Jellyfish Gene in Monkey Embryo

Scientists in Oregon have succeeded in splicing a gene from a jellyfish into the embryos of monkeys.

Gerald Schatten of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center in Beaverton and colleagues used a gene from a variety of jellyfish that makes a protein that glows green in certain types of light. It was spliced into sperm from rhesus monkeys. The researchers picked this jellyfish gene because it is easy to literally see whether it is in place.

The researchers then used the sperm to fertilize monkey eggs with the aim of producing embryos that carried the gene. Within two days, almost half the embryos had the green glow.

The researchers implanted seven of the resulting genetically altered embryos into female monkeys. Only one produced a live birth, a male named George who is now six months old, and it is not clear whether the monkey has the jellyfish gene. But the research, published in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, shows it could be feasible to engineer monkeys with foreign genes, the researchers said.

While the work has human implications, the researchers said they conducted the experiment in the hope of engineering monkeys that could provide better tools for studying human diseases.

Language and Brain Function

The language someone grows up speaking apparently can shape the way their brain works, according to new research.

An international team of researchers from Italy and Britain studied Italian and British university students as they read a set of words in their respective languages, a set of international words and two sets of gibberish words in their own languages.

The Italian students read faster overall, even when the words were not in their native language. Researchers attributed that to the fact that in Italian, combinations of letters almost always are associated with the same sound, which is not the case in English.

In addition, brain scans showed that the brains of the Italians and the British worked differently. Italians had more activity in a part of the brain known as the left superior temporal region; the English students had more activity in a part of the brain called the left frontal and posterior inferior temporal region.

"The present findings indicate that cultural factors . . . can powerfully shape neurophysiological systems," the researchers wrote in the January issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The findings could have implications for how best to teach reading, and for treating such reading disorders as dyslexia, the researchers said.

Was 007 His Cholesterol Count?

James Bond is famous for his preference for martinis that are "shaken, not stirred." Aside from being chic, this preference may also be more healthful, according to new research.

Colleen Trevithick and colleagues from the University of Western Ontario in Canada found that shaken martinis are more effective than stirred martinis at being so-called antioxidants, which could help protect against heart disease and other health problems. The reason remains unclear.

"There is no indication in the literature that 007 suffered from cataracts or cardiovascular disease, hence he must be considered a moderate consumer of alcoholic drinks," the researchers wrote in the Dec. 18-25 issue of the British Medical Journal. They added, however, that they had not "examined any antioxidant contributions from olives."

Coral Thrives on Oil Platforms

British researchers have found an environmental benefit of the deep-ocean oil-drilling platforms in the North Sea--they appear to provide a habitat for an endangered species of coral.

Healthy colonies of the white and pink Lophelia pertusa coral were found growing on oil platforms in the North Sea when the structures were decommissioned last summer, Diall Bell and Jan Smith of Cordah Environmental Consultants in Scotland report in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature.

While the coral has been found elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the discovery "on oil installations is the first recorded instance of live colonies of this species in the North Sea," they wrote.

The discovery "has implications for the licensing of oil exploration," the pair wrote. Although it has been suggested that the coral is susceptible to sedimentation and oil rig pollutants, they said, the North Sea coral colonies withstood allowable pollution levels.

The researchers said it might make sense to leave the "footings" of decommissioned drilling platforms in place. "Such an option would preserve existing colonies and might allow Lophelia to spread to the North Sea."

Finding Baby's Sex Before Birth

Folklore is filled with ways a pregnant woman can supposedly tell whether she's carrying a boy or a girl. More than 2000 years ago, none other than Hippocrates asserted that pale skin indicates a pregnant woman is carrying a girl, whereas a rosier tone indicates a boy.

Johan Askling of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and colleagues studied all Swedish birth records from 1987 to 1995. They found that women who were admitted to the hospital with a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes severe nausea and vomiting during the first trimester, were more likely to give birth to girls, according to a report in Dec. 11 issue of The Lancet.

The researchers speculated that the connection may have something to do with a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which tends to be elevated in pregnant women in the first trimester carrying females.