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Developmental Cell

This Fluorescent Zebrafish Can Help Scientists Understand How Skin Heals

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Developmental Cell

While zebrafish are naturally gold with blue stripes, this specimen has been bioengineered to reflect thousands of brilliant, fluorescent colors, New Scientist reports. Nicknamed the "skinbow," this fish wasn't made because it's pretty to look at—scientists created it to better understand how skin tissue regenerates.

For their study recently published in Developmental Cell, scientists at Duke University injected a special gene into several zebrafish embryos, one of which went on to develop into a fish with multicolored skin. The gene translates into red, blue, and green fluorescent proteins, and a single skin cell from the fish contains about 100 copies of the gene. Based on all the gene combinations that are possible, any given cell could express one of around 5000 different shades. 

While the microscope the researchers used was only strong enough to make out 70 of these distinct colors, that still allowed them enough variety to track individual cells. They studied the healing process by removing a portion of the animal's fin and watching its cells regenerate. To repair the wound, neighboring cells moved in to the affected area and grew to twice their size to cover more ground. In the meantime, a fresh layer of skin cells was generated beneath the surface and rose to replace the damaged tissue in less than 30 minutes. Researchers also observed how fast skin cells naturally replaced themselves by photographing the same area of skin twice a day. It took a single cell eight days to wear off, and the entire cell sample took 20 days to cycle through completely. 

The process of tissue regeneration that's so vital to life on earth is still largely a mystery to scientists. Discovering new ways to study how it happens could help us develop better cancer-fighting medications or skin-healing treatments down the road. 

[h/t New Scientist]

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Animals
Dogs Rescued After Hurricane Maria Are Available to Adopt in New York
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Dozens of dogs displaced by Hurricane Maria last month are now closer to having happy endings to their stories. As Mashable reports, 53 dogs flown out of Puerto Rico by The Sato Project have been put up for adoption in shelters around the U.S., with 28 of the rescues now available through a shelter in New York City.

The new batch of dogs looking for forever homes is in addition to the 60 dogs retrieved by The Sato Project earlier this month. According to the local animal rescue group, Puerto Rico was home to about 500,000 stray dogs before the historic storm made landfall in September. The animals being shuttled from the devastated island and into the U.S. via charter plane are a mix of feral dogs, abandoned dogs, and dogs that were surrendered to local shelters by families unable to care for them post-Maria.

The Sato Project, which worked to tackle Puerto Rico's stray dog problem before the disaster, wrote that in light of the storm they would be "mobilizing to provide supplies and support to our team on the ground in Puerto Rico, and to transport as many dogs as we can to safety in the coming days and weeks."

Aspiring pet owners looking to take in a four-legged survivor will have the best luck at the no-kill shelter Animal Haven in Manhattan's Lower East Side. There, dozens of dogs who made the trip from the U.S. territory are anxiously waiting to meet their new families. And if you don't live in the New York City area, you can check out The Sato Project's list of adoptable pets around the country.

Looking for ways to help Puerto Rico that don't involve adding a new member to the family? Here are some organizations doing recovery work on the island and ways you can support them.

[h/t Mashable]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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