News this Week

Science  02 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5974, pp. 22
  1. Climate Studies

    'Asilomar 2' Takes Small Steps Toward Rules for Geoengineering

    1. Eli Kintisch

    PACIFIC GROVE, CALIFORNIA—Meeting in 1975 at a leafy retreat center here by the sea, molecular biologists grappled with how to unlock the secrets of recombinant DNA without creating infectious, runaway bioagents. Their successful deliberations laid the groundwork for a regulatory framework that allowed research—and ultimately the biotech industry—to flourish.

    Last week, nearly 200 experts in geosciences and other scientific and policy disciplines met here to confront a new kind of risky research: large-scale geoengineering projects aimed at countering the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And although the climate scientists may have accomplished less in a week than did their biologist forebears, they did make progress. The conference organizers declared that geoengineering research is “indispensable” but said that it should be done with “humility.” Governments and the public should work together to decide what schemes are “viable, appropriate, and ethical,” the statement added. Cuts in greenhouse emissions should be a priority, it said, mirroring statements by the American Geophysical Union and the U.K. Royal Society.

    Two ways to geoengineer.

    High-altitude planes (top) might help study “climate intervention” techniques whereas CO2-suckers (bottom) involve “carbon remediation.”


    Most conferees believe the possibility of climate tipping points has placed geoengineering on the global agenda. And so last week's meeting—The Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies, or Asilomar 2, as it was dubbed—was driven both by fears of climate catastrophes and the potentially dangerous steps that scientists or politicians might take to avert them. It was “a meeting … we all wished was not necessary,” conference organizer Margaret Leinen of the Climate Response Fund in Alexandria, Virginia, told the participants.

    Leinen's organization was formed last year to fund geoengineering research projects, which fall into two broad categories. The first involves efforts to block the sun's rays, using techniques such as spraying aerosols in the upper atmosphere or brightening clouds with sea salt. The second approach aims to remove carbon from the atmosphere by means of schemes such as growing algae blooms in the ocean. The conference even coined separate phrases for the two activities: “Climate intervention” describes the sun-blocking methods, and “carbon remediation” covers the CO2-sucking methods.

    As the fund began to hit up potential donors, however, several said that the nascent field needed a set of ethical ground rules before practitioners developed research plans. As a result, the goals of last week's meeting were both specific and ambitious: Set up voluntary guidelines for a host of geoengineering methods that had never been deployed on a large scale, or in some cases in any setting outside the lab.

    Sobered by such broad societal responsibilities, participants spent a good deal of time discussing research ethics and the geopolitical implications of geoengineering. “I'd expected hubris but didn't find it. No one seemed anxious to get on with geoengineering,” said Paul Craig of the Sierra Club. Indeed, Princeton University energy expert Robert Socolow struck a cautionary note by presenting various “nightmares” for his audience to consider, from a rogue state using geoengineering before it was understood to having “all the [world's] climate scientists working on geoengineering.”

    Although the effects of geoengineering studies might be felt across broad swaths of the planet, they also necessarily affect individuals. Several speakers cited approvingly the approach taken by biomedical researchers: the need for informed consent, a balancing of the benefits and risks to humans, and the appropriate selection of research “subjects.”

    But that model breaks down at some point because the risks involved in geoengineering are so different from those in medical research. Individual patients may die if a drug trial goes bad. Geoengineering experiments, in contrast, could have wide-ranging and highly uncertain environmental effects, noted earth scientist Jane Long of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

    That broader scope fed fears of restrictive regulations. And participants worried that those rules could be triggered even by very tiny interventions, such as a much-discussed project off the Scottish coast to spread small quantities of sea salt into the air and study their cloud-whitening effects.

    The meeting also featured five breakout groups that focused on drafting research guidelines for the various kinds of approaches. What level of involvement by governments is appropriate? What role should the military or private companies play? A breakout group devoted to the idea of blocking sunlight, for example, struggled over whether for-profit companies should be barred from the enterprise to ensure maximum “transparency.”

    Given all the conferees were asked to take on, it's not surprising that many loose ends remained as they headed home. (The 14-hour days drew few complaints—“I had no one ask that we meet less and go walk on the beach,” marveled scientific organizing committee chair Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute, which co-sponsored the meeting.) The final statement was approved by the 13-member organizing committee, for example, although MacCracken hopes to gather signatures from all of the participants over the next few weeks. In addition, the breakout groups are still massaging suggestions on voluntary guidelines for specific geoengineering approaches.

    Reflecting the feeling that the meeting was only a start, some participants dubbed it “Asilomar 2.1” as a sign that more meetings would be needed. But everyone seemed optimistic that the answers would eventually provide a solid foundation for the fledgling—if frightening—field. “Asilomar 3 will be in another 30 years, for the next discipline,” predicted Socolow.

  2. Ecology

    Madagascar's Forests Get a Reprieve—But for How Long?

    1. John Bohannon

    Conservation biologists are cautiously celebrating a victory in the effort to pull Madagascar's unique biota back from the brink of extinction. Last week, after months of pressure from scientists, conservation groups, and foreign diplomats, Madagascar's military rulers announced a ban on the logging and exportation of rosewood, a commodity from a threatened ecosystem. Logging of rosewood was banned before but resumed after a military coup toppled Madagascar's science-friendly government a year ago and relaxed controls (Science, 27 March 2009, p. 1654). By decree on 24 March, the military government reversed its decision of 6 months earlier.

    The government decree has cheered ecologists who have heard only bad news from Madagascar for the past year. “We made it,” says Lucienne Wilmé, editor of Madagascar Conservation & Development. But now, she says, the challenge is to ensure that the rosewood ban is enforced.

    Madagascar has 43 species of rosewood trees—all but one of which exist nowhere else—and thousands of endemic plant and animal species that depend on them. One such species is the silky sifaka, a lemur. It is one of the rarest mammals on Earth, found only in Madagascar's northeastern rosewood forests, where loggers are encroaching.

    Conservation in Madagascar has never been easy, says Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences and director of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo. Inhabitants of the California-sized island are among the poorest in the world. They have stripped more than 90% of the forests for agriculture and charcoal. Since the coup, most foreign aid to the country has been frozen and eco-tourism has plummeted, worsening poverty.

    Tree tragedy.

    One year after a bloody military coup in Madagascar, logging of endangered rosewood forests in formerly protected areas is rampant.


    In the months after the regime's relaxation of restrictions on the hardwood trade in September 2009, researchers watched helplessly as Madagascar's forest reserves were plundered. “First come the loggers,” says Fisher. After the loggers cut down trees, “the next victims are the lemurs, as [loggers] set up lemur traps to feed themselves and to sell locally for cash.”

    If it stopped there, says Fisher, “these forests might recover.” But what comes next is far more destructive: The vegetation is cleared to the ground, and “the door is now open for settlers.” In the middle of the northeastern Ambatovaky Reserve, a government official “has built his home out of rosewood and moved in 60 cattle,” says Fisher. “If the land grab continues another year, there will be nothing left of what was once the most beautiful, species-rich lowland forest in Madagascar.”

    “The northeast is a precious area, and it is being hit very hard right now,” says Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina, but it's not the only place. Data gathered by Meredith Barrett, Yoder's Ph.D. student at Duke University, reveals that other rosewood forests across the country are in danger. Rosewood is particularly sensitive, says Barrett, because “it is slow-growing and also grows at a very low density.” Populations of rosewood could go extinct locally in a matter of “months or years,” she says. To be more exact she needs more data.

    But studying Madagascar's forests has become dangerous. Fisher says visitors are sometimes threatened by organized criminal loggers. During his recent survey of the northeastern forests, he says, “we had to monitor our food for possible poisoning.” He found only a single unpaid ranger “confronting the lemur trappers and loggers. … His life is continually threatened.”

    Will the new rosewood logging ban reverse the damage? “Given this government's track record, I would be surprised if they actually enforce the decree,” says Yoder. She says it is likely “a PR move” to placate international aid donors. Rosewood exportation remains temptingly lucrative. Edelin Calixte Randriamiandrisoa, a former army officer who is now Madagascar's Minister for the Environment, declined to comment. Still, the ban is undeniably “good news,” says Yoder. “The government is obviously beginning to feel the international heat.” But she says the international community needs to move quickly.

