Now I am sure that I share with countless others a poor understanding of what IVF is. Here’s a Wikipedia extract:
In vitro fertilization or fertilisation (IVF) is a process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body: in vitro (“in glass”). The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova (egg or eggs) from the woman’s ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a liquid in a laboratory. The fertilised egg (zygote) is cultured for 2–6 days in a growth medium and is then implanted in the same or another woman’s uterus, with the intention of establishing a successful pregnancy.
Obviously that applies to women.
A quick web search revealed that the IVF procedure is commonly used in livestock. Here’s a graphic example of that (literally):
All of which leads nicely in to the Science Alert story.
These are the world’s first puppies born through IVF
Cutest science ever.
PETER DOCKRILL 11 DEC 2015
The world’s first litter of puppies born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) represents the culmination of decades of research and has resulted in seven adorable pups called Cannon, Red, Green, Cornelia, Buddy, Kiwi and Ivy le Fleur.
But the achievement goes beyond almost intolerable cuteness. The researchers say successfully breeding puppies via IVF opens the door for saving endangered canid species and using gene-editing techniques to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs.
“Since the mid–1970s, people have been trying to do this in a dog and have been unsuccessful,” said Alex Travis, a reproductive biologist from Cornell University.
To develop the litter of pups, the researchers had to fertilise eggs from donor mothers with sperm from donor fathers in the lab, before transferring the embryos to a host female. 19 embryos were transferred to the host female in total, who gave birth to seven healthy pups.
Two of the pups came from a beagle mother donor and a cocker spaniel father donor, and the other five came from two pairings of beagle mothers and fathers.
The team had to overcome a number of challenges to make the process work. Picking the right time to collect mature eggs from the female oviduct proved difficult, as dogs’ reproductive cycles occur only twice per year typically. The researchers found delaying the egg collection by one day resulted in greater fertilisation than previous attempts.
An additional barrier was preparing the sperm for fertilisation, which is normally performed by the female tract. But the researchers found they could simulate these conditions by adding magnesium to the cell culture. “We made those two changes, and now we achieve success in fertilisation rates at 80 to 90 percent,” said Travis.
The researchers’ IVF process, described in PLOS One, will enable conservationists to store the semen and eggs of endangered canids and also help protect rare dog breeds.
“We can freeze and bank sperm, and use it for artificial insemination,” said Travis. “We can also freeze oocytes, but in the absence of in vitro fertilisation, we couldn’t use them. Now we can use this technique to conserve the genetics of endangered species.”
The IVF process should also lead to better genome-editing techniques in the future. This issue is particularly pertinent in light of the way that humans have bred dogs over many centuries. With the paired selection of mates for desired traits leading to detrimental genetic baggage due to inbreeding, this gives researchers a chance to eliminate diseases that certain breeds are now predisposed to.
“With a combination of gene-editing techniques and IVF, we can potentially prevent genetic disease before it starts,” said Travis.
We don’t always hear a lot about endangered canid species, but here are five candidates that this research will helpfully be able to help sooner rather than later.
If you are like me and rarely follow the links in online stories then let me alert you to the last one. It’s an article in Scientific American that opens, thus:
The 5 Most Endangered Canine Species
By John R. Platt on May 9, 2013
Domesticated dogs are some of the most popular animals on the planet, but their cousins in the wild aren’t always as beloved. For thousands of years humans have persecuted wolves, jackals, dingoes, foxes and other members of the family Canidae, pushing many species into or close to extinction. Here are five of the most endangered canine species and subspecies, three of which only continue to exist because a few people and organizations have taken extraordinary efforts to save them.
I don’t have copyright permission to offer more. So all I will do is to list the names of those five most endangered species:
Staying with the theme of the relationship with humanity’s oldest friend.
Yesterday, I offered the first of two articles forwarded to me by local friend Jim, a vet, about the domestication of the wolf.
Here is the second.
Study narrows origin of dogs
By Krishna Ramanujan/ January 16th, 2014
Genomic sequencing of genetically divergent dogs, such as this basenji from the Congo, together with wolves and other wild canids, provides rich information about the history of domestic dogs.
Dogs were domesticated between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, suggesting the earliest dogs most likely arose when humans were still hunting and gathering – before the advent of agriculture around 10,000 years ago, according to an analysis of individual genomes of modern dogs and gray wolves.
An international team of researchers, who published their report in PLoS Genetics Jan. 16, studied genomes of three gray wolves, one each from China, Croatia and Israel – all areas thought to be possible geographic centers of dog domestication. They also studied dog genomes from an African basenji and an Australian dingo; both breeds come from places with no history of wolves, where recent mixing with wolves could not have occurred.
