Author Archives: Irena Baker

Classified new African dwarf monkey lived more than 4 million years ago

A new species of small monkey that lived in the regions of today’s Kenya 4.2 million years ago has been described by a group of researchers. The study of the fossil has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The new monkey, named Nanopithecus browni (the name was chosen in honor of a researcher, Francis Brown of the University of Utah), was very small and the adult specimens weighed only 1-1.3 pounds. It was the same size as today’s talapoina monkey, considered the smallest monkey in the Old World, currently represented by two species: Miopithecus talapoin and Miopithecus ogouensis.

Talapoine monkeys are part of a larger group, that of vervet monkeys. The talapoini to date are in central-western Africa, in tropical forests, and are thought to have suffered a shrinkage of the body, during the course of evolution, to respond to increasingly intricate habitats, full of plants, trees and swamps.

The remains of Nanopithecus browni have however been found in Kenya, eastern Africa, in a habitat that was once dry and covered by wide open forest prairies. This means, according to the researchers and authors of the study, that this little monkey has undergone a more complex evolution and in any case different with respect to the Cercopitec.

The nanism of the monkey Nanopithecus browni should have occurred earlier and differently, which suggests that the forms of evolutionary dwarfism in apes must have occurred more than once and in very different habitats, in response to different needs.

Australian lizards show unusual intelligence at an early age

A group of researchers analyzed the behavior of a species of lizard, the eastern lizard with a blue tongue, endemic to Australia, making interesting discoveries. This lizard (Tiliqua scincoides) is common in the eastern Australian area and can be found on scrubland but also in suburban areas.

Its main characteristic is its language with particular colors: it can vary from bright blue to dark blue. The animal also tends to show it often in a very prominent way to hiss. Adults can reach a length of 600 mm and can boast a skin covered with hard scales as well as a very powerful bite. However, the little ones, who cannot yet boast this protection and a very effective bite, are very vulnerable.

Moreover, for a typical behavior of this species, the little ones cannot rely on any protection, even on that of their parents. This means that they must rely above all on themselves and on their level of intelligence.

It is precisely this characteristic that the researchers Birgit Szabo and Martin Whiting of Macquarie University, Australia, assisted by colleagues from other universities, have done their own study highlighting how intelligent they can be from an early age.

The researchers performed experiments on various adults and various young specimens of these lizards. The youngest specimens were aged between 26 and 56 days.

In all tests, the youngest specimens, even those born a few weeks old, showed the same level of intelligence and resourcefulness as adults and this confirms the fact that this lizard learns everything it takes to survive from the very first days and essentially without the contribution of adults.

Here’s how a species of fish changes sex in 10 days

There are fish that change sex once they become adults, something that may seem bizarre to most people but that is normal for different animal species. However, how fish change sex has never been clear. Now, a new study, published in Science Advances, sought to clarify the modalities of this process, at least as regards a species of fish.

An international group of researchers, led by New Zealand scientists, focused on the Thalassoma bifasciatum, a marine fish of the family of the wrasse which is also known as bluehead wrasse. This fish performs the sex change very quickly and the change itself is triggered by an external signal, as recalled by Jenny Graves, a professor at the University of La Trobe, one of the authors of the study.

The scientist ensures that genes, even after a sex change, do not change so they must be turned off by a signal. The change takes place in particular ways: these fish live in groups composed of females dominated by a single male specimen. If the latter dies or is removed from his “harem”, the largest female in only 10 days becomes male and becomes the leader of the group. His behavior changes in a few minutes while his color changes a few hours. The ovaries become testicles and within 10 days are already capable of producing sperm.

Researchers have discovered that there are specific genes that are deactivated and activated in the brain and gonads of this fish that in turn trigger sex change. The discovery occurred through RNA sequencing and epigenetic analysis. During the sex change, a “complete genetic rewiring of the gonad” takes place, as specified by Erica Todd of the University of Otago, author of the study that adds: “The genes needed to maintain the ovary are first deactivated, and then a new genetic path is constantly activated to promote testicular formation.”

Anthrax bacteria can be killed with small fragments of antibodies

It is possible to counter the anthrax bacterium by slowing down its growth by destroying what can be considered as an armor that this microorganism has to defend itself against. The study, published in Nature Microbiology, was conducted by Antonella Fioravanti, a researcher in the laboratory of Professor Han Remaut, Institute of Flanders for Biotechnology.

Anthrax is a deadly disease for humans and for most mammals (a major problem for cattle, for example) and one of the main features of the bacterium that the proxy, the Bacillus anthracis, has been for a long time its high resistance. While for humans today its spread has dropped a lot thanks to better hygiene, anthrax can be considered a danger to many other wild animals.

At the same time, it can still represent a danger to human beings who are in contact with them. And this without talking about its possible uses as a biological weapon in the context of so-called bioterrorism. According to Fioravanti, the discovery he made was “an unexpected bonus.” The researcher was in fact using small fragments of antibodies, called Nanobodies, to study the structure of the armor that these bacteria use.

By performing this analysis, the researchers gathered that these fragments proved to be very effective in breaking the layers of this armor and therefore in slowing the growth of bacteria. These were surprising effects that persisted even when Nanobodies were tested on infected mice.

At this point, the researchers intend to understand if this method can also be used for other types of bacteria that use similar “armor” but the result that seems to have reached with the anthrax bacterium already appears excellent.