Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior

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By David Grimm Last year marked the 60th anniversary of one of the most influential concepts in lab animal welfare—the three Rs. To promote the humane treatment of laboratory animals, these principles urge scientists to replace animals with new technologies, reduce the number of animals used in experiments, and refine lab protocols to minimize animal suffering. First outlined in the 1959 book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, the three Rs have become a cornerstone of lab animal legislation and oversight throughout the world. But as millions of animals continue to be used in biomedical research each year, and new legislation calls on federal agencies to reduce and justify their animal use, some have begun to argue that it’s time to replace the three Rs themselves. “It was an important advance in animal research ethics, but it’s no longer enough,” Tom Beauchamp told attendees last week at a lab animal conference. Beauchamp, an emeritus professor of ethics at Georgetown University, has studied the ethics of animal research for decades. He also co-authored the influential Belmont Report of 1978, which has guided ethical principles for conducting research on human subjects. Beauchamp recently teamed up with David DeGrazia, a bioethicist at George Washington University and a senior research fellow in the Department of Bioethics at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), to lay out six principles for the ethical use of lab animals, which would replace the three Rs. The pair published both a scientific article and book on the topic late last year. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27323 - Posted: 06.26.2020

By Lisa Sanders, M.D. “Honey” — the woman could hear fear tightening her husband’s voice as he called out to her — “I think your mother just died.” She ran into the living room. Her 78-year-old mother sat rigid in a chair, her skin gray and lifeless. Her eyes were open but all white, as if she were trying to see the back of her own skull. Then her arms started to make little jerking movements; her lips parted as saliva seeped out the corner of her mouth onto her chin. Then her body slumped. She seemed awake but confused after this seizure-like episode. Should I call an ambulance? the husband asked. No, his wife responded. Her mother had a complicated medical history, including a kidney transplant 12 years before and an autoimmune disease. An ambulance would want to take her to the nearby Hartford Hospital. But her doctors were at Yale New Haven Hospital — some 30 miles from their home in Cromwell, Conn. They helped the woman into the car. It was only a half-hour drive to the hospital that March 10 evening, but it seemed to last forever. Would her mother make it? Her eyes were closed, and she looked very pale. Her other daughter worked at the hospital and was waiting with a wheelchair when they arrived. The daughters made sure that the doctors and nurses knew that their mother took two medications to keep her immune system from killing her transplanted kidney. Because of those immune-suppressing drugs, she’d had many infections over the years. Six months earlier, she nearly lost her kidney to a particularly aggressive bacterium. She’d been well since then, until a few days earlier when she came down with a cold. It was just a sore throat and a runny nose, but the couple were worried enough to move her into their home to keep an eye on her. She didn’t want to eat because of the pain in her throat, but otherwise she seemed to be doing well. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Epilepsy
Link ID: 27224 - Posted: 04.30.2020

By Sam Roberts Donald Kennedy, a neurobiologist who headed the Food and Drug Administration before becoming president of Stanford University, where he oversaw major expansions of its campus and curriculum and weathered a crisis over research spending, died on April 21 in Redwood City, Calif. He was 88. His death, at a residential care facility, was caused by complications of the new coronavirus, his wife, Robin Kennedy, said. He had suffered a severe stroke in 2015. Stanford had been Dr. Kennedy’s life since 1960, when, not yet 30, he joined its faculty as an assistant professor of biology. And except for a stint in the late 1970s as head of the F.D.A. under President Jimmy Carter, he remained wedded to the university, becoming provost and then president in 1980, beginning an 11-year tenure. It was a productive one. During his presidency the university opened the Stanford Humanities Center and campuses in Oxford, England; Kyoto, Japan; and Washington; diversified the Western culture curriculum; and raised $1.2 billion in a five-year centennial campaign, although by the end of the decade the university was facing deficits. His tenure also coincided with fiery debates over antiwar protests and academic freedom by both professors and students, divestiture of the university’s holdings in companys doing business in South Africa, and $160 million in damage inflicted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. A would-be writer who had become a neurobiologist in college adventitiously, Dr. Kennedy found his leadership under the microscope in the early 1990s, when the university was accused — and later cleared — of improperly billing the Navy for research expenses. The accusations were aired by federal auditors and Representative John D. Dingell Jr., a tenacious Michigan Democrat, who said that Stanford may have billed the government for as much as $200 million in improper expenses on research contracts for over a decade. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 27214 - Posted: 04.27.2020

