Offbeat: What’s ugly, has a tail and holds the secret to eternal youth?

Scientists have long searched for an elixir of eternal youth. It’s unlikely they thought it would be a naked mole rat.

July 17, 2011

1mm away from death

When you have a reputation for being accident-prone, there are some things you should probably avoid. But tree surgeon Tom Connelly didn’t heed the warning signs — and nearly beheaded himself in a horrific chainsaw accident.

He was cutting a branch 50-foot up a horse chestnut tree when his foot slipped and the 12-inch blade sliced through his neck and arm. Numerous blood vessels in his neck were severed, including his jugular vein, and he missed his carotid artery by just one millimetre — an injury that would have killed him instantly.

Fortunately, colleagues were able to lower him to the ground and put pressure on the wound before medics arrived. A doctor said later that Connelly would have died from blood loss within three minutes if his colleagues hadn’t acted quickly. Even so, he had lost six pints of blood by the time he reached the hospital but surgeons were able to save him after performing emergency vascular surgery, which included 40 stitches.

Incredibly, he was back at work doing a desk job just five weeks later and is keen to get back to his old role — despite the risks. “It was an everyday job that I had done hundreds of times before,” Connelly, 21, of Clophill, Bedfordshire, said. “But I was halfway through cutting the tree trunk when my foot slipped and I rolled into the chainsaw. I was left dangling in the air and I could see blood dripping from my arm. I went into shock, but the adrenaline kicked in so I didn’t actually feel any pain. I screamed for help and my colleagues quickly got me out of the tree. My friend Rob told me to put my hand across my throat and hold on to my head and it was then I realised my neck was bleeding too. I later realised I’d nearly cut my head off, so I am incredibly lucky to be here today.”

Connelly now has a 15-inch scar from his shoulder blade to his windpipe, plus operation scars, and still needs to wear a support.


Nothing’s small in Texas!

One could forgive a new mother for turning down a televised interview three days after giving birth — especially if that baby tips the scales at a record-breaking 16 pound 1oz.

But Janet Johnson, who gave birth to not-so-little JaMichael Brown, couldn’t wait to introduce her baby to the world. Johnson and her husband Michael appeared on the “Today” show this morning, cradling the baby boy who has been dubbed ‘The Moose’ by nurses at Longview hospital in Texas. Officials have confirmed JaMichael is the biggest baby ever born at the hospital; and he may be the largest in the state too.

Johnson knew JaMichael was going to be a big baby, but had never imagined he would weigh four pounds more than doctors had predicted. He was also 24-inches- long, his head measured 15 inches and chest 17 inches — those are measurements of the average three to six-month-old.

JaMichael also came out with a full head of hair and the hospital did not have diapers big enough to fit him. He’s also already outgrown his baby clothes. “A lot of the stuff that we bought him is too little. So we have to exchange a lot of stuff,” Johnson said. Brown, who is six-feet 6-inches, said he had high hopes his son would become a footballer or basketball player. He was also rather shell-shocked as revealed his son was now known around the hospital as ‘The Moose.’

“I was just amazed when he came out at how big he was,” he said. The baby was expected to be about 12 pounds, “but when he was pulled out it was a different story,” Brown said.

The baby is the couple’s fourth child and first boy. “That’s it, no more now,” Johnson said.


What’s ugly, has a tail and holds the secret to eternal youth?

Scientists have long searched for an elixir of eternal youth. But it’s unlikely they thought it would come in the shape of the naked mole rat.

The animal is revolting looking — bald and wrinkly with worm-like tails and walrus-style teeth — but healthy. These East African animals live for 30 years, seven times longer than a normal rat, and they seem to be immune to cancer. Researchers at the University of Liverpool have just finished mapping the mole rat’s genome structure for the first time, in the hope of understanding what keeps them so healthy.

Lead scientist Dr Joao Magalhaes said, “The level of resistance these animals have to disease, particularly cancer, might give us clues as to why some creatures are more prone to disease than others. We want to establish the naked mole rat as the first model of resistance to chronic diseases of ageing.”

All good, as long as they can promise we don’t end up looking like the beast. Nothing’s worth that — even living for ever.


Louisa ... a bloodhound and a wine tester

Bloodhound Louisa Belle certainly has a keen nose — for wine, having been trained to detect plonk that has been tainted, even through the bottle. The seven-year-old’s sensitive nose can also sniff out faulty corks, which her owners Michelle Edwards and Daniel Fischl say save them, a fortune.

The two run a wine label, Linnaea, in Melbourne, Australia. And the pair say that by utilising the specific talents of Louisa Belle, they are leading the way in a new wave of vineyard techniques. “She just has to sniff a barrel of wine to know whether it is off,” said Fischl.

Louisa isn’t a fan of drinking the stuff though, apparently, and is happy with a bowl of water and some dog food — just like her pals. Fischl said simple science had led him to get Louisa in on the act, rather than relying on homosapien employees. “Most wineries rely on a human nose but Belle’s nose is 2,000 times more sensitive,” he added.


Ready, steady, slow

All roads lead to Congham, UK this Sunday for the slow-moving world of the gastropod. The World Snail Racing Championships have been held at Congham, near King’s Lynn, UK since the 1960s, after founder Tom Elwes witnessed the event in France. Organiser, Hilary Scase explained, “Snails like damp conditions and as Congham is surrounded by ponds and is very low lying it is just right for snails. The competition is fierce and with ideal conditions this year, times are expected to be fast — there are hopes that the record course could be smashed.”

