Today on the program, we look into a project called Apps for Apes that uses iPads to provide mental stimulation for bored orangutans, and which is teaching researchers about the brains of our ape cousins. Plus, we'll find out how early humans cracked the craniums of hunted and scavenged animals for some real brain food; we'll learn how dogs and humans evolved together; and we'll hear how longhorn beetles can survive an Arctic winter. But first, ancient water runs deep.
Sparkling water bubbles up a borehole from 3 km below the surface at a mine in the Timmins area..
Water found in an isolated reservoir in a mine near Timmins, Ontario may be the oldest on Earth. It may also provide a clue to the existence of life on Mars. New research by Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a Geoscientist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, found the water bubbling out of fractures in the rock, over two kilometres deep in the mine. The 2.6 billion-year-old water is rich in dissolved gases, including hydrogen and methane. As well, there is evidence of the noble gases helium, zenon, neon and argon. This water is similar in composition to water known to support life near hydrothermal vents in the ocean. It is therefore believed that microscopic life may also exist in this ancient water. Because the rocks are similar in age and geology to some rocks on Mars, it is also thought that similar life may be also be found on that planet.
Antelope bone with butchery marks from stone cutting tool.
A group led by Dr. Joseph Ferraro, an anthropologist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has described what they think is the earliest evidence of systematic human hunting and meat eating, two million years ago in East Africa. They found a large assemblage of bones of antelope, pig and other animals. There were cut marks indicating butchering of the small and medium sized animals, which they think were hunted, and the smashed skulls of larger animals, which were scavenged from predator kills so that the nutritious brains could be extracted. There was no hard evidence of which early human species it was that was hunting and scavenging these animals, but this was a critical time in human evolution, when increased consumption of meat might have been fueling the development of larger brains and bodies.
Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than previously thought. According to established research, domestication began between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, when farming first developed. But new research by an international team of scientists, including Dr. David Irwin, a Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto, has concluded that the domestication process may have started as early at 32,000 years ago, when a genetic split of dogs from wolves was first described. At this point, it is believed that domestication began as dogs started scavenging near human hunters. As a result, the genes of dogs that were positively selected for processes like digestion, metabolism and eventually diseases like cancer and diabetes, parallel the evolution of similar genes in humans.
Computers may be the pinnacle of human achievement, but in zoos all over
the world - from New Zealand to the United States to England and even
here in Canada - orangutans have started using iPads. It's part of a
program called "Apps for Apes" and it started out with just a few of our
bright orange Great Ape cousins playing some kids' games. Now, the
program that began as a way to keep captive apes occupied has turned up
some fascinating new scientific findings that no one had predicted. One
of the zoos participating in the "Apps for Apes" program is the Toronto
Zoo. So we sent our contributor, freelance journalist Alanna Mitchell, to find out what happens when Apple meets Orange. Here are some of the people she spoke to:
runs a non-profit organization in New York called Orangutan Outreach
that raises money for orangutan conservation. He came up with the idea
for Apps for Apes, after seeing Steve Jobs unveil the iPad. He says
organutans are critically endangered, and he hopes the program can help
to raise awareness and save them.
Matthew Berridge is the
orangutan keeper at the Toronto Zoo. He says the orangutans are able to
play games where they match up symbols on the iPad
Dr. Anne Russon,
a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, is one of the
world's leading experts on orangutans. She says the Red Apes are capable
of intellectual feats that we previously thought were exclusive to
Dr. Suzanne MacDonald is another psychology
professor at York University, who has been working with the Toronto
Zoo's orangutans. She says her experiments with developing Apps for the iPads have shown
that orangutans don't distinguish music from random sound, seem to
prefer silence to music, and have a narrower range of hearing than
humans. Related Links
Many organisms, including insects, fish and plants, are able to survive
harsh winter temperatures, thanks to a built-in antifreeze system. The
longhorn beetle, found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, can survive
Siberian winters at temperatures as low as -40C. New research by Dr. Peter Davies,
a Professor of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen's University
in Kingston, Ontario, has determined how this process works. When the
temperature reaches the freezing point, the longhorn beetle makes an
Antifreeze Protein in an organ similar to the human liver. The protein
then finds its way into the blood-like hemolymph of the insect. When
ice crystals begin to form inside the beetle, the antifreeze protein
bonds chemically to the ice. This prevents further growth of ice
crystals, and keeps the beetle alive. It is hoped this protein could be
used to prevent damage from freezing during the process of human organ
storage and transplant. Related Links
CBC's Rewind takes a look at space travel predictions since 1946. Listen to great clips from the CBC Radio Archives, with new commentary from Bob McDonald, about where space exploration should have taken us by now.