Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monkeys Test Robotic Mind-Controlled Sleeves

Monkeys moved thought-controlled computer cursors more quickly and accurately when provided with additional sensory feedback, according to a new study in the Dec. 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. While most brain-machine technologies rely only on visual feedback, this study demonstrated that these systems can be improved when users have additional input, such as a sense of the arm's position and motion, a sensation known as proprioception.

With the aid of brain-controlled devices, paralyzed people have been able to send e-mail, play video games, and operate robotic arms. In this study, researchers led by Nicholas Hatsopoulos, PhD, of the University of Chicago, aimed to help further develop such machines for people who may still experience feeling in paralyzed limbs, including many patients with spinal cord injury and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

"Organisms use multiple senses, including sight and touch, as feedback to adjust motor behavior," Hatsopoulos said. "The ability to feel movements of the limbs and body is critical for normal motor control. Loss of this sense results in movements that are slow, poorly coordinated, and require great concentration."

The authors worked with two adult rhesus macaques to assess a system that incorporates a sense of movement. Each monkey was first trained to control a cursor using brain signals only; electrodes collected and processed data from the monkeys' motor cortex cells and transmitted those commands to the computer. Basic science research has shown that simply thinking about a motion activates brain cells in the same way that making the movement does, so each monkey needed to only think about moving a cursor to do it.

The researchers equipped each animal with a robotic "sleeve" that fit over an arm. In the first part of the experiment, the monkeys controlled the cursor by simply looking at the computer screen. In the second part, the robotic device moved the monkey's relaxed arm in tandem with the cursor movement, so the monkey could sense the cursor's motion in time and space. The authors found when the monkeys had the extra sensation, the cursor hit the target faster and more directly. The results also showed increased movement-related information in the activity of motor cortex cells, compared with visual-only feedback.

Full story here.

NASA Halts Monkey Irradiation Experiments

A proposed experiment that involves exposing tiny squirrel monkeys to blasts of potent radiation at a NASA-run facility on the campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory has been halted, according to space agency officials.

The experiment, designed by a Harvard-affiliated researcher, has been embroiled in a storm of controversy for more than a year. It has included a letter-writing campaign by schoolchildren eager to save the monkeys, and protests led by animal-rights activists who dressed in monkey suits and carried placards outside the lab.

Dr. Jack Bergman, a behavioral pharmacologist at McClean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., proposed exposing squirrel monkeys to high-energy radiation in a $1.75-million NASA-funded project. The object was to determine how effects on the animals' brains might suggest how people would fare during a deep-space voyage to Mars.

NASA operates the Space Radiation Laboratory, one of several major research facilities at Brookhaven. The NASA-run lab is the only center nationwide capable of producing the high-energy ions and protons that mimic the supercharged radiation environment pervading deep space.

"We were told we should remove [the experiment] from consideration . . . at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory," Peter Genzer, a spokesman for Brookhaven, said Tuesday.

Michael Braukus, a spokesman for NASA, said the space agency is re-evaluating a wide range of experiments. "The reality is the decision regarding the primate experiment is deferred until we conduct a comprehensive review of our current research and technology development plans."

Full story here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Monkey Day 2010!

Yes, it is that time of year again, December 14th, Monkey Day!  So, to help you celebrate your Monkey Day in style, we decided to gather up the very best news stories of the past year. Without further ado, I bring you (our favorite) top 10 Monkey and Primate News stories of 2010:

kung fu monkey

10)  Kung Fu Monkey

Based on the source of this story, this is obviously a street performer exploiting his domesticated monkeys.  We do not approve of it, but we also cannot help but include it based simply on the awesomeness of picture above.

9)  La Toya Jackson and Bubbles

Earlier this year, the world lost a once great performer, and his sister decided to remember him by visiting his old pet chimp, Bubbles.  But the real story is not in Latoya's bizzare interaction with Bubbles, but in the revelation that Michael had spent money researching throat surgery for Bubbles to allow him to speak.  If only Michael, if only...

8)  Report Of Loose Baboon In Missouri Is Hoax 

We don't care that this story was a hoax, watch the video above and you will understand why.  Frankly, with this woman's incredible knowledge of baboon calls and food traps, we are surprised that Missouri isn't overrun by baboons flocking to her mesmerizing mating call and to snack on discarded Cheetos and popcorn.

