Prehistoric giant Gigantopithecus apes were orangutan relatives


This 2017 video says about itself:

What Happened to the World’s Greatest Ape?

Probably twice the size of a modern gorilla, Gigantopithecus is the greatest great-ape that ever was. And for us fellow primates, there are some lessons to be learned in how it lived, and why it disappeared.

By Bruce Bower, 13 November 2019:

A tooth fossil shows Gigantopithecus’ close ties to modern orangutans

Proteins help clarify how the giant ancient ape evolved

An ancient ape that was larger than a full-grown male gorilla has now revealed molecular clues to its evolutionary roots.

Proteins extracted from a roughly 1.9-million-year-old tooth of the aptly named Gigantopithecus blacki peg it as a close relative of modern orangutans and their direct ancestors, say bioarchaeologist Frido Welker of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues.

Protein comparisons among living and fossil apes suggest that Gigantopithecus and orangutan forerunners diverged from a common ancestor between around 10 million and 12 million years ago, Welker’s group reports November 13 in Nature.

Since it was first described in 1935, based on a molar purchased from a traditional Chinese drugstore in Hong Kong, G. blacki has stimulated debate over its evolutionary links to other ancient apes. Almost 2,000 isolated teeth and four partial jaws of G. blacki have since been found in southern China and nearby parts of Southeast Asia. G. blacki fossils date from around 2 million to almost 300,000 years ago. The sizes of individual teeth and jaws indicate that G. blacki weighed between 200 and 300 kilograms.

Proteins preserve better in teeth and bones than DNA does, but both molecular forms break down quickly in hot, humid settings. “We were surprised to find any proteins this old at all, especially in a fossil from a subtropical environment,” Welker says. Proteins consisting of chains of amino acids can be used to sort out living and fossil species of various animals, including hominids (SN: 5/1/19).

Researchers generally regard G. blacki as an orangutan relative that evolved to live in forests and eat fruits, leaves, stems and possibly tubers. But that assumption has rested on thin evidence, says biological anthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University.

“This new [protein] analysis provides the first compelling evidence that Gigantopithecus was more closely related to the orangutan than to any other ape,” Harrison says.

Welker’s team retrieved amino acid sequences from six proteins in a G. blacki molar previously found in southern China’s Chuifeng Cave. Five of those proteins are commonly found in living chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and humans, enabling comparisons of accumulated differences in the amino acid arrangements between G. blacki and those five present-day primates. Orangutans displayed the fewest protein disparities with G. blacki, signaling a particularly close evolutionary link between living red apes and the ancient Asian ape. Using those protein comparisons, the age of the G. blacki tooth and previous estimates of when various living apes diverged from common ancestors, Welker’s group calculated the timing of a common ancestor for orangutans and G. blacki.

The sixth protein has been linked to a process by which minerals are produced to harden bones and teeth. That protein may have contributed to the formation of especially thick tooth enamel in G. blacki, the researchers speculate.

No attempt was made to remove DNA from the ancient ape tooth. Even in colder regions than southern China, only much younger fossils have yielded DNA (SN: 3/14/16).

Ancient proteins from other Asian fossil apes dating to between around 12 million and 6 million years ago are needed to further clarify the evolutionary position of G. blacki, says paleoanthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Ciochon suspects that Indopithecus giganteus, a fossil ape that inhabited what’s now northern India and Pakistan during that period, was a potential ancestor of G. blacki.

Protein analyses of fossil orangutans that lived in Southeast Asia at the same time as G. blacki may also help untangle how and why red apes died out in China after approximately 126,000 years ago, but still live on two Indonesian islands, Ciochon says. Such research could provide insights into how best to save endangered orangutans today (SN: 2/15/18).

‘Publish Donald Trump-Boris Johnson secret dirty deals’


British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United States Republican President Donald Trump

By Bethany Rielly in Britain:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Activists demand secret files on Johnson and Trump’s dirty dealings

SECRET files on PM Boris Johnson’s shady trade talks with US President Donald Trump must be published before the general election, activists are demanding.

Global Justice Now is calling on the government to disclose crucial documents on the US and Britain’s ongoing trade talks, which are believed to include NHS privatisation measures.

