Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Friday, March 16, 2012

Close a Deadly Loophole, Protect Chimpanzees

Thanks to Jim F for the link

go HERE to sign the petition

Target: Division of Policy and Directives - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services
Sponsored by: Center for Biological Diversity
Please speak up to protect chimpanzees who can't defend themselves. The worldwide population of wild chimpanzees has fallen by nearly 70 percent in the past 30 years -- take action now to save these animals.

Wild chimpanzees have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1976, but a special rule exempts captive chimpanzees from protection. This loophole in the Act is preventing the recovery of the species in the wild by encouraging their illegal trade.

Chimpanzees are endangered due to habitat loss, poaching and illegal trafficking -- wild chimpanzees are captured and sold for use as entertainment, as pets and as test subjects.

We have a critical moment right now to help captive and wild chimpanzees: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to protect captive chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act. Send your comments today in support of protecting every chimpanzee as endangered.

quote of the day

From I Am in Science's facebook page

One way of dealing with errors is to have friends who are willing to spend the time necessary to carry out a critical examination of the experimental design beforehand and the results after the experiments have been completed. An even better way is to have an enemy. An enemy is willing to devote a vast amount of time and brain power to ferreting out errors both large and small, and this without any compensation. The trouble is that really capable enemies are scarce; most of them are only ordinary. Another trouble with enemies is that they sometimes develop into friends and lose a great deal of their zeal. It was in this way the writer lost his three best enemies. Everyone, not just scientists, needs a good few enemies.

~ Georg von Békésy who received the 1961 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Snoring Doormouse

cuteness alert from Caro D

The Power of Social media - Kenyan Orphanage attack leads to over 50,000 dollars being raised by redditors

Thanks to Jesse D for the link!

Read this amazing Reddit thread of how one man's tragic attack at a Kenyan orphange lead to major funds being raised for the children under his care.

it all started with this plea:
Meet Omari. Two days ago he returned from the hospital after being hacked in the face by a machete defending an orphanage of 35 children by himself. Think we could raise the $2,000 needed for the remainder of the cement/barbed wire wall to keep both him and the children safe?

