Category Archives: animal rights

You’re such a Neanderthal!

It turns out that that statement is probably true of the person whom you so labeled.

And it’s probably true of you too! Awesome.

Here’s the story, as told by National Geographic.

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal female.

A Neanderthal-female reconstruction based on both fossil anatomy and DNA (file photo).

Photograph by Joe McNally, National Geographic


Inside of the Vindija cave, Croatia. Image courtesy of Johannes  Krause MPI-EVACroatia’s Vindija cave, where Neanderthal bones used to assemble genome were found. Image courtesy of Johannes Krause MPI-EVA.

Ker Than

Published May 6, 2010

The next time you’re tempted to call some oaf a Neanderthal, you might want to take a look in the mirror.

According to a new DNA study, most humans have a little Neanderthal in them—at least 1 to 4 percent of a person’s genetic makeup.

The study uncovered the first solid genetic evidence that “modern” humans—or Homo sapiens—interbred with their Neanderthal neighbors, who mysteriously died out about 30,000 years ago.

What’s more, the Neanderthal-modern human mating apparently took place in the Middle East, shortly after modern humans had left Africa, not in Europe—as has long been suspected.

“We can now say that, in all probability, there was gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans,” lead study author Ed Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a prepared statement.

That’s no surprise to anthropologist Erik Trinkhaus, whose skeleton-based claims of Neanderthal-modern human interbreeding—previously contradicted with DNA evidence—appear to have been vindicated by the new gene study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

“They’ve finally seen the light … because it’s been obvious to many us that this happened,” said Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who wasn’t part of the new study.

Trinkhaus adds that most living humans probably have much more Neanderthal DNA than the new study suggests.

“One to 4 percent is truly a minimum,” Trinkaus added. “But is it 10 percent? Twenty percent? I have no idea.”

Surprising Spot for Neanderthal-Human Mating

The genetic study team reached their conclusion after comparing the genomes of five living humans—from China, France, Papua New Guinea, southern Africa, and western Africa—against the available “rough draft” of the Neanderthal genome.

The results showed that Neanderthal DNA is 99.7 percent identical to modern human DNA, versus, for example, 98.8 percent for modern humans and chimps, according to the study. (Related: “Neanderthals Had Same ‘Language Gene’ as Modern Humans.”)

In addition, all modern ethnic groups, other than Africans, carry traces of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, the study says—which at first puzzled the scientists. Though no fossil evidence has been found for Neanderthals and modern humans coexisting in Africa, Neanderthals, like modern humans, are thought to have arisen on the continent.

“If you told an archaeologist that you’d found evidence of gene exchange between Neanderthals and modern humans and asked them to guess which [living] population it was found in, most would say Europeans, because there’s well documented archaeological evidence that they lived side by side for several thousand years,” said study team member David Reich.

For another thing, Neanderthals never lived in China or Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific region of Melanesia, according to the archaeological record.

“But the fact is that Chinese and Melanesians are as closely related to Neanderthals” as Europeans, said Reich, a population geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University.

Neanderthal-Human One-Night Stand?

So how did modern humans with Neanderthal DNA end up in Asia and Melanesia?

Neanderthals, the study team says, probably mixed with early Homo sapiens just after they’d left Africa but before Homo sapiens split into different ethnic groups and scattered around the globe.

The first opportunity for interbreeding probably occurred about 60,000 years ago in Middle Eastern regions adjacent to Africa, where archaeological evidence shows the two species overlapped for a time, the team says.

And it wouldn’t have taken much mating to make an impact, according to study co-author Reich. The results could stem from a Neanderthal-modern human one-night stand or from thousands of interspecies assignations, he said.

More DNA Evidence for Neanderthal-Human Mating

The new study isn’t alone in finding genetic hints of Homo sapiens-Homo neanderthalensis interbreeding.

Genetic anthropologist Jeffrey Long, who calls the Science study “very exciting,” co-authored a new, not yet published study that found DNA evidence of interbreeding between early modern humans and an “archaic human” species, though it’s not clear which. He presented his team’s findings at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last month.