The group has requested access to the so-called Trump trade files multiple times, only to be sent heavily redacted versions that rendered their contents “meaningless”.

Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said: “The government has gone to astonishing lengths to keep its plans for a Trump trade deal secret from the British public, and the absurd sight of page after page of blacked-out documents is a shocking display of their disregard for democratic accountability.

Trade deals today are massive agreements that affect every aspect of our society, and it is unacceptable that Boris Johnson’s government refuses to tell the public what it’s putting on the table.”

US and British officials are believed to have held six meetings since the trade talks began in 2017.

Last month Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed that NHS drug prices have been discussed at all six meetings, prompting fears that medicine costs could soar under the deal.

Retired paediatrician and co-chairman of Keep Our NHS Public Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “The potential damage for the NHS drugs bill alone could be a hike from £18 billion to £44bn per year.

“As long as commercial contracts are in control of 18 per cent of our clinical services, the US-UK trade deal regulations agreed to will inevitably protect private interests in the NHS now and in the future.”

TRUMP INVITES BORIS JOHNSON TO WHITE HOUSE Trump has reportedly invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to visit him in the White House in the new year. Trump’s invitation was made after Johnson’s election win this month. Britain wants to strike a new trade deal with the United States after it leaves the European Union at the end of January. [Reuters]

Ultimate Thule minor planet renamed Arrokoth


Arrokoth appears as a ruddy deformed snowman in this composite image acquired by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it sped past on January 1, 2019. NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research

By Christopher Crockett, 13 November 2019:

NASA gave Ultima Thule a new official name

The far-flung solar system body is now Arrokoth, the Powhatan word for ‘sky’

Ultima Thule is no more. The remote solar system body visited in January by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft now has a proper name: Arrokoth.

The word means “sky” in the language of the Powhatan people, a Native American tribe indigenous to Maryland. The state is home to New Horizons mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

“We wanted to honor Maryland as our mission epicenter, and the idea of using a Native American language from there just bubbled up,” says Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “Tying it to our mission by using the word ‘sky’ completed the trifecta.”

NASA announced the name change on November 12, with the consent of Powhatan tribal elders and the International Astronomical Union, the organization of astronomers who, in part, oversee celestial naming conventions.

Arrokoth (pronounced AR-uh-koth), a flattened two-lobed body in the Kuiper Belt of icy worlds beyond Neptune, has been through a couple of names already. Up until now, its official designation had been 2014 MU69. In March 2018, the team landed on the nickname Ultima Thule, a Latin phrase that signifies a place beyond the known world.

“[Ultima Thule] was, as we said, always a placeholder we would discard once we did the flyby,” Stern says. That moniker came under almost immediate criticism after Newsweek noted that the phrase had also been appropriated by the Nazis as the mythical homeland of the Aryan race.

The New Horizons spacecraft — originally sent to check out Pluto and its retinue of moons (SN: 7/26/15) — is still transmitting data from its January 1 flyby of Arrokoth (SN: 1/2/19) and will continue to do so for at least another year, Stern says. By then, the team will have begun hunting for a possible third target, a search they can’t start until Earth gets to the other side of the sun next summer and New Horizons once again becomes visible at night to telescopes.

Coup-deposed Bolivian President Evo Morales interviewed


This 14 November 2019 video from Mexico says about itself:

Exclusive Interview with Bolivian President Evo Morales

Peace campaigners gather in London to say No to the coup in Bolivia: here.

Tens of thousands of workers marched on Thursday from the predominantly working class and indigenous city of El Alto to the capital of La Paz—a distance of 15 miles—demanding the ouster of the coup regime that has assumed power in Latin America’s poorest country. The protesters continued to confront military repression into the night. Jeanine Áñez, the right-wing vice president of Bolivia’s Senate, proclaimed herself president and named a far-right cabinet and new military leadership to organize repression of the growing resistance to the US-backed coup that overthrew the government of President Evo Morales on Sunday: here.

Christian supremacist anoints herself ‘interim’ president of Bolivia: here.

