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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
WHY IS THE POPA LANGUR CONSIDERED A NEW SPECIES, ANYWAY?
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?
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)
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!
Our kids are especially grateful to have my DNA in their mitochondria.
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.
WHAT ELSE DO MITOCHONDRIA DO BESIDE TELL US ABOUT NEW SPECIES?
It would follow that cells which need a lot of energy have more mitochondria. For example….
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!
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.
And yes, there are antioxidants in coffee!
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!
Writing this post has motivated me to research and write a post about specific ways we can help all species that share our planet!