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10 Amazing Things the World Learned This Week

The naked face-eater in Miami stole the news, but there was a whole lot more going on this week. Here's a peek.
 
 
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Usually we’re all kinds of optimistic about the cool discoveries science has made for the world this week. Even though we start off with a truly harrowing event, we still come away impressed with the ability of researchers to give us an idea of why we’re affected the way we are by things from drugs to smiling and how researchers are improving our lives to make them less scary and more filled with wonder for the world. 

1. The naked face-eater. Remember those Bugs Bunny cartoons and other old comedies where one desperately hungry character would hallucinate that the other character was a hamburger or a chicken?

That’s probably not what happened with the Naked Face-Eater, the story that made every writer or reporter covering anything else last weekend wonder why they were bothering. Rudy Eugene, a 31-year-old Miami man, attacked Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man, on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami. Eugene gnawed off 75 percent of Poppo’s face before a Miami police officer shot Eugene…and then he still didn’t stop, but “kept chewing,” as  Diana Moskovitz and David Ovalle of of the Miami Herald reported . The officer fired more shots, eventually killing Eugene.  Miami’s WSVN  showed some pieces of video caught by Miami Herald surveillance camera and the Herald itself offered a narrated timeline of the attack .

“Why?" is the first thought that comes to mind, as though there’s a satisfactory answer, but police and medical personal have theorized about two different drugs that might have caused Eugene to perpetrate such a savage attack. The first suspected condition is “cocaine psychosis,” as reported by Gizmodo’s Mario Aguilar . It’s a subset of “stimulant psychosis,” which can be caused by any stimulant. Cocaine psychosis is usually suffered by chronic cocaine and crack users -- it’s an extremely addictive substance that “gives a boost to your sympathetic nervous system” and makes you feel good -- until you get too much in your system and end up with physical symptoms like seizures and psychological symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations. Aguilar writes that “ in addition to messing with the delicate balance of neurotransmitters like serotonin, using huge amounts of cocaine scrambles your brain's capacity for executive function. That means your judgement and logic go out the window.”

(Click here for the best thing anyone’s ever said about cocaine .)

On CNN’s health blog, the Chart, Ann J. Curley reported that Armando Aguilar, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police,  suspected “bath salts” (also suspected by an ER doctor as reported in the first Herald story) a new line of designer drugs “ sold as cocaine substitutes" or "synthetic LSD" and containing "amphetamine-like chemicals such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), mephedrone, and pyrovalerone.” Once it gets to the brain, in addition to stimulating effects, empathy and euphoria it can also induce psychosis, panic attacks and hunger for more of the drug. 

And it’s getting more popular. The DEA’s forensic monitoring system had “two reports of MDPV in 2009” -- and 911 in 2011. 

I’m not trying to scare you into thinking there are going to be more zombie face-eaters out there. Just a heads-up.

Besides, everyone knows it’s the vampires you’ve really got to worry about. 

2. Research with teeth.While zombie comparisons were being made about Miami, a would-be vampire is causing a squabble among Italian scientists.

LiveScience contributor Charles Q. Choi wrote this week about the research of forensic anthropologist Matteo Borini and his colleague Emilio Nuzzolese concerning a corpse found in a mass grave of plague victims; a corpse they believed had worn a shroud and appeared to have had a brick shoved in her mouth in what might have been the first attempt to exorcise a vampire from “ravaging the city further with pestilence.” Monster myths were common in a region devastated by the horrors of plague, and the stages of human decomposition were not fully understood. 

 
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