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Showing posts with label Animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Animals. Show all posts

Monday, 2 March 2020

The perfect music to relax and calm cats

Taking a cat to the vet can be a stressful, even traumatic, experience for the pet as well as the owner. Today, we highlight a study published in the JFMS (Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery), having shown that making the cat listen to a specific type of music during the visit can help it to be less stressful.

The use of music has become increasingly popular in human medicine, with numerous studies showing a range of benefits, ranging from improved motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, to reduction of anxiety associated with medical examinations, diagnostic procedures and surgery. Now there is evidence to show that the benefits of music are also seen in cats and other animals.

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Research published previously in the JFMS had already indicated that cats, under the effect of general anesthesia, remain physiologically sensitive to music: in addition, they seem to be in a more relaxed state when they hear so. classical music, compared to pop or heavy metal.

Relaxing your cat and reducing anxiety with music is possible

In this latest study, researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) in the United States took the analysis of the impact of different types of music a step further, exploring the calming effects of composed music. specifically for cats.

It should be noted that the compositions considered to be pleasant to the human ear often have a rhythm similar to the frequency of the human pulse at rest and often contain frequencies of the human vocal range.

Therefore, the researchers based themselves on this principle to create music specifically pleasant for cats, composed of vocalizations of affiliated cats (such as purring and nursing sounds), as well as frequencies similar to the vocal range. feline (two octaves above that of humans).

Then, in order to assess the effects of music specific to cats, 20 company specimens enrolled in the LSU study listened to it for 20 minutes:

The researchers also played classical music (“Elegy”, from Fauré), or no music (silence) in a random order. All of these tests were carried out each time during a visit to the veterinarian, two weeks apart.

They thus assigned “stress scores” to cats, based on their behavior and posture, as well as “average treatment scale scores” (based on cats' reactions to actions performed by their owner). These scores were assigned from video recordings of the exams. The neutrophil / lymphocyte ratios of the blood samples were also measured to look for a response to physiological stress.

Positive results

The study found that cats appeared to be less stressed during the examination (as indicated by stress scores and average treatment scale scores for cats) when they could hear cat-specific music, compared to to classical music and the absence of music.

This effect was not reflected in the neutrophil / lymphocyte ratio, but scientists suggest that 20 minutes may not have been enough to affect this measurement.

By lowering stress levels, researchers conclude that music specially designed for cats can not only have benefits for the well-being of the cat, but also that it would reassure owners during a visit to the veterinarian, allowing their animal to live a less unpleasant experience.

Do you have one or more cats? Do not hesitate to make them listen to this extract and write to us explaining his reaction!


Effects of music on behavior and physiological stress response of domestic cats in a veterinary clinic

Amanda Hampton, Alexandra Ford, Roy E Cox, III, Chin-chi Liu, Ronald Koh

First Published February 12, 2019

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Scientists discovered The First-Ever Animal That Doesn't Need Oxygen to Survive

Some truths about the Universe and our experience in it seem immutable. The sky is up. Gravity sucks. Nothing can travel faster than light. Multicellular life needs oxygen to live. Except we might need to rethink that last one.

The nuclei and membranes of a parasite that does not use oxygen (H. salminicola), highlighted by a fluorescent dye. | Stephen Douglas Atkinson

Scientists have just discovered that a jellyfish-like parasite doesn't have a mitochondrial genome - the first multicellular organism known to have this absence. That means it doesn't breathe; in fact, it lives its life completely free of oxygen dependency.

This discovery isn't just changing our understanding of how life can work here on Earth - it could also have implications for the search for extraterrestrial life.

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Life started to develop the ability to metabolise oxygen - that is, respirate - sometime over 1.45 billion years ago. A larger archaeon engulfed a smaller bacterium, and somehow the bacterium's new home was beneficial to both parties, and the two stayed together.

That symbiotic relationship resulted in the two organisms evolving together, and eventually those bacteria ensconced within became organelles called mitochondria. Every cell in your body except red blood cells has large numbers of mitochondria, and these are essential for the respiration process.

They break down oxygen to produce a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, which multicellular organisms use to power cellular processes.

We know there are adaptations that allow some organisms to thrive in low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions. Some single-celled organisms have evolved mitochondria-related organelles for anaerobic metabolism; but the possibility of exclusively anaerobic multicellular organisms has been the subject of some scientific debate.

That is, until a team of researchers led by Dayana Yahalomi of Tel Aviv University in Israel decided to take another look at a common salmon parasite called Henneguya salminicola.

Henneguya Slminicola is a common parasite of salmon. It is part of the same family as corals and jellyfish. Its genome, however, has just been mapped for the first time. Credit: Stephen Douglas Atkinson

It's a cnidarian, belonging to the same phylum as corals, jellyfish and anemones. Although the cysts it creates in the fish's flesh are unsightly, the parasites are not harmful, and will live with the salmon for its entire life cycle.

Tucked away inside its host, the tiny cnidarian can survive quite hypoxic conditions. But exactly how it does so is difficult to know without looking at the creature's DNA - so that's what the researchers did.

They used deep sequencing and fluorescence microscopy to conduct a close study of H. salminicola, and found that it has lost its mitochondrial genome. In addition, it's also lost the capacity for aerobic respiration, and almost all of the nuclear genes involved in transcribing and replicating mitochondria.

Like the single-celled organisms, it had evolved mitochondria-related organelles, but these are unusual too - they have folds in the inner membrane not usually seen.

The same sequencing and microscopic methods in a closely related cnidarian fish parasite, Myxobolus squamalis, was used as a control, and clearly showed a mitochondrial genome.

These results show that here, at last, is a multicellular organism that doesn't need oxygen to survive.

