Arquivo da tag: Animais

When Whales and Humans Talk (Hakai Magazine)

Arctic people have been communicating with cetaceans for centuries—and scientists are finally taking note.

Tattooed Whale, 2016 by Tim Pitsiulak. Screen-print on Arches Cover Black. Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine ArtsApril 3rd, 2018

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts.

Brower lived six years after the episode, dying in 1992 at the age of 67. In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs. “[The whale] talked to me,” Brower recalls in a collection of his stories, The Whales, They Give Themselves. “He told me all the stories about where they had all this trouble out there on the ice.”

Not long ago, non-Indigenous scientists might have dismissed Brower’s experience as a dream or the inchoate ramblings of a sick man. But he and other Iñupiat are part of a deep history of Arctic and subarctic peoples who believe humans and whales can talk and share a reciprocal relationship that goes far beyond that of predator and prey. Today, as Western scientists try to better understand Indigenous peoples’ relationships with animals—as well as animals’ own capacity for thoughts and feelings—such beliefs are gaining wider recognition, giving archaeologists a better understanding of ancient northern cultures.

“If you start looking at the relationship between humans and animals from the perspective that Indigenous people themselves may have had, it reveals a rich new universe,” says Matthew Betts, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of History who studies Paleo-Eskimo cultures in the Canadian Arctic. “What a beautiful way to view the world.”

It’s not clear exactly when people developed the technology that allowed them to begin hunting whales, but scholars generally believe Arctic whaling developed off the coast of Alaska sometime between 600 and 800 CE. For thousands of years before then, Arctic people survived by hunting seals, caribou, and walruses at the edge of the sea ice.

One such group, the Dorset—known in Inuit oral tradition as the Tunitwere rumored to have been so strong the men could outrun caribou and drag a 1,700-kilogram walrus across the ice. The women were said to have fermented raw seal meat against the warmth of their skin, leaving it in their pants for days at a time. But despite their legendary survival skills, the Tunit died out 1,000 years ago.An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

One theory for their mysterious disappearance is that they were outcompeted by people who had begun to move east into the Canadian Arctic—migrants from Alaska who brought sealskin boats allowing them to push off from shore and hunt whales. Each spring, bowhead whales weighing up to 54,000 kilograms pass through the leads of water that open into the sea ice, and with skill and luck, the ancestors of today’s Inuit and Iñupiat people could spear a cetacean as it surfaced to breathe.

The advent of whaling changed the North. For the first time, hunters could bring in enough meat to feed an entire village. Permanent settlements began springing up in places like Utqiaġvik that were reliably visited by bowheads—places still inhabited today. Social organizations shifted as successful whale hunters amassed wealth, became captains, and positioned themselves at the top of a developing social hierarchy. Before long, the whale hunt became the center of cultural, spiritual, and day-to-day life, and whales the cornerstone of many Arctic and subarctic cosmologies.

When agricultural Europeans began visiting and writing about the North in the 10th century, they were mesmerized by Aboriginal peoples’ relationships with whales. Medieval literature depicted the Arctic as a land of malevolent “monstrous fishes” and people who could summon them to shore through magical powers and mumbled spells. Even as explorers and missionaries brought back straightforward accounts of how individual whaling cultures went about hunting, butchering, and sharing a whale, it was hard to shake the sense of mysticism. In 1938, American anthropologist Margaret Lantis analyzed these scattered ethnographic accounts and concluded that Iñupiat, Inuit, and other northern peoples belonged to a circumpolar “whale cult.”

Lantis found evidence of this in widespread taboos and rituals meant to cement the relationship between people and whales. In many places, a recently killed whale was given a drink of fresh water, a meal, and even traveling bags to ensure a safe journey back to its spiritual home. Individual whalers had their own songs to call the whales to them. Sometimes shamans performed religious ceremonies inside circles made of whale bones. Stashes of whaling amulets—an ambiguous word used to describe everything from carved, jewelry-like charms to feathers or skulls—were passed from father to son in whaling families.

To non-Indigenous observers, it was all so mysterious. So unknowable. And for archaeologists and biologists especially, it was at odds with Western scientific values, which prohibited anything that smacked of anthropomorphism.
A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

In archaeology, such attitudes have limited our understanding of Arctic prehistory, says Erica Hill, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Alaska Southeast. Whaling amulets and bone circles were written off as ritualistic or supernatural with little exploration of what they actually meant to the people who created them. Instead, archaeologists who studied animal artifacts often focused on the tangible information they revealed about what ancient people ate, how many calories they consumed, and how they survived.

Hill is part of a burgeoning branch of archaeology that uses ethnographic accounts and oral histories to re-examine animal artifacts with fresh eyes—and interpret the past in new, non-Western ways. “I’m interested in this as part of our prehistory as humans,” Hill says, “but also in what it tells us about alternative ways of being.”

The idea that Indigenous people have spiritual relationships with animals is so well established in popular culture it’s cliché. Yet constricted by Western science and culture, few archaeologists have examined the record of human history with the perspective that animals feel emotions and can express those emotions to humans.

Hill’s interest in doing so was piqued in 2007, when she was excavating in Chukotka, Russia, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The site was estimated to be 1,000 to 2,000 years old, predating the dawn of whaling in the region, and was situated at the top of a large hill. As her team dug through the tundra, they uncovered six or seven intact walrus skulls deliberately arranged in a circle.

Like many archaeologists, Hill had been taught that ancient humans in harsh northern climates conserved calories and rarely expended energy doing things with no direct physical benefit. That people were hauling walrus skulls to a hilltop where there were plenty of similar-sized rocks for building seemed strange. “If you’ve ever picked up a walrus skull, they’re really, really heavy,” Hill says. So she started wondering: did the skulls serve a purpose that wasn’t strictly practical that justified the effort of carrying them uphill?

When Hill returned home, she began looking for other cases of “people doing funky stuff” with animal remains. There was no shortage of examples: shrines packed with sheep skulls, ceremonial burials of wolves and dogs, walrus-skull rings on both sides of the Bering Strait. To Hill, though, some of the most compelling artifacts came from whaling cultures.

Museum collections across North America, for instance, include a dazzling array of objects categorized as whaling amulets. From this grab bag, Hill identified 20 carved wooden objects. Many served as the seats of whaling boats. In the Iñupiaq language, they’re called either iktuġat or aqutim aksivautana, depending on dialect.

One in particular stands out. Hill was looking for Alaskan artifacts in a massive climate-controlled warehouse belonging to Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. The artifacts were housed in hundreds of floor-to-ceiling drawers, row after row of them, with little indication of what was inside. She pulled open one drawer and there it was—the perfect likeness of a bowhead whale staring back at her.

The object, likely from the late 19th century, probably functioned as a crosspiece. It was hewn from a hunk of driftwood into a crescent shape 21 centimeters long. Carved on one side was a bowhead, looking as it would look if you were gazing down on a whale from above, perhaps from a raven’s-eye perspective. A precious bead of obsidian was embedded in the blowhole. “It’s so elegant and simple but so completely whale,” Hill says. “It’s this perfect balance of minimalism and form.”

Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiat carver fashioned this seat for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiaq carver fashioned this amulet for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. As with other whaling amulets Erica Hill has examined, this object may have also functioned as part of the boat’s structure. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)

Using Iñupiat oral histories and ethnographies recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hill now knows that such amulets were meant to be placed in a boat with the likeness of the whale facing down, toward the ocean. The meticulously rendered art was thus meant not for humans, but for whales—to flatter them, Hill says, and call them to the hunters. “The idea is that the whale will be attracted to its own likeness, so obviously you want to depict the whale in the most positive way possible,” she explains.

Yupik stories from St. Lawrence Island tell of whales who might spend an hour swimming directly under an umiak, positioning themselves so they could check out the carvings and the men occupying the boat. If the umiak was clean, the carvings beautiful, and the men respectful, the whale might reposition itself to be harpooned. If the art portrayed the whale in an unflattering light or the boat was dirty, it indicated that the hunters were lazy and wouldn’t treat the whale’s body properly. Then the whale might swim away.

In “Sounding a Sea-Change: Acoustic Ecology and Arctic Ocean Governance” published in Thinking with Water, Shirley Roburn quotes Point Hope, Alaska, resident Kirk Oviok: “Like my aunt said, the whales have ears and are more like people,” he says. “The first batch of whales seen would show up to check which ones in the whaling crew would be more hospitable. … Then the whales would come back to their pack and tell them about the situation.”

The belief that whales have agency and can communicate their needs to people isn’t unique to the Arctic. Farther south, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth whalers observed eight months of rituals meant to communicate respect in the mysterious language of whales. They bathed in special pools, prayed, spoke quietly, and avoided startling movements that might offend whales. Right before the hunt, the whalers sang a song asking the whale to give itself.

In Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth belief, as in many Arctic cultures, whales weren’t just taken—they willingly gave themselves to human communities. A whale that offered its body wasn’t sentencing itself to death. It was choosing to be killed by hunters who had demonstrated, through good behavior and careful adherence to rituals, that they would treat its remains in a way that would allow it to be reborn. Yupik tradition, for example, holds that beluga whales once lived on land and long to return to terra firma. In exchange for offering itself to a Yupik community, a beluga expected to have its bones given the ritualistic treatment that would allow it to complete this transition and return to land, perhaps as one of the wolves that would gnaw on the whale’s bones.

According to Hill, many of the objects aiding this reciprocity—vessels used to offer whales a drink of fresh water, amulets that hunters used to negotiate relationships with animal spirits—weren’t just reserved for shamanistic ceremonies. They were part of everyday life; the physical manifestation of an ongoing, daily dialogue between the human and animal worlds.

While Westerners domesticated and eventually industrialized the animals we eat—and thus came to view them as dumb and inferior—Arctic cultures saw whale hunting as a match between equals. Bipedal humans with rudimentary technology faced off against animals as much as 1,000 times their size that were emotional, thoughtful, and influenced by the same social expectations that governed human communities. In fact, whales were thought to live in an underwater society paralleling that above the sea.

a bowhead whale swimming amid multi-layer sea ice

It’s difficult to assess populations of animals that swim under the ice, far from view, like bowhead whales. But experienced Iñupiat whalers are good at it. Photo by Steven Kazlowski/Minden Pictures

Throughout history, similar beliefs have guided other human-animal relationships, especially in hunter-gatherer cultures that shared their environment with big, potentially dangerous animals. Carvings left behind by the Tunit, for example, suggest a belief that polar bears possessed a kind of personhood allowing them to communicate with humans; while some Inuit believed walruses could listen to humans talking about them and react accordingly.

Whether or not those beliefs are demonstrably true, says Hill, they “make room for animal intelligence and feelings and agency in ways that our traditional scientific thinking has not.”

Today, as archaeologists like Hill and Matthew Betts shift their interpretation of the past to better reflect Indigenous worldviews, biologists too are shedding new light on whale behavior and biology that seems to confirm the traits Indigenous people have attributed to whales for more than 1,000 years. Among them is Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who argues that cetaceans have their own culture—a word typically reserved for human societies.

By this definition, culture is social learning that’s passed down from one generation to the next. Whitehead finds evidence for his theory in numerous recent studies, including one that shows bowhead whales in the North Pacific, off the Alaskan coast, and in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland sing different songs, the way human groups might have different styles of music or linguistic dialects. Similarly, pods of resident killer whales living in the waters off south Vancouver Island greet each other with different behaviors than killer whales living off north Vancouver Island, despite the fact that the groups are genetically almost identical and have overlapping territories.

Plus, calves spend years with their mothers, developing the strong mother-offspring bonds that serve to transfer cultural information, and bowhead whales live long enough to accumulate the kind of environmental knowledge that would be beneficial to pass on to younger generations. We know this largely because of a harpoon tip that was found embedded in a bowhead in northern Alaska in 2007. This particular harpoon was only manufactured between 1879 and 1885 and wasn’t used for long after, meaning that the whale had sustained its injury at least 117 years before it finally died.

Other beliefs, too, are proving less farfetched than they once sounded. For years, scientists believed whales couldn’t smell, despite the fact that Iñupiat hunters claimed the smell of woodsmoke would drive a whale away from their camp. Eventually, a Dutch scientist dissecting whale skulls proved the animals did, indeed, have the capacity to smell. Even the Yupik belief that beluga whales were once land-dwelling creatures is rooted in reality: some 50 million years ago, the ancestor of modern-day whales walked on land. As if recalling this, whale fetuses briefly develop legs before losing them again.

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty ImagesInuit hunters in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, paddle an umiak after a bowhead whale. Photo by Galen Rowell/Getty Images

None of this suggests that whales freely give themselves to humans. But once you understand the biological and intellectual capabilities of whales—as whaling cultures surely did—it’s less of a leap to conclude that cetaceans live in their own underwater society, and can communicate their needs and wishes to humans willing to listen.

With the dawn of the 20th century and the encroachment of Euro-Americans into the North, Indigenous whaling changed drastically. Whaling in the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations essentially ended in the 1920s after commercial whalers hunted the gray whale to near extinction. In Chukotka, Russian authorities in the 1950s replaced community-based whaling with state-run whaling.

Even the whaling strongholds of Alaska’s Iñupiat villages weren’t immune. In the 1970s, the International Whaling Commission ordered a halt to subsistence bowhead whaling because US government scientists feared there were just 1,300 of the animals left. Harry Brower Sr. and other whaling captains who’d amassed lifetimes of knowledge knew that figure was wrong.

But unlike other whaling cultures, Iñupiat whalers had the means to fight back, thanks to taxes they had collected from a nearby oil boom. With the money, communities hired Western-trained scientists to corroborate traditional knowledge. The scientists developed a new methodology that used hydrophones to count bowhead whales beneath the ice, rather than extrapolating the population based on a count of the visible bowheads passing by a single, ice-free locale. Their findings proved bowheads were far more numerous than the government had previously thought, and subsistence whaling was allowed to continue.

Elsewhere, too, whaling traditions have slowly come back to life. In 1999, the Makah harvested their first whale in over 70 years. The Chukchi were allowed to hunt again in the 1990s.

Yet few modern men knew whales as intimately as Brower. Although he eschewed some traditions—he said he never wanted his own whaling song to call a harpooned whale to the umiak, for exampleBrower had other ways of communicating with whales. He believed that whales listened, and that if a whaler was selfish or disrespectful, whales would avoid him. He believed that the natural world was alive with animals’ spirits, and that the inexplicable connection he’d felt with whales could only be explained by the presence of such spirits.

And he believed that in 1986, a baby whale visited him in an Anchorage hospital to show him how future generations could maintain the centuries-long relationship between humans and whales. Before he died, he told his biographer Karen Brewster that although he believed in a Christian heaven, he personally thought he would go elsewhere. “I’m going to go join the whales,” he said. “That’s the best place, I think. … You could feed all the people for the last time.”

Perhaps Brower did become a whale and feed his people one last time. Or perhaps, through his deep understanding of whale biology and behavior, he passed down the knowledge that enabled his people to feed themselves for generations to come. Today, the spring whaling deadline he proposed based on his conversation with the baby whale is still largely observed, and bowhead whales continue to sustain Iñupiat communities, both physically and culturally.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the original purpose of the whaling amulet that caught Erica Hill’s attention in the Smithsonian warehouse.

Author bio Krista Lee Langlois is an independent journalist, essayist, and “aquaphile.” She lived in the Marshall Islands in 2006 and now writes about the intersection of people and nature from a landlocked cabin outside Durango, Colorado.


Os motivos por trás da Guerra dos Chimpanzés, a única registrada entre animais (BBC Brasil)

9 abril 2018Três chimpanzés do Parque Nacional de Gombe nos anos 1970

GEZA TELEKI. A eleição de um macaco do norte do Parque Nacional de Gombe como macho alfa causou tensão na comunidade de chimpanzés e, principalmente, com dois rivais, Charlie e Hugh

A única guerra civil documentada entre chimpanzés selvagens começou com um assassinato brutal.

Era janeiro de 1974, e um chimpanzé chamado Godi fazia sua refeição, sozinho, nos galhos de uma árvore no Parque Nacional de Gombe, na Tanzânia.

Mas Godi não reparou que, enquanto comia, oito macacos o rodearam. “Ele pulou da árvore e correu, mas eles o agarraram”, disse o primatologista britânico Richard Wrangham ao documentário da BBC The Demonic Ape (O Macaco Demoníaco, em tradução livre).”Um deles conseguiu agarrar um de seus pés, outro lhe prendeu pela mão. Ele foi imobilizado e surrado. O ataque durou mais de cinco minutos e, quando o deixaram, ele mal conseguia se mover.

“Godi nunca mais foi visto.

O episódio é conhecido como o início do que a famosa primatologista britânica Jane Goodall chamou de “A Guerra dos 4 Anos”, o conflito que dividiu uma comunidade de chimpanzés em Gombe e desatou uma onda de assassinatos e violência que, desde então, nunca mais foi registrada.

Mão de um chimpanzé

GETTY IMAGES. O assassinato brutal do primata Godi marcou o início da sangrenta “Guerra de 4 anos” dos chimpanzés em Gombe

No entanto, o motivo exato e a causa da divisão são um “eterno mistério”, disse Joseph Feldblum, professor de antropologia evolutiva da Universidade de Duke, nos Estados Unidos, em um comunicado da instituição.

No mês passado, Feldblum liderou um estudo publicado na revista científica American Journal of Physical Anthropology que revela a história de “poder, ambição e ciúmes” que deu origem à guerra entre os primatas.


Macacos e humanos

Feldblum está há 25 anos arquivando e digitalizando as anotações que Goodall fez durante seus mais de 55 anos vivendo no Parque Nacional de Gombe.

A primatologista, que na última terça-feira completou 84 anos, mudou tudo o que acreditávamos saber sobre os chimpanzés (e sobre os seres humanos) ao descobrir que esses macacos fabricavam e usavam ferramentas, tinham uma linguagem primitiva e eram capazes de entender o que seus pares pensavam.

Mas Goodall também descobriu a crueldade que esses animais podiam demonstrar.

Jane Goodall com seu famoso boneco em 2018

GETTY IMAGES. A primatologista Jane Goodall, que lidera uma fundação de pesquisa e conservação com seu nome, acompanhou toda a guerra dos chimpanzés nos anos 1970

Foram quatro anos documentando saques, surras e assassinatos entre as facções Kasakela e Kahama, que ficavam ao norte e ao sul do parque, respectivamente.

Nesse tempo, por exemplo, um terço das mortes de chimpanzés machos em Gombe foram perpetreadas pelos próprios animais.

A guerra, disse Goodall no documentário da BBC, “só fez com que os chimpanzés se parecessem ainda mais conosco do que se pensava”.

A violência foi tão excessiva e única que alguns investigadores sugeriram que ela foi provocada involuntariamente pela própria Goodall, que montou uma estação de observação no local onde os animais recebiam alimentos.

De acordo com essas teorias, “as duas comunidades de chimpanzés poderiam ter existido o tempo todo ou estavam se dissolvendo quando Goodall começou sua pesquisa, e a estação de alimentação os reuniu em uma trégua temporária até que eles se separaram novamente”, disse o comunicado da Universidade de Duke.

“Mas os novos resultados de uma equipe de Duke e da Universidade Estadual do Arizona sugerem que alguma coisa a mais estava acontecendo.”

Chimpanzés brigando

GETTY IMAGES. Os chimpanzés são capazes de violência, mas pesquisadores dizem que o ocorrido entre 1974 e 1978 excedeu todos os registros de brutalidade


Amigos e inimigos

No novo estudo, os pesquisadores analisaram as mudanças nas alianças entre 19 chimpanzés machos durante os sete anos anteriores à guerra.

