Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Flight advantages in older hummingbirds

In a new study published in The Auk, scientists report that well-fueled older tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) might be capable of non-stop flights of over 4,000 kilometers, wind conditions permitting. They made this remarkable observation while studying birds from 2010-2014 as the animals made stopovers at a wildlife refuge during their annual migration to South America. In general, older birds not only showed up at the wildlife refuge in Alabama earlier than younger birds, they also tended […]

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Genetic regulation of horse conformation

In a new study published in Physiological Genomics, researchers explored the role of genetics in the conformation of Tennessee Walking Horses. In other words, how close each animal they sampled looked to an “ideal” Tennessee Walking Horse.  According to Kylee Jo Duberstein (Department of Animal and Dairy Science, University of Georgia), there are five criteria that are examined when evaluating the conformation of a horse. These include “balance, structural correctness, way of going, […]

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Why so many of us sleep

A special thank you to reader Dr. Barbara Goodman, Professor of Physiology at Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota who sent me a story from The Scientist about sleep in animals complete with footage of a dolphin that was seen apparently “sleeping” (video posted on YouTube): Why do animals sleep? This is a question with many potential answers. It is known that birds and mammals experience slow-wave and rapid eye movement (REM) […]

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New species of octopus?

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) think they have discovered a new species of octopus while exploring the ocean floor around Necker Island (near Hawaii). The octopus was found 4,290 meters deep. Interestingly, fins were absent from the pale octopus, which NOAA scientist Michael Vecchione noted was unusual for an octopus living at that depth. Moreover, its suckers were found to be in a single row on each of its […]

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Beware of freezing hearts

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) are really cute when they hibernate (above). During torpor bouts, their body temperature decreases to a few degrees Celsius and their metabolism drops by as much as 95% with heart rates ranging from only 3-10 beats per minute. These bouts of torpor are interrupted by periodic arousals every couple of weeks during which their metabolism increases as body temperature elevates to 37 degrees Celsius. What is so fascinating is […]

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‘GMAs’? Genetically modified animals

Researchers in China are exploring the use of gene-editing technologies to create customized animals. Take for example research at the Shaanxi Provincial Engineering and Technology Research Center for Shaanbei Cashmere Goats where animals have been genetically-modified to have longer hair (i.e. more wool) and more muscles (i.e. meat). This was accomplished using the relatively new technology CRISPR-Cas9 developed in the United States that allows researchers to cut out a piece of DNA from embryos. Chinese scientists […]

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The amazing cockroach

Testing the bite force of American cockroaches. Image from: Tom Weihmann | University of Cambridge I’ll admit I get a bit squeamish when I see a cockroach. However, after reading new research about the “ew” inspiring creatures, I have a bit more respect for them. Not only can these bugs run vertically up walls, survive nuclear war and live without their head for weeks (thus I suggest squishing the whole body), new […]

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