Livin' on the MDedge

Nap length linked to cognitive changes


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How many times has this happened to you? You need to repair a jet engine, inspect a nuclear reactor cooling system, AND perform bowel surgery, but you can’t carry around all the heavy, old-fashioned tools needed for those jobs.

Well, we’ve got one tool that can do it all! And that tool is a snake. No, it’s a robot.

Nottingham University

It’s both! It’s the COntinuum roBot for Remote Applications. COBRA is the robot that looks like a snake! A snake that’s 5 meters long but only as thick as a pencil (about 9 mm in diameter). A robot with “extraordinary manoeuvrability and responsiveness due to … a compliant-joint structure and multiple continuous sections that enable it to bend at around 90 degrees,” according to the team at the University of Nottingham (England) that developed it.

COBRA comes equipped with a stereovision camera and a miniature cutting tool to perform complex industrial repair, but other devices can be interchanged for possible medical use.

COBRA and its joystick-like controller were designed to be easy to use. Dr. Oladejo Olaleye, the ear, nose, and throat and robotic surgeon at University Hospitals of Leicester who is directing its surgical development, was able to use COBRA on a dummy after just 5 minutes of training. He called it “the future of diagnostic endoscopy and therapeutic surgery.”

Don’t be the last aircraft engineer/nuclear technician/surgeon on your block to have this ultraslender, ultramaneuverable reptilian repair robot. Get your COBRA now! Operators are standing by.

Disclaimer: Robot is still under development and not yet on sale.

Rule, (worm) Britannia!

As long as there have been people, there have been parasitic worms living in their guts. Helminth infection is a continuing and largely ignored crisis in poor, tropical nations, though worm-based diseases have been basically eliminated from wealthier countries.

English Heritage

This wasn’t always the case, however, as a study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (now there’s a specific topic) has found. The researchers detail the glorious history of helminth infestation in the United Kingdom from the Victorian era all the way back to prehistory, scouring hundreds of skeletons found in 17 sites across the country for eggs, which can remain intact for thousands of years.

The researchers found that two eras in particular had very high rates of infection. Unsurprisingly, the late medieval era was one of them, but the other is less obvious. The Romans were famous for their hygiene, their baths, and their plumbing, but maybe they also should be famous for the abundance of worms in their bellies. That doesn’t make sense at first: Shouldn’t good hygiene lower infection? The benefits of a good sewer system, however, are lessened when the waste containing said infectious organisms is used to fertilize crops. Recycling is generally a good thing, but less so when you’re recycling parasitic worms.

Curiously, of the three sites from the industrial age, only the one in London had high levels of worm infestation. Considering how dirty and cramped 19th-century British cities were, one might expect disease to run rampant (tuberculosis certainly did), but the sites in Oxford and Birmingham were almost devoid of worms. The researchers theorized that this was because of access to clean well water. Or maybe worms just have a thing for London. [Editor’s note: It’s probably not that.]


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