Para isso, elaboraram mapas detalhados das redes sociais dos primatas, nas quais os machos eram considerados amigos se fossem vistos chegando juntos à estação de alimentação com maior frequência.

“Sua análise sugere que, durante os primeiros anos, entre 1967 e 1970, os machos do grupo original estavam misturados”, disse Duke.

Foi aí que a comunidade começou a se dividir: enquanto alguns passavam mais tempo no norte, outros estavam a maior parte do tempo no sul.

Em 1972, a socialização entre os machos já ocorria exclusivamente dentro das facções Kasakela ou Kahama.

Silhueta de um chimpanzé

GETTY IMAGES. Ao ver chegar os macacos do sul, os do norte “subiam nas árvores, havia muitos gritos e demonstrações de poder”, diz um novo estudo sobre o episódio

Ao se encontrarem, eles começavam a atirar galhos uns nos outros, a gritar ou fazer outras demonstrações de força.

“Escutávamos gritos do sul e dizíamos: ‘Os machos do sul estão vindo!'”, relembra Anne Pusey, professora de antropologia evolutiva da Universidade de Duke que esteve em Gombe com Goodall e é coautora do estudo atual.

“Nessa hora, todos os machos do norte subiam nas árvores e ouvíamos muitos gritos e demonstrações de poder.”

Três suspeitos

A partir do momento que ocorreu a divisão entre os grupos, os pesquisadores acreditam que o conflito surgiu por causa de “uma luta pelo poder entre três machos de alta categoria”: Humphrey, um macho alfa recém-coroado pelo grupo do norte, e seus rivais do sul, Charlie e Hugh.

Chimpanzé sofrendo

GETTY IMAGES. Violência entre três machos líderes afetou toda a rede de vínculos sociais, sem distinguir idade nem sexo

“Humphrey era grande e se sabia que ele atirava pedras, o que era assustador. Ele conseguia intimidar Charlie e Hugh separadamente, mas, quando estavam juntos, ele se mantinha fora do caminho”, diz Pussey no comunicado da universidade.

Durante quatro anos, o grupo de Humphrey destruiu o grupo do sul, e diversos machos “rebeldes” morreram ou desapareceram. O maior dos grupos invadia sistemativamente o território alheio e, se encontrasse um chimpanzé rival, o atacava cruelmente e o deixava morrer em decorrência dos ferimentos.

De acordo com a pesquisa, a disponibilidade de fêmeas foi mais baixa do que o normal nesse período, o que provavelmente exacerbou a luta pelo domínio do território.

A violência, por sua vez, não se limitou a esses três machos rivais, mas afetou toda a rede de vínculos sociais dos primatas, sem distinguir idade nem sexo.

Os pesquisadores reconhecem que a falta de outros eventos semelhantes na natureza torna mais difícil comparar os novos resultados, mas o trabalho pode trazer certa paz a Goodall.

“A situação foi terrível”, disse a britânica, reconhecendo que sua estação de observação de fato pode ter “aumentado a violência” entre os primatas.

“Acho que a parte mais triste foi ter observado a sequência de eventos em que uma comunidade maior aniquilou por completo a menor e tomou seu território.”

So killer whales can talk. Welcome to a brave new world of cross-species chat (The Guardian)


Wikie the orca is more mimic than raconteur, but the potential is awesome. Imagine dolphins tackling politicians on pollution

A killer whale.

Abridge in cultures has occurred. A cognitive chasm between intelligent creatures has been crossed. Of all the spectacular times for you to be alive, you happen to have been born in an age when killer whales started talking to the damn dirty apes who were willing to listen. Though this sounds like some sort of sci-fi dream/nightmare, I am here to assure you that this is real. Remain calm, but stay vigilant around all marine mammals at this time. We may be in for a rocky time, as you shall discover.

Let us begin by examining the facts. First, it’s true. As you may have heard by now, a captive killer whale called Wikie, housed at Marineland in Antibes, France, is uttering noises that mimic the human sounds “Hello” and “Bye-bye” as well as “One, two, three” plus, apparently, the haunting word “Amy” – the name of its trainer. Predictably, within hours of the release of the scientific paper, Wikie has become something of an online celebrity.

This week, after the news broke about Wikie’s great feat, a number of vocal animal welfare charities were calling for her release from captivity. This troubled me a little. Really? I thought. Is that really a good idea?

Killer whales (like all dolphins) are adept at horizontal learning, after all. They copy one another. They have sounds for objects, possibly names. They have dialects. They transmit behaviours. In other words, they have culture like we do. Might the once captive Wikie somehow spoil their untamed wildness with her newly learned human vernacular? What if this captive dolphin, somehow released into the wild with a human greeting (“Hello!”) should corrupt the wild dolphins it comes across? What then? I dread to think, but the idea is entertaining to consider so let us do just that.

Let us imagine pods of wild dolphins screaming “Goodbye” at boatloads of tourists that encroach on their hunting grounds each year. Imagine them saying “Bye-bye” to trawlers. Imagine them ruining countless nature documentaries by screaming “Hello” to BBC camera crews while filming.

And what if Wikie and her kind later develop sarcasm? Can you imagine, in an age where our oceans become bereft and depleted of nutrition, the words “So long and thanks for all the fish!”, delivered in a sarcastic tone? In a perverse sort of way, I suspect Douglas Adams would have laughed long and loud at this idea. And then wept.

Listen to killer whales mimicking human voices – audio

But there are positives to this possible cross-species dialogue, and perhaps it is this potential that we should focus on. Imagine a non-human animal that could speak up – in human words – against the degradation of a vast ecosystem like that of the oceans? In such a world, perhaps modern politics would find itself a new enemy in marine mammals like Wikie. One can imagine, for instance, in some alternative universe, a language-endowed Wikie being invited to speak at Davos or some other God-awful international event.

One can imagine the soundbites (“Amy?”); the 7.45am BBC Breakfast interview; the cosy press conferences with Wikie, wide-eyed in a giant blow-up birthing pool in front of the cameras, next to a shady foreign president secretly plotting her kind’s political downfall while sipping imported water from a non-recyclable plastic bottle. (While writing this it strikes me how, in moments like these, just how so many of us would side with these talkative killer whales). But alas, such imaginative scenarios are just that – imaginative.

You knew this bit was coming. It is time to burst the bubble about this female killer whale. Wikie has a kind of magic about her, but it is not yet a two-way conversation. She is a mimic, pure and simple and she is hungry for her fish rewards. In the same way as a 14-year-old can armpit-fart his way through Bach’s Fifth Symphony to achieve 1,000-plus views on YouTube, without ever truly knowing Bach, this killer whale has hit upon a neat trick for reward by exhaling in a measured way that sounds a little like human voice.

But that doesn’t make the science hogwash. Far from it. It’s a beginning. And all scientific journeys have a beginning. We’ll need wild, untainted, unspoiled populations to test ideas on. We need to get away from fish rewards. We need to move away from captive research. This is a start. It’s not the end. They may one day talk with us, but not like this.

And so, in my wildest dreams it won’t be a “bye-bye” or a “hello” that curries favour with an intelligent species such as the killer whale, but a word of more depth: a word like “friend” or “partner” or “respect”. And further down the line maybe we could manage something else. Dialogue. Truth. Meaning.

As of recent times, these are no longer uniquely human concepts when it comes to zoology. Welcome to the brave new world. You happen to be alive in it. But who else is listening? Increasingly, we shall get to decide. Bye-bye, or hello: you and I get to choose.

Jules Howard is a zoologist and the author of Sex on Earth, and Death on Earth

Orcas can imitate human speech, research reveals (The Guardian)

Killer whales able to copy words such as ‘hello’ and ‘bye bye’ as well as sounds from other orcas, study shows

High-pitched, eerie and yet distinct, the sound of a voice calling the name “Amy” is unmistakable. But this isn’t a human cry – it’s the voice of a killer whale called Wikie.

New research reveals that orcas are able to imitate human speech, in some cases at the first attempt, saying words such as “hello”, “one, two” and “bye bye”.

The study also shows that the creatures are able to copy unfamiliar sounds produced by other orcas – including a sound similar to blowing a raspberry.

Scientists say the discovery helps to shed light on how different pods of wild killer whales have ended up with distinct dialects, adding weight to the idea that they are the result of imitation between orcas. The creatures are already known for their ability to copy the movements of other orcas, with some reports suggesting they can also mimic the sounds of bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.

“We wanted to see how flexible a killer whale can be in copying sounds,” said Josep Call, professor in evolutionary origins of mind at the University of St Andrews and a co-author of the study. “We thought what would be really convincing is to present them with something that is not in their repertoire – and in this case ‘hello’ [is] not what a killer whale would say.”

Wikie is not the first animal to have managed the feat of producing human sounds: dolphins, elephants, parrots, orangutans and even beluga whales have all been captured mimicking our utterances, although they use a range of physical mechanisms to us to do so. Noc, the beluga whale, made novel use of his nasal cavities, while Koshik, an Indian elephant jammed his trunk in his mouth, resulting in the pronouncement of Korean words ranging from “hello” to “sit down” and “no”.

But researchers say only a fraction of the animal kingdom can mimic human speech, with brain pathways and vocal apparatus both thought to determine whether it is possible.

“That is what makes it even more impressive – even though the morphology [of orcas] is so different, they can still produce a sound that comes close to what another species, in this case us, can produce,” said Call.

He poured cold water, however, on the idea that orcas might understand the words they mimic. “We have no evidence that they understand what their ‘hello’ stands for,” he said.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers from institutions in Germany, UK, Spain and Chile, describe how they carried out the latest research with Wikie, a 14-year-old female orca living in an aquarium in France. She had previously been trained to copy actions performed by another orca when given a human gesture.

After first brushing up Wikie’s grasp of the “copy” command, she was trained to parrot three familiar orca sounds made by her three-year old calf Moana.

Wikie was then additionally exposed to five orca sounds she had never heard before, including noises resembling a creaking door and the blowing a raspberry.

Finally, Wikie was exposed to a human making three of the orca sounds, as well as six human sounds, including “hello”, “Amy”, “ah ha”, “one, two” and “bye bye”.

“You cannot pick a word that is very complicated because then I think you are asking too much – we wanted things that were short but were also distinctive,” said Call.

Throughout the study, Wikie’s success was first judged by her two trainers and then confirmed from recordings by six independent adjudicators who compared them to the original sound, without knowing which was which.

The team found that Wikie was often quickly able to copy the sounds, whether from an orca or a human, with all of the novel noises mimicked within 17 trials. What’s more, two human utterances and all of the human-produced orca sounds were managed on the first attempt – although only one human sound – “hello” – was correctly produced more than 50% of the time on subsequent trials.

The matching was further backed up through an analysis of various acoustic features from the recordings of Wikie’s sounds.

While the sounds were all made and copied when the animals’ heads were out of the water, Call said the study shed light on orca behaviour.

“I think here we have the first evidence that killer whales may be learning sounds by vocal imitation, and this is something that could be the basis of the dialects we observe in the wild – it is plausible,” said Call, noting that to further test the idea, trials would have to be carried out with wild orcas.

Diana Reiss, an expert in dolphin communication and professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, welcomed the research, noting that it extends our understanding of orcas’ vocal abilities, with Wikie able to apply a “copy” command learned for imitation of actions to imitation of sounds.

Dr Irene Pepperberg, an expert in parrot cognition at Harvard University, also described the study as exciting, but said: “A stronger test would have been whether the various sounds produced could be correctly classified by humans without the models present for comparison.”

Cultura primata (Revista Fapesp)

Transmissão de práticas de uso de ferramentas por macacos-prego ajuda a repensar o papel das tradições na evolução


Podcast: Eduardo Ottoni

Com uma pedra erguida acima da cabeça, o jovem Porthos bate vigorosamente no chão arenoso de modo a abrir um buraco. Seu objetivo: uma aranha, que logo consegue desentocar e rola entre as mãos para tontear a presa que em seguida come. Ele é um macaco-prego da espécie Sapajus libidinosus, habitante do Parque Nacional Serra da Capivara, no Piauí, e objeto de estudo de pesquisadores do Instituto de Psicologia da Universidade de São Paulo (IP-USP). O biólogo Tiago Falótico tem caracterizado o uso de ferramentas por esses animais (ver Pesquisa FAPESP nº 196) e mostrou, em artigo publicado em julho na revista Scientific Reports, que a ação do jovem macho envolve conhecimento, aprendizado e transmissão de práticas culturais – ou tradições, como alguns preferem chamar quando os sujeitos não são humanos – dentro de grupos sociais. A pesquisa está no bojo de um corpo teórico que busca entrelaçar biologia, ciências sociais e humanas e recém-desembocou na formação da Sociedade de Evolução Cultural. Sua reunião inaugural acaba de acontecer na Alemanha, entre 13 e 15 de setembro.

Até agora, o uso de pedras como ferramentas para cavar só foi documentado nessa população. Especialmente quando se trata de desentocar aranhas, é preciso experiência. O estudo, resultado de observações feitas durante o doutorado de Falótico, encerrado em 2011 sob orientação do biólogo Eduardo Ottoni, mostra que quase 60% dos adultos e jovens (como Porthos) têm sucesso na tarefa. Macacos juvenis (o correspondente a crianças), por outro lado, só conseguem em pouco mais de 30% dos casos. Isso acontece porque é preciso reconhecer o revestimento de seda que fecha a toca do aracnídeo, sinal de que o habitante está lá dentro. “Os juvenis às vezes cavam uma toca que acabou de ser aberta por outro macaco”, conta Falótico. Estruturas subterrâneas, parecidas com batatas, da planta conhecida como farinha-seca (Thiloa glaucocarpa), também são desenterradas com mais eficiência pelos adultos. Já as raízes de louro (Ocotea), outro alimento desses primatas, apesar de envolverem o uso de pedras maiores, não parecem apresentar um desafio especial para os aprendizes. Macacos dos dois sexos se mostraram igualmente capazes de cavar com pedras, com uma taxa de sucesso equivalente, embora eles pareçam ter mais interesse pela atividade: entre as 1.702 situações observadas, 77% envolviam machos e apenas 23%, fêmeas.

“Esperávamos encontrar uma correlação entre o uso de ferramentas e a escassez de alimentos, mas não foi o que vimos”, conta Falótico. Se os macacos da serra da Capivara encontram algo comestível que exija o uso de ferramentas, recorrem a elas. Seu modo de vida, em que passam metade do tempo no chão rodeados de pedras e gravetos, parece ser propício ao desenvolvimento das habilidades. Mas não é só isso. Embora não haja diferença entre os sexos nos hábitos alimentares, as fêmeas nunca usam gravetos – que seus companheiros masculinos utilizam para desentocar lagartos de frestas e retirar insetos de troncos, por exemplo. Há diferença apenas, aparentemente, no interesse. “Quando um macho vê outro usar uma vareta, ele observa atento; já uma fêmea, mesmo que esteja ao lado daquele usando a ferramenta, não se interessa e olha para o outro lado!”

Os macacos da mesma espécie que habitam a fazenda Boa Vista, em Gilbués, cerca de 300 quilômetros (km) para sudoeste, têm tradições distintas no uso de ferramentas. Ali, uma área com mais influência de Cerrado do que Caatinga, as pedras são menos abundantes, mas necessárias (e usadas) para quebrar cocos. Gravetos estão por toda parte, mas não têm uso. Essa diferença cultural entre grupos de macacos foi explorada em um experimento feito pelo psicólogo Raphael Moura Cardoso durante o doutorado, orientado por Eduardo Ottoni, e relatado em artigo de 2016 na Biology Letters. Eles puseram – tanto na fazenda Boa Vista como na serra da Capivara – caixas de acrílico recheadas de melado de cana. O único jeito de retirar a guloseima era por meio de uma fenda no alto com largura suficiente apenas para varetas. “Na serra da Capivara, um macho logo acertou uma pedrada na caixa”, lembra Ottoni, que, previdente, tinha planejado o aparato “à prova de macaco-prego”. “Quando nada aconteceu, ele largou a pedra, coçou a cabeça e pegou um graveto.” Ele brinca que nem precisou editar o vídeo para mostrar em um congresso – foi uma ação contínua e imediata. Ao longo de cinco dias de exposição à caixa, 10 dos 14 machos usaram o graveto logo na primeira sessão, e apenas os três mais jovens não foram bem-sucedidos. Os demais conseguiram um sucesso de 90% na empreitada. As fêmeas não tentaram, assim como os macacos da fazenda Boa Vista. Lá, os pesquisadores até tentaram ajudar: depois de seis horas expostos à tarefa, os macacos deparavam com um graveto já fincado na fenda. Mesmo tirando e lambendo o melado da ponta, nenhum deles voltou a inserir a ferramenta na caixa ao longo de 13 dias de experimento. Uma surpresa foi que os macacos da Boa Vista, exímios quebradores de coco, não tentaram partir a caixa. “Eu esperava isso deles, não dos outros”, diz Ottoni.

Aprendizado social

Os resultados, surpreendentes, podem reforçar a importância da transmissão de tradições entre os macacos. A capa da edição de 25 de julho deste ano da revista PNAS traz justamente a foto de um macaco-prego da fazenda Boa Vista comendo uma castanha que conseguiu quebrar com a ajuda de uma grande pedra redonda, observado de perto por um jovem. A imagem anuncia a coletânea especial sobre como a cultura se conecta à biologia, da qual faz parte um artigo do grupo liderado pelas primatólogas Patrícia Izar, do IP-USP, Dorothy Fragaszy, da Universidade da Georgia, nos Estados Unidos, e Elisabetta Visalberghi, do Instituto de Ciências e Tecnologias Cognitivas, na Itália, sobre os macacos da fazenda Boa Vista, que estudam sistematicamente desde 2006. Nas observações recolhidas ao longo desse tempo, chama a atenção a tolerância dos adultos em relação aos jovens aprendizes que olham de perto e até comem pedaços dos cocos partidos. “Os adultos competem pelos recursos e os imaturos podem ficar perto”, conta Patrícia. As análises publicadas no artigo recente mostram muito mais do que proximidade: os quebradores de coco influenciam a atividade dos outros, sobretudo os jovens, que também começam a manipular pedras e cocos. Isso dura alguns minutos. “A tradição canaliza a atividade para o mesmo tipo de ação importante para essa tradição”, define.

Patrícia ressalta que os macacos nascem nesse contexto. “Muitas vezes vemos filhotes nas costas das mães enquanto elas quebram”, conta. Com esse aprendizado contínuo, acabam se tornando especialistas na tarefa. Mas não basta observar, e daí a importância de os filhotes serem atraídos pela ação dos adultos – principalmente os mais eficazes. “O sucesso passa pela percepção da tarefa e das propriedades da ferramenta”, detalha, descrevendo um complexo corpo-ferramenta em que é constantemente necessário ajustar força, gestos e postura. Quando quebram tucum, um coquinho menos resistente, os macacos ajustam a força das pancadas depois de ouvirem o som da superfície rachando, o grupo mostrou em artigo do ano passado na Animal Behaviour. Para cocos mais difíceis, eles escolhem pedras que podem chegar a ser mais pesadas do que o próprio corpo. E a seleção da pedra é criteriosa, conforme mostrou um experimento em que Patrícia e seu grupo forneceram pedras artificiais com diferentes tamanhos, pesos e densidades. As pedras grandes logo atraíam a atenção dos macacos, mas se fossem pouco densas – mais leves do que aparentavam – eram abandonadas. “Eles têm a percepção de que o peso é importante na quebra”, diz Patrícia.

