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  • October 7, 2014
  • 10:15 AM
  • 299 views

Scientists Recommend Vole Shaving

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Sometimes scientists need to make their research subjects’ lives harder. No matter how much affection they may feel for those flatworms or fish or pigeons, there are certain things they can only learn by forcing the animals to use more energy. But for animals living in the wild, this can be tricky. Now scientists studying […]The post Scientists Recommend Vole Shaving appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Szafrańska PA, Zub K, Wieczorek M, Książek A, Speakman JR, & Konarzewski M. (2014) Shaving increases daily energy expenditures in free living root voles. The Journal of experimental biology. PMID: 25278468  

  • October 6, 2014
  • 03:55 PM
  • 415 views

Orange Corn Aims to Fight Vitamin A Deficiency

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

GMO food is still a hot button topic, honestly for no other reason than fear. Sure Monsanto is a big evil corporation, but the science is only as bad as what you do with it. In the modern fortified world we don’t think about vitamin deficiency or the horrible things that come with it, however vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem in developing countries. To combat this researchers have identified a set of genes that can be used to naturally boost the provitamin A content of corn kernels, a finding that could help combat vitamin A deficiency and macular degeneration in the elderly.... Read more »

  • October 6, 2014
  • 02:29 PM
  • 329 views

The Biology of Nagging

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

A female pied flycatcher can't feed herself sufficientlywhile she incubates her eggs and newly-hatchedchicks. Photo by Alejandro Cantarero.I have been blessed with the fortune of not just having two healthy and happy babies, but being able to spend much of the spring and summer nurturing them and watching them develop and grow. But it has not been all roses: their smiles beam through the fog of my sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Their tears are met with my own. Our clothes are stained in a rainbow of bodily fluids. Now I am back at work trying to remember how my life used to be and how to meet my obligations to countless people, all while trying to keep up with the ever-changing needs of my daughters. Luckily, I am not alone. The girls have a rotating schedule with their grandparents one day, with their dad another, at daycare for a few days, and with me on weekends and evenings. But as the expectations on me grow heavier, I find myself pushing my husband harder to do more with the girls and around the house. Now it seems like every time I open my mouth, I am accused of “being a nag” and “for no reason” no less. The truth is, nagging has a deep biologically-based reason and may even be critical to species survival. We are not the only species that nags, although in other species these vocalizations are often called “begging signals”. Begging signals are commonly heard in bird species in which the female does most or all of the egg and chick incubation. Because these females cannot sufficiently feed themselves while ensuring the survival of their brood, their male partners need to spend extra time foraging for the females in addition to foraging for the chicks and themselves. There is an inherent conflict between how mated males would prefer to spend their time (feeding themselves, maintaining their dominance status, and flirting with females) and how their female partners want them to spend their time (providing as much as possible for the family). The male response to this conflict is often to see how little he can get away with contributing while he sneaks off to spend his time as he wishes. The female response is to produce loud, juvenile vocalizations and gestures until he brings food to the nest. Is this really necessary though? Maybe she is just being manipulative to try to get him to do more than he really needs to.Alejandro Cantarero, Jimena López-Arrabé, Antonio Palma, and Juan Moreno from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain and Alberto Redondo from the University of Córdoba in Spain set out to test whether the begging signals made by female pied flycatchers were an honest signal of need or were just obnoxious melodrama. They predicted that if the females’ begging calls were an honest reflection of how much help they needed, then begging calls would increase as energy needs increase.The researchers studied 71 pied flycatcher nests in a forest in central Spain. Behaviors were observed by nest-mounted video cameras five days after the females finished laying their clutches of eggs. Two days later, each female was caught and measured, fitted with an identifying leg band, and had her wings clipped. About half of these females had their primary feathers clipped at the base to impair their ability to fly (these females are called the “handicapped” group). The other half had their primary feathers clipped at the tip so that their ability to fly would not be affected (these are the “control” females). When the females were released, they all returned to their nests. Their behaviors were measured again three days later.Females in the handicapped group lost weight and begged significantly more after their wings were clipped, whereas the control females did not. This suggests that females are adjusting their begging rates to accurately reflect their needs. Furthermore, male partners of the handicapped females fed their partners more after the wing-clipping, whereas the male partners of the control females did not. This shows that the males are responding to either their partners’ increased begging or increased need or both. Revealingly, the amount that females begged was positively correlated with the amount that the males fed them, even when the researchers statistically controlled for whether their wings were clipped or not. This means that males were feeding females more because they begged more (and not simply because they needed more, which was also true). This nagging female gets exactly what she needs. Video by Alejandro Cantarero. So, at least among pied flycatchers, females don’t “nag for no reason”, but because they genuinely need the help to keep their bodies and families healthy and safe. And males respond to the calls for help by increasing their contributions. But the graph that shows that males feed females more because they beg more also reveals that males would not help enough if females did not beg enough. Nagging is an adaptive strategy that females must engage in to meet the needs of the family. Is someone nagging you too much? If we are like our pied flycatcher friends, than if you meet that person’s needs, the nagging should stop. Want to know more? Check this out:Cantarero, A., López-Arrabé, J., Palma, A., Redondo, A., & Moreno, J. (2014). Males respond to female begging signals of need: a handicapping experiment in the pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca Animal Behaviour, 94, 167-173 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.05.002 ... Read more »

