Toy choice among boys, girls a matter of monkey business

Sure Santa Claus asks boys and girls what toys they want, but why they want them is a better question. The answer may have to do with a biological pre-wiring that influences boys’ and girls’ preferences based on the early roles of males and females. It’s commonly believed that boys and girls learn what types of toys they should like based solely on society’s expectations, but psychologist Gerianne Alexander’s work with vervet monkeys is challenging that notion. Alexander examined the monkeys as they interacted with toys. She and her collaborator, Melissa Hines of the University of London, found that the monkeys’ toy preferences were consistent along gender lines with those of human children. Though the monkeys had no concept of a “boy” toy and a “girl” toy, they still showed the same gender preferences in playing with the toys, Alexander says. That is, compared to female monkeys, male monkeys spent more time with “boy” toys, and the female monkeys, compared to their male counterparts, spent more time with “girl” toys.

Increasing biodiversity is not always best

Biodiversity worldwide may be decreasing, but at smaller scales it is increasing or at least changing in composition, suggesting the need for a dramatic shift in the current focus of ecological research. These changes may undermine the functioning of local ecosystems, according to an article in December’s American Naturalist. The authors studied data collected on oceanic island land birds and plants. Records from islands are useful because they present discrete areas where additions and subtractions of species can be accurately determined. The article, “Species Invasions Exceed extinctions on Islands Worldwide: A Comparative Study of Plants and Birds,” documents the fact that “land birds have experienced massive extinctions on oceanic islands, with many islands losing more than half of their native species,” said Gaines. “On these same islands, however, many exotic bird species have become established, such that the total number of land bird species has remained relatively unchanged.”

Researchers Apply Combat Simulation Technology to Homeland Security

Using a computer code originally developed for combat simulation, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are supplying the same expertise that analyzes concepts of operation, technology and training to emergency responders as a part of the Lab’s role in homeland security. The Analytical Conflict and Tactical Simulation (ACATS) is an offshoot of the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) that the military uses for training, analysis, mission planning and mission rehearsal. JCATS also has been used to support actual military operations in places such as Panama and the Persian Gulf.

Mayo Clinic Begins Enrolling for Smallpox Vaccination Trial

Healthy adults ages 18 to 29 are needed for a research study comparing the safety and effectiveness of two different vaccines for the prevention of the smallpox disease. The study will compare three dose levels of a new vaccine with the current, approved smallpox vaccine that was provided to all U.S. residents during the period of routine smallpox vaccination. The effectiveness of these trial vaccinations will be measured by observing whether or not there is a skin reaction, such as a blister, at the sight of the vaccination. A skin reaction is a typical response to smallpox vaccination. The response also will be measured by examining the size of the skin reaction and the time it takes for the blister to heal. Participants may become immune to smallpox, which would reduce or prevent infection with smallpox.

Featherweight Jupiter Moon Is Likely a Jumble of Pieces

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft continues to deliver surprises with the discovery that Jupiter’s potato-shaped inner moon, named Amalthea, appears to have a very low density, indicating it is full of holes. “The density is unexpectedly low,” said Dr. John D. Anderson, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Amalthea is apparently a loosely packed pile of rubble.” The empty gaps between solid chunks likely take up more of the moon’s total volume than the solid pieces, and even the chunks are probably material that is not dense enough to fit some theories about the origin of Jupiter’s moons. “Amalthea now seems more likely to be mostly rock with maybe a little ice, rather than a denser mix of rock and iron,” said JPL’s Dr. Torrence Johnson, project scientist for Galileo.

Epilepsy drug could help treat tapeworm-induced seizures

An anti-epileptic drug may help treat symptoms of a condition that affects as many as 1 in 10 people in developing countries. In a clinical study the drug helped reduce the incidence of seizures in people whose central nervous systems have become infected with the pork tapeworm taenia solium. The condition is associated with seizures, headache, and other neurological symptoms, but of these, seizures are the most common, occurring in nearly 90 percent of all patients.

Thalidomide-like drug appears to help bone cancer patients

A drug similar to thalidomide has been found to be promising with fewer side effects for treating patients with recurrent multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer, according to early data from a clinical study. The drug, an analog of thalidomide, was developed to be more potent than thalidomide, while reducing some of thalidomide’s dose limiting side effects. Laboratory studies have shown that CC-5013 not only kills myeloma cells by triggering their innate self-destruct mechanism but also inhibits the myeloma cells ability to localize and grow in the bone marrow. Moreover, it appears to have anti-angiogenic effects and stimulates the immune system to attack myeloma.

French use robot arm to remotely diagnose patient at sea

French researchers say they have for the first time demonstrated the use of a teleoperated robotic arm for echographic diagnosis in a remote situation. The objective of the project was to demonstrate how teleoperated echographic diagnosis can be carried out on patients at remote locations. A radiologist at St Anne’s Hospital in Toulon used the teleoperated robotic arm to diagnose a test patient on board the ship stationed at sea. With the robotic arm, videoconferencing equipment and satellite communications, the radiologist was able to assess the severity of medical problems from the remote site. This has important implications for spaceflight and research as it means that astronauts on board the international space station can receive diagnostic attention without returning to Earth.

Combination Pacemaker-Defibrillator Prevents Death from Heart Failure

A new implantable device has been found to reduce the risk of death from congestive heart failure by 40 percent, triggering the early halt of a national trial of the device. “This trial was the largest one in history to test an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator, and it represents a landmark study for the treatment of congestive heart failure,” says Mitchell N. Faddis, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “I think this is one of the most important therapies developed in the last decade for treatment of severe heart disease.”

Actor Reeve’s Brain Able to ‘Feel’ and ‘Move’ after Spine Injury

Brain regions involved in movement and feeling appear to remain relatively healthy and active even years after the body has been paralyzed, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. A team of investigators found that five years after complete paralysis from a severe spinal cord injury, areas of the brain normally responsible for some movements and feelings have maintained those capabilities in one quadriplegic. That patient is actor Christopher Reeve.

Gov’t asks public for help in World Trade Center investigation

U.S. government investigators say they need more help from the public and news media in their massive investigation of the September 11 destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York. Specifically, officials at the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology want more photographs and videotape that could yield insights into what happened to the collapsed WTC buildings, occupants and first responders.