Their findings revealed the three wolves were more closely related to each other than to any of the dogs. Likewise, the two dog genomes and a third boxer genome resembled each other more closely than the wolves. This suggests that modern dogs and gray wolves represent sister branches on an evolutionary tree descending from an older, common ancestor. The results contrast with previous theories that speculated dogs evolved from one of the sampled populations of gray wolves.
“This is an incredibly rich new dataset, and it has allowed us to carry out the most detailed analysis yet of the genetic history of dogs and wolves,” said Adam Siepel, associate professor of biological statistics and computational biology at Cornell and a co-author of the paper. “There are still many open questions, but this study moves the ball forward,” Siepel added.
Computer methods for analyzing complete genome sequences developed by Ilan Gronau, the paper’s second author and a postdoctoral associate in Siepel’s lab, played a key role in the collaboration. Gronau’s computer program, called G-PhoCS (Generalized Phylogenetic Coalescent Sampler), was previously applied with success in a 2011 Nature Genetics study of early human history and demographics.
In this case, G-PhoCS provided a detailed picture of the demographic changes that occurred during the divergence of dogs from wolves. The analysis revealed there was a sizable pruning in population of early dogs and wolves around the time of domestication. Dogs suffered a sixteenfold cut in population size as they diverged from an early wolf ancestor. Gray wolves also experienced sharp drops in population, suggesting that the genetic diversity among both species’ common ancestors was larger than represented by dogs and modern wolves. In addition, there was considerable gene flow between dogs and wolves after domestication. Accounting for gene flow was a major challenge in the analysis, and Gronau’s research on this topic proved valuable in obtaining an accurate model of canid demography.
The picture emerging from this study will allow researchers to better interpret genetic differences observed between dogs and wolves and to identify differences driven by natural selection. “This paper sets the stage for the next step in the study of dog domestication that tries to determine the genetic changes that enabled this amazing transformation,” said Gronau.
The study’s senior authors included geneticists John Novembre at the University of Chicago and Robert Wayne at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Adam Freeman, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, was the paper’s first author. Adam Boyko, a Cornell assistant professor of biomedical sciences, also co-authored the paper.
The study was funded by various sources, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Life Technologies.
Staying with the theme of our early companions, back on the 28th February, 2015 there was an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper about the way wolves helped early modern man. Now I don’t have permission to republish the full article but here’s a taste:
How hunting with wolves helped humans outsmart the Neanderthals
Forty thousand years ago in Europe our ancestors formed a crucial and lasting alliance that enabled us to finish off our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals.
Dogs are humanity’s oldest friends, renowned for their loyalty and abilities to guard, hunt and chase. But modern humans may owe even more to them than we previously realised. We may have to thank them for helping us eradicate our caveman rivals, the Neanderthals.
According to a leading US anthropologist, early dogs, bred from wolves, played a critical role in the modern human’s takeover of Europe 40,000 years ago when we vanquished the Neanderthal locals.
The Guardian article finishes, thus:
Thus we began to change the wolf’s appearance and over the millennia turned them into all the breeds of dog we have today, from corgis to great Danes. Intriguingly, they may have changed our appearances as well, says [Professor Pat] Shipman, whose book, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, will be published this month. Consider the whites of our eyes, she states. The wolf possesses white sclera as does Homo sapiens though, crucially, it is the only primate that has them.
“The main advantage of having white sclera is that it is very easy to work out what another person is gazing at,” added Shipman. “It provides a very useful form of non-verbal communication and would have been of immense help to early hunters. They would been able to communicate silently but very effectively.”
Thus the mutation conferring white sclera could have become increasingly common among modern humans 40,000 years ago and would have conferred an advantage on those who were hunting with dogs.
By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind that Neanderthals had any relationship with dogs and instead they appear to have continued to hunt mammoths and elks on their own, a punishing method for acquiring food. Already stressed by the arrival of modern humans in Europe, our alliance with wolves would have been the final straw for Neanderthals.
Nor does the story stop in Europe, added Shipman. “I would see this as the beginning of the humans’ long invasion of the world. We took dogs with us wherever we went after our alliance formed in the palaeolithic. We took them to America and to the Pacific Islands. They made hunting easy and helped guard our food. It has been a very powerful alliance.”
RISE AND FALL OF NEANDERTHALS
250,000 years ago The first Neanderthals appear in Europe.
200,000 years The first modern humans appear in Africa.
70,000 years The first modern humans leave Africa.
50-60,000 years Modern humans and Neanderthals share territory in Middle East.
45,000 years Modern humans enter Europe.
40,000 years Neanderthals disappear.
I don’t know about you but I find the history of our, as in man’s, relationship with wolves and thence with dogs to be not just romantic but spiritually significant. To know, as I hug one of our many huggable dogs here at home, that I am bonding my mind and emotions with an animal that has been my partner for tens of thousands of years is beautiful beyond words.
