23 May, 2006

important simian news

There have been two exciting stories in the world of primates this week.

First up, an article published in Nature on research into monkey communication patterns. Researchers from Scotland's University of St Andrews (including one
Klaus Zuberbuehler which is truly a linguistic marvel in itself) have spent several months looking into the various sounds used by the delightfully named Putty-Nosed Monkeys of West Africa. We have always known that primates - along with many other animals - use specific sounds for specific purposes. But this research has shown for the first time that monkeys are in fact capable of combining different sounds using simple syntax, to create a new meaning.

From news.com.au:
The findings suggest that the rudiments of syntax, a basic component of human language, may be more widespread among primates than is generally thought, and could ultimately shed light on the evolution of this most distinctly human of traits...
Dr Zuberbuhler added: "To our knowledge, this is the first good evidence of a syntax-like natural communication system in a non-human species."
Of course, the syntax we're talking about is still very simple: merely combinations of "Hack!" and "Pyow!" sounds. But hey, it's a start. It's more than I can often manage first thing in the morning...
I need twenty copies of this, and that spreadsheet on my desk by midday.
Hack! Hack hack hack HACK!
Let's stay in bed together till the early afternoon.


Meanwhile, on the topic of monkey-snuggling, researchers from the Broad Institute at M.I.T. Cambridge have released a paper (also in Nature) suggesting that early humans continued interbreeding with chimps long after they had begun separating as species. This
man-monkey fucking, they claim, went on for about four million years. Recent developments in the Human and Chimpanzee Genome Projects provided these scientists with 800 times the data of previous simlar studies. Comparison between the two species' DNA revealed that there was no "clean break" in the evolutionary paths. Rather, the two creatures had continued swapping genes for millions of years.

Again, from news.com.au:
The most detailed analysis conducted of human and chimpanzee DNA reveals that after an initial separation from a common ancestor, between five and six million years ago, the species continued interbreeding. The implication is that speciation - the separation from a common ancestor - wasn't the simple process scientists previously believed. Instead, it happened over millions of years during which "episodes" of hybridisation took place before the final separation into two distinct species...
"It's a totally cool and extremely clever analysis," said Harvard biological anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, who was not involved in the research. "My problem is imagining what it would be like to have a bipedal hominid and a chimpanzee viewing each other as appropriate mates, not to put it too crudely," he said.
Oh, go on Daniel Lieberman - be crude, we don't mind. What you're trying to say is that the thought of a dashing young early-man gazing at an alluring lady ape in a bar and thinking "she's a bit of alright," turns your stomach. You don't like the mental image of some buxoum cro-magnon beauty grinding pink bits with a creature you've seen flinging fæces at the zoo. And who can blame you?

But frankly I think we're being oversensitive. And I also suspect we're overestimating the standards of modern humans. Have you ever been to an urban bar on a Saturday night? Have you waded through the sea of hormones and observed the obscene, thinly-veiled desperation as all the pretty young thangs hunt like predators for someone - anyone - to bump uglies with? Have you been there at 3am just before closing, when time is running out and the more desriable specimens have all been taken? In these circumstances, viewed through beer-googles, it seems almost anyone - or anything - can be regarded as fair game for stumbling into a cab with. It's all about finding a warm body to fall asleep beside - and sneak away from trying not to puke with shame, as soon as the first rays of morning tint the sky.

I would like to release a bunch of chimps into the clubs of the city one Saturday night. My guess is they wouldn't all be going home alone, and the speciation process might just encounter a long-overdue revival.



Blogger Byron said...

Pyow pyow pyow hack pyow?
Hack pyow pyow pyoooow hack hack pyow pyooooow, pyow hack hack hack hack pyow.

Pyow hack.... hack hack pyow.


Hack hack hack pyow pyow pyooooow.

May 23, 2006 9:37 pm  
Blogger Jester said...

Primate = primary mate. It's a well known fact. Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Krusty the Clown and Mr Jeanie... the list goes on.

May 24, 2006 7:33 am  

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