Scientists Discover New Primate Species!

SCIENTISTS DISCOVER NEW PRIMATE SPECIES

Scientists have discovered a new primate species in Myanmar. This little monkey is already endangered. Brand new and on the endangered list, all in one breath. 

Scientists discover new primate species
New primate in Myanmar

An international team of biologists and taxonomists named the new primates after the extinct volcano, Mount Popa, in central Myanmar. The primate, named Popa langur, has been “hiding in plain sight.” 

The area of Mount Popa houses the largest population of the langur species, about 100 of them.

New Species of Primate Myanmar volcano
Mount Popa in central Myanmar

IS IT MYANMAR OR BURMA?

The country Myanmar used to be called Burma.

Burma is considered a description of ethnic Burmans only, so Myanmar became the politically correct term, which is supposed to encompass all who live in the country.

Including the Popa langur!

Myanmar Map new species of primate
Map of Myanmar

LANGUR IS A TYPE OF ASIAN MONKEY

You’ve probably already figured this out, but langur is a general name given to numerous species of Asian monkeys. 

Rain forest
credit gagandeep singh

Langurs are gregarious, diurnal, arboreal monkeys with long tails and slender bodies. Most adult langurs have black faces. They range in size from 5- 19 kg. (~12 – 40 pounds)

Popa langur (Trachypithecus phayrei) is critically endangered!

Critically endangered means less than 300 of these cuties are left on our planet.

The Popa langur is facing extinction largely because of urbanization, land clearing, logging, human encroachment and the illegal pet trade.

Trachypithecus popa Popa langur new species
Adorable Popa langur
Day of the Dead
Adorable girl dressed for Dia de los Muertos

A reader commented that the Popa langur look ready to celebrate Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) , and they do! 

Kidding aside, scientists believe the only reason the Popa langur survived as long as it has is because they live on the slopes of Mount Popa, which is an extinct volcano.

VOLCANO CLASSIFICATION

A volcano that hasn’t erupted for tens of thousands of years, and isn’t expected to erupt again.

A volcano that isn’t erupting right now, but volcanologists expect it could.

Pretty obvious from the word.

Mount Popa elevation 4,980 feet (1518 m) One mile = 5280 feet. The last eruption of the volcano was 320,000 years ago.
Seems safe enough to me... and to the Popa langur!
You can hike it! I'd love to travel here someday...
Mt. St. Helens (In the US) has been dormant since 1980 but is expected to erupt again.
Seems as if dormant is a convenient term to describe ‘maybe.’
The most dangerous volcano on Earth is Eyjafjallajökull (In Iceland)
Last eruption in 2010 prompted 20 countries to close airports! Popa langur would not be living here!
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WHY IS THE POPA LANGUR CONSIDERED A NEW SPECIES, ANYWAY?

Popa Langur new species endangered
Mama Popa langur and baby
Endangered primate popa langur
Just look at that tail

Apparently, scientists had a 100-year-old specimen of this little primate stuffed in a drawer in a London Natural History Museum. They recently were able to classify it by using feces. (ewww) Article here…

In their defense, modern tools weren’t around 100 years ago.

So how do scientists decide that a plant or animal is sufficiently diverse enough that it warrants a ‘new species’ designation?

Genetics! Specifically, with mitochondrial DNA.

WHAT ARE MITOCHONDRIA?

WHAT ARE MITOCHONDRIA?

Mitochondria are specialized structures unique to the cells of animals, plants, and fungi. 

Animal cell with mitochondria
You can see there are more than one mitochondria in this animal cell...more on that later!

Okay, so if mitochondria are in cells, why do we need to look at mitochondrial DNA, when our nuclei have DNA? Why can’t scientists use the regular old DNA that is in the nucleus of any cell? 

MITOCHONDRIA HAVE THEIR OWN DNA!

Even though our DNA is kept in the nucleus of each cell, mitochondria also have their own, special DNA!

 

Why is mitochondrial DNA special? And why is it important for deciding if a new species of monkey is new or part of the old species with, say, a shorter tail? (That tail above is pretty darn long)

Mitochondrial DNA determines new species
Mitochondria

We learned in school that during reproduction, half of  DNA comes from your father and half from your mother. Mitochondrial DNA is only from your mother! 

MITOCHONDRIAL DNA IS ONLY FROM YOUR MOTHER!

This is so important to genetics that it must be said twice!

Mitochondrial DNA analyses have concluded that humans may have originated in Africa relatively recently, around 200,000 years ago, descended from a common ancestor, known as mitochondrial eve.

More about Mitochondrial Eve here

Our kids are especially grateful to have my DNA in their mitochondria.

Scientists Discover New Species of Primate
Grateful children

Many more genetic studies are now done with mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial genome-wide association studies have established the connection between mitochondrial DNA and a wide variety of diseases! Diseases such as the horrible C word (cancer) autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders. (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.) 

There is hope for some genetic disorders because of a revolutionary discovery called CRISPR. Read more here!

MITOCHONDRIAL DNA IS ALSO USED FOR POPULATION GENETICS AND BIODIVERSITY

Mitochondrial DNA is also useful for population genetics and biodiversity. For the purposes of this blog post–which is hopelessly getting off task– it follows that mitochondrial DNA is useful to ascertain whether or not an animal is part of an existing population or a diverse NEW offshoot. Remember, this DNA is only from maternal genes.

mitochondrial DNA heredity info
This has proven instrumental for tracing genetic lines.