Exactly how it survives is still something of a mystery. It could be leeching adenosine triphosphate from its host, but that's yet to be determined.

But the loss is pretty consistent with an overall trend in these creatures - one of genetic simplification. Over many, many years, they have basically devolved from a free-living jellyfish ancestor into the much more simple parasite we see today.

They've lost most of the original jellyfish genome, but retaining - oddly - a complex structure resembling jellyfish stinging cells. They don't use these to sting, but to cling to their hosts: an evolutionary adaptation from the free-living jellyfish's needs to the parasite's. You can see them in the image above - they're the things that look like eyes.

The discovery could help fisheries adapt their strategies for dealing with the parasite; although it's harmless to humans, no one wants to buy salmon riddled with tiny weird jellyfish.

But it's also a heck of a discovery for helping us to understand how life works.

"Our discovery confirms that adaptation to an anaerobic environment is not unique to single-celled eukaryotes, but has also evolved in a multicellular, parasitic animal," the researchers wrote in their paper.

"Hence, H. salminicola provides an opportunity for understanding the evolutionary transition from an aerobic to an exclusive anaerobic metabolism."


A cnidarian parasite of salmon (Myxozoa: Henneguya) lacks a mitochondrial genome

Dayana Yahalomi, Stephen D. Atkinson, Moran Neuhof, E. Sally Chang, Hervé Philippe, Paulyn Cartwright, Jerri L. Bartholomew, and Dorothée Huchon

PNAS first published February 24, 2020

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Researchers have finally solved the long pending mystery between jellyfish and stinging water

A jellyfish of the genus Cassiopea (different from that of the study). This is a Cassiopea andromeda. | Pete Oxford

Researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory have discovered that a particular species of mangrove jellyfish hunts for prey by launching venom grenades, creating areas of “stinging water”. The discovery solves a long-standing mystery about how they gather food without using their tentacles.

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The Cassiopea xamachana jellyfish , commonly called “upside-down jellyfish” by English speakers, was first described by marine biologist Henry Bryant Bigelow in 1892. In French, the common name indicates its habitat, or “mangrove jellyfish”. These two names apply to all jellyfish of the genus Cassiopea.

It is found in particular in the shallow waters of Florida, the Caribbean and Micronesia. The animal is a frequent nuisance for divers and surfers, who seem to be bitten without even touching it.

Cassiopea: a kind of atypical jellyfish

Cassiopea are not common jellyfish already by the simple fact that they are photosynthetic, seeming to draw a large part of their energy from solar radiation thanks to their dorsal symbiotic algae.

So far, some have believed that the bites came from loose tentacles or from younger specimens. But recently, a team from the US Naval Research Laboratory realized that Cassiopea had actually developed a new way of hunting, without using its tentacles. The results of the study were published in the journal Communications Biology.

To hunt, C. xamachana generally lands on the seabed, on the back, and sends globs of mucus filled with venom above it. These structures, called cassiosomes, can kill small prey and are probably the cause of the aforementioned ghost bites, a phenomenon particularly experienced by snorkelers and fishermen in tropical waters.

The life cycle stages of C. xamachana and its cassiosome-laden mucus. Credits: Ames et al., Communications Biology, 2020

The team analyzed the cassiosomes expelled and discovered that the outer layer was covered with thousands of stinging cells. Although the venom is not powerful enough to pose a significant risk to humans, it is known to destroy skin cells and is fatal for small organisms.

a, b : C. xamachana (5-12 cm in diameter) resting on their apex (white arrow) with the oral arms (cyan arrows) facing upwards, observed by researchers in their natural habitat (mangroves) in Key Largo, Florida (United States). c - f: Cassiosome nests (pink arrows) observed in the form of curved white spots at the end of the vesicular appendages (green arrows), on the oral arms of the jellyfish (cyan arrows). Scale bars: a = 2 cm; b = 5 cm; c, d = 1 mm; e, f = 0.5 mm. Credits: Ames et al., Communications Biology, 2020

According to Cheryl Ames, of the Tohoku University Graduate School of Agricultural Science in Japan, the animal's hunting method "causes itching and burning sensations and, depending on the person, can cause enough discomfort to make him want to to get out of the water". According to her, the results of the study could help tourists, divers and even aquarium staff to avoid this type of discomfort in the future.

Ames said the scientific community still has a lot to learn about jellyfish. "They have a complex and coordinated behavior with their eyes, and some specimens are even capable of killing humans in a few minutes," she explained to AFP. "There is still a lot to learn about them and their applications to biotechnology."


Cassiosomes are stinging-cell structures in the mucus of the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana

Cheryl L. Ames, Anna M. L. Klompen, Krishna Badhiwala, Kade Muffett, Abigail J. Reft, Mehr Kumar, Jennie D. Janssen, Janna N. Schultzhaus, Lauren D. Field, Megan E. Muroski, Nick Bezio, Jacob T. Robinson, Dagmar H. Leary, Paulyn Cartwright, Allen G. Collins & Gary J. Vora

Communications Biology volume 3, Article number: 67

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Are animals immune systems prepared for climate change?

The accelerated melting of polar ice, the upsurge in natural fires or the slowing of ocean currents, are among the most remarkable consequences of climate change. However, more "silent" consequences must also be considered. This has been demonstrated by Swedish researchers by showing that the immune systems of many animals, especially birds, depend on their preferred environment and the climate there. As a result, climate change could lead to the emergence of new diseases that animals' immune systems may not be able to manage.

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Researchers have for the first time found a link between the immune systems of different bird species and the different climatic conditions in which they live. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe that, as the climate changes, some birds may be exposed to diseases that they are not equipped to manage.

