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).

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.