New species of orangutan discovered

 

An adult male Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru Forest (Photo from National Geographic).

Far from being the Fosseys and Goodalls of this world, both leading primatologists, the discovery of a new species of orangutan, however, brings excitement to ordinary people, like me, who loves and gets immensely entertained by this kind-looking, playful and intelligent variety among the primates, who generally are considered one of humankind’s closest relatives.

Orangutans long were considered a single species, but were recognized as having two species in 1996, one in Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and one in Borneo ((Pongo pygmaeus).

(Photo by National Geographic)

The new species, called Pongo tapanuliensis, is found in the isolated Batang Toru forest in Sumatra, Indonesia. And it’s estimated that there are fewer than 800 of these shaggy reddish tree dwellers left, making it very vulnerable to extinction. It makes the new species also the rarest great ape on Earth. Note that the Sumatran (estimated 14,000) and Bornean (estimated 55,000) have both been declared as critically endangered.

Although the Tapanuli orangutans were thought to belong to the species Pongo abelii, also known as the Sumatran orangutan, scientists discovered that the new species is more closely related to its cousins in Borneo than to its fellow Sumatran apes.

But according to scientists there had been a few hints in their observation that the so-called Tapanuli orangutans were different. Previous research showed that this population of orangutans behaved differently than other orangutans and had some genetic differences. But it wasn’t clear whether those differences were enough to name a new species, thus, it continued to be identified as belonging to the Sumatran orangutan.

The tell tale signs of significant difference later came when researchers got access to the skeleton of an orangutan found in the Tapanuli region. The orangutan, named Raya, had died after being harassed and injured by people, according to National Geographic. A comparison between Raya’s skull and teeth and those of 33 other adult male orangutans revealed that there were enough differences to grant a new species designation.

Orangutan means “person of the forest” in the Indonesian and Malay languages, and it is the world’s biggest arboreal mammal. Orangutans are adapted to living in trees, with their arms longer than their legs. They live more solitary lives than other great apes, sleeping and eating fruit in the forest canopy and swinging from branch to branch.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to describe a new great ape species in this day and age,” said University of Zurich evolutionary geneticist Michael Krützen, adding that most great apes species are listed as endangered or critically endangered.

“We must do everything possible to protect the habitats in which these magnificent animals occur, not only because of them, but also because of all the other animal and plant species that we can protect at the same time.”

Matthew Nowak, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, echoed the same sentiment, saying, that “In addition to threats like hunting by humans, significant areas of the Tapanuli orangutan’s range are seriously threatened by habitat conversion for small-scale agriculture, mining exploration and exploitation, a large-scale hydroelectric scheme, geothermal development and agricultural plantations.”

Talking about collateral damage!

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High hopes for the visually impaired

 

Like bats that use sound waves and echoes – a technique called echolocation – to capture prey and find food, a visually impaired person may soon find its way easily and safely by practically using the same technique as additional aid methods like the cane and walking dogs.

To echolocate, bats send out sound waves from their mouth or nose. When the sound waves hit an object they produce echoes. The echo bounces off the object and returns to the bat’s ears.

The active use of sonar (SOund Navigation And Ranging), which actually is the essence of echolocation, along with special morphological (physical features) and physiological adaptations – allows bats to “see” with sound.

Ars Technica, a website covering news and opinions in technology, science, politics and society, was quoted in an article in Newser, saying that a man who recently lost his vision has a new device, a wristband, which lets the visually impaired navigate via sonar, and could be “the Fitbit for the blind.”

He wristband, called Sunu Band, is a devise that emits a high-frequency sound wave that bounces off objects and back to the hand, where it is translated into vibration.

Fernando Albertorio, one of the co-creators of Sunu, said that one of his friends call the devise his “sixth sense.”

Albertorio, who is legally blind, has used the wristband to avoid objects while walking, find doorways, identity crosswalk buttons, and even run a 5K race. He says the “feeling of independence” is “amazing.”

