Archive for: June, 2013

Friday Weird Science: Does your mouse prefer Renoir?

Jun 28 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Friday Weird Science

…well have you ever ASKED it? Maybe it is more of a Picasso type of mouse.

This seems like a completely absurd question. After all, art is thought to be one of the highest of the human endeavors, making things of beauty may be one of the things that makes us the species that we are. But do other animals have artistic sensibilities? Have we ever asked them?

As it turns out, probably mice don’t care if they’re viewing Renoir or Picasso. But even if they don’t care, they can tell the difference. And that is much more interesting than you might suppose.

(I have seen a lot of Renoir, and I must conclude that, aside from similarities in soft styles and lighting, what Renoir really liked was painting naked women. Source)

Watanabe, S. “Preference for and Discrimination of Paintings by Mice” PLoS ONE, 2013. 10.1371/journal.pone.0065335

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Scicurious Guest Writer! Roshan Karki!

Jun 26 2013 Published by under Scicurious Guest Writers

Over at SciAm Blogs today, please check out this month's Scicurious Guest Writer, Roshan Karki! He's writing about science communication in Nepal, and the challenges that it faces. Make sure to head over and check it out!

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Perfect pitch may not be so perfect

Jun 24 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, asking about perfect pitch. Is perfect pitch really perfect? Probably not! It turns out that you can mess with people with perfect pitch, without them even being aware of it. Head over and check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: Do Bigger Beetle Boys Make for Better Babies?

Jun 21 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

And by bigger, I mean older. At least, in this case.

Do you know what makes a good burying beetle dad? One that cares for its offspring and guards the carcass (because the hotspot for beetle romance is on something dead) from invaders? It's not the beetle who's momma raised him right, or the beetle who took classes in women's studies in college. Nope, in this case, he's just a little bit older.

Benowitz et al. "Male age mediates reproductive investment and response to
paternity assurance" Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2013.

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A molecule to prevent naked mole rat cancer

Jun 19 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

Naked mole rats have a tough time getting cancer. Even though they have incredibly long lifespans for rodents, living up to 30 years (as compared to mice, which only live four years under the best conditions), they don't tend to develop the cancers that are seen in other rodent species like mice, rats, and guinea pigs. Why do naked mole rats have such a tough time getting cancer?

Obviously this isn't something they are sad about, instead, it raises a lot of questions. Why are naked mole rats resistant to cancer? The answer to this question could be complex, but it could also tell us a lot about how cancer forms, and give us new strategies for cancer treatment.

Tian et al. "High molecular weight hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole-rat" Nature, 2013. DOI.
(And of course, it should be noted that everything is better with naked mole rats in it)
Credit: Photo by Brandon Vick/ University of Rochester

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Got Imposter Syndrome? Don't let it get you down!

Jun 19 2013 Published by under Academia

I have a piece out today over at the ASBMB Newsletter, talking about Imposter Syndrome. Do you have it? I do. But I'm not letting it hold me back. Head over to find out what it is, and keep it at bay!

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OCD and optogenetics: turning the lights on to turn the behavior off

Jun 17 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, looking at another OCD study (the second in two weeks!). This one is looking at how optogenetics can break a repetitive habit. What does it mean? What is the circuit? Head over and check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: When studying species, know your Roo Poo.

Jun 14 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Ecologists have to know their s**t. Sure, you might think, people who study ecology have to learn a lot of stuff about the area, they need to learn lots of different kinds of information. And that's all true. But what's also true is that many ecologists really DO need to know their s**t. Literally. It's hard to study species in the wild, and this means that often, you are stuck studying not the species directly, but what the species left behind. Tracks, scents, and s**t. Scat. Crap. Many ecologists can tell wolf poop from deer from rabbit from squirrel instantly.

Studying scat is not just about where an animal has been. Yes, it can tell you a lot about the distribution of populations, but it can also give you a rough idea of population size, what they eat, where they've been before, and even where an animal might be in its life cycle. Clearly, it's important to know your crap.

Many poop samples are pretty easy to tell apart (if you can mix up a wolf and a squirrel, it's safe to say that one of those species is having some tummy trouble), but what about species that are very closely related? One species of squirrel from another? type of kangaroo from another?

Wadley et al. "Rapid species identification of eight sympatric northern
Australian macropods from faecal-pellet DNA" Wildlife Research, 2013.

(This 'roo wants to know the deal with its poo. Source)

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Why did leprosy leave Europe?

Jun 13 2013 Published by under Evolution

Well, it didn't LEAVE, but it did become far less common after 1500. Why? Was it leprosy? Or was it us? Or was is something else? I'm at SciAm blogs today talking about a brand new study on the genetics of leprosy bacteria. Head over and check it out!

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Obesity and OCD: 1+1 = 0

Jun 12 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

What do the overconsumption of food and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have in common? At first, this sounds like a trick question. But deep in the brain, the molecules underlying our behavior may come together for these two conditions.

The first is MC4R, a receptor for melanocortin. It binds hormones and affects feeding behavior, mutations in MC4R are associated with severe overcomsumption of high fat, high calorie foods and with obesity. A mouse without an MC4R gene will become severely obese compared to its wildtype counterparts.

SAPAP3 is a protein that is associated with synapses, the spaces between neurons. It can regulate things like receptor levels that determine how well a neuron responds to excitatory input. But a knockout of SAPAP3 in mice produces something very different: severe overgrooming, a model of OCD. All rodents groom themselves, it's necessary to keep clean. But SAPAP3 knockouts groom themselves far, far too much, to the point of creating terrible lesions on their skin. This has been proposed as a model of OCD, as many people with OCD become obsessed with cleanliness, and will do things like, say, washing their hands, to the point of severely damaging their skin.

So a knockout of MC4R creates obese mice. A knockout of SAPAP3 creates overgrooming mice. You might think that if you combined the two knockouts, you would get severely obese mice that also overgroomed.

But you don't. Instead, you get mice that, to all appearances, seem completely normal. No obesity. No overgrooming.

What gives?

Xu et al. "Double deletion of melanocortin 4 receptors and SAPAP3 corrects compulsive behavior and obesity in mice" PNAS, 2013.

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