This is the best part:
As of now, the best way to donate is through We will assume that any donation made between now and next week was meant for the Faraja Orphanage in Ngong, Kenya.
Also, remember her? The construction date is scheduled for February 15th!
Edit: In the process of uploading more pictures of the orphanage, but my modem is being very slow. I would also like to add that this orphanage is unlike any I have seen before. The mother of Omari, the sole caretaker of the children (with the help of volunteers), has made multiple efforts to keep the orphanage sustainable. There are dozens of chickens and a small garden which helps feed the 35 children between the ages of 2 and 17. As you can imagine, these efforts are great but not enough to support 35 children everyday.
Edit 2: The wooden fence next to the concrete section of the wall. The goal is to construct a wall the same height as the existing structure, with three feet of barbed wire (three coiled stacked on top of each other) on top.
Edit 3: Omari explained to me that many of the kids are very scared to re-enter the home; scared that the attackers are still inside "waiting with knives". So it was nice to see them playing (and eating oranges) outside in the yard.
Edit 4: I figure the story is worth sharing: After two previous invasions during the week, Omari was relatively certain another would occur. He woke up to the sound of footsteps outside his door, he figured it was his mother taking a few of the boys outside to go to the bathroom. He quickly realized that the footsteps were heavy, and that of more than one person; he then saw a flashlight shine beneath the crack of his door. Being the third time this happened that week, he had already stashed a hammer beside his bed. He grabbed it, and threw it at the first person who entered his room. He hit the person square in the head, and chased the rest out. The following night, the three thugs returned, presumably to avenge their friend. Omari put up a fight but was outnumbered. The last thing he remembers was being struck in the face by the machete. He has been in and out of the hospital since, yet remains positive and confident that the suspects will one day see justice. Until then, I only hope that is courage and strength is felt by all of you. Speaking with him was a very humbling and special experience that I will never forget. I told him I would try my best to help, so this is my effort: Reddit, already donations are pouring in, and I can't thank you enough.
Edit 5: Another picture of a few kids playing with one of their favorite toys. Reddit, twice now, you have nearly brought me to tears. I have never felt so encouraged in my life. Donations are coming in too fast to keep track, so I will update as soon as they seem to slow down. If the donations reach over $2,000, the rest will go towards food and supplies for the children. I will ABSOLUTELY keep all of you updated with the progress.
Edit 6: Many people are asking for proof, the mods have contacted me and I'm working on it. It's 5:03am right now, I haven't slept all night (nor do I plan to), I've been messaging my friends on facebook left and right trying to get the word out, but I never, NEVER, could have imagined the night ending this way. In just a few short hours I will return to the orphanage with by far the BEST news I could ever tell anyone. There will be pictures!
Edit 7: I've sent the mod a picture of myself, reddit name, date, PSU id, and the expired Kenyan residency card I received in 2010 when I first studied abroad. I am literally waiting for the sun to come up so I can run to the orphanage and tell them the INCREDIBLE news. I will take a picture with everyone (Omari will absolutely be present) and return as soon as I can.
Edit 8: Over $9,000 and I'm in a state of shock. I...... Just.....................Thank you.
Edit 9: Over $11,000. It's 6am. In 45 minutes I will RUN to the orphanage. I should be back with pictures in just a few hours. This is the best news I have ever had to privilege to tell anyone, and you are all to thank for it. Also, I am too overwhelmed at the moment, but I will do my best to reply to as many comments/messages/questions as I can.
Edit 10: $44,000!!!!!!!!! REDDIT!!!!! I can hardly breathe. I refreshed the page at least twice to make sure it was real. I cannot believe this. I just came back from the orphanage..... Let's just say many tears were shed, and many hugs were shared. The children were all leaving to school as I arrived, but I will return around 6pm to take a group picture. I am about to upload the picture and video of Omari's thanks. He's been reading all of your comments, he said he'll read every one if it takes him all day. $44,000. Reddit, thank you.
Edit 11: $48,000! This is surreal. Thank you for the $10,000 donation in addition to upgrading our website to Weebly Pro for two free years. Of course, thank you all so much. I must sleep for a bit, but I'll be back!
Edit 12: Who am I kidding I couldn't sleep if I tried. We hit the $50,000 mark! I know by now I sound like a broken record, but thank you Reddit, sincerely.

Ancient Domesticated Dog Skull Found in Siberian Cave: 33,000 Years Old

thanks to Caro D for the link!
from ScienceDaily

A 33,000-year-old dog skull unearthed in a Siberian mountain cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with an equally ancient find in a cave in Belgium, indicates that modern dogs may be descended from multiple ancestors.

If you think a Chihuahua doesn't have much in common with a Rottweiler, you might be on to something.
An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.
In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated.
"Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find.
"Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."
The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs."
The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull.
Radioactive carbon, or carbon-14, is one of three carbon isotopes. Along with naturally occurring carbon dioxide, carbon-14 reaches the surface of Earth by atmospheric circulation, where plants absorb it into their tissues through photosynthesis.
Animals and humans take in carbon-14 by ingesting plants or other animals that have eaten plants. "Carbon-14 makes it into all organic molecules," said Hodgins. "It's in all living things."
"We believe that carbon-14 production is essentially constant over time," said Hodgins. "So the amount of carbon-14 present in living organisms in the past was similar to the levels in living organisms today. When an animal or plant dies, the amount of carbon-14 in its remains drops at a predictable rate, called the radioactive half-life. The half-life of radiocarbon is 5,730 years."
"People from all over the world send our laboratory samples of organic material that they have dug out of the ground and we measure how much carbon-14 is left in them. Based on that measurement, and knowing the radiocarbon half-life, we calculate how much time must have passed since the samples had the same amount of carbon-14 as plants and animals living today."
The researchers use a machine called an accelerator mass spectrometer to measure the amount of radioactive carbon remaining in a sample. The machine works in a manner analogous to what happens when a beam of white light passes through a prism: White light separates into the colors of the rainbow.
The accelerator mass spectrometer generates a beam of carbon from the sample and passes it through a powerful magnet, which functions like a prism. "What emerges from it are three beams, one each of the three carbon isotopes," said Hodgins. "The lightest carbon beam, carbon-12, bends the most, and then carbon-13 bends slightly less and carbon-14 bends slightly less than that."
The relative intensities of the three beams represent the sample's carbon mass spectrum. Researchers compare the mass spectrum of an unknown sample to the mass spectra of known-age controls and from this comparison, calculate the sample's radiocarbon age.
At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.
However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor.
"In terms of human history, before the last glacial maximum people were living with wolves or canid species in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had been living with them long enough that they were actually changing evolutionarily," said Hodgins. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed and those relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive."
"The interesting thing is that typically we think of domestication as being cows, sheep and goats, things that produce food through meat or secondary agricultural products such as milk, cheese and wool and things like that," said Hodgins.
"Those are different relationships than humans may have with dogs. The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat. They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt. And it's really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals."