The record of two minutes, over the 13-inch damp cloth covered table top course, was posted by a snail called Archie in 1995. Last year’s winner Sidney recorded a more sedate winning time of three minutes 41 seconds to pocket winning connections a silver tankard filled with lettuce. Scase continued, “Snail trainer Neil Riseborough has been preparing the ground for weeks and has a special secret for encouraging the snails to put out their hones and head at top speed for the finishing line. Children from local schools have been training snails for months with ambitions that a special snail ‘found in granddad’s cabbage patch’ could be a winner. But there is no knowing. Snails come from all over the country, anybody can take part, and a rank outsider might just surprise everybody.”

“Congham is to snail racing what Newmarket is to horse racing,” Hilary concluded.


Medical monkey mayhem

Patients at an Indian hospital have been receiving some surprise visitors after monkeys learned how to operate its automatic doors. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi recently installed a new entry system — with unforeseen consequences.

Local rhesus macaque monkeys soon worked out how to use the motion-sensor doors and have since been running amok in the wards, kitchens and corridors. They have terrorised patients in the neurosurgery department and recovery rooms, stealing food, playing with medical equipment, attacking staff and generally causing chaos.

An unnamed doctor sharing one of his encounters with the red-bottomed monkeys, said, “I was at the patient recovery room when a nurse cried out that a monkey had sneaked in. The monkey had somehow entered the main corridor and was hiding in the false roof. As soon as the security guard moved away, it jumped inside. The doors open, once they detect any movement, and this is how the simian got in.”

With an average of one monkey bite case in the hospital every week, authorities have taken steps to scare off the macaques. They have hired two larger monkeys — grey langurs — to chase them away. SOURCE: METRO.CO.UK

High and dry

An unsuspecting donkey was swept off his feet in Lahore — but not in a good way — when his owner made a hash of loading a cart up for him, giving the poor mule an impromptu flying lesson.

The unfortunate beast was left high and dry when a cart laden with corn plants proved a step too far. The donkey looked pretty bemused by his predicament, being lifted a good foot off the ground by his oversized burden. It does make you wonder how much stuff this guy would need to carry in order to justify two trips ...

The good news is that the animal was unharmed by the incident, although perhaps a little confused by his sudden ability to fly. In this case, the corn plants were due to be transported from the marketplace to the man’s local farm, where the produce was due to be used as animal feed.



A mode of transport flying through a speed restriction and getting snapped by an enforcement camera is nothing new — although it’s not every day that mode of transport is one from the 19th century (i.e. a horse).

Normally reserved for catching motorists haring along in their cars, this speed camera turned up an interesting result for police in Meppen, Germany, when they examined their evidence at the end of the day. The runaway nag had bolted from a nearby paddock and found his way onto the main road of the Lower Saxony town, dashing through traffic as drivers tried their best to get out of the way.

The horse was eventually accosted — but only after 20 minutes of freedom, and setting off the speed camera. A police spokesman said, “The horse was galloping at full speed for several kilometres before it could be stopped, caught and led back home. The image was taken by a camera set to take pictures of speeding motorists and people going over the red light. It was actually a car driver that triggered the picture and the horse ended up being snapped in the same picture.” The officer added that the driver who skipped the traffic signals had lodged an official complaint against the fine — saying he was distracted by the galloping gelding.

“He claimed he was trying to get out of the way of a runaway horse,” the spokesman added. “At least we know that part is true.” A broken fence was cited as the cause of the escape. It has since been repaired.


Licking it

This happy little lizard — a web-footed gecko — looks rather delighted by the fact that it can lick his own eyeballs.

The cheeky gecko uses its tongue to collect water captured on its eye. The rare reptiles use the technique to drink moisture from coastal mist in Namibia, Africa. It also needs to ensure its eyes are kept moist, as it doesn’t have any eyelids. Web-footed geckos live in the Namib Desert, and use their webbed feet both — to stay on top of the desert sands and to bury beneath it to shelter during the hot daylight hours. Unusually for lizards, they communicate with a wide variety of noises — squeaking, clicking and even croaking.


The Ritz for Rovers

The Riverside Hotel in Evesham, Worcestershire has been labelled the ‘Ritz for Rovers’ because of the five-star treatment it gives to its guests four-legged friends.

Alongside its normal rooms, it boasts three special dog suites — with ensuite gardens — where even the most pampered of pooches will be happy. Head chef, Rico Pecho has devised a special menu for canine customers which can be enjoyed in the dining room or ordered through room service. Dogs can enjoy starters including soup, chicken-liver parfait, crepes or home-made fishcakes, main meals such as rib-eye steak, salmon wellington or chicken supreme, all rounded off with carrot cake, rice pudding or chocolate biscuits. Aside from the fine dining for pooches, other activities on offer include pet portrait sessions and swims in a local spa pool.

The hotel has some famous customers including Britain’s Got Talent star Pippa Langhorne and her lhasa apso puppy, Buddy. Hotel owner Debbie Sinclair, who herself has Jack Russell Pepe and six puppies, said catering for canines had really caught on. “We’ve been inundated with inquiries from all over the world,” she said.


Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2011.


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