Long’s team reached its conclusions after searching the genomes of hundreds of modern humans for “signatures of different evolutionary processes in DNA variation.”

Like the new Science paper, Long’s study speculates that interbreeding occurred just after our species had left Africa, but Long’s study didn’t include analysis of the Neanderthal genome.

“At the time we started the project, I never imagined I’d ever see an empirical confirmation of it,” said Long, referring to the Science team’s Neanderthal-DNA evidence, “so I’m pretty happy to see it.”


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New Evidence That Dark Chocolate is Good For Me!! (and you)

I have a serious addiction to Lindt Swiss Dark Chocolate – a vegan delight if there ever was one.

And now I have further evidence that this addiction is actually a virtue, not a vice. Here’s the story from Science Daily:


ScienceDaily (Nov. 12, 2009) — The “chocolate cure” for emotional stress


Pieces of dark chocolate. The "chocolate cure" for emotional stress is getting new support from a clinical trial. (Credit: iStockphoto)

is getting new support from a clinical trial published online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research. It found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Everyone’s favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues note growing scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions. Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress. Until now, however, there was little evidence from research in humans on exactly how chocolate might have those stress-busting effects.

In the study, scientists identified reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks. “The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists say.

Journal reference:

  1. Martin et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research, 2009; 091007113151065 DOI: 10.1021/pr900607v
Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

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Vegans Are NOT Wimps!

Here’s a reprint of an article from Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper about Montreal Canadiens’ tough guy, Georges Laraque.

Sean Gordon

MONTREAL — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 12:45AM EDT

First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the legend’s nose crinkles in disapproval.

“Ferguson never would have accepted it,” huffs Henri Richard,

George Laraque

George Laraque

11-time Stanley Cup champion, uber-competitor, the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John Ferguson, the former Montreal Canadiens tough guy.

It’s a natural enough reaction from a man whose off-season preparations used to consist of switching from golf to tennis in early August.

He has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges Laraque, boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan (“a what?” Richard said), a militant one.

No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June 1.

While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political, rather than nutritional, reasons.

Everything changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.

“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals in this country and the way we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make some big changes,” Laraque said.

Though Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way I don’t forget.”

Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.

“I’ve lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.

“I think it’s also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)

Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.

But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.

Laraque cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.

Richard, who readily admits that he’s often astonished at the lengths to which today’s hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy Lafleur prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes a day to two, or so the legend goes. (“It didn’t matter, he was always faster than everyone,” Richard joked.)

And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he’s not alone in his approach.

Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.

“I find it helps my energy levels stay high throughout the season,” he said.

Cammalleri also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few yoga exercises, “but I don’t really have the patience for yoga.”

Not all the Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward Guillaume Latendresse, who has overhauled his off-season regimen in each of the past two seasons, says he switched to a high-protein diet, but that he’s not willing to renounce meat altogether.

“[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant … but if I go, I’m bringing a steak in my jacket pocket,” he joked.

So in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.

“People still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said. “There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”


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Nature Is So Cool: A Frog That Fits On Your Fingertip

How amazing is this?!!  Read the rest of the article from Live Science below.

Noblella pygmaea on a fingertip. The frog is about 0.45 inches (11.4 millimeters) long. Credit: Alessandro Catenazzi, University of California, Berkeley

Noblella pygmaea on a fingertip. The frog is about 0.45 inches (11.4 millimeters) long. Credit: Alessandro Catenazzi, University of California, Berkeley

By LiveScience Staff

A tiny, “midget” frog that can fit on the tip of a finger — and previously only known by its croaking — has finally been found by researchers.

The frog, dubbed Noble’s Pygmy frog (Noblella pygmaea), is the smallest ever found in the Andes and one of the tiniest amphibians in the world.

