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  • February 26, 2013
  • 12:21 PM

They All Look The Same

by Diapadion in Lord of the Apes

A few weeks have passed since Iran claimed to have sent a monkey to space and back. It did not take long for skeptics to point out that the two monkeys look nothing alike. I can't begin to explain why Iran wouldn't do a better job staging their publicity photographs. My mind has been occupied with (in my opinion) a more interesting question: Why is it easy to distinguish between individuals of some primate species, but not others?

I've spent time with a number of primate species, but in terms of sheer hours of exposure, chacma baboons and rhesus macaques take the top two slots. I know both these species very well. Yet, rhesus macaques are easy for me to distinguish between, while chacma baboons are exceptionally difficult to identify. After spending a few hours with some macaques, I can reliably tell you their name and personality, mostly from looking at their faces. After spending hundreds of hours with the same baboons, I could not tell them apart, at least not based on their faces. They really do all look the same. Its more effective to look at the pattern of tears on their ears, and the shape of the callosities on their rumps. Its quite humbling, actually.

A similar phenomena exists in humans, known as the Cross-Race Effect. Or, as the All Look Same effect. In humans, the difference is based on race, but its not racism. How much of the effect can be explained by nature versus nurture is a matter of contention, but has everything to do with an individual's upbringing, who the individual spends time around as they grow up.

The monkey face recognition effect must be different because I didn't grow up spending large amounts of time around rhesus monkeys. So, I turned to genetic diversity for ideas. The more diverse a species is, the easier it should be to identify within the species. It stands to reason that the species which is much easier to identify (rhesus macaques) would have higher genetic diversity.

Research started off easy. The rhesus macaque is three times as diverse but more closely equivalent in damaging coding variation as compared to the human. That is about as straight forward an answer as I have ever seen in the title of an academic publication. Okay, so what about chacma baboons?

Baboon diversity is not as well understood. Rhesus monkeys are widespread, plus they're the animal of choice when it comes to biomedical research. Baboons are also widespread, and favorites of field researchers. But you don't see them as much in labs, so genetic testing is not a routine procedure. Nonetheless, I found an article which addresses my questions.

Quantifying diversity is a not a simple matter. From data collection to bio-informatic analysis, it can be a bumpy road. I don't know why exactly Newman et al. chose to quantify diversity with the mean percent pairwise difference in haplotypes, but it happens to be pretty easy to explain. To use the metric, you take your data, a set of DNA samples from individual monkeys, and compare each individual's DNA to everyone else's within the same species. You count the number of differences  observed between individual base pairs at the same places in the DNA sequences. Then, convert that number into a percentage, and finally, average all of the comparisons between individuals. That's the author's measure of within species diversity.

The diversity found in rhesus macaques was 4.2%. In chacma baboons, it was 0.9%. That is a considerable difference. These numbers are only given a small mention in this part of the paper, so I don't know the margins of error. Nevertheless, these finding support the hypothesis that baboons are harder to distinguish because there is really is less distinguishing information available; less diversity within the species.

However, there are some extenuating circumstances. The baboons I interact with in Cape Town are from a small population, in fact, a subspecies of chacma baboon, Papio ursinus ursinus. Now their diversity is cut down even further, possibly by an order of magnitude or more.

Most of the rhesus macaques I've spent time with were in captive colonies. There are many rhesus sub-species; no one knows the pedigree of colony monkeys, another dirty secret of the biomedical community. But, my best guess is that they came from rhesus populations as wide spread as you can imagine, so the diversity in colonies is likely to approach 4.2%. I have interacted with wild groups of rhesus macaques, but only for short periods (hours), not for months as I have with the baboons. Are they more difficult to identify than the captive monkeys I know? Yes, they are, but not as difficult as wild baboons.

Which raises a follow-up question: What is the right way to quantify how easy it is to tell members of a species or sub-species apart? My gut feelings aren't going to hold up under scrutiny. Appropriate paradigms already exist: show people (or monkeys) a series of faces, some new some repeated, and ask them if they've seen each one before. As I've heard many Professors say (to myself and others around me), "you could get a thesis out of these experiments."

