To introduce you to our young researchers, we conducted a series of flash interviews throughout the 2022-2023 academic year, to which all our master’s and doctoral students and researchers were invited to respond. In recent months, we’ve been posting portraits on Facebook under the keyword #iRExFlashInterviews
In this fourth article in a series of four, we compile the various responses received from these up-and-coming young scientists to the question:
Do you think there is life elsewhere in the galaxy? If so, what is it like?
Pierre-Alexis: In my opinion, yes, there is life elsewhere in the galaxy. Now that we know planetary systems are common in our galaxy, it makes perfect sense to me to assume that there is life in other systems. Now, what would this life look like? I believe it would be very different from life on Earth; that’s the most precise answer I dare give!
Ariane: Of course! I think every astronomer hopes so. My scientific response is that it would probably be microscopic life. However, I’d love for us to find marine mammals with primate-like intelligence. Imagine a philosophical whale!
Jared: Given the size of the galaxy, I think life exists somewhere! While I think intelligent life elsewhere is less likely, it’s not impossible. Although we don’t yet have the ability to communicate with other forms of life, I hope that one day we can fulfill our dreams of space exploration, Star Trek-style!
Frédéric: Thanks to the thousands of exoplanets we’ve detected so far, we know a significant fraction of stars have planetary systems. Potentially billions of planets in just our galaxy! It’s hard to believe that we’d find life only on Earth. I believe there must be microbial life on several exoplanets.
Chris: I think the odds of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life are low, but with the vast number of planets in our galaxy, it seems almost certain that some form of life exists somewhere. And for the first time in human history, we have the technology to detect it. It’s very exciting!
Neil: I have no doubt that there must be life somewhere in the universe. The important question is how difficult it is for life to exist. The answer to that question will tell us whether life is widespread or very rare. Much of our exoplanet research is bringing us closer to answering that question!
Leslie: It seems egocentric to believe that Earth is the only planet in the Universe where life could have developed. Furthermore, I remain convinced that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would involve finding a form of life fundamentally different from ours.
Dereck: It seems statistically nearly impossible that we’re completely alone in the universe, especially if we’re talking about very simple life like bacteria. Other forms of intelligent life like ours, however, seem extremely improbable (though I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing)…
Dominic: I believe the emergence of simple microbial life is quite common in the galaxy, provided suitable conditions exist on an exoplanet. However, the emergence of more complex and especially intelligent life could be rarer, and humanity might be the only civilization existing in the current era of the galaxy.
Kim: I think we’ve somewhat won the life lottery, meaning we’ve had the immense luck for everything to align for life to develop on Earth. However, as with a lottery, while winners are rare, there are still many of them. So, I do believe there must be another place in the universe where life exists, but in a form different from ours, with a different kind of cell.
Olivia: I hope so! In addition to invisible microorganisms, I like to imagine there’s vegetation, animals, and other forms of life indescribable with our Earthling vocabulary elsewhere in the universe. But I have no idea if any of these speculations have any scientific basis!
Anne: I’m convinced that life exists elsewhere in our Galaxy. The challenge is finding it. I don’t think we’ll find “intelligent” life anytime soon, but certainly something equivalent to bacterial, fungal, or even plant life. I’d like to believe that somewhere in our galaxy, there’s another planet filled with the most exotic plants and flowers.
André: The galaxy is so vast that it’s inconceivable to me that life only happened by chance on a single planet among hundreds of billions. The real questions for me are: Can we detect this said life with today’s technology? And in 100 years? And in 1000 years? Will we ever be able to communicate with another intelligent species? I think we should never say never, but we’re still far from answering any of these questions. Exciting challenges for future generations!
Caroline: The past twenty years of exoplanet discoveries have revealed that most stars have at least one planet. With the hundreds of billions of trillions (!) of stars in the universe, I think it’s likely that there are a few other places besides Earth where conditions are right for life to emerge! I imagine that extraterrestrial life forms would probably not have much resemblance to the way aliens are portrayed in movies, which are very centered on life as we know it: it might just be life at the single-cell stage or a few cells!
Katherine: Yes, I believe there is life elsewhere in the galaxy! I like to think there are tiny bacteria living in a world of lava or perhaps a civilization more advanced than ours where the balance between the environment and life is respected. Whether intelligent or not, I believe life is very different from what we know here on Earth.
Étienne: To get a rough idea of what extraterrestrial life might look like, go snorkeling in the sea with a mask. Look at sea anemones, sea cucumbers, and jellyfish. I think the representation we have of a potential contact with an extraterrestrial civilization says much more about the humans who wrote the script than about potential extraterrestrials! Even those in the movie “Contact” have a language that’s way too clear. I’ll let you ponder what response you would give to a whiff of C7H9O2N blown your way… yet some living beings who share bits of DNA with you can interpret this message very well! If you want to see what encountering non-human intelligence looks like, watch the beautiful film “My Octopus Teacher.”
Romain: When we look at the starry sky, it’s hard to believe we’re alone in the Universe, and for good reason – the number of stars in our galaxy and galaxies in the Universe is so vast it’s incomprehensible. But knowing how life manifests on other worlds? Would there be more advanced life forms than single-celled beings? I don’t know, but assuming it might resemble something on Earth or what we can imagine would be a mistake. I prefer to believe that nature will always surprise us!
Michael M.: Statistically speaking, I expect that at least one of the hundreds of billions of other planetary systems in the Milky Way harbors life. Given the age of our galaxy, life could take the form of single-celled organisms or advanced civilizations.
If you want to hear other iREx astronomers discuss this important question, watch our video Y a-t-il de la vie ailleurs? from the Des exoplanètes et nous series (French with English subtitles available)
To read our astronomers’ answers to other questions, see the other articles in the series:
Sea ice around Antarctica recedes to historically low levels: Scientists
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Soyuz docks at International Space Station with two Russians, one American
A Russian spacecraft carrying two Russians and an American docked at the International Space Station on Friday after blasting off from Kazakhstan.
NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub departed from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and docked at the ISS approximately three hours later.
Per NASA, the trio will join the station’s Expedition 69 crew comprising astronauts from the U.S., Russia, Denmark, and Japan. O’Hara will spend six months there while Kononenko and Chub will spend a year.
The trio was supposed to fly to the space station earlier this year, but their original capsule, Soyuz MS-23, was needed as a replacement for another crew. That crew — also two Russians and an American — will ride it home on September 27. Their stay was extended from six months to a year when the capsule developed a coolant leak while parked at the station.
It’s the first spaceflight for O’Hara and Chub, while mission commander Kononenko is on his fifth trip to the orbiting outpost. By the end of his yearlong stay, Kononenko will set a new record for the longest time in space, more than a thousand days.
Original article source: Soyuz docks at International Space Station with two Russians, one American
Exploring the effect of pain on response to reward loss in calves
Negative emotional states are known to interact, potentially aggravating one another. In this study, we used a well validated paradigm (successive negative contrast, SNC) to determine if pain from a common procedure (disbudding) influences responses to a reward downshift. Holstein calves (n = 30) were trained to approach a 0.5 L milk reward. Latency to approach, number of vocalisations and pressure applied on the bottle were recorded during training. To assess how pain affected responses to reward downshift, calves were randomly assigned to one of three treatments before the downshift. Two groups were disbudded and provided the ‘gold standard’ of pain mitigation: intraoperative local anesthesia and analgesia. One of these disbudded groups was then provided supplemental analgesic before testing. The third group was sham disbudded. All calves were then subjected to the reward downshift by reducing the milk reward to just 0.1 L. Interactions were detected between test session and daily trials on pressure applied for the Disbudded group (estimate ± SEM: 0.08 ± 0.05), and on vocalisations for the Sham (0.3 ± 0.1) and Disbudding + Analgesia (0.4 ± 0.1) groups. Our results indicate that SNC is a promising paradigm for measuring negative affect in calves and suggests that pain potentially affects the response to a reward downshift.
A large body of research, primarily on rodents, has shown that sudden declines in reward levels are highly salient and provoke a negative affective response consistent with feelings of frustration or disappointment1,2. A well-developed paradigm for provoking this response is the successive negative contrast (SNC) test, where animals learn to obtain feed rewards which are then reduced in quantity or quality. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that this experience is distressing for animals, including increased levels of physiological markers of stress in rats and pigs3,4,5, and development of a preference for anxiolytic medication in rats6. In addition, responses to SNC are aggravated when an animal is in a pre-existing negative emotional state at the time of the test. For example, rats bred to be more anxious had higher latencies to approach a reward after a downshift7, and rats in amphetamine withdrawal displayed greater and longer reductions in reward consumption following a downshift8.
The influence of current affective state on SNC responses provides a compelling opportunity for the assessment of animal welfare, although only a handful of studies have employed this approach. In one study, rats housed in barren environments showed an extended increase in latency to approach the downshifted reward in comparison to rats housed in enriched environments, suggesting that these animals were more sensitive to reward loss than were rats in enriched housing9. Housing conditions (barren vs. enriched) also affected pigs’ sensitivity to reward loss10. To our knowledge, SNC has not been used to assess the emotional impact of pain in any species.
In this study we tested if pain aggravates responses to SNC testing. Young cattle experience pain associated with routine farm procedures including hot-iron disbudding, indicated by physiological, behavioral and emotional responses to the procedure14,15,16,17,18. In this study we assessed the responses to SNC (in this case reducing the amount of milk available) in calves for three days following disbudding. Although providing a combination of local anesthesia and analgesia is considered a gold-standard in pain mitigation following disbudding, the duration of pain control has been challenging to estimate18, and disbudding pain has been suggested to last for several days19,20,21. For ethical reasons, all disbudded calves were provided local anesthesia and analgesia at the time of the procedure. To explore the potential longer-term pain caused by disbudding, a group of calves were provided additional fast-acting analgesia before tests. We predicted that calves in pain would respond to the downshift by increased pressure applied on the bottle containing the milk, number of vocalisations and latency to approach the reward. By exploring a novel approach to assessing the affective component of pain in animals, we hope to further the understanding of the emotional impact of a common farm procedure and, more generally, how negative states can interact to influence animal welfare.
Maximum pressure applied to the reward bottle decreased across test days (− 0.4, t = − 3.5, P = 0.005) and daily trials (− 0.3, t = − 2.6, P = 0.01) (Fig. 1A). We also noted an interaction between test day and daily trial for the Disbudded group (0.1, t = 2.0, P = 0.05), and a tendency for the Sham group (0.08, t = 1.7, P = 0.09). There was no evidence of an interaction for pressure in the Disbudding + Analgesia group (0.07, t = 1.4, P = 0.2). Calves produced fewer vocalisations across days (− 1.5, t = − 4.6, P < 0.001) and daily trials (− 0.8, t = − 3.6, P < 0.001) (Fig. 1B). However, there were positive interactions between test day and trials for the Sham and Disbudding + Analgesia groups (0.3, t = 2.0, P = 0.05; 0.4, t = 2.7, P < 0.001 respectively). No interaction was found for the Disbudding group (0.05, t = 0.3, P = 0.7). Calves took longer to approach the reward across daily trials (0.4, t = 3.1, P = 0.002), with no effect of the test day (0.12, t = 0.9, P = 0.4) (Fig. 1C). Calves from the Sham group tended to decrease their latency across test day and daily trial (− 0.11, t = − 1.7, P = 0.09), whereas no interaction was found for the Disbudding (− 0.02, t = − 0.3, P = 0.8) and Disbudding + Analgesia groups (− 0.06, t = − 0.9, P = 0.3).
After the reward downshift, calves responded by high pressure applied to the bottle and vocalisations. As calves went through more test sessions (with the lower reward), vocalisations and pressure both decreased, suggesting calves updated their expectations over time. Following the downshift, calves also increased their approach latency across trials within daily test sessions. This result is consistent with previous reports noting that approach latency increased after reward downshift 9,22.
We found some indication of a treatment effect on responses to the downshift over test days and daily trials. The significant positive interaction in pressure applied on the bottle over days and trials for the Disbudding group suggests some level of maintained frustration over tests. Similarly, only calves who had not been disbudded tended to decrease their approach latency across trials whereas calves from the Disbudding and Disbudding + Analgesia groups maintained their latency increase. This result is consistent with results from Burman and colleagues9 who reported a more prolonged response to reward downshift (i.e. higher latency) from rats assumed to be in a more negative affective state. This result is also consistent with work on calves showing increased anticipatory behavior in response to a reward downshift for animals housed in a more barren environment23. We had expected that calves receiving supplemental ketoprofen before the daily test sessions would have responded similarly to the sham calves. That these animals appeared to have some similar responses to the other disbudded calves suggests that our ketoprofen treatment protocol might not have mitigated the pain associated with disbudding during tests. Ketoprofen has been noted as appropriate pain control for disbudding24,25,26,27, but conflicting results have also been reported28,29.
In a study on SNC in chickens, Davies and colleagues30 found a gradual increase in approach latency and an immediate response in consummatory behaviours. They noted the gradual increase to be consistent with Thorndike’s law of effect31, analogous to an extinction mechanism where a less valuable reward induces a less ‘enthusiastic’ response over time. The disparity with consummatory responses was suggested to relate to the different timeframes of the measures: anticipatory responses such as approach latency might require conditioned learning, and therefore change more slowly. However, consummatory responses such as pressure applied are immediate indicators of reward evaluation, and therefore do not require an adjustment delay.
