Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 1, 2023


Mattoon highlights some of the science news of the past week. 

Hang on, Blue Jays, it’s almost spring break! Between your photoshoots under the cherry blossoms or your last-minute vacation preparations, check out the latest updates in the science world. 

New support for gender equity in research

A recent study challenged the claim that female mice should be excluded from biomedical research because of “hormonal fluctuations” from their estrous cycles (the mouse equivalent of a menstrual cycle). Many scientists claimed that this would be a confounding factor that would adversely affect their results, contributing to the historical lack of female subjects in animal studies.

Researchers monitored mouse behavior using an artificial intelligence program that analyzed their three-dimensional movements and repeated behaviors. Female mice on their estrous cycle experienced a negligible difference in behavior compared to when they were not on their estrous cycle. 

Surprisingly, male mice exhibited a greater level of behavioral variability than the females, a phenomenon researchers attributed to male hormonal fluctuations over the course of a single day and to “alpha male” behavior among competing male mice. These conclusions provide further support for the calls to account for differences in sex in animal research, particularly when it comes to drug and treatment testing. 

Covis Pharma withdraws Makena for preterm birth prevention

After twelve years of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Covis Pharma group opted to voluntarily withdraw Makena, a drug intended to prevent preterm birth, from the market. The decision has followed a lengthy battle between Covis Pharma and the FDA after the FDA first recommended that the drug be withdrawn in 2020, citing minimal evidence that it was actually effective. Covis Pharma initially appealed the decision, but an additional FDA committee still voted 14–1 to withdraw the drug last October. Covis opted to voluntarily withdraw the drug before its approval was formally revoked

Makena’s withdrawal from the U.S. drug market means that there is currently no FDA-approved treatment for preventing preterm birth. Approximately 10% of infants in the U.S. are born preterm, which can lead to higher rates of morbidity and mortality. 

A possible Earth-bound asteroid

NASA announced in a tweet on Tuesday that it identified a large asteroid that has the potential to collide with Earth in 2046. Currently, the European Space Agency calculated that there is a one in 625 chance of impact with the planet. 

The asteroid itself, 50 meters in diameter (the size of an Olympic swimming pool), would not produce as disastrous an impact as the asteroid that measured about 12 kilometers across and likely wiped out the dinosaurs. Nevertheless, given the recent success of an asteroid redirection technology test last year, humanity has some time to redirect the asteroid if it gets too close for comfort. 

A mouse with two dads

Researchers announced at a conference on Wednesday that they had successfully made egg cells from male mice, eventually using these egg cells to produce viable offspring. The scientists did this by reprogramming cells taken from an adult male mouse back into stem cells. After growing these cells for long enough in culture, some of them spontaneously lost their Y chromosome and gained an extra X chromosome due to errors during cell division. They then fertilized these embryos with mouse sperm and implanted the embryos in female mice. 

To be clear, the results of this experiment have only just been announced, not published. In addition, the success rate was quite low, with a little over one percent of embryos forming successful pups. However, the experiment presents an interesting proof of concept for the future of reproductive technology. 

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