Discovered: Those crustaceans you're eating probably do feel pain after all; sleeping sickness carried by animals; let's look for aliens on moons instead of planets; new tick-transmitted disease.
Lobsters probably do feel pain. David Foster Wallace was right. Lobsters probably do feel pain according to a new study, so people who have a problem with animal suffering might want to re-consider eating them. Robert Elwood and Barry Magee of Queen’s University in Belfast studied the reaction of shore crabs to little electrical shocks. They found that the crustaceans actively avoided areas associated with these shocks, suggesting that they do in fact have pain sensation. "I don’t know what goes on in a crab’s mind," says Elwood. "But what I can say is the whole behavior goes beyond a straightforward reflex response and it fits all the criteria of pain." [Time]
Animals are spreading sleeping sickness. You don't want to get sleeping sickness. The parasite that causes the disease burrows into the human body through fly bites, making its way into the brain and causing drowsiness, confusion, comas, and sometimes death. The numbers of affected people in Africa has been declining recently, but new research suggests that it might not be disappearing. It could just be retreating into animal reservoir hosts. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have found that animals play a larger role in spreading and harboring human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) than previously thought. "There really seems to be a whole mix of animals playing a role in transmission," says mathematical biologist Sebastian Funk. "So there is a good chance that if you get rid of the disease in humans, it will continue to cycle in animals and come back to humans." [ScienceNow]
Is there life on other moons? The search for extraterrestrial life may be limiting itself by focusing narrowly on exoplanets that have conditions suitable for sustaining life. Moons roughly the size of Earth make good candidates too, according to a new report in this month's Astrobiology. "It's the most thorough look at exomoon habitability I've seen," says Darren Williams, a Penn State astronomer. "I’m encouraged by the paper that we’ll find exomoons in abundance and that a fraction of them could be habitable." [Science News]
Lyme disease's new little brother. Emerging infection researchers have found a new relative of Lyme disease. The new tick-carried spirochete could be affecting over 4,300 Americans each year according to new studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The organism that causes fevers and symptoms similar to influenza is called Borrelia miyamotoi, and it's been noticed in Japan and Russia already. But it's only recently made its North American debut. "We simply don't know what the actual true number is going to be," says Yale research Peter Krause, though he estimates that it could be about 14 percent as common as Lyme disease. [Los Angeles Times]