  • October 6, 2014
  • 04:13 AM
  • 335 views

Not-So-Green Men

by Viputheshwar Sitaraman in Draw Science

The Webb Telescope searches for alien life on exoplanets by analyzing CFC pollution from potentially advanced civilizations. [Infographic]... Read more »

  • October 5, 2014
  • 01:43 PM
  • 320 views

Using “Programmable” Antibiotics to Attack Drug-Resistant Microbes

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The body is pretty great at self regulation, that is up until it isn't. The antibiotic era was one that improved human health hundreds of times over. Unfortunately health is a joint effort, a multitude of microbes scientists have found populating the human body have good, bad and mostly mysterious implications for our health. But when something goes wrong, we defend ourselves with the undiscriminating brute force of traditional antibiotics, which wipe out everything at once like a wild fire, regardless of the consequences.... Read more »

Luciano Marraffini et al. (2014) Exploiting CRISPR-Cas nucleases to produce sequence-specific antimicrobials. Nature Biotechnology. info:/10.1038/nbt.3043

  • October 4, 2014
  • 02:47 PM
  • 329 views

The Path of Antibiotic Resistance

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

MRSA, not that long ago we had no idea what MRSA was… mostly because it hadn’t come into prevalence. With an increase in the use and abuse of antibiotics there has been an ever growing pressure for the pathogens we treat to mutate in order to survive, this pressure is called selective pressure and helped cause drug-resistance in pathogens. In response to the rise of these drug-resistant pathogens, doctors are routinely cautioned against over prescribing antimicrobials. But when a patient has a confirmed bacterial infection, the advice is to treat aggressively to quash the infection before the bacteria can develop resistance.... Read more »

Kouyos RD, Metcalf CJ, Birger R, Klein EY, Abel Zur Wiesch P, Ankomah P, Arinaminpathy N, Bogich TL, Bonhoeffer S, Brower C.... (2014) The path of least resistance: aggressive or moderate treatment?. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 281(1794). PMID: 25253451  

  • October 3, 2014
  • 05:24 PM
  • 285 views

The Neurobiological Basis of a Human-Pet Relationship

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

My wife adores our cats. Now, I'm not a cat person, but my wife loves them. In fact if we had children and someone held a gun to her head and said choose between the kid or the cats, there would likely be an uncomfortable amount of time before a response. The big question is, why do we love animals like we do our own children? Well a small study helps try to answer this complex question by investigating differences in how important brain structures are activated when women view images of their children compared to images of their own dogs.... Read more »

  • October 2, 2014
  • 06:16 PM
  • 435 views

Living on the edge: graphene quantum dots perform as well as platinum in fuel cell electrodes

by Jonathan Trinastic in Goodnight Earth

Down with platinum! New research out of Rice University shows that graphene quantum dots attached to graphene oxide sheets perform as well as platinum in fuel cell electrodes. And they're much cheaper!... Read more »

  • October 2, 2014
  • 05:04 PM
  • 344 views

The Mysterious Origins of HIV Discovered

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

There have been a lot of theories on where HIV came from, anywhere from the mundane, it spread from other animals. To the down right crazy, the government created it to wipe out homosexuals. Well bad news for conspiracy theorists, a new study suggests that the HIV pandemic with us today is almost certain to have begun its global spread from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).... Read more »

Nuno R. Faria1, Andrew Rambaut, Marc A. Suchard, Guy Baele, Trevor Bedford, Melissa J. Ward, Andrew J. Tatem, João D. Sousa, Nimalan Arinaminpathy, Jacques Pépin,.... (2014) The early spread and epidemic ignition of HIV-1 in human populations. Science. info:/10.1126/science.1256739

