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Top Ten News Articles: Spiders and Dinosaurs and Eels, Oh My!

08/15/2014

Scientists rely heavily on animals—both model animals and unusual ones—for biomedical research. Over the first half of 2014, a multitude of developments and discoveries were made with the help of all types of animals, from sheep to cockroaches to comb jellies. Here we present our ten most popular news stories (based on page views) that highlight the many roles of animals in research. Read more...

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1. Cell Culture’s Spider Silk Road
Spiders contribute a lot to life—especially to nightmares, basements, and Halloween—but can they also contribute to cell culture? Read here about the efforts of several research groups to bring spider silk to a culture flask near you and just how it might improve the health of your cultured cells.

2. Determining the Color of Dinosaur Skin
Dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago, leaving behind traces of their existence that make us curious about what they looked like and how they behaved. While fossils give a good view of their skeletons and allow inference of the shapes of the muscles, the color and texture of dinosaur skin remains a mystery. Now, researchers have developed a new method for determining the skin color of extinct marine reptiles. So, what color were they?

3. The Mystery of the Morpholino Mouse
While performing what he expected to be a routine experiment, David Ferguson witnessed the violent death of his experimental mouse, which shifted him immediately into detective mode to figure out what went wrong. Could this happen to your mice? How can it be prevented? What he found just may surprise you.

4. Send in the Clones
While many experimental animals and their researchers have attained fame and fortune, the biggest celebrity of them all is Dolly the sheep. Her birth was announced far and wide and incited frenzy in the media and public. Now, 14 years later, researchers have finally applied the method used to create Dolly to human cells. What took so long? And what does this mean for research going forward?

5. Small RNA Determines Sex
In many species, researchers have pinpointed the main players that determine whether an embryo develops as male or female. But in the silkworm Bombyx mori, a surprising new culprit seems to be responsible for determining sex.

6. Mice Smell Researchers, Stress Out
The life of a lab mouse seems quite cozy. They are given food, water, and entertainment. They never endure rainstorms or encounter predators. But even so, they are a skittish and finicky bunch, often disrupting the experiments they participate in with their fear or stress responses. And it doesn’t take much to set them off. In fact, just being male is enough to do it.

7. Ctenophores Have a Mind of Their Own
Aboard a ship carrying a sequencing lab, Lenoid Moroz roams the open ocean in search of “aliens of the sea”—or comb jellies as they are more commonly called. But alien is an apt description, considering how different these animals are from others on earth. Among their myriad secrets is a neural system unlike any other.

8. Electric Fish: The Shocking Truth
Among the countless evolutionary anomalies in the world lies the electric organ found in some species of fish. These battery packs enable their owners to shock their prey or communicate with others. But where did these highly specialized bundles of nerve and muscle come from?

9. DNA Origami Robots
Researchers have created DNA origami robots that function as biological logic circuits, capable of responding to the presence or absence of various molecular triggers. They then placed these inside cockroaches. Just what do they do there?

10. The Quest for New Fluorescent Proteins
The jelly fish Aequora victoria offered biologists their very first fluorescent protein, which immediately became an essential tool for research. Since then, researchers have modified the original green fluorescent protein to create fluorescent proteins in a rainbow of colors with increasing degrees of brightness—until the brightness level hit a plateau. Researchers have now turned to a new animal, Amphioxus, which offered an even brighter fluorescent protein.