New research explores the effect of winter dormancy on cold-blooded cognition

New research explores the effect of winter dormancy in cold-blooded cognition

Unlike mammals, amphibians who rest up during the winter do not forget the memories they made beforehand – this is the surprising discovery of new scientific research.

New research explores the effect of winter dormancy in cold-blooded cognition
New research explores the effect of winter dormancy in cold-blooded cognition
Photo: Johannes Hloch

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that the processes involved in winter dormancy may have a fundamentally different impact on memory in amphibians and mammals.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln, UK, and two universities in Vienna, Austria, discovered that brumation – the period of winter dormancy that is observed in cold-blooded animals, similar to the process of hibernation in mammals – does not seem to adversely affect the memory of salamanders.

This key finding differs dramatically from previous studies of mammals, which show that hibernation often causes animals to forget some of the memories they formed prior to their period of inactivity.

Dr Anna Wilkinson, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, led the study in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

Dr Wilkinson said: “Long-term torpor is an adaptive strategy that allows animals to survive harsh winter conditions. However, the impact that this has on cognitive function is poorly understood. We know that in mammals, hibernation causes reduced synaptic activity and can cause them to lose some of the memories they formed prior to hibernation, but the effect of brumation on memory has been unexplored, until now.”

The researchers trained twelve salamanders to navigate a maze and remember the path they needed to take to reach a reward. Half of the animals were then placed into brumation for 100 days, while the other half remained under normal keeping conditions.

A post-brumation memory retention test revealed that animals from both conditions recalled how to navigate the maze.

“We demonstrated that each of the animals solved the task using memory, rather than sensory cues such as smell of the reward, and we’re therefore confident that the period of brumation did not impact on their ability to remember,” Anne Hloch, another author on the paper explained. “For these animals, memory retention is essential for survival as it allows them to recall important information about the environment, such as the location of food and the presence of predators.”

The researchers suggest that the differences in retention observed between mammals and amphibians could be caused by their different learning and memory processes, or the nature of their torpor. Mammals regularly rouse from their hibernation and enter intervals of sleep, whereas cold-blooded animals are dependent on the temperature of their surroundings during brumation and are therefore forced to stay torpid until temperatures rise.

The paper is available to read online.

New research sheds light on why plants change sex

Plants with a particular breeding system change their sex depending on how much light they receive, new scientific research has revealed.

Cranesbill (Pixabay image)

The ability of plants to flower one year as male and the next as female, or vice versa, is well documented in ‘dioecious’ plants, however the causes of this ability to change gender have been largely unexplored in ‘gynodioecious’ plants until now.

Gynodioecy is a breeding system that is found in certain flowering plant species in which female and hermaphroditic plants coexist within a population. Gynodioecy is the evolutionary intermediate stage between hermaphrodite plants (each flower has both male and female parts) and dioecious populations (each plant having either only male or female flowers).

The ability to change sex in response to the environment has been studied extensively in dioecious plants but this new research has revealed that gynodioecious plants also change sex depending on their environment.

The results of a four-year study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, show that the level of light received by the plant has a significant effect on sexual expression and reproductive output. The study found that in habitats with high levels of light, plants were more likely to change their sexual expression, and the researchers believe this is because sex lability (readiness to change) is costly and related to the availability of resources.

Dr Sandra Varga, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, led the research. She explained: “The evolution and maintenance of such sexual polymorphism has been investigated by evolutionary biologists for decades. It is one of the most important developments in the evolution of plant breeding systems. However, understanding the causes and consequences is challenging because so many different factors might be involved in the process of changing from one sex to another.

“Our research clearly showed that sex expression was changeable over the course of the study, and was directly related to light availability.”

Throughout the study, the researchers observed the behaviour of 326 different plants for four years and transplanted them between locations with both high and low light levels to replicate the different environments they may encounter. For example, the wood cranesbill plants used in the study can often be found under dense forest canopies and in meadows and road verges.

The researchers monitored how the sex and reproductive outputs of the plants differed depending on their location, to garner a deeper understanding of how their behaviour is altered by their environment.

The paper is published in the American Journal of Botany and is available to read online.

Students visit Animal Inside Out exhibition in Newcastle

University of Lincoln Life Sciences students see the world’s most amazing creatures like they’d never seen them before.

The Animal Inside Out: A Body Worlds Production is an unforgettable exhibit featuring real-life animals from gorillas to giraffes, elephants to dogs, all preserved through plastination. This is a process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts, first developed by Gunther von Hagens in 1977.

Our Bioveterinary students were given first priority to sign up for the trip due to the knowledge and information learned in the classroom being mirrored in the anatomical tour.

Over 60 students took a coach up to Newcastle as part of Activities Week, which the School of Life Sciences puts on every year, to see the real-life application of their classroom-learned skills and knowledge.

With over 100 real animal specimens, students got the opportunity to see the nervous, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, digestive and reproductive system structure within the animals, showcasing what really lies beneath nature’s skin.

The exhibit that runs till January 3rd, 2017 aims to show the complexity of animal physiology, looking at the inner workings of the animal systems that enable them to live, thrive and survive.