By Laura Sanders Neuroscientists love a good metaphor. Through the years, plumbing, telegraph wires and computers have all been enlisted to help explain how the brain operates, neurobiologist and historian Matthew Cobb writes in The Idea of the Brain. And like any metaphor, those approximations all fall short. Cobb leads a fascinating tour of how concepts of the brain have morphed over time. His writing is clear, thoughtful and, when called for, funny. He describes experiments by neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who zapped awake patients’ brains with electricity to provoke reactions. Zapping certain places consistently dredged up memories, which Cobb calls “oneiric experiences.” His footnote on the term: “Look it up. It’s exactly the right word.” I did, and it was. Cobb runs though the history of certain concepts used to explain how the brain works, including electricity, evolution and neurons. Next comes a section on the present, which includes discussions of memory, circuits and consciousness. Cobb offers tastes of the latest research, and a heavy dose of realism. Memory studies have made progress, but “we are still far from understanding what is happening when we remember,” Cobb writes. Despite big efforts, “we still only dimly understand what is going on when we see.” Our understanding of how antidepressants work? “Virtually non-existent.” This real talk is refreshing, and Cobb uses it to great effect to argue that neuroscience is stymied. “There have been many similar moments in the past, when brain researchers became uncertain about how to proceed,” he writes. Scientists have amassed an impressive stockpile of brain facts, but a true understanding of how the brain works eludes us. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 27206 - Posted: 04.22.2020

Abby Olena Nicole Ward, who studies inflammatory skin diseases at Case Western Reserve University, was all set to ship the last six mice in a cohort to a collaborator at the University of Michigan for analysis next week. But then she got word that the University of Michigan would no longer accept any animals, as the university scaled back operations to only essential research to limit the number of people on campus and protect the community from COVID-19. Case Western followed with similar reductions in in-person research activities. “We’re lucky,” Ward says. “What we’ve been told is: don’t start any new experiments, but you’re allowed to continue the experiments that you have ongoing.” That’s not the case everywhere. About three weeks ago, Sarah Gaffen, an immunologist at the University of Pittsburgh, told her lab members to start shutting down experiments out of concern for their safety as the virus spread. On March 18, that reduction was formalized in a message from administrators at Pitt mandating that non-essential research stop two days later. “We are basically shuttered. We stopped everything except for minimal mouse maintenance,” she says. “We’re not allowed to buy them. We’re not allowed to breed them up.” Bianca Coleman, Gaffen’s lab manager, continues to report to work to care for the mouse colonies. But she is also taking steps to shrink the population, so that if she or the university’s animal care workers get sick, the mice that remain can be supervised by fewer people. Since the cut backs started, she’s reduced the colonies by about 80 cages, which might each have a handful of mice, and still expects to make further reductions of the 300–400 cages she typically oversees, she tells The Scientist in an email. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27158 - Posted: 04.01.2020

