Listened to How capuchin monkeys learn about food And what that might teach us by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Cover artwork of female capuchin and young infant. She is holding a rock to crack nuts.When chimpanzees were first seen stripping the leaves off slender branches and inserting them into termite nests to fish for the insects, people marvelled. Our nearest relatives, using tools to get nutritious food. Imagine, then, the surprise among primatologists when capuchin monkeys, not nearly as closely related to us, proved equally adept at tool use. Capuchins select stones that can be half as heavy as they are and carry them long distances to use as nutcrackers.

Elisabetta Visalberghi is a biologist based in Rome, who published the first scientific observations of tool use in capuchins. That is just a part of her far-reaching investigations into how capuchins, which are omnivorous, go about deciding which foods are worth eating and which are best avoided.

The results may surprise you.

Trailer: The Bearded Capuchin Monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista from Cognitive Primatology_ISTC on Vimeo.

Notes

  1. Cover photo of Chuchu and her infant by Elisabetta Visalberghi.
  2. The video I mentioned in the show is The bearded capuchin monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista, available from the CNR Primate Center in Rome. There are some other videos on Vimeo.
  3. The CNR Primate Center website.
  4. Cashews really are a problem from the people who have to process them. This article is very recent.
  5. Banner from a photo by Allan Hopkins
  6. How about making a donation to show your love for the show?

This is so fascinating from an anthropological and even socio-economic perspective.

🔖 Origins Of Life | Complexity Explorer

Bookmarked Origins Of Life (complexityexplorer.org)

About the Course:

This course aims to push the field of Origins of Life research forward by bringing new and synthetic thinking to the question of how life emerged from an abiotic world.

This course begins by examining the chemical, geological, physical, and biological principles that give us insight into origins of life research. We look at the chemical and geological environment of early Earth from the perspective of likely environments for life to originate.

Taking a look at modern life we ask what it can tell us about the origin of life by winding the clock backwards. We explore what elements of modern life are absolutely essential for life, and ask what is arbitrary? We ponder how life arose from the huge chemical space and what this early 'living chemistry'may have looked like.

We examine phenomena, that may seem particularly life like, but are in fact likely to arise given physical dynamics alone. We analyze what physical concepts and laws bound the possibilities for life and its formation.

Insights gained from modern evolutionary theory will be applied to proto-life. Once life emerges, we consider how living systems impact the geosphere and evolve complexity. 

The study of Origins of Life is highly interdisciplinary - touching on concepts and principles from earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics.  With this we hope that the course can bring students interested in a broad range of fields to explore how life originated. 

The course will make use of basic algebra, chemistry, and biology but potentially difficult topics will be reviewed, and help is available in the course discussion forum and instructor email. There will be pointers to additional resources for those who want to dig deeper.

This course is Complexity Explorer's first Frontiers Course.  A Frontiers Course gives students a tour of an active interdisciplinary research area. The goals of a Frontiers Course are to share the excitement and uncertainty of a scientific area, inspire curiosity, and possibly draw new people into the research community who can help this research area take shape!

I’m totally in for this!

Hat tip for the reminder to:

Bookmarked Java jig: how birds learn to impress (Economist Espresso)
That many songbirds sing their songs over and over again in an effort to master them before performing in front of potential mates is well known. What has remained less clear is whether they also practise the visual displays that they often use alongside their songs. Research published this week in Royal Society Open Science reveals that they do. The team studied male Java sparrows that dance with bounces and make wiping motions with their bills in an effort to convince females to mate with them. The researchers watched the males in captivity and found that they repeatedly practised dancing early in life in front of their mothers and fathers long before they were ready to breed. While their moves were not particularly good at the start, all males dramatically improved over time, suggesting that the parents may well be providing valuable feedback, and that awkward adolescent dancing may extend beyond Homo sapiens.

📑 Solomon Golomb (1932–2016) | Stephen Wolfram Blog

Annotated Solomon Golomb (1932–2016) by Stephen Wolfram (blog.stephenwolfram.com)

As it happens, he’d already done some work on coding theory—in the area of biology. The digital nature of DNA had been discovered by Jim Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, but it wasn’t yet clear just how sequences of the four possible base pairs encoded the 20 amino acids. In 1956, Max Delbrück—Jim Watson’s former postdoc advisor at Caltech—asked around at JPL if anyone could figure it out. Sol and two colleagues analyzed an idea of Francis Crick’s and came up with “comma-free codes” in which overlapping triples of base pairs could encode amino acids. The analysis showed that exactly 20 amino acids could be encoded this way. It seemed like an amazing explanation of what was seen—but unfortunately it isn’t how biology actually works (biology uses a more straightforward encoding, where some of the 64 possible triples just don’t represent anything).  

I recall talking to Sol about this very thing when I sat in on a course he taught at USC on combinatorics. He gave me his paper on it and a few related issues as I was very interested at the time about the applications of information theory and biology.

I’m glad I managed to sit in on the class and still have the audio recordings and notes. While I can’t say that Newton taught me calculus, I can say I learned combinatorics from Golomb.

👓 How long do floods throughout the millennium remain in the collective memory? | Nature

Read How long do floods throughout the millennium remain in the collective memory? by Václav Fanta, Miroslav Šálek & Petr Sklenicka (Nature Communications, volume 10, Article number: 1105 (2019) )
Is there some kind of historical memory and folk wisdom that ensures that a community remembers about very extreme phenomena, such as catastrophic floods, and learns to establish new settlements in safer locations? We tested a unique set of empirical data on 1293 settlements founded in the course of nine centuries, during which time seven extreme floods occurred. For a period of one generation after each flood, new settlements appeared in safer places. However, respect for floods waned in the second generation and new settlements were established closer to the river. We conclude that flood memory depends on living witnesses, and fades away already within two generations. Historical memory is not sufficient to protect human settlements from the consequences of rare catastrophic floods.