The results of the study, published in the journal PRSB: Biological Sciences , indicate that evolution has calibrated the immune system of a number of bird species over millions of years, enabling them to cope with diseases specific to the particular environment and climate in which they live.

An immune system potentially vulnerable to climate change

Rapid climate change increases the risk that these tailor-made immune systems will be weak, not just in birds. Emily O'Connor, one of the study's biologists, thinks that the results could also apply to some other animals because the immune system genes they examined are common to all vertebrates .

“Evolution may not be able to 'keep up' with climate change. There is a risk that many animals will simply not be able to cope with changes in the number and type of pathogens to which they will be exposed,” she explains.

Number of complex histocompatible alleles (allelic diversity) as a function of precipitation (A) and temperature (C). The data show that the immune genome is directly dependent on the climate. Credits: Emily A. O'Connor et al. 2020

As the climate changes and, for example, northern Europe becomes warmer and wetter, diseases that did not previously exist in temperate climates may begin to appear. This can be a challenge for some animals.

Emily O'Connor and her colleagues studied 37 different bird species living in different climatic regions. They studied the diversity of genes in the immune system of each species, which influences their effectiveness in fighting disease.

An immune genome directly linked to the environment and its climate

They also looked at temperature and precipitation for different regions from 1901 to 2017. In this way, they demonstrated that the diversity of genes in a species' immune system is linked to the climate in which it lives.

Species that live their whole lives in tropical regions, areas rich in precipitation and which do not move, have the most varied immune system genes. This great diversity allows these species to resist more pathogens.

Number of complex histocompatible alleles (allelic diversity) according to the resident or migratory character (A) and the climate (B). Credits: Emily A. O'Connor et al. 2020

Migratory birds which spend their winters in tropical regions and breed in temperate climates have an immune system similar to that of resident European birds. According to the researchers, this could be due to the fact that they are able to escape the disease by moving around.


Wetter climates select for higher immune gene diversity in resident, but not migratory, songbirds

Emily A. O'Connor, Dennis Hasselquist, Jan-Åke Nilsson, Helena Westerdahl and Charlie K. Cornwallis

Published:29 January 2020

Thursday, 6 February 2020

What does the language of African penguins have in common with human language?

Although it is a dream for most people living with pets, communicating intelligently with our favorite animals turns out to be relatively impossible. Quite simply because inter-species communication is extremely difficult, each animal having its own language. However, this does not mean that some animals do not comply with the linguistic standards followed by different human languages. Indeed, a team of researchers has demonstrated that the language of African penguins conforms to the two main linguistic laws that govern human languages.

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A team of researchers from France and Italy discovered that the vocalizations of African penguins conformed to the linguistic laws to which human languages ​​conform. In their article published in the journal Biology Letters , the group describes their study of penguin voice recordings and what they learned from them.

The laws of Zipf and Menzerath-Altmann: linguistic laws governing human languages

In 1945, linguist George Kingsley Zipf developed what is known as Zipf's brevity law, which states that the more a word is used, the shorter it tends to be, regardless of the language. Later work by other linguists in the following years not only confirmed this conclusion, but showed that its law was true for all human languages.

Several years later, Paul Menzerath and Gabriel Altmann developed what is called the Menzerath-Altmann law, which stipulates that the increase in the size of linguistic constructions leads to a decrease in the size of their constituents - very long words. usually have short syllables. However, the law states that the opposite is also true. Previous research has shown that other animal communications than humans (mainly by primates) also comply with both laws.

Language of African penguins: it conforms to human linguistic laws

The authors found that the African penguin calls were also consistent with them. The endangered African penguin is known for its distinctive calls - some have described them as similar to a roaring donkey, which has led to the nickname “jackass penguins”. The researchers wanted to know more about the birds' calls, so they collected and analyzed 590 vocalizations from 28 adult males living in Italian zoos.

Previous research had shown that the vocalizations of African penguins are constructed using sequences of three types of clean sounds, which are similar to syllables in human languages. The analysis revealed that the birds' baits conformed to the two linguistic laws developed to explain the functioning of human languages.

The first sound is a little croak made at the expiration of the bird, which lasts 0.18 seconds. The second is a longer noise at expiration which lasts 1.14 seconds. These are the most and least common noises made during songs, respectively. "This is the first notable proof of compliance with linguistic laws in the vocal sequences of a non-primate species. As expected, we saw that the duration of the syllables was inversely correlated with the frequency of occurrence.”

Researchers suggest that language laws are a sign of energy conservation - people and other animals who communicate in the most concise manner are more likely to succeed in efforts such as mating - a skill passed on to the offspring.


Research article:
Do penguins’ vocal sequences conform to linguistic laws?

Livio Favaro, Marco Gamba, Eleonora Cresta, Elena Fumagalli, Francesca Bandoli, Cristina Pilenga, Valentina Isaja, Nicolas Mathevon and David Reby

Published:05 February 2020

Human activities are responsible for the gradual disappearance of fireflies

When night falls and they dot the landscape with their bioluminescence, the fireflies and glow worms offer a truly magnificent spectacle. However, this magic of nature is on hold. The development of urbanization, deforestation, the use of pesticides and light pollution are all factors contributing to the progressive decline of fireflies all over the world. And recently, the alarm signal concerning their extinction was raised by the Group of Specialists of Fireflies of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Fireflies are in serious trouble, with many species threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides, according to the first major review of their global status. Their natural luminosity is also stifled by artificial light pollution, report researchers in the journal BioScience .

