More than half your body is not human

Body-bacteria illustration

More than half of your body is not human, say scientists.

Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists.

Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson’s.

The field is even asking questions of what it means to be “human” and is leading to new innovative treatments as a result.

“They are essential to your health,” says Prof Ruth Ley, the director of the department of microbiome science at the Max Planck Institute, “your body isn’t just you”.

No matter how well you wash, nearly every nook and cranny of your body is covered in microscopic creatures.

This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (organisms originally misclassified as bacteria). The greatest concentration of this microscopic life is in the dark murky depths of our oxygen-deprived bowels.

Brain and gut illustration

Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.”

Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one.

“That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says.

But genetically we’re even more outgunned.

The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes.

But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out between two and 20 million microbial genes.

Prof Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist from Caltech, argues: “We don’t have just one genome, the genes of our microbiome present essentially a second genome which augment the activity of our own.

“What makes us human is, in my opinion, the combination of our own DNA, plus the DNA of our gut microbes.”

It would be naive to think we carry around so much microbial material without it interacting or having any effect on our bodies at all.

Science is rapidly uncovering the role the microbiome plays in digestion, regulating the immune system, protecting against disease and manufacturing vital vitamins.

Prof Knight said: “We’re finding ways that these tiny creatures totally transform our health in ways we never imagined until recently.”

It is a new way of thinking about the microbial world. To date, our relationship with microbes has largely been one of warfare.

Microbial battleground

Antibiotics and vaccines have been the weapons unleashed against the likes of smallpox, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or MRSA.

That’s been a good thing and has saved large numbers of lives.

But some researchers are concerned that our assault on the bad guys has done untold damage to our “good bacteria”.

Prof Ley told me: “We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infectious disease.

“But we have seen an enormous and terrifying increase in autoimmune disease and in allergy.

“Where work on the microbiome comes in is seeing how changes in the microbiome, that happened as a result of the success we’ve had fighting pathogens, have now contributed to a whole new set of diseases that we have to deal with.”

The microbiome is also being linked to diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, whether cancer drugs work and even depression and autism.

Obesity is another example. Family history and lifestyle choices clearly play a role, but what about your gut microbes?

This is where it might get confusing.

Eating illustration

A diet of burgers and chocolate will affect both your risk of obesity and the type of microbes that grow in your digestive tract.

So how do you know if it is a bad mix of bacteria metabolising your food in such a way, that contributes to obesity?

Prof Knight has performed experiments on mice that were born in the most sanitised world imaginable.

Their entire existence is completely free of microbes.

He says: “We were able to show that if you take lean and obese humans and take their faeces and transplant the bacteria into mice you can make the mouse thinner or fatter depending on whose microbiome it got.”

Topping up obese with lean bacteria also helped the mice lose weight.

“This is pretty amazing right, but the question now is will this be translatable to humans”

This is the big hope for the field, that microbes could be a new form of medicine. It is known as using “bugs as drugs”.

Goldmine of information

I met Dr Trevor Lawley at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, where he is trying to grow the whole microbiome from healthy patients and those who are ill.

“In a diseased state there could be bugs missing, for example, the concept is to reintroduce those.”

Dr Lawley says there’s growing evidence that repairing someone’s microbiome “can actually lead to remission” in diseases such as ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

And he added: “I think for a lot of diseases we study it’s going to be defined mixtures of bugs, maybe 10 or 15 that are going into a patient.”

Microbial medicine is in its early stages, but some researchers think that monitoring our microbiome will soon become a daily event that provides a brown goldmine of information about our health.

Prof Knight said: “It’s incredible to think each teaspoon of your stool contains more data in the DNA of those microbes than it would take literally a tonne of DVDs to store.

“At the moment every time you’re taking one of those data dumps as it were, you’re just flushing that information away.

“Part of our vision is, in the not too distant future, where as soon as you flush it’ll do some kind of instant read-out and tells you are you going in a good direction or a bad direction.

“That I think is going to be really transformative.”

Illustrations: Katie Horwich

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Rare Photos of Martin Laurello, the Man Who Could Turn His Head Around Backwards

Martin Joe Laurello (1885-1955), aka “The Man with the Revolving Head,” “The Human Owl,” or “Bobby, The Boy with the Revolving Head,” was born in May 1885 in Nuremburg, Germany. He was born with a twisted spine that allowed his head to turn a complete 180°. When he had his head turned, his spine was in the shape of a question mark. He was married to Amelia Emmerling, and was a Nazi sympathizer.

