Stories tagged nurture

A new study suggests that people raised as the eldest child in a family have markedly higher IQs than thier younger siblings.

This is good news for my big brother, bad news for me, and very, very bad news for all my imaginary little brothers and sisters. But they've always been pretty dense.

May
03
2007

Crowds gather at the Berlin Zoo to see the polar bear cub Knut: Photo by Claudius Prosser at flicker.com
Crowds gather at the Berlin Zoo to see the polar bear cub Knut: Photo by Claudius Prosser at flicker.com

Poor Knut! The polar bear cub, abandoned by its mother, has been raised by zookeepers. As we reported in March, some “animal rights activists” demanded that the bear be killed, rather than be raised by humans. This led to great interest in the furry little fellow.

But all good things must come to an end. At five months of age, Knut is looking less and less like an adorable little cub, and more like a full-grown adult every day.

Animals that must fend for themselves as soon as they are born – many fish, insects, and reptiles – often hatch as fully formed, miniature versions of the adult. (Some may go through a larval stage, but development finishes early, long before the animal has reached its full adult size.) Animals that receive care from their parents, however – mammals and most birds – often look very different as children than they do as adults. Certain features are not yet fully developed. Scientists speculate that the parents are genetically programmed to respond in a caring manner to the infant appearance.

(This certainly seems to be the case with humans – just watch everybody ooh and ahh over a baby.)

In fact, the instinct is so strong that it even works across species. Newborn Knut, with his large head and small nose, reminds us of a baby’s features, and we react the same way. An adult bear, with its full snout, no longer generates this reaction. As we noted earlier, our ideas of “cuteness” can influence our feelings about nature, and which animals we are more likely to protect.

Jun
13
2006

Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)
Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)

The differences between genetics and natural development have been theoretical discussions, up until a mule race earlier this month in Nevada.

Two cloned mules, with identical DNA, were part of the field of eight mules in a race at the Winnemucca Mule Races, Show & Draft Horse Challenge. But the results from the races were far from conclusive.

The brother clones finished third and seventh in the race against six other regularly bred mules. Clone number-one, Idaho Gem, was third in the 350-yard sprint with a time of 21.246 seconds. Idaho Star was in seventh place with a time of 22.181 seconds. The winning mule finished 2.5 lengths ahead of Idaho Gem with a time of 20.866 seconds.

So from that race, at least, there were no clear-cut answers to the differences between nature (genetics) and nurture (environmental impacts on development).

The racing finals that day were the first to match identical clones against each other in a race. The brothers had each won their preliminary heats the day before (with the same jockey riding each mule, by the way) to match up in the final race. Obviously, the same jockey wasn’t able to ride both mules in the final race.

Mules are an interesting species to do cloning research on. They are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and usually are sterile. But with the cloned mules, identical DNA was taken from a fetus produced of the same parents that sired a champion mule racer.

But beyond that, cloning researchers are excited about the experiment for a lot bigger reason than wagering, however. They think the experiment with cloned mules could lead to break through information on treating cancer.

Equine animals have significantly lower cancer rates than humans and through the cloning process, cancer researchers are hoping to find out what advantages they might have over humans. Of particular interest is how their levels of calcium might impact their chances of developing cancer.

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of cloned mules, Spokespeople from the Humane Society of the United States object to the project noting that there currently is no shortage of horses or mules in the world and that the animals shouldn’t be exposed to the risks that come in cloning experiments.

What do you think? Does the possible knowledge we might gain from this research out-weigh potential risks to the animals? Are we playing Dr. Frankenstein games with these animals?