Ottawa to reintroduce iconic bison to Banff National Park

from the calgary herald

Banff could be the next home where the buffalo roam.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is scheduled to make an announcement Friday with details about reintroducing “an iconic Canadian animal” to Banff National Park, which government officials have confirmed is bison.

Kent, minister responsible for Parks Canada, is expected to provide details on a public consultation process for the animal’s reintroduction to Banff.

While officials have not specified the breed of bison, the most recent Banff park management plan, from 2010, includes details on the reintroduction of the plains bison, described in the document as “a keystone species that has been absent from the park since its establishment.”

Last year the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation held a public meeting on its own plan to reintroduce plains bison to the park. The plan indicated that the Bow Valley and Red Deer Valley could support modest bison herds.

Harvey Locke, a Luxton foundation director, said Wednesday he’d be thrilled to see bison make a return.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s, during European settlement of the West.

“It’s a species that speaks to a terrible mismanagement of nature in the 19th century,” Locke said.

Since then the species has made a managed comeback, and is not widely distributed in the wild, he said.

Reintroduction of bison has been discussed since 1997, when the park’s buffalo paddock was closed following the Banff-Bow Valley study, which looked at maintaining the park’s ecological integrity while providing appropriate access to visitors.

“Bison is a native species to the Canadian Rockies,” Locke said. “For the park to be complete, it needs wild bison.”

Dave Ealey, spokesman with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said his department encourages efforts to re-establish the ecological balance of the park.

But the department, which is not involved with Friday’s announcement, is also interested in seeing what Parks Canada’s plans are for keeping the animals within park confines.

“These are large animals and the consequences of large, free-roaming bison in parts of the province, if they expand outside the national park boundaries, could be significant,” Ealey said.

There are ranchers not too far from the borders of Banff who could come into close contact with the large animals. Bison could also end up on public land frequented by industrial and recreational users.

And the animals could be a road hazard, depending on where they are released in the park, Ealey said, adding bison lingering on the roadways has been a problem for motorists at Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has extensive experience with bison re-establishment programs, specifically in the Hay-Zama area in northwestern Alberta, Ealey said.

“We’ve been doing ongoing work to try to manage the numbers of that particular population effectively because they just blossomed as a population success story,” he said. “Those are the sort of things we’re aware of when it comes to wildlife management and those types of reintroductions. So we’d like to know a little more about how that’s being approached (in Banff).”

Dogs Face Blown Off By Fireworks

sign the peitiotn here

Joel Satore's The Biodiversity Project

gorgeous photos of endangered species click here to find our more:

The Biodiversity Project

Goualogo Triangle officially integrated into Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Congo