    “The next and best step” is to protect all of Madagascar's rosewood trees as threatened species under Appendix III of the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Nine of Madagascar's rosewood species are already listed as endangered. But once the trees are reduced to logs, “identifying specific species is next to impossible” without a DNA test, says Erik Patel, a lemur biologist at Cornell University. So all of Madagascar's rosewood trees would need equal protection, he says.

    Madagascar could call for protection of its rosewood unilaterally under Appendix III of CITES. If it doesn't, the next chance to propose global protection of rosewood will be at the 2011 meeting of the CITES Plants Committee in Geneva, Switzerland. But if the 2 years go by without enforcing the logging ban, says Barrett, “then the outlook does not appear good.”


    From Science's Online Daily News Site


    Could Tiny Bubbles Cool the Planet? In an effort to curb global warming, scientists have proposed everything from launching sunlight-blocking dust into the stratosphere to boosting the amount of carbon-sucking algae in the oceans. Now, a Harvard University physicist has come up with a new way to cool parts of the planet: pump vast swarms of tiny bubbles into the sea to increase its reflectivity and lower water temperatures.

    Murder or an Accident? The Brain Knows If a stranger steps on your foot, you'd probably shrug your shoulders and assure him that no harm has been done. But if that stranger instead takes a swing with his fist, most people are unlikely to be so forgiving. Researchers now believe they've demonstrated which part of the brain gauges another person's motives, a find that could lead to a greater understanding of Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders.

    Toward Liquid-Cooled Computers Tired of the dust bunnies sucked into your computer's air-intake grill? Experts say a new technique called superwicking could provide a better way to cool computer hardware and could help remove one of the biggest barriers to a new generation of high-powered microprocessors. And in the meantime, it could prove a boon to tiny fluid-based sensors.

    First Motion-Powered Nanodevices Someday soon, simply walking with your iPod in your pocket could keep it charged, and the lub-dub of your heart could power a portable blood-pressure sensor. These innovations might be based on flat, paper clip–sized “nanogenerators,” unveiled in a new study, that pump out the same voltage as a AA battery when they are squeezed, bent, or shaken.

    Read the full postings, comments, and more on

  4. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    The most controversial patents in biotechnology—covering breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2—were declared invalid this week by a U.S. district court.

    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has sued its law firm, claiming that the patent application it submitted for discoveries in RNA interference contains "extensive portions" of material from another scientist's patent application.

    Britain's Labour government provided additional support to universities for training science and engineering majors and backed construction of a London biomedical center in a new budget that largely marks time before the country's general election later this spring.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has steamed to the rescue of one of his flagship research programs less than a week after a congressional spending panel reiterated its confusion over the large, multiyear energy hubs in the department's 2011 budget.


    A thumbs-up this spring by the host prefecture would allow Japan's Monju experimental fast-breeder reactor to resume operations after a 14-year delay.

    Britain's new "Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice" have stirred controversy by suggesting that scientific advisers be required to "maintain the trust" of politicians.

    For the full postings and more, go to

  5. Conservation Biology

    Trade Trumps Science for Marine Species at International Meeting

    1. Erik Stokstad
    Market forces.

    Japan prevented a trade ban in Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is sliced up for sushi.


    It was all about the money, not the science. So say environmentalists and conservation biologists reeling from a remarkable number of setbacks for wildlife conservation at a major international meeting that wrapped up last week in Doha, Qatar. There were a few victories for land animals—most notably, elephants (see sidebar)—but not so for marine species, which were the focus of most high-stakes proposals at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “It's been a complete disaster for the oceans,” says Elizabeth Griffin of the advocacy group Oceana in Washington, D.C. The reason: Despite evidence for serious population declines, countries that profit from international trade in these species lobbied hard to keep it unfettered.

    Set up by international treaty in 1975, CITES has banned the commercial trade of nearly 900 species, such as gorillas and rhinoceroses. But marine conservation advocates faced a tough challenge in adding several marine species to the list. They suffered one defeat after another. Proposals by the United States and Palau to regulate trade of three species of hammerhead sharks and the oceanic whitetip shark were narrowly rejected. “This decision is a major loss for marine conservation,” said Tom Strickland, head of the U.S. delegation, in a statement. As many as 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, according to a 2006 global study in Ecology Letters, and some populations have declined by up to 99%. A proposal to regulate two other species of shark, spiny dogfish and scalloped sharks, was also a nonstarter. The only shark proposal that was accepted, to regulate the less valuable porbeagle, was overturned on the final day.

    The highest stakes battle was for Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose populations have dropped by 85% since the mid-1970s. This species makes up just a fraction of the overall tuna trade, but it is the most highly prized for its fatty taste. Most of the global catch is imported for sushi or sashimi in Japan. A single 200-kilogram fish can sell for more than $100,000 at auction. Several scientific panels, including CITES's own, have concluded that a trade ban is warranted.

    But Japan lobbied hard to defeat the proposal by Monaco. On 18 March, the proposal didn't even get a majority of votes, let alone the two-thirds required for a ban. “It was a big surprise how badly it failed,” says Ellen Pikitch of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York state. The Japanese delegation didn't dispute that the species is in trouble but maintained that conservation is better handled by an international fisheries-management organization, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Skeptics point out that illegal fishing continues, and ICCAT in the past has not cut fishing quotas as much as its scientific advisers have recommended for recovery of the population, although last November quotas were set at the upper end of the range.


    Proposals for less economically valuable species, such as tree frogs, fared better.

    If there is a bright side for tuna from the convention, say several advocates, it's that all the media attention could force ICCAT member countries to finally agree to cut fishing quotas much more sharply. “The strategy has to be hold their feet to the fire,” says Susan Lieberman, deputy director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group in Washington, D.C. ICCAT Chair Fabio Hazin told CITES delegates he expects that efforts to help bluefin recover would be strengthened when ICCAT meets in November.

    Japan, for its part, vowed to work harder. Masanori Miyahara, who led the Japanese delegation, told Agence France-Presse last week that his country has “made the commitment to ensure the recovery of the stock with specific measures and restrictions.” Although some advocates remain skeptical, Carlos Drews of the World Wildlife Fund International is among those taking Japanese officials at their word. “I'm starting to believe that they will get the ball rolling.”

    Still, Drews says he and his colleagues have learned a lesson from Japan's efforts: Start early, lobby hard, have a simple message. Even though economics and politics trumped conservation in Qatar, advocates say that their key weapon remains the data about the species' status. “You have to keep pushing the science,” says Lieberman, “or you'll lose one species after the next.”

  6. Conservation Biology

    Ivory Ban Upheld

    1. Erik Stokstad

    One of the biggest successes of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was the 1989 trade ban on ivory from African elephants, which quickly reduced poaching. Some countries have occasionally asked for permission to sell stockpiles of ivory collected from dead elephants, but many scientists object to these sales because analyses suggest that it encourages poaching (Science, 12 March, p. 1331).

    Last November, Tanzania and Zambia proposed selling elephant ivory. A majority of CITES delegates at last week's meeting in Doha rejected both proposals. “It was a relief,” says conservation biologist Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, Seattle. At a side event before the vote, Wasser and other scientists presented new data about seizures of illegal ivory and questioned whether elephant populations were as healthy as Tanzania and Zambia claimed.

  7. Physics

    Thought Experiment Torpedoes Variable-Speed-of-Light Theories

    1. Adrian Cho

    Physicists' best chance of spotting an effect of “quantum gravity”—the melding of quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity—may have evaporated. According to some quantum-gravity theories, the speed of light may change very slightly with the light's wavelength, and experimenters are searching for the effect in radiation from distant stellar explosions. Those searches may be in vain, however. If light's speed varied in this way, then untenable paradoxes would arise, one theorist argues. The speed variations must be at least 23 orders of magnitude smaller than experimental limits set last year, she says.