Bolivia’s self-proclaimed president appoints cabinet as police attack indigenous protesters: here.

Canada’s Liberal government has abetted and endorsed the US-backed military coup in Bolivia that led to the forced resignation Sunday of the country’s president, Evo Morales, and numerous other elected officials. The coup, triggered by right-wing elements within the military, has unleashed a wave of terror and violence by heavily armed police and military units, as well as fascistic opponents of Morales, against largely defenceless workers and poor peasants: here.

New plover species discovery in China


This 2014 video from Thailand shows a white-faced plover.

From the University of Bath in England:

Spot the difference: Two identical-looking bird species with very different genes

November 13, 2019

Summary: While reports of species going extinct are sadly becoming common, an international team of scientists has identified a new species of bird living on the Southern coast of China, that diverged from their Northern relatives around half a million years ago.

New research by the Milner Centre for Evolution academics in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou (China) shows that Southern and Northern breeding populations of plovers in China are in fact two distinct species: Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the North and white-faced plover (Charadrius dealbatus) in the South.

Using state-of-the-art genomics analysis, the team revealed that the Kentish plover and white-faced plover diverged approximately half a million years ago due to cycling sea level changes between the Eastern and Southern China Sea causing intermittent isolation of the two regional populations.

The results show that despite looking very similar, the two plover species have high levels of genetic divergence on their sex chromosomes, (Z chromosome) than on other chromosomes, indicating that sexual selection might play a role to in the evolution of the two species.

Dr Yang Liu, a visiting scholar from Sun Yat-sen University at the Milner Centre for Evolution, led the work. He said: “The initial divergence of the two plovers was probably triggered by the geographical isolation.

“However, other factors, such as ecological specialisations, behavioural divergence, and sexual selection could also contribute to the speciation of the two species.

“In future studies, we wish to understand how these factors operate on plover populations.”

Dr Araxi Urrutia, Senior Lecturer from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, said: “Speciation — the process by which new species evolve — is the basis of all biodiversity around us, yet our understanding of how new species arise is still limited.

“By studying recent divergence patterns, where the two species are still able to reproduce with each other, we can better understand the conditions on which all species, including our own species, have evolved.”

The team have published their findings in two papers. The first paper revealed small to moderate differences between Kentish and white-faced plover in their appearance (morphology), diet and behaviour. The second study produced the first genome of the Kentish plover, one of the few published genomes from shorebirds.

Dr Liu said: “The genomic resources generated by our team will help investigate other important evolutionary questions, such as genetic basis of local adaptation, migration and mating system variation.”

Led by Dr Liu, the research team also included Dr Araxi Urrutia, Professor Tamás Székely and a former NERC funded PhD student Dr Kathryn Maher.

The research is part of a long-term study on the Kentish plover that has been running for over 30 years, led by Professor Székely.

He said: “Plovers are excellent model systems to understand breeding system evolution.

“These small, drab shorebirds have worldwide distribution, and they are amenable to field studies.

“Using plovers as model organisms, we are currently testing for key hypotheses of several fundamental questions in biology using behavioral, genomic, immunological, and demographic approaches.”

British Conservative Islamophobia, fraud scandals


British Tory Peer Baroness Warsi

By Lamiat Sabin in Britain:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Baroness Warsi calls for specific inquiry into Islamophobia after dozens of Tories suspended

TORY peer Baroness Warsi said today that the Conservative Party has a “deep problem” with Islamophobia, after dozens of Tories were suspended pending an investigation into alleged anti-Muslim hate.

Twenty five sitting and former Tory councillors are reportedly among those identified, in documents obtained by The Guardian, as allegedly posting or endorsing online Islamophobic posts.

Posts include calls for mosques to be banned, claims that Islam intends to “turn the world Muslim” and references to Muslims as “barbarians” and “the enemy within”.

Ms Warsi accused her own party of being “dismissive” of the issue — four years after problems were first brought to light.

She also said she is “disappointed” that the party is “trying to dilute” the investigation into Islamophobia by holding an inquiry into all forms of prejudice.

Ms Warsi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there had been “dossier after dossier, dozens and dozens of cases presented with the most vile evidence of racism within the party at every level from MPs all the way down to our ordinary activists.”