Ouvrant la séance, le Président de la République a réitéré les priorités de cette année 2012 : la santé, l’électricité, l’assainissement de nos villes, l’agriculture ou encore la consolidation de notre politique visant à doter le pays des infrastructures de base. Il a, de la sorte, appelé le gouvernement à traduire dans les faits ces orientations. Pour ce qui concerne la tenue des jeux africains au Congo, en 2015, le Président de la République a rappelé la nécessité de commencer notre préparation et de procéder à des inscriptions budgétaires pour que cette manifestation ait lieu dans les conditions les meilleures.
Il a , enfin, tenu à ce que le gouvernement s’assure de l’effectivité des mesures prises portant gratuité d’un certain nombre de services administratifs.
Huit affaires ont été inscrites à l’ordre du jour de ce Conseil des Ministres, concernant des projets de décrets pris à l’initiative de cinq départements ministériels.
En premier lieu, le Ministre de l’Economie forestière et de l’environnement, Monsieur Henri DJOMBO, a soumis à l’attention du Conseil des Ministres deux projets de décrets :
• Un projet de décret portant création, attributions et organisation de ‘’l’autorité nationale désignée’’ du mécanisme pour un développement propre ;
• Un deuxième, modifiant et complétant certaines dispositions du décret n°93-727 du 31 décembre 1993 portant création du parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki dans les départements de la Likouala et de la Sangha.
S’agissant du premier projet de décret, il convient de rappeler que le Congo a ratifié le protocole de Kyoto par la loi n°24-2006 du 12 septembre 2006, relative à la convention-cadre des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques.
Le protocole de Kyoto prévoit un Mécanisme dit de ‘‘développement propre’’, qui est en fait un mécanisme de financement pour le soutien à des projets relevant de la réduction des gaz à effet de serre. Dans ce cadre là, le Secrétariat de la Convention-cadre des Nations Unies sur le changement climatique recommande aux Etats membres de mettre en place une « Autorité Nationale Désignée » dont les missions visent à travailler sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, dans les conditions définies par l’article 3 du titre I dudit projet de décret. Selon les termes de ce décret, l’Autorité Nationale Désignée comprendra :
Un coordonnateur, et cinq experts nationaux chargés des questions techniques et promotionnelles.
• Aux termes du deuxième projet de décret, qui modifie et complète certaines dispositions antérieures concernant le parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki situé entre les districts de Dongou dans la Likouala, et de Mokéko dans la Sangha, le site de Goualougo qui compte une population de chimpanzés supérieure à 120 unités, présente une opportunité unique dans le territoire, pour étudier leur comportement. C’est ainsi qu’en intégrant le site de Goualougo au parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki, celui-ci passera d’une superficie de 386 592 hectares, à une superficie de 423 870 hectares.
Les deux projets de décrets ont obtenu l’approbation du Conseil des Ministres.
Poursuivant l’examen des affaires inscrites à l’ordre du jour, le Conseil des Ministres s’est ensuite attelé à étudier le projet de décret portant suppression des épreuves orales du baccalauréat, sur proposition conjointe de Madame Rosalie KAMA-NIAMAYOUA, Ministre de l’Enseignement primaire, secondaire et de l’alphabétisation et de Monsieur André OKOMBI SALISSA, Ministre de l’Enseignement technique, professionnel, de la formation qualifiante et de l’emploi.
Il en résulte que le baccalauréat de l’enseignement général se déroulera dorénavant en un seul tour, comprenant de la sorte les épreuves écrites, d’un côté, et les épreuves d’éducation physique et sportive, de l’autre.
Le baccalauréat de l’enseignement technique comprend : les épreuves écrites, les épreuves pratiques et les épreuves d’éducation physique et sportive.
Ce projet de décret a également reçu l’approbation du Conseil des Ministres.
Le Ministre de la Pêche et de l’aquaculture, Monsieur Hellot Matson MAMPOUYA, a quant à lui, présenté trois projets de décrets.
• Le premier projet de décret, portant statut de l’observateur à bord d’un navire de pêche, vise à améliorer le dispositif de surveillance contre les risques d’une pêche non conforme à la règlementation, en l’absence d’un système d’observation par satellite. Ce décret fixe les missions assignées à l’observateur, ainsi que les obligations du capitaine du navire.
• Le second projet de décret porte organisation et fonctionnement du Comité consultatif de la pêche et de l’aquaculture. Dans l’esprit du décret, le Comité consultatif de la pêche et de l’aquaculture a pour mission principale de donner des avis sur les plans d’aménagement des pêcheries et des systèmes aquacoles, les plans d’aménagement de la pêche étant l’ensemble des mesures et des actions techniques, financières, législatives et règlementaires nécessaires à une exploitation rationnelle et durable des ressources halieutiques.
• Le troisième projet de décret soumis au Conseil des Ministres par le Ministre de la Pêche et de l’aquaculture, se rapporte à la réorganisation et au fonctionnement du fonds d’aménagement halieutique.
Le fonds d’aménagement halieutique, ainsi que cela ressort des articles 2 et 3 du projet de décret, est un établissement public administratif doté de la personnalité morale et jouissant d’une autonomie financière, qui a pour missions :
- d’assurer le financement des travaux, études, projets et micro-projets d’initiative communautaire…
- De financer l’assistance dans le cadre d’un appui technique aux pêcheurs et aquaculteurs,
- De financer les programmes de développement de la pêche et de l’aquaculture,
- Etc.
L’avis du Conseil des Ministres, sollicité sur ces trois projets, a été favorable.
Le Ministre de la Santé et de la population, Monsieur Georges MOYEN, a présenté au Conseil des Ministres un projet de décret portant statut particulier des agents de la santé et affaires sociales, sous secteur de la santé. Il a pour objet de mettre en place un cadre juridique favorable aux conditions de vie et de travail des agents de la santé. Ce texte concourt, en fait, à assurer la motivation et la fidélisation des agents du service public de santé en revalorisant leur métier.
On retiendra, pour ce qui concerne la rémunération, que le premier point indiciaire passe de 200 à 300, soit une augmentation de 50%. Les indemnités relatives aux différentes primes seront fixées par arrêté conjoint du Ministre de la Santé et des finances.
Ce projet de décret a reçu l’avis favorable du Conseil des Ministres.
Le Ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur, Monsieur Ange-Antoine ABENA, a présenté un projet de décret fixant le taux des différentes catégories de bourses accordées aux étudiants congolais inscrits dans les établissements d’enseignement supérieur à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur du Congo. Il a été retenu, conformément au discours de fin d’année du Président de la République, le principe général d’une hausse des bourses selon les modalités suivantes :
- A l’intérieur de la République du Congo, l’augmentation est de 15.000 frs CFA pour toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Afrique, l’augmentation est de 20.000 frs CFA pour les catégories de bourses E, F, G.
- En Europe occidentale, aux Etats-Unis et au Canada, l’augmentation est de 50.000 frs CFA sur toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Europe de l’Est, elle est de 25.000 frs CFA sur toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Amérique latine, notamment à Cuba, elle est de 50.000 frs CFA.
Ce projet de décret venant du Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, a été adopté par les membres du Conseil des Ministres.
Débutée à 10h00, la réunion du Conseil des Ministres de ce vendredi 20 janvier 2012 s’est achevée à 13h20. »