Tolerância: macho adulto da fazenda Boa Vista come castanha partida observado de perto por jovem

Essas sociedades primatas alteram o ambiente. Macacos escolhem pedras ou troncos achatados como base para quebrar coco, e para lá carregam as raras pedras grandes e duras que encontram no ambiente. Essa conformação é importante não só por criar oficinas de quebra, mas por canalizar a possibilidade de aprendizado, já que todos sabem onde a atividade acontece e pode ser observada. “Não faz sentido pensar em maturação motora independente do contexto social, alimentar”, afirma a bióloga Briseida Resende, também do IP-USP e coautora do artigo da PNAS. O desenvolvimento individual depende das experiências de cada um, de suas capacidades físicas e do acervo acumulado pelo grupo, no qual uma inovação criada pode se disseminar, perpetuar-se e fazer parte da cultura mantida por gerações. Resende defende que indivíduo e sociedade são indissociáveis, embora historicamente tenham sido vistos como entidades distintas.

Teoria revista

Reunir a evolução cultural e a biológica é justamente o foco da síntese estendida, agora sedimentada com a fundação, em 2016, da Sociedade de Evolução Cultural – o primeiro presidente é o zoólogo Peter Richerson, da Universidade da Califórnia em Davis, cujo grupo privilegia a estatística. Essa visão conjunta amplia o olhar evolutivo, já que a transmissão de ideias ou inovações não se dá apenas de pais para filhos e pode trazer vantagens seletivas favorecendo as capacidades cognitivas e sociais relevantes. Considera também que a cultura pode influenciar aspectos físicos, como a conformação e o tamanho do cérebro, ou o desenvolvimento de habilidades que por sua vez sedimentam o comportamento. Os genes e a cultura, duas vias de transmissão de informação, relacionam-se, portanto, por uma via de mão dupla.

Jovens aprendizes tentam tirar proveito de escavação feita por fêmea

A oportunidade de ver comportamentos surgirem e se espalhar é rara, e por isso abordagens experimentais que provocam inovações são um acréscimo importante aos comportamentos diversos dos macacos-prego do Piauí. Ferramentas estatísticas recentes podem ajudar a aprofundar essa compreensão, como a Análise de Difusão Baseada em Redes (Network-Based Diffusion Analysis) que o grupo de Ottoni começa a usar. “O programa monta uma rede social aleatória e compara à real”, explica o pesquisador, que torna as análises mais robustas inserindo características medidas nos sujeitos em causa. Em agosto de 2016 ele apresentou, no congresso da Sociedade Primatológica Internacional, em Chicago, resultados do experimento feito pela bióloga Camila Coelho durante doutorado orientado por ele com um período passado na Universidade de Durham, no Reino Unido, para aprender o método. Os resultados indicam que, no caso dos macacos-prego, o aprendizado social prevê a difusão de informação na espécie.

Até meio século atrás, o uso de ferramentas era considerado privilégio humano. Ao observar chimpanzés na Tanzânia, a inglesa Jane Goodall derrubou essa exclusividade e, de certa maneira, causou a redefinição das fronteiras entre gente e bicho. Muito se descobriu de lá para cá, mas falar em cultura animal ainda esbarra em certo desconforto. Talvez não por muito mais tempo.

O uso de pedras para escavar só foi descrito na serra da Capivara

Sob o comando de hormônios

O cuidado com os filhotes está ligado ao hormônio oxitocina em mamíferos. O grupo liderado por Maria Cátira Bortolini, da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, descreveu há poucos anos as variações na molécula de oxitocina em espécies de macacos nas quais há bons pais (ver Pesquisa FAPESP 228). Ensaios farmacológicos feitos no laboratório do bioquímico Claudio Costa-Neto, da Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto da USP, agora desvendaram o caminho da oxitocina dentro das células e verificaram que os receptores das formas alteradas ficam mais expostos nas membranas das células, de maneira que o sistema não se dessensibiliza. “É como se o macaco recebesse constantemente a instrução ‘tenho que cuidar dos filhotes’”, explica Cátira. Faz diferença para a sobrevivência de saguis, que frequentemente têm filhotes gêmeos, por exemplo.

O resultado está em artigo publicado em agosto na PNAS, que também descreve o resultado da aplicação dessas oxitocinas em ratos por meio de borrifadas nasais, experimento realizado em colaboração com o fisiologista Aldo Lucion, da UFRGS. As fêmeas lactantes, já inundadas de oxitocina, alteraram pouco o comportamento. Mas os machos tratados com o hormônio alteraram radicalmente o hábito de ignorar os filhotes e correram para cheirá-los, uma reação que foi três vezes mais rápida com a oxitocina de sagui.

Os cebídeos, família que inclui os macacos-prego, também têm um tipo de oxitocina que aumenta a propensão à paternidade ativa. Os grupos de Cátira e de Ottoni recentemente iniciaram uma colaboração para investigar as características genéticas em machos mais e menos cuidadores. “Já conseguimos extrair material genético de amostras de fezes e estamos selecionando genes candidatos a serem rastreados”, conta ela, fascinada com a tolerância dos machos e as habilidades cognitivas dos primatas do Piauí. “A capacidade de inovar, por um lado, e a de sentar e observar, por outro, são necessárias para o desenvolvimento e a transmissão de traços culturais adaptativos e certamente há um cenário genético por trás disso.”

1. Uso de ferramentas por macacos-prego (Sapajus libidinosus) selvagens: Ecologia, aprendizagem socialmente mediada e tradições comportamentais (nº 14/04818-0); Modalidade Projeto Temático; Pesquisador responsável Eduardo Benedicto Ottoni (USP); Investimento R$ 609.276,69.2. Variabilidade de comportamento social de macacos-prego (gênero Cebus): Análise comparativa entre populações para investigação de correlatos fisiológicos (nº 08/55684-3); Modalidade Auxílio à Pesquisa – Regular; Pesquisadora responsável Patrícia Izar (USP); Investimento R$ 186.187,33.
3. Desenvolvimento de novos ligantes/drogas com ação agonística seletiva (biased agonism) para receptores dos sistemas renina-angiotensina e calicreínas-cininas: Novas propriedades e novas aplicações biotecnológicas (nº 12/20148-0); ModalidadeProjeto Temático; Pesquisador responsável Claudio Miguel da Costa Neto (USP); Investimento R$ 3.169.674,21.

Artigos científicos
FALÓTICO, T. et alDigging up food: excavation stone tool use by wild capuchin monkeysScientific Reports. v. 7, n. 1, 6278. 24 jul. 2017.
CARDOSO, R. M. e OTTONI, E. B. The effects of tradition on problem solving by two wild populations of bearded capuchin monkeys in a probing task. Biology Letters. v. 12, n. 11, 20160604. nov. 2016.
FRAGASZY, D. M. et alSynchronized practice helps bearded capuchin monkeys learn to extend attention while learning a traditionPNAS. v. 114, n. 30, p. 7798-805. 25 jul. 2017.
MANGALAM, M., Izar, et alTask-specific temporal organization of percussive movements in wild bearded capuchin monkeysAnimal Behaviour. v. 114, p. 129–137. abr. 2016.
PARREIRAS-E-SILVA, L. T. et alFunctional new world monkey oxytocin forms elicit na altered signaling profile and promotes parental care in ratsPNAS. v. 114, n. 34, p. 9044-49. 22 ago. 2017.
VISALBERGHI, E. et al. Selection of effective stone tools by wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus)Current Biology, v. 19, n. 3, p. 213-17. 10 fev. 2009.

O peso através das gerações (Pesquisa Fapesp)

Entre ratos, efeitos do consumo excessivo ou da falta de comida podem ser transmitidos para filhos e netos 


Experimentos com ratos feitos por pesquisadores de universidades de São Paulo reforçam a ideia de que o excesso de peso pode ser um fenômeno que transcende gerações – e não apenas porque os filhos tendem a herdar dos pais genes que favorecem o acúmulo de energia e os tornam predispostos à obesidade ou porque vivem em um ambiente com disponibilidade excessiva de comida. Alterações na oferta de alimento para as fêmeas um pouco antes ou durante a gravidez parecem aumentar, por mecanismos ainda pouco compreendidos, a probabilidade de que tenham filhos e até netos com sobrepeso.

Em uma série de testes, a bióloga Maria Martha Bernardi e sua equipe na Universidade Paulista (Unip) alimentaram algumas ratas no início da vida reprodutiva e outras já grávidas com uma dieta bastante calórica e aguardaram para ver o que acontecia com a primeira geração de filhotes e também com os filhos desses filhotes. Tanto os roedores que nasceram de mães superalimentadas quanto os da geração seguinte apresentaram mais predisposição a desenvolver sobrepeso.

A tendência de ganho excessivo de peso ocorreu mesmo quando os filhos e os netos dessas ratas foram alimentados apenas com a dieta padrão de laboratório. Segundo Martha, esses resultados indicam que o período em que o feto está se desenvolvendo no útero é crucial para definir a regulação do metabolismo do animal e, ao menos, o da geração seguinte.

Se essas mudanças aparecessem apenas na primeira geração, o mais natural seria imaginar que alterações hormonais provocadas pela dieta materna teriam afetado os filhotes. Como o efeito avança até a segunda geração, os pesquisadores suspeitam que a propensão a ganhar peso seja mantida por mecanismos epigenéticos: alterações no padrão de ativação e desligamento dos genes provocadas por fatores ambientais, como a dieta, e transmitidas às gerações seguintes. Essas mudanças no perfil de acionamento dos genes não alteram diretamente a sequência de “letras químicas” do DNA, apesar de serem herdadas através das gerações. Embora o grupo de Martha não tenha analisado o padrão de atividade dos genes, dados obtidos por cientistas mundo afora indicam que mudanças no perfil de ativação gênica sem alteração na sequência de DNA podem acontecer tanto em animais quanto em seres humanos.

Dieta que engorda
Curiosamente, não foi só a superalimentação materna durante a gestação que parece ter mexido com o perfil de ativação de seus genes e deixado filhos e netos com tendência a engordar. Em um dos experimentos, realizado em parceria com pesquisadores das universidades de São Paulo (USP), Federal do ABC (UFABC) e Santo Amaro (Unisa), 12 fêmeas de ratos receberam 40% menos comida do que o considerado normal para as roedoras prenhes, enquanto oito ratas do grupo de controle foram alimentadas com a dieta habitual de laboratório.

As fêmeas que passaram fome durante a gestação ganharam menos da metade do peso das ratas que puderam comer à vontade. Os filhotes das mães submetidas à restrição alimentar nasceram menores e continuaram mais magros durante algum tempo, ainda que recebessem a mesma quantidade de comida que os filhos das ratas que não passaram fome. Só na idade adulta a diferença desapareceu e os dois grupos de roedores alcançaram peso semelhante, embora os filhos das ratas famintas apresentassem uma proporção maior de gordura corporal – em especial, de uma forma de gordura que se acumula entre os órgãos (gordura visceral), associada a maior risco de problemas cardiovasculares.

A diferença mais importante surgiu na segunda geração. Os netos de ratas que haviam comido pouco enquanto estavam prenhes nasceram menores, mas, depois de adultos, eram um pouco (de 10% a 15%) mais pesados que os netos das ratas alimentadas normalmente. Eles tinham mais gordura visceral e também sinais de inflamação no cérebro. Esse ganho extra de peso ocorreu mesmo com as fêmeas da primeira geração, portanto, mães desses animais, tendo sido alimentadas normalmente. É como se a privação de alimento experimentada pelas ratas da geração inicial provocasse uma reprogramação metabólica duradoura em seus descendentes, afirmam os pesquisadores em artigo publicado em maio de 2016 na revista Reproduction, Fertility and Development.

O trabalho da equipe paulista, nesse ponto, confirma pesquisas anteriores que já haviam encontrado uma associação entre episódios de fome na gravidez e o nascimento de filhos com propensão ao aumento de peso e aos problemas de saúde a ele associados. Embora não tenham identificado o mecanismo específico por trás desse efeito, Martha Bernardi e sua equipe suspeitam que compostos produzidos pelo organismo das mães da geração inicial, parcialmente privadas de comida na gestação, ativem genes que favorecem o rápido ganho de peso no filhote. Assim, os sinais químicos emitidos pelo corpo materno funcionariam como um alerta de que o ambiente é de escassez e que é preciso usar com máxima eficiência os recursos alimentares disponíveis. Essa sinalização recebida pelo organismo do filhote poderia fazer toda a diferença, representando a chance de crescer e sobreviver em um ambiente com privação de alimento. “Mas também pode levar à obesidade, caso a oferta de alimentos volte a se normalizar depois que ele nasce”, explica Martha.

Estudos realizados nas décadas anteriores mostraram uma situação muito parecida com a descrita acima entre os descendentes das mulheres que ficaram grávidas durante o chamado Hongerwinter (inverno da fome, em holandês), quando os exércitos nazistas que recuavam na Holanda diante do avanço dos Aliados cortaram boa parte do transporte de suprimentos para o país entre o fim de 1944 e o começo de 1945, no final da Segunda Grande Guerra. Tanto os filhos quanto os netos das sobreviventes do Hongerwinter apresentavam taxas de obesidade e problemas metabólicos acima do esperado para a população geral.

Inflamação no cérebro
Em outro estudo, Martha e seus colegas forneceram alimentação hipercalórica – uma mistura de ração padrão mais um suplemento líquido rico em diferentes tipos de gordura – para 10 ratas logo após o desmame, enquanto outro grupo de fêmeas recebeu a alimentação normal e serviu de controle. Conforme o esperado, as ratas submetidas à dieta hipercalórica quando bebês ficaram acima do peso, ainda que não obesas, ao chegar à puberdade. Efeitos semelhantes foram observados em suas filhas: eram ratas que, quando adultas, apresentaram sobrepeso e alterações metabólicas, como o acúmulo de gordura visceral, embora tenham sido tratadas apenas com uma dieta balanceada durante toda a vida. Também publicado na Reproduction, Fertility and Development, esse trabalho e outros estudos do grupo indicam que o sobrepeso foi o desencadeador de processos inflamatórios que afetaram o cérebro da mãe e da prole, de forma aparentemente duradoura.

Se parece estranho imaginar que o excesso de peso pode levar a uma inflamação cerebral, é preciso lembrar que as células de gordura não são meros depósitos de calorias. Os adipócitos, como são chamados, produzem uma grande variedade de substâncias, entre as quais moléculas desencadeadoras de inflamações, que chegam à corrente sanguínea e, a partir dela, ao hipotálamo, região do cérebro associada, entre outras funções, ao controle da fome.

Trabalhos do grupo da Unip ainda não publicados indicam ainda que essa inflamação pode atingir outras áreas cerebrais dos roedores. A hipótese dos pesquisadores é de que o processo inflamatório no órgão esteja ligado à reprogramação do organismo transmitida da mãe para os filhotes, incluindo aí alterações no controle do apetite que podem se manter durante a vida adulta.

Para Alicia Kowaltowski, pesquisadora do Instituto de Química da USP que estuda a relação entre a dieta e os mecanismos de produção de energia das células, é bastante forte a possibilidade de que a tendência ao sobrepeso e à obesidade seja passada de uma geração para outra por meios que não envolvem a herança de genes favorecedores do ganho de peso. “A questão é saber quais são os mecanismos que estão por trás desses fenômenos”, conta a pesquisadora.

Entre tais mecanismos, um candidato que tem ganhado força são as transformações epigenéticas. O prefixo grego epi significa superior, e na palavra epigenética, cunhada nos anos 1940 pelo embriologista inglês Conrad Waddington, designa a área da biologia que estuda as modificações químicas motivadas pelo ambiente que levam à ativação ou inativação dos genes e alteram o funcionamento do organismo. Uma das modificações químicas mais comuns e simples sofrida pelos genes é a chamada metilação. Nela, um grupo metila, formado por um átomo de carbono e três de hidrogênio (CH3), acopla-se a um trecho de DNA, impedindo que ele seja lido pelo maquinário da célula. O resultado é o silenciamento daquela região. Estudos com dezenas de espécies de animais, plantas e fungos já mostraram que o perfil de metilação pode ser transmitido de uma geração para outra e afetar as características da prole.

Influência paterna
O papel das mães no sobrepeso dos filhos parece cada vez mais sólido. E quanto ao papel do pai? “Há alguns indícios de que a influência paterna também pode ocorrer, mas eles são menos claros”, diz Martha Bernardi. Por um lado, faz sentido que influências epigenéticas possam ser transmitidas pelo lado paterno – assim como outras células do organismo, os espermatozoides podem ser afetados por alterações no padrão de ativação dos genes produzidas por influência do ambiente. Se tais mudanças não forem totalmente eliminadas após o encontro entre as células sexuais masculinas e os óvulos, o novo indivíduo gerado pela fecundação poderia carregar parte da memória epigenética de seu pai.

Um estudo de 2015, feito por uma equipe da Universidade de Copenhague, na Dinamarca, e liderado por Romain Barrès, mostrou que esse cenário é plausível ao estudar os espermatozoides de 16 homens obesos e outros 10 com peso normal. No caso dos voluntários obesos, os padrões epigenéticos, como os de metilação, concentravam-se em genes ligados ao desenvolvimento do sistema nervoso, em especial os que são importantes para o controle do apetite (e, portanto, do peso), o que não ocorria com os homens magros.

Barrès e seus colegas fizeram outra comparação sugestiva entre as marcações epigenéticas dos espermatozoides dos obesos antes da cirurgia de redução de estômago e as desses mesmos participantes após a operação. Resultado: depois da cirurgia, o padrão epigenético das células lembrava o de homens com peso normal.

“O mais importante a respeito dessas descobertas é sugerir que tais modificações podem ocorrer em células germinativas, ou seja, os óvulos e espermatozoides, e ser transmitidas para gerações seguintes”, diz o médico Licio Augusto Velloso, professor da Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Universidade Estadual de Campinas (FCM-Unicamp), que estuda os mecanismos celulares e moleculares ligados à origem da obesidade e do diabetes. “Os estudos epigenéticos avançaram muito na última década e se espera que, num futuro não muito distante, o mapeamento de fatores ambientais e de seu impacto em diferentes aspectos da epigenética nos ajude a prevenir doenças importantes”, afirma Velloso.

Enxergar o excesso de peso pelo prisma epigenético pode trazer mais uma peça relevante para o quebra-cabeça da epidemia global de obesidade e de doenças metabólicas ligadas a ela. Historicamente associado à saúde e à fartura, o excesso de peso se tornou um problema de grandes proporções primeiro nos países ricos, mas hoje é cada vez mais comum em países mais pobres – a começar pelo Brasil, onde quase 60% da população adulta está acima do peso considerado saudável, conforme dados do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). Muitos países em desenvolvimento passaram rapidamente de um contexto em que a desnutrição era um problema grave para outro em que a obesidade é muito mais preocupante.

Artigos científicos
JOAQUIM, A. O. et al. Maternal food restriction in rats of the F0 generation increases retroperitoneal fat, the number and size of adipocytes and induces periventricular astrogliosis in female F1 and male F2 generationsReproduction, Fertility and Development. 31 mai. 2016.
JOAQUIM, A. O. et alTransgenerational effects of a hypercaloric dietReproduction, Fertility and Development. 25 ago. 2015.

¿Adiós al Servicio Meteorológico? Un biólogo argentino predice el clima estudiando hormigas (y acierta) (La Nación)

Jorge Finardi anticipa lluvias y tormentas a partir del comportamiento de insectos


JUEVES 26 DE ENERO DE 2017 • 17:44

¿Chau Servicio Meteorológico? El biólogo argentino que predice el clima estudiando hormigas

¿Chau Servicio Meteorológico? El biólogo argentino que predice el clima estudiando hormigas. Foto: Archivo 

Jorge Finardi predice el clima a través de las hormigas. Estudia sus movimientos, los registra, los compara y llega a la conclusión, por ejemplo, de que mañana a la tarde lloverá. Y acierta. Esta semana, Finardi anticipó con su método el calor sofocante del lunes, la tormenta del martes, y la caída de la temperatura del miércoles. Nada mal.

Finardi es químico, biólogo, y lleva adelante la cuenta de Twitter @GeorgeClimaPron. En ella, comunica sus pronósticos climatológicos. En una entrevista con LA NACION, explica su sistema.

-¿Cómo funciona tu método de análisis?

-En primer lugar, determino el grado de actividad de las hormigas en una escala del 1 al 10. Para armar la escala tengo en cuenta la cantidad de interacciones entre las hormigas, el número de hormigas involucradas, y el tipo y tamaño de carga que llevan, además, de la clase de hormiga que trabaja.

-¿Y de qué manera se relaciona con el clima? ¿Más actividad es indicativa de lluvia?

-En parte sí, pero depende de la carga que lleven. Por ejemplo, cuando las hormigas llevan palitos y barritas, es porque tienen que fortalecer el hormiguero, debido a que se aproxima lluvia o frío. Cuando hay movilización de tierra es porque se viene una lluvia fuerte. Cuando llevan cereal, viene frío, porque el cereal fermenta dentro del hormiguero y produce calor para que nazcan los hongos que ellas comen.

Para las altas temperaturas, por otro lado, se acondicionan los túneles: las hormigas empiezan a abrir “chimeneas”, que son como agujeritos esparcidos dentro del hormiguero, que puede llegar a tener metros de profundidad. Cuando pasa eso, se viene una ola de calor.

-¿Cómo te interesaste por el tema?

-Desde los tres años me paso horas mirando las hormigas y todo tipo de insectos. Por otro lado, mi profesión me ayudó a profundizar estos temas, y también a hablar con gente de edad avanzada que vive en el campo y no se fija en los pronósticos. No los necesita. Así avancé. Así y con un poco de prueba y error. Al principio introduje hormigas en un terrario para poder observarlas más cómodo. Pero ellas se comportaban de otra manera, por el aislamiento. Ahora las sigo con una cámara.

-¿Además de las hormigas, analizás otros insectos?

-Sí. Las arañas, por ejemplo, tienen la capacidad de detectar actividad eléctrica, cuando aparecen y están muy activas. Las libélulas pueden anticipar una tormenta o viento. Las cigarras anuncian calor. Los gallos, cuando cantan a media noche, anuncian neblinas. También hay que prestar atención a las hormigas cuando están desorientadas, porque pueden captar actividad sísmica a grandes distancias.

-¿Este tipo de análisis es científico?

-No. Hay que destacar que el método no es científico, no es positivista, pero sí es cualitativo, experimental y observacional. Y sirve. Los hombres estamos acá desde el período cuaternario, pero las hormigas, por ejemplo, están desde la época de los dinosaurios. Están muy adaptadas, son muy sensibles a los cambios de ambiente. Y la naturaleza, así, nos habla, nos presenta síntomas. Hay que saber leerlos.

Morre na Flórida a orca Tilikum, que inspirou o documentário “Blackfish” (Correio Brasiliense)

A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora

Postado em 06/01/2017 16:38

A orca Tilikum, estrela do SeaWorld e protagonista do aclamado documentário “Blackfish”, que denunciou o sofrimento dos animais em cativeiro em atrações do gênero, morreu nesta sexta-feira após sofrer uma infecção bacteriana, anunciou o parque temático da Flórida em um comunicado.

A orca macho de 36 anos sofria de “graves problemas de saúde” e ainda se não pode determinar exatamente a causa da morte, segundo a empresa. Entre outros problemas, seus veterinários detectaram uma infecção bacteriana nos pulmões.

“Tilikum tinha, e ainda tem, um lugar especial no coração da família SeaWorld, assim como nos corações de milhões de pessoas ao redor do mundo que inspirou”, disse Joel Manby, presidente do parque de Orlando, no centro da Flórida.

A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora.

“A vida de Tilikum estará sempre ligada à perda de nossa amiga e colega Dawn Bancheau”, escreveu a empresa no texto publicado em seu site. “Enquanto todos nós sofremos grande tristeza por essa perda, continuamos oferecendo a Tilikum o melhor cuidado possível”.

A morte de Dawn é mencionada no filme de 2013, que ganhou o prêmio Bafta de Melhor Documentário, como um efeito do estresse sofrido por orcas em cativeiro por viver em pequenos tanques e com pouca luz.

A empresa sofreu uma avalanche de críticas após o filme e multiplicaram-se as chamadas para o fechamento desses parques aquáticos.

Finalmente, em março de 2016, SeaWorld anunciou que iria parar a criação de orcas e que sua atual geração desses mamíferos em cativeiro seria a última. A decisão foi aplaudida por organizações de defesa dos animais.

“Tilikum estava perto do fim da expectativa média de vida de baleias orcas do sexo masculino, de acordo com um estudo científico independente”, disse o SeaWorld nesta sexta-feira, relatando ainda que as bactérias que atingiram o animal são encontradas “em hábitats naturais e instalações de zoológicos”.

Com a perda de Tilikum, o SeaWorld tem agora 22 orcas em seus três parques em Orlando, San Antonio (Texas) e San Diego (Califórnia).

Por France Presse

Assim a sociedade de consumo destrói a biodiversidade do planeta (El País)

Pesquisa correlaciona a extinção de espécies com a origem dos produtos do comércio global

Os orangotangos de Bornéu estão ameaçados pela produção de óleo de palma.

Os orangotangos de Bornéu estão ameaçados pela produção de óleo de palma.  JEFTA IMAGES / BARCROFT


5 JAN 2017 – 00:53 CET 

Os humanos começam a admitir que somos como um meteorito que vai provocar a nova megaextinção de espécies no planeta Terra. Mas ainda nos falta muita informação sobre o tamanho desse meteorito coletivo e o alcance da devastação que juntos causaremos. Sabemos, por exemplo, que a exploração maciça dos recursos naturais é um dos grandes fatores associados à devastação da biodiversidade, mas são necessários mais dados para conectar esse fenômeno com nosso consumo desmesurado.

Um estudo pioneiro, divulgado nesta quarta-feira, mostra a grande responsabilidade do comércio global na extinção maciça de espécies no mundo, traçando uma clara correlação entre a cesta de compras dos países mais consumidores e as selvagens pressões que massacram os tesouros naturais. O cafezinho que alguém toma nos EUA, por exemplo, está ligado ao desmatamentoda América Central – onde esse café é cultivado –, e esse é o habitat do acuado macaco-aranha, o mais ameaçado do planeta.

“Pelo menos um terço das ameaças à biodiversidade em todo o mundo estão vinculadas à produção para o comércio internacional”, dizem os autores do estudo publicado na Nature Ecology & Evolution. Em seu trabalho, eles mapearam locais do planeta onde há quase 7.000 espécies ameaçadas, estabelecendo sua conexão com a cadeia de consumo nos EUA, China e Japão. Desse modo, pode-se ver facilmente como os animais sob risco em determinados pontos do planeta sofrem com a demanda de bens por parte dos grandes consumidores.

Mapa dos lugares com espécies ameaçadas em relação com o consumo de bens nos EUA.

Mapa dos lugares com espécies ameaçadas em relação com o consumo de bens nos EUA.  NATURE

 Por exemplo, o lince e dúzias de outras espécies sofrem na península Ibérica pela pressão da produção agrícola que abastece os mercados europeus e norte-americanos. “É digno de menção o importante rastro dos EUA na biodiversidade do sul da Espanha e Portugal, ligado aos impactos sobre uma série de espécies ameaçadas de peixes e aves, já que esses países raramente são percebidos como pontos de ameaça”, afirmam os autores no estudo.

No Brasil, a principal ameaça está no sul, no planalto brasileiro, devido à agropecuária extensiva, e não na Amazônia

“O que este trabalho nos mostra é que os humanos estão assaltando o planeta”, resume David Nogués-Bravo, especialista em macroecologia da Universidade de Copenhague. Nogués-Bravo, que não participou do estudo, diz que os impactos humanos sobre a natureza podem ser representados como um redemoinho que engole a diversidade de seres vivos sobre a Terra. “Esse turbilhão é constituído por três nós: poder, comida e dinheiro. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos do planeta é quase ilimitada, e é o que está provocando a sexta extinção maciça na história da Terra”, denúncia o ecologista.

Para ele, tanto o enfoque como os resultados são muito pertinentes, porque põem em perspectiva as perdas de biodiversidade, principalmente em países tropicais em vias de desenvolvimento, e os fluxos de demanda que se originam nos países mais ricos e industrializados.

“O planeta inteiro se tornou uma fazenda, tudo está a serviço de fornecer cada vez mais bens”, critica Juan Carlos del Olmo, secretário-geral da organização conservacionista WWF na Espanha. “O maior vetor de destruição da biodiversidade é a produção de alimentos numa escala brutal”, aponta. Os autores do estudo relatam, por exemplo, sua surpresa ao comprovar que o principal foco de ameaça aos tesouros naturais do Brasil não está na Amazônia. “Apesar da grande atenção dedicada à selva amazônica, o rastro norte-americano no Brasil é maior no sul, no planalto brasileiro, onde há práticas agropecuárias extensivas”, ressalta o trabalho.

“Os humanos estão assaltando o planeta. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos no planeta é quase ilimitada”, resume Nogués-Bravo

“E o rastro ecológico não para de crescer”, acrescenta Del Olmo, “mas reduzir esse rastro não é fácil; não podemos fomentar um consumo responsável se depois vamos jogar fora 25% do que se produz”. Como alterar a influência negativa destes fluxos? “Com este enfoque, do rastro de cima para baixo, examinamos todas as espécies ameaçadas e a atividade econômica em conjunto, razão pela qual pode ser difícil estabelecer vínculos claros entre consumo, comércio e impacto”, admitiu ao EL PAÍS um dos autores do estudo, Keiichiro Kanemoto, da Universidade de Shinshu.

“Precisamos ver de onde importamos e onde estão as espécies ameaçadas. Nosso mapa pode ajudar as empresas a fazerem uma cuidadosa seleção dos seus insumos e assim aliviar os impactos sobre a biodiversidade”, diz Kanemoto. Segundo o pesquisador, se as empresas oferecerem informações em seus produtos sobre as ameaças a espécies nas cadeias de suprimento, os consumidores poderão escolher em seu cotidiano produtos favoráveis à biodiversidade.

Os morangos que afogam o lince

“Esperamos que as empresas comparem nossos mapas e seus lugares de aquisição e então reconsiderem suas cadeias de suprimento, e queremos trabalhar com elas para começar a tomar medidas reais”, afirma Kanemoto. Neste sentido, Del Olmo diz que o trabalho do WWF há bastante tempo vem se voltando para esse foco: fazer com que todos os participantes da cadeia conheçam o impacto sobre a biodiversidade, para que a indústria, os fornecedores e os consumidores evitem os bens que mais causam danos na sua origem. Em outras palavras, que todos estejam conscientes de que o café coloca em risco o macaco-arranha, assim como o óleo de palma (dendê) ameaça o orangotango na Indonésia.

O estudo de Kanemoto e seus colegas ressalta como é inesperada a aparição da Espanha como uma região com grandes problemas de biodiversidade por culpa do consumo fora das suas fronteiras. Apontam especificamente o lince, que reina no Parque Nacional e Natural de Doñana, no sul do país, e que chegou a ser o felino mais ameaçado da Terra, entre outros motivos pela perda de hábitat. “Do ponto de vista da biodiversidade, a Espanha é o Bornéu da Europa. Nas grandes espécies a briga está acontecendo, mas a biodiversidade pequena – anfíbios, aves e peixes – está desaparecendo a uma velocidade brutal”, lamenta Del Olmo.

O diretor do WWF na Espanha cita como exemplo os morangos: a água que dava de beber à marisma de Doñana é atualmente usada nos milhares de hectares de cultivo de morangos. Essa área responde por 60% do cultivo da fruta na Espanha, e metade da água usada vem de poços ilegais, que secam o entorno. “O uso brutal da água e do território, o impacto da agricultura para exportar produtos a todo o mundo, deixa os aquíferos secos. Não notamos, mas o impacto é impressionante”, explica Del Olmo. E acrescenta: “Por isso dizemos às grandes redes varejistas: não comprem de quem usa poços ilegais e está destruindo a biodiversidade. Premiem quem faz direito”.

A New Origin Story for Dogs (The Atlantic)


June 2, 2016

The first domesticated animals may have been tamed twice.

Katie Salvi


Tens of thousands of years ago, before the internet, before the Industrial Revolution, before literature and mathematics, bronze and iron, before the advent of agriculture, early humans formed an unlikely partnership with another animal—the grey wolf. The fates of our two species became braided together. The wolves changed in body and temperament. Their skulls, teeth, and paws shrank. Their ears flopped. They gained a docile disposition, becoming both less frightening and less fearful. They learned to read the complex expressions that ripple across human faces. They turned into dogs.

Today, dogs are such familiar parts of our lives—our reputed best friends and subject of many a meme—that it’s easy to take them, and what they represent, for granted. Dogs were the first domesticated animals, and their barks heralded the Anthropocene. We raised puppies well before we raised kittens or chickens; before we herded cows, goats, pigs, and sheep; before we planted rice, wheat, barley, and corn; before we remade the world.

“Remove domestication from the human species, and there’s probably a couple of million of us on the planet, max,” says archaeologist and geneticist Greger Larson. “Instead, what do we have? Seven billion people, climate change, travel, innovation and everything. Domestication has influenced the entire earth. And dogs were the first.” For most of human history, “we’re not dissimilar to any other wild primate. We’re manipulating our environments, but not on a scale bigger than, say, a herd of African elephants. And then, we go into partnership with this group of wolves. They altered our relationship with the natural world.”

Larson wants to pin down their origins. He wants to know when, where, and how they were domesticated from wolves. But after decades of dogged effort, he and his fellow scientists are still arguing about the answers. They agree that all dogs, from low-slung corgis to towering mastiffs, are the tame descendants of wild ancestral wolves. But everything else is up for grabs.

Some say wolves were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, while others say 30,000. Some claim it happened in Europe, others in the Middle East, or East Asia. Some think early human hunter-gatherers actively tamed and bred wolves. Others say wolves domesticated themselves, by scavenging the carcasses left by human hunters, or loitering around campfires, growing tamer with each generation until they became permanent companions.

Dogs were domesticated so long ago, and have cross-bred so often with wolves and each other, that their genes are like “a completely homogenous bowl of soup,” Larson tells me, in his office at the University of Oxford. “Somebody goes: what ingredients were added, in what proportion and in what order, to make that soup?” He shrugs his shoulders. “The patterns we see could have been created by 17 different narrative scenarios, and we have no way of discriminating between them.”

The only way of doing so is to look into the past. Larson, who is fast-talking, eminently likable, and grounded in both archaeology and genetics, has been gathering fossils and collaborators in an attempt to yank the DNA out of as many dog and wolf fossils as he can. Those sequences will show exactly how the ancient canines relate to each other and to modern pooches. They’re the field’s best hope for getting firm answers to questions that have hounded them for decades.

And already, they have yielded a surprising discovery that could radically reframe the debate around dog domestication, so that the big question is no longer when it happened, or where, but how many times.

*    *   *

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago.  But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

To Larson, these details only make sense if dogs were domesticated twice.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

This is a bold story for Larson to endorse, not least because he himself has come down hard on other papers suggesting that cows, sheep, or other species were domesticated twice. “Any claims for more than one need to be substantially backed up by a lot of evidence,” he says. “Pigs were clearly domesticated in Anatolia and in East Asia. Everything else is once.” Well, except maybe dogs.

*   *   *

Katie Salvi

Other canine genetics experts think that Larson’s barking up the wrong tree. “I’m somewhat underwhelmed, since it’s based on a single specimen,” says Bob Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles. He buys that there’s a deep genetic division between modern dogs. But, it’s still possible that dogs were domesticated just once, creating a large, widespread, interbreeding population that only later resolved into two distinct lineages.

In 2013, Wayne’s team compared the mitochondrial genomes (small rings of DNA that sit outside the main set) of 126 modern dogs and wolves, and 18 fossils. They concluded that dogs were domesticated somewhere in Europe or western Siberia, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. And genes aside, “the density of fossils from Europe tells us something,” says Wayne. “There are many things that look like dogs, and nothing quite like that in east Asia.”

Peter Savolainen from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm disagrees. By comparing the full genomes of 58 modern wolves and dogs, his team has shown that dogs in southern China are the most genetically diverse in the world. They must have originated there around 33,000 years ago, he says, before a subset of them migrated west 18,000 years later.

That’s essentially the same story that Larson is telling. The key difference is that Savolainen doesn’t buy the existence of an independently domesticated group of western dogs. “That’s stretching the data very much,” he says. Those Ancient Western dogs might have just been wolves, he says. Or perhaps they were an even earlier group of migrants from the east. “I think the picture must seem a bit chaotic,” he says understatedly. “But for me, it’s pretty clear. It must have happened in southern East Asia. You can’t interpret it any other way.”

Except, you totally can. Wayne does (“I’m certainly less dogmatic than Peter,” he says). Adam Boyko from Cornell University does, too: after studying the genes of village dogs—free-ranging mutts that live near human settlements—he argued for a single domestication in Central Asia, somewhere near India or Nepal. And clearly, Larson does as well.

Larson adds that his gene-focused peers are ignoring one crucial line of evidence—bones. If dogs originated just once, there should be a neat gradient of fossils with the oldest ones at the center of domestication and the youngest ones far away from it. That’s not what we have. Instead, archaeologists have found 15,000-year-old dog fossils in western Europe, 12,500-year-old ones in east Asia, and nothing older than 8,000 years in between.

“If we’re wrong, then how on earth do you explain the archaeological data?” says Larson. “Did dogs jump from East Asia to Western Europe in a week, and then go all the way back 4,000 years later?” No. A dual domestication makes more sense. Mietje Genompré, an archaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, agrees that the bones support Larson’s idea. “For me, it’s very convincing,” she says.

But even Larson is hedging his bets. When I ask him how strong his evidence is, he says, “Like, put a number on it? If was being bold, I’d say it’s a 7 out of 10. We lack the smoking gun.”

Why is this is so hard? Of all the problems that scientists struggle with, why has the origin of dogs been such a bitch to solve?

For starters, the timing is hard to pin down because no one knows exactly how fast dog genomes change. That pace—the mutation rate—underpins a lot of genetic studies. It allows scientists to compare modern dogs and ask: How long ago must these lineages have diverged in order to build up this many differences in their genes? And since individual teams use mutation rate estimates that are wildly different, it’s no wonder they’ve arrive at conflicting answers.

