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Researchers Discover Altruism is Favoured By Chance

Why do we feel good about giving to charity when there is no direct benefit to ourselves, and feel bad about cheating the system? Mathematicians may have found an answer to the longstanding puzzle as to why we have evolved to cooperate. An international team of researchers, publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that altruism is favoured by random fluctuations in nature, offering an explanation to the mystery as to why this seemingly disadvantageous trait has evolved. The researchers, from the Universities of Bath, Manchester and Princeton (USA), developed a mathematical model to predict the path of evolution when altruistic “cooperators” live alongside “cheats” who use up resources but do not themselves contribute.

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This Species Of Brazilian Monkey Has Been Using Stones As Tools For 700 Years

capuchin_Ma_Jose_PaniaguaBreaking into a cashew nut can be difficult; but not if you’re a monkey. Primates in Brazil are well honed in using stones to break into the nuts and new research suggests they have been doing so for more than 700 years. Archaeologists have discovered that more than 100 generations of capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus) have used stones as hammers and anvils to get into hard foods, with younger monkeys learning from their elders. “We have new evidence that suggests monkeys and other primates out of Africa were also using tools for hundreds, possibly thousands of years,” said Michael Haslam a research fellow at Oxford’s Primate Archeology Group and leader of the study. Before the findings, according to the academic, the “only archaeological record of pre-modern, non-human animal tool use” came from three different chimpanzee sites in Africa.

As a result of the most recent study, Haslam said it may provide some knowledge about how human behaviour may have been influenced by monkeys.

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Genetics Of Type 2 Diabetes Revealed In Unprecedented Detail

DNAA comprehensive investigation of the underlying genetic architecture of type 2 diabetes has unveiled the most detailed look at the genetic differences that heighten a person’s risk for disease development. The findings, published today in the journal Nature by an international team of more than 300 scientists led by the University of Oxford, the Broad Institute, and the University of Michigan, reveal the complexity of the disease in more detail than previously appreciated, but also identify several promising targets for new treatments. Using DNA sequencing in more than 120,000 people with ancestral origins in Europe, South and East Asia, the Americas and Africa, the authors, including Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health and head of the Molecular Genetics Section at the National Human Genome Research Institute, evaluated the genome at a greater level of detail than had been previously attempted for type 2 diabetes. Some individuals had their entire genome sequenced while for others the researchers focused on the part of the genome that codes directly for proteins, known as the exome. The researchers then compared the genetic changes between affected and healthy participants. The findings suggest that most of the genetic risk of type 2 diabetes can be attributed to common, shared genetic variants – each contributing a small amount to an individual’s risk of the disease – rather than many rare variants unique to individuals. This resolves a question about the genetics of type 2 diabetes that has puzzled researchers for decades.

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Robot Helps Study How First Land Animals Moved 360 Million Years Ago

mudskipper10When early terrestrial animals began moving about on mud and sand 360 million years ago, the powerful tails they used as fish may have been more important than scientists previously realized. That’s one conclusion from a new study of African mudskipper fish and a robot modeled on the animal. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and the Army Research Laboratory, the project involved a multidisciplinary team of physicists, biologists and roboticists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Clemson University and Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to a detailed study of the mudskipper and development of a robot model that used the animal’s locomotion techniques, the study also examined flow and drag conditions in representative granular materials, and applied a mathematical model incorporating new physics based on the drag research. Information from the study could help in the design of robots that may need to move on surfaces such as sand that flows around limbs, said Goldman. Such flow of the substrate can impede motion, depending on the shape of the appendage entering the sand and the type of motion. But the study’s most significant impact may be to provide new insights into how vertebrates made the transition from water to land.

“We want to ultimately know how natural selection can act to modify structures already present in organisms to allow for locomotion in a fundamentally different environment,” Goldman said. “Swimming and walking on land are fundamentally different, yet these early animals had to make the transition.”

