May 20, 2013 2:03 pm
If animals were to compete in a space-based reality survival show, lizards might emerge victorious. At least, that’s the indication of a Russian experiment concluded yesterday when a space capsule containing live mice, lizards, crayfish and fish was recovered around 750 miles south of Moscow, the Associated Press reports.
The capsule spent a month traveling 375 miles above the planet’s surface. That’s higher than the International Space Station’s orbit. The Russian scientists say that this experiment represents that longest period animals have ever spent alone in space and been recovered alive. In 2007, AP writes, the last research capsule to carry live animals into space spent only 12 days in orbit.
Not all of the research subjects made it, however.
Fewer than half of the 53 mice and other rodents who blasted off on April 19 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome survived the flight, Russian news agencies reported, quoting Vladimir Sychov, deputy director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems and the lead researcher.
Sychov said this was to be expected and the surviving mice were sufficient to complete the study, which was designed to show the effects of weightlessness and other factors of space flight on cell structure. All 15 of the lizards survived, he said.
The ordeal is not over for the surviving mice and lizards, however. They will be flown back to Moscow, where researchers will perform laboratory tests on them to better understand the atrophying effects of space.
The AP does not mention what happened to the crayfish and fish.
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May 20, 2013 1:27 pm
In the animal kingdom, larger males—think chimpanzees, lions, bulls—often try to acquire or defend more resources, like territory, food, and females, than their weaker underlings. Researchers decided to apply the competitive animal model to human political decision making about redistribution of wealth and income to see if there was any correlation.
The Atlantic describes the study:
Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and UC Santa Barbara collected from several hundred men and women in Argentina, the U.S., and Denmark. They categorized the subjects by socioeconomic class, their upper-body strength, or “fighting ability” (as measured by the “circumference of the flexed bicep of the dominant arm”), and their responses to a questionnaire gauging their support for economic redistribution.
They hypothesized that men with more upper body strength would be less open to wealth distribution, following the same tendency of stronger males of many animal species. After all, upper-body strength has counted as a major component of dominance throughout human evolutionary history. When economics, strength and gender were taking into account, that hypothesis turned out to be true. Popular Science reports:
Socioeconomic status also showed a correlation with economic views. As expected, rich men were generally opposed to redistribution, and poor men generally in favor of it. Men with stronger upper bodies tended to have stronger views–rich, strong men were very much opposed to redistribution, while less strong but still rich men were less opposed. On the side of those that support redistribution, the trend was reversed: poorer but strong men were strongly in favor of redistribution, while weaker poor men were not as committed.
Political party had nothing to do with the results, the researchers found, and no correlation turned up between women’s opinion on the subjet and their physical strength and/or wealth.
The authors conclude: “Because personal upper-body strength is irrelevant to payoffs from economic policies in modern mass democracies, the continuing role of strength suggests that modern political decision making is shaped by an evolved psychology designed for small-scale groups.”
For many men, apparently, animal antics still hold strong.
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May 17, 2013 11:26 am
Since fire ants first invaded the U.S. through cargo ships docking in Mobile, Alabama, the aggressive pest has taken a firm hold in the South and Southwest. More than $5 billion is spent each year on medical treatment and fire ant control, according to Food and Drug Administration, and the ants cost an additional $750 million in agricultural damage.
Now, however, there’s a new ant on the block. The crazy ant – also an invader from South America – is displacing fire ants in the U.S. by gobbling them up. But this unprescribed cure is likely worse than the disease it’s treating. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Like fire ants, these South American invaders seem to be fond of electrical equipment. But unlike their stinging red counterparts, the tawny crazy ants create mega-colonies, sometimes in homes, and push out local populations of ants and arthropods.
Thus far, the crazy ants are not falling for the traditional poisons used to eliminate fire ant mounds. And when local mounds are destroyed manually, they are quickly regenerated.
Though the crazy ants don’t deliver the same burning bite as fire ants, they do stubbornly make their nests in bathroom plumbing or in walls. So far, researchers haven’t documented any native animals preying on the crazy ants, so their colonies are allowed to run amok, sometimes growing 100 times the size of other species of ants living in the area.
This isn’t the first time one ant invader has been displaced by another. The Argentine ant arrived back in 1891, followed by the black ant in 1918. But the fire ant put an end to those two invasive species when it arrived a couple decades later. Now, the fire ant’s own day of invasive reckoning may have arrived, but rather than feel relieved, researches are worried. Southern ecosystems have had time to adjust to fire ants. Crazy ants—well, who knows what they’ll do?
