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Corpse Experiments

Former morgue workers told of their experiences of a senior pathologist stab a corpse to study blood-splatter patterns. One hit a skull with a hammer to replicate injuries received in a bludgeoning murder, another said she had seen a plastic surgeon practice nose jobs on corpses.

Corpse Experiments

On November 4, 1818, Scottish chemist Andrew Ure stood next to the lifeless corpse of an executed murderer, the man hanging by his neck at the gallows only minutes before. He was performing an anatomical research demonstration for a theater filled with curious students, anatomists, and doctors at the University of Glasgow. But this was no ordinary cadaver dissection. Ure held two metallic rods charged by a 270-plate voltaic battery to various nerves and watched in delight as the body convulsed, writhed, and shuddered in a grotesque dance of death.

When scientists tired of testing animals, they turned to corpses, particularly corpses of murderers. In 1751, England passed the Murder Act, which allowed the bodies of executed murderers to be used for experimentation. "The reasons the Murder Act came about were twofold: there weren't enough bodies for anatomists, and it was seen as a further punishment for the murderer," says Burba. "It was considered additional punishment to have your body dissected."

Lying on Ure's table was the muscular, athletic corpse of 35-year-old coal miner, Matthew Clydesdale. On August 1818, Clydesdale drunkenly murdered an 80-year-old miner with a coal pick and was sentenced to be hung at the gallows. His body remained suspended and limp for nearly an hour, while a thief who had been executed next to Clydesdale at the same time convulsed violently for several moments after death. The blood was drained from the body for half an hour before the experiments began.

Others, such as Aldini, conducted similar experiments, but scholars write that Ure was convinced that electricity could restore life back into the dead. "While Aldini contented himself with the role of spasmodic puppeteer, Ure's ambitions were well nigh Frankesteinian," wrote Ulf Houe in "Studies in Romanticism."

Mary Shelley was aware of the types of scientific experiments researchers were toying with at the time. "Science was something that the public paid attention to," says Burba. "There was a lot of crossover, so there were poets who knew a lot about science and scientists who wrote poetry."

Some historians have hypothesized that Shelley was inspired by other medical procedures being studied at the time, including blood transfusion and organ transplants. It isn't until later in her introduction of the 1831 edition of the book that Shelley mentions galvanism: "Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth."

These animated and horrifying displays eventually went out of style as sectors of the public began to view them as evil and "satanic in nature." Electricity's first rudimentary experiments on the body did make way for resuscitation technologies such as de fibrillation, but the focus is now on saving lives, not reanimating a long-dead corpse.

In AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead," returning Sunday, June 2, at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT, reanimated human corpses roam the world, having avoided the permanent stillness of death only to devour the living. Now, we know zombies aren't real, but reanimated corpses aren't exactly a figment of the imagination. Scientists have been attempting to restore life to the dead for hundreds of years.

In the 1800s, physicist Giovanni Aldini became famous for his spectacular demonstrations of "reanimating" human and animal corpses by stimulating them with powerful electrical shocks. He would hook a battery up to dismembered humans or animals and cause the corpse to convulse as though it were alive. Audience members were awestruck, despite the fact the creature never actually came back to life. Aldini knew he wasn't reviving the dead, but didn't shy away from the possibility, and neither did the scientists who followed him. [9 Reasons Why We Have an Undying Interest in the Undead]

Even after hundreds of years of failed experiments, some scientists are still trying to manually reanimate human corpses. For the past three years, Bioquark, Inc., a U.S. biotechnology company, has been attempting to recruit 20 clinically dead patients for an experiment on reversing brain death. The study isn't scheduled to begin until July 2019, but has already received heavy criticism from the scientific community. A letter published in the journal Critical Care said "the trial borders on quackery," and "dead means dead."

Illustration of Italian anatomist Luigi Galvani's (1737-1798) experiments on corpses demonstrating contractions of the muscles by electrical stimulation. The phenomenon was first noticed when his assistant touched an exposed nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel just as an electrostatic generator was emitting sparks. Volta later showed that the electricity came from the metals, not the muscles. Illustration taken from Galvani's De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, 1792.

