News in a nutshell
A new whistleblower measure; primates under pressure; how the blind "see"
This week's news includes a new proposed law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by the accused, the discovery of a new form of oxytocin, more allegations against a primate lab in Louisiana, support of amateur science, findings regarding how the blind "see," and evidence that sperm whales may have names.
Proposed legislation to protect whistleblowers
A proposed US federal law could make it easier for whistleblowers to point out dubious scientific research by reducing the threat of a costly defamation suit from the accused parties. The Citizen Participation Act would allow whistleblowers to recoup attorney's fees in the event that they won a case brought against them in retaliation by the subject of their accusations.
But while many embrace the reform, linkurl:Nature
reports,;http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110314/full/471276a.html others fear it will backfire by restricting a whistleblower's own ability to sue in response, as scientists charged with false accusations of misconduct themselves by companies or agencies who don't like their work could fear losing against the company and the costly resulting legal fees. An earlier version of the bill, introduced in 2009, never made it to a vote.
New love hormone
| Squirrel monkey with baby |
Credit: linkurl:Jens Buurgaard Nielsen;http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black-capped_Squirrel_Monkey%2Bbaby_(Saimiri_boliviensis).jpg
Researchers have long believed that all placental mammals shared the same form of oxytocin, a hormone central to female reproduction and bonding, also called the "love hormone." But this week in linkurl:Biology Letters,
;http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/03/10/rsbl.2011.0107 a team at Stanford University reports that multiple New World monkey species possess a novel form of oxytocin, which contains a single amino acid difference from the oxytocin in other mammals. "We had been trying for years to measure oxytocin levels in our monkeys," but continued to have trouble, senior author Karen Parker linkurl:told LiveScience.
;http://www.livescience.com/13249-love-hormone-oxytocin-monkeys.html "On a lark, we sequenced the gene." Now, research is needed to determine if there are behavioral differences in primate species with and without this mutation in oxytocin.
Primate lab under scrutiny, again
A primate research laboratory in New Iberia, Louisiana, has once again come under criticism from the Humane Society of the United States. The linkurl:New Iberia Research Center,;http://nirc.louisiana.edu/ administered by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is breeding chimpanzees for use in invasive research in violation of the terms of a federal grant agreement, the Humane Society argues. "This appears to be an open and shut case of government fraud under the federal False Claims Act," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the Humane Society, in a press release. The Society claims that during the past ten years, infant chimpanzees have been prematurely taken from their mothers, and that 14 infant chimpanzees have died due to negligent management practices and overcrowding at the NIRC facility.
Federal investigators documented numerous reports of primate mistreatment at the facility in linkurl:May of 2009;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55688/ after the Humane Society alleged 328 violations of the Animal Welfare Act in a complaint issued to the US Department of Agriculture linkurl:earlier that year.;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55490/
Scientists agree that amateurs may be able to make "serious contributions" to taxonomy -- the identification and cataloging of organisms, a field with linkurl:fewer and fewer practicing biologists.;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/06/1/32/1/ Amateurs are typically extremely bright, eager to learn, and capable of the basic science that many professionals no longer have the funding to do, David Pearson, a tiger beetle specialist at Arizona State University, linkurl:told ScienceInsider.
;http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/03/could-amateur-taxonomists-catalog.html Numerous citizen science programs already encourage citizens to get involved, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's linkurl:Project Feeder Watch,;http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/ which asks folks to identify and submit their backyard birds, and the linkurl:Encyclopedia of Life,;http://www.eol.org/ an online database that encourages the publics to contribute photos and multimedia of wildlife.
How the blind "see" with their ears
New research suggests that the brains of some blind people are rewired such that areas typically involved in processing vision instead process sound information. Published Tuesday (March 15) in linkurl:PNAS,
;http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/02/23/1013928108.abstract researchers at the University of Montreal's Saint-Justine Hospital Research Centre compared the brain activity of 11 people who can see with 11 people who were born blind, and found that the blind subjects had a heightened ability to process sounds, using the space perception area of the visual cortex. "The results demonstrate the brain's amazing plasticity," said senior author Olivier Collignon in a statement.
Moby Dick's calling card
| linkurl:Sperm whale fluke;http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_fluke.jpg |
Sperm whales appear to announce themselves with unique personal calls, almost like a name. Last month in Animal Behavior,
researchers documented a specific five click sequence, called a coda, made by sperm whales communicating though the ocean. Analyzing the codas of three whales, they found that each had a unique riff on the five-click code, a difference in the timing of the clicks, linkurl:Wired reports.;http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/sperm-whale-names/ Still, more research is needed to determine if the coda is a call sign, or a fluke occurrence in the three whales. But there is some precedence: linkurl:dolphins;http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/060508_dolphins.html have been shown to name themselves with whistles.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Sonar links bats and whales;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57094/
[25th January 2010] *linkurl:A Fading Field;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/06/1/32/1/
[1st June 2009] *linkurl:Primate lab slapped by USDA;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55688/
[12th May 2009]