  • October 1, 2014
  • 01:41 PM
  • 283 views

The Ever Plastic Brain and Intellectual Disabilities

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The plasticity of the brain is always somewhat of a shock. It's near incredible what the brain can achieve, look at people who have strokes, or any other sort of brain injury and yet still somehow manage to get up and move, or perform tasks. So I guess it should be no surprise, but still amazing that studying mice with a genetic change similar to what is found in Kabuki syndrome (an inherited disease of humans) researchers report they have used an anticancer drug to improve mental function.... Read more »

Hans T. Bjornsson, Joel S. Benjamin, Li Zhang, Jacqueline Weissman, Elizabeth E. Gerber, Yi-Chun Chen, Rebecca G. Vaurio, Michelle C. Potter, Kasper D. Hansen, & Harry C. Dietz. (2014) Histone deacetylase inhibition rescues structural and functional brain deficits in a mouse model of Kabuki syndrome. Science Translational Medicine. info:/10.1126/scitranslmed.3009278

  • September 30, 2014
  • 06:10 PM
  • 286 views

New Immune System Discovery

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The immune system is sort of this big enigma, we know how pieces of it work, but we don’t know it as well as we would like or we wouldn’t have autoimmunity to contend with. Well new research reveals new information about how our immune system functions, shedding light on a vital process that determines how the body’s ability to fight infection develops. Which brings us one step closer to the big picture of the immune system.... Read more »

  • September 29, 2014
  • 08:52 PM
  • 372 views

There's nothing quite like renewables: Modeling indicates natural gas production will not reduce future greenhouse gas emissions as hoped

by Jonathan Trinastic in Goodnight Earth

Not so fast natural gas! New modeling using 'commitment' accounting to represent social inertia indicates that natural gas may not reduce emissions as hoped.... Read more »

Steven J Davis and Robert H Socolow. (2014) Commitment accounting of CO2 emissions. Environmental Research Letters, 9(084018). info:/

  • September 29, 2014
  • 06:07 PM
  • 353 views

Cat and Dogs: seeking solutions with sniffing canines and science

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Hi Mia and Julie,  First of all, I LOVE your blog! After meeting at SPARCS this past summer (summer for us in North America.. I take it summer is just beginning in Australia!), I’ve followed it closely.  You do amazing things for the promotion of  canine science. Serious love. A bit of background for the readers: I’m currently doing my PhD at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, under the supervision of Dr. Simon Gadbois. Dr. Gadbois has an amazing amount of knowledge and experience in the science of sniffing (just check out Gadbois & Reeve, 2014 link below!).  He’s trained sniffer dogs for the conservation of ribbon snakes and wood turtles, to track coyotes, and to detect invasive pests in lumber. He and I have taken on a different type of project and are studying the intricacies of biomedical detection dogs, specifically, the very interesting phenomenon of Diabetic Alert Dogs.  Cat Reeve at #SPARCS2014 where she won the 'Best Emerging Researcher' prize I say interesting because there’s anecdotal evidence suggesting that some dogs alert their owners to hypoglycemic events (low blood sugar). In 2008, Deborah Wells published a series of case studies where dogs were reported as signalling (barking, licking, pawing etc. the individual) while their owners were awake, while they were sleeping, and even when their owners were in a different room with the door closed! And this is with no previous training!  Isn’t this fantastic! Severe hypoglycemic events can be extremely dangerous for individuals with diabetes. If not treated, they can lead to seizures, comas, and even death. The fact that dogs may be able to alert an individual before a serious hypoglycemic event means less worry about hypoglycaemia unawareness, and blood sugar dropping over night when individuals are unconscious.Given that dogs are signalling through closed doors, it is assumed that the dogs smell something that alerts them to a change in the physiology of their owner (as opposed to behavioural cues, as is believed to be the case with seizure alert dogs). There are many companies that have taken advantage of this supposed ability, and have trained Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs) to sell to individuals with diabetes.  In my own searches, I have found no company that publicly provides information as to how they train their dogs. However, according to recent studies (see Gonder-Frederick et al., 2013 and Rooney et al., 2011 below) these trained DADs dogs contribute greatly to the families of individuals’ with diabetes; they signal consistently and, consequently, significantly reduce the number of hypoglycemic events an individual experiences. Now, if it is in fact an olfactory cue that dogs use to identify a drop in blood sugar in their owners, one would expect that if you presented one of these trained DADs with the “scent” of hypoglycemia without the individual present (just like having the owner with diabetes on the other side of a door), the dog would still signal.  Dehlinger and colleagues recently tested three DADs in a lab setting, presenting the dogs with human biological samples that were obtained identically to the way the samples used to train the dogs were obtained. In this study, none of the three dogs could pick out a ... Read more »

