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Findings raise new questions about evolution of hormones in mammals
Date:2/13/2009

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 13, 2009 New techniques used to examine hormones in feces and urine of mammals in the wild are yielding surprising results about hormones and evolution. The new techniques allow scientists to examine the social structure of a broader range of mammals.

San Francisco State Biology Professor Jan Randall will present findings at the AAAS meeting that examine social stress and how they correlate to survival and reproduction in mammals. The recent developments of noninvasive techniques such as tracking mammals to gather feces, and sensitive assays for fecal hormone metabolites, have allowed Randall to formulate a more complete picture of the relationships among behavior, social systems and hormone function in mammals in the wild. "Previously, much of the information we have on hormones came from limited sets of models like lab rats and mice," Randall said. "This non-invasive method is allowing us to ask evolutionary, physiological questions about animals in the wild in completely new ways."

While most of the recent field research has been conducted on rodents, researchers are beginning to conduct field work with whales, predatory animals and other mammals. Randall said it's important to challenge findings discovered in a lab setting. "We see species specific adaptation of control systems so we must rethink our evolutionary models of hormones," she said. "As we discover more in the field, we may discover many more unusual adaptations important for reproduction and survival."

When Randall began post-doc work in the late 1970s, research was confined to drawing hormones from blood or from trapping animals in the wild. Often, those methods yielded hormone samples that were tainted by heightened stress hormones when the animals were handled by researchers. If researchers can identify which specific animal produced the feces, it's possible to gain a better understanding of the effects of social stress and survival. "We need a
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Contact: Michael Bruntz
mbruntz@sfsu.edu
415-338-1743
San Francisco State University
Source:Eurekalert

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