Female Lab Rats Are the Victims of Gender Bias, Too

Alexthq // Getty Images
Alexthq // Getty Images

Sexism in the workplace isn’t limited to humans. Because neuroscientists presumed that hormonal fluctuations in female lab rats would affect their test results, they have mainly stuck to studying male lab rats. But they may not be getting the whole story, reports Bethany Brookshire at Science News.

Female lab rats do indeed have hormonal surges that affect their behavior—but so do males. Previous research has shown that females consume more cocaine when in heat (in other words, with higher estrogen levels) than at other times. But males with low or high testosterone performed poorly on memory tests.

It’s not just the hormones and their effects that differ between the sexes—it’s also the timeframe for hormonal surges. Behavioral neuroendocrinologist Irving Zucker, who detailed these differences in a 2017 study [PDF] in Biology of Sex Differences, tells Science News that females’ hormones vary more over a few days, while males’ vary more over the course of a single day.

There are also differences between the sexes that have nothing to do with hormones at all. In a 2015 study in eLife, Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, showed female and male rats a tone or light followed by a (harmless) shock to the feet. While all of the rats first learned to freeze after the signal, fearing the shock, some of the females responded to subsequent signals by racing around the cage—for no obvious hormonal reason. Shansky concluded that female rats may learn to process fear differently than males, suggesting that equality of the sexes among lab rats (at least in terms of studying them) can lead to more insightful results.

Plus, if male and female rats behave differently in a given situation, it’s possible that male and female humans would, too. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, human females have also frequently been excluded from clinical trials, including several important long-running studies on aging and other issues.)

And if you’re starting to feel like rats deserve more credit than you’ve previously given them, check out these other impressive rat facts.

[h/t Science News]

You Can Now Go Inside Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 Control Room

bionerd23, YouTube
bionerd23, YouTube

The eerie interior of Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 control room, the site of the devastating nuclear explosion in 1986, is now officially open to tourists—as long as they’re willing to don full hazmat suits before entering and undergo two radiology tests upon exiting.

Gizmodo reports that the structure, which emits 40,000 times more radiation than any natural environment, is encased in what's called the New Safe Confinement, a 32,000-ton structure that seals the space off from its surroundings. All things considered, it seems like a jolly jaunt to these ruins might be ill-advised—but radiology tests are par for the course when it comes to visiting the exclusion zone, and even tour guides have said that they don’t usually reach dangerous levels of radiation on an annual basis.

Though souvenir opportunists have made off with most of the plastic switches on the machinery, the control room still contains original diagrams and wiring; and, according to Ruptly, it’s also been covered with an adhesive substance that prevents dust from forming.

The newly public attraction is part of a concerted effort by the Ukrainian government to rebrand what has historically been considered an internationally shameful chapter of the country's past.

“We must give this territory of Chernobyl a new life,” Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky said in July. “Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature revives after a global man-made disaster, where there is a real 'ghost town.' We have to show this place to the world: scientists, ecologists, historians, tourists."

It’s also an attempt to capitalize upon the tourism boom born from HBO’s wildly successful miniseries Chernobyl, which prompted a 35 percent spike in travel to the exclusion zone earlier this year. Zelensky’s administration, in addition to declaring the zone an official tourist destination, has worked to renovate paths, establish safe entry points and guidelines for visitors, and abolish the photo ban.

Prefer to enjoy Chernobyl’s chilling atmosphere without all the radioactivity? Check out these creepy photos from the comfort of your own couch.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Invasive Snakehead Fish That Can Breathe on Land Is Roaming Georgia

Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A fish recently found in Georgia has wildlife officials stirred up. In fact, they’re advising anyone who sees a northern snakehead to kill it on sight.

That death sentence might sound extreme, but there’s good reason for it. The northern snakehead, which can survive for brief periods on land and breathe air, is an invasive species in North America. With one specimen found in a privately owned pond in Gwinnett County, the state wants to take swift action to make certain the fish, which is native to East Asia, doesn’t continue to spread. Non-native species can upset local ecosystems by competing with native species for food and habitat.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is advising people who encounter the snakehead—a long, splotchy-brown fish that can reach 3 feet in length—to kill it and freeze it, then report the catch to the agency's fisheries office.

Wildlife authorities believe snakeheads wind up in non-native areas as a result of the aquarium trade or food industry. A snakehead was recently caught in southwestern Pennsylvania. The species has been spotted in 14 states.

[h/t CNN]

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