This is intriguing particularly when thinking back to our earliest world literatures which all involve flood stories.

I wonder what the equivalent sorts of things would be for C. elegans, drosophila, etc. for testing things on smaller timescales?

👓 Defining the DNA of collaboration | The Open Co-op

Read Defining the DNA of collaboration (The Open Co-op)
As a species, human beings are barely more intelligent than kindergarten kids. We revel at our place at the top of the food chain, and praise our technological ingenuity but, let’s face it, we’ve barely begun to work life out. We’ve created one directional extractive systems that undermine our own life support systems, like kindergarten …

There’s some interesting philosophy here. It dances around the idea of fitness landscapes, but doesn’t mention them directly, though this is essentially what the article is exploring from the perspective of businesses.

Acquired The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul Davies

Acquired The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information Are Finally Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul DaviesPaul Davies (Allen Lane)

How does life create order from chaos? And just what is life, anyway? Leading physicist Paul Davies argues that to find the answers, we must first answer a deeper question: 'What is information?' To understand the origins and nature of life, Davies proposes a radical vision of biology which sees the underpinnings of life as similar to circuits and electronics, arguing that life as we know it should really be considered a phenomenon of information storage. In an extraordinary deep dive into the real mechanics of what we take for granted, Davies reveals how biological processes, from photosynthesis to birds' navigation abilities, rely on quantum mechanics, and explores whether quantum physics could prove to be the secret key of all life on Earth. Lively and accessible, Demons in the Machine boils down intricate interdisciplinary developments to take readers on an eye-opening journey towards the ultimate goal of science: unifying all theories of the living and the non-living, so that humanity can at last understand its place in the universe.

book cover The Demon in the Machine

Ordered from Amazon on February 4th and had it shipped from the UK because I wasn’t sure when the book was going to finally be released in the US.

🔖 The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies | Allen Lane (2018)

Bookmarked The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies (Allen Lane)

How does life create order from chaos? And just what is life, anyway? Leading physicist Paul Davies argues that to find the answers, we must first answer a deeper question: 'What is information?' To understand the origins and nature of life, Davies proposes a radical vision of biology which sees the underpinnings of life as similar to circuits and electronics, arguing that life as we know it should really be considered a phenomenon of information storage. In an extraordinary deep dive into the real mechanics of what we take for granted, Davies reveals how biological processes, from photosynthesis to birds' navigation abilities, rely on quantum mechanics, and explores whether quantum physics could prove to be the secret key of all life on Earth. Lively and accessible, Demons in the Machine boils down intricate interdisciplinary developments to take readers on an eye-opening journey towards the ultimate goal of science: unifying all theories of the living and the non-living, so that humanity can at last understand its place in the universe.

book cover of The Demon in the Machine by Paul Davies

Found via review.

📺 “Equus Story of the Horse: Origins” | Nature | PBS

Watched "Equus: Story of the Horse" | Nature from PBS
Join anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson and equine experts on a two-part adventure around the world and throughout time to discover the origins of the horse.

Passively watching television this evening and this popped up. Very interesting. Might be worth watching the other episodes in this sub-series.

🎧 “The Daily”: The Ethics of Genetically Editing Babies | New York Times

Listened to "The Daily": The Ethics of Genetically Editing Babies from New York Times

A scientist in China claimed to have created the world’s first gene-edited human beings. How should the U.S. respond?

🎧 Episode 097 Applied Mathematics & the Evolution of Music: An Interview With Natalia Komarova | HumanCurrent

Listened to Episode 097 Applied Mathematics & the Evolution of Music: An Interview With Natalia Komarova by Haley Campbell-GrossHaley Campbell-Gross from HumanCurrent

In this episode, Haley interviews Natalia Komarova, Chancellor's Professor of the School of Physical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Komarova talks with Haley at the Ninth International Conference on Complex Systems about her presentation, which explored using applied mathematics to study the spread of mutants, as well as the evolution of popular music.

There’s some interesting sounding research being described here. Be sure to circle back around to some of her papers.

Replied to a tweet by Michael LevinMichael Levin (Twitter)
I wish I had known that before I started working on slime molds...”

Kandel’s corollary to “People eventually start to look like their pets.”

Gives me hope in old age that I have a German Shepherd and not a Chihuahua (or slime mold)…

👓 James Watson Won’t Stop Talking About Race | New York Times

Read James Watson Won’t Stop Talking About Race (nytimes.com)
The Nobel-winning biologist has drawn global criticism with unfounded pronouncements on genetics, race and intelligence. He still thinks he’s right, a new documentary finds.

👓 The year ahead: genetics | Economist Espresso

Read The year ahead: genetics (Economist Espresso)
Soon two American biotechnology firms hope to offer couples undertaking in vitro fertilisation the chance to screen embryos before they are implanted. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is already widely used to test for chromosomal abnormalities or specific genetic disorders. But MyOme and Genomic Prediction plan to reconstruct the whole sequence of an embryo’s genome using just a few cells from a biopsy and genetic sequences of both parents. They can then, in theory, calculate the risk the embryo will develop a wide range of different diseases in later life—including ailments that are extraordinarily complicated, involving thousands of genetic variants. By selecting between different embryos, those undergoing IVF can optimise the health of their progeny in a way that those who conceive naturally cannot. That raises ethical concerns. Although both firms will screen embryos for disease risk only, there is no reason why traits such as height or intelligence might not be selected in the same way.