By Stephen Casper. The poet Emily Dickinson rendered the brain wider than the sky, deeper than the sea, and about the weight of God. Scientists facing the daunting task of describing this organ conventionally conjure up different kinds of metaphor — of governance; of maps, infrastructure networks and telecommunications; of machines, robots, computers and the Internet. The comparisons have been practical and abundant. Yet, perhaps because of their ubiquity, the metaphors we use to understand the brain often go unnoticed. We forget that they are descriptors, and see them instead as natural properties. Such hidden dangers are central to biologist and historian Matthew Cobb’s The Idea of the Brain. This ambitious intellectual history follows the changing understanding of the brain from antiquity to the present, mainly in Western thought. Cobb outlines a growing challenge to the usefulness of metaphor in directing and explaining neuroscience research. With refreshing humility, he contends that science is nowhere near working out what brains do and how — or even if anything is like them at all. Cobb shows how ideas about the brain have always been forged from the moral, philosophical and technological frameworks to hand for those crafting the dominant narratives of the time. In the seventeenth century, the French philosopher René Descartes imagined an animal brain acting through hydraulic mechanisms, while maintaining a view of the divine nature of a mind separate from matter. Later authorities, such as the eighteenth-century physician and philosopher Julien Offray de Le Mettrie, secularized the image and compared the human to a machine. The Italian physicist Alessandro Volta rejected the idea of ‘animal electricity’, proposed by his rival Luigi Galvani as a vital force that animates organic matter. Volta was driven at least partly by his aversion to the mechanistic view. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 27154 - Posted: 03.31.2020

Peter Hess The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered universities and institutes, leaving scientists scrambling to continue their research. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States have dispatched students home and are aiming to transition to remote learning. Scientific organizations are canceling conferences or moving them online. And scientists have had to put research projects and clinical trials on hold. These decisions—all done with the intention of slowing the pandemic—may stall and stymie research, with long-term consequences for the field. It may also hurt career prospects for graduate students who rely on conference presentations to gain exposure. “From everything that we’re seeing, this isn’t like a two-week hiatus,” says Helen Egger, chair of the child and adolescent psychiatry department at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “We’re in the middle of the hurricane, and there’s no indication how much worse it’s going to get or when it will end.” One long-term benefit is that the crisis may give universities and professional organizations a crash course in embracing technology. “These types of experiences—as long as we are having them, unfortunately—are giving autism [researchers] and other researchers more skills to be able to have online conferences and online teaching as needed,” says Steven Kapp, lecturer in psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. Backup plans: Some labs were prepared to meet the challenge, and they quickly put their emergency plans into place when news of the pandemic intensified. But, illustrating how rapidly the situation is changing, some of their plans derailed over the weekend. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 27132 - Posted: 03.21.2020

By Inés Gutiérrez, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega Earlier this month, Mexico’s leading university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), announced that renowned neuroscientist Ranulfo Romo Trujillo would leave his position after being disciplined for an unspecified offense. According to a 4 March press release from UNAM, Romo Trujillo voluntarily asked to be separated from his job at UNAM’s University City campus in Mexico City. Sources close to the case say he had been temporarily suspended because a female worker made a formal complaint of sexual harassment against him following an incident in January. But current and former UNAM students and staff say that reports of inappropriate behavior by Romo Trujillo had circulated for years before his departure. Romo Trujillo, who works at UNAM’s Institute of Cellular Physiology (IFC), did not respond to repeated requests for comment. He is arguably the most famous neuroscientist in Mexico, studying perception, working memory, and decision-making. He has more than 150 publications, including in top journals such as Science and Nature; is on the editorial board of Neuron and other journals; and is one of 11 Mexican members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. IFC physiologist Marcia Hiriart Urdanivia acknowledged in an email to Science that, while director of IFC from 2009 to 2017, she received multiple accounts of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct by Romo Trujillo. Hiriart Urdanivia says she warned Romo Trujillo that “his career was endangered by such actions.” But the women involved did not choose to file official complaints, she says. As a result, “I had no authority to do anything else.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 27129 - Posted: 03.21.2020