The amphibian, with an average length of about 0.45 inches (11.4 millimeters) and an unusually long forefinger, was discovered during field work in the highlands of Peru’s Manu National Park.

The frog wasn’t hard to spot solely because of its small size — its brown color keeps it well camouflaged. But locals helped a team of German and Peruvian herpetologists catch their first glimpse of the creature

Noblella pygmaea inhabits the cloud forest, the montane scrub and the high-elevation grasslands at an altitude from about 9,900 to 10,500 feet (3025 to 3190 meters) above sea level in and around the park.

The females of the species lay only two eggs that are about 4 millimeters in diameter. Unlike the eggs of most amphibian species, these are laid in moist, terrestrial microhabitats, such as in moss or leaf litter, and are protected from insect predators by the mother frog.

Also unusual is that the embryos don’t change into tadpoles, but instead lead a fully terrestrial life immediately after hatching.

Because Manu National Park is a well known biological “hotspot,” the scientists that conducted the study, Edgar Lehr of the Senckenberg Natural History Collection Dresden in Germany and Alessandro Catenazzi of the University of California at Berkeley, think that Noblella pygmaea is only one of many undiscovered amphibians in the Andes mountain area. The discovery of Noblella was detailed in the February 2009 issue of the journal Copeia.

Despite living in a nominally protected area, global warming, other human-caused changes to the habitat and the virulent, epidemic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, threaten amphibians of the Andean region.

Fortunately, the fungus has not been noticed on Noblella so far. Its terrestrial lifestyle may mean the frog is less exposed to the fungus than stream-dwelling frogs.

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The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds

This is a cool little video from Seed Magazine about the development of life on earth. It really does emphasize how small the part humans have played in earth’s long history. The text below the video is from the Seed website.

The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds is an experiment in scale: By condensing 4.6 billion years of history into a minute, the video is a self-contained timepiece. Like a specialized clock, it gives one a sense of perspective. Everything — from the formation of the Earth, to the Cambrian Explosion, to the evolution of mice and squirrels — is proportionate to everything else, displaying humankind as a blip, almost indiscernible in the layered course of history.

Each event in the Evolution of Life fades gradually over the course of the minute, leaving typographic traces that echo all the way to the present day. Just as our blood still bears the salt water of our most ancient evolutionary ancestors.

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Good News! A Victory for Free Speech. But it’s not all good news…

I don’t know how many of you have been following the controversy in the UN concerning the upcoming Durban II conference on Human Rights to be held in Geneva in April.

Media Watch has a nice summary of the issue and the response of several western countries (including Canada – Yea!):

A so-called “racism conference” due to take place in Geneva in April has been boycotted by the USA because the “outcome document” upon which it is based includes a call to ban “defamation of religion” and focuses on human-rights abuses by Israel while ignoring those of other countries.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has been lobbying for years to get an anti-defamation of religion motion passed, largely as a means to outlaw criticism of the human-rights abusing Islamic governments which support it.

Israel and Canada have already announced that they would boycott Durban II.

So, it is very significant that the conference organizers have revised the agenda and quietly dropped the “defamation of religion” component of the proposed declaration. This, for the time being, restores the freedom for those who want to criticize religion to do so without criminal charges being laid.

But all is not well. There are no explicit references to protections for non-believers or those who choose to change or renounce their religion.

In my opinion, religions don’t have rights. Individuals have rights. And although they are protected by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is clear that many signatory countries do not abide by this declaration.

Nonetheless, this is a significant positive advance.

Here’s a nice summary  from the National Secular Society of the issue, the victory, and that which remains still to achieve.


The proposals by Islamic countries for an international ban on “defamation of religion”, which were to be discussed at an anti-racism conference in Geneva called Durban II organised by the United Nations Human Rights Council, have been dropped from the meeting’s draft declaration.


The defamation of religion text had been included after Islamic countries lobbied for them following a 2005 furore over Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed. But alarm has spread through Western countries about the implications of the proposals and an increasing number of countries were threatening to boycott the meeting unless they were dropped.