7)  Tampa's Mystery Monkey

A loose monkey in Tampa was catapulted to fame when he managed to elude his would be captors, even after being hit twice with tranquilizer darts.  Random spottings began to pop up, and he quickly gained support from the public, as of today his Facebook page has over 80,000 fans.  Sightings have dwindled off, but to our knowledge he has yet to be caught.

6)  'Never Slaughter A Chicken In Front Of A Monkey' 

Li Chun learned a hard bit of monkey lore when he adopted a one-legged monkey into his family.  Nursed back to health, the monkey began copying everything he did, including cracking eggs and slaughtering chickens.  80 chickens later, lesson learned.

5)  Extinct Chimp Virus Revived For Studies

As if this story wasn't already crazy enough, scarily this second story came out the same day.  Wasn't Morgan Freeman in this movie?

4)  Escaped Ape Attacks Kansas City Police Car
Anybody who is wondering if it might be a good idea to get a chimp as a pet, just watch the video above and think about how much effort it took to smash in the car window.

3)  Japanese Team Say Stem Cells Helped Paralyzed Monkey Jump Again

Japanese researchers claim they have used stem cells to restore partial mobility in a small monkey that had been paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury.  No snarky remarks, this is just incredible news.

2)  Taliban Training Monkey Terrorists?

I am certain there is not a single nugget of truth to this story, but the fact that CNN actually covered it, makes it all worth it.

1)  Mandrill Cannot Help Showing "The Finger" To Visitors

We here at Monkey News are simple folk, some times it's the little things that bring us the greatest joy.  Happy Monkey Day everyone!


Monday, December 13, 2010

New Head-Bobbing Lemur Discovered in Madagascar

A new long-tongued, squirrel-sized species of lemur has been discovered in Madagascar, researchers report today (Dec. 13).

The new creature doesn't have a species name yet, but is of the genus Phaner, otherwise known as fork-marked lemurs. These lemurs get their name from a black, Y-shaped line that starts above each eye and joins at the top of the head. The long-tongued species has a unique head-bobbing move that showed up in the flashlight beam as discoverers searched the treetops for a glimpse of the animal.

Conservation International president and primate expert Russ Mittermeier first spotted the lemur in 1995 during an expedition to northeastern Madagascar. He knew that his find was likely an unknown species, but he wasn't able to follow up until October 2010, when he led scientists and a BBC film crew into the area.

The team set out just after sunset when the Phaner are most vocal and heard one calling close to camp at the top of a tree. The Phaner was difficult to catch as it moved quickly through the treetops, so the team ran through the dense forest following the calls. Eventually, they caught sight of the animal in torchlight but had to wait until it moved into an open area to get a clean shot with a tranquilizer gun. Once a dart had found its target, one of the trackers quickly shimmied up the tree to retrieve it.

The adult male lemur was kept safe and sedated overnight so the team could examine it in detail and take samples in daylight. The researchers took blood samples for genetic analysis and slipped a microchip under its skin for identification and monitoring. Then they returned the lemur to the forest.

The animal has large hands and feet for gripping trees, and a long tongue for slurping up its diet of nectar. The new lemur also boasts specialized teeth for scraping bark off trees to get to the sweet gum beneath.

Full story here.

Himachal Farmers Kill Monkeys To Save Crops

Ignoring criticism by animal lovers, farmers in Himachal Pradesh have killed over 50 monkeys in the past two days to save their crops, a member of a peasants' group said Sunday.

The Kheti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (KBSS), a farmers' outfit that took the initiative to motivate farmers take up guns against wild animals, said that 'Operation Monkey' would continue despite criticism from animal protection groups.

'Since the start of drive (Dec 10) against the menace of wild animals, especially the monkeys, we have reports that the farmers across the state have shot dead more than 50 monkeys,' KBSS state convenor Kuldeep Singh Tanwar told IANS.

He said the monkeys were mainly killed in Shimla, Sirmaur and Hamirpur districts.

Contrary to Tanwar's claims, state Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati said: 'We have reports that only one or two monkeys have been shot dead in the past few days.'

'It's a routine killing as the government authorised the farmers to selectively kill monkeys, wild boars and blue bulls in case they are destroying their crops,' he said.

He said any farmer in the state could get the permission from the wildlife department to kill animals threatening the crop.

Full story here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Twins Born To Rare Primates At Philadelphia Zoo

Two baby primate twins made their first public appearance on Thursday morning at the Philadelphia Zoo.