The recent dossier, compiled by an anonymous anti-racism campaigner using the Twitter handle @MatesJacob, increases pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who has been condemned for saying that niqab-wearing Muslim women look like “letterboxes” — to hold an independent inquiry specifically into Islamophobia within his party.

Shadow equalities minister Naz Shah said: “The Conservative Party is rife with Islamophobia, racism and bigotry from top to bottom, but we have no faith that Boris Johnson will do anything about it.”

Muslim Council of Britain secretary-general Harun Khan said that the type of Islamophobic comments made by Tory members now coming to light are a “regular occurrence” and are “endemic” in the party.

He said: “From members at the grassroots to councillors, MPs, members of Cabinet and the Prime Minister, there are hugely concerning levels of hatred against Muslims throughout the party.

“Yet the Conservative Party still refuses to hold an independent investigation into Islamophobia despite the Prime Minister committing to this and instead deems it appropriate to gloss over the issue with a broad inquiry into racism.”

He also said that the Tories lack transparency on how many members have been suspended over allegations of Islamophobia and how many have been readmitted.

British Conservative candidate Chris Davies

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fraudster Chris Davies withdrawn from standing as a Tory candidate in North Wales

FRAUDSTER Chris Davies has withdrawn from standing as a Conservative candidate in Ynys Mon following criticism that his selection made a “mockery” of the people of the island.

The former Tory MP for Brecon and Radnorshire was sacked in June after being found guilty of faking expenses claims.

However, the Conservatives still selected Mr Davies to run for Ynys Mon — the North Wales constituency that includes the island of Anglesey and the smaller Holy Island.

The appointment sparked outrage among Ynys Mon residents and opposition candidates.

Plaid Cymru candidate Aled ap Dafydd said: “By imposing a convicted former MP who was found guilty of a false expenses claim as the candidate for the island shows how little they care about Ynys Mon.

“This makes a mockery of the people of the island.”

Mr Davies said he decided to step down due to “criticism in the media.”

The disgraced former MP was convicted in March after he admitted submitting two false expenses invoices for nine photographs costing £700 to decorate his new office.

He was fined £1,500, ordered to pay £2,500 towards legal costs and told to carry out 50 hours of community service.

The Labour candidate for Ynys Mon Mary Roberts said Mr Davies’s appointment had been an “insult” to the people of Anglesey.

“It’s insulting to the people of Ynys Mon for the Conservatives to have considered parachuting him in as a parliamentary candidate,” she said.

“Unsurprisingly he’s been forced to withdraw. Anglesey deserves better than this.”

A TORY candidate in Scotland has been suspended over offensive internet posts. Ryan Houghton, candidate for Aberdeen North, was dropped by the Conservative Party after the discovery of offensive social media posts. His suspension follows the National newspaper’s publication of a long list of anti-semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic posts by Mr Houghton on a martial arts forum in 2013: here.

The Muslim Engagement and Development NGO (MEND) is the latest group to formally request that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigate Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. It cited a report detailing more than 120 incidents of Islamophobia in the last five years emanating from over 60 Conservative Members of Parliament, councillors and party candidates: here.

New ant species discoveries in the USA


This 15 September 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Strumigenys silvestrii: A New Species In South Carolina!?

Strumigenys louisianae is the only South Carolina Strumigenys species with a snap-jaw mandible mechanism, up until now …

From the University of Utah in the USA:

Ant expert discovers newly emergent species in his backyard

Irrigation and urban forest may have drawn long-hidden species to the surface

November 13, 2019

Jack Longino is a global ant expert and has traveled the world documenting and discovering ant species. But for his latest discovery, he didn’t need to go any farther than his own backyard. In August 2018, just after dark, Longino caught a glimpse of four ants in his garden that really looked out of place. The next day he dug deeper and found more specimens. They reminded him of species he knew from the tropics or from the deciduous forests of the eastern U.S.