By James Gorman Among the many lessons of the coronavirus pandemic is how close humans are to the rest of the animal kingdom. We get diseases from other animals, and then we use more animals to figure out how to stop the diseases. As research ramps up treatments and vaccines, animals are crucial to fighting the pandemic. There are different animals at each end of the pandemic, of course. The new disease almost certainly began with a bat virus, scientists agree. That virus probably passed through another animal, perhaps pangolins, on its way to humans. But the animals that scientists will depend on in the lab are mice, first of all, and then perhaps ferrets or hamsters or monkeys. Around the world, different laboratories are racing to breed stocks of mice genetically engineered for research and testing the susceptibility of other animals to infection with the virus that causes Covid-19. There are, of course, many objections to animal testing, particularly when it comes to primates, but researchers are deeply concerned about the hazards to humans of treatments or vaccines that have not been tried on other animals first. No single kind of animal will serve all test purposes and scientists have several criteria for what makes an animal useful in testing therapies and vaccines for effectiveness. First, it must be susceptible to infection, and not all animals are. Despite the quarantining of one dog in Hong Kong, with a “weak positive” test for coronavirus, various health agencies are not taking a single, ambiguous result as evidence for concern. Advisories state there is no evidence yet that pets are susceptible to the disease. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27125 - Posted: 03.17.2020

By David Grimm More than 3 years after it hosted a workshop on the science and ethics of biomedical studies on monkeys, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week convened another workshop on nonhuman primate research. And much like the previous event, the meeting is drawing sharply divergent reactions from biomedical and animal advocacy groups. “It was a very good look at the opportunities and challenges of doing this type of research,” says Alice Ra’anan, director of government relations and science policy at the American Physiological Society, a group that represents nearly 10,000 scientists, doctors, and veterinarians. It was “an excellent and robust discussion around fostering rigorous research in nonhuman primates,” adds Matthew Bailey, president of that National Association for Biomedical Research. But Emily Trunnell, a research associate at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group, counters that the event was a wasted opportunity to talk about the ethics of using nonhuman primates in the first place. “It was just a bunch of scientists clamoring for more money and more monkeys.” The workshop comes at a time when scientists are using a near-record number of rhesus macaques, marmosets, and other nonhuman primates in biomedical research. The animals, many researchers say, have become increasingly important in revealing how the human brain works and in developing treatments for infectious diseases. There’s been a particular surge in demand for marmosets, which are being genetically engineered to serve as models for autism, Parkinson’s, and other neurological disorders. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27059 - Posted: 02.21.2020

Alison Abbott The use of animals in scientific research seems to be declining in the European Union, according to statistics gathered by the European Commission. The figures come from the first report on the state of animal research in the bloc since the introduction of tougher regulations 7 years ago. The report — published on 6 February — reviews the impact of an animal-research directive, legislation that was designed to reduce the use of animals in research and minimize their suffering. The directive, which came into effect in 2013, is widely considered to be one of the world’s toughest on animal research. According to the report, 9.39 million animals were used for scientific purposes in 2017 — the most recent year for which data have been collated — compared with 9.59 million in 2015. From 2015 to 2016, however, there was a slight increase, to 9.82 million. The report acknowledges that this prevents the confirmation of a clear decrease. But it concludes that, when compared with figures from before the directive came into force, the numbers suggest “a clear positive development”. In 2017, more than two-thirds of animals were used in basic or applied research (45% and 23%, respectively), and around one-quarter (23%) were involved in the testing of drugs and other chemicals to meet regulatory requirements. Other uses included the routine production of biological agents such as vaccines; teaching; and forensic investigations (see ‘Animals in science’). More than 60% of the animals used in 2017 were mice, 12% were rats, 13% were fish and 6% were birds. Dogs, cats and non-human primates made up just 0.3% of the total. © 2020 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27039 - Posted: 02.14.2020

