Random Samples

Science  02 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5778, pp. 1287

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    On the first anniversary of the vote on HR. 810, passed 24 May 2005 by the U.S. House of Representatives to loosen presidentially imposed restrictions on federally funded stem cell research, biomedical lobby groups and their congressional supporters held a press conference to pressure the Senate to pass an identical measure. Senators may have other issues—such as immigration—on their minds, but public support continues to rise, noted Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C. According to the group's latest poll, 70% of respondents want the Senate to get moving on the bill, S. 471.

    Discussions are reportedly continuing with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who announced last July that he favors the bill and has repeatedly promised to schedule a vote. A staffer for Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) (pictured above), cosponsor of S. 471, says the current plan is to buffer it with two other measures—one calling for research on “alternatives” to destruction of fertilized eggs, the other banning “embryo farming”—that could make it more palatable to conservatives.


    Men have higher rates of addiction than do women to most substances. Now researchers may have discovered one reason why: Male brains release up to three times as much dopamine—the “pleasure molecule”—as women do in response to amphetamine use.

    Neuroendocrinologist Gary Wand and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, gave 28 men and 15 women doses of amphetamine comparable to what a user might take. Although they found no sex difference in dopamine-receptor density, males showed larger dopamine releases in three of four regions of the striatum, ranging from 50% to 200% greater than the average female release, the team reports in the 15 May issue of Biological Psychiatry. Men also ranked the positive effects of the drug higher than women.

    A difference in dopamine release may help explain the sex disparity not only in addictions but in dopamine-related diseases such as Parkinson's, Tourette syndrome, and schizophrenia, which hit males harder than women, says Wand. The findings mirror sex discrepancies in dopamine release observed in mice, says neuroendocrinologist Dean Dluzen of Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown. His studies of Parkinson's disease in mice have revealed greater neurodegeneration in males, and he believes the new study “makes for a strong case” that this is true in humans as well.



    Bugs are booming, judging by a sprawling bazaar held last weekend at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and attended by 10,000 people—more than half of them children—and millions of insects and arachnids.

    One of the stars was this gynandromorph Ornithoptera priamus poseidon that has a female shape but the coloration and patterning of both sexes. Found in a batch of farmed New Guinea butterflies, it's priced at a startling $15,000.

    The museum's annual Bug Fair is both an educational event and an outlet for commercial insect farms, dozens of which have sprung up in tropical areas from Costa Rica to Papua New Guinea. Other attractions included two bug chefs, who offered dubious treats such as tempura-battered dragonflies and pesto-drizzled tarantulas.

    “If more scientists would go to a bug fair,” says neurobiologist Ronald Hoy of Cornell University, “it would change the way they read the [biology] literature. You can't help but be inspired by seeing nature up close and personal.”



    Egypt's chief of antiquities plans to sue the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri for the return of an allegedly looted funeral mask.

    Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, charged last month that the 3200-year-old mask was stolen from a storage facility in the 1950s after it was uncovered in Saqqara, the ancient burial ground of kings south of Cairo. He demanded its immediate return.

    Director Brent Benjamin says the museum has proper documentation from the Swiss dealer who sold it to the museum in 1998 and that the museum checked with both Interpol and the Art Loss Register to be sure the mask was legit. In a 12 May statement, Benjamin said that “although Dr. Hawass has challenged the integrity of the Saint Louis Art Museum, he has not provided conclusive evidence to support his claim.” Hawass responded that Egypt will sue for the mask's return in a St. Louis court and provide proof of ownership to Interpol. Museum officials said last week that there's no such proof in the material they've received from Hawass so far.

    Hawass in recent years has been aggressive in trying to win back Egyptian treasures from abroad. He suggested earlier this year that New York City return its famous obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle, even though it was a 19th century gift from the Egyptian government.