He moved to America from Germany in 1921 and began performing with sideshows such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Ringling Brothers, and Barnum & Bailey. Aside from turning his head around, Martin Laurello (formally Martin Emmerling) trained dogs to do acrobatics and was a ventriloquist.

When Laurello would turn his head around, he could not breathe, however he was able to drink. Laurello was at Robert Ripley’s first ever Odditorium at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair and had performed at many Ripley’s odditoriums in the 1930s.

His last recorded appearance was on the show “You Asked For It” on March 24, 1952. He died of a heart attack and was cremated in 1955, at age 70. The video below was taken from the movie “The Incredible Life and Times of Robert Ripley: Believe it or Not!.”

(via wikia.com)

Ned Kelly – The most famous Australian Bush Ranger

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The legend of Ned Kelly remains a subject of debate, but one thing is certain ― this gun-wielding outlaw became and stayed a household name in Australia, as his notoriety grew into a folk tale that is remembered to this day. Son of John Kelly, who was deported from Ireland for stealing two pigs and sent to the island of Tasmania, Ned was bound for a life of hardship.

His father was a gold digger who managed to accumulate enough wealth to purchase a small farm north of Melbourne. After the gold rush, John Kelly turned to his old trade, cattle theft. The Kelly house became a meeting place for criminals, and this was the environment in which little Ned and seven of his brothers and sisters grew up.

His father was later imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor. As the labor penalty affected his health significantly, John Kelly died shortly after his release from prison in 1866. Ned grew up surrounded by the Australian bush, and he became acquainted with it from his early age. He was an excellent swimmer and a capable tracker, as these traits were common knowledge in the Australian countryside.

But still, his childhood wasn’t at all pastoral and idyllic as it sounds. Young Kelly witnessed harassment by the police, as members of his family were often targeted as usual suspects due to their known association with crime. His own personal journey into the life of crime began in 1869 when he was 14 years old.

He was accused of a robbery of a Chinese merchant called Ah Fook. According to Fook, Kelly jumped him with a bamboo stick and stole 10 shillings from him. According to Kelly, his sister Anne and two other witnesses, Fook attacked Kelly, and the boy ran away. According to several historians, neither of the accounts are completely true, but Fook most probably did strike first, as Kelly most definitely responded twice as hard. The whole incident was dismissed due to lack of evidence, but Ned Kelly was noted as a troublemaker.

After this episode, Kelly turned to armed robberies, presenting himself as a bushranger, which was the term used for Australian renegades who used the uninhabited bush of Australia as their base of operations. His career as an outlaw began in the company of an another troublesome character called Harry Power.

Even though Kelly was often guilty of many crimes, there was a number of mishaps when he was just falsely accused. One such event involved a stolen mare which was given to Kelly by Isaiah “Wild” Wright, yet another petty criminal. When a police officer tried to apprehend Ned Kelly for possession of a stolen mare, a fight broke out, and Kelly was arrested and sentenced to three years of imprisonment. He was 16 at the time.

After serving his prison sentence, Kelly challenged Wild Wright to a bare-knuckle boxing to settle the inconvenient fact that his stolen mare landed him in jail for three years. The match lasted for 20 rounds, after which Kelly came out triumphant. He was a genuine tough guy, destined to live the life of a renegade.

In 1878, he shot and wounded Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, who had attempted to apprehend Ned’s younger brother Dan for horse stealing. The Constable was shot in his left arm, and he lost consciousness briefly.

He was woken up by an unbearable pain, only to find Ned Kelly trying to remove the bullet from his arm with a knife so it would not be used as evidence against him.

Kelly was no stranger to various shootouts with police officers and bank robberies. After the shooting of Fitzpatrick, the accusations piled up. His brother had joined him in his war against law enforcement and together they formed a gang that garnered both notoriety and admiration from the settlers of Australia.

His downfall began with the arranged killing of a police informant called Aaron Sherritt. Joe Byrne, a respective member of the Kelly Gang, killed Sherritt at point blank range after he answered the door. Byrne and Sherritt were in fact childhood friends, but they chose separate paths in life. This crossing proved to be fatal for the most infamous police informant of the time.

