Scientists have not discovered a new body part. This isn’t the most exciting headline in a time of news that includes “Russell Brand is verbose at something. People liked it, then they thought about it, then they didn’t like it” and “Richard Dawkins gets mad that he can’t have a big jar of honey on a plane because when he flies he likes to pretend he’s Winnie the Pooh.” Which is probably why The Independent and the BBC went with “Scientists have discovered a new body part.” Presumably this is in an attempt to make the story seem more interesting in order to get those fingers clicking, those wallets walletting and those pages turning.
Before you get too excited wagging that new tail, flapping those new gills and pumping your new venom gland, the discovery was supposedly of a previously unknown ligament in the human knee. As reported by The Independent, the BBC and the like; following macroscopic dissection of 41 corpses’ knees, the orthopaedic surgeons had identified this “new” ligament in the anterior (front) of the knee. They named it the anterolateral ligament, stated that it might control internal tibial rotation (help spin a leg bone) and hypothesised it might be the reason that patients experience problems after anterior cruciate ligament surgery (a common surgery following a common injury in sportsball players and in humans).
This isn’t quite right though. If you look at the abstract in the Journal of Anatomy (a publication notable for the crime of not advertising itself with the tagline “An important body of work.”), it states how this potential ligament was described in 1879 by French surgeon Paul Segond and since then it has had lots of different names and hasn’t been adequately characterised or described. Basically it’s the ligament equivalent of Madonna. The abstract then goes on to describe how the authors gave it a new name, worked out exactly where it is and had a think about what it might do. They also mention the pleasingly-named Gerdy’s Tubercle. If this isn’t the name of a pub somewhere I will be very disappointed.
So we’ve gone from discovering a new body part to verifying the existence of, clearly describing and naming the previously confusingly named body part. The latter is still impressive enough by the way. It’s just not what was being reported and spread around. That being said, if we’re allowed to just rename body parts and call them discoveries now, then I have a couple of suggestions.
The Superior Oral Shush Groove
Previously known as the philtrum, the superior oral shush groove is a vertical groove in the middle area of the upper lip, common to many mammals, extending from the nose to the upper lip. Occasionally hypothesised to act in mammals keep the nose pad wet by transporting moisture to the nose pad from the mouth via capillary action. This supposedly improves the particular mammal’s sense of smell. The clear function in humans is so you have somewhere to rest your finger when you are telling someone in the library or cinema to be quiet.
The Mysterious Face Cavities of Woe
Some people call these the paranasal sinuses. They are a group of four paired air-filled spaces surrounding the nasal cavity, the eyes, and also sitting behind the ethmoid bone. The ethmoid bone sits in the roof of the noise between the eyes and separates the nasal cavity from the brain. For these purposes we can rename it “the potential alternative answer to that stupid joke about why are your eyes always apart?, who nose, ha ha ha bone”. Or the ethmoid for short. The mysterious face cavities of woe exist to make skulls lighter for the purposes of morbid bowling and to repeatedly get infected and make your face feel like it’s about to burst. The grim resignation with which such infection is greeted is why these irritating face holes were originally called sigh nooses.
Inter-finger Swimmer Slingers
The bits of webbing in the interspaces of your fingers and toes are longer in some people and shorter in others. I’m not referring to syndactyly here, which is something different involving the fusion of two or more digits which is obviously something less fortunate. There is no evidence that having longer webbing helps with speed of swimming in humans in any way in a phenomenon known as Aquaman’s Lament. (It’s not, but should be.) However there is a nifty bit of physics which may mean that faster human swimmers can simulate webbing with boundary layers of water when they spread there fingers a certain distance. There are some stories that if you cut the webbing between your fingers it might make you better at playing the guitar because you’ll be able to stretch further, but this is dangerous nonsense. Just practice more. There’s no saying “How do you get to Carnegie hall? Reckless hand mutilation.” In any case, renaming the interspace webbing to inter-finger swimmer slingers rhymes and people like that. Although inter-space webbing does sound like something from science-fiction so maybe we should keep it.
The appendix (or vermiform appendix) is a blind-ended tube connected to the caecum near the junction between the small intestine and the large intestine. I often feel there should be a book about vestigial anatomy where the appendix is the most extensively written bit. While there is some evidence that the appendix has some immune function in humans, with increased digestive involvement in herbivores, the appendix, like the mysterious face cavities of woe, is probably most famous for occasionally causing illness and surgery. If this is the case it’s name might as well hint at the possibility it could burst forth from the body with its jaws snapping like in that film about the alien which I forget the name of. The appendix won’t do that, but maybe if people thought it did it would get some respect.
The nasolacrimal duct (often called the tear duct) carries tears from the lacrimal sac (tear gland) into the nasal cavity. This is in clear need of renaming because people always refer to the tear ducts as the organ that produces tears and that’s just incorrect. Similarly people always call ugly statues “gargoyles” when in fact it has to have a spout to drain water and be an ugly statue to be a gargoyle. Without the spout it is known as a grotesque. By combining the tear ducts and gargoyles into one term maybe people will start to use them correctly. Then the pedants will be happy. Except pedants are never happy. Or maybe they’ll just be wrong in a different way because after all, renaming the tear ducts as the lacrimal gargoyles is just something I made up.
Bundle of Hers
The bundle of His is a collection of heart muscle cells specialised for the electrical conduction of impulses for the coordination of cardiac contraction. I don’t know where the bundle of Hers would be, but having it as an additional piece of anatomy might satisfy the sort of people who complain that if you have hymns in church why don’t you have hers? Well you do. It’s the car that carries the corpse to the funeral. I may have lost sight of the point I’m making here.
At one point everyone in the Liberal Democrat party had one of these largely vestigial pieces of anatomy. However it has largely atrophied to the point where it only exists as an extension of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. Nobody knows if it has a purpose, but it is known through extensive research that it has no anatomical relationship with the spinal column.