More than 2,000 species of fireflies - which are actually beetles - light up wetlands, marshes, grasslands, forests and city parks around the world. A few, such as Photinus pyralis in the United States, appear to be thriving. "These insects can survive just about anywhere," says Sara Lewis, a biologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

But other varieties - glow worms from southern England, synchronous fireflies from Malaysia, and the blue ghost of the Appalachians, both of which attract tourists - are dying out due to human activity. "Some species are particularly affected by the loss of habitat because they need specific conditions to complete their life cycle."

Urbanization: a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies

The Malaysian firefly ( Pteroptyx tener ), for example, lives during its larval phase in the riparian mangroves, many of which have been uprooted to make way for oil palm plantations and fish farms.

The glow-worm ( Lampyris noctiluca ) has another problem: females are unable to fly, which means that they simply cannot move to a new location when their habitat is destroyed by a suburb, crop or road the country.

Deforestation, the construction of new housing and light pollution, in the context of exponential urbanization, are the main factors behind the disappearance of fireflies. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Other species of fireflies, which only eat during their larval phase, have "specialized diets", which means that they survive on one or two types of snails, earthworms or other body prey soft. When orchards in Mediterranean Spain are abandoned or give way to urbanization, like snails consumed by Lampyris iberica , firefly larvae have nothing to eat.

Meanwhile, adult Pteroptyx in Malaysia congregate for nocturnal courtship displays in specific trees along the mangrove rivers. Many of these trees have been felled.

Out of 10 possible extinction factors, experts have identified habitat loss as the main threat worldwide - except in East Asia and South America. In these two regions, artificial light was considered to be the greatest threat to luminescent beetles in the world.

Light pollution, insecticides and tourism: they worsen the overall situation of fireflies

"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms, light pollution has a negative impact on firefly mating rituals" explains Avalon Owens, biologist. Many species of fireflies depend on their ability to light up to find and attract partners. To make matters worse, this window of opportunity is very narrow: while the larval firefly phase lasts for months or years, adults generally only live a few days.

Around the world, fireflies and glow worms are threatened by habitat loss, insecticides, light pollution and water pollution. Credits: Sara M Lewis et al. 2020

Sparkling beetles are so focused on reproduction that they don't even eat. The investigation found that fireflies are also being wiped out by commonly used insecticides, the third major threat. "Organophosphates and neonicotinoids are designed to kill pests, but they also have non-targeted effects on beneficial insects."

Fireflies light up by triggering a chemical reaction - involving oxygen, calcium and an enzyme called luciferase - inside special organs in their abdomen, a process called bioluminescence. Tourism focused on fireflies (long popular in Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan) is also wreaking havoc, with fragile ecosystems damaged by too much pedestrian traffic.


A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats

Sara M Lewis, Choong Hay Wong, Avalon C S Owens, Candace Fallon, Sarina Jepsen, Anchana Thancharoen, Chiahsiung Wu, Raphael De Cock, Martin Novák, Tania López-Palafox

BioScience, biz157,

Published: 03 February 2020

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

A particularly lazy cave salamander would have stayed in the same spot for 7 years

The eel proteus ( Proteus anguinus ), olm, or “cave salamander”, is a salamander known to be able to live in a very restricted area for years, without ever moving. Recently, researchers discovered an extreme case: a specimen remained in the same place for 7 years without ever venturing outside of its small “comfort” zone.

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"They hang around, they do almost nothing," says Gergely Balázs, of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary. Olms are salamanders that live in European caves, known for their particularly slow lifestyle. They have adapted to living in total darkness: their skin is pale and their eyes do not develop, which makes them blind. Their life expectancy can reach decades, even centuries.

Their particular way of life makes them difficult to study in nature, explains Balázs, so that most of the observations are made on captive specimens.

One of the first long-term studies on wild olms

In an attempt to elucidate certain behavioral aspects of the animal, Balázs and his team carried out one of the first long-term studies on wild olms.

The researchers followed the olms living in the Vruljak 1 cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Between 2010 and 2018, the team entered the cave several times and marked the salamanders by injecting a unique, black pigment in their caudal fins. When they returned (regular and often spaced several months apart), they tried to find out where the marked olms were. A total of 19 specimens were tracked.

Most of them have moved less than 10 meters, although they have been recaptured years after being tagged. Most salamanders only moved an average of 5 meters per year! The most active olm had moved 38 meters in 230 days. On the other hand, another was found in exactly the same place after 2,569 days, more than seven years. The results of the study are available in the journal Journal of Zoology.

However, olms may be more active than the data suggests, says Gábor Herczeg, a colleague at Balázs. " We don't know the daily activity of these animals, " he says, noting that visits to the cave were often spaced several months apart. Olms can move in a tight space, he adds.

However, an inactive lifestyle would make sense to them. In fact, they are predators who use a “waiting strategy”, explains Balázs. Their prey is small crustaceans, which are not common. To save energy, the olm can sit still and slow down its metabolism until one of them approaches. "They can survive without food for years," he says.

Although the very slow lifestyle of olms is suitable for their underground habitat, it also makes them vulnerable to dramatic changes in their environment. If the conditions in their cave become inhospitable, for example due to the increase in floods due to climate change, they may find it difficult to move to a new habitat.


Extreme site fidelity of the olm (Proteus anguinus) revealed by a long‐term capture–mark–recapture study

G. Balázs  B. Lewarne  G. Herczeg

First published:28 January 2020

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Genetically modified butterflies could herald a new era in crop protection

New study highlights successful test including field release of genetically modified butterflies. Scientists believe this success could pave the way for an effective and sustainable approach to pest control in crops.