No animals were hurt or killed for this exhibit.

Dr Colin Butter took some amazing photos of the exhibit which he has shared below

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To find out more about the exhibit visit: http://www.life.org.uk/whats-on/animal-inside-out

LiGHTING the way for research: hundreds turn out for science showcase

LiGHTS NightsScientific research which is changing the world we live in today has been opened up to the public as part of a showcase celebrating developments across all areas of science.

Hundreds of schoolchildren, University students and inquisitive members of the public came face to face with skeletons, robots and life-size terracotta warriors among other projects, as part of LiGHTS Nights (Lincoln – Get Hold of Tech and Science) at the University of Lincoln, UK.

The science extravaganza was one of more than 250 events occurring simultaneously across Europe on Friday 30th September as part of the annual European Researchers’ Night event.

The action-packed day on the University of Lincoln’s Brayford campus hosted scientific workshops and exhibitions ranging from skeletal examinations by forensic archaeologists and an extraordinary collection of replica Terracotta Warriors, to archaeological excavations in thousands of UK gardens which are mapping the impact of the Black Death.

Other activities included workshops which enabled visitors to extract DNA from everyday food using ordinary chemicals such as washing-up liquid and alcohol, learn how dogs are helping humans with their health, and meet an ensemble cast of robots from the University’s School of Computer Science. The day also included talks covering topics from sleep to animal behaviour.

The aim was to inspire people of all ages to learn more about university research. LiGHTS has been spearheaded by Carenza Lewis, a leading archaeologist who featured on the acclaimed Time Team television series.

Professor Lewis, Professor for the Public Understanding of Research at the University of Lincoln, said: “The activities and exhibits on show for LiGHTS Night 2016 were superb, with a range and variety which offered anyone and everyone an intriguing day.  More than 95 per cent of visitors enthusiastically commended the activities they took part in as enjoyable, interesting and informative, while 74 per cent of school students were inspired to consider a career in STEM (Science, technology engineering or maths). University staff enjoyed presenting the work they love to receptive audiences, and we are already looking forward to making next year even better.”

Contributions came from academics across the University’s Colleges of Science, Arts and Social Science.
The European Researchers’ Night initiative has been funded by the EU under HORIZON 2020 in the framework of the Marie Sklodowska Curie actions. LiGHTS Nights 2016 was Lincoln’s first participation in the initiative and further funding has been secured for the University to take part again in 2017.

 

Life Sciences to lead LiGHTS Nights science extravaganza

Skeletons, bush-crickets and dogs helping human health, these are just a few of the fascinating interactive sessions running for an extraordinary one-day science showcase hosted by the University of Lincoln.
Lights Nights Lincoln
See the world of Life Sciences with Lights Nights in Lincoln

LiGHTS Nights – a celebration of how science and technology impacts on our daily lives –will take place on the University of Lincoln’s Brayford Pool campus and in venues across the city on Friday 30th September 2016.

SONY DSC

With a thought-provoking programme of activities asking questions like ‘Am I smarter than my tortoise?’ and ‘Pigs, chickens and criminals’, and Life Sciences are leading the show with over 10 different workshops, tours and lectures throughout the day. Book your place now.
LiGHTS Nights will see academics from the University’s Colleges of Science, Arts and Social Science present their pioneering studies and invite visitors to become scientists for the day by participating in a range of different activities and experiments.

 

PG Forensic Anthropology studentsHighlights include Skeletons in the cupboard – an interactive demonstration by forensic archaeologists showing what can be discovered about people’s past lives from studying their skeletons, using finds from Roman and medieval Lincoln. As part of the demo, the researchers from Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences will offer insights into how conditions such as anaemia, malnutrition, tuberculosis and leprosy are recognised. Book here.

We ask, Are human eyes best? See the world through an animals eyes with our specialised camera in a session given by Tom Pike and Anna Wilkinson 1-5pm in JBL, ground floor. Book here.

DNA workshops will enable visitors to extract DNA from everyday food using ordinary chemicals such as washing-up liquid and alcohol – with the chance to win souvenir ‘take-home’ tubes of DNA. Sessions will run 12pm, 2pm, 4pm in the Science Building by Stefan Milson. Click here to book for 12pm. Click here to book for 2pm. Click here to book for 4pm.

Shedding light on mysteries from the animal world, Lincoln researchers will present their work exploring how dogs are helping human health; which diseases have been passed to the human race from the animal kingdom; and the colourful traits developed by creatures around the world to attract their mates. Click here to book for 12pm, Click here to book for 2pm, and Click here for 7pm session and join in this great workshop with Professor Daniel Mills.

Ears in the legs - How do bush-crickets produce soundHave you ever wondered how bush-crickets produce their sound, and how do they hear their own sound? Researcher Fernando Montealegre-Z and Thorin Jonsson will answer this in ‘Ears in the legs’ between 12pm and 9pm in the Joseph Banks Atrium in our Joseph Banks Laboratories. Book here

LiGHTS Nights is free to attend but bookings for individual sessions should be made in advance. More more information is available and bookings can be made online.