The Science of Science's Open Access Sting: don't shoot the messenger, or you might shoot yourself in the foot... Read more »
Image: Bradley SmithHi Mia and Julie,As one of the few in the world exploring the ‘mind’ of the dingo, the highly controversial wild dog of Australia, I consider myself quite a rare ‘breed’ of scientist. So I thought I would let you know about some of the recent work I have done with dingoes, including a few world first discoveries. It seems dingoes are becoming just as famous for solving problems as they are for causing them!I find the differences between the way wild and domestic dogs think and behave fascinating. The dingo just happens to be a great model for investigating the influence that domestication has on the canine mind because they are considered by many to be a ‘proto dog’. That is, they are thought to be one of the earliest forms of the domestic dog. Not a domestic dog as we know today, but one representing an early transition from the more-wolf-like common ancestor, to dog. What makes dingoes really interesting and unique is that they are wild living and genetically, behaviourally and physically more wolf-like than dog-like, yet are able to communicate with humans (see my paper on their ability to follow human social cues) and in the right environments, can be successful pets - whereas wolves cannot.Dr Bradley Smith (and dingo pup friend!)Domestic dogs are what we call ‘socially’ intelligent , which means they are highly adept at communicating with people. For example, they can read our behaviours, and express to us what they want. This has a lot to do with why we love them so much, why we can create such a close bond, and why they are such successful companions. But this social intelligence may have come at a cost. When faced with a problem that they cannot solve, dogs will often ‘look’ towards their owners for help instead of trying to solve it on their own. The dog’s wild counterparts - wolves and dingoes - however, have to solve problems on their own. In problem solving situations where a human is present, wild canids rarely look back to a human for assistance, and choose to keep trying to solve the task or simply give up (for more information see my experiment on looking back behaviour). It seems to me that humans have become tools in the dog’s problem solving ‘bag of tricks’, and the selection pressure for independent problem solving has been relaxed. It's not that dogs are lazy or dumb - they know exactly what they want, and how to get it! Image: Bradley SmithWhen talking about 'intelligence' in animals it is important to distinguish between different kinds of behaviour and the thinking that goes on behind them. Dogs performing fancy tricks, although impressive and fun to show your guests at parties, are learnt through operant or classical conditioning and therefore not really abilities we would consider higher-order. Perhaps the best example is tool use, which has only been reported in a select group of species. Tool-using animals are those that establish the effective orientation of an object to alter some condition and attain an incentive. This has not been reported in any canid (wild or domestic), although there are many anecdotal accounts floating around the You Tube. So to my surprise, when I began working with dingoes at the Dingo Discovery Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and I came across a dingo that had learned to use tools! Sterling, a sub-adult male had discovered that by manipulating things in his environment, he could get up to all sorts of mischief. In one instance Sterling dragged a plastic table from one end of his enclosure to the other. By jumping on the repositioned table he was able to reach a parcel of food that was placed high on the mesh of his enclosure. Take a look:On another occasion, I captured Sterling moving around his portable plastic kennel. He would use the kennel as a lookout to see his neighbours over the 1m high opaque wall of his enclosure. His manipulation of objects instantly remind me of Wolfgang Kohlers observations of chimpanzees stacking crates in order to reach bananas that were hanging out of reach.Another relatively recent phenomena, considered unique to higher order creatures, are the reactions of animals to the death of conspecifics. Originally thought to only be evident in primates, it has now been documented in a variety of species such as elephants and dolphins. Similar behaviour had yet to be reported in any domestic or wild canid until an ecologist friend of mine Rob Appleby (a PhD candidate from Griffith University) spotted a dingo mother and four littermates respond rather remarkably to the death of a pup on Fraser Island (Queensland, Australia). Over multiple days, the mother transported the pup on at least four instances around the islan... Read more »
Smith Bradley Philip, Appleby Robert George, & Litchfield Carla Anita. (2012) Spontaneous tool-use: An observation of a dingo (Canis dingo) using a table to access an out-of-reach food reward. Behavioural Processes, 89(3), 219-224. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2011.11.004
Appleby Rob, Smith Bradley, & Jones Darryl. (2013) Observations of a free-ranging adult female dingo (Canis dingo) and littermates’ responses to the death of a pup. Behavioural Processes, 42-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2013.02.016
A team of researchers at DuPont have engineered novel yeast that produce omega-3 fatty acids at levels much higher than previously achievable...... Read more »
Gasmi N, Ayed A, Nicaud JM, & Kallel H. (2011) Design of an efficient medium for heterologous protein production in Yarrowia lipolytica: case of human interferon alpha 2b. Microbial cell factories, 38. PMID: 21595994
Xue Z, Sharpe PL, Hong SP, Yadav NS, Xie D, Short DR, Damude HG, Rupert RA, Seip JE, Wang J.... (2013) Production of omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid by metabolic engineering of Yarrowia lipolytica. Nature biotechnology, 31(8), 734-40. PMID: 23873085
Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, Matsuzawa Y, Saito Y, Ishikawa Y, Oikawa S, Sasaki J, Hishida H, Itakura H.... (2007) Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis. Lancet, 369(9567), 1090-8. PMID: 17398308
Kromhout D, Giltay EJ, Geleijnse JM, & Alpha Omega Trial Group. (2010) n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular events after myocardial infarction. The New England journal of medicine, 363(21), 2015-26. PMID: 20929341
Cheng B, Wu G, Vrinten P, Falk K, Bauer J, & Qiu X. (2010) Towards the production of high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid in transgenic plants: the effects of different host species, genes and promoters. Transgenic research, 19(2), 221-9. PMID: 19582587
It doesn’t matter whether or not you think it’s fair: if you’re an academic, your publishing record will have a crucial impact on your career.
