We’ve all had fleeting ‘what if’ moments at least once in our lives: What if I drop my phone from a bridge? What if I walk with a spoon in my mouth in public? What if I flush an entire tissue roll down an aircraft lavatory? Though most of us shake the feeling off by getting a grip on reality, there are some creators on the internet who are dedicated to answering these questions for the rest of the world to witness and ease their thoughts.
One such YouTuber is James, who runs The Action Lab channel on the platform. To date, the chemical engineer has frozen his finger in crystal clear ice, boiled water by heating it with his hands and even put his arm in a vacuum chamber to see if it explodes.
But in a video that has since gone viral, James documented the results of a scientific question humanity has toyed around with ever since we learned about the Venus flytrap in our biology classes: What happens if we stick our fingers into the marvellous plant? Is it capable of digesting human flesh like a true cannibal?
“The Venus flytraps have always intrigued me ever since I was little and I was always a little scared to touch the inside because I was scared it would bite me like an animal,” James said in the video as he first stimulated the plant into thinking that his finger was “real food.”
“I’m going to stimulate the inside hairs and it’ll close down on my finger and then you have to squeeze it around 30 to 40 times to stimulate a bug trying to escape. This starts the enzymatic juice flowing in there that will… digest whatever is inside.” James then inserted a bee to kickstart the said process and later substituted his pinky finger as the subject.
“I can actually feel pressure on it,” he explained when the flytrap successfully bit his finger and he duct taped the entire plant onto his hand and went on to perform daily tasks. The creator also taped a second finger with just the kidney-shaped part of the plant cut from its stem which already had its juices flowing after digesting its last prey.
Three hours into the experiment, James updated his audience by admitting how he was starting to feel a bit of sensation in the second finger the plant had closed its lobes around. “Sometimes, I feel like it’s kind of tingling [and] a little bit painful,” he mentioned.
Fast forward to the end of the experiment, James finally freed both his fingers out of the flytraps and analysed the damage. Upon closer inspection, his pinky finger—which was first embedded into the plant with external stimulations—showed signs of a weird reaction making the skin appear redder than usual, with tiny white spots decorating the edges.
The second finger, in comparison, displayed shocking results. “Look at the top of my finger, it’s purple!” James exclaimed. “It’s purple-whitish-bluish. This is crazy because I didn’t actually expect anything.”
“It wasn’t that painful and I could only feel something going on there but you can see how it’s kind of swollen on the tip there. You can see that there is some sort of reaction happening on my skin,” he continued, adding how it looked like the start of a blister. “So there you have it, the Venus flytrap did start to eat me. I was actually going to say how wimpy they were and you don’t have anything to fear if you were to get eaten by [one] but if you’re in there long enough, I’m pretty sure it could digest you too.”
“Beware of the man-eating plants!” James eventually captioned the video.
A team of scientists at the Georgia State University (GSU) were left speechless after an experiment involving gene-editing on hamsters turned them into hyper aggressive little demons.
To conduct research into the biology behind the social behaviour of mammals, the GSU team used CRISPR-Cas9—an incredible type of gene therapy technology that can turn genes on and off in cells—on Syrian hamsters. They used such technology to ‘turn off’ a vasopressin receptor in the little creatures, which is the hormone responsible for aggression.
In theory, the scientists believed this would alter the social behaviour of the hamsters drastically and result in them becoming more peaceful. While their behaviour did change, it wasn’t in the direction expected.
Professor H. Elliot Albers and Professor Kim Huhman were both very surprised by the outcome, “We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication. But the opposite happened.”
Instead, the hamsters became even more social than ever before, with their aggression towards members of the same sex greatly escalating and resulting in them chasing, biting and pinning each other down.
Albers believes this startling conclusion shows how much there is yet to learn about the biological system involved. “We don’t understand this system as well as we thought we did. The counterintuitive findings tell us we need to start thinking about the actions of these receptors across entire circuits of the brain and not just in specific brain regions.”
The use of Syrian hamsters specifically has been extremely important in understanding social behaviours, aggression and communication. They were the first animal in which the vasopressin hormone was shown to influence social behaviour. Their social organisation is much more similar to humans, which makes them the perfect research subjects, explained Huhman.
“Their stress response is more like that of humans than it is other rodents. They release the stress hormone cortisol, just as humans do. They also get many of the cancers that humans get,” she continued.
While this is a big step forward in gene editing technology, there is still a long way to go before this type of research can be undertaken on human subjects.