Biological Scientists Beware: Your Sex May Influence the Validity of Your Research!

April 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

The following study out of McGill, which was recently published in Nature Methods will surely blow your mind. Not only that, but it will likely cause you to doubt the validity of every research paper that you’ve ever read. Are you ready for it?

According to McGill scientists, laboratory mice react differently depending on the gender of the person conducting the research. In other words, if a female scientist is present near the mouse, the murine stress response will vary from its reaction to a male presence in the room. Yes…you heard that right. The experimental mouse discriminates against scientists based on their sex!

OK, so maybe it isn’t exactly sex discrimination. In a nutshell, the team found that mice exhibit a different stress response when exposed to pheromones secreted by the male armpit, (whether they are exposed to the actual person or his t-shirt), which was not exhibited when exposed to the female armpit.

Since a HUGE body of science is affected by the stress response, this means that controlling for sample handling will now need to include the gender of the person conducting the experiment as well. If you are a male scientist, don’t even think about using controls from mice handled by female scientists. The baseline levels of whatever gene/protein you are studying may be differentially expressed simply because the mouse was exposed to your female colleague.

Imagine the impact of these findings. Have you ever tried to repeat an experiment published in a paper and found that it just cannot be done? Perhaps your inability to reproduce the result is less a function of your experimental technique or the original author’s competence and more likely related to the fact that you are a woman and the original authors, (or those conducting the experiment), were men!

What if you work together with a colleague of the opposite sex? How can you control for experimental conditions if part of the conditions include the sex of the researcher?

And what about reporting? Will it now become mandatory in the materials and methods section of every paper to disclose the gender of the researcher involved in any animal experimentation?

The impact of this is huge and the possibilities are endless. I have always argued that the biological sciences are the most fair when it comes to equality between male and female scientists. Could this equality lead to inferior science? What a thought!

My mind is definitely blown! What about yours?

Entry filed under: Biotechnology News and Info from Canadian Universities. Tags: .

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