It can profoundly affect your prospects for employment, for winning research grants, for climbing the academic ladder, for having a teaching load that doesn’t absorb all your time, for winning academic prizes and fellowships, and for gaining the respect of your peers.... Read more »
Dr. William F Laurance,, Diane Carolina Useche, Susan Gai Laurance and Prof. Corey J. A. Bradshaw. (2013) Predicting Publication Success for Biologists. BioScience. info:/
The significance of rank and confidence play an important role for school pupils. There is an assumption that children perform better amongst highly achieving peers. High class achievement might be thought to indicate better teaching, or to induce academic competition between students. However, new research counters this common assumption.... Read more »
Daniel Aaronson et al. (2007) Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High Schools. Journal of labor economics. DOI: 10.1086/508733
Gender based violence is a deeply embedded problem in many societies and cultures. Despite this, efforts to challenge it are rarely seen at a primary school level. There is a perception that children aged 11 and 12 are too young to “know” about violence, or to offer opinions on it. But this is something that has to change if we are ever going to combat the attitudes and behaviour that can lead to this type of violence.... Read more »
Nancy Lombard. (2013) Young People’s Temporal and Spatial Accounts of Gendered Violence. Sociology. DOI: 10.1177/0038038512458734
According to British historian Arnold Toynbee, “History is just one damned thing after another.” Or is it? That is the question Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut in Storrs tries to answer in a new study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He and his colleagues show history may be deterministic, at least to a certain extent. Their computer simulations show that warfare may have been the main driver behind the formation of empires, bureaucracies and religions.... Read more »
Peter Turchin et al. (2013) War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308825110
Researchers have studied the correlation between the activity in bed and the salary of some workers. As it turns out, those who do not have such an intense sex life, have lower salaries (3 percent less) than those who do.
Sex will make you rich. No, this is not an advertisement to promote prostitution, but the result of a research conducted by Nick Drydakis from the Anglia Ruskin University of Cambridge. His paper, which was terminated in July after one year of research, tested over 7500 persons in Greece. The results show that the more passion one has the more he earns: those who have sex more than four times per week have a salary 5% higher than average. On the other hand, for those who do not practice the ars amatoria regularly, the salary drops down to 3,2% below average.... Read more »
Nick Drydakis. (2013) The effect of sexual activity on wages. IZA. info:/
(source)When Dogs Die: ResourcesWe have been overwhelmed by the response of the Do You Believe in Dog? community to the death of Mia's dog, Elke. It's obvious this has struck a chord because so many people can relate to this emotional time of losing a much loved canine companion. Thank you all for your messages of sympathy and support. We decided to compile some resources to help you, or a friend, prepare for and cope with this difficult (and inevitable) part of sharing our lives with dogs.Understanding Grief: The Australian centre for grief and bereavement offer excellent information on their website. We have included some key excerpts and links.About Grief Suggestions to help you get through this difficult time: Create a memorial - do or make something to honour your loved one.Develop your own rituals - light a candle, listen to special music, make a special place to think.Allowing yourself to express your thoughts and feelings privately can help. Write a letter or a poem (or a blog post!), draw, collect photos, cry.Exercise - do something to use pent-up energy, walk, swim, garden, chop wood.Draw on religious and spiritual beliefs, if this is helpful.Read about other people's experience - find books and articles.Do things that are relaxing and soothing.Some holistic or self care ideas that may assist include meditation, distractions, relaxation, massage, aromatherapy and warmth.To help with sleeplessness: exercise, limit alcohol, eat well before sleeping, and try to have a routine.(source)Sharing with other people can reduce the sense of isolation and aloneness that comes with grief.Allow people to help you, don't be embarrassed to accept their help. You will be able to help someone else at another time. It is your turn now. Talk to family and friends; sharing memories and stories, thoughts and feelings can be comforting and strengthen our connection with our loved one. Consider joining a support group to share with others who have had similar experiences.Talk with a counsellor to focus on your unique situation, to find support and comfort, and to find other ways to manage, especially when either your life or your grief seems to be complicated and particularly difficult. Advice from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement:How to Support Grieving ChildrenHow to Support Grieving Adults Explaining Death to Children:PsychCentral - helpful guide to explaining pet loss with age-group specific suggestionsHow to talk to your pre-schooler about deathASPCA Helping your child when the family pet diesFact Sheets and Support Services:ASPCA: Pet Loss FAQ, End of life FAQ, Pet loss helpline (USA) detailsDogs Trust (UK) Fact Sheet: Coping with the death of your dogRSPCA Victoria (Australia): Grieving for a lost petPatricia McConnell: Helping your dog with the loss of a companionDog dogs mourn?... Read more »
