Skip to content
Health, Sports & Psychology

OpenLearn Live: 3rd November 2016

Updated Thursday, 3rd November 2016

Did a Russian scientist create a zombie dog? No. Learning and research across the day.

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

OpenLearn Live stands on the shoulders of giants to bring you the best in learning and research from around the web. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we investigated the insurance company that wanted to use your Facebook posts to set a price, tried to cope with stress and probed the link between sleep and obesity

On this day last year: the first dog in space, John Cooper Clarke and the right to die

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

At the edge of the sea

Rachel Lichenstein takes a journey to the point where the Thames meets the North Sea:

We argued for some time about where the royal river ended and the estuary began. I told the group I had been looking at eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Admiralty charts in the British Library’s map room; beautiful hand-drawn documents, covered in a mystifying array of complex lines, which had been difficult for me to decipher but at the top of a chart dated 1871 the Thames Estuary was described as being: ‘18 nautical miles long from Gravesend to the Nore’. Some members of the crew thought it was much longer than this, starting as far upriver as Tower Bridge – the ancient control centre of the Estuary. Others felt the Thames Barrier or even the QE2 Bridge were obvious beginnings. But most agreed that before these structures were erected the historic gateway into the Thames for centuries had always been the ancient shipping port of Gravesend, which sits at Lower Hope, the narrowest point in the river, a place of strong tidal currents where the brackish dirty water from London merges with the salt water from the North Sea.

Leaving London the inner estuary is generally believed to end somewhere around the forbidden military zone of Foulness Island, which sits opposite the site of the former Nore light ship. However a Hydrological Survey, dated 1882, states that the eastern boundary of the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary stretches much further out into the North Sea, from North Foreland near Margate across to the Kentish Knock Lighthouse in Harwich. The sailors in the group agreed with this definition although the contemporary chart we were looking at showed the outer limits of the Estuary extending all the way up to Orfordness on the Suffolk coast.

Read the full article at Five Dials: Estuary

Discover the life that thrives in estuaries

Article 50

The UK High Court has ruled this morning that Parliament must be consulted before the Government can trigger Article 50 and start the process of untangling Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union. BBC News' Eleanor Garnier explains:

It is one of the most important constitutional court cases in generations. And the result creates a nightmare scenario for the government.

Theresa May had said she wanted to start Brexit talks before the end of March next year but this ruling has thrown the prime minister's timetable up in the air.

Campaigners who brought the case insist it was about "process not politics", but behind the doors of No 10 there will now be serious head-scratching about what the government's next steps should be.

This decision has huge implications, not just on the timing of Brexit but on the terms of Brexit. That's because it's given the initiative to those on the Remain side in the House of Commons who, it's now likely, will argue Article 50 can only be triggered when Parliament is ready and that could mean when they're happy with the terms of any future deal.

Of course, it will be immensely difficult to satisfy and get agreement from all those MPs who voted to remain. Could an early general election be on the cards after all?

Read the full article at BBC News: Brexit court defeat for UK government

But what is Article 50, and why is it important? The OU's Anne Wesemann explains:

While the word trigger encourages us to think of Article 50 as a big red button on somebodies desk, it is far less exciting. It is a mere legal instrument, a contract clausal so to speak, that is outlining the process of withdrawal from the European Union. Such a formal option did not exist before the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009 and it will be the first time this formal process will have been followed.

Read the full article: How to withdraw from the European Union

Dip into our Brexit collection for more on borders, migration and business in a post-Referendum world

Hallowain't II: The zombie dogs of Russia

This week started with Halloween, and we have been celebrating with stories of supernatural events that weren't. Yesterday, we had a tragedy played out in a haunted woodland. Today... did a Russian scientist bring a dead dog back to life?

The autojektor Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Soviet Union patent diagram The autojektor

We find ourselves in Stalin's Soviet Union, and in the laboratory of Sergei Sergeyevich Brukhonenko. It's the late 1920s, and in the middle of the lab there is a severed dog's head. But although the dog has no body, the head appears to be alive. (Film of one of these experiments is available online, but we'd suggest not for the faint-hearted.)

Had Brukhonenko created a zombie dog? Or a piece of a zombie dog?

Well, no. What the scientist had done, though, was create a machine - the autojektor - which was an early heart-lung machine. This pumping device - and anti-coagulants - allowed blood to continue to circulate around the dead dog's head for up to three hours.

(As a sidenote, although most scientists agree that Brukhonenko had successfully carried out these experiments, there's some debate over whether the film - published in 1940 - is of a genuine procedure or merely a recreation for the camera.)

Brukhonenko was only the latest in a parade of scientists removing dogs' heads for experimental purposes. In 1857, Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard had been the first to try draining a head of blood and injecting fresh blood - he reported that, for a few minutes, the head appeared to twitch and look about. 

Dr Jean-Baptiste Vincent Laborde would become better known for inventing a method of helping overcome asphyxia, but he also got hold of some human heads to see if he could replicate Brown-Sequard's work with people. (In case you're wondering, his supply was recently guillotined murderers.) His great success was connecting a human head to a dog's body:

By 18 minutes he had connected the carotid artery to that of a still-living dog. Laborde reported that the facial muscles contracted, while the jaw snapped violently shut. No signs of conciousness were reported.

The news that the head wasn't aware that it had been lashed to a dog's body isn't as comforting as you'd hope, really.

Although these experiments are grisly - and, certainly, fall far short of modern ethical standards - they did help develop the tools which make heart and lung surgery possible. As early as 1928, Brukhonenko had proposed that his autojektor could have surgical applications:

“Would not this method, duly perfected, be useful in clinical medicine: notably in those cases where it would be essential to replace, if only for a time, the work of the failing human heart? Without going more deeply into this question we can state as a result of the present work, that in principle artificial circulation is applicable to man not only clinically, but also for certain operations on the temporarily arrested heart. For its achievement, however, a suitable technique would have to be worked out.”

By 1936, he had added an artificial lung to the mechanical heart, and by 1941, a working model had been produced which was judged good enough to experiment with on human subjects - but the Second World War got in the way. The Soviet economy couldn't afford the luxury of medical experimentation and, by the time Brukhonenko was in a position to resume exploring these ideas in the 1950s, others - notably John Gibbon - had developed similar devices, and were using them with real patients.

Brukhonenko's pioneering work had been largely forgotten - or, if remembered, was painted in the context of unpleasant things happening to dog's heads in articles like - ahem - this one. But in 2000, Igor E Konstantinov and Vladimir V Alexi-Meskishvili made a case in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery for his place in the development of medical science to be celebrated:

In 1960, the year of his death, Probert and Melrose concluded their article on Brukhonenko’s heart-lung machine as follows: “Brukhonenko’s work demonstrated the difficulties of total perfusion and went a long way towards resolving them. His technique of excluding the heart of the perfused animal from the circulation was crude, but was recognized as a method of achieving planned cardiac arrest. His writings were clear and precise in their prophetic insistence that this early work was applicable to the clinical needs of man”

As we enter a new millennium, a recognition of surgical pioneers of the century is timely and appropriate. Brukhonenko died 40 years ago. His work was left unfinished and time has largely forgotten it. He did not see successful implementation of his heart-lung machine into clinical practice. Yet, what has been accomplished does not die. His work assured immortality for his name and secured its place among the pioneers of cardiac surgery.

There was nothing supernatural about the zombie dogs of Russia. But there was something amazing happening, nevertheless.

How far should scientists go in pursuit of new discoveries? A religious perspective on cloning

If you prefer stories about dogs which are alive, dip into our Hound Hub





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?