Tag Archives: identity

Wonderful Things: Chimpanzee brain

Meet the brain of your closest living relative in the Animal Kingdom…

Look human?

Look human? This brain belonged to a close relative…

It is easy to make the assumption that this is a human brain… the visual similarities are plain to see! But this is in fact the brain of a pan troglodytes, or as we know them, the chimpanzee.

We share a stunning 94% of our DNA with chimpanzees, and we can see the incredible closeness we have with them by looking at this brain. To the untrained eye the only difference we can see is in size – the human brain is a whopping three times larger than that of our hairy little cousin!

The similarities are not just on the surface but in the development of the brain itself. Humans and chimpanzees are perhaps the only species in which the brain continues developing after birth. When we are born, the part of our brain that controls our most complex cognitive functions, such as self-awareness and creativity, is not fully formed yet. It then starts developing very quickly…and much the same happens with chimpanzees.

So why do both humans and chimps share this commonality? The answer, it seems, is that this delay allows human and chimp brains to learn things they otherwise would not be able to. The delay gives their brains far greater plasticity, which, as Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University explains, leaves “their neural network and brain function more susceptible to the influence of postnatal experience.” Basically, the time spent waiting for the forebrain to grow is spent learning complex social interactions and establishing basic skills that will serve humans and chimpanzees well over the course of their lives.

 Of course, there comes a point where the human brain develops and moves far beyond that of the chimpanzee, but by that stage the chimp has gained the ability to do many things that continue to astound scientists. They have their own complex method of communication, but research has shown they can also understand basic human language and comprehend numbers and counting. They also use tools to help themselves on a day-to-day basis and have good memory skills. Incredible!

Chimpanzees are so smart that in 1961 the American Space Program sent a young chimp called Ham into space! He operated levers in a basic space capsule which paved the way for a human manned capsule several months later. Ham returned safely to Earth and lived the rest of his life as a national hero.

Brainy chimp Ham made it into space and back in 1961

Brainy chimp Ham made it into space and back in 1961

  • What does it take to man a solo mission into space like Ham? Do you think you could do it?
  • After seeing how similar our brains are, do you think Chimpanzees can ‘think’ like humans?
  • How would you feel about donating your brain to science?

For more about animals in space, check out the Laika the Spacedog Opera for KS2…

The Chimpanzee brain can be found in Who Am I?, on the first floor of the Wellcome Wing

-Shaun Aitcheson

 

Wonderful Things: Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Since modern man began to leave the continent of Africa nearly 70,000 years ago, practically every inch of the inhabitable earth has been reached by human settlers. Today, we base so much of our identity on our nationality; where we think we come from, and where our ancestors originated.

The far-flung islands of Polynesia were the last places to be populated and current inhabitants are thought to have come from South East Asia. On their long-stretching trade voyages, Malaysian seafarers judged the distance they had travelled using charts, creating early forms of maps such as this one from the Marshall Islands.

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

Sailing chart of the Marshall Islands

The sticks recorded ocean swells and the sea shells represent islands strung throughout the North Pacific. The skilled seamen used ‘way-finding’ navigation based on their observations of the sea, sky and monsoon winds.

According to the International Organization for Migration, “No universally accepted definition for ‘migrant’ exists.” However, the term is generally applied to groups of people moving from one area to another in order to settle and improve their way of life.

In man’s earlier days this meant conquering unknown lands and seas that had never been seen before, but in present society, asking ‘How did you get here?’ may be ever more relevant as populations become more and more ethnically diverse for so many reasons.

Imagine your local area experiences a natural disaster like a flood.  Where would you go? Nowadays it is easy for some of us to travel around, but for people in developing countries and indeed for many of our predecessors, it wasn’t as simple as getting into a vehicle or following a map.

Ask someone where they’re from and most will answer without hesitation, with the country of their birth, their upbringing or their parents’ home country. Science can now tell us, using techniques such as DNA testing, how our genes decide who we are but also from whom exactly we have come.

Should the National DNA Database be used to help people find out about their personal ancestry?

What does your nationality mean to you?

 The Sailing chart of the Marshall islands is in the Who Am I gallery, on the first floor in the Wellcome Wing

-Ruby O’ Shea

Wonderful Things: Gastric Band

We’ve all seen those celebrities who’ve been household names for decades, who appear to be comfortable in their non- size-zero bodies. Then, lo and behold, one day, they appear with new sleek, svelte figures.

 How do they do it? Simple: a bit of prosthetic surgery and hey presto, goodbye spare tyre! I am of course, talking about gastric banding which has been in use since the mid 1980s.

A gastric band helps reduce the amount of food you eat. It simply acts like a belt around the top portion of your stomach, creating a small pouch. It restricts the amount of food that can fit into your stomach, meaning that you feel full after eating a small amount of food, resulting in weight loss.

Gastric band on model stomach

Fancy a tummy squeeze? Gastric band on model stomach

According to The British Obesity Surgery Patient Association, on average, people lose between 50–65% of their excess weight in the two years after placement of a gastric band. Long before they reach that stage, they start to feel the benefits, especially if they also have any of the obesity–related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. They also have a much greater capacity for physical activity and more self–confidence; not like this gentleman in the public health poster below!

Heavy hitting - a public health poster

Heavy hitting - late 20th century public health poster

Having a gastric band is regarded as major surgery as patients undergo a general anesthetic. This presents some very real risks, side-effects and complications. Each operation costs the NHS around £8,000, but only those who fit specific criteria qualify to receive the surgery.

Is gastric banding an easy way to lose weight without having to diet or exercise as much? 

Would knowing someone who has had a gastric band change your perception/opinion of them? 

Is obesity a problem that humans inflict on themselves?

Should the NHS (and taxpayers) pay for gastric band surgery for very obese patients? What about if someone just wants to lose a few pounds? 

The gastric band is in the Who am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.

-Denise Cook