Yuan, Q., Zhou, Z., Lindell, S., Higley, J., Ferguson, B., Thompson, R., Lopez, J., Suomi, S., Baghal, B., Baker, M., Mash, D., Barr, C., & Goldman, D. (2012). The rhesus macaque is three times as diverse but more closely equivalent in damaging coding variation as compared to the human BMC Genetics, 13 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2156-13-52
Newman, T., Jolly, C., & Rogers, J. (2004). Mitochondrial phylogeny and systematics of baboons (Papio) American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 124 (1), 17-27 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.10340... Read more »

Newman, T., Jolly, C., & Rogers, J. (2004) Mitochondrial phylogeny and systematics of baboons (Papio). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 124(1), 17-27. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.10340  

  • February 26, 2013
  • 07:10 AM

Sea Lamprey Genome Sheds Light on Human Evolution

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Although the identity of this monster is not yet confirmed, it's probably a massive sea lamprey. Scienists just managed to decode the entire genome of this creature, which can give important information about human evolution. ... Read more »

Smith, J., Kuraku, S., Holt, C., Sauka-Spengler, T., Jiang, N., Campbell, M., Yandell, M., Manousaki, T., Meyer, A., Bloom, O.... (2013) Sequencing of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) genome provides insights into vertebrate evolution. Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/ng.2568  

  • February 25, 2013
  • 03:00 PM

Whorfian economics reconsidered: Why future tense?

by Sean Roberts in A Replicated Typo 2.0

Keith Chen has found a link between people's economic decisions and whether their language has a future tense. But are there other linguistic variables that are even better at predicting economic decisions?... Read more »

Sean Roberts, & James Winters. (2012) Social Structure and Language Structure: the New Nomothetic Approach. Psycology of Language Learning, 16(2), 89-112. info:/10.2478/v10057-012-0008-6

  • February 24, 2013
  • 01:00 PM

Scientizing Art

by TheCellularScale in The Cellular Scale

I've always been fascinated with the way the eye moves around a piece of art. Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" (or as I looked up "that painting of a girl in a field looking at a house")This piece by Andrew Wyeth is an obvious example of an artist completely controlling your gaze. There are pretty much no options here. You look at the girl and then you follow her gaze to the house. You probably then take a quick glance at that other house/barn to the left, and then maybe follow the edge of the light circle around the houses. (It's my opinion that that is how the eye should go on this painting, but I have no eye tracking data to support it.)A paper last year in PLoS One really tries to "scientize' this process by testing what factors determine the eye movements, and the 'clusters' where the eye tended to fall. Massaro et al., (2012) compare dynamic and static images and images that contain human subjects or nature subjects. Their cluster analysis overlaying classic paintings makes for quite interesting images: The next installment at MoMAThis one is a dynamic human image. Each patch of color shows where the parts of the painting where the eye lingers (face, hands, ....crotch...). The authors do all sorts of interesting analysis on this and other paintings, having participants rate the painting for 'movement' or for 'aesthetic value' and since the paper is open access, it is free to people who may not have university access to journal publications. Anyone can read the whole thing here. One interesting thing that the authors find is that pictures containing humans have fewer clusters than pictures of nature. I expect this is because certain aspects of humans (faces, hands ...crotches...) are so salient and the brain focuses directly on them, while all the branches of a tree for example have about equal 'meaning' for a creates modern art Another great image from this paper. The authors show how much gazing was done at different parts of a painting through a heat map. This one is a human static image. The end result is actually quite haunting because the place that you want to look is blanked out (sort of like a Magritte painting). So here are my questions: If someone looks at a blank page, where does their eye naturally go? Is there some sort of common pattern that most people use just to scan an area? Do chimpanzees use a similar pattern to scan a blank page? Does everyone have their own unique scanning pattern? Or is it just pretty much random?  And here's an idea for artists: Buy yourself an eye tracker and have customers come use it and stare at a blank page. Trace their eye movements and then create a dynamic painting (or T-shirt, or napkin drawing) that follows the person's natural scanning patterns. This would be the ultimate in commissioned custom art! (Then give me one for free, because I think this sounds like fun.)© TheCellularScale Massaro D, Savazzi F, Di Dio C, Freedberg D, Gallese V, Gilli G, & Marchetti A (2012). When art moves the eyes: a behavioral and eye-tracking study. PloS one, 7 (5) PMID: 22624007... Read more »

Massaro D, Savazzi F, Di Dio C, Freedberg D, Gallese V, Gilli G, & Marchetti A. (2012) When art moves the eyes: a behavioral and eye-tracking study. PloS one, 7(5). PMID: 22624007  

  • February 22, 2013
  • 11:32 AM

Why Do People Faint at the Sight of Blood?

