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Michael Baranovsky via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Michael Baranovsky via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Lady Pigeons’ Hormones Show the Value of Studying Both Sexes

Michael Baranovsky via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Michael Baranovsky via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This just in: Organisms of different sexes have different physiology. It’s a wild idea, we know, but hear us out. A new report on pigeon hormones in the journal Scientific Reports refutes the longstanding scientific assumption that studying female organisms is a waste of time.

This is not an exaggeration. "There's a problem of sex and gender inclusion at all levels of science from faculty to the animals we use," senior author Rebecca Calisi of the University of California, Davis said in a statement.

Until quite recently, it was standard practice for researchers to use mostly or exclusively male organisms, from cells in petri dishes all the way up to patients in clinical trials. Scientific institutions working to correct this extremely un-scientific imbalance have been met with resistance, as some researchers continue to argue that including females is complicated, expensive, and redundant, as male organisms are surely a good-enough stand-in for an entire species.

Little by little, small experiments and large-scale studies are chipping away at these arguments. The latest evidence in support of balanced research practices comes from Calisi and her colleagues at UC Davis and the University of New Hampshire.

Calisi and her colleagues examined the genes of 24 pigeons (14 male and 10 female), focusing on the expression of genes in each bird’s hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and reproductive organs.

Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

They found differences between male and female birds. A lot of differences. Hundreds, in fact.

“There are incredible differences in gene expression, especially in the pituitary," Calisi said.

She and her colleagues were restrained in summarizing the significance of their findings, noting simply that “[Their] results highlight the need for sex parity in transcriptomic studies, providing new lines of investigation of the mechanisms of reproductive function.”

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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