The butterfly in question is the cruciferous moth ( Plutella xylostella ), or cabbage moth, a species of moth (butterfly) of the family Plutellidae. The agricultural industry has been trying for decades to find organic and environmentally friendly ways to fight the cruciferous moth, a species largely resistant to insecticides.

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In order to counter this, a strain of these moths has been newly designed and field trials (in the United States), conducted by Cornell University, have been successfully conducted. These results are promising for future biotechnology crop protection applications and are also a potential solution for this global agricultural pest. In fact, this moth is very harmful to crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and canola.

But now this new modified cruciferous moth strain, developed by Oxitec Ltd, has been specially designed to target and control these pests in agricultural crops. The new study showed that the modified strain had behaviors (towards cultures) similar to those of unmodified ringworms.

Scientists have genetically modified Plutella xylostella to develop a new sustainable strategy to protect agricultural crops from this otherwise harmful species. Credit: Shutterstock

In other words, the so - called Oxitec self-limiting butterfly is modified to control its harmful counterparts in the field.

How does it work?

After the release of males from this modified strain, the latter find and mate with unmodified and harmful females. Then, the self-limiting gene transmitted to the offspring prevents the female caterpillars from surviving. Scientists explain that with these prolonged releases, the pest population will be targetedly suppressed, in addition to being an environmentally sustainable solution. Indeed, after the cessation of discharges, the self-limiting insects decline and disappear from the environment in a few generations.

The field test is based on previously published work, which had been carried out in greenhouses, by Professor Shelton and his colleagues, who thus demonstrated that prolonged releases of the self-limiting strain effectively suppressed populations of pests and prevented resistance to an insecticide, a win-win situation for pest control. Note that this study was led by Professor Anthony Shelton, of the Entomology Department of AgriTech at Cornell University in New York. "Our research is based on the sterile insect management technique that was developed in the 1950s," reports Professor Shelton. "The use of genetic engineering is simply a more effective method to achieve the same goal,” he said.

Modified male butterflies as a crop protection solution

By observing the results in the field, in the laboratory, as well as by using mathematical modeling, the researchers gathered relevant information regarding the genetically modified cruciferous moth strain, whose unmodified wild counterparts cause considerable damage to around the world.

This study is the first in the world to release self-limiting agricultural insects in an open field. “To carry out the field study, we used the 'mark-release-recapture' method, which has been used for decades to study the movement of insects in the fields. Each strain was sprinkled with a fluorescent powder to label each group before release, then captured in pheromone traps and identified by the color of the powder and a molecular marker in the modified strain," explained Shelton.

Pest test results

"When released into a field, male self-limiting insects behave in the same way as their unmodified counterparts in terms of factors relevant to their future application in crop protection, such as survival and distance traveled Shelton reports."Our mathematical models indicate that the release of the self-limiting strain would control a pest population without the use of additional insecticides, as has been demonstrated in our greenhouse studies," he added.

According to Dr. Neil Morrison, chief agricultural officer of Oxitex and co-author of the study, the latter demonstrates the immense potential of this technology as an effective pest control tool, which could well help protect cultures from around the world in an environmentally sustainable way.


First Field Release of a Genetically Engineered, Self-Limiting Agricultural Pest Insect: Evaluating Its Potential for Future Crop Protection

Anthony M. Shelton, Stefan J. Long, Adam S. Walker, Michael Bolton, Hilda L. Collins, Loïc Revuelta, Lynn M. Johnson and Neil I. Morrison

Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol., 29 January 2020

Will the incredible regenerative capacities of axolotl one day benefit humans?

The axolotl is a very special animal: it has unprecedented regeneration capacities. The Axolotl, from its scientific name  Ambystoma mexicanum , is a species of salamander. Losing a limb, part of the heart or even a large part of its brain is absolutely not a problem for this animal. They grow back.

"It regenerates almost anything from almost all kinds of non-fatal injuries ," said Parker Flowers, postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Craig Crews, professor of molecular and cellular biology, development, chemistry and pharmacology.

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If scientists succeed in discovering the genetic basis of this incredible ability of axolotl to regenerate, they may well find ways later on to restore damaged tissue in humans. Unfortunately, the researchers were thwarted in this attempt by another peculiarity of the axolotl: the latter has the largest genome of all animals sequenced to date, 10 times larger than that of humans.

But now Flowers and colleagues have found an ingenious way to bypass the animal's complex genome to identify at least two genes involved in regeneration.

It was notably the advent of new sequencing technologies and gene editing technology that allowed researchers to draw up a list of hundreds of candidate genes that could be responsible for the regeneration of members. However, the large size of the axolotl genome, populated by large areas of repeated stretching of DNA, made it difficult to study the function of these genes.

But scientists do not despair. Flowers and Lucas Sanor, a former laboratory graduate student and co-author of the study, used gene editing techniques in a multi-step process to essentially create markers capable of tracking 25 genes suspected of being involved. in limb regeneration.

This method has already enabled them to identify two genes in the blastema (a mass of dividing cells that form at the site of a severed limb), which were also responsible for the partial regeneration of the tail of the axolotl.

According to the researchers, since humans have similar genes, scientists may one day find out how to turn them on to speed up wound repair or regenerate tissue or even whole limbs.


Multiplex CRISPR/Cas screen in regenerating haploid limbs of chimeric Axolotls

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Certain species of wasps are able to recognize the faces of their congeners

While many vertebrate species are able to recognize and identify the individual faces of their congeners, this ability is almost absent in insects. Recently, researchers have shown that the Nordic wasp is well endowed with this faculty, allowing it to communicate better with its peers and thus to obtain a certain evolutionary advantage in a life in society. This discovery also highlights the possibility for cognition to evolve in leaps and bounds, and could explain certain evolutionary acquisitions of Man over time.