    “It's incredibly hard to find an observable effect of quantum gravity, so I'm a little bit sorry about the result,” says Sabine Hossenfelder of the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm. Some theorists say that subtle quantum-mechanical effects may avert the paradox, however.

    The debate centers on a decade-old idea known as DSR—for “doubly special relativity” or “deformed special relativity.” DSR attempts to reconcile Einstein's theory of special relativity—which says the speed of light is the same for all observers, even if they're moving relative to one another—with the possibility that the speed of light also depends on its wavelength. Such a dependence had been suggested by theories of “noncommutative geometry” and emerges from some theories of “loop quantum gravity” (Science, 8 November 2002, p. 1166).

    Experimenters have already started looking for speed variations in light from cosmic firecrackers called gamma-ray bursts. Last year, NASA's orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope spotted a burst 10 billion light-years away and found no significant difference in speed between the low- and high-energy photons from it. From their results, Fermi researchers put a limit on the maximum delay experienced by the most energetic photon of 0.859 seconds, as they reported in November in Nature. That's roughly the size of the effect one might expect to see from DSR.

    Hit or miss.

    If light's speed varies with its wavelength, then a scientist in the lab (left) and an astronaut passing in a spaceship will not agree whether a photon and an electron reach the lab at the same instant to trigger an explosion.


    However, any delay must be far smaller, Hossenfelder argues in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters. She considers the following scenario: A high-energy photon from a gamma-ray burst arrives in the lab at the same time as a lower-energy electron from a source across the street. The photon collides with the electron and ricochets into a particle detector, which triggers a bomb set up by a self-destructive scientist. Boom!

    Hossenfelder then considers how this scenario would appear to an astronaut gliding over the lab in a spacecraft headed toward the gamma-ray burst. To the astronaut, the photon's wavelength appears slightly shorter because of the Doppler shift. As a result, according to DSR, the photon travels more slowly and arrives at the lab after the electron has come and gone, and the bomb is never triggered. So the scientist in the lab and the astronaut in the spacecraft cannot agree on whether the bomb goes off, a paradox that undermines our sense of a unified reality. Hossenfelder contends that the paradox rules out any theory in which light's speed varies in simple proportion to its energy.

    Developers of DSR aren't ready to concede the point, however. Hossenfelder assumes too simply that spacetime is like a smooth paper on which objects' paths cross at well-defined points, says Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, a theorist at the University of Rome La Sapienza. But on the smallest scales, spacetime should be a roiling “quantum foam” in which position and time lose precise meaning, he says. “In quantum spacetime, you don't have points,” he says. Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, agrees that the effects of quantum spacetime may resolve the paradox and says he's studying the matter.

    For their part, researchers with the Fermi satellite will continue to look for an effect, says Sylvain Guiriec, an astrophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “It's definitely ongoing work for the Fermi collaboration,” he says. However, the chances of seeing a signal seem much smaller now.

  8. Newsmaker Interview

    NOAA's Tom Karl Takes On Task of Serving Up Climate to the Public

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    The public conversation about climate could use some help. Hacked e-mails, charges of manipulation and suppression of the data, and plunging public trust in climate scientists are hindering the dialogue.

    Last month, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a step that could help repair climate science's image by doing for climate what the National Weather Service (NWS)—a NOAA organization—has done for weather over the past 140 years. The vehicle is the new NOAA Climate Service (NCS). Like NWS, it will issue forecasts of changing atmospheric conditions for use by the government, business, and the public. But the forecasts will be for larger U.S. regions and longer time scales. In addition, it will predict the impacts of climate change.

    The climate service is the product of a reorganization involving three data centers, two research laboratories, and a climate observing network. No new funding is involved. Climatologist Thomas Karl, currently director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, is its interim director.

    Karl has worked at the climate center—the world's largest climate archive—since 1980, and led it since 1998. That job has put him in the thick of assessing and disseminating information on climate science. “He's about as straight-up a scientist as I know [and] extremely open-minded,” says paleoclimatologist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. In the 1990s, Mann notes, “Tom's work was often cited by climate skeptics in support of their arguments. As observations increasingly pointed to the reality of climate change, he lost favor with the skeptics.”

    Karl spoke with Science on 18 March. Here is an edited version of his comments.

    Q:What kind of services will NCS provide?

    T.K.:There's a clear history [at NOAA] of strong engagement with the science of climate change and variability. We want to build on that science to provide information about how climate is likely to evolve, as best supported by the science. We'll be trying to understand what users need to make decisions. For example, we've got a lot of information on global sea-level issues. But people are asking, what about my town on the coast? This climate service can take this global information—on models, storms, currents, tides, bathymetry, extreme precipitation events—and make it relevant down to beachside.

    Speaking of climate.

    Thomas Karl is interim head of the new NOAA Climate Service.


    Q:Even the Nobel Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stumbled when conveying climate information to decision-makers. How will NCS avoid such pitfalls?

    T.K.:There are some principles and guidelines we're going to use. One is transparency. As has been our practice, all the raw data, all the observations, the algorithms, and the peer-reviewed papers that we use to generate products are going to be accessible online. In addition, it will be important for the NCS to communicate in a more effective way than has been done in the past.

    Q:Will NCS be able to respond to ongoing climate change and variability as quickly as NWS?

    T.K.:People are trying to see how ongoing climate and weather extremes relate to longer term changes in climate. Such events offer opportunities for teaching. The NCS can say whether or not the events are consistent with how climate may change in the future. Sometimes we may be able to say which specific events have contributions from humans; sometimes we won't.

    Q:Climate prediction on the global scale is tough enough. How will NCS manage it on the even more challenging regional scale?

    T.K.:There are a couple of thrusts, and they have to go together. Models are critical, but there are important pieces often left out of the models: land use changes, ocean circulation, sea ice, biogeochemistry, land ecology. All these pieces have been worked on but not yet put together in an Earth system model; we're trying to make climate models more physically realistic. But no matter how good the models get, we have to understand the uncertainties coming from the models and tailor that information to the regional level.

    Q:AccuWeather and The Weather Channel translate and repackage NWS products for the public. Do you expect private entities to enter the climate arena, too?

    T.K.:There's so much that needs to be done in the climate arena, there's no conceivable way the federal sector will be able to address all of it. Working with the corporate world, we'll develop guidelines to make sure that [the private sector] can provide the appropriate value added, the information needed for people to act: how to use the data, the forecasts, the projections. If someone can do it on a for-prof it basis just as well or better, that's a sign we don't have to.

    Q:What's needed to achieve a fully functioning National Climate Service?

    T.K.:That discussion is still going on with the [President's] Office of Science and Technology Policy and all [13] of the U.S. Global Change Research Program agencies and departments. Interagency agreements will continue to be an important tool. Discussions we've been having on how to deliver information to the next National Climate Assessment—that is, working on a common product—is really an important tool to better coordination.

  9. In the Shadow of Jane Goodall

    1. Jon Cohen

    Fifty years after Goodall arrived in Gombe, the environment has changed dramatically for both our closest relatives and the scientists who study them


    After completing a master's degree on banded mongooses in 1999, behavioral ecologist Emily Otali decided to stay at Makerere University in Kampala to pursue a Ph.D. She won a fellowship, which stipulated that she had to study the impact of forest destruction on blue monkeys. “I didn't like it,” remembered Otali during a reporter's May 2008 visit to Uganda. The blue monkeys in question were not habituated to humans, so she thought she would get at best sketchy data from her 18 months of fieldwork; she preferred to continue her work on mongooses. She repeatedly complained about this to a documentary producer she was then working with on what would become the National Geographic video Mongoose Murders. One day when they were in the field at Queen Elizabeth National Park, he happened to spot Richard Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard University who co-directs a research project on habituated chimpanzees in Uganda's Kibale National Park. “He dragged me to Professor Wrangham,” Otali recalled.

    Wrangham had been on the committee that selected Otali for the fellowship, and he recognized her name. Otali, who has a habit of cutting to the point, asked him why he and the other committee members forced her to study blue monkeys. Wrangham had an idea: Why didn't she come to Kibale for a day and see if chimpanzees interested her more? “Is there anything left to study in chimps?” replied Otali, who is a native of Uganda but had never seen chimps in the wild. “I hear Jane Goodall has been doing this all her life.”