By Kelly Servick Since its launch in 2013, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative has doled out about $1.3 billion in grants to develop tools that map and manipulate the brain. Until now, it has operated with no formal director. But last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which manages the initiative and is a key funder, announced that neurobiologist John Ngai would take the helm starting in March. Ngai, whose lab at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the neural underpinnings of the sense of smell, has helped lead BRAIN-funded efforts to classify the brain’s dizzying array of cell types with RNA sequencing. Ngai told ScienceInsider about how the initiative is evolving and how he hopes to influence it. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Q: Why is the BRAIN Initiative getting a director now? A: The initiative has been run day to day by a terrific team of senior program directors and staff with oversight from the 10 NIH institutes and centers that are involved in BRAIN. Walter Koroshetz [director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke] and Josh Gordon [director of the National Institute of Mental Health] have been overseeing the activities of BRAIN … kind of in addition to their “day jobs.” I think as enterprises emerge from their startup phase, which is typically the first 5 years, the question is how do you translate this into a sustainable enterprise, and yet maintain this cutting-edge innovation? … How do we leverage all the accomplishments that have been made, not just within BRAIN, but in molecular biology, in engineering, in chemistry and computer science, in data science. The initiative really will benefit from somebody thinking about this 24/7. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste)
Link ID: 27020 - Posted: 02.05.2020

Jordana Cepelewicz Part of the brain’s allure for scientists is that it is so deeply personal — arguably the core of who we are and what makes us human. But that fact also renders a large share of imaginable experiments on it monstrous, no matter how well intended. Neuroscientists have often had to swallow their frustration and settle for studying the brains of experimental animals or isolated human neurons kept alive in flat dishes — substitutes that come with their own ethical, practical and conceptual limitations. A new world of possibilities opened in 2008, however, when researchers learned how to create cerebral organoids — tiny blobs grown from human stem cells that self-organize into brainlike structures with electrically active neurons. Though no bigger than a pea, organoids hold enormous promise for improving our understanding of the brain: They can replicate aspects of human development and disease once thought impossible to observe in the laboratory. Scientists have already used organoids to make discoveries about schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders and the microcephaly caused by the Zika virus. Yet the study of brain organoids can also be fraught with ethical dilemmas. “In order for it to be a good model, you want it to be as human as possible,” said Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in ethical and legal issues in the biosciences. “But the more human it gets, the more you’re backing into the same sorts of ethics questions that are the reasons why you can’t just use living humans.” In the popular imagination, fueled by over-the-top descriptions of organoids as “mini-brains,” these questions often center on whether the tissue might become conscious and experience its unnatural existence as torture. The more immediate, realistic concerns that trouble experts are less sensational but still significant. It also doesn’t help that the study of organoids falls into an odd gap between other areas of research, complicating formal ethical oversight. Still, no one wants to see brain organoids’ potential discarded lightly. All Rights Reserved © 2020

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27007 - Posted: 01.29.2020

By Gretchen Vogel A prominent neuroscientist whose German lab was targeted by animal rights activists is heading to China, where he says he will be freer to pursue his work on macaques and other monkeys. Nikos Logothetis, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, told colleagues last week that the first members of his lab would move in the coming months to a new International Center for Primate Brain Research (ICPBR) in Shanghai, which he will co-direct with neuroscientist Poo Mu-Ming, scientific director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology. Logothetis says he will follow as soon as remaining lab members have finished their projects, likely by late 2020 or early 2021. The Chinese institute is building a new facility in Shanghai’s Songjiang district, which will house as many as 6000 nonhuman primates, including many transgenic monkeys. “Scientifically it’s incredible,” he says. “They have excellent groups working with CRISPR and genetic engineering.” And, he adds, the acceptance of nonhuman primate research by authorities and the public in China is much higher than in Europe. They “know that no other brain (besides that of humans themselves) can be a true help in making progress.” The move is another sign that China’s investment in neuroscience research, especially involving primates, is paying off, says Stefan Treue, a neuroscientist and director of the German Primate Center. “China has made incredible progress in an unbelievably short period of time. That is the positive side of a political system that is able to move very quickly,” he says. “The combination of political will and necessary resources mean that they have put together an impressive collection of neuroscientists.” © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 27000 - Posted: 01.28.2020