Regardless of the exact date, it’s clear that over thousands of years, dogs have mated with each other, cross-bred with wolves, travelled over the world, and been deliberately bred by humans. The resulting ebb and flow of genes has turned their history into a muddy, turbid mess—the homogeneous soup that Larson envisages.

Wolves provide no clarity. Grey wolves used to live across the entire Northern Hemisphere, so they could have potentially been domesticated anywhere within that vast range (although North America is certainly out). What’s more, genetic studies tell us that no living group of wolves is more closely related to dogs than any other, which means that the wolves that originally gave rise to dogs are now extinct. Sequencing living wolves and dogs will never truly reveal their shrouded past; it’d be, as Larson says, like trying to solve a crime when the culprit isn’t even on the list of suspects.

“The only way to know for sure is to go back in time,” he adds.

*    *   *

Katie Salvi

The study informally known as the Big Dog Project was born of frustration. Back in 2011, Larson was working hard on the origin of domestic pigs, and became annoyed that scientists studying dogs were getting less rigorous papers in more prestigious journals, simply because their subjects were that much more charismatic and media-friendly. So he called up his longstanding collaborator Keith Dobney. “Through gritted teeth, I said: We’re fucking doing dogs. And he said: I’m in.”

Right from the start, the duo realized that studying living dogs would never settle the great domestication debate. The only way to do that was to sequence ancient DNA from fossil dogs and wolves, throughout their range and at different points in history. While other scientists were studying the soup of dog genetics by tasting the finished product, Larson would reach back in time to taste it at every step of its creation, allowing him to definitively reconstruct the entire recipe.

In recent decades, scientists have become increasingly successful at extracting and sequencing strands of DNA from fossils. This ancient DNA has done wonders for our understanding of our own evolution. It showed, for example, how Europe was colonized 40,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers moving up from Africa, then 8,000 years ago by Middle Eastern farmers, and 5,000 years ago by horse-riding herders from the Russian steppes. “Everyone in Europe today is a blend of those three populations,” says Larson, who hopes to parse the dog genome in the same way, by slicing it into its constituent ingredients.

Larson originally envisaged a small project—just him and Dobney analyzing a few fossils. But he got more funding, collaborators, and samples than he expected. “It just kind of metastasized out of all proportion,” he says. He and his colleagues would travel the world, drilling into fossils and carting chips of bone back to Oxford. They went to museums and private collections. (“There was a guy up in York who had a ton of stuff in his garage.”) They grabbed bones from archaeological sites.

The pieces of bone come back to a facility in Oxford called the Palaeo-BARN—the Palaeogenomics and Bioarchaeology Research Network. When I toured the facility with Larson, we wore white overalls, surgical masks, oversoles, and purple gloves, to keep our DNA (and that of our skin microbes) away from the precious fossil samples. Larson called them ‘spacesuits.’ I was thinking ‘thrift-store ninja.’

In one room, the team shoves pieces of bone into a machine that pounds it with a small ball bearing, turning solid shards into fine powder. They then send the powder through a gauntlet of chemicals and filters to pull out the DNA and get rid of everything else. The result is a tiny drop of liquid that contains the genetic essence of a long-dead dog or wolf. Larson’s freezer contains 1,500 such drops, and many more are on the way. “It’s truly fantastic the kind of data that he has gathered,” says Savolainen.

True to his roots in archaeology, Larson isn’t ignoring the bones. His team photographed the skulls of some 7,000 prehistoric dogs and wolves at 220 angles each, and rebuilt them in virtual space. They can use a technique called geometric morphometrics to see how different features on the skulls have evolved over time.

The two lines of evidence—DNA and bones—should either support or refute the double domestication idea. It will also help to clear some confusion over a few peculiar fossils, such as a 36,000 year old skull from Goyet cave in Belgium. Genompré thinks it’s a primitive dog. “It falls outside the variability of wolves: it’s smaller and the snout is different,” she says. Others say it’s too dissimilar to modern dogs. Wayne has suggested that it represents an aborted attempt at domestication—a line of dogs that didn’t contribute to modern populations and is now extinct.

Maybe the Goyet hound was part of Larson’s hypothetical Ancient Western group, domesticated shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe. Maybe it represented yet another separate flirtation with domestication. All of these options are on the table, and Larson thinks he has the data to tell them apart. “We can start putting numbers on the difference between dogs and wolves,” he says. “We can say this is what all the wolves at this time period look like; does the Goyet material fall within that realm, or does it look like dogs from later on?”

Larson hopes to have the first big answers within six to twelve months. “I think it’ll clearly show that some things can’t be right, and will narrow down the number of hypotheses,” says Boyko. “It may narrow it down to one but I’m not holding my breath on that.” Wayne is more optimistic. “Ancient DNA will provide much more definitive data than we had in the past,” he says. “[Larson] convinced everyone of that. He’s a great diplomat.”

Indeed, beyond accumulating DNA and virtual skulls, Larson’s greatest skill is in gathering collaborators. In 2013, he rounded up as many dog researchers as he could and flew them to Aberdeen, so he could get them talking. “I won’t say there was no tension,” he says. “You go into a room with someone who has written something that sort of implies you aren’t doing very good science… there will be tension. But it went away very quickly. And, frankly: alcohol.”

“Everyone was like: You know what? If I’m completely wrong and I have to eat crow on this, I don’t give a shit. I just want to know.”

The Value of a Gorilla vs. a Human (Huff Post Green)

 05/31/2016 05:11 pm ET

Bron Taylor

Author, ‘Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future’


An individual gorilla is more valuable than an individual human being.

What is your response to that statement?

I have seen no such argument in response to the death of Harambe, the Western Lowland Gorilla who was shot on 28 May at the Cincinnati Zoo. Zookeepers understandably feared for the life of a child who entered his enclosure. The incident has created furor.

Mainstream media depicted the shooting as a tragic necessity because the child was at risk of grievous harm or death. Whether implicitly felt or explicitly stated, the assumption was that the life of this child was more valuable than the life of this gorilla.

This was the view of Jack Hannah, the well-known conservationist and former director of the Columbus Zoo. In a host of interviews he clearly stated that the decision to kill Harambe was an easy call because every human life is more valuable than any animal life.

For her part, the child’s mother, after insisting that she is a responsible parent, asserted on Facebook, “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him.” Then she thanked those who saved her son and “most importantly God for being the awsome (sic) God that he is.” She apparently believed that God had intervened, even at the price of the Gorilla’s life.

She did not explain why God did not elect to protect her son by more peaceful means, such as, by preventing him from climbing into the enclosure.

In contrast, a host of critics was outraged by the killing and what they considered the mother’s negligence.

Especially upset were animal rights proponents, who base the value of animals on emotional, or cognitive traits they are believed to share with us, or on their capacity to suffer. For them, the great apes, our closest biological cousins, have rights that deserve respect, foremost, the right to life.

But I could find no one making a reasoned argument that this gorilla’s life was more valuable than that of this human child.

Some environmental philosophers and scientists, however, contend that an individual member of an endangered species is more valuable than an individual human being. Or, as conservation biologist Reed Noss put it to me recently, the value of an individual decreases proportionately with the size of its population.

Such arguments are premised upon an understanding that the viability of a species is associated with the variety of genes in its population: With few exceptions, the greater its genetic diversity the greater will be a species’ resilience in the face of diseases or environmental threats. But the smaller the population is, the higher is the risk of extinction. Consequently, every individual matters.

So, if one starts from an ethical claim that humanity ought not drive other species off the planet, and add scientific understandings about the value of an individual organism to the viability of its species, an endangered animal such as Harambe could be considered more valuable than one that is not valuable in this way.

The argument is as worth pondering . . . and so are our reactions to it.

Our reactions to the value of humans and other animals are typically shaped by culturally deep religious roots.

Put simply, most large human civilizations have religious roots and strong constituencies, which either view humans as a special creation of God, or consider humans to have become the highest and most valuable life forms by leading meritorious past lives.

Whatever ground for felt ethical obligations toward non-human organisms there might be given such premises, when push comes to shove, human lives come first.

In contemporary environmental philosophy, such views are termed anthropocentrism or literally, human-centered ethics.

That is a nice way of putting it.

But it is really the ideology of human supremacy.

Harambe’s demise may not provide a perfect fit for considering the proposition with which I began my provocation. The Zoo had frozen semen taken from him because it is part an international consortium that understands the importance of genetic diversity for efforts to save endangered species. Moreover, Western Lowland Gorillas have more habitat and greater numbers than great apes that are on the very brink of extinction.

But Harambe may have a greater conservation legacy than his genes being posthumously passed on through an endangered species breeding program. Hopefully, this tragic event will increase public awareness of the accelerating extinction crisis and the importance of preserving habitat for wild Gorillas, and protecting endangered species in captive breeding programs.

And perhaps, this case will help those who are skeptical of the religious ideas that undergird human supremacy to leave them behind, once and for all.

It may be that corresponding conservation policies and efforts would follow is such a value transformation spreads.

Indeed, there are signs just such a transformation is under way. It can be seen in the work of Dian Fossey who risked her life and was killed while trying to protect endangered Gorillas, and as rangers are empowered by law to use lethal force against poachers. So, we have examples where the lives of endangered species are considered to be more valuable than at least some human lives.

I hope that zoos will soon, and universally, be on the leading edge of this transformation, rather than reinforcing ancient and self-serving human conceits.

Animal training techniques teach robots new tricks (Science Daily)

Virtual dogs take place of programming

May 16, 2016
Washington State University
Researchers are using ideas from animal training to help non-expert users teach robots how to do desired tasks.

Virtual environments in which trainers gave directions to robot dog. Credit: Image courtesy of Washington State University

Researchers at Washington State University are using ideas from animal training to help non-expert users teach robots how to do desired tasks.

The researchers recently presented their work at the international Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems conference.

As robots become more pervasive in society, humans will want them to do chores like cleaning house or cooking. But to get a robot started on a task, people who aren’t computer programmers will have to give it instructions.

“We want everyone to be able to program, but that’s probably not going to happen,” said Matthew Taylor, Allred Distinguished Professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “So we needed to provide a way for everyone to train robots — without programming.”

User feedback improves robot performance

With Bei Peng, a doctoral student in computer science, and collaborators at Brown University and North Carolina State University, Taylor designed a computer program that lets humans teach a virtual robot that looks like a computerized pooch. Non-computer programmers worked with and trained the robot in WSU’s Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory.

For the study, the researchers varied the speed at which their virtual dog reacted. As when somebody is teaching a new skill to a real animal, the slower movements let the user know that the virtual dog was unsure of how to behave. The user could then provide clearer guidance to help the robot learn better.

“At the beginning, the virtual dog moves slowly. But as it receives more feedback and becomes more confident in what to do, it speeds up,” Peng said.

The user taught tasks by either reinforcing good behavior or punishing incorrect behavior. The more feedback the virtual dog received from the human, the more adept the robot became at predicting the correct course of action.

Applications for animal training

The researchers’ algorithm allowed the virtual dog to understand the tricky meanings behind a lack of feedback — called implicit feedback.

“When you’re training a dog, you may withhold a treat when it does something wrong,” Taylor explained. “So no feedback means it did something wrong. On the other hand, when professors are grading tests, they may only mark wrong answers, so no feedback means you did something right.”

The researchers have begun working with physical robots as well as virtual ones. They also hope to eventually use the program to help people learn to be more effective animal trainers.

Theoretical tiger chases statistical sheep to probe immune system behavior (Science Daily)

Physicists update predator-prey model for more clues on how bacteria evade attack from killer cells

April 29, 2016
IOP Publishing
Studying the way that solitary hunters such as tigers, bears or sea turtles chase down their prey turns out to be very useful in understanding the interaction between individual white blood cells and colonies of bacteria. Researchers have created a numerical model that explores this behavior in more detail.

Studying the way that solitary hunters such as tigers, bears or sea turtles chase down their prey turns out to be very useful in understanding the interaction between individual white blood cells and colonies of bacteria. Reporting their results in the Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical, researchers in Europe have created a numerical model that explores this behaviour in more detail.

Using mathematical expressions, the group can examine the dynamics of a single predator hunting a herd of prey. The routine splits the hunter’s motion into a diffusive part and a ballistic part, which represent the search for prey and then the direct chase that follows.

“We would expect this to be a fairly good approximation for many animals,” explained Ralf Metzler, who led the work and is based at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

Obstructions included

To further improve its analysis, the group, which includes scientists from the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia, and Sorbonne University in France, has incorporated volume effects into the latest version of its model. The addition means that prey can now inadvertently get in each other’s way and endanger their survival by blocking potential escape routes.

Thanks to this update, the team can study not just animal behaviour, but also gain greater insight into the way that killer cells such as macrophages (large white blood cells patrolling the body) attack colonies of bacteria.

One of the key parameters determining the life expectancy of the prey is the so-called ‘sighting range’ — the distance at which the prey is able to spot the predator. Examining this in more detail, the researchers found that the hunter profits more from the poor eyesight of the prey than from the strength of its own vision.

Long tradition with a new dimension

The analysis of predator-prey systems has a long tradition in statistical physics and today offers many opportunities for cooperative research, particularly in fields such as biology, biochemistry and movement ecology.

“With the ever more detailed experimental study of systems ranging from molecular processes in living biological cells to the motion patterns of animal herds and humans, the need for cross-fertilisation between the life sciences and the quantitative mathematical approaches of the physical sciences has reached a new dimension,” Metzler comments.

To help support this cross-fertilisation, he heads up a new section of the Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical that is dedicated to biological modelling and examines the use of numerical techniques to study problems in the interdisciplinary field connecting biology, biochemistry and physics.

Journal Reference:

  1. Maria Schwarzl, Aljaz Godec, Gleb Oshanin, Ralf Metzler. A single predator charging a herd of prey: effects of self volume and predator–prey decision-makingJournal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical, 2016; 49 (22): 225601 DOI: 10.1088/1751-8113/49/22/225601

Weasel Apparently Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Particle Collider (NPR)

April 29, 201611:04 AM ET


The Large Hadron Collider uses superconducting magnets to smash sub-atomic particles together at enormous energies.

The Large Hadron Collider uses superconducting magnets to smash sub-atomic particles together at enormous energies. CERN

A small mammal has sabotaged the world’s most powerful scientific instrument.

The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable.

A small mammal, possibly a weasel, gnawed-through a power cable at the Large Hadron Collider.A small mammal, possibly a weasel, gnawed-through a power cable at the Large Hadron Collider. Ashley Buttle/Flickr

“We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, the organization that runs the $7 billion particle collider in Switzerland. Although they had not conducted a thorough analysis of the remains, Marsollier says they believe the creature was “a weasel, probably.” (Update: An official briefing document from CERN indicates the creature may have been a marten.)

The shutdown comes as the LHC was preparing to collect new data on the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle it discovered in 2012. The Higgs is believed to endow other particles with mass, and it is considered to be a cornerstone of the modern theory of particle physics.

Researchers have seen some hints in recent data that other, yet-undiscovered particles might also be generated inside the LHC. If those other particles exist, they could revolutionize researcher’s understanding of everything from the laws of gravity, to quantum mechanics.

Unfortunately, Marsollier says, scientists will have to wait while workers bring the machine back online. Repairs will take a few days, but getting the machine fully ready to smash might take another week or two. “It may be mid-May,” he says.

These sorts of mishaps are not unheard of, says Marsollier. The LHC is located outside of Geneva. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.” There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to have dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems.

Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois.

It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe.

Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.

Répteis têm atividade cerebral típica de sonhos humanos, revela estudo (Folha de S.Paulo)

Dr. Stephan Junek, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research
Sleeping dragon (Pogona vitticeps). [Credit: Dr. Stephan Junek, Max Planck Institute for Brain Research]
Estudo mostra que lagartos atingem padrão de sono que, em humanos, permite o surgimento de sonhos


28/04/2016 14h56

Será que os lagartos sonham com ovelhas escamosas? Ninguém ainda foi capaz de enxergar detalhadamente o que acontece no cérebro de tais bichos para que seja possível responder a essa pergunta, mas um novo estudo revela que o padrão de atividade cerebral típico dos sonhos humanos também surge nesses répteis quando dormem.

Trata-se do chamado sono REM (sigla inglesa da expressão “movimento rápido dos olhos”), que antes parecia ser exclusividade de mamíferos como nós e das aves. No entanto, a análise da atividade cerebral de um lagarto australiano, o dragão-barbudo (Pogona vitticeps), indica que, ao longo da noite, o cérebro do animal fica se revezando entre o sono REM e o sono de ondas lentas (grosso modo, o sono profundo, sem sonhos), num padrão parecido, ainda que não idêntico, ao observado em seres humanos.

Liderado por Gilles Laurent, do Instituto Max Planck de Pesquisa sobre o Cérebro, na Alemanha, o estudo está saindo na revista especializada “Science”. “Laurent não brinca em serviço”, diz Sidarta Ribeiro, pesquisador da UFRN (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte) e um dos principais especialistas do mundo em neurobiologia do sono e dos sonhos. “Foi feita uma demonstração bem clara do fenômeno.”

A metodologia usada para verificar o que acontecia no cérebro reptiliano não era exatamente um dragão de sete cabeças. Cinco exemplares da espécie receberam implantes de eletrodos no cérebro e, na hora de dormir, seu comportamento foi monitorado com câmeras infravermelhas, ideais para “enxergar no escuro”. Os animais costumavam dormir entre seis e dez horas por noite, num ciclo que podia ser mais ou menos controlado pelos cientistas do Max Planck, já que eles é que apagavam e acendiam as luzes e regulavam a temperatura do recinto.

O que os pesquisadores estavam medindo era a variação de atividade elétrica no cérebro dos dragões-barbudos durante a noite. São essas oscilações que produzem o padrão de ondas já conhecido a partir do sono de humanos e demais mamíferos, por exemplo.

Só foi possível chegar aos achados relatados no novo estudo por causa de seu nível de detalhamento, diz Suzana Herculano-Houzel, neurocientista da UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) e colunista da Folha. “Estudos anteriores menos minuciosos não tinham como detectar sono REM porque, nesses animais, a alternância entre os dois tipos de sono é extremamente rápida, a cada 80 segundos”, explica ela, que já tinha visto Laurent apresentar os dados num congresso científico. Em humanos, os ciclos são bem mais lentos, com duração média de 90 minutos.

Além da semelhança no padrão de atividade cerebral, o sono REM dos répteis também tem correlação clara com os movimentos oculares que lhe dão o nome (os quais lembram vagamente a maneira como uma pessoa desperta mexe os olhos), conforme mostraram as imagens em infravermelho.


A primeira implicação das descobertas é evolutiva. Embora dormir seja um comportamento aparentemente universal no reino animal, o sono REM (e talvez os sonhos) pareciam exclusividade de espécies com cérebro supostamente mais complexo. “Para quem estuda os mecanismos do sono, é um estudo fundamental”, afirma Suzana.

Acontece que tanto mamíferos quanto aves descendem de grupos primitivos associados aos répteis, só que em momentos bem diferentes da história do planeta – mamíferos já caminhavam pela Terra havia dezenas de milhões de anos quando um grupo de pequenos dinossauros carnívoros deu origem às aves. Ou seja, em tese, mamíferos e aves precisariam ter “aprendido a sonhar” de forma totalmente independente. O achado “resolve esse paradoxo”, diz Ribeiro: o sono REM já estaria presente no ancestral comum de todos esses vertebrados.

