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Entries in Environment (3)

Friday
Mar302012

Keeping Chilly Lab Mice Warm: Key to Better Science?

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Joseph Garner imagines how much happier and healthier lab mice would be in a kinder, gentler environment than the stark cages in chilly laboratories -- and how that, in turn, might improve the outcome of research that underlies human medical advances.

In searching for “one thing we could put in every mouse cage in America that would make every mouse better off and would improve the quality of science done with every mouse,” he focused on a simple fact: mice are chronically cold and suffer from thermal stress.

That “one thing” that could be put in every cage is turning out to be shredded paper, which chilly mice use to build toasty, warm nests like the ones that wild mice build, according to a study published Friday in the journal PLoS One.

Given between a fifth and a third of an ounce of crinkly, coarse shredded paper called Enviro-dri, the mice went to work weaving “these beautiful igloos that are just incredible,” said Garner, an associate professor of comparative medicine at Stanford University in California. He conducted the research while at Purdue University in Indiana, with his then-graduate student Brianna Gaskill, now a postdoctoral scientist at Charles River Laboratories in Wilmington, Mass.

Because mice are nocturnal creatures, he said the lab mice were busy during nighttime hours in the lab, “very much like ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ They’re very naughty at night.”

Garner has devoted much of the last seven years to understanding why 90 percent of compounds that look promising in animals go on to “fail in human trials.” He’s convinced their environment is part of the answer.

A mouse living in captivity is “a little bit like you or I living in a glass house being looked after by Tyrannosaurus rex,” he suggested. And a drafty house at that. That’s pretty close to conditions for mice, whose 98.4 degree body temperature is close to the 98.6 degrees of the lab technicians who tend to them. But air temperatures in research laboratories typically are kept between 68 and 75.2 degrees, putting them in a state of “cold stress.”

Garner is among the few U.S. scientists “really generating good data to support what animals ‘need and want,’ because animals clearly have their own needs,” said Joanne Zurlo, director of science strategy at the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Without convincing proof that mouse well-being matters to scientific results, she said other scientists likely won’t buy into the idea that they need to make changes after “keeping mice in these conditions for umpteen years.”

The world’s largest breeder of laboratory mice, which has been supplying mice for the research, recognizes the important influence of laboratory conditions.

“The animal’s environment is a crucial factor in research,” said Kathleen Pritchett-Corning, director of research and professional services for Charles River Laboratories. “In research, we can control almost all aspects of an animal’s environment, but we don’t always know what’s best for the animal.”

She said the company has been “testing this material for our own use and have been very pleased with the results thus far.” She also suggested providing lab mice with nesting materials “could be a huge gain in welfare” and that other elements of lab animals’ environment are “ripe for study,” such as light levels, noise, air movement, type of bedding and feed.

“The healthier and more ‘normal’ the animal, the better the science,” said Pritchett-Corning, a veterinarian who has been working with mice for nearly 20 years. “The better the science, the more likely it is to lead to discoveries and advances that affect human health. It doesn’t matter what kind of animal it is, it deserves the best care we can provide.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul212011

Do You Breathe 'Toxic' Air? Group Lists 20 Worst States

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The people of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida breathe the air most polluted by power plants, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report, which was based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory, ranked the 20 worst states – the so-called "Toxic 20" – based on air pollution from power plants. Here's the list from worst to, well, less bad:

  1. Ohio
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maryland
  6. Indiana
  7. Michigan
  8. West Virginia
  9. Georgia
  10. North Carolina
  11. South Carolina
  12. Alabama
  13. Texas
  14. Virginia
  15. Tennessee
  16. Missouri
  17. Illinois
  18. Wisconsin
  19. New Hampshire
  20. Iowa


According to the report by the private non-profit group, power plants are the single largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in 28 states and the District of Columbia. In Pennsylvania, airborne toxins from coal- and oil-burning plants account for 82 percent of the air pollution.

The report did not assess air pollution from non-industrial sources, which could explain why smoggy California didn't make the cut.

Metals emitted by power plants, such as nickel, cadmium and mercury, have been linked to respiratory illness, cancer and birth defects.

The EPA estimates that reducing pollution by levels proposed in the "Mercury and Air Toxics" standards, expected to be finalized in November, could save as many as 17,000 lives and prevent more than 12,000 hospital visits every year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan262011

Environmental Stressors Determine Parent-Child Relationships

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(OXFORD, England) – Scientists have discovered that parents react to unpredictable environmental changes by investing more time and care into the upbringing of their children, reports Science Daily.

Researchers at Oxford University found that changes in mortality rates and fertility cause an evolutional change in how a parent cares for their offspring.

"We already know that some animals, such as different populations of European kestrel, alter the levels of care they give their offspring in response to unpredictable environments," said author Dr. Mike Bonsall of Oxford University's Department of Zoology. "What this new research shows is that many more species are likely to 'hedge their bets', changing how much they care for their offspring depending on how challenging the environment is."

For example, in a challenging environment, parents might feed their offspring more often than when the environment is stable.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio