NewsQuirks 339

M-I-C-K-E-Y Scientists have figured out how to grow human-like ears on mice. Linda Griffith-Cima, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created an ear-shaped scaffolding of porous, biodegradable fabric. Next, she and University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist Dr. Charles Vacanti distributed human cartilage cells throughout the form, then implanted the prototype ear on the back of a hairless mouse, which nourished the ear until the cartilage cells grew to replace the fiber. As soon as the technology is perfected, ears can be transplanted from mice to humans who've lost theirs in accidents, the scientists said, noting it should also work for noses. Researchers at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University announced they have succeeded in turning docile mice into sexually aggressive killers. Dr. Solomon Snyder reported that when he and his colleagues bred mice that lacked a gene which causes the production of a brain chemical called nitric oxide, male mice turned into monsters that fought until they killed their prey and just as relentlessly forced themselves on females who rejected their advances. Snyder said the findings don't necessarily prove that violent criminal behavior is due to abnormalities in nitric oxide, although he added he is impressed how often "mouse behavior can predict human behavior." Food and Drug Administration researchers complained in Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania that lab rats have become too fat to be useful. Rats arriving at labs today weigh twice what they did 25 years ago. Finnish researchers announced they have succeeded in teaching rats to play basketball. Psychologist Sini Paananen, who developed the ball-playing rat project to help people understand the learning process, trained two of the rats to snatch the nut-filled ball from each other, scamper to the end of a court and dunk the ball, rewarding them with a scrap of food each time they scored.Progress, Schmogress Several ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel banned the use of a "purity computer" to determine when people may have sex. The hand-held device helps couples comply with Jewish law, which forbids sex from 12 hours before menstruation starts to seven days after it ends. Instead of turning to rabbis for help with the calculation, the woman need only enter information about her menstrual cycle to learn when sex is permissible. Rabbi Yosef Halevi Eliashiv, an authority on Jewish law, warned that the "purity computer" might just be the start of technology's taking over rabbis' traditional authorityBali Hi Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Topou IV saw his South Pacific kingdom expand by nearly 17 acres in June when a volcanic island erupted from the Metis Shoal near the Vava'u Group of islands. The volcano rose to 165 feet high and covers some 723,000 square feet. The king visited the last island to emerge in Metis Shoal in 1979, but it disappeared two years after he planted the Tongan flag there.Stupid Is As Stupid Does After boxer Oliver McCall lost his heavyweight title in September, he was robbed of his $1.4-million paycheck in St. Louis. The robbers were captured when they spotted McCall and, not recognizing him as their victim, ran up to him demanding to know why there were so many zeroes on the check. Authorities investigating the deaths of Marlin Ray Baker, 25, and his girlfriend Carolyn Boyd, 31, speculated that Baker had seen a certain phone number repeatedly on Boyd's Caller ID and assumed that a lover had called, so he beat her to death. He subsequently killed himself after discovering that it was just a repeated wrong number. David Keeton died near Tustin, Calif., after his car plunged down an embankment. Witnesses said Keeton had been swerving all over the road to keep the car behind him from passing.Name Recognition Three months after Saskatchewan gas station owner Dick Assman appeared on television's Late Show with David Letterman because of his name, pollsters Angus Reid said its survey showed 1.1 million Canadians now knew who he was and would vote for him should he run for public office.Nice Try Erwin Davis appealed his child-support order to the Arkansas Supreme Court, claiming his DNA matched the child's only because the mother broke into his home, stole a used condom from him and inseminated herself. Unimpressed, the court upheld the order.Hot Streak When baseball players on the Johnstown Steal of Pennsylvania's Frontier League voted to wear black undershirts instead of their usual teal before a game against Evansville in July, manager Mal Fichman elected to set his undershirt on fire. Explaining that the players' decision angered him because his team in Duluth, Minn., wore black in 1993, his worst year in baseball, the superstitious Fichman was charged with violating Johnstown's ban on open fires following the Steal's 9-6 loss.Not Her Year Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was walking with guests at Balmoral, her castle in Scotland, when a grouse that had just been shot fell from the sky and hit her. A palace spokesperson reported the queen's "shoulder was bruised, but there was no serious damage."Exchange Program The government of Fiji announced that Hong Kong Chinese who're apprehensive about China's 1997 takeover of the British colony can become official residents of the South Pacific nation for $130,000. In Malaysia, Muslim scholars complained to religious authorities that Muslim men may pass up local women for foreign brides because dowries are too high. Ahmad Awang, president of a religious scholars association in Kuala Lumpur, said that parents are demanding prospective husbands, who can have as many as four wives, pay up to $2,000 to wed their daughters.Has the Kick of a Fan Blade Moonshiners pose a new health threat in Georgia, state officials warned in September, explaining that cheap distilling methods have been linked to lead poisoning. Rising prices over the past 20 years for sugar and copper tubing that served as condensers have hit moonshiners hard, according to Chet Bryant, director of the state Revenue Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax unit. "The problem we're having now," he said, "is that they're pulling old radiators out of cars and making condensers out of them."

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