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Linguists Team Up With Primatologists to Crack the Meaning of Monkey Calls

Titi monkey (credits: Cristiane Cäsar)It has long been known that monkeys convey information through alarm calls, but now a combined team of linguists and primatologists has laid the groundwork for a systematic ‘primate linguistics.’ In a series of five articles published in multiple linguistics journals, the authors have brought the general methods of contemporary linguistics to bear on monkey morphology (pertaining to the structure of calls), syntax (how the calls are put together into sequences), and semantics (what calls and call sequences mean), building on several earlier studies conducted within primatology.

The authors insist that monkey languages should be analyzed on their own terms, without arbitrarily importing concepts from human language – and in most cases they assign a simple meaning and structure to them. But one tool of contemporary linguistics, called ‘implicatures,’ has proven illuminating.

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UW-Madison Zika Research in Monkeys Could Inform Outbreak in People

zika 1Monkeys infected with Zika virus are protected from future infection, and pregnancy dramatically prolongs infection in monkeys, findings that could help in fighting the virus in people, UW-Madison researchers said Tuesday. Scientists on campus have infected 13 rhesus macaque monkeys with Zika, a virus that has caused an outbreak involving severe birth defects such as brain damage in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UW-Madison scientists, in publishing the first findings of their study in the journal Nature Communications, said six monkeys injected with the virus twice, 10 weeks apart, became infected the first time but not the second time. That is apparently because their immune systems, trained by the first infection, warded off the subsequent challenge. “We found complete protection,” said Dawn Dudley, an associate scientist at the university and first author of the study. “This is a key finding because it means a vaccine could be quite effective against the virus.”

The researchers plan to study whether infection with dengue virus, carried by the same mosquitoes that harbor Zika, increases susceptibility to Zika or vice versa, O’Connor said. They also may look closer at how much the level of virus in a mother’s blood is related to the severity of damage to the fetus. It could be that drugs or a vaccine during pregnancy might minimize birth defects.

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2016 | Erik Gjesfjeld, Christopher Kelty, Michael Alfaro, et al – Competition and extinction explain the evolution of diversity in American automobiles

ISG postdoctoral fellow, Erik Gjesfjed, and ISG faculty, Christopher Kelty and Michael Alfaro, have published a paper titled “Competition and extinction explain the evolution of diversity in American automobiles,” with Palgrave Communications, 2016

ABSTRACT:
One of the most remarkable aspects of our species is that while we show surprisingly little genetic diversity, we demonstrate astonishing amounts of cultural diversity. Perhaps most impressive is the diversity of our technologies, broadly defined as all the physical objects we produce and the skills we use to produce them. Despite considerable focus on the evolution of technology by social scientists and philosophers, there have been few attempts to systematically quantify technological diversity, and therefore the dynamics of technological change remain poorly understood. Here we show a novel Bayesian model for examining technological diversification adopted from palaeontological analysis of occurrence data. We use this framework to estimate the tempo of diversification in American car and truck models produced between 1896 and 2014, and to test the relative importance of competition and extrinsic factors in shaping changes in macro-evolutionary rates. Our results identify a four-fold decrease in the origination and extinction rates of car models, and a negative net diversification rate over the last 30 years. We also demonstrate that competition played a more significant role in car model diversification than either changes in oil prices or gross domestic product. Together our analyses provide a set of tools that can enhance current research on technological and cultural evolution by providing a flexible and quantitative framework for exploring the dynamics of diversification.

When Under Attack, These Frogs Hatch Themselves

Frog, Red Eyed, Tree, Amphibian, Tropical, MacroIt’s a good thing for frog embryos to be able to hatch early. Suppose there’s a drought or some other environmental change that means the growing tadpoles would be better off in the water than in the egg. The timing of hatching is subject to cues from the environment for many species, but even among these flexible hatchers the red-eyed treefrog stands out. It can escape its egg in seconds if threatened by a predator. Dr. Warkentin and Kristina L. Cohen, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Warkentin’s lab, and Marc. A. Seid, a biologist at the University of Scranton, conducted a number of tests on embryos to determine how they manage early hatching. They published their results in The Journal of Experimental Biology. Dr. Warkentin said she didn’t know of other frogs with that speed of hatching, and that it was extraordinary to think that an embryo could have this defensive ability. “It can save its own life,” she said.

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