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A species of wasp has developed the ability to recognize individual faces among its peers - which most other insects cannot do, signaling an evolution in the way they learned to work together.

A team led by researchers from Cornell University used population genomics to study the evolution of cognition in the northern wasp ( Polistes fuscatus ).

Research suggests that the growing intelligence of wasps has provided an evolutionary advantage and highlights the way intelligence evolves in general, which has implications for many other species, including humans.

"The really surprising conclusion here is that the most intense selection pressures in the recent history of these wasps have not been related to the climate, the capture of food or parasites, but to better treatment," says Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology and behavior. The results were published in the journal PNAS.

Facial recognition: an evolutionary advantage in life in society

Many vertebrate animals can recognize individual faces, at least under certain circumstances, but in insects, facial recognition is quite rare. This study explored how and when this ability evolved by analyzing patterns of genetic variation within species.

The few species of insects that can recognize faces share a trait: community societies with multiple queens. In communal groups with a single queen, such as bee colonies, the roles are clear and each individual knows his place. But northern wasps can have five or more queens in a nest, and facial recognition helps these queens communicate with each other.

Although research has focused on the wasps Polistes, Sheehan and his colleagues wanted to answer mainly the question of how intelligence evolves in general. “Our discovery indicated that cognitive evolution is not necessarily progressive. There are mutations that cause big changes. This suggests the possibility that a rapid adaptation of cognitive capacity could have been important also for other species, such as language in humans ”.


Evolutionary dynamics of recent selection on cognitive abilities

Sara E. Miller, Andrew W. Legan, Michael T. Henshaw, Katherine L. Ostevik,  Kieran Samuk, Floria M. K. Uy, and  Michael J. Sheehan

PNAS first published January 24, 2020

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Four new species of walking sharks discovered in Australia

The vast majority of sharks swim to move around, but some specific species can use more unique means of transport. This is the case of walking sharks, that is to say sharks using their fins as limbs to move on the seabed. And recently, four new species of walking sharks have been discovered by Australian marine biologists.

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Unlike their larger cousins, members of these newly discovered species of walking sharks spend their time wandering gently along coral reefs on four flat fins. Or, at least, that's what they were doing when the researchers spotted them in the shallow waters of northern Australia.

In an article published in the journal Marine & Freshwater Research , marine biologists declared that the four new itinerant shark species were the most recently evolved shark species known, having developed after having separated from their common ancestor on closer about 9 million years ago.

Walking sharks: unique characteristics for a definite evolutionary advantage

" With an average length of less than one meter, walking sharks pose no threat to humans, but their ability to withstand oxygen-poor environments and to walk on their fins gives them a remarkable advantage over their prey, small crustaceans and molluscs ”explain the researchers.

Walking sharks have unique characteristics compared to their closest relatives. Credit: Mark Erdmann

These unique characteristics are not shared with their closest relatives, whip sharks, or more distant relatives in order of carpet sharks, including whale sharks. The four new species almost doubled the total number of known walking sharks, bringing the total to nine. the researchers said they live in the coastal waters of northern Australia and the island of New Guinea and occupy their own separate region.

Better understand the evolution of walking sharks

“ We estimated the link between the species on the basis of comparisons between their mitochondrial DNA which is transmitted through the maternal line. This DNA codes for mitochondria, which are the parts of cells that convert oxygen and nutrients from food into energy for cells . ”

The data suggest that the new species evolved after sharks moved away from their original population, became genetically isolated in new areas, and developed into new species.

This video shows a walking shark moving on the ocean floor:


Walking, swimming or hitching a ride? Phylogenetics and biogeography of the walking shark genus Hemiscyllium

Christine L. Dudgeon A H , Shannon Corrigan B , Lei Yang B , Gerry R. Allen C , Mark V. Erdmann D E , Fahmi A F , Hagi Y. Sugeha F , William T. White G and Gavin J. P. Naylor B

Marine and Freshwater Research

Monday, 9 December 2019

How do rats use empathy to prepare for danger?

Many studies have shown the tremendous abilities, individual or societal, of rats. They are able to solve basic puzzles, organize themselves into hierarchical colonies and perform complex tasks. They also manage to avoid danger in a particularly effective way. And researchers at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience have finally discovered a key element in this mechanism: empathy. Indeed, by recognizing and feeling the fear and emotions of their fellow creatures, rats know when to avoid an immediate danger.

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Their study shows that rats can use their siblings as antennas signaling danger, being extremely sensitive to the emotions of the rats that surround them. With this discovery, new targets for the treatment of empathic disorders in humans, such as psychopathy and frontotemporal dementia, could be identified in the future. The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Preparing for danger through empathy

Contrary to the idea that empathy is one-way, where one person shares the pain of another, researchers have discovered a more interactive process in which animals align their emotions with mutual influences. They put two rats face to face, then surprised one of them (the demonstrator) with a brief electrical stimulation of the paws. They then observed the reaction of the two rats (the other being the viewer).

When a rat shows a reaction of fear, the other rat also feels it. In return, the reaction of the second conditions the fear felt by the first. Credits: Yingying Han et al. 2019

"The first thing we observed is that when you see your neighbor jump, the viewer is suddenly scared too. The viewer feels the fear of the demonstrator, "explains Rune Bruls. The spectator's reaction influences the way the demonstrator feels the shock. The spectators who were less afraid reduced the fear of their demonstrators. " The fear goes from one rat to another. In this way, a rat can prepare for danger before he even sees it . "

An empathic process similar to that of humans?

In humans, attending to the pain of others activates an area between the two hemispheres that is also active when we feel pain within our own body. This is considered one of the main areas of empathy of the brain. To see if this region is the same in the rat, the team injected a drug to temporarily reduce activity in this area.