Science Bulletins: Whales Give Dolphins a Lift

thanks to deb m for the link!

Atheist faces jail after facebook comments


AN Indonesian civil servant who declared himself an atheist on Facebook was arrested and is now facing jail for blasphemy after being attacked by an angry mob, police said today.
Alexander An, 30, who wrote "God doesn't exist" on his Facebook page, was beaten by a mob of dozens on Wednesday in his hometown in Pulau Punjung, West Sumatra province.
"He is suspected of having blasphemed against Islam," local police chief Chairul Aziz told AFP.
"The man told police investigators that if God really exists and has absolute power, why didn't he prevent bad things from happening in this world."
An said on his Facebook page that he was brought up as a Muslim, like the vast majority in Indonesia, where blasphemy is a punishable crime carrying a maximum five-year prison term.
Dozens of locals stormed into his office after a heated debate with them on Facebook over religion, police said.
An was also an administrator of a Facebook group promoting atheism with 1243 followers. His postings no longer appeared online following his arrest.

Moose falling on face

i have to include Strombo's comment on this "Miraculously the moose isn't even the best part of this video... "

via the George Stroumboulopoulos facebook page

Almost 1/4 of Changes in Intelligence May Be in the Genes

via the George Stroumboulopoulos facebook page

from the CBC

Nature versus nurture: it's one of the great debates in human society. Are we the product of our environment, or does our genetic make-up determine how we turn out? A new study published in the journal 'Nature' suggests that nearly a quarter of the changes in a person's intelligence level over the course of a lifetime may be due to genes, rather than environmental factors.

According to S. Duke Han, an assistant professor in the department of behavioural sciences and a clinical neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the study is unique and revealing: "What this is saying is something many researchers have accepted for a long time, that intelligence seems to be very much influenced by genetic makeup but also environmental factors," Han said.

