Random Samples

Science  08 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5890, pp. 751
  1. A SQUID FOR THE AGES

    CREDIT: 3M

    Well-preserved giant squid specimens aren't exactly a dime a dozen. So when Spanish researchers offered to lend intact male and female Architeuthis to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for its new Ocean Hall, the staff readily accepted. There was just one problem: A traditional display would have required immersing the 7-meter squid in more than 4500 liters of flammable alcohol. “The fire people went nuts,” says project manager Elizabeth Musteen. The solution, literally, was Novec 7100, a hydrofluoroether fluid created by 3M and typically used as a solvent in electronics manufacturing. Because the chemical doesn't react with proteins, company researchers thought it might preserve cephalopods as well.

    It did. Installed at the National Museum of Natural History last week, the squids float eerily in their cases, held only by strategically positioned straps in the fluid, which is two and a half times as dense as water. Unlike alcohol, which gives specimens a pale yellow cast over time, it's clear, so visitors can see the brick-red color on the patches of remaining skin, Musteen says. The museum's exhibit on the world's largest ecosystem will open 27 September.

  2. MOUSE MOTHER BLUES

    Everyone knows mice can get depressed. You can tell if a mouse is depressed if it gives up struggling and just floats shortly after being put in a tank of water, or if it doesn't care whether there's sugar in its drinks. Now scientists say they have a mouse model for another version of the problem: postpartum depression.

    Depressed mum lets pups stray.CREDIT: JAMIE MAGUIRE

    To avoid anxiety and depression, mice need the right balance between neurosteroids—which leap up during pregnancy—and the so-called GABA neurotransmitter system. Neuroscientists Jamie Maguire and Istvan Mody of the University of California, Los Angeles, observed that the numbers of certain GABA receptors rise and fall in response to changes in steroid hormones over a female mouse's ovarian cycle. In a pregnant mouse, a surge in these neurosteroids causes a decrease in receptors, which normally bounce back after the mouse gives birth.

    Mother mice with “deficient” GABA receptors, however, didn't bounce back. Instead, the mothers were sloppy in their nest-building and let their pups scatter and often ate them, the researchers report in the 31 July Neuron.

    Maguire says the results may indicate that postpartum depression—and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which often afflicts the same women—have somewhat different biochemical causes from other types of depression. Neuroscientist Nancy Desmond of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, says the researchers have come up with an “intriguing clue” about what goes awry with depressed new mothers.

    The researchers are now testing women with PMS or postpartum depression to see if they have the GABA receptor mutation that predicts vulnerability in the mice.

  3. HAIR OF THE YETI

    Could two hairs finally solve the mystery of the Yeti? Two small strands sticking from a rock in India are now in the hands of primatologist Ian Redmond and colleagues at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, U.K.

    The hairs are from the hills of Meghalaya, in northeast India. A BBC journalist contacted Redmond, who works with the United Nations on the Great Apes Survival Project, after obtaining samples from Dipu Marak, an Indian naturalist. Marak retrieved them from a crack in a rock after hearing reports of a Yeti-like creature—known locally as “mande barung,” or forest man.

    Microscopic analysis and comparisons to photographs have ruled out all likely candidates, including the Asiatic black bear, macaque, gorilla, orangutan, Eurasian wild boar, human, and dog. The scientists plan to send each hair to two separate laboratories for DNA analysis to see if they match any known species. “We can't tell from DNA if it's 10 feet [3 m] tall or bipedal, but we can tell if it's related to humans or [other] primates,” Redmond said. Another possibility is that the hairs belong to an undiscovered primate species.

    Stomping ground for mande barung?CREDIT: TIMOTHY ALLEN/GETTY IMAGES

    “Every scientist in the world would love to believe that there's a big unknown primate out there, but until someone produces concrete evidence, it's impossible to believe,” says Craig Stanford, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

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