Friday, October 1, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 9

It's Friday! And that means another round of the Anthro Reader. This time I cover the Alamogordo chimps, homegrown gardens, serotonin and depression, fireflies, and a new planet that could be the new Earth.

But first, my fellow Scientopian Scicurious had an idea to look at the articles in an issue of Women's Health magazine and examine the information that they were offering to women. The analysis range from good to ridiculous to scary. Sci has helpfully collected the posts for your review. It's worth a read.

Also, be sure to read the 102nd edition of the anthropology blog carnival, Four Stone Hearth, right here on AiP.

Alright. And away we go.

Enos the space chimp before being inserted into the
Mercury-Atlas 5 capsule in 1961. Credit: Wikipedia.
FIrst, Jason Goldman has a pretty interesting post up at The Thoughtful Animal on the fate of the Alamogordo chimps that are being moved from New Mexico to a lab in San Antonio, Texas. There has been a moratorium on the breeding of chimps in federally-supported labs since 1995. However, Jason tells us, the the Alamogordo chimps are descendants of the chimps initially trained for space flight and have already spent years as research subjects, so it seems that they are exempt from this clause. The Governor of New Mexico isn't thrilled with this transfer and is advocating for a different solution. This prompts Jason to ask: how do you decide where to draw the line between species for biomedical research?

He explores several means of distinguishing between species for this purpose and settles on the encephalization quotient (EQ)—this refers to the folding of the brain, which in turn increases volume and surface area and has been correlated with intelligence:
The encephalization quotient seems a promising - if somewhat arbitrary - way of determining which species should be allowed to be involved in biomedical research. To put the question into perspective, an EQ of 1 suggests that relative brain size is exactly as expected. An EQ above 1 suggests that relative brain size is large, and an EQ less than 1 suggests a smaller brain than expected. Humans have an EQ of 7, great apes and some monkey species have EQs between 1.5 and 3, and several species of toothed cetaceans (the odotocetes) have EQs between 4 and 5.
EQ seems to have a fair possibility at offering a point of definition.

Next at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, Luigi has a post that examines two recent articles on African leafy vegetables and homegrown gardens. Given the rise of organic interests and home grown vegetables, the homegrown gardens article seems interesting and may be something worth reading in its entirety:
It rehearses the biological features of homegardens, in particular their complexity and diversity, stresses their cultural and socio-economic importance, and describes how these drive each other.
There is definitely a connection between need, popularity, complexity, and maintenance when it comes to gardening, so I'm intrigued.

Scicurious has a feature in the Guardian blog festival where she tries to clarify the connection between serotonin and depression. Anti-depression meds operate on the belief that increasing the amount of monoamines (a specific sort of neurotransmitter) like serotonin can help treat depression. However, Sci points out that there are things that just don't add up with this theory. She suggests that antidepressants may work because they trigger neurogenesis—cell birth. It's a fascinating and thought-provoking read.

Remember those summer evenings as a kid when you'd capture fireflies in a jar (and perhaps release them before you went to bed)? Well, those days may be numbered for any progeny you may produce. John Platt at Scientific American reports the Museum of Science in Boston is concerned about dwindling firefly populations and wants your help to understand why.

Credit Wikipedia
The museum, along with researchers from Tufts University and Fitchburg State University, is running Firefly Watch, a 10-year project (currently finishing its third year) where volunteers (such as you, dear reader), can observe fireflies in their backyards and upload the data to a Web site where scientists can use it to research population trends. (It's not just scientists, by the way, the full data set for the first three years is online and available to all, so anyone is free to go in and examine the findings.)
Fireflies are mysterious beetles and there is a tremendous amount to be learned from. There has been some talk that light pollution has impacted their environments but no one really knows for sure, which is data is so important!

The Blue Marble. Credit: Nasa
And finally, a potential Earth has been found! Phil Platt of Bad Astronomy reports that a "Goldilocks" planet has been found some 20 light years away. This means it is the right distance away from its sun to have water, and potentially support life. It has some astronomers quite excited. Phil walks us through the possibilities quite calmly. So before you throw that "I'm moving to the new Earth!" party, take a moment to understand what has truly been found.

And that's it for this time. Send me stuff for the Reader! Really. I want to know what you're reading. When you see something neat, either shoot me the link on Twitter @anthinpractice or drop me an email. I'll save it, take a look, and possibly add it here.

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