Cool use of positron emission tomography to look at capture stress in sparrows

8 08 2019

house_sparrowA new paper in Scientific Reports looked at stress in wild house sparrows captured and held in a lab. Those who coped better with captivity (inferred from fewer “anxiety-related behaviours”, more time spent feeding, and greater body mass) had lower baseline corticosteroids yet higher stress-induced levels at capture (mirroring findings for cortisol and PTSD…?).

Furthermore, using a PET scanner to look at dopamine receptor binding (see cool image below), the researchers found that some of this individual variation could be predicted from changes in striatal D2 function. (Though it should be said, they ran a lot of stats tests and did not correct for multiple testing…). The main question this leaves me with is: how can I get hold of a machine like this??

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Marital stress predicts “terrible twos”?

8 08 2019

An interesting new paper got a lot of publicity today: a couple’s  perinatal relationship problems predict emotional issues in the infant two years later. Cambridge’s press release is here, while the NYT has a nice write-up here.

‘Awake but motionless’ a sign of poor welfare in dogs?

17 07 2019


Animals just published a new paper by Carole Fureix and her collaborators.  Looking at 57 dogs in 7 shelters, they tried to find out whether spending inactive, despite being awake, might be a sign of depression (as may be so in our mice), or boredom (as might be true in at least some mink). The jury’s still out, but this is early stages. One interesting result was that dogs who’d been relinquished by their owners showed the most. It’s hard not to find that a little bit heart-breaking…



Stereotypies in space?

16 04 2019

And here is the paper:  (N.B. It’s not entirely clear to me how the mice can be said to be expressing a “full range of species-typical behaviors”, when they’re living in a wire mesh box. By “full” the authors must mean “limited” I guess)

Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs

15 04 2019

Fantastic, humane and very sensible paper in one of the PLoS journals this week:


Cats recognise their own names…

6 04 2019

… showed Japanese researchers today, in a clever experiment utilising habituation-dishabituation.

What they made less of is the way most cats do not respond at all: the (comedy) graphs below shows tail flicks, ear twitches etc. made while cats hear 5 nouns, the 5th of which is their name. They’re impressively indifferent! Cats’ abilities were only revealed when the researchers analysed the sub-set of animals who showed habituation over the first four nouns (i.e. who progressively ignoring the stimuli): these cats measurably perked up when the last stimulus was their name. So I wonder why only some cats habituated?

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Buy the book!

4 04 2019



This is what we’ve been intermittently reading in our lab group for the last year or so, and it offers a great combination of GLM stats with experimental design with how science works (though I must admit I still skip all the R bits).

It’s so good in fact that I just wrote my first ever Amazon review for it!

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