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May 17, 2013 9:16 am
Picture a mountain climber, trekking up Mount Everest. Is he kind of burly? Does he have a beard? He’s probably a man—a white man. That’s about accurate: 78 percent of Americans who took part in activities outdoors last year were white. Only 37 percent of African American kids between 6 and 12 did any sort of outdoor sport, from hiking to fishing.
Expedition Denali, a group of teachers and students dedicated to promoting hiking and outdoor activities among minority groups, just ran a successful Kickstarter to fund 12 teachers and students who will become the first African American team to reach the top of Denali—North America’s highest mountain. Here is their video:
Other organizations are trying to increase the diversity of their outdoor groups as well. Outside Magazine reports on the National Outdoor Leadership School:
In 1994, the Lander, Wyoming, nonprofit devised a diversity program that has since doled out more than $1.5 million in scholarships to help get minority youth into its courses, which teach wilderness and leadership skills through extended adventure trips. “We work hard to recruit young people of color, but we still struggle,” says Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, who manages NOLS’s diversity program. “There are many barriers, including the lack of role models.” That’s where Expedition Denali comes in, and NOLS has budgeted nearly $250,000 for the group’s efforts.
Another website, Outdoor Afro, tries to encourage minorities to get outdoors as well. The group’s founder, Rue Mapp, explains why she started Outdoor Afro in this NPR interview. Her site describes the group’s purpose this way:
Outdoor Afro is a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing — and more!
Outdoor Afro disrupts the false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature, and works to shift the visual representation of who can connect with the outdoors.
Together, these sites and expeditions hope to communicate with communities that don’t tend to participate in hiking, climbing, fishing and biking. And while they acknowledge that 12 people reaching the top of one mountain won’t solve all the problems, it can help raise awareness of the tiny numbers of minorities who hike in the first place.
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May 16, 2013 3:41 pm
Pregnancy tests did not always come in an easy-to-use, sterile kit that provided almost immediate results. Less than a century ago, women had to rely upon frogs instead. In 1938, Dr. Edward R. Elkan wrote in the British Medical Journal:
The discovery of what is now known as the xenopus pregnancy test is based on experiments conducted by Hogben (1930, 1931), who observed that hypophysectomy produced ovarian retrogression, and the injection of anterior pituitary extracts ovulation, in the female South African clawed toad.
The African clawed frog, as its better known today, was imported around the world for its use in pregnancy tests. Doctors would ship urine samples to frog labs, where technicians would inject female frogs with a bit of the urine into their hind leg. The animals would be placed back into their tanks, and in the morning the technicians would check for tell-tale frog eggs dotting the water. If the female frog had ovulated, that meant the woman who provided the urine was pregnant and the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, had kicked off ovulation in the frog. Researchers referred to this procedure as the Hogben test.
Among the 295 tests which I have done so far and in which 2,112 frogs were used I have not seen one clear positive that did not indicate a pregnancy. There were a few negative results which when repeated after a fortnight became positive, but I do not think that these can be regarded as failures.
Frogs were actually a great improvement on the previous means of testing whether or not a woman was pregnant. Welcome History describes:
Prior to Xenopus, female mice and rabbits had been used, but these had to be slaughtered, dissected and carefully examined for ovarian changes. Because toads were reusable and could be conveniently kept in aquaria, Xenopus made pregnancy testing practical on a larger scale than before.
Thousands of the frogs were exported across the world from the 1930s to 1950s for use as pregnancy testers.
Immunological test kits finally replaced Xenopus in the 1960s and were rapidly taken up by private companies and feminist organisations offering diagnostic services directly to women. The first over-the-counter home test was sold in pharmacies in the early 1970s, but it resembled a small chemistry set and so was not user-friendly. It was not until 1988 that the first recognisably ‘modern’ one-step-stick hit the shelves.
But the frogs’ legacy lives on. African clawed frogs can be found living around many urban centers today, where they were likely released into the wild after hospitals no longer had use for them. Additionally, the imported frogs are common pets, and no doubt some of those pets wear out their welcome and get chucked into a local stream or pond.
In 2006, researchers realized that the frog may be carriers for the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus, which has caused the extinction and decline of around 200 amphibian species around the world. Now, research published in PLoS One shows for the first time that populations of African clawed frogs living in California carry the fungus. The frogs can carry the disease for long periods without being affected themselves, so researchers suspect that they may be the original vectors that introduced the fungus around the world—a sort of revenge for being used as egg-laying research subjects for all those years.
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