    Wrangham, who began his own career working with Goodall in Gombe in 1970, at first just stared at her. “There's so much to do in chimps,” he said.

    Otali remained skeptical. “I thought nothing was going to take my heart away from mongooses,” she said.

    Nevertheless, she made the trip to Kibale, and it was, by her account, a boring day of “chimping.” She observed just one infant, Ipassa, and her mother, and none of the other 50 chimps that live together in that part of the park. But one small incident had an indelible impact on her: She locked eyes with Ipassa. “Of course you're told not to make eye contact with chimps, but I stole that moment,” she says. “It changed everything. I wanted to know more about these creatures that were so like me.”

    Otali went on to earn her Ph.D. at Kibale, studying the social dynamics of that chimp community. She was the first woman in Africa to earn a doctorate studying our closest relatives. Wrangham later appointed her to be the field manager of their Kibale study.


    The new breed

    Otali is one of dozens of a new crop of chimpanzee investigators Science met during the past 3 years in Africa, Europe, the United States, and Japan. They come from a variety of academic backgrounds and are pursuing diverse questions in both wild and captive chimps. But most share a powerful bond with their research subjects—sometimes too strong—and a conviction that studying our closest relatives provides unique insights into human evolution. “It's amazing staying with these animals and trying to understand what they think,” says Paco Bertolani, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom who is doing research in Kibale (p. 32). “You can see that 5 million years ago, we were similar to this creature. We'll never be able to enter their minds, but new experiments and observations can reveal aspects about them that have yet to be discovered.”

    Much has changed since Jane Goodall first visited what was then called Tanganyika to observe the Gombe chimpanzees. When Goodall took to the field in July 1960, no one had ever followed a group of chimpanzees in the wild and carefully documented the interactions of individuals, their diets, and their range. Goodall and the handful of contemporary researchers who soon began working in the wild created a discipline from whole cloth, making one head-twisting discovery after the next. Goodall changed the popular view of our closest relative through magazine articles, documentaries, and popular books like In the Shadow of Man. Similarly, studies of captive chimpanzees began to flourish in the 1960s, with primate centers receiving substantial government support and several academics even keeping animals on campuses and in their homes.

    But, as Wrangham intimated, those pioneering studies just scratched the surface. Countless questions, of increasing complexity, remain about chimps—and how they compare to us. “The subtlety of the questions we're able to ask has increased, and there's a great deal of subtlety still left unexplored,” says Jim Moore, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, who also cut his teeth working at Gombe and now has many students helping him study savanna chimpanzees in Ugalla, Tanzania.

    As Goodall showed, wild chimps use tools, but researchers continue to discover surprising new variations on that theme. More intensive comparisons of different wild sites are documenting a bevy of unique “cultures,” from nut-cracking to grooming techniques, in different communities. Researchers have moved beyond teaching apes to communicate (p. 38) to refined studies of vocalizations in both wild and captive chimps (p. 36), an area that has received scant attention. Long-term data amassed in the field and at primate centers and zoos are filling in gaps in information about life span, social structure, reproduction, and disease. Carefully constructed lab experiments are uncovering new insights about cooperation, empathy, and teaching. Comparative work is also taking place with bonobos, the chimp cousin that is equidistant from humans on the family tree.

    Today, researchers operate in a different landscape, both in terms of where and how chimps are studied. They have many advantages. For one, several sites have habituated wild communities, which means a student can go to the field and immediately start a research project. New technologies have had an even broader impact, enabling researchers in both wild and captive settings to explore questions they could not have probed 50 years ago. The chimp genome is now available, and more routine DNA sequencing has exposed occult infections like the chimp AIDS virus, SIVcpz, and complex familial relations. Experiments with captive apes using touch-screen computers reveal new dimensions in their cognitive capacities. Global imaging systems help primatologists precisely chart animal movements and habitat. Magnetic resonance imaging scans of captive chimps are clarifying how their brains differ from ours (p. 40).

    Just as technology has broadened the research possibilities, lines that once separated groups have blurred. Although some young researchers complain that their mentors are still territorial with each other and their animals—“They're behaving more and more like chimpanzees,” one graduate student groused—several study sites have pooled data. A growing number of investigators have studied both captive and wild chimps. Scientists who oppose invasive biomedical research with chimps now do laboratory examinations of noninvasively acquired blood, hair, feces, and urine. “In the coming decades, we need the interdisciplinary approach to get to know chimpanzees better,” says Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who heads the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Inuyama, Japan (p. 41) and also runs a field study in Bossou, Guinea. “You should pay attention to both laboratory and field research. If you're interested in genetics of great apes, you should go to Africa to see the reality.”

    Nowhere embodies the cross-disciplinary approach more than the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, which opened in 1997 and hired topnotch researchers in genetics, psychology, primatology, and paleontology who study chimpanzees and bonobos in the wild and in captivity (Science, 17 August 2001, p. 1246). “Our main argument—and why this institute exists—is if you want to understand human uniqueness, you have to understand our closest relatives,” says Christophe Boesch, who heads the primatology department and has conducted studies of wild chimpanzees for 3 decades.

    In 2001, Max Planck opened the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center at the Leipzig Zoo, the only facility in the world where investigators can study chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. “This is a place where if you have an idea, the next day you go test it,” says psychologist Josep Call, the center's director. “It's really unbelievable.”

    Opportunity knocks

    As new technologies and intersecting disciplines expand the study of chimpanzees and bonobos, researchers are also grappling with a daunting constraint: These endangered species are dwindling in numbers, both in captivity and in the wild. Funding to study them is also fickle.

    The captive population available to scientists for the past 15 years has steadily declined because of concerns in several countries about the ethics and value of sometimes harmful biomedical studies; many former “research chimps” have been “retired” to sanctuaries that forbid their use in any scientific studies, including non-invasive ones (Science, 26 January 2007, p. 450). The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), which since 1960 has been a major supporter of captive chimp populations for research, no longer funds breeding, which means the 1000 or so research chimps now in U.S. primate colonies will disappear within 30 years, according to one estimate (Science, 26 January 2007, p. 450). “It's a big concern,” says Frans de Waal, an ethologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

    De Waal studies chimps at the nearby Yerkes National Primate Research Center, which Emory has run for many years with substantial NIH support. Yerkes is now one of the only places left in the United States that houses chimpanzees for behavioral and cognitive research. “We have to fight here to keep the colony alive and going for research purposes,” de Waal says. “And the current financial climate is not ideal.”

    Psychologist Sally Boysen of Ohio State University, Columbus, has an especially bleak view of the future of captive chimp studies. “It's pretty grim,” says Boysen, who for more than 20 years had chimps on campus until her university said in 2006 that it no longer had enough funding to keep them. Despite Boysen's loud protests, she had to let go of her nine chimps, and the six surviving ones now live at Chimp Haven near Keithville, Louisiana, a sanctuary for retired research animals. “The message for all of us is, ‘Hey, it's not worth it to focus your career on this,’” Boysen says. She also laments what she sees as “the convergence of the animal-rights movement and the political zeitgeist” undercutting the value of chimp research.

    The Max Planck model of linking zoos to academic institutions may become more commonplace. The Edinburgh Zoo in the United Kingdom opened the state-of-the-art Budongo Trail exhibit in May 2008 that has 40 chimps and welcomes researchers from the University of St. Andrews. The zoo also supports field studies in Budongo, Uganda. “Zoo funding is better than research grants because zoos are going to stay there and keep funding you if they like your work,” says Vernon Reynolds, an anthropologist emeritus at the University of Oxford who started the Budongo project in Uganda. “A grant is up in 3 years.”

    Some zoos also allow academics to do research without directly supporting them. But this has its limits, cautions de Waal, who did groundbreaking chimp work at Burgers' Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands, and bonobo studies at the San Diego Zoo. “Zoos can be very constraining,” he says.