WHAT ELSE DO MITOCHONDRIA DO BESIDE TELL US ABOUT NEW SPECIES?

Popa langur endangered
Popa langur

MITOCHONDRIAL FUNCTIONS

ENERGY PRODUCTION
Mitochondria convert chemical energy from the food we eat into an energy form that the cell can use This process is called oxidative phosphorylation.
If you want, you can read more about oxidative phosphorylation here
APOPTOSIS
Cell death (apoptosis) is an essential part of life. As cells break down, they need to be cleared away and destroyed. Mitochondria decide which cells stay and which cells go. DON'T TICK OFF THE MITOCHONDRIA!
STORING CALCIUM
Calcium is critical for muscle function, fertilization, cell metabolism, steroid synthesis and blood clotting, to name a few. Mitochondria quickly absorb calcium ions and hang onto them. TAKE YOUR CALCIUM!!
HEAT PRODUCTION
We shiver when we’re cold. There is also a tissue called ‘brown fat’ which helps keep us warm. Babies have the highest level of brown fat! This is because babies can’t shiver to keep warm!
BROWN FAT CONTINUED
Brown fat disappears as we reach adulthood, but some lucky people retain it. They tend to be thinner. (UNFAIR!) Brown fat cells are brown because of the high number of mitochondria.
Researchers are working with brown fat for weight control
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It would follow that cells which need a lot of energy have more mitochondria. For example….

Mitochondria Functions
Powerhouses of the cell!

40% of the area in a heart cell is taken up with mitochondria.

 One liver cell can have up to 2000 mitochondria. (This is not a typo!)

Red blood cells have … zero! (also not a typo)

Mitochondria are usually drawn  in an oval shape. 

In reality, they are constantly dividing and bonding together into an ever changing network.

In sperm cells, the mitochondria are spiraled in the midpiece and provide energy for tail motion.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR MITOCHONDRIA

There are negatives. (Aren’t there always?)

The DNA within mitochondria are more susceptible to damage than DNA in our nuclei. This is because free radicals, which can cause damage to DNA, are produced during ATP synthesis. (energy production, which is a huge part of what mitochondria live for!)

Now you want to know to take care of your mitochondria!

ONE:

Take your calcium supplements and eat calcium-rich foods such as spinach and yogurt. 

TWO:

Eat antioxidants to reduce those free radicals produced ATP synthesis.

Dark chocolate has antioxidants! The antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate have been linked to impressive health benefits such as less inflammation and reduced risk factors for heart disease. 

I wrote an article about the science of chocolate!

And yes, there are antioxidants in coffee!

Antioxidants for mitochondrial health
Eat your antioxidants!

SCIENTISTS DISCOVER NEW PRIMATE SPECIES BUT WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?

Local community actions are key to protecting endangered species like the Popa langur. I don’t live in Myanmar but we can learn about endangered species in our specific corners of the world and help them!

While you’re consuming your calcium-rich antioxidants to keep your mitochondria safe and healthy, you can read more about community activism here!

Louie and I raised and learned a lot about helping our local dwindling population of monarch butterflies! Read more about that here!

Louie and monarch caterpillar
Louie loves caterpillars
First female monarch from egg on Rose of Sharon
First female monarch we raised from an egg

Writing this post has motivated me to research and write a post about specific ways we can help all species that share our planet!

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Science influences every aspect of modern life so it’s crucial that we understand it.

What would you like me to investigate for you? Let me know in comments or shoot me an email!  And be sure to subscribe. Thanks.

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48 thoughts on “Scientists Discover New Primate Species!”

  1. It is both amazing that these discoveries are being made but also desperately sad that endangerment is already an issue. Now that it is known that the Popa Langur exist, I hope that everything is done to protect them and an opportunity for us all to finally realize what it is we’re doing to the natural world. Great info included — thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Awwwwww he’s so adorable! He kind of reminds me of the little boy in the movie Coco when he paints his face for dia de los muertos. So cute! It’s funny to think there are still primates that could be undiscovered in this day and age! Deep sea fish sure, cute little frogs, or new bug species not so surprising, but you don’t hear about a new primate often! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • I didn’t see that movie. I’ll need to look for it! I agree, I see blurbs in my science newsletters about insects all the time, but not often a study about a new primate. That’s why I wanted to share it. Thank you!

      Reply
  3. I have followed this blog from the very beginning and have always felt they were thorough and interesting, but I have to say, this one is really, really good. It hooked me and taught me a lot if a very fun way. Kids being taught at home right now would greatly benefit from this.

    Reply
  4. Happy to let you know I learned a lot with this post. An enjoyable scientific post too. Glad that my food intake is taking care of my mitochondria. These monkeys are adorable, I hope a good program will keep their species and so other endangered species.

    Reply
  5. Wow! This is a really wonderful write up. I love how you went all in to see how the scientists decide it’s a new primate.

    As someone who is intrigued by science, I thoroughly enjoyed the post!!!

    Reply
  6. I’m so happy to learn I can take care of my mitochondria by imbibing in dark chocolate and coffee, two of the treats on my top ten treat list. Thank you for this great post–content and excellent pictures, too.

    Reply
  7. That’s amazing that a new species has been found. And they are very cute as well, I can see the Day of the Dead resemblance! Thank you too for the intro to mitochondrial DNA, that was fascinating 🙂

    Reply

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