The police pursuit was at its highest. The gang was considered to be the most dangerous in Australia. In order to protect themselves from a numerically superior enemy, the members of the gang designed special body armor weighing about 44 kg. The gang set out to Glenrowan, north-east of Melbourne, where they were to intercept a train carrying police reinforcements.

 

They had torn the tracks at one point and waited while drinking with laborers stationed nearby, who sang songs about the Kelly Gang. The laborers were, in fact, taken hostage by the gang, but they didn’t mind. By this time, the gang was well-known, and adored by many, for their war against the police was something with which people of those times could relate to, especially because the Australian police were often plagued with corrupted officers who only cared for their own wellbeing.

The police were informed about the ambush and came in prepared. A raging battle occurred, in which Kelly and his armored crusaders fought back fiercely, but they were simply outnumbered. They decided to fall back into the nearby bush, where Kelly decided to single-handedly attack a detachment of policemen from the rear.

When he appeared wearing his iron mask, the policemen were in awe. The bullets simply bounced off him. But still, his legs were unprotected, so they concentrated their fire in order to knock Kelly off his feet. When he was shot two times in his legs, he surrendered.

After a brief trial, Ned Kelly was executed on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol. It is believed that his last words were “Such is life.” He was calm and at peace with himself.

To illustrate Kelly’s notoriety and popularity among common folk it is enough to note that the reward for his head was £8,000 (about $1.5 million in 2015 dollars) and that on the day of his execution 30,000 people allegedly signed a petition for a commutation of his sentence.

 Nikola Budanovic

The Malbork Castle is the largest castle in the world measured by land area

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The Malbork castle located in the town of Malbork in Poland is considered to be the largest brick fortress in the world measured by land area. It is one of the many castles built by the Teutonic Knights in northern Poland in a form of an Ordensburg fortress.

The construction began in 1275 and since 1309 it has been the capital of The Teutonic Order of Holy Mary in Jerusalem. It is an astonishing example of a medieval brick castle which fell into decay until it was restored in the early 20th century.

 

It was named after Mary, patron saint of the religious Order and it was called Marienburg. The Teutonic Order built this castle to strengthen their own control of the area and to protect Poland against the attacks of the pagan Prussians of the Baltic tribes. The evidence for the construction can only be found in the architectural studies in the Order’s administrative records and histories.

Siegfried von Feuchtwagen was the Grand Master of the Knights who undertook the next phase of the fortress’ construction when he arrived in Marienburg from Venice. The castle’s construction became more important in 1308 after the conquest of Gdansk and Pomerania.

 

It was 52 acres in size which is four times bigger than the area of Windsor Castle. Through the years, it was expanded several times because more room was needed for the Knights which at one point were approximately 3, 000. The fortress contains three separate castles– the High Castle, the Middle Castle, and the Lower Castle. Built near the river Nogat, the castle allowed easy access for trading ships from the Baltic Sea and the Vistula which is the longest river in Poland.

The Order was mostly trading with amber. In 1410, the castle was besieged after the Order was defeated in the Battle of Gunwald. In 1457, King Casimir IV Jagellon entered the castle after the Order left in 1456 because during the Thirteen Years’ War they could no longer financially manage the place.

 

 

Following severe damage in the Second World War, Malbork castle became a shadow of its former self. After that, the castle has been reconstructed several times. In 1962 it was reconstructed following a fire in 1959 which caused further damage. In 2016, a new restoration has been completed.

Today, it is a well-preserved medieval Gothic castle and museum. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. Visitors can walk through the hundreds of empty corridors and there are wooden weapons for the youngest that can be purchased at the gift shops.

 Marija Georgievska

Poland’s Moszna: From a Knights Templar shelter to a 99-spire castle favored by Kaiser Wilhelm

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When taking the route that connects Prudnik and Krapkowice in the western part of Upper Silesia in Poland, it’s a little confusing to come across a refreshment stall and souvenir booth on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

No doubt intrigued, any traveler may choose to slow down and explore, and if so, notice a sign next to the stalls pointing towards Moszna, a small village in the Opole Voivodeship, 22 miles away from the capital, Opole, and 75 miles from the city of Wroclaw.

Take this road and see where it leads, and the traveler discovers a road filled with countless stalls like the first, and only to be met by the sight of a spectacular castle at the end. The 19th-century Pałac w Mosznej, or Moszna Castle, is one from which fairytales are made of. And when seen firsthand, such fairytales truly come alive.