"What we observed was striking: without the region that humans use to show empathy, the rats were no longer sensitive to the distress of another rat. Our sensitivity to other people's emotions may be more like that of the rat than many thought, "explains Keysers.

An empathy independent of the familiarity of individuals

The study also revealed that empathy is independent of whether or not to know the individual. For the rats that had never met, the emotions of the other rat were as contagious as for the rats that had shared the same "house" for 5 weeks. " It really challenges our notions about the origin of empathy, " explains Valeria Gazzola.

Familiarity between individuals does not influence the ability of rats to be empathic. They show empathy for both familiar and unknown individuals. Credits: Yingying Han et al. 2019

Many believe that humans and animals are empathic because they are sensitive to the suffering of their offspring. This parental concern then spreads to empathy for the closest friends. " What our data suggests is that an observer shares the emotions of others because it allows the observer to prepare for danger. It's not about helping the victim, but about avoiding becoming a victim yourself, "says Gazzola.

A level of empathy depending on past experiences

Although familiarity with the demonstrator plays no role in a rat's empathic or non-empathic reaction, previous experience does. Efe Soyman compared two groups of observers: one who had experienced electrical stimulation in the past and one who had not. He found that while experienced observers showed high levels of empathic fear, the inexperienced ones barely responded to what had happened to the demonstrator.

This is important because it shows that emotional contagion is not an innate mechanism, but something we must learn. " Rats are like humans: the more our experiences match those of the people we observe, the more we can understand how they feel, " Soyman concludes.


Bidirectional cingulate-dependent danger information transfer across rats

Yingying Han, Rune Bruls, Efe Soyman, Rajat Mani Thomas, Vasiliki Pentaraki, Naomi Jelinek, Mirjam Heinemans, Iege Bassez, Sam Verschooren, Illanah Pruis, Thijs Van Lierde, Nathaly Carrillo, Valeria Gazzola, Maria Carrillo, Christian Keysers

PLoS Biol 17(12): e3000524.


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Sperm whale found dead on Scottish coast with 100 kg of waste in stomach

With the rise of human industrial activities, ocean pollution has grown steadily in recent years, including plastic pollution whose signs are now visible in all oceans and seas of the world. The first victims of this situation are marine animals ingesting plastic waste. Many stranded marine mammals have, in recent years, been found with alarming amounts of objects in their stomachs. But recently, it is a new sinister record that has been established on the Scottish coast, where a sperm whale has been found with 100 kg of various waste in the stomach.

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The young sperm whale ( Physeter macrocephalus ) ran aground on November 28 at Luskentyre Beach, Scotland, in the Outer Hebrides Islands. He died shortly after. Fishing nets, ropes, tubes and an assortment of plastic wastes formed a compact mass inside the 20-tonne animal, and some appeared to have been there for some time.

The skin and fat of the whales isolating them so effectively, the bacteria inside a corpse of whale can multiply quickly, even when the temperature of the air is low. While bacteria help decompose leftovers, they produce gases that build up pressure inside the body, and the sperm whale on the Scottish beach was no exception.

After having naturally opened in two under the effect of internal gases, the sperm whale's body revealed 100 kg of various waste: ropes, nets, plastic bags, etc. Credits: SMASS

He "somehow exploded" during the examination of his corpse. " By the time we got near the corpse to look at it, the sperm whale had been dead for 48 hours and most of the guts were blown when we put a knife in, " writes a SMASS representative.

To better understand coastal strandings of marine animals

SMASS researchers and volunteers collect and analyze data on stranded animals along the Scottish coast, which includes 790 islands and stretches 19,000 kilometers. By performing necropsies and studying the remains of failed marine life - sharks, porpoises, dolphins, sea turtles and seals, as well as whales - scientists can better understand the biological and environmental conditions that lead to stranding.

While the amount of waste inside the whale was impressive, the animal appeared to be in good health and not malnourished. It is likely that the scoop of ball was a hindrance to digestion, but SMASS experts found no evidence that ingested debris was blocking the whale's intestines.

Plastic pollution: a deadly global danger for all marine animals

Other sinister examples of dead whales with belly full of plastic that have been stranded on the coasts of other countries exist. A pregnant sperm whale that floated on an Italian beach in April, died with 22 kg of waste in its stomach, and a Cuvier's beaked whale that arrived in the Philippines in March had swallowed 40 kg of waste. Sperm whales that were stranded in 2018 in Spain and Indonesia also had indigestible masses in their belly.

Large marine mammals are not the only ones to suffer from ocean pollution. Here is a photo of Emily Mirowski, a marine biologist at the Gumbo Limbo Center, performing the autopsy of a turtle. You can see the pile of plastic pieces extracted from his stomach next to it. Credits: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

In the United Kingdom, stranded marine animal bodies usually have microplastic particles in their bodies, although it is unclear how this affects their overall health. But animals stranded with large amounts of debris in the belly are rare in the British coast. In the recent grounding, the garbage assortment in the whale's gut highlights the global problem of widespread marine pollution caused by various human activities.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

For the first time, the heartbeat of the blue whale has been recorded

With a length of up to 30 meters and a mass of up to 170 tonnes, the blue whale is currently considered to be the largest living animal and possibly the oldest living on Earth. To assume the physiological needs of such a template, the heart of the blue whale must be strong enough. Although marine biologists already knew that the animal's heart rate changes relatively quickly as it dives for food, they were surprised to find out how much. Indeed, during a dive, the heart of a blue whale goes from about 30 beats per minute to only 2.

