Tag: ScienceAlert

First puppies born through IVF.

There’s more to this than initially meets the eye.

I’m back to another ScienceAlert article although this story has been widely reported including by our local newspaper, the Grants Pass Daily Courier.  This is about in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

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.


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.

Credit: Cornell University
Credit: Cornell University

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.

Credit: Cornell University
Credit: Cornell University

“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:

  • The Ethiopian wolf
  • The Mexican gray wolf
  • The red wolf
  • Darwin’s fox
  • Island fox

Do go here and read the full article. And let’s not forget that our lovely dogs are not the full canine story.

Friendship between dogs.

A remarkable report about how dogs share.

Apologies for the short intro but my internet connection is still not 100% and I didn’t want to fuss around and lose the window in which to present this fascinating article on ScienceAlert sent to me by Dan Gomez.



Dogs give food to their ‘friends’ in first-of-its-kind study

Treats for everybody! But more for pals.

Voluntary acts of kindness and positive outward gestures without thought of reward are two of the more redeeming aspects of human society, but to what extent do these prosocial behaviours exist in other animals?

A new study by researchers in Austria suggests that dogs are prosocial among their own kind too, with an experiment involving the voluntary offering of food between the animals showing that dogs also understand the concept of giving.

“Dogs and their nearest relatives, the wolves, exhibit social and cooperative behaviour, so there are grounds to assume that these animals also behave prosocially toward conspecifics,” said Friederike Range, an ethnologist at the Messerli Research Institute. “Additionally, over thousands of years of domestication, dogs were selected for special social skills.”

But measuring prosocial behaviour in dogs isn’t easy, says Range, because they’re so very social with humans. It can be difficult to tell between seemingly prosocial acts and behaviours that could actually just be the dog obediently reacting to cues and unintended communications from researchers.

So to take people out of the equation as much as possible, Range and his colleagues conducted an experiment where two dogs were set up by themselves in cages side by side. One of the dogs, called the donor dog, had the ability to extend one of two trays toward a receiver dog, using its mouth to pull on a string.

One of these trays contained a treat, while the other was empty. The dogs had been trained over weeks to understand how the tray-pulling system worked, and the donor dog in each instance knew that it would receive nothing itself if it gave the treat to its fellow canine (other than the pleasure perhaps of knowing it had done a kindness to its counterpart).

The researchers found that dogs, in the absence of any ulterior motive, do indeed exhibit prosocial behaviour, by voluntarily giving food to other dogs. But, having said that, they can be accused of preferential treatment.

“Dogs truly behave prosocially toward other dogs. That had never been experimentally demonstrated before,” said Range. “What we also found was that the degree of familiarity among the dogs further influenced this behaviour. Prosocial behaviour was exhibited less frequently toward unfamiliar dogs than toward familiar ones.”

In other words, dogs look out for their friends more than they do random strangers, but the same could be said of our own prosocial behaviour. Humans have the capacity for kindness, but we demonstrate it more frequently with those with which we are more familiar.

The findings are reported in Scientific Reports, but now that we know dogs are prosocial, that of course means there are other puzzles for the researchers to solve. Why do dogs act this way? Is it a result of domestication, their cognitive complexity, or has it been shaped by the species’ reliance on cooperative activities, such as foraging together? As dog lovers, we can’t wait to hear the answers.


What amazing creatures they are!

New findings in self-awareness.

For dogs!

We humans take self-awareness for granted. The key measure, as I understand it, is our ability to recognise ourselves, as in a mirror or photograph, for example.

I have more than once mentioned in posts in this place, that the evolutionary journey for us humans and our canine companions has resulted in the two species now sharing a number of psychological and physical ailments.

But what has been implicitly understood is that the one thing that dogs and us do not share is self-awareness. Hitherto, it has been believed that dogs do not recognise themselves in the mirror test.

All of which is an introduction to an item that was recently posted on the ScienceAlert website and was brought to my attention by dear friend Dan Gomez.


Guise Barbiani, Flickr
Guise Barbiani, Flickr

Dogs show signs of self-consciousness in new ‘sniff test’
We knew it!

BEC CREW 10 DEC 2015

Self-awareness might seem like the most basic part of life to us humans, but it’s a surprisingly rare concept when it comes to other animals. While great apes, dolphins, orcas, rhesus macaques, Eurasian magpies, and a single Asiatic elephant have all passed the self-recognition test, everything from pandas and pigeons to sea lions, gorillas, and several species of monkey have failed to show signs of consciousness.