Suzana Herculano-Houzel Here’s something new to consider being thankful for at the dinner table: the long evolutionary journey that gave you your big brain and your long life. Courtesy of our primate ancestors that invented cooking over a million years ago, you are a member of the one species able to afford so many cortical neurons in its brain. With them come the extended childhood and the pushing century-long lifespan that together make human beings unique. All these bequests of your bigger brain cortex mean you can gather four generations around a meal to exchange banter and gossip, turn information into knowledge and even practice the art of what-not-to-say-when. You may even want to be thankful for another achievement of our neuron-crammed human cortices: all the technology that allows people spread over the globe to come together in person, on screens, or through words whispered directly into your ears long distance. I know I am thankful. But then, I’m the one proposing that we humans revise the way we tell the story of how our species came to be. Back when I had just received my freshly minted Ph.D. in neuroscience and started working in science communication, I found out that 6 in 10 college-educated people believed they only used 10% of their brains. I’m glad to say that they’re wrong: We use all of it, just in different ways at different times. The myth seemed to be supported by statements in serious textbooks and scientific articles that “the human brain is made of 100 billion neurons and 10 times as many supporting glial cells.” I wondered if those numbers were facts or guesses. Did anyone actually know that those were the numbers of cells in the human brain? No, they didn’t. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Intelligence; Neurogenesis
Link ID: 26857 - Posted: 11.29.2019

Lateshia Beachum A Chinese man sought medical attention for seizures and a headache that lasted nearly a month. Doctors found that tapeworms from undercooked meat were causing his pain. Researchers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University published a paper last week that details the plight of 46-year-old construction worker Zhu (an alias for the patient) in the eastern Zhejiang province of China who bought pork and mutton about a month ago for a spicy hot pot broth. Days later, the man started feeling dizzy, having headaches and experiencing epilepsy-like symptoms such as limb twitching and mouth foaming while trying to sleep at night, according to the report. Co-workers witnessed one of Zhu’s episodes and dialed for emergency help. He was seen at a hospital where scans and tests showed that he had multiple intracranial calcifications, abnormal deposits of calcium in blood vessels to the brain; and multiple intracranial lesions, according to researchers. Medical staff wanted to examine him further, but he dismissed their concerns because he didn’t want to spend more money, according to the report. The symptoms that sent Zhu to the hospital persisted after he left, researchers reported. He became frightened. He spoke with his relatives about seeking medical treatment before deciding on care at the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University Medical College. Huang Jianrong, the hospital’s chief doctor, consulted Zhu and learned that he had eaten pork and mutton not too long ago, according to the report.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 26855 - Posted: 11.29.2019

By Gary Stix Sigmund Freud never uttered the word neuroscience. Neither did Santiago Ramón y Cajal. It was biophysicist Francis Schmitt who grafted “neuro” with “science” in 1962 when he established the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT. The new moniker was intended to encompass a merging of relevant neuro disciplines, ranging as far afield as physiology, psychology, immunology, physics and chemistry. Brains and behaviors have been scrutinized for millennia. But as psychology blogger Vaughn Bell has pointed out, the 1960s marked a shift in perspective. Neuroscience was the formal name given by Schmitt. But the period represented the beginnings of a “neuroculture,” that put brain science on a pedestal —even leading to the familiar meme proclaiming “my brain made me do it.” One example was rooted in pharmaceutical companies’ development of psychiatric drugs that resulted in their investing “millions both into divining the neurochemistry of experience and into massive marketing campaigns that linked brain functions to the psyche,” Bell notes. The field received an adrenaline boost precisely 50 years ago with the founding of the Society for Neuroscience, allowing Schmitt’s collaborative vision to be globally shared. SFN’s first annual meeting in 1971 drew 1,395 attendees to Washington, D.C. This year’s wrapped up on October 23, bringing more than 27,500 to Chicago—and the annual numbers have occasionally topped 30,000. SFN now boasts 37,000 members from more than 95 countries. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 26766 - Posted: 10.30.2019