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This is what a team of marine biologists discovered after recording for the first time the heartbeat of a blue whale. After placing a pulse monitor on a blue whale off the California coast, the researchers watched the gigantic creature sink and return to the surface for nearly 9 hours, alternately filling her lungs with air and her belly with hundreds of Pisces.

A heart with rapid variations to ensure physiological needs

During these deep foraging dives, the whale's heart rate changes abruptly, going up to 34 beats per minute at the surface and only two beats per minute in the deepest waters - which is about 30 at 50% slower than the researchers expected.

According to the new study published in PNAS , the mere fact of catching prey could push the heart of a blue whale into its physical limits - which could explain why no larger creature than the blue whale has ever been spotted on Earth.

" Animals that work at physiological extremes can help us understand the biological limits of size, " says Jeremy Goldbogen, a marine biologist at Stanford University. In other words: If the heart of a blue whale could not pump faster to feed its daily foraging expeditions, how could the heart of a larger animal pump even faster for more even bigger energy?

A slow heart rate during the dive

Blue whales are the largest animals ever to have lived on Earth. As adults, they can be more than 30 meters long, about the size of two school buses parked end-to-end. It takes a big heart to propel a creature of this size. The heart of a blue whale can weigh up to 180 kg (2015 failed specimen), about the size of a golf cart.

Scientists already knew that the pulse of a blue whale had to slow down deeply. When air-breathing mammals dive underwater, their bodies automatically begin to redistribute oxygen; the heart and brain receive more O2, while muscles, skin and other organs absorb less O2. This allows the animals to stay underwater longer with a single breath, resulting in a significantly lower heart rate than normal.

Graphs showing heartbeat variations of the blue whale as a function of depth and position of the animal. Credits: JA Goldbogen et al. 2019

This is true for humans as well as for blue whales. However, given the gigantic size of the whale and its ability to dive more than 300 meters deep, their hearts are pushed to limits far beyond ours. To find out exactly how much a blue whale's heart rate changes during a dive, the authors followed a group of whales they had previously studied in Monterey Bay, California, and fixed a special mounted sensor at the end of a 6 m pole on one of them.

A cardiac transition from 30 to 2 beats per minute

The studied whale was a male first sighted 15 years ago. The sensor was equipped with a plastic shell the size of a lunch box, equipped with four suction cups, two of which contain electrodes to measure the heart rate of the whale.

The researchers set the monitor on their first attempt, and he stayed there for 8½ hours when the whale dipped and resurfaced during dozens of foraging "missions".

Most of this time was spent underwater: the whale's longest dive lasted 16.5 minutes and reached a maximum depth of 184 m, while it never spent more than 4 minutes on the surface to fill the lungs. The sensor showed that, deep within each dive, the heart of the whale beat on average four to eight times per minute, with a minimum of two beats per minute.

Graphs showing the heart rate of the blue whale according to its lung volume and depth. Credits: JA Goldbogen et al. 2019

Between these low-tempo beats, the stretched aortic artery of the whale slowly contracted so that the oxygenated blood slowly moved into the body of the animal. Back on the surface, the whale's heart rate accelerated to 25 to 37 beats per minute, which quickly loaded the animal's bloodstream with enough oxygen to support the next deep dive.

The biggest heart on Earth

During these quick stopovers, the heart of the whale skirted its physical limits - it is unlikely that the heart of a whale could beat faster than that. This natural heart limit may explain why blue whales reach a certain size and why no known animal on Earth has ever been so tall.

Since a larger creature would need more oxygen to support its long, deep dive for food, his heart would need to beat even faster to get oxygen back to the surface. According to the authors of the study, this does not seem possible on the basis of current data.

Video presenting the work done by the researchers:


Extreme bradycardia and tachycardia in the world’s largest animal

ORCID ProfileJ. A. Goldbogen, ORCID ProfileD. E. Cade, J. Calambokidis, M. F. Czapanskiy, J. Fahlbusch, A. S. Friedlaender, W. T. Gough, S. R. Kahane-Rapport, M. S. Savoca, K. V. Ponganis, and P. J. Ponganis

PNAS first published November 25, 2019

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Equipping the cows with a virtual reality headset could make them produce better milk

Apparently, the virtual reality is not just for humans ... According to a new Russian experience to say the least unusual, cows wearing a VR helmet displaying virtual environments and stimulants would be in a better mood, and thus would produce a better milk quality.

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Farmers in the Moscow region have placed modified VR (virtual reality) helmets on cows to determine whether such visual (and sonic) stimulation would improve their mood and, consequently, their milk production.

As part of the study project, the livestock benefited from a realistic 3D model of a field, with colors adapted to the animals' eyes, thus offering them a landscape much more pleasant than their confined space within a closed. The helmets have been adapted to the structural features of the cow heads so that they can see properly.

Collaboration between farmers, developers and veterinarians

The technique, proposed by Russian farmers in collaboration with developers and veterinarians, seems to have worked, at least in terms of cow mood.

The first test, conducted on a farm in Krasnogorsk, northwestern Moscow, reduced cow anxiety and increased their overall sense of well-being. Although it is not yet certain that this affects the quality or volume of milk production, a more "comprehensive" study is planned to answer this question.

However, this experience raises some questions: Why not just leave the cows more often in the fields? Is there a risk of disturbing the animals when their helmet has to be removed (for maintenance or changing the battery for example), thus temporarily revealing the sad reality hidden to them?

In a way, it is a solution to a problem created by Man ... But it is equally obvious that this could be considered as an "option" for farms that do not have enough (or at all ) open fields, or for which existing techniques (such as playing nice music) may not be effective.

System developers, meanwhile, plan to extend the VR experience if observations continue to show positive results.


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