O trabalho do pesquisador brasileiro e o de outros especialistas mundo afora tem mostrado que ambos os tipos de sono são fundamentais para “esculpir” memórias no cérebro, ao mesmo tempo fortalecendo o que é relevante e jogando fora o que não é importante. Sem os ciclos alternados de atividade cerebral, a capacidade de aprendizado de animais e humanos ficaria seriamente prejudicada.

Tanto Ribeiro quanto Suzana, porém, dizem que ainda não dá para cravar que lagartos ou outros animais sonham como nós. “Talvez um dia alguém faça ressonância magnética em lagartos adormecidos e veja se eles mostram a mesma reativação de áreas sensoriais que se vê em humanos em sono REM”, diz ela. “Claro que os donos de cachorro têm certeza que suas mascotes sonham, mas o ideal seria fazer a decodificação do sinal neural”, uma técnica que permite saber o que uma pessoa imagina estar vendo quando sonha e já foi aplicada com sucesso por cientistas japoneses.

Macaco com coração de porco? Teste abre espaço para transplante com humanos (UOL)

Do UOL, em São Paulo


Charles Platiau/ Reuters

Um babuíno sobreviveu por dois anos e meio após ter um coração de porco transplantado em seu abdômen. Em pesquisas anteriores, primatas sobreviviam no máximo 500 dias. O recorde foi divulgado na última terça-feira (5) na revista Nature Communications e abre espaço para transplantes entre suínos e humanos no futuro.

O método utilizou uma combinação de modificação genética e drogas imunossupressoras em cinco babuínos. Os corações dos porcos não substituíam os dos primatas — que continuaram com a função de bombear o sangue, mas estavam ligados ao sistema circulatório por meio de dois grandes vasos sanguíneos no abdômen.

Muitas vezes, o sistema imunológico do receptor rejeita o coração do doador por reconhecê-lo como estranho e, portanto, uma ameaça. Na pesquisa com babuínos, os corações dos porcos foram geneticamente modificados para ter alta tolerância à resposta imune. Os cientistas norte-americanos e alemães também adicionaram uma assinatura genética humana para ajudar a prevenir a coagulação do sangue.

Apenas um dos babuínos atingiu a marca de 945 dias vivo. A média entre os cinco foi de 298 dias. A equipe pensa em estender a pesquisa para a substituição dos órgãos.

Transplantes em humanos

Os cientistas têm feito experiências com transplante de rins, coração e fígados de primatas em seres humanos desde a década de 1960. Nenhum sobreviveu por mais de alguns meses.

Por conta da proximidade genética, os primatas eram os melhores candidatos a doadores. Mas não há uma grande quantidade de macacos criados em cativeiro.

Os corações dos porcos são anatomicamente semelhantes aos corações humanos. Os suínos também crescem rápido e são amplamente domesticados.

What I Learned From Tickling Apes (New York Times)

Laughter? Now wait a minute! A real scientist should avoid any and all anthropomorphism, which is why hard-nosed colleagues often ask us to change our terminology. Why not call the ape’s reaction something neutral, like, say, vocalized panting? That way we avoid confusion between the human and the animal.

The term anthropomorphism, which means “human form,” comes from the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who protested in the fifth century B.C. against Homer’s poetry because it described the gods as though they looked human. Xenophanes mocked this assumption, reportedly saying that if horses had hands they would “draw their gods like horses.” Nowadays the term has a broader meaning. It is typically used to censure the attribution of humanlike traits and experiences to other species. Animals don’t have “sex,” but engage in breeding behavior. They don’t have “friends,” but favorite affiliation partners.

Given how partial our species is to intellectual distinctions, we apply such linguistic castrations even more vigorously in the cognitive domain. By explaining the smartness of animals either as a product of instinct or simple learning, we have kept human cognition on its pedestal under the guise of being scientific. Everything boiled down to genes and reinforcement. To think otherwise opened you up to ridicule, which is what happened to Wolfgang Köhler, the German psychologist who, a century ago, was the first to demonstrate flashes of insight in chimpanzees.

Köhler would put a banana outside the enclosure of his star performer, Sultan, while giving him sticks that were too short to reach the fruit through the bars. Or he would hang a banana high up and spread boxes around, none of which were tall enough to reach the fruit. At first, Sultan would jump or throw things at the banana or drag a human by the hand toward it, hoping to use him as a footstool. If this failed, he would sit around without doing anything, pondering the situation, until he might hit on a solution. He’d jump up suddenly to put one bamboo stick inside another, making a longer stick. He’d also stack boxes to build a tower tall enough to attain his reward. Köhler described this moment as the “aha! experience,” not unlike Archimedes running through the streets shouting “Eureka!”

According to Köhler, Sultan showed insight by combining what he knew about boxes and sticks to produce a brand-new action sequence to take care of his problem. It all took place in his head, without prior rewards for his eventual solution. That animals may show mental processes closer to thinking than learning was so unsettling, though, that still today Köhler’s name is hissed rather than spoken in some circles. Naturally, one of his critics argued that the attribution of reasoning to animals was an “overswing of the theoretical pendulum” back “toward anthropomorphism.”

We still hear this argument, not so much for tendencies that we consider animalistic (everyone is free to speak of aggression, violence and territoriality in animals) but rather for traits that we like in ourselves. Accusations of anthropomorphism are about as big a spoiler in cognitive science as suggestions of doping are of athletic success. The indiscriminate nature of these accusations has been detrimental to cognitive science, as it has kept us from developing a truly evolutionary view. In our haste to argue that animals are not people, we have forgotten that people are animals, too.

This doesn’t mean that anything goes. Humans are incredibly eager to project feelings and experiences onto animals, often doing so uncritically. We go to beach hotels to swim with dolphins, convinced that the animals must love it as much as we do. We think that our dog feels guilt or that our cat is embarrassed when she misses a jump. Lately, people have fallen for the suggestion that Koko, the signing gorilla in California, is worried about climate change, or that chimpanzees have religion. As soon as I hear such claims, I contract my corrugator muscles (causing a frown) and ask for the evidence. Yes, dolphins have smiley faces, but since this is an immutable part of their visage, it fails to tell us anything about how they feel. Yes, dogs hide under the table when they have done something wrong, yet the most likely explanation is that they fear trouble.

Gratuitous anthropomorphism is distinctly unhelpful. However, when experienced field workers who follow apes around in the tropical forest tell me about the concern chimpanzees show for an injured companion, bringing her food or slowing down their walking pace, or report how adult male orangutans in the treetops vocally announce which way they expect to travel the next morning, I am not averse to speculations about empathy or planning. Given everything we know from controlled experiments in captivity, such as the ones I conduct myself, these speculations are not far-fetched.

To understand the resistance to cognitive explanations, I need to mention a third ancient Greek: Aristotle. The great philosopher put all living creatures on a vertical Scala Naturae, which runs from humans (closest to the gods) down toward other mammals, with birds, fish, insects and mollusks near the bottom. Comparisons up and down this vast ladder have been a popular scientific pastime, but all we have learned from them is how to measure other species by our standards. Keeping Aristotle’s scale intact, with humans on top, has been the unfailing goal.


But think about it: How likely is it that the immense richness of nature fits on a single dimension? Isn’t it more likely that each animal has its own cognition, adapted to its own senses and natural history? It makes no sense to compare our cognition with one that is distributed over eight independently moving arms, each with its own neural supply, or one that enables a flying organism to catch mobile prey by picking up the echoes of its own shrieks. Clark’s nutcrackers (members of the crow family) recall the location of thousands of seeds that they have hidden half a year before, while I can’t even remember where I parked my car a few hours ago. Anyone who knows animals can come up with a few more cognitive comparisons that are not in our favor. Instead of a ladder, we are facing an enormous plurality of cognitions with many peaks of specialization. Somewhat paradoxically, these peaks have been called “magic wells” because the more scientists learn about them, the deeper the mystery gets.

We now know, for example, that some crows excel at tool use. In an aviary at Oxford University in 2002, a New Caledonian crow named Betty tried to pull a little bucket with a piece of meat out of a transparent vertical pipe. All she had to work with was a straight metal wire, which didn’t do the trick. Undeterred, Betty used her beak to bend the straight wire into a hook to pull up the bucket. Since no one had taught Betty to do so, it was seen as an example of insight. Apart from dispelling the “birdbrain” notion with which birds are saddled, Betty achieved instant fame by offering proof of tool making outside the primate order. Since this capacity has by now been confirmed by other studies, including one on a cockatoo, we can safely do away with the 1949 book “Man the Tool-Maker” by the British anthropologist Kenneth Oakley, which declared tool fabrication humanity’s defining characteristic. Corvids are a technologically advanced branch on the tree of life with skills that often match those of primates like us.

Convergent evolution (when similar traits, like the wings of birds, bats and insects, appear independently in separate evolutionary branches) allows cognitive capacities to pop up at the most unexpected places, such as face recognition in paper wasps or deceptive tactics in cephalopods. When the males of some cuttlefish species are interrupted by a rival during courtship, they may trick the latter into thinking there is nothing to worry about. On the side of his body that faces his rival, the male adopts the coloring of a female, so that the other believes he is looking at two females. But the courting male keeps his original coloring on the female’s side of his body in order to keep her attention. This two-faced tactic, known as dual-gender signaling, suggests tactical skills of an order no one had ever suspected in a species so low on the natural scale. But of course, talk of “high” and “low” is anathema to biologists, who see every single organism as exquisitely adapted to its own environment.

Now let us return to the accusation of anthropomorphism that we hear every time a new discovery comes along. This accusation works only because of the premise of human exceptionalism. Rooted in religion but also permeating large areas of science, this premise is out of line with modern evolutionary biology and neuroscience. Our brains share the same basic structure with other mammals — no different parts, the same old neurotransmitters.

Brains are in fact so similar across the board that we study fear in the rat’s amygdala to treat human phobias. This doesn’t mean that the planning by an orangutan is of the same order as me announcing an exam in class and my students preparing for it, but deep down there is continuity between both processes. This applies even more to emotional traits.

This is why science nowadays often starts from the opposite end, assuming continuity between humans and animals, while shifting the burden of proof to those who insist on differences. Anyone who asks me to believe that a tickled ape, who almost chokes on his hoarse giggles, is in a different state of mind than a tickled human child has his work cut out for him.

In order to drive this point home, I invented the term “anthropodenial,” which refers to the a priori rejection of humanlike traits in other animals or animallike traits in us. Anthropomorphism and anthropodenial are inversely related: The closer another species is to us, the more anthropomorphism assists our understanding of this species and the greater will be the danger of anthropodenial. Conversely, the more distant a species is from us, the greater the risk that anthropomorphism proposes questionable similarities that have come about independently. Saying that ants have “queens,” “soldiers” and “slaves” is mere anthropomorphic shorthand without much of a connection to the way human societies create these roles.

THE key point is that anthropomorphism is not nearly as bad as people think. With species like the apes — aptly known as “anthropoids” (humanlike) — anthropomorphism is in fact a logical choice. After a lifetime of working with chimpanzees, bonobos and other primates, I feel that denial of the similarities is a greater problem than accepting them. Relabeling a chimpanzee kiss “mouth-to-mouth contact” obfuscates the meaning of a behavior that apes show under the same circumstances as humans, such as when they greet one another or reconcile after a fight. It would be like assigning Earth’s gravity a different name than the moon’s, just because we think Earth is special.

Unjustified linguistic barriers fragment the unity with which nature presents us. Apes and humans did not have enough time to independently evolve almost identical behavior under similar circumstances. Think about this the next time you read about ape planning, dog empathy or elephant self-awareness. Instead of denying these phenomena or ridiculing them, we would do better to ask “why not?”

One reason this whole debate is as heated as it is relates to its moral implications. When our ancestors moved from hunting to farming, they lost respect for animals and began to look at themselves as the rulers of nature. In order to justify how they treated other species, they had to play down their intelligence and deny them a soul. It is impossible to reverse this trend without raising questions about human attitudes and practices. We can see this process underway in the halting of biomedical research on chimpanzees and the opposition to the use of killer whales for entertainment.

Increased respect for animal intelligence also has consequences for cognitive science. For too long, we have left the human intellect dangling in empty evolutionary space. How could our species arrive at planning, empathy, consciousness and so on, if we are part of a natural world devoid of any and all steppingstones to such capacities? Wouldn’t this be about as unlikely as us being the only primates with wings?

Evolution is a gradual process of descent with modification, whether we are talking about physical or mental traits. The more we play down animal intelligence, the more we ask science to believe in miracles when it comes to the human mind. Instead of insisting on our superiority in every regard, let’s take pride in the connections.

There is nothing wrong with the recognition that we are apes — smart ones perhaps, but apes nonetheless. As an ape lover, I can’t see this comparison as insulting. We are endowed with the mental powers and imagination to get under the skin of other species. The more we succeed, the more we will realize that we are not the only intelligent life on earth.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist and professor of psychology at Emory University, is the author, most recently, of “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” from which this essay is adapted.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 10, 2016, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: What I Learned Tickling Apes. 

Todo inocente é um fdp? (El País)

Como se mover num mundo em que se tornou impossível não enxergar o mal que se pratica


29 FEV 2016 – 14:44 BRT

O golfinho que pode ter morrido por desidratação tirando selfie com turistas na Argentina.

O golfinho que pode ter morrido por desidratação tirando selfie com turistas na Argentina.

Lembro uma cena do primeiro filme da trilogia Matrix, ícone do final do século 20. Os membros da resistência eram aqueles que, em algum momento, enxergaram que a vida cotidiana era só uma trama, um programa de computador, uma ilusão. A realidade era um deserto em que os rebeldes lutavam contra “as máquinas” num mundo sem beleza ou gosto. Fazia-se ali uma escolha: tomar a pílula azul ou a vermelha. Quem escolhesse a vermelha, deixaria de acreditar no mundo como nos é dado para ver e passaria a ser confrontado com a verdade da condição humana.

Na cena que aqui me interessa recordar, um traidor da resistência negocia os termos de sua rendição enquanto se delicia com um suculento filé. Ele sabe que o filé não existe de fato, que é um programa de computador que o faz ver, sentir o cheiro e o gosto da carne, mas se esbalda. Entregaria sua alma às máquinas em troca de voltar na melhor posição – rico e famoso – ao mundo das ilusões. Delataria os companheiros se a ele fosse devolvida a inocência sobre a realidade do real. Sacrifica a luta, os amigos e a ética em troca de um desejo: voltar a ser cego. Ou voltar a acreditar no filé.

A frase exata, pronunciada enquanto olha para um naco da carne espetada no garfo, é: “Eu sei que esse filé não existe. Sei que, quando o coloco na boca, a Matrix diz ao meu cérebro que ele é suculento e delicioso”. Faz uma pausa: “Depois de nove anos, sabe o que percebi? A ignorância é maravilhosa”.

Naquela época, véspera da virada do milênio, o filme deu ao público uma porta para o debate filosófico sobre o real. Tomar a pílula vermelha logo tornou-se uma metáfora para quem escolhe enxergar a Matrix – ou enxergar para além das aparências. Desde então, nestes últimos anos de corrosão acelerada das ilusões, penso que a escolha se tornou bem mais complicada.

A ilusão, que desempenhou um papel estrutural na constituição subjetiva da nossa espécie, pode já não estar ao nosso alcance

Talvez o mal-estar do nosso tempo seja o de que já não é possível escolher entre a pílula azul e a vermelha – ou entre continuar cego ou começar a enxergar o que está por trás da trama dos dias. O mal-estar se deve ao fato de que talvez já não exista a pílula azul – ou já não seja mais possível a ilusão, esta que desempenhou um papel estrutural na constituição subjetiva da nossa espécie ao longo dos milênios.

Se fosse um de nós o membro da resistência disposto a trair os companheiros, a negociar a rendição com as máquinas diante de um suculento filé num restaurante, aqui, agora, e não mais no final dos anos 90, o dilema poderia sofrer um deslocamento. O drama não seria enxergar o filé como filé, no sentido de poder acreditar que ele existe, assim como acreditar que o restaurante existe e que o cenário a que chamamos de mundo existe tal qual está diante dos nossos olhos.

Não. O dilema atual pode ser também este, mas só na medida em que também é outro. O drama é que acreditamos no filé, sabemos que ele existe e sabemos que é gostoso. Desejamos o filé, nos lambuzamos dele e temos prazer com ele. Ao olhar para ele, porém, não enxergamos apenas “o deserto do real”, mas algo muito mais encarnado e cada vez mais inescapável: enxergamos o boi.

É terrível enxergar o boi. E, como os mais sensíveis já descobriram, é impossível deixar de enxergá-lo. Nossa superpopulação de humanos extrapolou a lógica dos vivos, matar para comer. E impôs a escravização e a tortura cotidiana de outras espécies. Milhões de bois, galinhas e porcos nascem apenas para nos alimentar em campos de concentração aos quais damos nomes mais palatáveis. São sacrificados em holocaustos diários sem que nem mesmo tenham tido uma vida.

Animais confinados, presos, às vezes sem sequer poder se mover por uma existência inteira. Criamos profissões capazes de reconhecer em segundos se um pinto é macho ou fêmea para separar as fêmeas que viverão espremidas, muitas vezes sem conseguir sequer abrir as asas, botando ovos e depois virando bandejas no supermercado e jogar os machos para serem moídos ainda vivos no triturador de lixo. Escravidão e tortura/sacrifício e lixo, estes são os destinos que determinamos aos frangos.

Somos os nazistas das outras espécies – e produzimos holocaustos cotidianos

Somos os nazistas das outras espécies. E, se antes era possível ignorar, desqualificando a questão como algo menor ou coisa de “adoradores de alface”, a internet e a disseminação de informações tornaram impossível não enxergar o olho do boi. Ao olhar para o filé, o olho do boi nos olha de volta. O olho vidrado de quem está aterrorizado porque pressente que caminha no corredor da morte, o boi que se caga de medo enquanto é obrigado a dar o passo para o sacrifício, o boi que tenta escapar, mas não encontra saída. O olho do boi alcança até gente como eu, que pode ser colocada na categoria “adoradores de churrasco”.

A publicidade do século 20 perdeu a ressonância em tempos de internet. Porque a ilusão já não é possível. Nada era mais puro do que o leite branco tirado de uma vaquinha no pasto. Era fácil acreditar na imagem bucólica do alimento saudável. Nosso leite vinha do paraíso, de nosso passado rural perdido, da vida nos bosques de Walden. Assim como a longa série de produtos dele originados, como queijo, iogurte e manteiga.

Mas a vaca da imagem não existe. A real é a vaca que nasce em cativeiro, filha de outra escrava. A vaca que quase não se move, cuja existência consiste numa longa série de estupros por instrumentos que se enfiam pelo seu corpo para fecundá-la com o sêmen de outro escravo. Então ela engravida e engravida e engravida de bezerros que dela serão sequestrados para virar filés, para que suas tetas sigam dando leite delas tirados por outras máquinas. E, como sabemos disso, o leite que chega à nossa mesa já não pode mais ser branco, mas vermelho do horror da vaca cujo corpo virou um objeto, a vaca para quem cada dia é tortura, estupro e escravidão.

Para não beber sangue procuramos nas prateleiras leites à base de vegetais. Vegetais não gritam. Soja, apenas um dos tantos exemplos. Bifes de soja, hambúrgueres de soja, linguiças de soja, leite de soja. Mas como ignorar o desmatamento, a destruição de ecossistemas inteiros e com eles toda a vida que lá havia? Como ignorar que a soja pode ter sido plantada em terra indígena e que, enquanto ela vira mercadoria no supermercado, jovens Guarani Kaiowá se enforcam porque já não sabem como viver? Já não é possível fingir que não enxergamos isso. Assim, nem os veganos mais radicais podem se salvar do pecado original.

