Explore Research News

Explore Research videos are updated monthly and object cases and touchscreen activities change several times a year. Here is a glimpse at some of the University of Florida's recent research highlights and projects.

Ring Finger Proportions Offer Powerful Prenatal Clues

January 20th, 2012
Posted by: Kelly,Stephanie K

Apparently, you can tell a lot about a person by looking at his or her hands: Attention to detail, personal hygiene, typing prowess and thumb war agility, to name a few. But researchers at the University of Florida have now divulged another tell-tale sign about our digits, finally giving evidence to a prenatal occurrence that many scientists have long suspected.

Developmental biologists, Martin Cohn and Zhengui Zheng of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the department of molecular genetics and microbiology at the UF College of Medicine, have recently linked ring finger proportions to levels of sex hormones in an embryo. Until now, there has been no direct experimental evidence to support this claim.

Cohn and Zheng say that during early embryonic development, the balance of sex hormones can have an effect on the growth of certain finger bones. That’s because the developing digits of males and females house receptors that respond differently to the hormones testosterone and estrogen.

By tracking the prenatal growth of the limb buds in mice, which have a digit length ratio similar to ours, the scientists controlled the gene-signaling effects of the two sex hormones. Cohn and Zheng found that higher levels of the male hormone testosterone generally equated to a proportionally longer ring finger, while increased estrogen correlated with a more feminized appearance.

Are you looking at your hands yet? In general, a man’s ring finger is longer than his index, and the opposite usually holds true for a woman. But in addition to providing insight on the conditions of one’s prenatal development, Cohn says that the potential significance of finger ratio doesn’t stop there.

“There is growing evidence that a number of adult diseases have fetal origins,” Cohn says. “With the new data, we’ve shown that the digit ratio reflects one’s prenatal androgen and estrogen activity, and that could have some explanatory power.”

Outside of this recent discovery, studies have also associated finger proportion to a host of other human traits, such as: sperm count, aggression, musical skill, sexual orientation and athletic ability. The ratio has also been studied in relation to health problems including: autism, depression, heart attack and breast cancer.

Photo Credits: Adam Selwood , Laura Dye

Endangered Animals Could Find Help Through Facebook Technology, UF Researchers Say

December 22nd, 2011
Posted by: Kelly,Stephanie K

Love it or hate it, a look at your Facebook news feed can read like an issue of National Geographic, at times. By showcasing the sometimes beastly behavior of young adults in their natural habitat, the popular website has often become synonymous with the sharing of “too much information.”

But while the social network may provide the human world with a wealth of knowledge about friends and acquaintances, it just might help scientists learn a bit more about endangered animals as well, thanks to a new University of Florida study.

You won’t be seeing a Friend Request from the Everglades snail kite just yet. But researchers at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have recently used statistical models, like those employed by Facebook for predicting human interactions, to gain new insight into animal movement in the wild.

In a recent study of both the cactus bug and the Everglades snail kite, UF scientists compared records of animals’ actual behavior to movements predicted by social network-style models. They then compared the accuracy of these models to existing animal movement models. Ultimately, the scientists found that the social network models were better able to predict animal connectivity than those that were presently in use.

The researchers say that the current models, which were shown in the study to overestimate animal movement, may be providing an inaccurate assessment of a species’ ability of survive. This means that some endangered animals may live in more isolated habitats than previously thought.

“These over predictions are problematic because we might falsely think that populations are viable when they may not be,” says Robert Fletcher, a UF wildlife ecology and conservation assistant professor.

Scientists believe the more accurate social media models might be used to help improve animal conservation efforts in the future. According to Fletcher, this enhanced understanding of animal connectivity could help conservationists better identify the specific habitats on which to focus their efforts. But that isn’t the only use for the study’s findings. The scientists say the social media models could also help manage the effects of unwanted pests, predicting where invasive species might move next.

Pretty wild stuff, even for Facebook.

Photo credits: Travis Isaacs and ac4photos