    Biological anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has opened a new avenue for studies by tapping into the African sanctuaries that now house bonobos and chimpanzees, many of them confiscated from animal traders or orphaned when their mothers were slaughtered by bushmeat hunters (Science, 7 September 2007, p. 1338). According to the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, more than 850 chimps now live in sanctuaries there, which is more than all the chimps in Europe's zoos and three times the number held by accredited U.S. zoos. “Sanctuaries are the future for ape research,” Hare says. “We have far better research resources for a fraction of the cost, and we are helping conservation and welfare organizations on the ground in ape-habitat countries while training African researchers.”

    Long-term sites where researchers study wild chimpanzees and bonobos have nearly doubled during the past decade (p. 31), but given the rapid pace of the populations' decline from habitat destruction, the bushmeat trade, and disease—some transmitted from humans—many researchers worry that their days are numbered, too. Boesch, who has studied wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire since 1979, argues that the need for more long-term field studies is urgent. “Whenever we go to look, we observe new behavior in chimpanzees that we didn't know before,” says Boesch, who recently started a project in Gabon. As the wild chimp population dwindles—the best estimate now puts the population at 200,000 to 300,000 individuals—those opportunities are lost forever, he says.

    One particularly productive new site is the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo. The remote area, which has 1000 gorillas and 500 or so chimpanzees in more than a dozen communities, wasn't studied until David Morgan went there in 1999. “Ndoki was one of the best kept secrets,” says Morgan, who is now a fellow at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, and runs the project with his wife, biological anthropologist Crickette Sanz of Washington University in St. Louis. “We've had more observations of chimps and gorillas interacting than anyone.” They have also taken advantage of several high-tech tools, setting up sensor-activated video cameras at termite mounds and fruiting trees and sensors to help detect poachers.

    The new generation of chimp researchers has one other trove of data to mine: Studies can now be done with little more than a computer and an Internet connection. Anyone can scour the chimpanzee genome and compare it to those of other species. The recently launched Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny at the University of California, San Diego, is currently digitizing and putting online one of the largest collections of chimpanzee skeletons ever available for study (p. 43). Although they are not public, many long-term sites have massive amounts of data that researchers can probe. Anne Pusey, a behavioral ecologist at Duke University who formerly ran the Gombe site for the Jane Goodall Institute, says they have 600 hours of video-taped recordings over 11 years of 100 or so wild chimps in three different communities. “We've only looked at the tip of the iceberg,” Pusey says.

    Perhaps the most pronounced change that has occurred since Goodall first wowed the world with her Gombe observations is one that she ushered in: Protecting chimps is now intimately tied to research. Today, many researchers who complete their Ph.D.s find themselves having to choose between conducting further studies and moving into conservation full-time. And those who stay in research face a different ethical landscape from the one their predecessors faced, in terms of the types of experiments they can conduct, the housing they provide captive chimps, and their responsibility to protect the wild communities they study. “I've seen radical changes,” says Masaki Tomonaga, who for 2 decades has studied chimp cognition at Japan's PRI. “Twenty years ago, most researchers didn't think about the ethical issues and the future of these animals. Now we have such an accumulation of findings about them and such a high level of understanding, we have to apply them to animal welfare and conservation. This research is to better understand humans and chimpanzees, but it also has to be used to conserve their lives for the next generations.”

  10. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Chimps Read Lips

    1. Jon Cohen

    Comparative psychologists at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center are trying to connect the puckered lips, raised eyebrows, and grins of chimpanzees with emotional states such as aggression, surprise, and lasciviousness.

    Look here, chump.

    Facial expressions speak volumes about emotional states.


    ATLANTA—In 1862, French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne published The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, which linked specific facial muscles to emotional states such as aggression, surprise, and lasciviousness. More than 150 years later, comparative psychologist Lisa Parr of Yerkes National Primate Research Center is trying to make the same connections to the puckered lips, raised eyebrows, and grins of chimpanzees. “It's just been a really ignored area,” Parr says.

    Whereas psychologists who study chimpanzees argue endlessly over whether they can understand the intentions and desires of others—the so-called theory of mind—Parr says that debate is too arcane for her tastes. Facial recognition, in contrast, is elemental. “We're starting at the bottom and working up,” Parr says. In the process, she has helped to develop an elaborate system that objectively classifies expressions and the muscles that are involved.

    Parr is part of a consortium that has created a chimp Facial Action Coding System, which builds on work done in humans in the 1970s. After studying facial muscles dissected from dead chimpanzees, Parr and her colleagues electrically stimulated the muscles in anesthetized live chimps, defining nearly two dozen “action units.” Other studies use a joystick-controlled computer to see how chimps interpret different expressions. They are shown three photos of chimps and asked to match the two that have the same facial expression. She's also scanning the brains of living chimps to see how the neural-processing networks compare with those in humans, looking for clues to how human communication evolved; her results suggest that chimps use the same regions of the brain to process faces as humans do—and these regions differ dramatically from the ones used by monkeys.

  11. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Makoku at 0°30′N 30°24′E: Chimping Via GPS

    1. Jon Cohen

    With the help of satellites, a handheld GPS device, and his laptop, a Cambridge researcher has put together a map that redefines the art of charting chimpanzee life in the wild.

    Map quest.

    Paco Bertolani has used satellite technology to chart how chimpanzees move about Uganda's Kibale National Park.

    KIBALE NATIONAL PARK, UGANDA—With the help of satellites, a handheld GPS device, and his laptop, Paco Bertolani has put together a map that redefines the art of charting chimpanzee life in the wild. As part of his Ph.D. dissertation for the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, Bertolani is analyzing the routes chimpanzee use in different habitats. His goal is a better understanding of how chimps orient themselves and save energy. Nearly every day from October 2007 to June 2009, Bertolani followed a different male in the habituated chimp community here, starting in the early morning and ending at nesting time at dusk.

    During an outing one day in May 2008, he noted the location of the chimp-of-the-day, Makoku, every 10 meters with the GPS device, and he also mapped the fruiting trees that attract many in the community, tracking how movements change with the availability of different foods. He then overlaid these data on satellite images of the terrain, creating something of a Google Map of the popular pathways, dining spots, and places to sleep. “The GPS in the forest historically has never worked,” said Bertolani, noting that new and improved receivers on the ground can finally receive signals from satellites through the thick forest canopy. “So it's never been possible before now to do such a detailed study of ranging.”

  12. Chimpanzee Research Today

    A Matter of Life and Limb

    1. Jon Cohen

    The chimpanzees at Kibale National Park in Uganda are not threatened by poachers for bushmeat. But they face another peril: Many become entangled in snares set in the forest for other animals such as duikers.


    KIBALE NATIONAL PARK, UGANDA—The chimpanzees here are not threatened by poachers for bushmeat. But they face another peril: Many become entangled in snares set in the forest for other animals such as duikers. Typically made from sticks and the wire used on motorbike brakes, the snares lie on the forest floor and cinch on limbs when an animal steps inside them. Chimps often tighten the wire in a frantic attempt to remove it, cutting off the blood supply to their limbs. Sometimes the limbs rot off and then heal; sometimes the animal dies from infection.

    Up to one-third of the chimps at Kibale have become entangled in snares, and Max, a 12-year-old male, is one of the most tragic. After losing one leg to a snare, he became caught again and lost his remaining leg. “It's really, really heartbreaking,” says Emily Otali, the field manager for the Kibale Chimpanzee Project. “When Max lost his first leg, he was a sport about it,” Otali says, explaining that he limped on his good leg, and the stump quickly healed. “Then he lost his other leg, and he had to use his former stump, and he bruised it and it was bleeding, and the new one was bleeding,” she said. “He sat on the tree whimpering.” Max now crawls about on his two stumps and still climbs trees. “He's not a happy chimp, but he's alive,” Otali says.

    Trap tragedy.

    Kibale's Otali (bottom) has a snare-removal team, but Max (above) still lost both his legs within the same year.


    The Kibale team has hired hunters from local villages to work with them to remove snares; they also try to teach the villagers about the chimpanzees, hoping that if they know more about them they will care more about their well-being.