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

The sight of blood doesn’t frighten most people, but can cause fainting and severe anxiety in others. The phenomenon, known as blood-injury-injection phobia (cleverly abbreviated as “BII”), is rather common, affecting about 3.5 percent of all men and women. ... Read more »

  • February 22, 2013
  • 01:50 AM

Electricity Between Bees and Flowers

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Beyond their colors, sizes, and other fascinating attributes, have you considered the electrical capabilities of bees and flowers? A new study by researchers from the University of Bristol has uncovered the fact that both sides are actually making use of electricity to communicate with one another. How? First we have the bee, who is of course always flying through the air which is filled with charged particles. As a result of this, the bee actually carries a positive charge. Then there is the plant, which is of course grounded and therefore carries a negative charge and conducts electricity very slowly.... Read more »

  • February 21, 2013
  • 09:36 AM

The Sobering Reality of Orbital Weapons Platforms

by Jason Carr in Wired Cosmos

Space warfare is quickly becoming a reality. Though people might often imagine that wars fought in space would be against some sort of extraterrestrial power, this might not be the case. It’s far more likely than human beings will someday war with one another. As with every other major venture, international law is involved with [...]... Read more »

  • February 21, 2013
  • 07:19 AM

Unlocking the Secret of Regeneration

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

Newts and salamanders are known for their ability to re-grow new limbs after injury. But nobody quite understood how they do it. A new study led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Dayton (Ohio) is a significant step towards that understanding, and could help devise ways for non-amphibian species (like us) to regenerate limbs or organs.... Read more »

  • February 20, 2013
  • 01:54 PM

How the daffodil got its trumpet

by Perikis Livas in Tracing Knowledge

The daffodil is one of the few plants with a ‘corona’, a crown-like structure also referred to as the ‘trumpet’. New research suggests that the corona is not an extension of the petals as previously thought, but is a distinct organ sharing more genetic identity with stamens, the pollen-producing reproductive organs.... Read more »

University of Oxford. (2013) How the daffodil got its trumpet. University of Oxford News. info:/

  • February 18, 2013
  • 04:02 AM

Casual Sex: Revisited

by Annemarie van Oosten in United Academics

In my first blog article (“Casual sex: not so casual?”) I wrote about how casual sex (i.e., a sexual interaction between two individuals outside of a long-term committed relationship) is often seen by young adults as a means of starting a relationship. However, things seem to be a bit more complicated (as is often the case with the topic of sexuality), especially for young higher educated women. According to an article by Hamilton and Armstrong (2009), many girls in their early twenties who attend college actually prefer casual sex over a committed relationship.... Read more »

  • February 15, 2013
  • 06:23 AM

Artificial Intelligence Is Smarter Than Your Doctor

by Zach Urbina in United Academics

Researchers at Indiana University developed a computer model that uses aggregated health data, known as “big data,” to prescribe less-expensive treatments than doctors. The predictive modeling effort reported results indicating a 50% reduction in costs with 40% higher-quality patient outcomes.... Read more »

  • February 15, 2013
  • 05:56 AM

Anxiety Drug Found in Rivers Make Fish Antisocial

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Researchers have discovered that benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Oxazepam, which are being flushed into rivers from sewage works, build up in concentrations that can significantly affect behavior of wild freshwater fish.... Read more »

  • February 14, 2013
  • 09:24 AM

Why Does a Massage Feel so Good?

by Carian Thus in United Academics

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day scenario? What about candlelight, romantic music, the smell of oil and the hands of your lover on your naked body, massaging your back.. We all love it when others stimulate our skin, but why is it experienced as such a pleasure? A recent study provides the neurological reason.... Read more »

