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Jurassic Chicken Park

Did anyone else watch Jurassic Park and think, man, this would just be so much cooler with chickens? No? Well, neither did I, but if researchers led by Dr. Michael Bunce have their way, extinct birds may be the very first animals introduced into such a fantastical theme park.

At Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, researchers have successfully extracted bits of genetic material from the inner membranes of intact eggshells. A few of the eggshells they practiced on were from a moa – a bird that lived 19,000 years ago; an ancient 10-foot tall, 800 plus pound elephant bird, a New Zealand duck and an Australian owl.

Don’t go trying to purchase your ticket to Jurassic Chicken Park just yet. The team only extracted a pithy 250 base pairs of DNA, which isn’t enough to recreate an entire animal, but is enough to give clues as to the physiology and diets of these ancient birds. Bunce emphasized that the point of the experiment was to show that it could be done, and that extracting even larger sequences of DNA would be the next step in their research.

Originally, researchers tried to extract DNA from eggshells through the bone, and not eggshells. This method failed horribly, because they ran into issues of contamination. By withdrawing DNA directly from the inner membrane, they were able to bypass the threat of bacterial infestation which often occurs in bone, and extract DNA samples that were less likely to be contaminated.

“We can reassemble the genome to get an idea of what an extinct species looked like,” Bunce explained. “But [resurrecting it] is still in the realm of science fiction. It’s completely hypothetical, and frankly not a debate I really want to have.”

Personally, I want the dodo back. No, wait… a gigantoraptor. No! A gigantododo. Yeah.

Source: Red Orbit

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Chickens Have Gender Identity Issues

If you would, please direct your attention to the picture of the odd-looking chicken to the right. Note the differences between the light and dark side of the chicken. The left side of the chicken has a larger wattle, bigger breast and a leg spur, which is evidence of a male hen, called a cockerel. The other side shows all the characteristics of a female hen. This is called a “gynandromorphous” chicken, meaning it is part hen, part cockerel.

In mammals, sex is typically determined by the presence of a gene on the Y chromosome and the influence of hormones that instruct cells to become ovaries or testes. This system was believed to be consistent throughout all vertebrate species. However, the presence of gynandromorphous chickens gave researchers Michael Clinton, Debiao Zhao and Derek McBrid pause.

“We assumed [the gynandromorphy] was caused by one side of the body having some kind of sex chromosome anomaly,” states Clinton, a developmental biologist at the University of Edinburgh. “But when we looked at them closely, they were composed of entirely normal cells. We realized that birds don’t follow the mammalian model.”
Instead of a chromosomal anomaly, researchers found that the bird’s cells were completely normal, except that all the male cells lined up to one side, and all the female cells went to the other, resulting in the strange duality in the appearance of the chickens. Hormones didn’t play a role in the gender identity of bird cells at all – each cell retained its own gender identity.

To test this theory, researchers planted male cells into a female embryo, and female cells into a male embryo. If hormones played a role in cell sexual identity, these cells would have changed depending on the sex of the embryo they were placed in. However, the male cells remained male, and the female cells remained female, despite being placed in an opposite gender embryo.

“We believe now that certainly all birds, and possibly lower vertebrates will have a cellular identity,” Clinton explains. “Remnants of this cellular system may still exist in mammals, but it’s overridden by the effects of hormones.”

Source: Wired

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See Through Walls!

Yes, you heard it right. Scientists have found a way to see through walls…well…really, really thin walls. OK, fine, not walls, but a thin layer of paint. Spoil all my fun.

The reason you can’t currently see through even the thinnest layer of paint is because any light that does manage to pass through it is randomly scattered. However, scientists from the City of Paris’s Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution have found a way to analyze the seemingly random scatterings of light after it passes through an incredibly thin layer of paint and “see” what’s on the other side.

Researchers shot a green laser beam through an 80 micrometer thick layer of paint. On the other side of the paint was a series of tiny dots. Using some fancy formulas and analyses, researchers were able to translate the light that passed through the layer of paint and reconstruct the pattern of tiny dots that was directly behind it.

However, the accuracy of their analysis depends entirely on how much light manages to pass through thin materials such as skin, paint or paper. Less light will pass through more opaque objects, so reconstructions of anything behind, say, a stack of paper, would be grainier and less clear.

“Looking through a hundred-millimeter [four-inch] wall would be a million times more difficult than looking through a hundred-micrometer layer of paint,” explains Allard Mosk of University of Twente in Amsterdam.

However, co-author of the study, Sylvain Gigan, states that this technology could possibly be used to look through skin and straight into our bodies. Imagine the possibilities: no need for exploratory surgery or dissections. Although I do fear for those of us who prefer gauzier garments such as lace or silk.

Source: National Geographic

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A Fish That Can Kick Your Ass

Scientists have found a way to engineer rainbow trout with six-pack abs and muscular shoulders, an Arnold Schwarzenegger of the fish world. I don’t know about you, but I’m more creeped out by this over-muscled fish than I was of Richard Sandrak.

Terry Bradley, a professor at University of Rhode Island, studies myostatin, a protein that slows muscle growth, and has been trying to find ways to inhibit it in fish such as the rainbow trout. Unlike mammals, where the amount of muscle fibers is severely limited after birth, the muscle fibers within fish can increase throughout their entire lifespan. When you inhibit myostatin, the number of these muscle fibers can grow exponentially.

To produce the over-muscled trouts, Bradley and his graduate students spent 500 hours injecting 20,000 rainbow eggs with various genes that would inhibit myostatin. Eventually, they produced enough fish with genetic material that would naturally limit myostatin, and the Six Pack Rainbow Trout was born.

About 500,000 metric tons of trout are raised each year in the United States and Europe. I can’t even imagine how much it costs to feed all those fish. Bradley’s over-muscled trout could allow aquaculturists to grow larger fish without an increase in the amount of food they are given.

However, I have to wonder about the relative health of overly-muscled fish. After all, cows that are bred for superior muscle mass often collapse under their own weight and have more leg and joint problems than regular-sized cows. What kind of health issues will breeding a muscled trout cause? Will animal welfare be overlooked in favor of a smaller price tag on fish food?

Source: Science Daily

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