In the 1831 preface to Frankenstein, however, Ruston points out that Shelley directly acknowledges galvanism as part of the inspiration for her novel, writing of her discussions with Lord Byron, "Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth."

Some documents by the Nobel prizewinner Hermann J. Muller that mention his attempts to use the blood of corpses for transfusions have recently been unearthed in the University of Indiana. After attending several US universities, this American geneticist and activist emigrated to Germany, but left for Russia after the rise of the Nazis. Once there, he became part of the anti-Lysenko movement, and seeing himself in danger, fled to the Spanish Civil War where he joined the International Brigades, this time as a medical-biological adviser on blood transfusions [3].

This theory contradicted the underlying scientific premise of biology that states that all living cells come from another living cell. Her research earned her the support of Lenin, Stalin, Lysenko and even of Oparin himself, who awarded her the Stalin medal for science. However, she was discredited when it emerged that her supposed experiments had been totally falsified. Since then, much work has been done to attempt to investigate the abiotic origin of life, but there is still no clear demonstration. Although there are a multitude of experiments and hypotheses, none of them has proved definitive.

Argentine ants deposit food waste and dead bodies onto refuse piles22 yet their defecating behaviour has not been studied. We discovered that Argentine ants defecate and secrete pygidial gland content onto the corpses at the refuse piles and that this behaviour inhibits growth of pathogenic fungi.

Ants generally inhibit fungal and bacterial growth on their surface by self- and allo-grooming30,31, metapleural32 and poison gland secretion33, and symbiotic bacteria34,35. Interestingly, Argentine ants, unlike many other ant species, were found to lack antibacterial substances on their surfaces36. Moreover, Linephitema melleum, a congener of Argentine ant, has been shown to spread antibiotic metapleural secretion only on themselves and not on nestmates, brood, or queens as some other ant species do37. Thus, if Argentine ants have to rely on grooming to keep bacteria and fungal spores away, then contamination risk from corpses is high. Furthermore, since Argentine ants are predators38,39 they bring other insect species into the nest, which is an additional source of pathogenic fungi. Hence, as the Argentine ant pygidial gland secretion has anti-fungal properties, combining the refuse pile and toilet area provides simultaneous sanitation of food waste, corpses, and faeces. Other corpse and waste management associated processes, such as, chopping up the corpses, eating them, and collecting other nest materials on the refuse piles will also inhibit fungal growth3,40,41.

We identified three fungi growing from the dead Argentine ants: F. solani belongs to a species complex best known as plant pathogens46, A. nomius is an aflatoxin-producing entomopathogen47,48,49,50, and A. fumigatus is one of the most common pathogenic fungus in immune compromised humans51. All these opportunistic fungi are widespread in nature and especially Aspergillus spp. are commonly associated with social insects and their nests52,53,54,55. According to our results, A. fumigatus was the most sensitive to the effects of Argentine ant pygidial gland secretion as the gland secretion prevented the spore germination and the fungus never grew on the bodies at the refuse piles. The inhibitory effect of the pygidial gland secretion on Argentine ant pathogen A. nomius and plant pathogen F. solani was transient both in vivo and in vitro assays. Hence, inhibiting the growth of A. nomius and F. solani requires constant application of pygidial gland secretion on the corpses. Consistently, the presence of a corpse increased stained areas especially at the toilet/refuse piles where the corpse was, suggesting that corpse may have induced pygidial gland secretion behaviour. We cannot separate in our experiments faeces and pygidial gland-derived staining, since the food-derived dye was able to cross to pygidial gland content as well. However, as pygidial gland secretion has been shown to attract nestmates as a trail pheromone24 and defence substance23, its application on corpses could create virtuous cycle, whereby more ants gather to the site, which leads to increased pygidial gland secretion and thus more efficient fungal growth inhibition. 041b061a72


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