mysteries of the number and sex of its offspring. "It is hollow and villous within, smooth outside, divided into seven cells, and has two openings," wrote Master Nicolaus, reflecting the standard view that the womb had as many divisions as the days of the week and could yield a maximum of seven children at a time. Mondino de' Liuzzi affirmed this idea in 1316. Others divided the womb simply into two parts, arguing that males were born on the right side and females on the left. "Woman was endowed with two wombs," wrote Moses Maimonides in the late twelfth century, arguing that they corresponded to the number of breasts. Many insisted on a central cell in which hermaphrodites were born. Finally, anatomists argued for the presence of uterine horns, an error that arose from dissecting animals."
Thankfully, most of these misunderstandings have been cleared up with time and further investigation. That is why science rocks. It is able to self-correct the false assumptions or confused conclusions of the previous thinkers.

These newest photos by Donnez can only help to further expand our understanding of this fascinating step in the process of human reproduction. To finally be able to clearly see that exact moment of ovulation, is invaluable as a teaching tool, and may possibly spark future research in this area.

If you haven't picked up on it, the science nerd I keep hidden inside is super super excited. =D

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is absolutely amazing! I never knew as far into science as we are that we literally just now only got a very good picture of human ovulation! This is such an awe experience! I am right there with you on the nerd part, tho I never knew I had it in me ;o)