(I took a break of a couple of minutes at this point to grab my camera and take a photograph of Hazel sleeping next to my chair, as she so often does when I am writing. Then one of her when she looked up at me. Here they are:)
That second photograph reminds me that somewhere I read that dogs are the only animal that can look to where a human is directing a gaze or pointing a finger.
How very precious, vulnerable and fragile is this precious place we call home.
Today’s consciousness perambulation is the fault of Mr. P., as I like to call him. I refer to Pendantry as he is on his blog, Wibble.
You see on Sunday he added a comment to my post Just a small, white dot! that included the beautiful and awe-inspiring film made by the late Carl Sagan called Pale Blue Dot.
Like millions of others, I came to admire Carl Sagan through watching the fabulous, the truly fabulous, television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.(NB. All the episodes are on YouTube, Episode One is at the end of this Post, Ed.) Here’s how WikiPedia opens their reference to Carl.
Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies.
He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote. The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name.
He died far too young and was a tragic loss to humanity. The Carl Sagan web portal is here.
That 3:30 minute video Pale Blue Dot has, likewise, been seen by millions. If you or someone you know hasn’t seen it, then you must pause now …
It’s practically impossible to watch that video and not embrace the central message from Mr. Sagan. Here’s the transcript:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different.
Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.
Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
Tomorrow, I will stay with the theme of our beautiful planet. Hope you can join me.
Now spoil yourself and watch Episode One of Cosmos.
Wow, this seems an odd-ball topic for Learning from Dogs. But, as all you regular readers know, Learning from Dogs is about understanding the importance, the critical importance of integrity, and having dogs, who are integrous, act as an example and metaphor for humankind.
OK, to the point of the article.
Somewhere (probably Naked Capitalism but not sure) I came across a link to a piece in PC Mag entitled, Are Amazon Reviews Corrupt? Here’s a flavour of the article written by John Dvorak.
It’s a known fact that PR agencies and corporations have been burrowing into the community of online, “public” reviewers and obscure bloggers and easily corrupting them with trinkets. It’s like a lost tribe being bribed with a pretty necklace of cheap polished rocks. Now there is some proof that there is a problem.
I received a press release titled, “Buyer beware: study reveals hidden motives behind Amazon reviews.” Here is the gist in a nutshell:
In the first academic study of its kind, Trevor Pinch, Cornell University professor of sociology and of science and technology studies, independently surveyed 166 of Amazon’s top 1,000 reviewers, examining everything from demographics to motives. What he discovered was 85 percent of those surveyed had been approached with free merchandise from authors, agents or publishers.
Pinch, who also found the median age range of the reviewers he surveyed was 51 to 60, a surprise said Pinch, because the image of the internet is more of a young person’s thing. Amazon is encouraging reviewers to receive free products through Amazon Vine, an invitation-only program in which the top 1,000 reviewers are offered a catalog of free products to review.
John later linked to the website set up by Trevor Pinch, called Freelunch, where the full details of what is going on are contained in a report, available for all to download and read. The web page from where the report may be downloaded is here, and below is what you will read if you go to that weblink.
They tell us what to buy, but who are Amazon’s elite product reviewers and why do they do it?
They are the familiar faces of the world’s largest online retailer, the voices of reason we rely upon to make sense of everything from Shakespeare to sleeping bags.
But who are Amazon’s top reviewers, why do they invest the massive effort required to review tens of thousands of products, and how are changes at Amazon changing the way these reviewers help us decide what to buy?
In the first academic study of its kind, we examine the elite class of top-thousand Amazon reviewers by conducting a detailed survey with a subset of 166 of these top reviewers. The study, examines everything from age, gender and education (typically middle-aged, male and master’s degree), to the motives and concerns of this volunteer corps who’ve helped drive Amazon’s growth from quaint virtual bookstore to the planet’s most valuable retail brand.
The study was carried out just as Amazon introduced a new way of ranking its reviewers causing much consternation as some fell dramatically in the rankings. We ask why it is that Amazon has changed its ranking system at this time and we elicit the top reviewers responses to this change.
Our study holds an assumption and asks a question: the assumption is that there are no free lunches. So how come Amazon has managed to persuade so many people to give them the morsels from which they have built one of the biggest free lunches ever? That is the question.
Speaking as someone who probably spends a couple of hundred dollars a year with Amazon, particular on books, and who does get tipped into buying an unknown book by the reviews, this report is not without consequence.
Indeed, as you read this there will be winging it’s way to me two books ordered last week. The first was Hyman Minsky’s book, Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, cost $21.14 and a book that I had no doubts about wanting to read.
But the second, The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding, was bought a) to take me over $25 and provide me with free shipping and b) because it looked like a book I would enjoy and all six reviews were strong recommendations!