Usually studies like this have to rely on comparisons between people who are related, such as identical or fraternal twins. This study is different. It uses information from a Scottish database containing intelligence tests from a group of unrelated people, first at age 11, then at 65, 70 or 79, and therefore allows the researchers to compare people who are not related by blood at early and late stages in their lives. Participants also shared DNA samples so that researchers could examine their genetics.

The findings were interesting: people with similar DNA tended to have similar changes in intelligence from youth to age. Also, many people who scored high on the test at age 11 also did so when they re-took the test later in life - although not everyone. Ian Deary, lead author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal that although it lacks statistical power in some crucial aspects, the study is valuable because "it is very rare to have an estimate of the genetic contribution to lifetime cognitive change." He also clarified, "these results suggest that genes contribute to our understanding of why some people's brains have aged better than others, but the environment is probably the larger influence on lifetime changes," Deary said.

Other studies have found that a person's intelligence level, as measured by an IQ test, isn't fixed at birth. In fact, a person's IQ can rise or fall as the person ages - a teenagers IQ can increase or decline by as many as 20 points in only a few years. And scientists have made progress in figuring out which environmental factors may affect intelligence. Some cognitive training has shown to increase IQ scores after just a few weeks, although the increases are small and tend to fade after a few months.

Worth all the sweat

Thanks to Gioia A for the link - deals with calorie restriction and exercise, longevity and health.

From the economist

Worth all the sweat
Just why exercise is so good for people is, at last, being understood

ONE sure giveaway of quack medicine is the claim that a product can treat any ailment. There are, sadly, no panaceas. But some things come close, and exercise is one of them. As doctors never tire of reminding people, exercise protects against a host of illnesses, from heart attacks and dementia to diabetes and infection.

How it does so, however, remains surprisingly mysterious. But a paper just published in Nature by Beth Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and her colleagues sheds some light on the matter.

Dr Levine and her team were testing a theory that exercise works its magic, at least in part, by promoting autophagy. This process, whose name is derived from the Greek for “self-eating”, is a mechanism by which surplus, worn-out or malformed proteins and other cellular components are broken up for scrap and recycled.

To carry out the test, Dr Levine turned to those stalwarts of medical research, genetically modified mice. Her first batch of rodents were tweaked so that their autophagosomes—structures that form around components which have been marked for recycling—glowed green. After these mice had spent half an hour on a treadmill, she found that the number of autophagosomes in their muscles had increased, and it went on increasing until they had been running for 80 minutes.

To find out what, if anything, this exercise-boosted autophagy was doing for mice, the team engineered a second strain that was unable to respond this way. Exercise, in other words, failed to stimulate their recycling mechanism. When this second group of modified mice were tested alongside ordinary ones, they showed less endurance and had less ability to take up sugar from their bloodstreams.

There were longer-term effects, too. In mice, as in people, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes. But when the team fed their second group of modified mice a diet designed to induce diabetes, they found that exercise gave no protection at all.

Dr Levine and her team reckon their results suggest that manipulating autophagy may offer a new approach to treating diabetes. And their research is also suggestive in other ways. Autophagy is a hot topic in medicine, as biologists have come to realise that it helps protect the body from all kinds of ailments.

The virtues of recycling

Autophagy is an ancient mechanism, shared by all eukaryotic organisms (those which, unlike bacteria, keep their DNA in a membrane-bound nucleus within their cells). It probably arose as an adaptation to scarcity of nutrients. Critters that can recycle parts of themselves for fuel are better able to cope with lean times than those that cannot. But over the past couple of decades, autophagy has also been shown to be involved in things as diverse as fighting bacterial infections and slowing the onset of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Most intriguingly of all, it seems that it can slow the process of ageing. Biologists have known for decades that feeding animals near-starvation diets can boost their lifespans dramatically. Dr Levine was a member of the team which showed that an increased level of autophagy, brought on by the stress of living in a constant state of near-starvation, was the mechanism responsible for this life extension.