By Carl Zimmer Evolutionary biologists retrace the history of life in all its wondrous forms. Some search for the origin of our species. Others hunt for the origin of birds. On Thursday, a team of researchers reported an important new insight into the origin of zombies — in this case, ants zombified by a fungus. Here’s how it works: Sometimes an ant, marching about its business outdoors, will step on a fungal spore. It sticks to the ant’s body and slips a fungal cell inside. The fungus, called Ophiocordyceps, feeds on the ant from within and multiplies into new cells. But you wouldn’t know it, because the ant goes on with its life, foraging for food to bring back to the nest. All the while, the fungus keeps growing until it makes up nearly half of the ant’s body mass. When Ophiocordyceps is finished feeding on its host, the fungal cells gather inside the ant’s body. They form a mat and push needlelike projections into the ant’s muscle cells. The fungal cells also send chemical signals to the ant’s brain, causing the host to do something strange. The ant departs its nest and climbs a nearby plant. In the tropics, where many species of Ophiocordyceps live, the fungus drives ants upward, to a leaf above the ground. The ant bites down, its jaws locking as it dies. The fungus sends out sticky threads that glue the corpse to the leaf. And now it is ready to take the next step in its life cycle: Out of the ant’s head bursts a giant stalk, which showers spores onto the ant trails below. “The ants are walking over a minefield,” said David Hughes, an expert on Ophiocordyceps at Pennsylvania State University. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 26754 - Posted: 10.25.2019

Diana Kwon A few years ago, officials at Switzerland’s Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office approached Hanno Würbel, the head of the animal welfare division at the University of Bern, with the task of examining the quality of experimental design in the country’s animal research. Growing public awareness of the reproducibility crisis in science—which has emerged as researchers discover that a large proportion of scientific results cannot be replicated in subsequent experiments—had put pressure on the government authority to examine this issue, Würbel says. “They wanted to know, what is the situation in Switzerland . . . and is there anything that we need to improve?” To address this question, Würbel and his colleagues examined scientific protocols in 1,277 applications for licenses to conduct animal research that were submitted to and approved by the Swiss Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO). Their analysis, published in PLOS Biology in 2016, concluded that most of the experiments described in approved applications lacked scientific rigor. Only a fraction of the protocols included important measures against bias, such as blinding, randomization, or a clear plan for statistical analysis. It’s now one of several studies that have pointed to critical flaws in the way animal experiments are designed—and many researchers argue that these flaws are major contributors to the reproducibility crisis plaguing published pre-clinical research. In 2011, for example, scientists at the pharmaceutical company Bayer reported that they were unable to reproduce the findings from 43 of 67 projects on potential drug targets in oncology, cardiology, and women’s health. Meanwhile, a 2015 PLOS Biology paper reported that more than 50 percent of preclinical research is not reproducible. The latter study’s authors highlighted poor experimental design as one of the main causes of the problem and estimated that, in the United States alone, approximately $28 billion is spent each year on preclinical experiments that cannot be replicated. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 26606 - Posted: 09.13.2019

Nell Greenfieldboyce The Environmental Protection Agency says it will aggressively reduce the use of animals in toxicity testing, with a goal of eliminating all routine safety tests on mammals by 2035. Chemicals such as pesticides typically get tested for safety on animals like mice and rats. Researchers have long been trying to instead increase the use of alternative safety tests that rely on lab-grown cells or computer modeling. The EPA's administer, Andrew Wheeler, has now set some specific deadlines to try to speed up that transition. Federal Watchdog Warns EPA Is Failing To Enforce Lead Paint Abatement Rules Shots - Health News Federal Watchdog Warns EPA Is Failing To Enforce Lead Paint Abatement Rules In a signed memo made public Tuesday, he's directed the agency to reduce all requests for, and funding of, studies with live mammals by 30 percent by 2025. He says he wants the agency to essentially eliminate all mammal study requests and funding by 2035, with the use of live mammals only allowed after that with special permission. "I really do think that with the lead time that we have in this — 16 years before we completely eliminate animal testing — that we have enough time to come up with alternatives," says Wheeler. He notes that he wrote an op-ed for his college newspaper on the need to reduce animal testing back in 1987. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 26598 - Posted: 09.11.2019