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Robots Can Perform Brain Surgery on Flies

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At Stanford, brain surgery is a task that can now be delegated to the robots—at least when it comes to fruit fly research. 

A high-speed robot designed to be an automated lab assistant can study as many 1000 flies in a 10-hour period,  a group of Stanford roboticists and biologists report in the journal Nature Methods. Rather than employing grad students with tweezers to determine gender, measure size, and perform brain surgery on fruit flies—one of the most popular model organisms for biology and medicine—a $5000 robot can do it. 

It’s understandably hard to catch and handle flies; researchers often use anesthesia to slow down the insects, which can alter their movement and inhibit research. Having a swift-moving robot that can capture, manipulate, and dissect them without the use of anesthesia makes the task of studying large numbers of the insects much faster. The robot tracks the fly it wants to grab using infrared light. Gentle suction holds the flies in place, and they can later be released for further study.

While a robot performing brain surgery is exciting on its own, having more test subjects in their studies gives greater weight to the researchers' scientific findings. “Overall, our programmable system flexibly combines automated handling, surgical maneuvers, machine vision and behavioral assessments—without using anesthesia and while providing greater statistical power than humans can easily muster,” the researchers write.

[h/t: The New York Times]

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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science
Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Really Linked? Researchers Investigate
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Around the world, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll are said to go hand-in-hand. But do they? As PsyPost reports, a pair of Pennsylvania psychologists recently dove into the empirical evidence tying the three together, asking college students to talk about their drug use, sex lives, and music preferences and talents to suss out whether people who play and enjoy rock music really do have more active sex lives and drug use.

Published in the journal Human Ethnology Bulletin, the study [PDF] of 467 students relied on self-reporting, which isn't typically the most reliable evidence—people are wont to exaggerate how often they've had sex, for instance—but the survey also asked them about their desires, posing questions like "If you could, how frequently would you have sex?" It also asked about how often the students drank and what drugs they had tried in their lifetimes. They also described their musical experience and what kind of music they listened to.

The results were mixed, but the researchers identified a relationship between liking faster, "harder" music and having more sex and doing more drugs. Acoustic indie rock aficionados weren't getting quite as wild as heavy metal fans. High-tempo-music lovers were more likely to have taken hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, for example, and tended to have had more sexual partners in the previous year than people who favored slower types of music. According to the study, previous research has found that attention-seeking people are more likely to enjoy "hard" music.

The study didn't have a diverse enough group either in age or in ethnicity to really begin to make sweeping generalizations about humans, especially since college students (the participants were between 18 and 25) tend to engage in more risky behaviors in general. But this could lay the groundwork for future research into the topic. Until then, it might be more accurate to change the phrase to "sex, drugs, and heavy metal."

[h/t PsyPost]

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