Science Briefs: Why baby elephants need their grandmas

Grandmas play a very important role in the long-term success of African elephant herds, according to new research.
Grandmas play a very important role in the long-term success of African elephant herds, according to new research. AP

Grandmas play a very important role in the long-term success of an elephant herd, according to research from Scotland’s University of Stirling.

Phyllis Lee, a behavioral psychologist there, led a study analyzing data from 834 female elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. “Our research found that old mothers have a strong effect on the reproduction of the daughters and granddaughters in their family,” she said. “Having an experienced mother, one who knows how to respond to their calf’s demands and how to keep them close by, makes a huge difference in whether a baby elephant survives – having a grandma adds much needed extra help. Females support each other and protect and care for calves as a group.”

The study was published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Clemson biologist maps ‘secondary forests’ in Central America

Clemson University biologist Saara DeWalt is part of a collaborative study of second-growth tropical forests in Central and South America published in the journal Nature.

Much of the world’s tropical forests are no longer “old-growth forests” – forests that are at least 500 years old – but rather are “secondary forests” less than 100 years old that have naturally regenerated following forest clearance or agricultural abandonment. Past research on secondary forests has focused on how they might help to conserve plant and animal species specific to old-growth forests. This new paper spotlights how quickly secondary forests recover biomass and uptake carbon.

DeWalt’s work in secondary forests has been in central Panama.

New chemical delivery device targets pancreatic tumors

A highly lethal cancer sometimes requires large doses of highly toxic drugs – an approach that can be unfeasible for some patients due to severe side effects. Now researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill have developed an implantable device that can deliver a particularly toxic cocktail of drugs directly to pancreatic tumors to stunt their growth or, in some cases, shrink them – all while showing signs that the rest of the body would be spared toxic side effects.

The work, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights the cocktail FOLFIRINOX, a combination of four chemotherapy drugs shown to shrink tumors or halt their growth in nearly a third of pancreatic cancer patients. The implantable device uses electric fields to drive the highly toxic chemotherapy drugs directly into tumors. The new device is currently tested in mice.

In a study published last year in Science Translational Medicine, the team showed, for the first time in animal models, that the device could be implanted on top of pancreatic tumors to increase the amount of the cancer drug gemcitabine reaching them. The tumors stopped growing and shrank, providing more favorable conditions to remove the tumor and cure the disease.