What do sheepdogs and robots have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but actually, there’s a real connection! By studying sheepdogs and understanding the way they manipulate herds of sheep, researchers are learning how to create models that will mimic these strategies and improve the efficiency of robots.
Researchers fitted sheep and sheepdogs with GPS devices on harnesses to attempt to develop a mathematical model for herding. They found that sheepdogs use two main rules when working: 1) collect the sheep when they’re scattered and 2) move them forward when they’re all together. It’s surprisingly simple- and it’s more efficient than many current models that have been attempted! The dogs are constantly reviewing the situation in front of them to determine if the sheep are gathered together enough to drive forward, and if not, they herd them closer together. Using these two rules, a dog can herd over 100 individual animals, but current robot models can only handle groups of about 40. The understanding gained from these dogs may change that!
Learning from sheepdogs can likely make a big difference in the development of computer models and robots created for herding, cleaning the environment, and crowd control. As usual, I’m amazed at the knowledge that we’re able to gain by studying man’s best friend!
New research suggests a link between the use of antibiotics in early childhood and the development of food allergies. But before you freak out, there’s good news- this research also shows that there may be a new way to treat these allergies!
Over a decade ago, researchers found links between antibiotic use and increased allergies and asthma. It was speculated that antibiotics kill normal gut microbes, prompting allergic responses. Those microbes help your immune system recognize the difference between harmless and hurtful molecules that make their way into your body. When this microbe balance is disturbed, it’s possible that the body can react to harmless molecules in such a way as to cause an allergic response. This was observed in laboratory mice, and new research shows that the mice provided helpful clues in understanding this problem in humans.
New research shows that two chemicals found in household detergents may be linked to fertility problems. These particular chemicals- didecyl dimethylammonium chloride (DDAC) and alkyl dimethyl benzalkonium chloride (ADBAC)- are found in detergents, disinfectants, cleaners and hand sanitizers, as well as some makeup and dryer sheets.
Research in animals is often necessary to show such links. By working with animals in a laboratory environment, researchers can control variables to determine that any side effects (in this case, infertility) are indeed caused by the chemicals in question. Further research is necessary to study the impact of these chemicals on people, but these initial studies are certainly enough to raise concerns about DDAC and ADBAC.
For most people, the sight of a spider isn’t cause for good news. Instead, these eight-legged creatures often bring out the worst in people, causing voices to jump up an octave or two. So it may be surprising that a poisonous spider would prompt excitement from anyone other than a dedicated entomologist. But actually, patients with erectile dysfunction may be pretty excited about the prospects of clinical applications for a particular spider’s venom!
If a man is bitten, one side effect can be a painful erection that lasts for hours, potentially causing permanent damage. But researchers investigated further and extracted a particular toxin (PnTx2-6) from the venom. They found that it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. In rats with erectile dysfunction, researchers saw promising results!
New research finds an association between low vitamin D levels and the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
This study followed 1,658 people over the age of 65 who showed no signs of dementia. The results were surprising- it seems that people with low vitamin D levels had a 53% increased risk of developing dementia, and people with extremely deficient levels had a 125% increased risk of developing dementia (in comparison to participants with normal vitamin D levels).
It’s important to note that this research doesn’t imply that low vitamin D levels CAUSE dementia. However, it seems that there is a correlation between the two that warrants further investigation. It’s possible that this research could lead to new dietary recommendations in an attempt to boost vitamin D levels. Could vitamin D supplements prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s?
Research in the past has shown that vitamin D could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease in mice. Alzheimer’s research is actually a great example of the importance of animal models. Because Alzheimer’s is generally a disease that affects people later in life, studies in humans could take years- or decades- to yield useful results. Alzheimer’s mouse models are used in research because researchers can observe changes from one generation to the next in a relatively short period of time.
Read more about the possible correlation between vitamin D and dementia here:
It’s pretty likely that you’ve injured yourself at some point or another and experienced a break in your skin that caused bleeding. Skinned knees, paper cuts, hangnails- we’ve all been there. Initially, these injuries can bleed quite a bit, but after a few minutes the bleeding slows and eventually stops.