Packman Wendy, Field Nigel P., Carmack Betty J., & Ronen Rama. (2011) Continuing Bonds and Psychosocial Adjustment in Pet Loss. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 16(4), 341-357. DOI: 10.1080/15325024.2011.572046
We’re all familiar with the idea of an IQ test, and we might know where we stand on the IQ scale – but what about the rest of the animal world? And how smart are machines becoming? At present, it’s hard to tell.... Read more »
David L. Dowe. (2005) A computer program capable of passing I.Q. tests. School of Computer Science and Software Engineering. info:/
Farewell to ElkeAh, Julie...I’m not even really sure where to start. "On Sunday I sat outside in the sun, stroking Elke's so-soft ears, while my husband patted her long, sleek back, and we farewelled our first girl. We learned on Friday that her liver and spleen were full of cancer. We are so grateful to have shared 12.5yrs with her and will miss her dearly." is what my Facebook status update said.But let's start at the beginning...Little Elke-Moo and her cow hips, at RSPCAI met Elke (pronounced Ell-kee) when I was in my third week of employment in the RSPCA shelter. What a sucker I was! She was seized as part of a cruelty case from a property where an elderly man with dementia had over forty dogs. Because of the dementia, the dogs weren’t receiving proper care and he sometimes fed them chicken pellets. Of her litter, Elke was the only survivor. She looked like a 5 week old puppy but she was actually 12 weeks old. She was always small. Our ‘bonsai pointer’, we called her. We joked that she was little, but could lay a good egg. My boyfriend at the time and I had been speaking about getting a dog, and pointers had come up as a breed we were interested in – he wanted a dog to run with him. After three weeks of rehabilitation at RSPCA, she came home with me. I was 23 years old. Since then, she has been a fixture in the landscape of our lives - through house moves, our engagement and marriage, the death of my father, the arrival of our daughter, the comings and goings of oh-so-many other dogs (occupational hazard!).Elke and my daughter - a fantastic introduction to dogsElke was energetic, excitable and hilarious. She wasn't perfect, but neither were we. We were a perfect match. She realised, as a young dog, that she could redirect attention to herself if visitors were over, by trawling our dirty clothes basket for recent underwear and then parading it through the lounge room for everyone to see. Post-beach snooze with our other dog, CalebShe didn’t like thunderstorms or fireworks. She loved running off lead at the park, the beach or through the bush and she adored retrieving. She would regularly throw herself into water without stopping to check for a way out. One time I had to walk along a river back for about 500m while she swam and we looked for a place where she could scramble up the riverbank to get out again! We took Elke to obedience training and she taught us so much. Elke was also more than our pet. She helped as a friendly adult dog at puppy preschool classes, she posed as a jaunty model as Australia legislated for the end of tail docking, she tried to distract trainee guide dogs and she visited nursing homes as a certified visiting therapy dog. They were all things we did together, my spotty dog and I.Elke loved playing swim-retrieve in the water She and our other dog Caleb were very close. They had a silly play ritual they indulged in every day. Twice a day. A close-quarters mouthing and growling game that ended in howling calamity. It was sometimes annoying (working from home, it wasn’t always compatible with work-related phone calls!), but always made me smile. But now our house is very quiet.We all loved time at the beachWe didn’t know Elke was sick until a week before she was euthanased. We took her to the vet, her temperature was up, a blood sample was taken, antibiotics were commenced. We didn’t know just how si... Read more »
Podrazik Donna, Shackford Shane, Becker Louis, & Heckert Troy. (2000) The Death of a Pet: Implications for Loss and Bereavement Across the Lifespan. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5(4), 361-395. DOI: 10.1080/10811440008407852
Crossley Michelle. (2013) Pet Loss and Human Bereavement: A Phenomenological Study of Attachment and the Grieving Process. PhD Thesis. info:other/http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/8451
Small numbers can imply big things. Global sea level rose by a little less than 0.2 metres during the 20th century – mainly in response to the 0.8 °C of warming humans have caused through greenhouse gas emissions. That might not look like something to worry about. But there is no doubt that for the next century, sea level will continue to rise substantially. The multi-billion-dollar question is: by how much?... Read more »
Levermann A, Clark PU, Marzeion B, Milne GA, Pollard D, Radic V, & Robinson A. (2013) The multimillennial sea-level commitment of global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(34), 13745-50. PMID: 23858443
