Short Science, January 27, 2013

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 5:29am


Chimps no longer chumps for researchers

The National Institutes of Health, America's foremost medical research agency, will no longer fund studies involving chimpanzees. It also plans to review all ongoing studies using chimpanzees. "While used very selectively and in limited numbers, chimpanzees have served an important role in advancing human health in the past," the NIH said. "However, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research." The US is the only industrialised country still using primates for medical research. The European Union banned the practice in 2010, following Japan, Australia and other developed countries. AFP


Stars lead the way for dung beetles

When humans gaze up at the night sky, they may view the fuzzy streak of the Milky Way and contemplate their place in the universe. When dung beetles see it, their thoughts turn to keeping their food source away from other insects. Scientists have found that the insects use the glowing edge of the galaxy to guide them as they roll their balls of dung across the African landscape. If any bug needs a straight line to follow, it is the dung beetle. These nocturnal insects make a habit of balling up pieces of manure and rolling them away to store. The balls, considerably bigger than the beetles' 2.5cm-long bodies, serve as food and even a nesting place. If they do not keep a straight line they could end up back where they started. McClatchy-Tribune


Starchy genes behind man's best friend

A genetic switch allowed dogs to adapt to a starch-rich diet and evolve from meat-munching wolves into man's leftover-loving best friend, scientists say. Comparing the genetic code of the domestic dog to that of its wolf cousins, a team of researchers from Sweden, Norway and the United States found several telling differences. "Our findings show that the digestive system of dogs has adapted to be able to live on a diet similar to ours," said Erik Axelsson, of Sweden's Uppsala University, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature. Previous research suggested dog domestication started when ancient wolves started scavenging on waste dumps near human settlements. The dog is estimated to have split from the wolf anything from 7,000 to 30,000 years ago. "A completely new piece to the puzzle is our finding of a more efficient starch digestion in dogs," Axelsson said. "This could mean that only wolves who learnt to better digest the leftovers survived to become dog ancestors." AFP