Mit ‘Great Apes’ getaggte Beiträge

kanzi-the-great

Kanzi the Great

The closely related Bonobos and Common_Chimpanzees (together making up the genus “Pan”) share around 98 % of genes with us, the human beings. A bit less we share with Gorillas and Orangutans. Together we belong to the Primates, particularly the Apes, particularly the Great Apes, called Hominidae. Thus a look into the life and behaviour of our relatives tells us also a lot about ourselves and our Evolution. Human arrogance has been reduced in the last decades by finding out that we´re not the only ones having self-awareness and by understanding that we´re also not the only ones having developped tool-making. These two qualities are by the way also not exclusive to Primates but also at times being observed with few quite different species. Remarkable is also the fact that some of our relatives have developped “cultures”, methods varying between different groups of the same species. An important question is the field of communication, including even the communication between different species, for example between Great Apes and ourselves. Experiments on this have been going on for decades.

Outstanding Examples of “Humanlike Behaviour” and Communication

Astonishing progress had been found in the communication with Great Apes. For example there is the Gorilla lady Koko who can communicate by sign language. Now, sign language contains elements which are derived from gestures partly automatically associated with emotions or activities. Nevertheless it is very impressing to see the Gorilla´s ability to communicate this way with her human friend. It´s impossible not to be moved by watching this exchange of informations as well as expression of feelings.

Another case is the Orangutan Chantek, one parent Sumatran Orangutan, the other from Borneo. Baby_Chantek was taught sign language as well. Being a_very_clever_guy he was roaming the University campus a bit too excessive and it ended in a somehow tear_jerking_story, since he was taken to Atlanta_Zoo to live with other Oranutans. The Smithonian Magazin in deed identified “six_talking_Apes”.

Kanzi, the Super Star

kanzi-young-age

Kanzi at Young Age

Among all those of our impressive hairy cousins the outstanding “Super Star” is the Bonobo Kanzi. That clever guy was_born_in_1980 into a Bonobo group in a research center. He understands_several_hundred_words in English, can make fire and is a very willing helper to his caretaker. He likes jokes and masquerading. He even learned to telephone, but how? Apes anatomy doesn´t allow them to articulate human language. He managed by a sophisticated_equipment made available to him: a word synthesizer, which allows him to create English words by touching symbols on a Touchscreen.

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Kanzi making fire

The Clou

He learned that as a very small kid by observing the futile efforts to teach an elder Bonobo female. But this is the clou: the symbols are totally abstract signs! Nothing that represents in any way the content of the word. Now writing started from pictograms having a connection to the meant content. Only a next step lead to abstract symbols. This was regarded as a very human quality. Well, Kanzi didn´t invent this, but all of us didn´t invent it too (ancestors did long ago), we just learned to understand and use it, so did Kanzi.

kanzi-keyboard

Kanzi´s Keyboard

This means he has the intellectual capacity to connect the abstract symbol with the meaning. And he does that in an impressive way also displaying creativity in covering new items by combination of words. After all this all takes place in a favouring and inspirational enviroment which is far from the normal enviroment of Bonobos. Anyway, Kanzi´s abilities fix a mark in our progress of understanding our closest relatives.

Additional Thoughts

It is interesting that these remarkable abilities in communication are displayed in a Bonobo but not so much in Chimps (both evolutionary equally close to us). Both species hunt, they both also hunt small monkeys, but the common Chimps display much more  and excessive brutality_and_have_wars_among_themselves. Concerning human brutality we equal Chimps more than Bonobos, taking communication abilities and brutality we combine_important_traits_of_both. One thing is clear: concerning self awareness and the emotional make up we humans and our relatives are very close to each other and the potential to suffer is very similar likewise.

On the other side we have to admit that human abilities exceed those ones of our relatives by far. What in our DNA makes the big difference? There´s an interesting point in the discussion: we´re often correctly told that we share around 98 % of the genes with our closest relatives, but there is a difference which is hardly mentioned in popularized science. We have one pair of chomosomes less than the Great Apes because of a chromosomal fusion connecting two chomosomes in humans. By the way, in deed the general question_of_chromosomal_mutation_in_evolution is a scientifically thrilling one. It could have an extraordinary effect on gene_expression. A big question in human evolution is thus: when did this mutation appear? Did it occur by the hybridization of two or more species of the Australopithecines?

Will they survive? And will we Survive?

All Great Apes belong to the endangered_species. In deed many of our relatives end up as “Bushmeat”, which is somhow blamed on the people of Africa. But the scource of this hunting is poverty and the miserable condition Africa has been plunged into and kept in, “Colonialism_is_alive_and_well”! As for the most brilliant of our “cousins”, the Bonobos, future looks very dim, since they live in the Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo. That country is exposed to extreme – Western orchestrated – plunder since the times of Belgian King Leopold_II. DR Congo and the African_Great_Lakes Region have been and are exposed to murderous wars, covered by more than twenty_years_of_brazen_desinformation. This might have cost DR Congo more than eight million deaths during the last 21 years and the murder is going on. Today most important in this is the hunt for Coltan. It is all for “Western progress” and no sweet “partnership_talks” can wipe that away!