Contrary to our predictions, calves from the Disbudding group did not vocalize more than the other treatment groups after the downshift. These results remain unclear to us, but the very low number of vocalisations past the first test day questions the sensitivity of calves vocalisations counts when used in SNC paradigms.
The high variability among calves in their response to the downshift could be associated to intrinsic individual differences. Individual differences in traits such as fearfulness have been linked to pessimistic responses to a judgment bias test32. Moreover, such pessimism was also linked to the anhedonic response (i.e. a decrease in interest in a consummatory reward) following hot-iron disbudding33. Calves’ individual differences could also be dependent on the severity of the sensitization of their head caused by the procedure34,35, causing increased pain when coming into contact with the bottle. Alternatively, sucking on the nipple (even without milk) may be positive for calves36 and may also provide pain relief in the hours after disbudding37.
Following a reduction in a milk reward, calves who experienced a painful procedure appeared to potentially display an extended response to the downshift. Although SNC seems a promising avenue, our results remain tentative and further development of the paradigm and its applications must be investigated to identify its relevance to animal welfare assessment.
Procedures were approved by The University of British Columbia Animal Care Committee under application A21-0111 and conducted in accordance with guidelines form the Canadian Council of Animal Care38. Reporting followed ARRIVE guidelines.
Animals and housing
The study was conducted at The University of British Columbia’s Dairy Education and Research Centre. To our knowledge, no study has used a similar paradigm in calves. To establish a sample size estimate, we relied on welfare studies using analogous SNC paradigms but applied to other species: rats (six subject per treatment9) and pigs (sixteen subjects per treatment group10). Considering this range and our own practical limitations, we settled on a sample size of ten subjects per treatment group. Thirty-five Holstein calves (all females) were initially enrolled in the study. Five calves were removed from the trial: three fell ill (scours and fever), one showed an extreme stress response when moved outside of her home pen, and one was not feed-restricted before a test. The thirty remaining had an average (± SD) birth weight of 38.3 ± 4.1 kg and were enrolled at 39.9 ± 4.1 d of age.
As routine farm practice, calves from all three treatments were intermingled in indoor pens (4.9 × 7.3 m, bedded with sawdust, and each containing eight to ten calves). Calves were provided ad libitum access to water and hay (RIC; Insentec B.V., Netherlands), and time-restricted access to 12 L of whole milk through a nipple feeder (CF 1000 CS Combi; DeLaval Inc., Sweden). To avoid long delay during trials, small replicates (average number of subjects per replicate = 3.5) were conducted.
The experimental apparatus was located in the same barn as the calves’ home pen, approximately 10–30 m away. The apparatus was a 1.8 × 1.2 m start-box leading to a 3.6 × 2.4 m pen through a vertical gate (Fig. 2A). Directly across from the start-box was a bottle and rubber teat mounted on rails, with an algometer (FPX 25, Wagner, Greenwich, USA) installed behind the bottle allowing measures of the maximum pressure applied to the bottle (Fig. 2B).
The trial was divided in three phases over seven days: training (three days), treatment (one day) and testing (three days). During training, calves were feed-restricted overnight (from 22:00 h) to ensure a high motivation for milk rewards over repeated trials. At approximately 10:00 h calves were individually brought into the apparatus, with no set order, and then placed in the start-box. The vertical gate was lifted and calves could approach and drink a 0.5 L milk reward from the bottle (this amount was based on previous studies on motivation trade-offs studies in calves37,39). Latency to contact the bottle (with mouth or tongue), latency to finish the reward, number of vocalisations and maximum pressure applied to the bottle were recorded live. The calf was then brought back to the start-box, the bottle refilled, and two more trials were conducted (i.e., for a total of three trials/d). After these trials were completed, the calf was returned to her home pen with full access to her daily milk allowance of (12 L/d). Training took place over three consecutive days, for a total of nine training trials. During the first day of training (for all three trials), no cues were given to the calf for the first minute after opening the start-box gate. After one minute, auditory (calls/whistle) and tactile (finger suckling) cues were given from the experimenter from outside the test-pen to get the calf’s attention towards the bottle. If these cues had failed after an additional minute, the experimenter would go inside the test pen and lead the calf to the bottle.
During the second and third day of training, no cues were given. If the calf had not approached the bottle within two minutes, the trial was recorded as a no-approach (and a pressure of zero applied to the bottle). Once a calf had approached the bottle, she had three additional minutes to finish the reward.