  • September 29, 2014
  • 05:12 PM
  • 295 views

New Protein Implicated in Alzheimer’s

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Alzheimer's prevention has made some strides in recent years. We've even identified some new causes, and in some cases we can do both. In fact, researchers have now shown that low levels of the protein progranulin in the brain can increase the formation of amyloid-beta plaques (a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease). These plaques can cause neuroinflammation, and worsen memory deficits in a mouse model of this condition. Conversely, by using a gene therapy approach to elevate progranulin levels, scientists were able to prevent these abnormalities and block cell death in this model.... Read more »

Minami, S., Min, S., Krabbe, G., Wang, C., Zhou, Y., Asgarov, R., Li, Y., Martens, L., Elia, L., Ward, M.... (2014) Progranulin protects against amyloid β deposition and toxicity in Alzheimer's disease mouse models. Nature Medicine. DOI: 10.1038/nm.3672  

  • September 28, 2014
  • 03:37 PM
  • 330 views

The Genetic Evolutionary Arms Race

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Genes are tricky little buggers, the stuff that makes us up has fought the test of time to make it to where we are today. It is thought that our genes changed in an attempt to outpace other life, albeit random changes.That might only be half right however, new findings suggest that there is an evolutionary arms race going on within the genome against, of all things, itself. This inherent competition of primates drove the evolution of complex regulatory networks that orchestrate the activity of genes in every cell of our bodies... Read more »

Jacobs, Greenberg, Nguyen, Haeussler, Ewing, Katzman, Paten, Salama . (2014) An evolutionary arms race betweenKRAB zinc-finger genes ZNF91/93 and SVA/L1 retrotransposons. Nature. info:/10.1038/nature13760

  • September 27, 2014
  • 01:29 PM
  • 544 views

Are Black Holes just in Our Imagination?!

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Black holes, physicists have been fighting over them forever, heck there is even a book entitled the black hole war! (which I do recommend for anyone interested) It’s no real surprise since they are the ultimate unknown – the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren't bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.... Read more »

Laura Mersini-Houghton, Harald P. Pfeiffer. (2014) Back-reaction of the Hawking radiation flux on a gravitationally collapsing star II: Fireworks instead of firewalls . Physics Letters B. info:/arXiv:1409.1837

  • September 26, 2014
  • 02:15 PM
  • 436 views

“GMO” Foods (Once Again) Proven Safe

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

GMO, I shudder every time I hear someone talk about the “dangers”. It’s one of the new buzzwords that doesn’t actually mean anything, but still manages to scare people. Well a new scientific review reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed. Not that this will stop people from spreading fear, but it’s a start.... Read more »

  • September 25, 2014
  • 10:37 AM
  • 420 views

A New Discovery in the Treatment of Autoimmunity and Chronic Inflammation

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis are all diseases brought on by autoimmunity — the bodies inability to tell itself apart from foreign invaders. Finding a cure, or even a suitable treatment has been to put it gently a long, painful road, with little to show for it. On the forefront of the war against the body betrayal is immunosuppressants, which with them carry their own set of side effects and in most cases only off mild to moderate relief of symptoms. But that is all changing and new research on something called immunoproteasomes offer that new hope.... Read more »

Dubiella C, Cui H, Gersch M, Brouwer AJ, Sieber SA, Krüger A, Liskamp RM, & Groll M. (2014) Selective Inhibition of the Immunoproteasome by Ligand-Induced Crosslinking of the Active Site. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English). PMID: 25244435  

  • September 24, 2014
  • 03:54 PM
  • 287 views

A new Medicine may help Lupus Sufferers

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Lupus, a particularly bad hell on earth for people suffering from it. Lupus is caused by autoimmunity, in where the body attacks itself. I have a special place in my heart for people suffering from the disease because my Uncle suffered from it. There is no cure and only moderately effective treatments for the disorder, which causes, in some cases, the most excruciating pain you will ever feel. Thankfully new findings by a biomedical engineering team raise hope for a new class of drugs to treat lupus that may not include the long list of adverse risks and side effects often associated with current treatments.... Read more »

  • September 24, 2014
  • 11:42 AM
  • 407 views

Genetics "Experts" Surveyed on Returning Incidental Findings

by Daniel Koboldt in Massgenomics

In my last post, I wrote about the return of results from next-gen sequencing, specifically a recent paper in AJHG about secondary findings in ~6500 ESP exomes. Today we’ll delve into another paper in the same issue on the attitudes of genetics professionals on return of incidental findings from whole genome sequencing (WGS) and exome sequencing […]... Read more »

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