The Sunu team hopes their invention changes how the visually impaired live. Albertorio says people who are blind can be afraid to go outside, but not only will Sunu help them move about safely it allows the visually impaired to “blend in and be part of their community,” unlike a traditional cane.

 

The unique goats of Morocco

 

Morocco’s treetop grazing goats.

I thought I already saw the most extraordinary breed of goat in the mountain goat, also known as the Rocky Mountain goat that is endemic to North America, when it is climbing up and down steep, rocky slopes with pitches exceeding 60 degrees, what with the tip of its feet having dewclaws that keep it from slipping.

Like our local, domestic goats, mountain goats are also herbivores and spend most of their time grazing. Their diets include grasses, herbs, sedges, ferns, mosses, lichens, and twigs and leaves from the low-growing shrubs and conifers of their high-altitude habitat.

But it looks like Morocco breeds the weirdest domesticated goats as far as I know now.

Domesticated goats in the region are unusually fond of climbing to the precarious tops of argan trees to find fresh forage because there is nothing much to eat on the ground.

Argan is popular for the beauty products which feature in argan oil, made from the tree’s nuts.

In some arid habitats, such as argan forests, most green vegetation is at the tops of the trees – which can grow 10 meters high.

Local goatherds are known to encourage the activity, pruning the bushy, thorny trees to make it easier for goats to ascend them, and even helping the goats’ kids to learn how to climb.

During the bare autumn season in the region, goats can spend three quarters of their foraging time “treetop grazing” in the argan trees.

In reality Moroccan goats are causing a paradox in the region.

While the foraging animals may cause to produce less tree nuts because of their fondness for the argan fruit, the fact, however, that they don’t like the large argan seeds and, like cows, sheep and deer, the goats re-chew their food after fermenting it for a while in a specialized stomach, and while ruminating over their cud, the goats have been observed spitting out the argan nuts.

Since it is tough for argan trees to thrive in the semi-desert Sous valley region of southern Morocco, the act therefore of spitting out the nuts means the goats are delivering clean seeds to new ground wherever the animals wander.

Interesting!

The case of the shoelaces getting undone

 

You probably have experienced and been puzzled, one time or another, why after lacing your shoes it loosens up and gets undone when walking or running.

Apparently, a detailed study was made about this phenomenon by engineering researchers and they found out that there are separate forces that act on the knot and on the laces which causes them to unravel when in motion.

Accordingly, the researchers used a slow motion camera filming a person running on a treadmill to figure out how it could happen.

What they discovered was that the running foot exerts a force seven times greater when landing on the ground than the one exerted while standing, forcing the knot tying the laces to stretch and relax, loosening it slightly.

At the same time, they also found out that as the knot loosens, the swinging of the laces that occurs as the leg moves forwards and backwards causes an inertial force to be applied on the free ends of the laces, pulling the already-loosened knot apart.

The researchers have been able to observe, saying, “The forces that cause this are not from a person pulling on the free end but from the inertial forces of the leg swinging back and forth while the knot is loosened from the shoe repeatedly striking the ground.”

Adding weights to the loose ends of a swinging laces showed that they untied themselves more often, as the inertial forces on their ends were greater.

The study also found that, while some laces might be better than others for tying knots, they all suffered from the same fundamental cause of knot failure.

The study and findings finally answers the mystery that many have been silently asking themselves of why shoelaces come undone even as they think it was tightly knotted.

New human organ discovered

 

mesenteryAs if the human body is not full of it already, another organ has been newly added to the list.

Not that this new organ, a mighty membrane that twists and turns through the guts called the mesentery by researchers led by J. Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick in Ireland, has been seen present in the digestive system only recently.

No, it has been there, but all along they thought of it as an insignificant fragmented and disparate structure that connects the intestine to the abdomen until they discovered that it is one continuous and complex organ.

According to the research the mesentery is a fold of tissue which generally attaches the intestines to the abdomen. The word, which is often used to refer to the small bowel tissue, acts as the bridge where the blood vessels, lymphatics, and nerves pass through the intestine. Other mesenteries, on the other hand, support the other organs of the digestive system, such as the colon and the appendix.