The little pied tamarins were born on November 3rd to mom Twiggy and dad Socks. They also join a brother and sister in the family at the Rare Animal Conservation Center.

The Zoo says the twins have white fur on their head and cheeks that will fade by adulthood.

So far, their sex is unknown and they have not yet been named.

For now, both babies do a lot of hanging around, riding of everyone's backs. That routine, however, will soon change!

In about a month from now, the babies will start to act more independent and more adolescent. One of their favorite activities will be cutting in line, so to speak, to get their food.

"They'll start to steal food from the adults and, once they do that, they'll begin their training program with the keepers as well," said Anna Halko-Angemi of the Philadelphia Zoo.

Full story here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Japan Team Say Stem Cells Helped Paralyzed Monkey Jump Again

Japanese researchers said Wednesday they had used stem cells to restore partial mobility in a small monkey that had been paralysed from the neck down by a spinal injury.

"It is the world's first case in which a small-size primate recovered from a spinal injury using stem cells," professor Hideyuki Okano of Tokyo's Keio University told AFP.

Okano's research team, which earlier helped a mouse recover its mobility in a similar treatment, injected so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a paralysed marmoset, he said.

The team planted four types of genes into human skin cells to create the iPS cells, according to Kyodo News.

The injection was given on the ninth day after the injury, considered the most effective timing, and the monkey started to move its limbs again within two to three weeks, Okano said.

"After six weeks, the animal had recovered to the level where it was jumping around," he told AFP. "It was very close to the normal level."

"Its gripping strength on the forefeet also recovered to up to 80 percent."

Okano called the research project a major stride to pave the way for a similar medical technique to be used on humans.

Full story here.

Endangered Mountain Gorilla Population On The Rise

The population of mountain gorillas in their main central African habitat has increased by a quarter in seven years, regional authorities said Tuesday.

Most of the world's mountain gorillas are found in the Virunga massif, which includes three contiguous national parks in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

The population of the iconic but endangered animal in that area increased from 380 individuals in 2003 to 480, according to a census carried out earlier this year and funded by a number of local and foreign wildlife organisations.

"The increase in mountain gorilla numbers is a testament that we in the Virunga massif are all reaping from the conservation efforts sowed on a daily basis," Rica Rwigamba, from the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement.

Full story here.

Melbourne Zoo Welcomes Baby Orangutan

Melbourne Zoo has welcomed another baby to its fold with the birth of a critically endangered Sumatran orang-utan this week.

Second-time mum Maimunah delivered the female just before midnight on Monday, the zoo announced today.

Curator of exotic animals Jan Steele said keepers observed the birth and had since maintained a 24-hour watch over the pair.
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The baby was quite large and Maimunah would need some time to recover, she said.

"We are watching Mai very carefully," Ms Steele said.

"At present she is looking uncomfortable and doesn't want to move, even for her favourite treat, mango. "She needs her rest right now, so she won't be taking the baby out into public view as yet."

Full story here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Primates Are More Resilient To Environmental Ups And Downs

What sets mankind's closest relatives — monkeys, apes, and other primates — apart from other animals? According to a new study, one answer is that primates are less susceptible to the seasonal ups and downs — particularly rainfall— that take their toll on other animals. The findings may also help explain the evolutionary success of early humans, scientists say.

The study appeared online in the November 30 issue of American Naturalist.

"Wild animals deal with a world that's unpredictable from year to year," said study lead author Bill Morris, a biologist at Duke University. "The weather can change a lot; there can be years with plenty of food and years of famine," he explained.

To find out how well primates cope with this unpredictability compared with other animals, researchers working at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham, N.C. analyzed decades of birth and survival data for seven species of wild primates: muriqui monkeys and capuchin monkeys in Central and South America, yellow baboons, blue monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa, and sifakas (lemurs) in Madagascar.

Collecting this data was no small effort. Nearly every day for more than 25 years, seven research teams working around the world have monitored the births, lives, and deaths of thousands of individual primates.

Full story here.

San Francisco Gorilla Gets Gastro Surgery

An unusual medical procedure took place at the San Francisco Zoo this week - the patient was a gorilla.

Zura, 29, was having gastrointestinal problems, so doctors did an endoscopy to see what was wrong.

Part of the problem could be that Zura likes to taste anything she can get her hands on -- including cups, purses, and even cellular phones.

Once doctors get results of the endoscopy, they can figure out how to treat Zura.

Full story here.