As a junk food lover, I found this news really depressing. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article on a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington. The study followed a large group of subjects (about 2,000) for an average of almost seven years to look at the effects of blood glucose levels on the chance of developing dementia.... Read more »
The specific vulnerability of the immune system to recent environmental changes is reflected in the dramatic increase in virtually all inflammatory disorders, such as allergy and autoimmunity. Furthermore, clinical expression of allergy within the first months of life and detectable immune dysregulation at birth provide clear evidence of very early environmental effects. Already, approximately 30% to 40% of the world’s population is affected by one or more allergic conditio... Read more »
Prescott SL. (2013) Early-life environmental determinants of allergic diseases and the wider pandemic of inflammatory noncommunicable diseases. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 131(1), 23-30. PMID: 23265694
How do you get to know one of Earth’s most mysterious creatures? By looking at its earwax, according to a group of US researchers. Analysing the contents of blue whales’ ears, through a process similar to analysis of tree rings, led the team to construct a chemical timeline of the its life. This technique, they say, should allow significant further research both into how blue whales develop and how they respond to environmental concerns.... Read more »
Stephen J. Trumble et al. (2013) Blue whale earplug reveals lifetime contaminant exposure and hormone profiles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311418110
You’ve probably heard that human beings and chimpanzees share almost 99% of their DNA. But is this enough to explain the many differences we see between ourselves and our evolutionary cousins?*
Enter DNA methylation. When a methyl group (CH3) binds to DNA, this can alter the expression of the gene that that specific DNA sequence represents. So, two genes, identical in sequence, can be expressed differently depending on the methyl groups bound to it.
A new study, published in PLOS Genetics, has investigated the methylation patterns in the DNA of humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans**. And indeed, the researchers found several differences in their comparative analysis.... Read more »
Rodriguez RM, Suarez-Alvarez B, Salvanés R, Muro M, Martínez-Camblor P, Colado E, Sánchez MA, Díaz MG, Fernandez AF, Fraga MF.... (2013) DNA methylation dynamics in blood after hematopoietic cell transplant. PloS one, 8(2). PMID: 23451113
Chronic lack of sleep has serious public health implications... Read more »
Alvaro PK, Roberts RM, & Harris JK. (2013) A Systematic Review Assessing Bidirectionality between Sleep Disturbances, Anxiety, and Depression. Sleep, 36(7), 1059-1068. PMID: 23814343
Suffering a miscarriage can be a very distressing experience but for many women their next pregnancy is a normal one. For women, however, who suffer recurrent miscarriage, where they have three or more in a row, it can be utterly devastating.
More frustrating still is that in many cases – more than half – doctors are unable to find an underlying cause or offer more than just a handful of options for treatment... Read more »
Kuroda K, Venkatakrishnan R, James S, Sucurovic S, Mulac-Jericevic B, Lucas ES, Takeda S, Shmygol A, Brosens JJ, & Quenby S. (2013) Elevated Periimplantation Uterine Natural Killer Cell Density in Human Endometrium Is Associated With Impaired Corticosteroid Signaling in Decidualizing Stromal Cells. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. PMID: 24025400
Prince Charming and the boy accused of the Boston bombings may not seem to have much in common. But thousands of teenage American girls appear to be falling in love with 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the explanation may lie in a very awkward place indeed – somewhere between the shining armour and the poisoned apple.
Tsarnaev has become the focal point for a number of fan clubs on social media, largely comprising teenage girls protesting his innocence and professing undying love. Two Facebook groups have 8,400 and 13,500 members respectively.... Read more »
Peter Glick, Susan T. Fiske. (1996) The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism . Journal of Psrsonality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2061
On the same day that the of the Jurassic Park film series has been confirmed, a study published in the journal PLOS One has detailed experiments that seem to prove once and for all that dinosaurs will never again walk the Earth.
The 1993 film, based on a book by Michael Crichton, depicts a theme park island filled with dinosaurs, resurrected from ancient DNA extracted from fossilised mosquitoes trapped in amber.
In the early 1990s, several scientists announced they had extracted DNA from insects fossilised amber as long as 130 million years ago. Insects from this time in Earth’s history, the early Cretaceous period, would have flown among dinosaurs such as flying pterosaurs, swimming plesiosaurs, giant, long-necked sauropods, among the largest creatures ever on land, feathered birds and mammals.... Read more »
David Penney et al. (2013) Absence of Ancient DNA in Sub-Fossil Insect Inclusions Preserved in ‘Anthropocene’ Colombian Copal. PLoS ONE. info:/
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