  • February 13, 2013
  • 04:32 PM

Dog poo turning green – the power of science

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Hey Julie,Thanks for the run down on ScienceOnline and ‘Lend a Paw’ month.  I completed the survey about my cat’s behaviour, it was quick and easy to do.  I also liked your stroking video, but I’ll get back to that later, right now I need to tell you how dog poo (I think you usually say ‘poop’ in the USA?) is turning green.Dog poo is turning greenIt’s turning green and it’s thanks to the power of science. Or perhaps it’s the science of power? It’s easy to get confused. (source)The important bit is that a Melbourne-based entrepreneur, Duncan Chew, received funding in 2012 from the Inspiring Australia strategy for his idea to turn dog waste into energy to light up parks around Australia. Titled Poo Power!, his project is using science to help our communities live more sustainably. How big is this issue?In Australia, we have one of the highest incidences of pet ownership in the world with over 60% of households owning a pet. The average dog produces 0.34 kilograms (that’s 0.75 lb) of faeces per day.Do the maths, and that’s around 1.4 tonnes of dog poo needing to be disposed of DAILY in Australia, which adds up to a colossal 490,000 tonnes each year!490 MILLION KG!  That’s 1,080,270 MILLION lbs! (or almost 20 million labradors if you were following my pre-post riddle clues on our Facebook page!)The USA have more than 20 times the number of dogs as Australia. Just saying.The issue of dog waste disposal (what I like to call Poo-llution!) is an especially important issue in areas of growing urbanisation, cities with limited park spaces and in light of declining landfill site availability.Using our love of dogs to brighten the futureDog poo light? Not as silly as it might seem! (source) The project will see a series of biogas generators turn dog waste into energy for lighting up Melbourne parks, at the same time as engaging audiences on the issue of ‘what is waste?’, and the potential opportunities posed by reassessing waste management practices. 1kg of dog poo will give you about 25-30 litres of raw biogas.... Read more »

Okoroigwe E.C., Ibeto C.N., & Okpara C.G. (2010) Comparative Study of the Potential of Dog Waste for Biogas Production. Trends in Applied Sciences Research, 5(1), 71-77. DOI: 10.3923/tasr.2010.71.77  

Nemiroff Leah. (2007) Design, Testing and Implementation of a Large-Scale Urban Dog Waste Composting Program. Compost Science , 15(4), 237-242. info:other/ studies.pdf

  • February 13, 2013
  • 01:10 AM

Small Business Contributions to U.S. Space Exploration

by Jason Carr in Wired Cosmos

Many of you have likely been following the progression of the Mars Rover Curiosity in recent weeks. I’ve personally developed an interest in the types of tests that are being done on the red planet during the mission. This interest led me to think about the types of test equipment that is being utilized not [...]... Read more »

  • February 12, 2013
  • 07:16 AM

Genetically Engineered Virus Fights Liver Cancer

by Zachery Urbina in United Academics

Cancer, one of the oldest and most formidable foes of humanity has an advanced, new adversary. 16 terminally-ill liver cancer patients treated with a high dose of the vaccine Pexa-Vec survived an average of 14.1 months, compared to 6.7 for patients receiving a low dose.... Read more »

  • February 11, 2013
  • 05:13 AM

Opinion | The Last Defense of Science

by Zach Urbina in United Academics

Courtney killed Kurt. Cancer has a cure. Aliens built the pyramids. 9/11 was an inside job. Territory once regarded as the domain of your hare-brained uncle, eccentric neighbor, or other vaguely threatening social leper, seems lately to have leaked precariously into the mainstream. The idea that elaborate conspiracies are being worked upon the nation –nay, the world – seem to be accepted more and more as not just true, but worthy of vitriolic defense by anyone who might call into question their claims.

Some are simplistic, many are complicated, few meet standard criteria of cause and effect. Virtually all rely on top-down thinking.

Inevitably, a layperson begins his/her story couched in a tone meant to warn against the offending they. What they do is… They do this all the time. Laypeople everywhere seem dead-serious that there exists a cadre of surreptitious malignancy, which simultaneously means us harm, yet is somehow profiting from said harm.... Read more »

  • February 8, 2013
  • 08:23 AM

New strain could be available in a few years.

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

Grapefruits, albeit sour, are nutritious and can be delicious. But they’ve also been known to interfere with many medications, and even some dietary supplements. So, many doctors try to steer some patients away from eating grapefruit.... Read more »

  • February 8, 2013
  • 04:20 AM

Are “Friends with Benefits” Relationships Sexually Satisfying?

by Carian Thus in United Academics

What do you do when you’re single and want to have sex? There’s the option to hookup with strangers. But you can also stay in your “comfort zone” and have sex with someone you already hang out with.... Read more »

  • February 7, 2013
  • 10:23 AM

Do you suffer from the IKEA Effect?

by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro in United Academics

If you are reading things from home or from the office, chances are there is something from Ikea in the room. Over the past decade, the affordable and semi-clever designs from the Swedish furniture juggernaut have become one of those recognizable symbols regardless of where in the world you live. And one aspect that is true about most Ikea stuff, is that you probably built it yourself. And if you built it yourself, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with having used that strange little tool and fit “wood screw A” into “panel 3″, a feeling that is know in the world of psychology as the “Ikea Effect”.... Read more »

Norton, M., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012) The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(3), 453-460. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.08.002  

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