The complicated process of catheterizing — inserting a thin, flexible tube into a medical patient for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes — may soon be made easier thanks to an unexpected model: the beetle penis.

The sexual organ of the thistle tortoise beetle (Cassida rubiginosa), a Eurasian-native green leaf beetle originally introduced to New Zealand to control invasive Canada thistle, has caught the attention of scientists for its unusual shape and structure. Though the female beetle’s sexual organ is unusually complicated — both long and spiral in shape — damage to and breakage of the male’s appendage is exceedingly rare.

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The abrupt changes in biology and physiology that occur when the body responds to infection, especially in childhood, are an important research subject at the moment. Researchers have established links between the onset of depression, psychosis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder and our body's natural immune response.

But some effects may occur even before birth. Pregnant women could react to infection in a way that influences their baby’s developing brain. Such immune responses could lead to atypical neural development in their child resulting in conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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Last night, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel got serious in his monologue. While discussing the birth of his son, William John Kimmel, he revealed that his baby had a heart defect. Kimmel then used Billy's story to make a tearful plea to protect the health care coverage provided through Obamacare.

He opened his monologue by saying, "I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week. Before I go into it, I want you to know it has a happy ending."

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[DIGEST: NBC, NPR, Science Direct, Health Leaders Media]

Each year, an estimated 19 million people around the world acquire sepsis, an infection that enters the bloodstream and leads to catastrophic organ failure. It is the number-one cause of death in hospitals, the most expensive condition to treat in hospitals, and has some of the highest readmission rates of any disease. In the U.S. alone, more than 300,000 patients die of sepsis every year.

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via Flickr user Global Panorama

[DIGEST: New York Times, Washington Post, Hopkins Medicine]

We like to think that disease is simple. Medical researchers and molecular biologists know better, of course, but that rarely filters out into our broader cultural imagination. The popular press is filled with stories about toxins or disease-causing genes because we want simple answers to complicated questions. If there is a gene for cancer, then it’s easy to explain, right? The gene causes the cancer, just like a gene might give you blue eyes or red hair. Toxins are even simpler: if you get poison in your cells, they might die. Nothing could be easier to understand.

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