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Masayuki Shintaku et. al., 2017

Doctors Find a Tiny Brain Growing Inside a Teenager's Ovary

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Masayuki Shintaku et. al., 2017

Surgeons in search of one patient’s appendix found a little more than they bargained for. The teenager’s ovaries bore two large cysts, one of which contained a miniature skull and a “well-formed” brain. The surgeons described their findings in the journal Neuropathology.

The 16-year-old girl had been diagnosed with acute appendicitis and was brought in for emergency surgery. But after cutting into her abdomen, the doctors found more problems: two cystic tumors, one roughly the size of a golf ball and the other as big as a baseball. They took note of the cysts’ location and size, then completed the girl’s appendectomy and stitched her back up. Remarkably, she recovered just fine and reported no symptoms. 

Three months later, they opened her up again, this time to remove the tumors. Inside the large cyst were more gruesome surprises: clumps of hair, a thin, skull-like plate of bone, and a surprisingly organized brain-like object.

Familiar-looking structures found inside the mini-brain. Image Credit: Masayuki Shintaku et. al., 2017

The thought of a tumor full of hair or bone is hardly unheard of, although it is fairly unsettling. These teratomas (from the Greek téras, or monster) are what happens when reproductive cells go rogue. Under healthy circumstances, they’ll deploy and become an embryo, differentiating into various body parts, such as bones, organs, teeth, and hair. But sometimes they just start growing, all on their own, making monstrous spare parts nobody needs or wants. Teratomas are typically found on or near a person’s reproductive organs, and they’re usually harmless (aside from the nightmares).

The most common teratoma contents are hair, teeth, and tissue that would, in a real embryo, one day become part of the central nervous system. 

What makes this case different is the sophistication of the brain tissue inside the teratoma. The teeny organ was pretty far along, and had even separated into parts similar to those found in a fully developed brain. 

The surgeons patched the patient up again and sent her on her way. Three years later, they attempted to check up to see how she was doing, but she didn’t respond. We can’t really blame her. 

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Animals
Truck Launches Thousands of Slime Eels Onto Oregon Highway
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It would be hard to say who had the worst Thursday: the truck driver whose rig released masses of slime eels onto U.S. 101 and its motorists, the slime eels themselves, or the crew who came to clean up afterward.

The truck hauling 7500 pounds of fish was just approaching traffic-stopping roadwork when its driver realized he couldn’t slow down in time. As the driver slammed on the brakes, his cargo was ejected, sailing and splatting into oncoming traffic and causing five collisions. One driver was injured. Many were disgusted.

Slime eels are not true eels at all, but jawless, spineless creatures called hagfish. Like so many of Mother Nature’s ugliest children, they’re considered a delicacy. These particular fish were on their way to Korea.

In the wild, hagfish live impressively disgusting lives, slithering into the bodies of dead and decaying sea creatures—they especially like entering through anuses—and eating their way out.

Each hagfish can secrete buckets of a super-slick slime when stressed. And boy, were these hagfish stressed. By the time the authorities arrived, it was far too late to wrangle them safely back into their container. The only thing left to do was scrape them up.

[h/t Alaska Dispatch News]

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science
The Reason Some Frogs Grow Extra Legs
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Fans of The Simpsons are likely familiar with Blinky, the three-eyed fish species that swims in Springfield's contaminated lakes and ponds. Blinky isn’t real, of course, but during the mid-1990s, scientists feared that frogs in the United States and Canada were experiencing a similar mutation after hearing reports that the tiny amphibians were sprouting extra legs.

Researchers didn’t discover a link between frog deformities and pesticides, nor did they find evidence that whatever was affecting the frogs could also harm humans. Instead, the culprit appeared to be a parasitic flatworm called Ribeiroia ondatrae, which lives inside the digestive systems of water birds but can also infect frogs.

In the Gross Science video below, host Anna Rothschild explains the fascinating (albeit gross) process of how the parasitic worm’s larvae migrate from birds to freshwater snails—and then, to the hind limb buds of tadpoles. There, they grow a hard, protective coating called a cyst that interrupts proper limb formation.

This invasive process can cause the frog to develop as many as six additional legs—or in some cases, no legs at all. That said, experts don't think that infected frogs develop weird limbs simply as a side effect. At the end of the day, amphibians with extra or missing legs are easier for predators to catch, meaning that the parasite will eventually end up back inside its preferred home: a bird’s esophagus.

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