Now that the mesentery is classified as an organ, researchers hope that they will be able to understand its function more which will lead to a diagnosis of a more specific type of disease. This could also lead to a new field in science and medicine called mesenteric science.

The discovery has been published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

For better appreciation of the newly discovered organ, I am posting a video on the subject that is clearly explained in lay man’s term.

Head transplant getting closer to reality

 

Valery Spiridonov

Valery Spiridonov

On April 10 2015 I blogged about Head Transplant Surgery which you could read at this link: (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/head-transplant-surgery/).

It looks like the time table the intrepid surgeon, Sergio Canavero, envisioned is going to materialize on time, which is in 2017.

If this is not going to the mother of all transplants, I do not know what is.

Valery Spiridonov, the Russian man with a genetic muscle-wasting disease will still be Canavero’s first patient.

One could immediately notice the difference between Spiridonov’s physique in his latest photo compared to the one I posted in 2015.  One could tell indeed that time is of the essence for this equally courageous volunteer who expects to see himself in another man’s body.

But before the unprecedented operation is to be done, Spiridonov will go through a virtual reality system, which Canavero described as “prepar(ing) the patient in the best possible way for a new world that he will be facing with his new body – a world in which he will be able to walk again”. This is in partnership with US firm Inventum Bioengineering Technologies which created the virtual reality world that it says will help train patients such as Spiridonov.

The knife to be used in the transplant.

The knife to be used in the transplant.

Canavero also displayed the knife that will be used for the head transplant – a custom-made blade that can control cuts to a micrometer (one millionth of a meter) to allow the precision required to cut the spinal cord.

He said that the knife, developed by an American professor, will allow a “clear cut of the spinal cord with a minimal impact on the nerves”.

Dr. Sergio Canavero

Dr. Sergio Canavero

Canavero is aware that many are still skeptical of his impending bizarre operation, calling it Frankenstein surgery, but he has only this to say: : “To all the critics I say go and see what happens when you’re affected by a wasting disorder…trade places with (Mr Spiridonov) and then you tell me.”

Am sure the whole world will be anxiously watching this milestone and we can only wish both Canavero and Spiridonov good luck and Godspeed!

 

Cloud now a factor in global warming

 

Cloud_Feedback_1024This is one scientific study that has got to be shared as it is now a serious problem that is impacting people’s lives.

Led by researchers at Yale University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory whose study was published in the journal Science, it warned that global warming could make the planet far hotter than currently projected because today’s scientific models do not correctly account for the influence of clouds.

According to the study, when climate scientists look ahead to how much the planet’s surface temperature may warm up in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide — a byproduct of fossil fuel burning — they typically predict a rise of between 2.1 and 4.7 degrees Celsius (3.75 to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Apparently these models overestimated the ability of clouds to reflect back sunlight and counteract warming in Earth’s atmosphere.

“We found that the climate sensitivity increased from four degrees Celsius in the default model to five to 5.3 degrees Celsius in versions that were modified to bring liquid and ice amounts into closer agreement with observations,” said lead author Ivy Tan, a researcher at Yale University.

The following are further observations and comments of the researchers in their study:

The problem is most models assume there is more ice in clouds than there actually is.

Icier clouds would gain more liquid in a warming environment, and more liquid in clouds would mean less global warming.

“Most climate models are a little too eager to glaciate below freezing, so they are likely exaggerating the increase in cloud reflectivity as the atmosphere warms,” said co-author Mark Zelinka.

“This means they may be systematically underestimating how much warming will occur in response to carbon dioxide.”

Researchers said their findings add to previous studies that have suggested clouds may make warming worse, rather than lessen it.

“The evidence is piling up against an overall stabilizing cloud feedback,” said Zelinka.

“Clouds do not seem to want to do us any favors when it comes to limiting global warming.”

Does this mean that there will be a greater adverse effects on the weather condition all over because the world we live in is now going to be hotter than previously charted?

Just asking.