    Across the country in the Budongo Forest Reserve, a similar percentage of chimpanzees has lost limbs to snares, leading the researchers there to try a creative intervention with local hunters: In exchange for agreeing not to use their snares, the hunters each receive two goats and veterinary care for them. With funds from California's Oakland Zoo, Budongo now hires four people to remove snares, and they've seen the numbers drop dramatically. “It's had real success,” says Vernon Reynolds, a retired anthropologist from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom who started the Budongo chimp research project. The Jane Goodall Institute also has a snare-removal program that employs former poachers and educates locals.

    But the battle never ends. “I don't know if it's a no-win situation,” says Otali. “We just have to continue, hoping to make a change, no matter how small it is.”

  13. Chimpanzee Research Today

    The Spread of Culture, Primitive as It Is

    1. Jon Cohen

    Researchers at Yerkes National Primate Research Center studying two groups of chimps that live in separate but nearly identical conditions published a landmark study in 2005 that provided the most convincing evidence yet that chimpanzee communities have unique "cultures."

    Chimp see, chimp do.

    Chimps “learn” one of two techniques for getting treats from this device from a high-ranking female.


    LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA—It wasn't until 35 years ago that chimp researchers from Gombe visited the nearby project in the Mahale Mountains and noticed a startling difference in grooming techniques. This led to the idea that chimpanzee communities had unique “cultures,” but field studies have had difficulty proving that chimps transmit social behaviors. So in 2003, with a freshly minted Ph.D. in hand from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, Victoria Horner came to Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University to exploit its unique culture: Its 47-hectare field station in this Atlanta suburb houses two groups of chimps that live in separate but nearly identical conditions, an ideal experimental setting to study transmission of culture in a controlled environment. “There's no other facility in the world like this,” says Horner, who works here with Frans de Waal of Emory.

    Two years after arriving, Horner, de Waal, and her then–postdoc adviser Andrew Whiten of St. Andrews published a landmark study that provided the most convincing evidence yet that a new “culture” could spread through groups of chimpanzees. The experiment resembled the children's game “Telephone,” in which a message is passed down a chain of individuals. In this case, they taught one chimp in each group how to use a new tool and assessed whether the technique—the culture—spread.

    The study relied on a clever device that held a treat, which the chimps could retrieve by either lifting a handle or poking a release lever. Horner taught one high-ranking female in each group a different method. As she and her co-authors described in the 29 September 2005 issue of Nature, the other chimps observed their “local expert” and copied the technique. The team subsequently published similar studies that taught one individual in each group to either slide or lift a door in a box that held fruit, or to gather tokens and place them in either a bucket or a pipe to receive a food reward. These experiments again demonstrated that the behaviors were transmitted in their respective groups, creating cultures.

    Yes, human culture is much more sophisticated, Horner acknowledges. But she says these experiments unequivocally demonstrate that the ability to transmit a culture is not uniquely human, as some anthropologists have argued. “At what point are people going to be able to give up and say, ‘Yes, we are apes,’ and be able to handle that?” she asks.

  14. Chimpanzee Research Today

    The Chimpanzee Genome Project's Seedy Origins

    1. Jon Cohen

    The DNA sequenced for the Chimpanzee Genome Project came mainly from one chimp, Clint, of Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and he was chosen for the most haphazard of reasons.

    DNA donor.

    Clint was chosen to represent the genetics of his species for an X-rated reason that had nothing to do with his chromosomes.


    When the human genome project set out to unravel the entire DNA of Homo sapiens, researchers decided to take blood and sperm from donors with diverse backgrounds to create a “consensus” sequence. The hundreds of donors recruited for the project did not know whether their DNA made it into the final sequence, and the scientists were blinded to the identity of the donors. For the Chimpanzee Genome Project, the DNA came mainly from one chimp, Clint, of Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, and he was chosen for the most haphazard of reasons.

    For his Ph.D. thesis at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, in the 1990s, Evan Eichler studied stretches of DNA that repeat themselves, which are tricky to sort out from sequencing errors. After he completed his doctorate, he wanted to unravel a particularly confusing repeat on the human X chromosome, which he thought he could sort out by comparing it with chimpanzee DNA. The process required a few scientific tricks he did not know—specifically, the then-new technique of cloning stretches of DNA into what are known as bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs). So he did a stint in the lab of BAC guru Pieter de Jong, then at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. To begin, de Jong asked Yerkes for a sample of chimp sperm, and researchers there chose Clint—not because he was a hardy male representative of Pan troglodytes or had some other meaningful attribute. Clint, it turns out, became the genome chimp because he was particularly fond of providing sperm samples.

    Eichler did not make much progress, but after he left the lab, de Jong, now with Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California, decided to continue trying with samples of Clint's blood instead of sperm. His lab eventually succeeded, and they stored the clones in a freezer. When Eichler and a small group of colleagues in 2002 decided to sequence the entire chimpanzee genome, they fished out Clint's DNA.

    In 2004, the year before the first draft of the chimpanzee genome was published, Clint, then 24, died from heart failure. But his sequence lives on in databases that Eichler, now at the University of Washington, Seattle, and scores of other researchers continue to mine for surprising insights about chimpanzees and how they relate to humans and other species. “Science never goes a straight path,” says de Jong

  15. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Talking Chimp to Chimp

    1. Jon Cohen

    Language may be unique to humans, but our closest relatives do a lot of vocalizing, and researchers are trying to figure out what they're yakking about.

    Say what?

    Cathy Crockford plans to stage playback experiments in which she watches animals' reactions to recordings of different vocalizations.


    BUDONGO FOREST RESERVE, UGANDA—As Cathy Crockford wound her way through the dense trees to observe chimpanzees here, she bore more than a little resemblance to a young Jane Goodall. Crockford, who specializes in chimpanzee communication and is based at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, has Goodall's lanky build and, like Goodall, wore her long, blonde hair pulled back. She is also a native of England and speaks with a purposeful British accent. But Goodall for many months walked around Gombe alone with little more than a note-pad, binoculars, and a satchel over her shoulder. Crockford works with her husband, Roman Wittig, and in addition to their binoculars and hip packs, they each have their own field assistants. They often cover adjacent terrain and communicate using walkie-talkies. They tap in their locations and observations on palm-held electronic devices. And most important, each of them totes a state-of-the-art Marantz digital tape recorder strapped around their neck with a high-end microphone covered by a foam windscreen.

    Crockford and Wittig, along with their St. Andrews colleagues Klaus Zuberbühler and Katie Slocombe, are conducting the most intensive studies ever done to try to unravel the meaning of chimpanzee pant-hoots, grunts, screams, and whimpers. Although much work has been done studying communication in wild monkeys and captive chimps, wild chimpanzee vocalizations have received surprisingly little formal analysis. “There's almost everything to still find out about the chimpanzee communicative system,” said Vernon Reynolds, an anthropologist emeritus at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who started the Budongo site in 1990. “It's ridiculous that we've done so much works on chimps and have not broken the code of their communication.”

    Decoding chimpanzee communication has proven much trickier than decoding that of other primate species in part because of their forested habitat. “A lot of communication is exchanged between these parties of chimps that can't even see each other,” Crockford explained. “It makes it difficult for us to figure out who is giving this particular call and who is responding. But that's one of the things that we're hoping to get a handle on.”

    Crockford and Wittig's work builds on chimpanzee studies they did in the Taï National Park with Christophe Boesch while working on their Ph.D.s, including Crockford discovering that different communities there used different pant-hoots and that she could distinguish specific barks tied to specific contexts such as traveling or hunting. They then went on to do postdocs studying baboons in Botswana with Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth, two pioneers in primate communication based at the University of Pennsylvania. Cheney and Seyfarth, another husband-and-wife team, first received international attention for studies in the 1970s with wild vervet monkeys, which they showed had distinctive alarm calls for snake, eagle, and leopard. Their convincing evidence came from playing recordings of the monkeys' own calls through amplifiers they had hidden around the vervet's habitat in Kenya's Amboseli National Park and carefully documenting how the animals responded. Crockford and Wittig began making recordings of the Budongo chimps in 2008 to conduct similar playback experiments.

