Random Samples

Science  01 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5927, pp. 571

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  1. Banking on Twins


    Researchers in the United Kingdom are aiming to set up the world's largest twin registry.

    “We've been developing TwinBank for about a year,” says behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who is working with genetic epidemiologist Timothy Spector of King's College London.

    A pilot study funded by the U.K.'s National Health Service, which has birth records for more than 600,000 twins, estimates that at least 300,000 pairs would agree to participate, Plomin says. That would outnumber all the world's other twin registries combined. Determining whether twins are monozygotic (identical) or dizygotic (fraternal) “would add tremendous value” in studying genetic and environmental contributions to health, he says.

    Plomin and Spector are currently casting around for funding. The Medical Research Council decided it couldn't afford the project. The pair estimate that it will cost £12 million to get DNA from 300,000 pairs born since 1920.

    “The U.K. TwinBank would expand greatly the number of traits and conditions for which such studies could be done,” says Jaakko Kaprio, a leader of the Finnish Twin Cohort Studies at the University of Helsinki. For example, it would yield insights into why rare genetically influenced diseases sometimes hit only one in a pair of identical twins. “Finding enough [identical] pairs truly discordant for a trait” is difficult even when there are several tens of thousands of twin pairs in a study, Kaprio says.

  2. Eight-Legged Zombies


    A test of spiders' resistance to drowning has uncovered an unsuspected survival mechanism. While timing how long spiders could survive in vials of water, arachnologist Julien Pétillon and his graduate student at France's Université de Rennes 1 left some apparently dead spiders in the lab to dry. But upon their return several hours later, some of the arachnids were up and moving again.

    To learn more, the researchers collected 360 wolf spiders from two salt marsh species and one forest species and submerged them in saltwater for up to 48 hours, checking on them every 2 hours. Spiders from two species drowned, but 70% of the salt-marsh–dwelling Arctosa fulvolineata fell into a “coma” and survived up to 40 hours of submersion, the researchers reported online 22 April in Biology Letters. The adaptation allows them to survive during high tide, Pétillon says. The spiders take about 2 hours to recover.

    Several underwater comalike states have been observed in marine animals, such as blue crabs and shrimp, in oxygen-poor waters, but this is a first for a terrestrial organism, Pétillon says. It's an “interesting and unexpected adaptation,” says physiological ecologist Kenneth Prestwich of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Just how the spiders do it remains to be discovered.

  3. Winners in Medicine

    Two big medical prizes were announced last week, honoring discoveries in immunology and research on muscular dystrophy.

    Ralph Steinman of the Rockefeller University in New York City; Charles Dinarello of the University of Colorado, Denver; and Bruce Beutler of The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, shared the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize for advancing knowledge of the human immune system. Steinman is honored for his 1973 discovery of the dendritic cell, a type of white blood cell that alerts T-cells to mount an immune response against harmful invaders. Dinarello and Beutler are cited for work uncovering the role of cytokines—signaling proteins—in inflammation, which has led to therapies for a number of ailments.

    Molecular physiologist Kevin Campbell of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and geneticist Louis Kunkel of Harvard Medical School in Boston, are sharing this year's $250,000 March of Dimes Prize for identifying genes and proteins involved in muscular dystrophy. Their work has led to the development of diagnostic tools and therapies for nine forms of muscular dystrophy and related muscle-wasting disorders.

  4. Onward and Upward


    Indian scientists have made major strides both in quality and productivity since 2000, according to the latest figures from the ScienceWatch tracking service (www.sciencewatch.com). The number of papers produced by Indian scientists was more or less stagnant from 1985 to 2000 but jumped from 17,000 in 2001 to 27,000 in 2007 (see chart). Citation rates are also rising across the board—more than doubling, for example, in biology and biochemistry. The biggest gains have come in the physical sciences, especially materials science. Nobuko Miyairi, a consultant at Thomson Reuters, which publishes ScienceWatch, calls it “noteworthy” that Indian science is “fairly well balanced between life sciences and physical sciences,” because most of the rest of Asia “tends to be more heavily focused on … physical sciences.”