This type of drug could make a huge difference to patients currently taking blood thinners. The next steps will likely include human trials to determine if results in animals are an indication of the drug’s chances for success in humans. Read more about it here:
The incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease is increasing, and it’s projected that by the year 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could triple. But new research could change that: researchers have discovered a drug compound that has successfully reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice! After just one dose of this compound, called TC-2153, mice with Alzheimer’s were able to learn just as well as healthy mice!
Here’s how they figured it out: the protein STEP (STriatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase) attacks neurotransmitters in the brain and prevents patients with Alzheimer’s from learning and retaining new information. STEP levels are often elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Knowing this, researchers turned to mice for help. They previously found that when Alzheimer’s mouse models (mice that are genetically engineered to develop the disease) had lowered levels of STEP, their cognitive abilities were similar to those of unaffected mice. The problem is that researchers could genetically lower STEP levels in mice- but you can’t do that in humans.
The understanding of STEP’s role in the disease led researchers to search for different compounds that could block it. And it appears that they’ve succeeded! More research is certainly needed to determine whether or not TC-2153 will work in other animals, and possibly humans, but the identification of this STEP-inhibiting compound is certainly good news! Read more about it here: http://www.newsweek.com/alzheimers-cure-worked-mice-compound-tc-2153-263171
People suffering from chronic pain often have to deal with depression and lack of motivation. It can be difficult to explain to friends and family who say “Just get out and DO something… it will make you feel better!” But now, there’s some science behind the lack of motivation felt by chronic pain sufferers.
Chronic pain, as debilitating as it may be, actually has a purpose. It serves to limit your behavior in such a way as to promote healing and prevent further injuries. And in the process of preventing you from further damage, chronic pain may actually rewire your brain in a way that decreases your motivation.
Researchers found that mice with chronic pain showed decreased motivation, even when they were given painkillers. They looked at a specific area in the brain associated with pain and motivation and found that nerve cells weren’t firing properly. They found that a specific chemical, called galanin, was the key. When galanin receptors were inactivated in this area, neurons began firing properly, and injured mice showed similar motivation to control mice.
Could treatments targeting galanin receptors change brain currents in such a way as to alleviate the lack of motivation that many HUMAN chronic pain sufferers feel? The emotional effects of chronic pain are often just as draining as the physical effects, and this research could bring hope to chronic pain sufferers. Read more about it here:
Animals can be extremely helpful to researchers as they are trying to understand human disease. But now, a tiny bird is teaching researchers about hovering- and they hope to use hummingbirds as an inspiration to build more efficient helicopters!
They found that a particular micro helicopter is about as efficient as the average hummingbird, which is pretty amazing. But there’s still room for improvement. By visualizing airflow around hummingbird wings, researchers were able to measure the drag and lift force exerted at various angles and speeds. They also studied the hummingbird’s wing aspect ratio (the ratio of wing length to wing width) to determine how performance could be improved. It’s possible that understanding the ways that these birds change direction quickly and remain steady in strong winds can help researchers improve the efficiency of current helicopters.
Check out this slow-motion video of a hummingbird in action- it’s pretty neat! Read more about this research here:
It’s a well-known mantra: “Spay or neuter your pets.” The intention is usually to reduce the unwanted pet population by preventing pets from reproducing, but new research shows that spaying or neutering could contribute to other health problems.
Researchers investigated the incidences of several joint disorders (hip and elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tear) and cancers (lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and mammary cancer). They found an increase in the incidence of two joint disorders and three cancers in neutered or spayed dogs, and interestingly, they found that the dog’s breed makes a difference.
In both Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, the incidence of joint disorders in intact dogs is about 5%. From analyzing data from veterinary hospital records, researchers found that neutering Labradors at under six months of age doubled the incidence of joint disorders, and neutering Goldens at under six months of age increased the chance of a joint disorder to 4-5 times that of an intact dog. They also found that spaying female Goldens increased the incidence of other cancers by 3-4 times!
This is important information, because Labradors and Goldens are both very popular breeds, and understanding the associated risks of spaying or neutering should be important to pet owners. It’s also possible that research like this could prompt new recommendations for spaying and neutering, while taking the dog’s age and breed into account.
Responsible pet ownership is a hot topic, and spaying and neutering has been an invaluable part of reducing the numbers of unwanted pets that end up in shelters. What do you think? Have you spayed or neutered your pets? Why or why not?