    Cheney said she and her husband have “great admiration” for Crockford and Wittig's “exciting and imaginative” research. “All work on ape cognition was conducted, and in large part continues to be conducted, on captive animals under conditions that lack ecological validity and typically involve the same individuals tested over and over again in multiple experiments,” Cheney said. “Cathy and Roman are some of the first investigators to attempt to apply the experimental techniques developed by scientists working with monkeys to wild chimpanzees.”

    Listen up.

    Roman Wittig says chimps in the dense forest often figure out the intentions of others, whether a warning or aggression, based on the vocalizations they hear.


    Crockford and Wittig have far more ambitious aims than simply decoding vocalizations that approximate words or capture an emotional state. They want to figure out how chimpanzees navigate their complex social environment. “What do they know about the relationships that others have?” Wittig asked. “Do they know who is friends with whom? Vocalizations in the closed, dense forest are probably the main information they have to understand what intentions others have.”

    While Wittig and Crockford followed the Budongo chimps this morning in May 2008, a drama unfolded that they dubbed the Return of Zefa. “It's like a daily soap opera,” Wittig said. Zefa was the second-ranking male in this community until he disappeared 3 months earlier, leading the researchers to fear that he might have died. But he returned in full force this day, triggering repeated challenges from the new alpha male, Nick, and confrontations with other males that Zefa initiated. Crockford looked up as a racket erupted from the treetops where Zefa was hanging out, took a few steps closer, turned on the recorder, and pointed her microphone toward the piercing noise. “That was pant-grunts and screams coming from where Nick just drummed,” she said into her mic. Nick apparently had moved on, and Zefa came down from the tree, leading to another outburst from a lower-ranking male, and it sounded as though he was being tortured and screaming for mercy. As the pant-hoots began to fade, they were replaced by a building stream of pant-grunts. “That's a submissive greeting,” Crockford explained, noting that the first vocalization had “graded” into the second.

    Wittig believes that the key to making sense of chimp chatter is noticing combinations of calls and other subtleties. “There are little nuances in their vocalizations that may have completely different meaning,” Wittig said. “They might have a little faster increase in the beginning or a higher frequency at the end. What would be great to find out is whether they are meaningful, and not only to the guy who is vocalizing, but to an audience as well.”


    Crockford stressed that the pant-hoots, grunts, barks, and screams are not words but still communicate specific ideas. “These vocalizations are very context-tied, so an individual that is away can probably work out quite a lot of what's happening if he hears this sort of exchange,” Crockford said. “But I don't think that necessarily means that it's symbolic, which it would have to be if this were equivalent to words.”

    Crockford and Wittig plan to use the sound catalog of individuals that they're amassing for playback experiments to analyze the types of complex communications they explored while working with baboons. For example, they found that after a female baboon was attacked, if the victim heard a friendly grunt from one of her attacker's relatives, it sped reconciliation with the aggressor.

    Until now, Wittig said, researchers who study wild chimpanzees have relied mainly on observation, rarely conducting experiments. “I think it's time to take one step further and try and hypothesize in a clear way and create a playback experiment where chimps can show what their knowledge is about things,” said Wittig. “It's a big puzzle because we're not able to go there and ask the chimps direct questions.”

    Crockford and Wittig have yet to publish any of their findings from Budongo but expect to soon have a lot to say about an area of chimpanzee research that until now has been remarkably quiet.

  16. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Boxed About the Ears, Ape Language Research Field Is Still Standing

    1. Jon Cohen

    A once-thriving field now has only a single outpost, the Great Ape Trust, which continues to teach bonobos and orangutans to communicate with humans.

    I to I.

    Rob Shumaker has taught Azy, an orangutan, to communicate with photos and symbols.


    DES MOINES—In the heyday of ape language research 3 decades ago, Washoe the chimpanzee, Koko the gorilla, and the scientists who taught them American Sign Language won international fame. But then a 1979 paper in Science concluded that researchers had been duped by these and other “talking” apes: Yes, they could learn words, but none could form a sentence, the authors argued, and all excelled at imitating their teachers. Defenders of the work suffered mounting criticism and even ridicule, and the field sputtered out. Yet today, one bastion of ape language research remains, the Great Ape Trust, improbably set in a rural neighborhood outside this midwestern city in Iowa.

    Established in 2004 with a $25 million gift from a local heir to a hot dog fortune, the Great Ape Trust today has eight bonobos, including the world-renowned Kanzi, and six orangutans. (The trust hoped to house more orangutans, as well as gorillas and chimpanzees, but a flood in June 2008 forced the institution to reconsider its ambitious building plans.) Evolutionary biologist Rob Shumaker, one of five scientists who work full-time at the trust, says he does not feel besieged by the endless skepticism and outright criticism the endeavor attracts. “The people I work with, they don't think I'm out in left field, they don't think I'm crazy,” says Shumaker, who does language studies with the orangutans. “We're like-minded and remarkably supportive and interested in what each other is doing.” The trust also provides these researchers with something of a cloister atmosphere. “It's not really a sanctuary for the apes,” jokes Shumaker. “It's a sanctuary for the researchers.”

    Built on 90 hectares that includes a humanmade lake, the trust has separate, state-of-the-art housing for its bonobos and orangutans that features touch-screen computers, which display symbols, or lexigrams, that the apes use to communicate. In addition to language, researchers from the trust and grad students working with anthropologist Jill Pruetz at nearby Iowa State University (who studies wild chimps in Senegal) also investigate ape behavior and cognition. And in a similar philosophy to that of Japan's Primate Research Institute (p. 41), all apes must “volunteer” to take part, says psychologist Karyl Swartz of the trust. “They choose minute by minute, day by day, problem by problem, whether they want to participate in the research,” says Swartz, who has studied different apes and monkeys for 30 years. So the researchers can lead the apes to computers but can't make them communicate. “We believe that they're our partners in research. It sounds a little over the top and trite, but it's an amazing philosophy.”

    The trust came about after philanthropist Ted Townsend read that Duane Rumbaugh, who conducted pioneering ape language research at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta with his then-wife Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, was a native of Iowa. Townsend cold-called Rumbaugh and introduced himself, and in time sold him and Savage-Rumbaugh on his vision to build the trust. All the bonobos at the trust came from GSU's Language Research Center, which still has four great apes and conducts studies, but does not teach them language. Savage-Rumbaugh has since retired, and Rumbaugh is now a professor emeritus at the trust and Georgia State University.

    Although no one disputes that apes can communicate and even learn words, much of the debate that surrounds ape language research focuses on the definition of language. “You can't be an ape language researcher unless you take on what language is,” says William Fields, an ethnographer who worked with Savage-Rumbaugh in Georgia and took over the bonobo work at the trust when she retired.

    Whereas many linguists define language as using words with the rules of grammar and syntax, Fields argues that it is more about understanding words than producing them. He points to Kanzi—a bonobo that Savage-Rumbaugh once claimed had “acquired linguistic and cognitive skills far beyond those achieved by any other nonhuman animal in previous research”—and his half-sister Panbanisha. Both communicate with lexigram boards that have more than 300 symbols. A controlled 1992 study with Kanzi showed that more than two-thirds of the time he accurately recognized 660 novel sentences like “Put the raisins in the water,” and “Pour the juice on your ball.” In 2007, Savage-Rumbaugh went so far as to include Panbanisha and Kanzi as co-authors of a paper published on appropriate captive environments for apes in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. (Savage-Rumbaugh was the first and corresponding author, and she gave the apes the last name of Wamba, a long-term research site of wild bonobos.)

    Fields's office sits across from the bonobo enclosure, and although a concrete block wall separates him from the animals, he whispers when he compares Kanzi and Panbanisha's language skills. “At some point, Kanzi will have to share the limelight with the real ape of genius,” says Fields, explaining that he is often surprised by what the animals hear and comprehend. “I don't have the scientific data to prove it to you, but Sue and I know when we have specific critical conversation about certain things, we have to make sure we're at a certain distance or they're going to hit you with it,” says Fields.

    Bonobo banter.