Dogs were also on that list of failures – until now. Traditionally, self-consciousness is evaluated via the ‘mirror test’. If an animal uses its own reflection to examine or touch a red mark that’s been applied to its body without its knowledge, scientists can confirm that they possess some sense of self. But what if the animal isn’t that visually oriented?

“I believed that because dogs are much less sensitive to visual stimuli with respect to what, for example, humans and many apes are, it is likely that the failure of this and of other species in the mirror test is mainly due to the sensory modality chosen by the investigator to test the self-awareness and not, necessarily, to the absence of this latter,” says evolutionary biologist Roberto Cazzolla Gatti from Tomsk State University in Russia.

Gatti was prompted into this line of thinking by the fact that in past mirror tests, dogs have shown no interest in looking at their reflection in the mirror, but they will go ahead and sniff the area and possibly even urinate around it. While this got them a big old “fail” in previous studies, Gatti thought the behaviour warranted a closer look.

Back in 2001, renowned animal behaviour expert, Marc Bekoff, investigated the ‘mirror sniffing’ phenomenon via an experiment dubbed the ‘yellow snow test’. Yep it’s exactly what it sounds like. Over a five-year period, Bekoff took his dog Jethro on walks during the winter months, and timed how long he would sniff clumps of snow soaked in his own or other dogs’ urine.

The AnimalWise blog explains:

“Bekoff would wait until Jethro or other known female and male dogs urinated on snow, and then scoop up the clump of yellow snow as soon as Jethro was elsewhere and did not see him pick it up or move it (Bekoff used clean gloves each time and took other precautions to minimise odour and visual cues).

Bekoff then moved the yellow snow varying distances down the path so that Jethro would run across the displaced urine: (i) within about 10 seconds, (ii) between 10 and 120 seconds later, or (iii) between 120 and 300 seconds later. After Jethro arrived, Bekoff recorded how long he sniffed at the yellow snow, whether he urinated over it using the typical male raised-leg posture, and whether urination immediately followed the sniffing (‘scent marking’).”

Not surprisingly, Jethro paid a lot less attention to his own urine than he did to that of other dogs, so Bekoff concluded that his pet had to have some sense of self to be able to distinguish between scents. But with a sample size of one, the experiment wasn’t exactly going to set the scientific community on fire.

Gatti decided to come up with something a little more convincing. Called the Sniff Test of Self-Recognition (STSR), the experiment involved collecting urine samples from four stray dogs and systematically exposing them to the scents. He repeated this four times a year at the beginning of every season.

“I placed within a fence five urine samples containing the scent of each of the four dogs and a ‘blank sample’, filled only with cotton wool odourless,” he says. “The containers were then opened and each dog was individually introduced to the inside of the cage and allowed to freely move for 5 minutes. The time taken by each dog to sniff each sample was recorded.”

Just like Jethro, each dog spent way more time smelling the urine samples of other dogs than their own, which supports the hypothesis that they know their own scent and aren’t that interested in it. The result was stronger the older the dog, which suggests that self-awareness develops with age.

It might seem obvious that dogs would know their own scent, but if you’ve ever seen a dog bark at its own reflection, or completely ignore it – totally unaware of its own appearance and movements – you can see the significance.

“I demonstrated that even when applying it to multiple individuals living in groups and with different ages and sexes, this test provides significant evidence of self-awareness in dogs and can play a crucial role in showing that this capacity is not a specific feature of only great apes, humans, and a few other animals, but it depends on the way in which researchers try to verify it,” says Gatti.

The findings are published in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: that sample size of four is pretty crap. And yep, it is, so we can’t really call this an official “pass” just yet. But the fact that we may well need to rethink the mirror test and figure out how to better align it with how certain species see the world is certainly worthy of a proper investigation. Certain behaviours such as empathy have been linked to self-awareness, and thanks to the ‘yawn test’, there’s evidence that dogs feel empathy towards their owners.

We’ll just have to wait and see if scientists are prepared to conduct a giant yellow snow test to put this conundrum to bed once and for all. In the meantime, here’s dolphins passing the mirror test adorably:


Speaking of self-awareness, today, December 12th, is the centenary of the birth of Frank Sinatra.

Photo of Frank SINATRA, posed, c.early 1960s (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
Photo of Frank SINATRA, posed, c.early 1960s (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)