The expanding US body doesn't fit in its medical machines, the sordid story of love between a duck and a hen and an equation that predicts when your kid is going to ask, "Are we there yet?"

Fat Chance Of Diagnosis

Radiologists are finding that the traditional apparatuses for peering inside the body, including X-ray machines, are not working on some of the more sizable citizens of the US, where 64% of the population is either overweight or obese. According to a study led by Massachusetts General Hospital radiologist Raul Uppot, medical reports acknowledging limitations due to patients’ “body habitus” have effectively doubled over the last 15 years. Larger patients may be unable to fit into scanners, and their fat may be too dense for X-rays or especially sound waves to penetrate. While many are trying to solve America’s obesity problem, medical manufacturers are capitalizing on the new demand by building larger MRI machines. Uppot said his hospital is buying three.

(source: Reuters)

Eggs Over Easy

Days after President Bush vetoed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, and the EU blocked funding for research that destroys human embryos, Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) issued a therapeutic cloning research group license, which will allow them to ask women undergoing in vitro fertilization to donate their eggs to science. The North East England Stem Cell Institute is investigating the potential of human embryonic stem cells to treat illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. This is the first time a group in the UK will be allowed to offer a financial incentive for donation: Couples who are unable to afford IVF will be able to offset the cost by donating eggs for research. Controversy has ensued, with the co-founder of a group called Hands Off Our Ovaries saying this is the “worst example of HFEA arrogance” she has seen.

(source: BBC)

Twice Shy

While ecologists have speculated that the male praying mantis may get some evolutionary benefit out of being cannibalized during copulation, a recent study out of State University of New York-Fredonia indicates that male mantids do not appreciate being eaten. (Shocker.) The researchers found that when male mantids were at a higher risk for cannibalism—if the female is oriented towards the male, she can use her front legs to attack him more easily—the fellas responded by slowing their approach, increasing their courtship behavior and mounting from a greater distance. Author William Brown called sexual cannibalism “an example of extreme conflict between the sexes.” Yeah, that’s the understatement of the year.

(source: The University of Chicago Press, Journals Division)

Fowl Play

The Swedish avian community was rocked by scandal last summer, when a female duck “accidentally” drowned during a bout of aquatic intercourse. Her body was hardly cold when her mate was seen cavorting with another woman. That would have been disgraceful enough, but it was the identity of the new lover that capped off the scandal: She was not another lady duck, but a hen. 

Farm owners Annika Stenbäck and Peter Andersson told the Norrköpings Tidningar this sordid tale of suspected murder, deceit and, yes, interspecies love. Now, one year after they were first seen together, the odd couple is still going strong. In fact, the duck is the proud foster-father of five chicks, born from fertilized eggs Stenbäck snatched from a relative’s farm. Reportedly, the duck stayed by his lady during her entire brooding period, and he hasn’t left her side since the chicks hatched.

(source: Dagens Nyheter, translated by Johan Anglemark for Boing Boing)

Whine Connoisseur

A representative of Czech car manufacturer Skoda Auto asked University of Warwick mathematician Dwight Barkley if he could come up with an equation for what time a kid will ask the dreaded road trip question, “Are we there yet?” Barkley pondered possible factors and generated the formula: T = t0 + (1 + βA)/αC2, where T is the time at which a child first utters the query, t0 is the time the family leaves the house, C is the number of children in the car, A is the number of activities, and α and β are parameters that convert the units to time. As Barkley points out, when there are zero children in the car, time necessarily goes to infinity.

(source: Dwight Barkley’s website)

Pro-Test

Animal rights extremists have been known to commit animal-like wrongs against researchers, but according to figures recently released by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, attacks by animal rights extremists are on the wane. During the first six months of 2006, there were only 15 reported incidents in researchers’ private homes, down over 50% from the same period in 2005 and down over 85% from the first six months of 2004. Over the last two years, anti-vivisectionist demonstrations have also declined from 670 to 424.

(sources: Guardian Unlimited, ABPI)

Father Knows Best

A new study shows that becoming a father actually enhances the neural structure of the prefrontal cortex in marmosets. Researchers at Princeton already knew that male primates, including humans, experience hormonal changes when they become fathers, but when looking at the structure of the prefrontal cortex, the researchers found a greater number of neural connections and more receptor sites for the hormone vasopressin. (Vasopressin has been linked to both long-term and short-term memory function as well as aggression.) As the father’s young become independent, the number of receptor sites decreases and returns to its original level when the kids effectively leave home. Lead author Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy said the neural enhancement might indicate changes in the father’s reward system that encourage him to be a more loving and devoted father.

(source: New Scientist)

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Originally published July 30, 2006

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