Moszna is a gigantic dreamlike structure spread over 8,400 square yards, an edifice that at first glance, with its grand design and enormity, suggests an English castle from the Elizabethan era. Yet when seen up close, Moszna shows an eclectic style, the result of the place being home to different families, at different times.

And with a history dating back as far as the middle of the 17th century, the place has an interesting story of how a castle composed out of three highly different sections, all built in three very distinctive architectural styles, came to look so mesmerizing and eerie at the same time.

There are many legends and facts behind how these walls were erected and joined together to form the striking structure dubbed the “castle of the 99 towers.”

The name of the village is derived from the surname of a Moschin family who, at the dawn of the 14th century, bought a large estate and moved there. During those times, the village was part of Łącznik parish, one of the church’s many properties held throughout Europe. As the story goes, this family, close to the church, purposely moved there, a village that almost nobody knew existed, to run a monastery and provide shelter for the Knights of the Temple of Solomon. According to local legend, in its early years Moszna was not a castle but a monastery run by the Order of The Knights Templar. This did not last long, as their last leader was burned at the stake in 1314 and the Templars were hunted down, disbanding soon after.

However, bearing in mind that all supposed facts from those early days are murky, to say the least, and taking into account that the Order was a secretive organization, this story is hard to confirm. However, investigations that were carried out centuries later found very old cellars buried deep beneath the gardens of the castles, adding a spark of intrigue to a story already rooted in folklore.

Whether true or only a sentimental story passed from generation to generation, this legend was of interest to the von Skall family, the first ever formally recorded owners who bought the estate in 1679 and built the foundations of the present castle.

According to historical evidence, George Wilhelm von Reisewitz, Great Marshal at the court of Frederick the Great (King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786), and cousin to Urszula Maria von Skall, the very first owner of the Moszna estate, inherited the place after she passed away in 1723. He began remodeling his newly inherited home to his liking, and in no time an aristocrat inhabited an extravagant castle built upon the grounds where once Templars slept, a story that was sold as such among his friends in the aristocracy. Now, his former home forms the baroque center of Moszna Castle.

Jorge Luis Borges, the renowned Argentine novelist, once shared his thoughts on the exuberant style, “I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities and that borders on self-caricature. The baroque is the final stage in all art when art flaunts and squanders its resources.” In the same manner, George Wilhelm von Reisewitz squandered his resources, and the von Reisewitz family lost the estate in 1771. Unable to afford its upkeep, they were forced to auction the place. Thus the castle fell into the ownership of Heinrich Leopold von Seherr-Thoss, whose family owned another castle as well as many properties nearby in Dobra village.

This family owned Moszna up until another Thoss, Karl Gotthard Seherr-Thoss, sold it to Heinrich von Erdmannsdorff in 1853, who shortly after, for reasons still unknown, sold it to Hubert von Tiele-Winckler in 1866.

Prior to that, Franz Winckler, a silver-mine worker in the 1830’s, moved from Tarnowskie Góry to Miechowice to work for a mining magnate who owned almost all calamine mines and zinc foundries in the area. This businessman died, and Franz, a former employee of his, ended up marrying his rich widowed wife, and most interestingly, in no more than a decade ended up being knighted by the Prussian king.

In 1854, their daughter, the heiress Valeska, married Hubert, then Hubert von Tiele, and in order to keep the knighthood heritage, both of them decided to use a combined name of Tiele-Winckler. Looking for a new home where they could start a new family, the Tiele-Wincklers stumbled upon the castle.

They bought the Moszna estate, had children, and years later, when his father died in 1893, the eldest male child inherited all of their wealth, including the castle. His name was Franz Hubert and he is now credited as the one who during his residence built the castle we see today.

Only three years after he became sole owner of the place, part of the castle was destroyed by a devastating fire. This meant a whole lot of rebuilding was needed. During the reconstruction, Franz Hubert not only restored it but expanded the castle to the east in a Victorian Gothic style, which was popular at the end of the 19th century. Thus, the Neo-Gothic east wing of the castle was created.

In no more than a decade, the castle had a fully landscaped garden to the front, as well as another wing to the west, built in 1911 in a Neo-Renaissance style to accommodate Emperor Wilhelm II, the last German Kaiser (Emperor) and King of Prussia. A few years earlier, the Kaiser and Franz Hubert had become acquainted, after which Franz was granted the title of earl. As for the Kaiser himself, he got himself a new vacation home, where he soon became a regular.

