Weird Science - Biology

Men are now obsolete, thanks to work by scientists at the Northeast England Stem Cell Institute. Professor Karim Nayernia and team have managed a "scientific first" by inducing stem cells into becoming artificial sperm in laboratory conditions. In mice, these sperm have proven able to fertilise eggs and produce viable offspring, opening the door to potential new infertility treatments in humans. Additionally, the stem cells themselves may come from either sex, raising the possibility of children being born without the traditional male input. Any such treatment is many years away however, and there are still problems to be overcome, not least that all the mice babies so far produced by this technique had abnormally short lives. Nayernia admits that the process is not perfect, but says that it could be ready for human trials in less than ten years (Telegraph).

But mothers, don't kick out the old man yet, not if you want a little help with the childcare that is. A team from the "Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution" in France has confirmed a prediction of the theory of evolution that fathers will invest more in children that resemble them. A total of 30 Senegalese families were studied and the paternal investment and resemblance were quantified for each. As expected, there was a significant correlation between the resemblance and investment scores, but also between investment and the nutrition and health of the child. So it seems we fathers still have our uses, for now (Science Daily).

Animals do many weird things to avoid being eaten, from camouflage, to making themselves look bigger or more dangerous, to having a false head or eye on a less vital point to divert attackers. However, one spider has a tactic that's never been observed before; it makes decoy models of itself. The Cyclosa mulmeinensis spider of Orchid Island, near Taiwan, decorates its web with pellets of silk the same size and (to wasps) colour as itself, then hides among them. Researchers from Tunghai University were actually able to observe wasp predators attacking the decoys while the spider escaped, confirming the effectiveness of the trick. The strategy is not without risk though, by having more spider sized blobs on it, the web may also be easier for the wasps to detect (Daily Mail).

And spiders aren't the only animal with an unexpected talent this week; monkeys can understand simple grammar. Harvard linguist Ansgar Endress and his team played groups of monkeys different words that were either all prefixed of suffixed by the syllable "shoy". When tested the next day with a new list, the monkey paid less attention to the speakers when the words fitted the pattern of the previous session than they did when a word broke the 'rule' that had been established. Professor Marc Hauser, also of Harvard, said the results showed how human language might have developed from already existing memory processes (BBC News).

But if you lack a particular skill yourself, why not go into partnership with someone else? At least that's what several species of narrow-mouthed frogs and giant spiders have done. It seems an unlikely pairing, since the normally voracious spiders are easily able to kill and eat the smaller frog, though the frog's toxic skin goes a long way in protecting it. Over time what probably started out as a lucky escape has become a mutual association, the frog derives obvious benefits from its arachnid protector, and the remains of its prey may also attract smaller insects that the frog feeds upon. For the spider, the benefit may come as protection from foraging ants, which are a major predator of spider eggs, and the favourite food of the frog (Tetrapod Zoology Blog).
     Posted By: Dumbfounded - Wed Jul 08, 2009
     Category: Animals | Babies | Family | Insects and Spiders | Medicine | Science | Anthropology

faux sperm- more proof that women are the smarter sex. my logic? if women thought it up, genius! if men did, while still a genius idea, not so smart to make one's self obsolete.

children- not hard to understand really. mom knows for certain it's here baby. unless you run dna (relatively new process) the more the kid resembles dad the more sure he feels. even in trusting and committed relationships that is still a subconcious thing.

decoys- very smart, but it also would interfear with catching prey, they should be fooled just as preditors are. so less likely to lite on the web.

monkeys- not suprizing. my sister's dog understands everything you say to him.(spoiled brat) if dogs are smart enough monkeys surely should be.

partners- i imagine this happens in nature regularly. like the small fish that attach to whales to feed on bacteria (or whatever) that would hurt the whale. i don't remember the particulars, but you get the idea.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 07/08/09 at 07:55 AM
"not so smart to make one's self obsolete"

Some of us have just realised that we have made an almighty cock-up of the whole thing and decided that the only chance of saving the human race is for women take over and relegate us to "love pets" who are kept purely for our, er, 'entertainment' value.
Posted by Dumbfounded on 07/08/09 at 08:51 AM
Men are now obsolete Ok, ladies, all you need now is a lifetime supply of Everready's finest and a mouse.
Psssst my mouse already has Everready's in it. 😉

Invested Fathers Yet another scientific study to prove what any lamebrain knew just by using common sense. Oh... sorry, that was a French study.

Monkey Shoy One more.... Monkeys, when presented an unknown sound paid more attention to them than when a sound was made that had proven to be no threat. Yup! Got it!
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 07/08/09 at 10:19 AM
Expat, all the sounds on the second day were new, it was only an unfamiliar order of the sounds that sparked their interest.

It's like someone going one-elephant, two-elephant, three-elephant, elephant-four, five-elephant, the unfamiliar syllables one, two, three, etc. weren't a strong stimulus when part of a familiar pattern, but a change in pattern was.

You're right though, it seems a pretty reasonable assumption given that monkeys live in jungles surrounded by birdsong, etc. Monkeys would certainly gain an advantage from being able to ignore the constant twitter of birds, even if unfamiliar, but recognise when the usual calls change to something of a different character like sounds of alarm or distress.

As for the fathers study, can you imagine what the creationist lobby would say if they didn't test these things?
Posted by Dumbfounded on 07/08/09 at 10:45 AM
ooo i want a love pet! :wow:
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 07/08/09 at 01:17 PM
Love pet - Imagine the performance anxiety! "Men, your continued survival as a species depends on your ability to induce multiple orgasms." Of course, if you had nothing else to do, it might work out.
Posted by kingmonkey in Athens, Ontario on 07/10/09 at 11:56 AM
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.