Os mais sensíveis sentem a textura de suas roupas e sabem que são costuradas com carne humana

Olhamos para nossas roupas e horrorizados sabemos que em algum lugar da linha globalizada de produção há nelas o sangue de crianças, homens e mulheres em regime de trabalho análogo à escravidão. Como o casal que morreu abraçado na fábrica de Bangladesh, gerando a fotografia que comoveu o mundo mas não eliminou o horror que seguiu em escala industrial. Ou mesmo de um imigrante boliviano enfiado num quarto insalubre trabalhando horas e horas por quase nada bem aqui ao lado. Mas os mais sensíveis sentem a textura de suas roupas e sabem que são costuradas com carne humana. E já não sabem como vesti-las. Nem sabem como dar brinquedos para seus filhos porque sabem que os bonecos, os carrinhos, os castelos e os dinossauros contêm neles o sangue das crianças sem infância, ou o de suas mães e pais.

Já não é possível levar crianças a zoológicos ou aquários porque sabemos que a única educação próxima da verdade que receberiam ali é a do horror a que os animais são submetidos para serem exibidos, por melhor que seja a imitação de seu habitat. Lembro uma reportagem que fui fazer num zoológico, planejada para ser divertida, e só pude contar, entre outros horrores, que o babuíno chamado Beto era mantido à custa de Valium, para evitar que arrancasse pedaços do próprio corpo. Mesmo dopado jogava-se contra as grades, atirava fezes nos visitantes e espancava a companheira. Pinky, a elefanta, vivia só. Seus dois companheiros tinham morrido ao cair no fosso tentando escapar do cativeiro. Sabemos hoje que os golfinhos e as baleias dos shows acrobáticos são escravos brutalizados para servir de entretenimento a humanos. E, desde que sabemos, aqueles que gozam com esses espetáculos de morte podem se descobrir não mais como famílias felizes num momento de lazer, como nas imagens dos folhetos publicitários, mas como hordas de sádicos.

No simples ato de acender a luz já existe a consciência de que estamos destruindo o mundo de alguém e de que nada mais será simples. Neste momento, para ficar apenas num exemplo, dezenas de milhares já perderam suas casas no rio Xingu, na Amazônia, para a operação da Hidrelétrica de Belo Monte. Povos indígenas que vivem na região atingida já não conseguem suportar o aumento exponencial de mosquitos desde que o lago da usina começou a encher, alterando o ecossistema e dizimando culturas, no que já foi denunciado pelo Ministério Público Federal como etnocídio. Os impactos mal começaram e, em menos de três meses, mais de 16 toneladas de peixes morreram. E talvez também esteja chegando ao fim o tempo em que ainda é aceitável contar vidas por toneladas, mesmo que seja a vida de peixes. Ou a morte de peixes. Um dedo no interruptor e uma cadeia de mortes. E agora também já sabemos disso.

Ao pedir um café e um pão com manteiga na padaria, nos implicamos numa cadeia de horrores

O tempo das ilusões acabou. Nenhum ato do nosso cotidiano é inocente. Ao pedir um café e um pão com manteiga na padaria, nos implicamos numa cadeia de horrores causados a animais e a humanos envolvidos na produção. Cada ato banal implica uma escolha ética – e também uma escolha política.

A descrição das atrocidades que cometemos rotineiramente pode aqui seguir por milhares de caracteres. Comemos, vestimos, nos entretemos, transportamos e nos transportamos à custa da escravidão, da tortura e do sacrifício de outras espécies e também dos mais frágeis da nossa própria espécie. Somos o que de pior aconteceu ao planeta e a todos que o habitam. A mudança climática já anuncia que não apenas tememos a catástrofe, mas nos tornamos a catástrofe. Desta vez, não só para todos os outros, mas também para nós mesmos.

Já não é possível a pílula azul – ou já não é possível à adesão às ilusões. Há várias implicações profundas numa época em que o conhecimento não liberta, mas condena. A começar, talvez, pela pergunta: quem é o inocente num mundo em que a inocência já não é possível? Seria o inocente o pior humano de todos? Seria o inocente um psicopata?

O que seremos nós, subjetivamente, agora que estamos condenados a enxergar? As redes sociais têm nos dado algumas pistas. O que a internet fez foi arrancar da humanidade as ilusões sobre si mesma. O cotidiano nas redes sociais nos mostrou a verdade que sempre esteve lá, mas era protegida – ou mediada – pelo mundo das aparências. Sobre isso já escrevi um artigo, chamado A boçalidade do mal, que pode ser lido aqui. As implicações de perder este véu tão arduamente tecido são profundas e recém começam a ser investigadas. O impacto sobre a subjetividade estrutural de nossa espécie é tremendo, exatamente porque é estrutural e desabou num espaço de tempo muito curto, quase num soluço.

Já não é mais possível pensar apenas em humanos quando se aborda o tema dos direitos

O que faremos diante da impossibilidade da pílula azul, a que garantia as ilusões? A ridicularização daqueles que levantam esse tema ainda é um caminho, mas convencem menos que no passado. Também a piada se torna anacrônica. As interrogações vêm mudando, e já não é possível afirmar, sem revelar considerável ignorância, inclusive sobre a ciência produzida, que os animais não têm vida mental nem emocional, são “irracionais”. Ou, lembrando um argumento religioso, “que não têm alma”. Toda a ideologia que um dia justificou a escravidão de humanos, até que foi questionada, derrubada e transformada numa mancha de crime e vergonha na história da humanidade, passou a ser confrontada também com relação aos animais.

Cada vez mais as outras espécies começam a ser vistas como diferentes – e não mais como inferiores. Assim, o que se coloca no campo da ética são questões fascinantes e muito mais espinhosas. Mesmo o termo “direitos humanos” passa a ser questionável, porque pensar apenas em “humanos” já não é mais possível. No momento em que nos tornamos a própria definição de catástrofe, o conceito de “espécie”, em sua expressão cultural, se desloca. Outras formas de compreender e nomear o lugar dos humanos ganham espaço no horizonte filosófico e no exercício da política.

Resta o cinismo, sempre o último reduto. Dizer que, diante de mais de 7 bilhões de seres humanos ocupando o planeta e crescendo, não há outra maneira a não ser comer e vestir exploração, escravidão e tortura é a afirmação mais óbvia. É a afirmação expandida usada para todas as desigualdades de direitos. Desde que não seja eu – ou os meus – os sacrificados, tudo bem.

Vale a pena dedicar um parágrafo aos cínicos, essa categoria que prolifera com o ímpeto de um Aedes aegypti no Brasil e no mundo. O cínico é aquele que olha com calculado enfado para todos os outros, porque ele acredita que entende o mundo como ele de fato é. Ele é o que sabe das coisas, o único esperto. Todos os outros são tolinhos com ideias irreais. O cínico é aquele que deixa o mundo como está. Mas talvez, neste momento, o cínico seja justamente o inocente. Sua inocência consiste em acreditar que a pílula azul ainda está disponível.

Como ser ético num mundo sem ilusões, em que cada ato implica na tortura e no sacrifício de um outro?

Há um preço para enxergar e, mesmo assim, assumir o extermínio cotidiano como dado, como parte intrínseca da condição de ser um humano. Nem toda a crescente gourmetização da comida, nem todas as narrativas ficcionais que contam uma história idílica sobre a origem daquele produto, nada ocultará esse preço. E nada reduzirá seu impacto subjetivo. Não é fácil viver na pele do algoz. Não é simples viver sabendo-se. Aquele que se olha no espelho e se enxerga carregará essa autoimagem consigo. E se tornará algo que já não é mais o mesmo.

Há uma imagem recente que pode dar algumas pistas sobre esse caminho. Numa praia da Argentina, um golfinho foi carregado por turistas. Alguns dizem que ainda estava vivo, outros que já estava morto. Vivo ou morto, os turistas preocuparam-se apenas com tirar selfies para postar nas redes sociais. O site de humor Sensacionalista postou: “Golfinho morre ao ser retirado do mar para turistas fazerem selfie e Deus anuncia recall do ser humano”.

Ainda assim, quem se horrorizou com a falta de horror alheia, à noite seguiu diante do olho do boi. O que fazer diante do olho do boi? Como ser ético num mundo sem ilusões, em que cada ato implica na tortura e no sacrifício de um outro, humano e não humano? Se somos os nazistas das outras espécies, quando não da mesma, aceitar que assim é não seria se tornar um Eichmann, o nazista julgado em Jerusalém que alegou apenas cumprir ordens, o homem tão banalmente ordinário que inspirou a filósofa Hannah Arendt a criar o conceito da “banalidade do mal”? Não seríamos, aos olhos do boi, todos Eichmann, justificando-nos pelo senso comum de que assim é e se faz o que é preciso para sobreviver? Se sim, o que implica viver assumidamente nesta pele?

Talvez estejamos, como espécie que se pensa, diante de um dos maiores dilemas éticos da nossa história. Sem poder optar pela pílula azul, a das ilusões, condenados à pílula vermelha, a que nos obriga a enxergar, como construir uma escolha que volte a incluir a ética? Como não paralisar diante do espelho, reduzidos ou ao horror ou ao cinismo, eliminando a possibilidade de transformação? Como nos mover?

Diante do filé que desejamos e do olho boi que nos interroga, há pelo menos uma hipótese cada vez mais forte: o inocente é um assassino.

Empathy more common in animals than thought (Science Daily)

Date: January 21, 2016

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Summary: A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism.

Prairie voles consoling. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by James Burkett at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and colleagues was titled, “Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents.” Credit: Zack Johnson

A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous “love hormone,” oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism. Until now, consolation behavior has only been documented in a few nonhuman species with high levels of sociality and cognition, such as elephants, dolphins and dogs.

Prairie voles are particularly social rodents, causing them to be the focus of many studies. This led James Burkett and colleagues to explore their potential for empathy-motivated behaviors.

The researchers created an experiment where relatives and known individuals were temporarily isolated from each other, while one was exposed to mild shocks. Upon reunion, the non-stressed prairie voles proceeded to lick the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor.

Measurements of hormone levels revealed that the family members and friends were distressed when they could not comfort their loved one.

The fact that consoling behavior occurred only between those who were familiar with each other — including non-kin members — but not strangers, demonstrates that the behavior is not simply a reaction to aversive cues, the authors note.

Since the oxytocin receptor is associated with empathy in humans, Burkett et al. blocked this neurotransmitter in prairie voles in a series of similar consolation experiments. Blocking oxytocin did not cause family members and friends to alter their self-grooming behavior, yet they did cease consoling each other.

These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of empathy and the evolution of complex empathy-motivated behaviors.

Journal Reference:

  1. J. P. Burkett, E. Andari, Z. V. Johnson, D. C. Curry, F. B. M. de Waal, L. J. Young. Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodentsScience, 2016; 351 (6271): 375 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4785

The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From (New York Times)

An ancient canine skull at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient human-canine bond originated. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES


OXFORD, England — Before humans milked cows, herded goats or raised hogs, before they invented agriculture, or written language, before they had permanent homes, and most certainly before they had cats, they had dogs.

Or dogs had them, depending on how you view the human-canine arrangement. But scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient bond originated. And a large new study being run out of the University of Oxford here, with collaborators around the world, may soon provide some answers.

Scientists have come up with a broad picture of the origins of dogs. First off, researchers agree that they evolved from ancient wolves. Scientists once thought that some visionary hunter-gatherer nabbed a wolf puppy from its den one day and started raising tamer and tamer wolves, taking the first steps on the long road to leashes and flea collars. This is oversimplified, of course, but the essence of the idea is that people actively bred wolves to become dogs just the way they now breed dogs to be tiny or large, or to herd sheep.

The prevailing scientific opinion now, however, is that this origin story does not pass muster. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies, and many researchers find it much more plausible that dogs, in effect, invented themselves.

Arden Hulme-Beaman cutting a piece from an ancient skull for DNA testing at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

One reason for the conflicting theories, according to Greger Larson, a biologist in the archaeology department at the University of Oxford, is that dog genetics are a mess. In an interview at his office here in November, he noted that most dog breeds were invented in the 19th century during a period of dog obsession that he called “the giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy.”

That blender, as well as random breeding by dogs themselves, and interbreeding with wolves at different times over at least the last 15,000 years, created a “tomato soup” of dog genetics, for which the ingredients are very hard to identify, Dr. Larson said.

The way to find the recipe, Dr. Larson is convinced, is to create a large database of ancient DNA to add to the soup of modern canine genetics. And with a colleague, Keith Dobney at the University of Aberdeen, he has persuaded the Who’s Who of dog researchers to join a broad project, with about $2.5 million in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council in England and the European Research Council, to analyze ancient bones and their DNA.

Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at U.C.L.A. who studies the origin of dogs and is part of the research, said, “There’s hardly a person working in canine genetics that’s not working on that project.”

A wolf on display at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

That is something of a triumph, given the many competing theories in this field. “Almost every group has a different origination hypothesis,” he said.

But Dr. Larson has sold them all on the simple notion that the more data they have, the more cooperative the effort is, the better the answers are going to be. His personality has been crucial to promoting the team effort, said Dr. Wayne, who described Dr. Larson as “very outgoing, gregarious.” Also, Dr. Wayne added, “He has managed not to alienate anyone.”

Scientists at museums and universities who are part of the project are opening up their collections. So to gather data, Dr. Larson and his team at Oxford have traveled the world, collecting tiny samples of bone and measurements of teeth, jaws and occasionally nearly complete skulls from old and recent dogs, wolves and canids that could fall into either category. The collection phase is almost done, said Dr. Larson, who expects to end up with DNA from about 1,500 samples, and photographs and detailed measurements of several thousand.

Scientific papers will start to emerge this year from the work, some originating in Oxford, and some from other institutions, all the work of many collaborators.

Dr. Larson is gambling that the project will be able to determine whether the domestication process occurred closer to 15,000 or 30,000 years ago, and in what region it took place. That’s not quite the date, GPS location and name of the ancient hunter that some dog lovers might hope for.

But it would be a major achievement in the world of canine science, and a landmark in the analysis of ancient DNA to show evolution, migrations and descent, much as studies of ancient hominid DNA have shown how ancient humans populated the globe and interbred with Neanderthals.

And why care about the domestication of dogs, beyond the obsessive interest so many people have in their pets? The emergence of dogs may have been a watershed.

“Maybe dog domestication on some level kicks off this whole change in the way that humans are involved and responding to and interacting with their environment,” he added. “I don’t think that’s outlandish.”

Shepherding the Research

Dr. Larson is no stranger to widely varying points of view. He is an American, but recently became a British citizen as well. His parents are American and he visited the United States often as a child, but he was born in Bahrain and grew up in Turkey and Japan, places where his parents were teaching in schools on American military bases.

He graduated from Claremont McKenna College in California and received his Ph.D. at Oxford. In between college and graduate studies, he spent a year searching for the bed of an ancient river in Turkmenistan, and another couple of years setting up an environmental consulting office in Azerbaijan. He had an interest in science as an undergraduate, and some background from a college major in environment, economics and politics, but no set career plans. Instead, his career grew out of intense curiosity, a knack for making friends and a willingness to jump at an opportunity, like the time he managed to tag along on an archaeological dig.

He was staying in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and a local man who had helped him rent an old Soviet truck to explore the desert told him some Westerners were arriving to go on a dig, so he wangled his way onto one of the trucks.

“I think everybody there thought I was with somebody else,” Dr. Larson said.

By the time the group stopped to rest and someone asked him who he was, it was too late to question whether he really belonged. “I was a complete stowaway,” he said.

But he could move dirt and speak Russian, and he had some recently acquired expertise — in college drinking games — that he said was in great demand at night. By luck, he said, the researchers on the dig turned out to be “the great and the good of British neolithic archaeology.” One of them was Chris Gosden, the chairman of European Archaeology at Oxford, who later invited him to do a one-year master’s degree in archaeology at Oxford. That eventually led to a Ph.D. program after he spent some time in graduate school in the United States.

The current project began when he became fed up with the lack of ancient DNA evidence in papers about the origin of dogs. He called Dr. Dobney, of the University of Aberdeen in 2011, and said, “We’re doing dogs.”

After receiving the grant from the council in England, he and Dr. Dobney organized a conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, to gather as many people involved in researching dog origins as they could. His pitch to the group was that despite their different points of view, everyone was interested in the best possible evidence, no matter where it led.

“If we have to eat crow, we eat crow,” he said. “It’s science.”

A 32,000-Year-Old Skull

Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, is one of the many scientists participating in the dog project. She was one of a number of authors on a 2013 paper in Science that identified a skull about 32,000 years old from a Belgian cave in Goyet as an early dog. Dr. Wayne at U.C.L.A. was the senior author on the paper and Olaf Thalmann from the University of Turku in Finland was the first author.

It is typical of Dr. Larson’s dog project that although he disagreed with the findings of the paper, arguing that the evidence just wasn’t there to call the Goyet skull a dog, all of the authors of the paper are working on the larger project with him.

In November in Brussels, holding the priceless fossil, Dr. Germonpré pointed out the wide skull, crowded teeth and short snout of the ancient skull — all indicators to her that it was not a wolf.

“To me, it’s a dog,” she said. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, passed down from females only, also indicated the skull was not a wolf, according to the 2013 paper.

Dr. Germonpré said she thinks dogs were domesticated some time before this animal died, and she leans toward the idea that humans intentionally bred them from wolves.

She holds up another piece of evidence, a reconstruction of a 30,000-year-old canid skull found near Predmostí, in the Czech Republic, with a bone in its mouth. She reported in 2014 that this was a dog. And she says the bone is part of evidence the animal was buried with care. “We think it was deliberately put there,” she said.

But she recognizes these claims are controversial and is willing, like the rest of the world of canine science, to risk damage to the fossils themselves to get more information on not just the mitochondrial DNA but also the nuclear DNA.

To minimize that risk, she talked with Ardern Hulme-Beaman, a postdoctoral researcher with the Oxford team, about where to cut into it. He was nearing the end of months of traveling to Russia, Turkey, the United States and all over Europe to take samples of canid jaws and skulls.

He and Allowyn Evin, now with the National Center for Scientific Research in Montpelier, France, also took many photographs of each jaw and skull to do geometric morphometrics. Software processes detailed photographs from every angle into 3-D recreations that provide much more information on the shape of a bone than length and width measurements.

Dr. Germonpré and Dr. Hulme-Beaman agreed on a spot in the interior of the skull to cut. In the laboratory, he used a small electric drill with a cutting blade to remove a chunk the size of a bit of chopped walnut. An acrid, burning smell indicated that organic material was intact within the bone — a good sign for the potential retrieval of DNA.

Back in Oxford, researchers will attempt to use the most current techniques to get as much DNA as possible out of the sample. There is no stretch of code that says “wolf” or “dog,” any more than there is a single skull feature that defines a category. What geneticists try to establish is how different the DNA of one animal is from another. Adding ancient DNA gives many more points of reference over a long time span.

Dr. Larson hopes that he and his collaborators will be able to identify a section of DNA in some ancient wolves that was passed on to more doglike descendants and eventually to modern dogs. And he hopes they will be able to identify changes in the skulls or jaws of those wolves that show shifts to more doglike shapes, helping to narrow the origins of domestication.

