Monday, March 21, 2011

Gorilla Born In Louisville Dies At Columbus Zoo

The one-year-old gorilla Misha (Mee-sha), who was born at the Louisville Zoo, died today at the Columbus Zoo.

Misha had been in intensive care since the staff noticed flu-like symptoms on March 3. Exploratory surgery on March 16 revealed she had a perforated bowl; probably due to an intestinal infection. Although the problem was repaired Thursday, Misha died a few hours after surgery.

Misha was born in Louisville on February 6, 2010; but a fight between other gorillas resulted in the loss of part of her left leg. She was moved to Columbus shortly afterwards. Zoo officials said at the time Misha would receive the best care at the Columbus Zoo.

Full story here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Study: How Human Evolution Caused Us To Lose Our Spiny Penises

Some defining human traits -- a penis bereft of the stiff sensory hairs common to many male mammals, a bulging brain -- come less from new genes than genetic material lost through evolution, according to a study published Thursday.

The findings suggest a new way of thinking about what sets Homo sapiens sapiens, or modern man, apart from our close evolutionary cousins, especially the chimpanzee, whose DNA overlaps with ours by 97 percent, the authors said.

Most research on this question has looked for what is genetically novel in humans, and focused on the genes themselves rather than the regulatory mechanisms that drive them.

"But we asked, 'are there functional, highly-conserved genetic elements in the chimpanzee genome that are completely missing in humans?'," said Gill Bejerano, an assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-leader of the study.

More than 500 these deeply-rooted clutches of DNA found in chimps and their evolutionary forebear, going back millions of years, are entirely absent from human genome, the researchers found.

Most are also missing in Neanderthals, which means they dropped out the pathway leading to our species at least 500,000 years ago, before the evolutionary split with our doomed, cave-dwelling cousins.

Losing bits of regulatory DNA -- but not the genes they control -- means that the related changes in anatomy and behaviour are likely to be subtle.

But these blank spots can eventually lead to new traits, and even new species, Bejerano said.

"The current study not only identifies an intriguing list of deletions in humans, it also linked them with specific anatomical changes that are unique to the human lineage," he explained in a statement.

The study uncovered two main categories of transformation. The first affects how brain cells signal the presence of steroid hormones such as testosterone.

Which brings us to the human penis.

One bit of the missing bits of DNA drives a sex hormone responsible for the growth of sensory hairs, called vibrissae, and surface spines found on the penises of many mammals, including big apes.

The loss of these structures in humans decreases tactile sensitivity, but increases the duration of intercourse, arguably a trade-off when it comes to its impact on gratification.

Full story here.

Humans Age At Same Pace As Other Primates, Study Finds

With our clothing, high-rises, technology and more, we humans would seem to be animal kingdom outsiders, existing outside the norm. But despite all our advances, it turns out we age and die at the same rate as other primates.

The finding, published in the latest issue of Science, shows how strong our ties to chimpanzees, gorillas and other primates is and counters the long-held belief that, with our relatively long life spans and access to modern medicine, we age more slowly than other animals.

"We are making a conceptual point that humans are really very much more similar in their aging patterns to other primates than anyone had suspected before," co-author Susan Alberts, a professor of biology at Duke University, told Discovery News.

"Humans have been a bit of an enigma," added project leader Anne Bronikowski. "We live much longer than would be expected based on our body sizes, our morphology, our maturation rates, and our reproduction rates. When comparisons have been made between humans versus lab or domestic animals (such as horses, dogs, rats and mice) humans have had slower rates of aging than these other species."

But no one until now had previously brought together detailed datasets on aging and mortality for multiple wild-living primates, and compared those to data on humans.

Full story here.

Vandals Break Into Zoo, Leave Dead Monkey Behind

A small monkey was found dead at a North Texas zoo following a break-in by vandals over the weekend.

Gainesville police spokesman Sgt. Belva McClinton said Tuesday that authorities don’t know what caused the death of the cotton-top tamarin at Frank Buck Zoo.

She says police have identified three juvenile suspects in the vandalism, but are still investigating and have made no arrests. The intruders broke in sometime after closing Friday at the zoo about 70 miles north of Dallas.

Zoo director Susan Kleven tells the Gainesville Daily Register that the vandalism included oil poured on all-terrain vehicles, a discharged fire extinguisher and damage to some exhibits. She says a turkey vulture had broken feathers.

Kleven says a necropsy will determine the monkey’s cause of death.

Full story here.

Woman Goes To Court With A Monkey In Her Bra

Babies need constant attention - especially when they're monkeys. That's probably why a Virginia woman went to court with an infant monkey stuffed in her bra.

The woman showed up for a hearing Thursday at a rural Virginia courthouse with the marmoset concealed in her mammaries.

The woman brought along the palm-sized marmoset to a proceeding in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Amherst County, Va. Apparently, officials actually didn't notice the clinging creature until the woman went to an office to do some paperwork.

"I can't understand why the deputy didn't see her - she was peeking out," the woman told The Lynchburg News & Advance.

When the woman referred to a daughter, a puzzled official asked where the daughter was and the woman pulled the monkey out of her bra, the newspaper reported.

In an interview with the newspaper, the woman said the marmoset, named Cara, is 7 weeks old and requires constant attention.

"When you first get them, they're just like a preemie," the woman told the paper. "She's just like a baby, she's starting to teethe. I mean, caring for them is just like caring for a human."

The woman said she bought the animal on an online auction site and had its clothes specially made. Little Cara wore a pink and white dress on her day in court.

Full story here.