The castle nowadays is more or less as it was when Earl Franz finished rebuilding it, with its 99 towers and 365 rooms. Due to his son’s negligence and tumultuous married life, the family nearly lost the property along with the family’s fortune. What was left was raided by the Red Army in the aftermath of World War II, leaving an empty and ransacked castle behind.

Nowadays, the whole castle is a reasonably priced hotel and is available for anyone wishing to experience its beauty firsthand, along with the history that surrounds the great building. Set in a beautiful park packed with gorgeous azaleas, rhododendrons, and oak trees that have stood for as long as the castle itself, Moszna is a haven for those wanting to get away from it all in stunning surroundings.

 Martin Chalakoski

The Pulitzer Prize is named after Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher who helped introduce “yellow journalism” to the world

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William C. Gaines, Harold E. Martin, Miriam Ottenberg, Deborah Nelson, and Buzz Bissinger. What do all of these names have in common? Well, every single one of them has won the Pulitzer Prize award for investigative journalistic achievement.

Since its launch in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize has come to be regarded as a prestigious mark of recognition in the fields of journalism and literary arts. There are today 21 categories up for grabs in the annual presentation, with the jury members reserving the right to withhold an award if they believe no submissions in that category reach the standard. To wear the badge of Pulitzer Prize Winner is an accolade that is highly coveted.

It is definitely an acknowledgment of serious journalism. But there is a curious part to its inception, and that is the name of the award itself.

The “Oscar” of journalism is named after a man who arguably laid the grounds for what would be known later as “yellow journalism,” a sensationalist press that is the predecessor of today’s tabloid news.

Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He was involved in the newspaper business in 1868, when he started working for the Westliche Post. However, it took some 20 years for him to make a true mark in the field of journalism. By then, he had accumulated enough experience and wealth to own a newspaper; he purchased the New York World for a reported sum of $345,000.

With Pulitzer on top, the newspaper thrived and its circulation began breaking records. This was all due to Pulitzer’s knack for appealing to the masses. He knew what the common people wanted to read and he gave it to them. There were legitimate news stories, but also stories ranging from scandalous affairs to street crimes.  People gobbled it up; they couldn’t get enough. Every new day had a new story to tell.

Pulitzer was active in the Democratic Party and interested in social causes. He recruited the investigative reporter Nellie Bly, who is famous for both her undercover reporting and headline-chasing exploits. Business was going well for Pulitzer right up until 1895 when William R. Hearst bought the New York Journal and became involved in the same business. This kick-started a great rivalry between them with a single goal in mind: Who would outsell the other. The crime-and-scandal-fueled rivalry soon turned into an all-out circulation war, giving birth to yellow journalism as we know it today.

So, in retrospect, if Joseph Pulitzer can be considered the one who set the foundation, then Hearst can be viewed as the one who set the course for the tabloids of the future.

Although both newspapers had high circulations, for the critics they were nothing more than low-brow publications. They despised them, especially their methods of reporting and affinity for sensationalism. It was around this period when the term “yellow journalism” became widely known, which brings us to its inception.

The term was already in use among journalists and reporters of the era, but it was Erwin Wardman, the then-editor of the New York Press, who published it first. Among peers, especially serious journalists, the term was often used in a derogatory sense for the news that they made fun of.

Also introduced by Wardman is another expression that was popular at the time–“yellow kid journalism.” For this phrase, he specifically alluded to the main character in Richard Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley comic strip that was published in the two rival newspapers. The Yellow Kid ran first in Pulitzer’s paper. When Outcault was lured away with a bigger salary by Hearst, Pulitzer hired another cartoonist to continue drawing the cartoon for his New York World.

Who invented the tabloids can be debated forever. However, the fact remains that it was Pulitzer who left $250,000 in his will to Columbia University to establish that now most prestigious prize. If it was the other way around, we might be talking about the Hearst Prize.

Related story from us:“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” – Did or did not Hemingway write the shortest, saddest six-word story

The Pulitzer Prize remains one of the most important awards for writing. And Joseph Pulitzer made sure that it would be named after him. Whatever his history, the board gives the award based on the quality of the writing itself.

 Goran Blazeski