The “Powers that (shouldn´t) be”, Great Apes and our Survival

No doubt, we Humans have responsibility for our hairy relatives survival, but even more so for Humanity´s survival. Some benevolent people caring for our relatives at times loose that a bit out of sight. Focussing on general human responsibility for the Great Apes they tend to forget that there are the “Powers that (shouldn´t) be“ even contemplating about wiping_out_large_setions_of_mankind.

Moreover those powers play aggressive “war games” which put even whole mankind´s existence at risk by pushing us to the edge of “Nuclear Armaggedon”. In the end most of us are in “the same boat”, together with our hairy Cousins!

Andreas Schlüter

 

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Driving Forces in Evolution: Mutation and Selection

The basic mechanisms in evolution based on mutation and selection (generated by factors in ecology as well as within the species itself) as well as coincidence – as such mutation itself has to be regarded – are well researched and to a high degree understood. Progress in genetics of recent are breathe taking.

Problematic Mutation

Today the mechanisms of “normal” mutation are a relatively simple event to science and well understood. A mutation concerning one ore several genes is either of advantage, of disadvantage or neutral. An advantageous mutation will spread successively because mutants and non mutants can normally cross without problem. Thus a single event – mutation as such always being a single event – becomes an event concerning a species as such. But there is one kind of mutation which is problematic in as far organisms reproducing sexually are concerned. This is that kind of mutation either leading to fission ore fusion of chromosomes. However “species” is defined – and this definition is not totally general in Biology – a difference in the chromosomal number is by and large a massive hindrance to hybrid offspring.

The dead branch

Thus such a mutation is a dead branch as long as not “by incident” the same mutation is to be found among potential mates in the surrounding. But even with a pair of mates the beginning of this new species would mean an extreme “bottle neck”. Adding is the fact that mating behavior wouldn´t be limited to the same kind of mutant. As often to be found in techniques of the “war against insects” the letting free of infertile mating partners in order to bring down or reduce an insect population also in this case the mating of the specific mutants is rather unlikely, thus rendering a spreading of the mutation even unlikely with quite advantageous effects of the mutation. Nevertheless the change of chromosomal numbers is widely to be found in evolution. Some families of organisms are tending to fusion others to fission. The described paradox of the dead branch has to be dissolved by plausible scenarios.

Mutation “en masse”

This paradox can only be solved assuming the widespread happening of the same mutation. Only then the coming about of a stable population with the new chromosomal organization could be imagined. That would mean a preparation by another extended happening incidents bringing about a molecular situation favoring fusion respective fission. For these two variants could be imagined both extending the “paradigm of branches” by the “paradigm of roots”.

Variant I

It is known that certain viruses are able to get incorporated into the genetic material of a cell. Does this happen with germ cells in great numbers at the same place with the same chromosomes and would this addition extend the probability of the respective chromosomal mutation then the probability of mutants meeting each other would significantly increase. Thus the splitting in two different species would be prepared by the fusion of genetic materials of very different sources thus displaying a “paradigm of roots”.

Variant II, Crossing of Distant Sub Species

The second scenario is based on ecological and geographic changes bringing two sub species again into broader contact which have been isolated for a longer time. They might have developed far going genetic differences. By a broad hybridization incidentally a tendency for this mutation may emerge or the Hybrids might directly display this mutation. Possible might also be that this mutation comes into existence by re crossing the hybrids.

In connection with this scenario there are thoughts to be found by an evolutionary “outsider” (because of his highly questionable “river ape theory”) leading to this direction (1).

Probably both scenarios have played their role in evolution bringing different numbers in chromosomes. Phenotypic effects might be little in a number of cases but a look on “Trisomie 21” throws light on possible consequences if nothing has changed but the number of chromosomes.

New Perspectives

This approach could nourish the search for an echo of such incidents in evolution since both variants could have left detectible genetic traces. Facing the fact that Man differs by chromosomal fusion from all great Apes, Darwin´s famous word could again get a new accent:

„Light will be thrown on the origin of man“

In this context also results of genetic researches could be seen which suggest a longer ongoing phase of separation between the ancestors of Man and Chimps (2) thus being understood as the reflex of hybridization between subspecies of early Homo. A later fusion of chromosomes would not explain these results.

Andreas Schlüter

Links:

1) http://www.riverapes.com/Me/Work/HumanHybridisationTheory.htm#_Toc509892888

2) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v441/n7097/abs/nature04789.html

More: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC187548/

http://www.bioinf.uni-leipzig.de/~veiko/C14Chromosomenevolution.pdf