Can biomarkers of biological age be used to assess cumulative lifetime experience?

13 02 2019

A nice new paper from Melissa Bateson and her post-doc Coline Poirier has just been published in Animal Welfare. They focus on telomere length and hippocampal volume, but I would add survivorship to the list (an old interest re-ignited by a cool BMJ paper I read for class showing that elected presidents die earlier than their unelected rivals); and in some species or strains, stereotypic behaviour too.


Seeing out 2018

1 01 2019

This was our last lab meeting of 2018, held in Miijidaa¬†(our new favourite place). As well as catching up and enjoying the pressure being off for a while, we said goodbye (or at least au revoir) to Aileen and Basma, who finished their coursework MSc degrees in December; we welcomed back Emma, who’s missed us since her defence; and we discussed this interesting piece on numbers as rhetoric, finding the author somewhat guilty of exaggeration: it was the press who misreported WWF’s figures, not WWF itself). It was a really fun meeting.

Right to left round the table: Misha (several weeks post defence now: more on that later!), Basma, Aimee, Emma, Aileen, Sam, Andrea, Michelle and Lindsey.


Losing the plot

28 10 2018

At our lab meeting on Thursday, we had our second attempt to understand split-plot designs, since we had reached that point in the Lazic stats book we’re reading.

You’d think I’d be good at this, since I’ve published on this, created a fairly understandable poster on this, and even won a prize on the topic.¬† But no, I’m totally rubbish: I never fully understand the maths-y details for more than a couple of hours, and they fade to nothing in under a day. Sigh.

Several of us get it intuitively (in a “by dividing you cages you get more bang for your buck” kind of way), but when Misha confidently drew out fields and sub-plots, I knew that I had lost the plot again. Back to the drawing board, with determination, next week!


MDMA and octopuses

24 09 2018

Screenshot 2018-09-23 21.28.22This really got a lot of attention this week: give Ecstasy to an octopus and it becomes all “touchy feely”. It sounded as dumb as the “we get our lobsters stoned before boiling them” story that came out of Maine around the same time. But chasing up the original paper, I found it was in Current Biology and that the work was thorough, from genotyping and finding evidence for an MDMA receptor, to using several animals in social preference tests with and without the drug. The authors admit they weren’t blind, and OK, all the animals were siblings (so the data strictly say more about this one family than the whole species). But it’s still interesting evidence of homology despite all the many differences between them and mammals. Would they self-select MDMA? That seems the obvious next experiment.

Goats like smiles

4 09 2018

Screenshot 2018-09-03 21.51.40

Following work 14 years ago showing that sheep like smiles, researchers in London have now found that goats do too.

Here’s a write-up in VICE, and here’s the paper itself, which also shows that the effects depend a bit on laterality (something I’m always always a sucker for). I do wish a search of the paper revealed the word “blind” though.

Also, clearly the obvious question is: when is someone going to do something similar with cats?

More work on the importance of sleep

16 05 2018

Yet more fascinating research on sleep came out this week. Checking my email is the last and first thing I do every day, and seriously, I am going to stop it after reading this new paper in The Lancet (though I do always get at least 7 hours sleep a night, phew).

And disrupted sleep may well be important for animals too, like broilers kept on artificially long days, and rats kept in non-enriched cages, trying to sleep in the light phase of the day, as technicians and researchers clomp about around them. Turning back to humans, here is a nice lay summary of their research from the Lancet authors.

Horses can remember grumpy faces

26 04 2018

Lovely write up of a paper I’ve not read yet, from the ever excellent New Scientist:

Screenshot 2018-04-26 16.25.57