The theory is that what are being disposed of in particular are worn-out mitochondria. These structures are a cell’s power-packs. They are where glucose and oxygen react together to release energy. Such reactions, though, often create damaging oxygen-rich molecules called free radicals, which are thought to be one of the driving forces of ageing. Getting rid of wonky mitochondria would reduce free-radical production and might thus slow down ageing.

A few anti-ageing zealots already subsist on near-starvation diets, but Dr Levine’s results suggest a similar effect might be gained in a much more agreeable way, via vigorous exercise. The team’s next step is to test whether boosted autophagy can indeed explain the life-extending effects of exercise. That will take a while. Even in animals as short-lived as mice, she points out, studying ageing is a long-winded process. But she is sufficiently confident about the outcome that she has, in the meantime, bought herself a treadmill.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Escaping baby pandas at the Panda breeding center in Chengdu China

Aye-aye lemur 'heats up' its special foraging finger

from BBC nature
By Ella Davies

Madagascar's mysterious aye-aye warms up its extra-long finger when searching for dinner, scientists have found.

The lemur, the world's largest nocturnal primate, taps its specialised middle finger on tree trunks to find nutritious beetle larvae.

Studying thermal images, researchers found that the digit was colder than the others but warmed by up to 6C during foraging.

Scientists suggest that the aye-aye saves energy by keeping the digit cool.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Primatology.

The team from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US, wanted to investigate the surface temperature of sensitive structures.

The aye-aye's unusual middle finger has already been found to be super-sensitive to vibrations, so provided the perfect subject for their study.

"It was striking to see how much cooler the third digit was while not in use and how quickly it warmed to [match] the other digits when engaged in an active foraging task," said graduate student Gillian Moritz, who carried out the study under the guidance of her supervisor, Dr Nathaniel Dominy.

Black and white
When not in use, the finger appeared black on thermal images. This indicated a large difference in temperature between it and the white (hot) ears and eyes.

But when the animal was looking for food, the finger rose in temperature by up to 6C.
"We think the relatively cooler temperatures of the digit when not in use could be related to its [long, thin] form," said Ms Moritz.

"This form results in a relatively high surface-to-volume ratio [but] such a ratio is bad for retaining heat."

In order to sense the vibrations of beetle larvae through the bark of a tree, the finger is "packed with sensitive nerve endings", the scientist explained.

Because of its specialist sense receptors, using this tapping tool is very costly in terms of energy.
"Like any delicate instrument, it is probably best deactivated when not in use," Ms Moritz told BBC Nature.

Kink in the flow
The question of how the lemur controls the heat of a single digit remains unclear.
Ms Moritz suggested two explanations. The first was simply that the blood vessels that supplied the digit could be constricted or dilated.

The second more unusual possibility, she said, was that the creature might employ temperature control method that was linked to the flexibility of its finger.

Ms Moritz explained: "Because the finger is fragile and vulnerable to injury, it is often extended back and out of the way during locomotion and periods of inactivity," she said.

This extension could cause a "kink" in the artery that supplies warm blood to the digit.

In the same way a bent garden hose supplies less water, the artery could supply less blood, keeping the finger much colder than its fully supplied neighbouring digits.

Aye-ayes are the only primates known to have this strange adaptation.

The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), mainly because of threats to its habitat.

But the odd-looking primate also suffers direct persecution. Superstition in Madagascar describes the species as a bad omen. Those that are pointed at by the creature's mysterious finger are said to meet their death.

Is Primatology an Equal-Opportunity Discipline?

food for thought. thanks to Caro D for the link!

my own 2 cents: I think that women generally become more preoccupied with conservation then evolutionary biology when studying endangered species (most primates). This then pulls them towards NGOs and field-based work over academic positions. This is compounded by the fact that most primatologists feel they cannot get positions in zoology/biology departments and must stay in anthropology streams, which means that really don't have the potential to do conservation science if they stay in academia. -MA

Addessi E, Borgi M, Palagi E (2012) Is Primatology an Equal-Opportunity Discipline? PLoS ONE 7(1): e30458. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030458

