Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Intelligence and Neuroscience

Frogs are teaching researchers about autism

Dr. Helen Willsey at the University of California San Francisco is seeking to understand how autism develops with the help of frogs. Because frogs produce thousands of embryos at the same time, she is able to quickly study the effects of many different gene alterations in the offspring. While the embryos are at the two-cell stage of development, her laboratory alters genes in just one of the cells using CRISPR-Cas9 […]

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Are humans really just upright cats?

Okay seriously, humans are not actually cats. But, humans and cats do share similar nervous system control over how we move from one place to another, i.e. locomotion as described in a recent review article published in Physiology. The ability for mammals to finely control movement depends on two main control systems located in the brain and spine as well as sensory feedback from the skin, muscles, tendons, eyes, and […]

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The evolution of sugar addiction

I have been opening Christmas cards and pondering the science of sugar addiction, admittedly while snacking on sugar cookies – ‘tis the season after all! Excess consumption of highly palatable (i.e. quite tasty) foods as well as sedentary lifestyles are thought to be at the root of the current obesity epidemic. In fact, it is thought that as many as 30% of people living in developed countries are either overweight […]

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Why being ‘bird-brained’ may actually be a compliment

It has long been suspected that birds (and reptiles) were not very smart because they lack a neocortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for working memory, perception, problem solving, and conscious thought in mammals. In stark contrast to this idea, studies have repeatedly shown that several species of birds have very good memories as well as planning and problem solving skills (see examples below), which has […]

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Your dog’s internal compass

Apparently pooping is not the only thing dogs do that align with the Earth’s magnetic field. Hunting dogs are kind of like migratory birds in their ability to roam and find their way back to the same spot, while relying on the Earth’s magnetic field. In a new study published in eLife, the same researchers that discovered how dogs prefer to poop found that hunting dogs appear to use the […]

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We all need to get some shut eye

I have to confess that I have been spending way too much time binge watching shows about sharks during this year’s Shark Week on Discovery Channel. I know I should be getting 7 hours of sleep a night…but could watching just one more show be that bad? Speaking of sleep, I am reminded of a study that I read awhile back examining whether sharks and rays need sleep. This may […]

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Seagulls pick up on human cues to find food

Have you ever experienced seagulls seemingly begging for food from you? It is not your imagination. A new study finds that seagulls really do prefer foods that have been handled by humans. The study conducted Madeleine Goumas (University of Exeter, UK) examined whether seagulls picked up on cues from humans or were simply looking for food. While standing about 8 meters away from herring gulls, the team placed two plastic-wrapped […]

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Misery loves company

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that ravens appear to share negative emotions. The researchers started with offering birds two boxes placed on the left and right sides of the animals. While one box was empty, the other contained a piece of cheese (yum!). They then placed a box in a new location and examined how the birds responded. If a bird acted […]

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Dogs can sniff out epileptic seizures

A new study published by researchers at the University of Rennes in France shows that epileptic seizures produce a distinct body odor profile that can be detected by dogs, opening up the possibility of training the animals to predict (and warn their owners about) these types of seizures. Sources: Video: YouTube Catala A, Grandgeorge M, Schaff J-L, Cousillas H, Hausberger M, Cattet J. Dogs demonstrate the existence of an epileptic […]

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