Primates face mass extinction
More than half the world’s primates are on the verge of extinction, and they have their Homo sapiens cousins to blame. A landmark new study reveals that farming, hunting, mining, and other human activities threaten to wipe out chimps, lemurs, bonobos, and orangutans, to name just a few. Tracking all 504 species—from Madagascar’s tiny mouse lemur to the 450-pound eastern lowland gorilla of the Democratic Republic of Congo—a global research team found that 75 percent are currently in decline and 60 percent face imminent extinction. “This truly is the 11th hour for many of these creatures,” primatologist Paul Garber tells USA Today. Amid rising global demand for natural resources and food, primate forests are being converted into cattle ranches, soybean fields, rice paddies, and palm oil plantations. Bushmeat has become a key source of food and income for impoverished communities near primate habitats, while primate body parts believed to have healing powers are also being sold on black markets in Asia. If steps aren’t taken to mitigate habitat loss, climate change, and illegal wildlife trade, these mammals will begin to disappear over the next 25 years, researchers warn. They say conservation efforts should focus on Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Congo; these four countries are home to two-thirds of all primate species. “Governments, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and_citizens_have to come together to change business as usual,” Garber_says._“Now is the moment.”
A giant prehistoric otter
Otters are such playful little creatures, they’re often featured in children’s books— but their prehistoric ancestors were somewhat more intimidating. Paleontologists have discovered that a wolf-sized otter with a powerful jaw lived in the swampy waters of southwestern China some 6.2 million years ago. A specimen’s smashed skull, jaw, and teeth were found along with several limb bones in the soft sediment of the Shuitangba coal mine in Yunnan province. After CT scans digitally restored the skull’s shape, the researchers calculated this ancient otter was about twice as big as its largest modern cousins, stretching six feet long and weighing about 110 pounds. The remains also revealed the prehistoric creature had badger-like teeth, suggesting it’s a previously unknown species. “It has the skull of an otter but shares many dental similarities with badgers, which is why we called it melilutra”—Latin for “badger otter”—researcher Xiaoming Wang tells Smithsonian.com. It’s unclear why this ancient badger-otter grew so large, but it’s likely the mollusk eater needed its crushing jaws to crack tough shells.
A buzzkill for alien-hunters
Stargazers hunting for a potentially habitable world beyond the Milky Way have been homing in on a rocky planet 14 light-years away, dubbed Wolf 1061c. But new research suggests their excitement is premature, and that the planet may be a lot more like Venus than Earth, Space.com reports. Australian astronomers discovered Wolf 1061c in 2015. Known as a “super- Earth”— a planet with a mass higher than Earth’s but smaller than gas giants Uranus and Neptune—it appeared to fall within the star’s “Goldilocks zone,” the sweet spot with conditions theoretically suitable for water and life. But after a new analysis with more precise measurements, San Francisco State University researchers argue that Wolf 1061c lies on the inner edge of star Wolf 1061’s habitable zone, where water would boil away as its atmosphere became thick with carbon dioxide. “It’s close enough to Wolf 1061 where it’s looking suspiciously like a runaway greenhouse,” says study leader Stephen Kane. Astronomers theorize that a similar effect occurred on Venus, where surface temperatures now reach a scalding 880 degrees. “They believe Venus once had oceans, but because of its proximity to the Sun the planet became so hot that all the water evaporated,” Kane explains. “It made the surface of the planet even hotter.”
Meditation and inflammation
While a growing number of people swear by the power of mindfulness meditation to ease anxiety, skeptics question whether the practice offers real physiological benefits. But doubters may want to consider a new study showing that mindfulness has measurable effects on specific markers of stress and inflammation. Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center randomly assigned 89 people with generalized anxi- ety disorder to take either an eight-week mindfulness-meditation stress-reduction course, or general stress management classes that focused on wellness topics, like healthy eating and good sleep habits. After analyzing blood samples from each participant, the team found people who engaged in mindfulness meditation were better able to cope with stressful situations reports. Those who learned to meditate had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and markers of inflammation, called pro-inflammatory cytokines, than the ones who didn’t. “Mindfulness-meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach,” says Georgetown psychiatrist Elizabeth Hoge. “These findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress.”
Health scare of the week
BBQ linked to breast cancer
Women are more likely to die from breast cancer if they eat a lot of grilled, smoked, and barbecued meats, new research suggests. The study also found women who reported greater intake of these foods have a 23 percent greater risk of death from any cause. “There are many carcinogens found in grilled or smoked meats,” author Humberto Parada tells The Washington Post, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAH], which are formed when meat—particularly fatty meat—is subjected to very high heat. Researchers monitored 1,500 women with breast cancer for nearly two decades, and found that those who routinely ate large amounts of grilled, smoked, and barbecued m eats were 31 percent more likely to die during the study period. Women who included substantial amounts of poultry and fish in their diet, however, were 45 percent less likely to die over the same period than those who didn’t eat these lean proteins.