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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fracking Painful Ulcer

I accidentally bit myself last week while stuffing my face with a bowl of fishball noodles.

So now I have a big, fat ulcer that hurts like hell.

Since you didn't ask to see it, here's a big, fat photo of it.


It's approximately twice as painful as it looks. Give or take maybe 20%.

Veteran Fresh Brainz readers ("Freshbrainiacz" perhaps?) know that I hate ulcers. I detest them so much I wrote a whole Uncyclopedia article on them.

The problem is that I get them so fracking often. One of our postdocs says that he never gets ulcers. That can only mean that I lack a cogwheel in my head that prevents the teeth from clamping down when other mouth parts are in the way.

Or maybe all the gears are loose anyway.

Speaking of "fracking" suddenly reminds me of fractals: did you notice how my ulcer resembles the Mandelbrot set?

In the case of my ulcer, the X-axis is facing down towards my finger. It has two round shapes just like the Mandelbrot set picture - the larger wound (cardioid) inflicted by my super-sharp upper right canine.

Well I'm not a mathematician, so I'll leave the detailed explanation of fractals to the professionals.

I'll just comment that the fractal concepts of repeated functions (iteration) and self-similarity are also important to biologists.

One major mystery of biology is: how does a multicellular organism assemble itself during the embryo development process?

A large mammal has to grow from one cell to several trillion cells in a matter of months. This process must be tightly regulated so that the animal forms correctly.

However, mammals only have tens of thousands of genes. One trick to "fold" more complexity into a limited number of genes is to repeat the genetic programming during development.

The same set of genes are used to form both the forelimbs and the hindlimbs. They are then used again in a different orientation to form the digits of the hands and feet. In fact you can consider a finger as a self-similar component of the whole arm. In this way the animal can develop many parts using fewer genes.

Just like the diversity of structures that you can make using a small selection of Lego bricks:

And the myriad ways that I can make my teeth punch through the inside of my mouth.


Would you like to know more?

- How long is the coastline of England?
- Fish with the ancestral genetic program for tetrapod limb formation


ah said...

Actually, I do get ulcers. Just they are not painful.

Me so lucky!


Lim Leng Hiong said...

Possibly because your teeth don't stab in so deep.

Many times I can feel things going wrong just a split second before I actually bite myself, but I have no conscious control to stop it.

I DO bite. Hard.