This week in animal research 11/11/16
Brain implant counters paralysis in primate
An implant that beams instructions out of the brain has been used to restore movement in paralysed primates for the first time, say scientists.
Rhesus monkeys were paralysed in one leg due to a damaged spinal cord.
The team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology bypassed the spinal injury by sending the instructions straight from the brain to the nerves controlling leg movement in real time.
Leprosy found in red squirrels across British Isles
Leprosy has been found in red squirrels across the British Isles and scientists believe they have been infected with the disfiguring disease for centuries.
The endangered animals carry the same bacteria that cause the human disease, research has revealed. This results in lesions on their muzzles, ears and paws, adding to the sharp decline in their numbers caused by invading grey squirrels, which appear immune to the disease.
It is possible that humans have caught leprosy from red squirrels in the past, as their fur and meat was once prized. But the last case of leprosy contracted in the UK was in 1798, indicating the risk is now extremely low.
In the new study, published in the journal Science, the scientists examined more than 100 dead red squirrels from England, Scotland and Ireland and used DNA analysis to identify the leprosy bacteria. The squirrels on Brownsea Island in Dorset were found to have the strain responsible for leprosy in the UK in the middle ages. The same strain infects the only other animal reservoir known to exist, the nine-banded armadillo, which has caused some human cases in Florida
Brain tumour modelled in zebrafish
An existing group of drugs reduced or eliminated childhood brain cancer while sparing normal brain tissue in zebrafish, according to a new study published in Cell Reports.
Researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah concentrated on primitive neuroectodermal tumours of the central nervous system (CNS-PNET), a particularly aggressive paediatric brain tumour. Until now, researchers had been without a cell line or accurate model for CNS-PNET, which made it impossible to test treatments.
The research team then used the zebrafish model to test already existing compounds, including MEK inhibitors. Previous research had indicated that MEK inhibitors already in a clinical trial might work.
MEK inhibitors eliminated tumours in 80% of the zebrafish treated. Additionally, these tumours did not return.
Rats enjoy a tickle
Charles Darwin, once wrote “of laughter from being tickled, the mind must be in a pleasurable condition”.
Now researchers have discovered the same is true for rats.
“We tickled and gently touched rats on different body parts and observed a variety of ultrasonic vocalizations [USVs],” the researchers wrote in the journal Science.
“Rats seemed to warm up to tickling and vocalized less before the initial interaction than during breaks between interaction episodes.
“Play behaviour (rat chasing experimenter’s hand) also evoked USVs.”
A video of one such encounter also showed the rat making “joy jumps” during the tickling. There was also a large amount of squeaking – the USVs – which the researchers altered so it could be heard by humans.
Plankton coated plastic smells good to seabirds
The discovery could explain why seabirds such as the albatross swallow plastic, causing injury or death.
The smell, similar to the odour of rotting seaweed, is caused by the breakdown of plankton that sticks to floating bits of plastic.
About 90% of seabirds have eaten plastic and may keep some in their bellies, putting their health at risk.
The rate of plastic pollution is increasing around the world, with a quarter of a billion tonnes of plastic waste recorded in the oceans in 2014.
"These seabirds actually use odours to find their way around in the world and to find food," said Matthew Savoca, of University of California, Davis.
No Birdbrains here
The lack of a cerebral cortex in the brains of birds left many scientists believing that the animals were incapable of higher thinking. However, they later showed that different parts of their brains - the pallium - were evolved to do similar tasks. The Guardian discusses the cognitive abilities of birds, and how we should understand them.