The usual assumption about domestic animals is that the process of taming and breeding them happened once. But that’s not necessarily so. Dr. Larson and Dr. Dobney showed that pigs were domesticated twice, once in Anatolia and once in China. The same could be true of dogs.

Only the Beginning

Although the gathering of old bones is almost done, Dr. Larson is still negotiating with Chinese researchers for samples from that part of the world, which he says are necessary. But he hopes they will come.

If all goes well, said Dr. Larson, the project will publish a flagship paper from all of the participants describing their general findings. And over the next couple of years, researchers, all using the common data, will continue to publish separate findings.

Other large collaborative efforts are brewing, as well. Dr. Wayne, at U.C.L.A., said that a group in China was forming with the goal of sequencing 10,000 dog genomes. He and Dr. Larson are part of that group.

Last fall, Dr. Larson was becoming more excited with each new bit of data, but not yet ready to tip his hand about what conclusions the data may warrant, or how significant they will be.

But he is growing increasingly confident that they will find what they want, and come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.

“I’m starting to drink my own Kool-Aid,” he said.

Pangolim aparece em Nkobe: pode anunciar chuvas na província de Maputo (TVM)

Domingo, 17 Janeiro 2016 14:27
Escrito por  Redacção


Um Pangolim foi encontrado na manhã deste sábado no bairro Nkobe na Cidade da Matola Província de Maputo.

Segundo as autoridades tradicionais, o animal anuncia muita chuva e produtividade nos próximos tempos neste ponto do país.

O mamífero foi encontrado no bairro Nkobe na Província de Maputo, o mesmo foi transportado para a residência da Rainha, onde os régulos realizaram uma cerimónia tradicional com vista interpretação da mensagem que o animal trazia para a população da Cidade da Matola.

Realizada a cerimónia tradicional, a Rainha disse tratar-se de um animal cujo aparecimento tem explicação entre as quais se destaca a queda da chuva e cultivo de comida em abundância.

Dirigentes da Cidade da Matola estiveram no local para testemunhar o acto e estes consideram que o cenário da seca que se vive na Província de Maputo poderá ser ultrapassado.

Segundo as autoridades tradicionais esta é a segunda vez que um Pangolim é encontrado na urbe, o primeiro apareceu em dois mil e catorze.

Army ants’ ‘living’ bridges span collective intelligence, ‘swarm’ robotics (Science Daily)

Date: November 24, 2015

Source: Princeton University

Summary: Researchers report for the first time that the ‘living’ bridges army ants of the species Eciton hamatum build with their bodies are more sophisticated than scientists knew. The ants automatically assemble with a level of collective intelligence that could provide new insights into animal behavior and even help in the development of intuitive robots that can cooperate as a group.

Researchers from Princeton University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology report for the first time that the “living” bridges army ants of the species Eciton hamatum (pictured) build with their bodies are more sophisticated than scientists knew. The ants automatically assemble with a level of collective intelligence that could provide new insights into animal behavior and even help in the development of intuitive robots that can cooperate as a group. Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Lutz, Princeton University, and Chris Reid, University of Sydney

 Columns of workers penetrate the forest, furiously gathering as much food and supplies as they can. They are a massive army that living things know to avoid, and that few natural obstacles can waylay. So determined are these legions that should a chasm or gap disrupt the most direct path to their spoils they simply build a new path — out of themselves.

Without any orders or direction, individuals from the rank and file instinctively stretch across the opening, clinging to one another as their comrades-in-arms swarm across their bodies. But this is no force of superhumans. They are army ants of the species Eciton hamatum, which form “living” bridges across breaks and gaps in the forest floor that allow their famously large raiding swarms to travel efficiently.

Researchers from Princeton University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) report for the first time that these structures are more sophisticated than scientists knew. The ants exhibit a level of collective intelligence that could provide new insights into animal behavior and even help in the development of intuitive robots that can cooperate as a group, the researchers said.

Ants of E. hamatum automatically form living bridges without any oversight from a “lead” ant, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. The action of each individual coalesces into a group unit that can adapt to the terrain and also operates by a clear cost-benefit ratio. The ants will create a path over an open space up to the point when too many workers are being diverted from collecting food and prey.

“These ants are performing a collective computation. At the level of the entire colony, they’re saying they can afford this many ants locked up in this bridge, but no more than that,” said co-first author Matthew Lutz, a graduate student in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“There’s no single ant overseeing the decision, they’re making that calculation as a colony,” Lutz said. “Thinking about this cost-benefit framework might be a new insight that can be applied to other animal structures that people haven’t thought of before.”

The research could help explain how large groups of animals balance cost and benefit, about which little is known, said co-author Iain Couzin, a Princeton visiting senior research scholar in ecology and evolutionary biology, and director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and chair of biodiversity and collective behavior at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

Previous studies have shown that single creatures use “rules of thumb” to weigh cost-and-benefit, said Couzin, who also is Lutz’s graduate adviser. This new work shows that in large groups these same individual guidelines can eventually coordinate group-wide, he said — the ants acted as a unit although each ant only knew its immediate circumstances.

“They don’t know how many other ants are in the bridge, or what the overall traffic situation is. They only know about their local connections to others, and the sense of ants moving over their bodies,” Couzin said. “Yet, they have evolved simple rules that allow them to keep reconfiguring until, collectively, they have made a structure of an appropriate size for the prevailing conditions.

“Finding out how sightless ants can achieve such feats certainly could change the way we think of self-configuring structures in nature — and those made by man,” he said.

Ant-colony behavior has been the basis of algorithms related to telecommunications and vehicle routing, among other areas, explained co-first author Chris Reid, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney who conducted the work while at NJIT. Ants exemplify “swarm intelligence,” in which individual-level interactions produce coordinated group behavior. E. hamatum crossings assemble when the ants detect congestion along their raiding trail, and disassemble when normal traffic has resumed.

Previously, scientists thought that ant bridges were static structures — their appearance over large gaps that ants clearly could not cross in midair was somewhat of a mystery, Reid said. The researchers found, however, that the ants, when confronted with an open space, start from the narrowest point of the expanse and work toward the widest point, expanding the bridge as they go to shorten the distance their compatriots must travel to get around the expanse.

“The amazing thing is that a very elegant solution to a colony-level problem arises from the individual interactions of a swarm of simple worker ants, each with only local information,” Reid said. “By extracting the rules used by individual ants about whether to initiate, join or leave a living structure, we could program swarms of simple robots to build bridges and other structures by connecting to each other.

“These robot bridges would exhibit the beneficial properties we observe in the ant bridges, such as adaptability to local conditions, real-time optimization of shape and position, and rapid construction and deconstruction without the need for external building materials,” Reid continued. “Such a swarm of robots would be especially useful in dangerous and unpredictable conditions, such as natural disaster zones.”

Radhika Nagpal, a professor of computer science at Harvard University who studies robotics and self-organizing biological systems, said that the findings reveal that there is “something much more fundamental about how complex structures are assembled and adapted in nature, and that it is not through a supervisor or planner making decisions.”

Individual ants adjusted to one another’s choices to create a successful structure, despite the fact that each ant didn’t necessarily know everything about the size of the gap or the traffic flow, said Nagpal, who is familiar with the research but was not involved in it.

“The goal wasn’t known ahead of time, but ‘emerged’ as the collective continually adapted its solution to the environmental factors,” she said. “The study really opens your eyes to new ways of thinking about collective power, and has tremendous potential as a way to think about engineering systems that are more adaptive and able to solve complex cost-benefit ratios at the network level just through peer-to-peer interactions.”

She compared the ant bridges to human-made bridges that automatically widened to accommodate heavy vehicle traffic or a growing population. While self-assembling road bridges may be a ways off, the example illustrates the potential that technologies built with the same self-assembling capabilities seen in E. hamatum could have.

“There’s a deep interest in creating robots that don’t just rely on themselves, but can exploit the group to do more — and self-assembly is the ultimate in doing more,” Nagpal said. “If you could have small simple robots that were able to navigate complex spaces, but could self-assemble into larger structures — bridges, towers, pulling chains, rafts — when they face something they individually did not have the ability to do, that’s a huge increase in power in what robots would be capable of.”

The spaces E. hamatum bridges are not dramatic by human standards — small rifts in the leaf cover, or between the ends of two sticks. Bridges will be the length of 10 to 20 ants, which is only a few centimeters, Lutz said. That said, E. hamatum swarms form several bridges during the course of a day, which can see the back-and-forth of thousands of ants.

“The bridges are something that happen numerous times every day. They’re creating bridges to optimize their traffic flow and maximize their time,” Lutz said.

“When you’re moving hundreds of thousands of ants, creating a little shortcut can save a lot of energy,” he said. “This is such a unique behavior. You have other types of ants forming structures out of their bodies, but it’s not such a huge part of their lives and daily behavior.”

The research also included Scott Powell, an army-ant expert and assistant professor of biology at George Washington University; Albert Kao, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard who received his doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton in 2015; and Simon Garnier, an assistant professor of biological sciences at NJIT who studies swarm intelligence and was once a postdoctoral researcher in Couzin’s lab at Princeton.

To conduct their field experiments, Lutz and Reid constructed a 1.5-foot-tall apparatus with ramps on both sides and adjustable arms in the center with which they could adjust the size of the gap. They then inserted the apparatus into active E. hamatum raiding trails that they found in the forests of Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Because ants follow one another’s chemical scent, Lutz and Reid used sticks and leaves from the ants’ trail to get them to reform their column across the device.

Lutz and Reid observed how the ants formed bridges across gaps that were set at angles of 12, 20, 40 and 60 degrees. They gauged how much travel-distance the ants saved with their bridge versus the surface area (in centimeters squared) of the bridge itself. Twelve-degree angles shaved off the most distance (around 11 centimeters) while taking up the fewest workers. Sixty-degree angles had the highest cost-to-benefit ratio. Interestingly, the ants were willing to expend members for 20-degree angles, forming bridges up to 8 centimeters squared to decrease their travel time by almost 12 centimeters, indicating that the loss in manpower was worth the distance saved.

Lutz said that future research based on this work might compare these findings to the living bridges of another army ant species, E. burchellii, to determine if the same principles are in action.

The paper, “Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost-benefit trade-off,” was published Nov. 23 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant nos. PHY-0848755, IOS0-1355061 and EAGER IOS-1251585); the Army Research Office (grant nos. W911NG-11-1-0385 and W911NF-14-1-0431); and the Human Frontier Science Program (grant no. RGP0065/2012).

Journal Reference:

  1. Chris R. Reid, Matthew J. Lutz, Scott Powell, Albert B. Kao, Iain D. Couzin, Simon Garnier. Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost–benefit trade-offProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201512241 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1512241112

Pecuária é responsável por 15% dos gases do efeito estufa (O Globo)

Renato Grandelle, 24/11/2015

Desmatamento na Região de Xapuri no Acre – Gustavo Stephan/ 05-12-2013

RIO— Parte expressiva da liberação de carbono na atmosfera fica bem longe da fumaça liberada por usinas ou carros. Um novo estudo do Chatham House, o Real Instituto de Relações Internacionais do Reino Unido, indica que cerca de 15% dos poluentes que levam ao aquecimento global são provenientes da pecuária — seja pelo metano da digestão e estrume dos animais, ou pela produção de culturas para alimentação. De acordo com o relatório “Mudanças climáticas, mudanças na alimentação”, reduzir a quantidade de carne no prato é fundamental para assegurar que a temperatura global não avance mais do que 2 graus Celsius neste século.

O planeta, porém, ignora a recomendação. Estima-se que, com o aumento da classe média nos países em desenvolvimento — especialmente na China e no Brasil —, o consumo de carne crescerá até 76% nos próximos 35 anos.

Mudar a alimentação pode cortar pela metade os custos das futuras medidas contra o aquecimento global. E o clima não será a única área favorecida pela nova dieta. Coautora do estudo, Laura Wellesley ressalta que conter o consumo exagerado de carne também traz benefícios imediatos à saúde.

— Não estamos sugerindo que todo mundo deve se tornar vegetariano. A carne, consumida com moderação, pode fazer parte de uma dieta saudável para o indivíduo e o meio ambiente — ressalta. — De acordo com a Escola de Medicina de Harvard, a porção diária não deve ultrapassar 70 gramas, que é um hambúrguer de tamanho médio. Se nada for feito para nos limitarmos a este valor, os padrões alimentares atuais serão incompatíveis com o aumento de temperatura de apenas 2 graus Celsius.


Atualmente, o consumo dos brasileiros é de duas vezes e meia a quantidade diária recomendada; nos EUA, é de três vezes mais. Um estudo divulgado em outubro pela Organização Mundial de Saúde alertou que a ingestão exagerada de carnes vermelhas e processadas pode levar à ocorrência de doenças não transmissíveis, principalmente o câncer.

— Mudanças de alimentação devem estar no topo da lista das discussões na Conferência do Clima de Paris (COP-21). É uma estratégia rápida e econômica para conter as emissões de gases-estufa — avalia Laura.

Ainda assim, o debate sobre a dieta mundial deve ficar fora da mesa de negociações da COP-21. Para os pesquisadores do Chatham House, os governos temem que campanhas reivindicando limitações ao consumo de carne desagradem a opinião pública e a indústria de alimentos.

Desde o início do ano, cerca de 150 países apresentaram à ONU metas voluntárias para cortar a emissão de gases de efeito estufa. A diminuição do consumo de carne não foi mencionada em nenhum projeto.

— Como são cautelosos em assumir um risco, os governos têm favorecido a inércia e permanecem em silêncio sobre a questão das dietas sustentáveis — lamenta Laura. — As pesquisas revelam que inicialmente muitas pessoas não gostam da ideia de comer menos carne, e por isso são resistentes à ideia de intervenção do poder público. No entanto, depois que são informadas sobre a relação entre dieta e clima, a maioria recomenda que o governo promova intervenções e forneça orientações e incentivos para a mudança na alimentação.

No Brasil, diz o levantamento, a população sente orgulho da pecuária, mas demonstra preocupação com sua potencial expansão desordenada para a Floresta Amazônica. A pecuária é uma das atividades econômicas mais importantes do país — representa 6,8% do PIB —, mas também corresponde a uma das mais ineficientes do mundo, já que é baseada na prática extensiva. Os lucros estão no tamanho da área usada, e não na eficiência produtiva. No Cerrado há, em média, apenas 1 boi por hectare — estima-se que é possível triplicar esta ocupação sem qualquer comprometimento dos rendimentos do setor.

A força econômica da pecuária e o hábito do consumo exagerado de carne — a “tradição do churrasco de fim de semana”, como destaca o Chatham House — são os maiores obstáculos para que o governo federal desenvolva projetos que promovam a alimentação saudável e, ao mesmo tempo, aumente o alerta da população contra as mudanças climáticas. O brasileiro é conhecido como um dos povos mais preocupados no mundo com o aquecimento global, mas nunca foi informado sobre sua ligação com mudanças na dieta.

James Cameron wants you to fight global warming by changing what you eat (Washington Post)

 November 18

James Cameron speaking during a forum at the 2012 Beijing Film Academy. AFP/Getty Images)

There are few films more environmentally infused than the highest grossing one in history, “Avatar” — in which a highly militarized mining company seeks to exploit the resources of the rich forest world of Pandora. But less known is how the film’s director, James Cameron, has also used some of the money made from “Avatar” to champion an array of green causes, even as he’s also using clean energy to power the film’s three planned sequels.

“We put in a 1 megawatt solar array on the roof of the soundstages where we’re doing the ‘Avatar’ sequels, so we’ll be net energy neutral there,” Cameron told The Washington Post recently. “We’ll sell back to the grid and it will balance back over the time when we’re working and when we’re not working.”

It’s just one of the many green initiatives the director has undertaken. Heck, he even designed his own solar sunflowers, and they’re pretty cool looking.

(He’s also a noted underwater explorer: In 2012 Cameron undertook a historic dive 35,787 feet deep into the Mariana Trench.)

Cameron spoke Wednesday morning in Washington at Greenbuild, a major conference on green buildings sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. Projected population growth means there will be massive construction in new cities around the world, Cameron told The Post. “If all those buildings are constructed the way we’ve traditionally constructed buildings it will be an enormous spike in greenhouse gas emissions,” he adds.

But one of his most unique recent environmental causes has focused on what we eat — meat and dairy, particularly — and how it relates to climate change. This topic has long been a kind of elephant in the room of environmental discussions – and now Cameron is pointing straight at the elephant.

“When you add it all up, it comes up to about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas comes from the animal agriculture sector,” Cameron says. “That’s bigger than all transportation combined.”

Granted, the gases aren’t just carbon dioxide — the leading, long-lived atmospheric greenhouse gas. They also include methane, which is harder hitting but dissipates much faster — and in this context chiefly comes from so-called “enteric fermentation” (digestion and subsequent burps) in cows and other livestock — and nitrous oxide, emitted by fertilizers and manure. The 14.5 percent figure was affirmed by Chatham House, a London-based think tank, which also calculated that livestock drives 39 percent of human-caused global methane emissions and 65 percent of human induced nitrous oxide emissions.

You can’t fix global warming without fixing carbon dioxide — it has a longer atmospheric residence time than these other gases, and is the dominant greenhouse gas in general. But Cameron observes that because agriculture is so closely tied to deforestation — in many places around the globe, forests are being cleared for cattle and other agricultural activities — it’s also in effect a major source of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Moreover, given global goals to keep global warming between 2 degrees Celsius, it has often been observed that taking action on non-CO2 gases with greater immediate warming consequences, like methane, can buy us some time.

There have been proposed techno-fixes to the problem of agricultural emissions — including the intriguing idea of changing the chemistry going on in cows’ rumens (one chamber of their stomachs)  by feeding them a “methane inhibitor” powder, which has been proved in published research to work. DSM, the Dutch life-sciences company, is developing this product.

[Meet the ‘clean cow’ technology that could help fight climate change]

But there’s also changing what we consume and, in effect, driving market-based changes on a global scale. On the latter front, Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, founded the Food Choice Taskforce, seeking to change our diets, and thereby, lessen climate change and other environmental impacts. “It’s a viable choice, it’s essentially a thermostat that’s being handed to us that we can use to turn down climate change,” Cameron says.

The group is supported in part by the private Avatar Alliance Foundation, which Cameron endowed with some of the film’s proceeds. The foundation has also supported Chatham House’s research on agriculture and the environment.

According to Chatham House, international negotiations to address climate change naturally target the energy and transportation sectors, and the forest and land use sector — but for a complex set of reasons, they have just as traditionally overlooked agriculture. The report contended that “dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed two degrees Celsius – the stated objective of the international community.”

“I think they’re basically unachievable goals if we don’t embrace the way we eat as well as part of it. But nobody’s talking about it,” says Cameron.

Granted, there are signs of momentum lately. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, for instance, recently made major waves when it included environmental concerns to its assessment of our diets. “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use,” the report noted, compared with more plant-based diets. Meanwhile,   the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently declared processed meats a carcinogen.

When it comes to the U.S. dietary guidelines committee — a group of scientists who provide advice, but do not set official policy, it seems a particularly auspicious sign. “For the first time, the issue that I’ve been screaming about has been codified as advice to the government,” says Cameron.

More general, Cameron — who is just as much a wonk  about climate change and ocean science as one presumes that he is about the technical aspects of filmmaking — thinks the tide is turning.

“It feels like climate denialism is starting to look like it’s really on the wrong side of history for a greater majority every day,” says Cameron. “Momentum is building in a great direction.”