The new draft proposals also dropped criticism of Israel and passages concerning reparation for slavery, which African countries had been seeking. But some issues on which Western liberals were keen were also excluded: a proposal to challenge discrimination against homosexuals and protection for atheists or apostates. The new draft, put together by Russian facilitator Yuri Boychenko with Belgian, Egyptian and Norwegian diplomats, has now to be examined by regional groups at the United Nations.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “We now have a good, solid basis for states to consider as we enter the final stretch leading up to the Review Conference. I really hope that this marks the necessary breakthrough needed to achieve consensus on a text that must offer concrete help to hundreds of groups and millions of individuals who are subjected to racism and other forms of intolerance all across the world. No continent, indeed no individual country, is free of these dangerous phenomena, and it would be inexcusable if states failed to reach consensus on such important issues.”

But Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), who has done much to challenge and raise awareness of the draft document, said that although the new draft offers some protection to believers — paragraph 10 mentions only Christians, Muslims and Jews as being victims of “phobias” — it offers nothing to non-believers or apostates who are frequently under attack, especially in Muslim counties.

In a briefing paper for delegates, IHEU says:

We urge delegations to recognise that all are entitled to protection from discrimination, whatever their belief or lack of belief. We therefore respectfully suggest either that the list of specific types of discrimination be deleted from paragraph 10, or the list be expanded to include Atheists, unbelievers and apostates.

We are equally concerned that anti-Arabism is included in the list, while no mention is made of the anti-Westernism endemic in many parts of the world. Again, we would respectfully suggest that either the reference to anti-Arabism be deleted or that the list should be extended to include anti-Westernism.

Last week Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, had a meeting with top Foreign Office officials discussing IHEU’s concerns about several aspects of the Durban II and wider concerns about the operation of the UNHRC. These are issues on which he has worked with IHEU.
Following the Foreign Office meeting he said: “Defamation of religion laws were top of the agenda and we were delighted to be assured of the determination to stand firm against them by the UK Government and its EU partners. This is great news and the Government generously recognised the contribution we have made in drawing worldwide attention to the growing clamour of Islamic states for defamation proposals since they were first mooted.”

More detail of the meeting will be circulated to members in the next quarterly Bulletin.

Roy Brown told Newsline from the UNHRC in Geneva that the revised document was “close, but not close enough” to being acceptable. “We’ll keep plugging away,” he said.

20 March 2009

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Monkey Revolt – Part Deux

If you read my blog about Santino, the monkey in a Swedish zoo who created stockpiles of rocks to throw at annoying voyeurs, you will see that we have a trend developing amongst our primate cousins when you read this story from the Telegraph.


A monkey who was forced to climb palm trees by his owner took revenge by killing him with a coconut.


Last Updated: 7:03AM GMT 11 Mar 2009

The animal threw the missile from the top of a tree after becoming frustrated with his tiring labour, according to reports.

Leilit Janchoom, 48, had employed the monkey to pick coconuts which he could then sell for around 4p each.monkeycoconut

The animal – named Brother Kwan – found the work tedious and strenuous but Mr Janchoom refused to let him rest, dishing out beatings if he refused to climb trees.

It is believed that the monkey eventually snapped, and targeted his owner from a high branch with one of the hard-skinned fruits.

Mr Janchoom, from the province of Nakorn Sri Thammarat in Thailand, died on the spot after being struck by the coconut, according to reports in a local newspaper.

The dead man’s wife said that the monkey had “seemed lovable” when they bought him for £130.

News of the attacks comes after scientists disclosed this week that a chimpanzee at a Swedish zoo became so annoyed at being gawked at by tourists in a zoo that he started creating weapons to hurl at them.

Santino the chimp would calmly collect stones and fashion discs made out of concrete even when the zoo was closed, to throw at visitors when they returned.

Scientists believe his behaviour is the strongest proof yet that humans are not the only creatures which can make plans for the future.

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