Calves were pseudo-randomly assigned to one of three treatments (Disbudding, Disbudding + Analgesia, or Sham; ten calves each). Treatment assignment was balanced for age and birthweight (Disbudding: 40.7 ± 4.3 d, 38.7 ± 3.9 kg; Disbudding + Analgesia: 39.2 ± 7.0 d, 38.0 ± 5.6 kg; Sham: 39.7 ± 6.0 d, 38.3 ± 2.4 kg). On treatment day, calves were not feed-restricted and went through their treatment in their group pen at approximately 10:00 h. Regardless of treatment, calves were weighted and administered a multimodal pain mitigation strategy of sedative, local anesthesia and analgesia. The sedative was used to facilitate following injections and disbudding (xylazine 0.2 mg/kg Subcutaneous, Rompun 20 mg/mL, Bayer, Leverkusen, Germany). After sedation was reached (recumbency and eye rotation, approximately 10 min), a local anesthetic was injected as a cornual nerve block to mitigate the acute pain of the procedure (5 mL per side, lidocaine 2%, epinephrine 1:100,000, Lido-2, Rafter8, Calgary, AB, Canada), an NSAID was provided to minimize inflammation (meloxicam 0.5 mg/kg Subcutaneous, Metacam 20 mg/mL, Boehringer Ingelheim, Burlington, ON, Canada), and the horn bud area was shaved with an electric trimmer. Ten minutes after lidocaine injection, a pinprick test was done on the horn buds to test for pain reflex. For calves in the Disbudding and Disbudding + Analgesia treatments, a pre-heated electric dehorner (X30, 1.3 cm tip, Rhinehart, Spencerville, IN, USA) was applied to both horn buds until a consistent dark ring formed around each bud (requiring approximately 10 to 15 s). Calves from the Sham group were treated identically but instead of being disbudded, only pressure on the horn buds was applied with the plastic handle of the dehorner. After the procedure was completed, calves were positioned in sternal recumbency and left to recover in the pen. As the magnitude and duration of NSAID effects following disbudding remain unclear 18, calves from the Disbudding + Analgesia group received an additional NSAID injection (ketoprofen, 3 mg/kg, Subcutaneous, Anafen, 100 mg/mL, Boehringer Ingelheim, Ontario, Canada) 1 h before each of the three test sessions to provide supplemental pain control at the time of testing. Based on a previous study on the efficacy of ketoprofen after disbudding29, we expected ketoprofen to provide analgesic effects for up to 2 h following treatment.
In the three days following treatment, calves were tested for sensitivity to reward loss. Tests were similar to training: calves were brought individually to the apparatus after overnight feed restriction, and allowed access to a milk reward three times in a row (for a total of nine trials), but during testing the reward was reduced to 0.1 L. The time allowed for calves to approach and drink the reward was matched with their performance during training. Maximum pressure applied to the bottle, number of vocalisations and latency to approach were recorded. Calves from the Disbudding + Analgesia group received an additional NSAID injection (ketoprofen, 3 mg/kg, Subcutaneous, Anafen, 100 mg/mL, Boehringer Ingelheim, Ontario, Canada) 1 h before each of the three test sessions. After each session calves were returned to their home pen and again provided access to their full milk allowance (12 L). After the three test days calves were returned to routine farm care.
A mixed model was conducted on each outcome (maximum pressure, vocalisations and approach latency) on test phases (post treatment) using R’s lme4 package40. For pressure and latency, data were log transformed to fit model assumptions of linearity, normality and homoscedasticity. For vocalisation counts, we used a Poisson mixed model. Fixed factors were treatment (2 df), test day (1 df), daily trial (1 df) and their interaction (3 df). Daily trial, nested within day and Calf ID, was included as a random factor. Significance and tendency thresholds were set at P ≤ 0.05 and P ≤ 0.10, respectively. Data (Supplementary Information 1) and R code (Supplementary Information 2) are available in supplementary materials.
The dataset and R code are freely available in supplementary materials.
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We thank the staff and students at The UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre for their help and support. We are especially grateful for the help provided by (alphabetical order) Joseph Lee, Kathen Lee, Emeline Nogues, Zimbabwe Osorio, Yasamin (Yas) Ranjbar, Russell Tucker, Raphaela Woodroffe and Emily Yau. This research was funded by a Discovery Grant (RGPIN-2016-0462) awarded to DMW from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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Cite this article
Ede, T., von Keyserlingk, M.A.G. & Weary, D.M. Exploring the effect of pain on response to reward loss in calves.
Sci Rep 13, 15403 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-42740-8
- Received: 05 December 2022
- Accepted: 14 September 2023
- Published: 16 September 2023
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-42740-8
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