The proportion of women occupying academic positions in biological sciences has increased in the past few decades, but women are still under-represented in senior academic ranks compared to their male colleagues. Primatology has been often singled out as a model of “equal-opportunity” discipline because of the common perception that women are more represented in Primatology than in similar fields. But is this indeed true? Here we show that, although in the past 15 years the proportion of female primatologists increased from the 38% of the early 1990s to the 57% of 2008, Primatology is far from being an “equal-opportunity” discipline, and suffers the phenomenon of “glass ceiling” as all the other scientific disciplines examined so far. In fact, even if Primatology does attract more female students than males, at the full professor level male members significantly outnumber females. Moreover, regardless of position, IPS male members publish significantly more than their female colleagues. Furthermore, when analyzing gender difference in scientific productivity in relation to the name order in the publications, it emerged that the scientific achievements of female primatologists (in terms of number and type of publications) do not always match their professional achievements (in terms of academic position). However, the gender difference in the IPS members' number of publications does not correspond to a similar difference in their scientific impact (as measured by their H index), which may indicate that female primatologists' fewer articles are of higher impact than those of their male colleagues.

Chimp ‘culture’ paper retracted after authors spot errors, now has home at another journal

thanks to Geraldine F for the link!
from retraction watch

The authors of a 2011 paper claiming that chimp “culture” has more to do with local habitats than with where the chimps live have retracted it after finding mistakes in their work.

Here’s the notice for the paper, “Variation in chimpanzee ‘culture’ is predicted by local ecology, not geography:”

Shortly after our above paper was published in Biology Letters, we discovered several coding errors in the dataset we analysed. After re-analysing a corrected dataset, we did not find the same results as in our publication. In contrast, we found that no ecological variable was a statistically significant predictor of behavioural variation. Consequently, we do not feel that the main result of our publication is valid and have requested retraction of this manuscript.
So how did the errors come to light? Corresponding author Jason Kamilar, formerly of Yale and now at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, tells Retraction Watch:

A colleague contacted me about a week after the paper appeared on Biology Letters’ Early View to request the dataset. We originally used a couple of different methods to code the data and we conducted the analyses about 2 years ago. After looking at the datasets in more detail I noticed several errors that likely was likely due to coding the data from a separately coded dataset instead of the original dataset. I confirmed the problem by re-analyzing the correct dataset and I obtained different results. I contacted the editors of Biology Letters and we agreed that retracting the paper was the best course of action.
We wanted to know whether the retraction would have a significant effect on the field.

I think the impact will be quite minor. The retraction occurred less than 2 months after the paper appeared online, and it was never actually published in an issue. In addition, I submitted a new version of the manuscript that contained the correct dataset and analysis, which is now in press in Journal of Human Evolution.

Not surprisingly, the new paper found the opposite of the original results:

…geography, and longitude in particular, was the best predictor of behavioral variation.
The authors were also transparent in the new paper, which includes a line noting the retraction:

Our paper also serves as correction to our recently retracted study (Kamilar and Marshack, 2011), which contained several coding errors in the dataset.

Kamilar, we should note, is as critical of others’ work as he is of his own. Late last year, he was a co-author of a Comment in Science alleging flaws in a May 2011 report on whether dinosaurs were nocturnal. Its abstract:

Schmitz and Motani (Reports, 6 May 2011, p. 705) claimed to definitively reconstruct activity patterns of Mesozoic archosaurs using the anatomy of the orbit and scleral ring. However, we find serious flaws in the data, methods, and interpretations of this study. Accordingly, it is not yet possible to reconstruct the activity patterns of most fossil archosaurs with a high degree of confidence.
The response from the original paper’s authors wasn’t anything like a retraction; it was more like doubling down:
Hall et al. claim that it is not yet possible to infer the diel activity patterns of fossil archosaurs with high confidence. We demonstrate here that this assertion is founded on unscreened data, untenable assumptions, and inappropriate methods. Our approach follows ecomorphological and phylogenetic principles in a probabilistic framework, resulting in statistically well-supported reconstructions of diel activity patterns in Mesozoic archosaurs.
See no evil, hear no evil?

Attenborough "sings": Symphony of Science - The Greatest Show on Earth!

via the Max Planck Society Facebook Page

re-coloured picture of Darwin

"Orangutan" Song by Bali Rock Band "Navicula"

thanks to caro D for the link and for some background info go to :