But the surprises didn’t stop there. Longino originally thought the ants had been introduced to the area, possibly through the commercial potting soil, and would be some known species from elsewhere. But a close look in the lab revealed that it was a distinct new species, almost certainly native to the region, with similarities to related species in Arizona. Longino surmised that the ant, which likes warm, moist habitats, has been living underground in Utah’s typically dry climate. More than 150 years of irrigation and introduced forest, however, may have given the ant courage to once again come to the surface. For that reason, he named the new ant Strumigenys ananeotes (Stroom-i-jen-knees ana-knee-oat-tees). The species name ananeotes means “newly emerged.”

New and important discoveries could be waiting close to home, Longino writes with colleague Douglas Booher in a paper published in Western North American Naturalist, reporting the discovery. “We hope”, they write, “that this discovery will encourage naturalists to don headlamps and hand lenses and head out into the backyard on warm summer nights.”

English flood survivors angry at Conservative Johnson


The woman pushing a wheelbarrow told British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson: 'I don’t know what you’re here today for'

By Peter Lazenby in England:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Flood victims in South Yorkshire turn their backs on Johnson

Residents berate the PM’s slow response to the devastating floods telling him, ‘You took your time’

FLOOD VICTIMS in South Yorkshire turned their backs on Boris Johnson today when an election publicity stunt backfired on the Prime Minister.

Five days after floods devastated communities in the county, Mr Johnson belatedly visited one of the worst-hit areas, accompanied by a contingent of invited press reporters and television crews.

But residents told him: “I don’t want to talk to you” and “You took your time.”

By contrast, a visit by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to meet rescue workers four days earlier took place without fanfare or orchestrated publicity.

Residents criticised the Tory government for not only failing to declare a national emergency to get help to their flood-wrecked communities but also for imposing long-term cuts on funding for emergency services in South Yorkshire, limiting their ability to respond to the crisis.

The worst-hit area of the county is the Doncaster metropolitan district. The river Don overflowed five days ago deluging local villages and flooding homes, in particular the village of Fishlake.

Doncaster Labour councillor Tosh McDonald, a former president of train drivers’ union Aslef, told the Morning Star: “Aid has been coming in, but not from the government. It’s coming from former mining communities like Stainforth.”

Stainforth, itself flooded, is close to the site of Hatfield Main colliery, which was the last pit in South Yorkshire when it closed in 2015. Many former miners and their families live there.

“There’s been food coming in from Stainforth, clothing, bedding, all sorts,” said Mr McDonald.

“In the local church, the pews are stacked with stuff to help people whose homes have been flooded.

“Volunteers are even collecting people’s medical prescriptions because local chemists have been flooded.

“Then Johnson arrives and says there’ll be £500 for each resident whose home has been flooded. It’s pathetic. There’s been no government action.

“Instead of doing a publicity stunt like Boris Johnson did, Jeremy Corbyn came without cameras to meet local firefighters. Some of them have been working 18-hour shifts. There’s been rescue units drafted in from Lincolnshire.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn talks to a resident in flooded Bentley, Doncaster

He said the government’s failure to respond “shows the continuing contempt all Tory governments have shown to all former mining and industrial communities.”

During his belated publicity visit, Mr Johnson was told by one Stainforth resident: “I’m not very happy about talking to you so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just mope on with what I’m doing.”

The woman, pushing a wheelbarrow carrying salvaged effects, said: “I don’t know what you’re here today for.”

Another told him: “You’ve took your time Boris, haven’t you?”

Mr Corbyn said: “This last week has confirmed what we’ve seen over the last decade: the Tories always ignore the north’s needs.

“We need to do everything we can to help those families who have already suffered and protect communities from further potential flooding.”

He pledged a £5.6 billion programme of spending on flood defences in the north.

According to the Fire Brigades Union, there are 11,468 fewer firefighters than in 2010 because of government cuts, and the last three years has seen £155 million lopped from fire and rescue budgets.

Australian azure kingfisher helped by platypus


This 13 November 2019 BBC video from Australia says about itself:

A resourceful [azure] kingfisher has an unlikely fishing buddy in the form of a platypus.

Australia’s devastating drought is having a critical impact on the iconic platypus, a globally unique mammal, with increasing reports of rivers drying up and platypuses becoming stranded: here.