    Kanzi (left) and his half-sister Panbanisha (right) use lexigrams to communicate with handler Liz Pugh.


    In demonstrations, Kanzi and Panbanisha easily identify dozens of words on their lexigram boards. Panbanisha also goes for a walk outside on a leash in an enclosed area and, with the lexigram board, tells her handler that she wants to make a campfire, which she has done many times before. Panbanisha gathers sticks, and when handed matches, successfully lights a fire. She then asks for marshmallows, which her handler gives her on a stick, and she roasts them.

    Psychologist David Premack, once a leader in the ape language research field and now a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has reviewed the few published studies with Kanzi and remains underwhelmed. “It all can be boiled down to next to nothing,” says Premack, reflecting the reaction of many critics. “What looks complicated is not.”

    Premack contends that apes do not have anything approaching human language. Only humans can construct infinitely long sentences that embed ideas into ideas, a process called recursion. As he explained in an article that compared human and animal cognition in the 28 August 2007 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “One can talk of ‘Ida the red-haired women who left her hat in the theater, the old one that burned down, because arguing with Henry, her husband of forty years, who still has all his hair, wears a maroon smoking jacket in the evenings and is as broke as ever, had rattled her.’” What's more, there is scant evidence that apes teach, he notes, and that is critical to human children learning vocabulary. And apes like Washoe and Koko that learned sign language have severe limitations because they do not have the necessary facial control used for critical functions such as tone and grammar.

    Shumaker, who moved to the trust from the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., groans at these distinctions. The field, or at least what is left of it, has matured, says Shumaker, and he wants to move past the bad old days. “What's the next step?” he asks. “Do we get out of this mode of saying, ‘Are apes capable of language or not,’ and having these big fiery debates about it? I hope so. I don't think it's interesting. I don't really think it's productive. What I would much rather do is focus on the capabilities [apes] have. Are we going to argue forever about the word language? Let's get on with it. Let's really study what's going on mentally for these guys.”

    Shumaker readily acknowledges that neither the orangutans nor the bonobos have human language skills but says ape language research ultimately opens a window into their minds. “I think language allows us to do things that you simply could not do otherwise and allows us to ask and answer questions that you could not approach with an ape in any other circumstance,” he said. “It has tremendous value. Language is a great platform for exploring greater cognitive skills.”

    Comparative psychologist Benjamin Beck, another National Zoo veteran who now heads the trust's conservation efforts with wild apes, stresses that ape language research remains an important field that attracts broad interest. The fact that so few investigators still do it, he says, simply reflects that it's a costly, long-term endeavor. “Most academic organizations are unwilling to take on the ethical and financial commitment of supporting apes for 40 or more years of their life span,” says Beck. But the trust is determined to keep the field alive. Adds Shumaker, “The fact that we're still here speaks to its vitality.”

    Then again, the trust has had to reassess its original vision since Science's March 2008 visit. Following the flood that June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that the trust could not safely expand its orangutan facility as planned, and Shumaker is now in final negotiations to move with those animals to a zoo in 2013. The trust says it will continue to conduct bonobo language research, but the flood sends a loud message: The ape language research field is not built on the firmest of grounds.

  17. Chimpanzee Research Today

    The Inner Workings of the Chimpanzee Brain

    1. Jon Cohen

    Using a noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging scanner, investigators have launched a pathbreaking cerebral journey to probe everything from cognition to disease.

    Brain Pan.

    MRIs of chimp (left) and human heads reveal dramatic differences and similarities.



    The Siemens Trio 3 Tesla in the imaging center at Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University is a noisy beast of a machine. It weighs in at 13 tons, much of which is an electromagnet that pulses radio frequencies to make protons in water molecules resonate. Lying inside the missilelike MRI tube this morning while foghornlike blasts of sound fill the room is a 26-year-old female chimpanzee named Melinda. The 74-kilogram, hairy hulk rests on a gurney, with a heating pad over her chest and an intubation tube delivering a sedative gas. The only thing visible is the top of her skull, which has been outfitted with a helmet called a “head coil” that transmits and receives the radio frequencies. A veterinarian, wearing a face mask, gloves, and surgical scrubs, stares at a machine with LED numbers that chart Melinda's vitals.

    This bizarre scene might look like something out of a sci-fi horror flick, but as Yerkes neuroanatomist Todd Preuss emphasizes, appearances can be deceptive—especially in the emotionally freighted arena of biomedical research with chimpanzees. The MRI emits no radiation and is something of a gentle giant, affording researchers a unique view into the hidden architecture of the body's soft tissues without causing harm. “This is completely noninvasive,” says Preuss. “It's the kind of procedure we'd do with a human.”

    It's November 2008, and Melinda is the 29th chimpanzee that Preuss and anthropologist James Rilling of Emory have scanned as part of a study that will examine the aging of their brains in relationship to humans, including people with Alzheimer's, a disease that does not appear to afflict chimps. “No one has ever compared human brain aging with brain aging in our closet living relative to identify what's really distinctive about humans,” says Rilling. Because Melinda and the other chimps in the study have lived at Yerkes for most, if not all, of their lives, the researchers also have extensive behavioral and cognitive data from the animals that they hope to link to their structural and functional MRI findings. “They are excellent researchers, and the work they're doing is unique,” says neurobiologist Pasko Rakic of Yale University. “Unfortunately, we don't know much of anything about the differences that emerged in the cerebral cortex during the last stages of primate evolution.”

    Today, they plan to do what is called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which reveals the direction that water molecules move, allowing the researchers to infer the location of fiber tracts in the white matter that carry signals from one place to another. Traditional MRI has nowhere near the resolution of DTI, nor does it show the direction of the pathways. A study they published in the April 2008 issue of Nature Neuroscience shows the power of the technique. Rilling, Preuss, and colleagues scanned brains to analyze the white matter fiber tract called the arcuate fasciculus, which connects two prominent language areas of the human brain, Wernicke's and Broca's. A comparative DTI revealed that humans have a pronounced projection of axons off the arcuate fasciculus that was much smaller in chimps and absent in monkeys. The researchers suspect that this projection plays a key role in our unique ability to use language.

    Dead or alive.

    Todd Preuss does brain scans of living animals and autopsied ones.


    Before DTI starts, they scan Melinda's head for known landmarks. “You can see just how small the chimpanzee brain is,” says Preuss, pointing to a computer monitor that shows black-and-white, x-ray–like images. “The big gray thing to the left is the tongue, and their tongues are bigger than their brains.” Another odd site in the image turns out to be a vitamin E capsule taped to the left side of her head: Unlike most human brains, which typically have asymmetrical hemispheres, left and right look the same in a chimp, so the researchers need the capsule to orient themselves. Once they know where they are, DTI begins its foghorn “HO-OWs” and scans Melinda's brain in 60 different directions at once; computer software will later crunch those scans into a composite image. “You don't really see much until you average them out,” says Preuss.

    A key question they want to address is whether white matter declines with age in chimps, as it appears to do in humans. They also want to use these data to tackle a more fundamental problem: The components of the chimp brain remain hazy, so they want to construct an atlas of all its white matter pathways, which can then be compared with human pathways to help clarify what makes our brains tick. “If you look in anatomy textbooks, they show you white matter tracts that are mostly inferred from monkeys,” says Rilling. “We know next to nothing about chimps.”

    Both Rilling and Preuss lament that biomedical research with chimpanzees is moving toward extinction, and they staunchly defend the ethics and significance of their work. Says Rilling: “The biggest and most important differences in neurobiology between humans and other species are going to come down to how the brain is wired and connectivity.”

  18. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Getting Intimate With the Chimp Mind, Japanese Style

    1. Jon Cohen

    At Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, researchers conduct cognitive experiments with 14 animals that are taking the field to new heights.

    High living.

    PRI's outdoor facility includes a 5-story climbing tower that offers a respite from the mental gymnastics inside the labs.


    INUYAMA, JAPAN—Located between Tokyo and Kyoto, this quaint town has attracted people from all over the country for more than 50 years to visit the Japan Monkey Centre, a mix of a zoo and a cheesy amusement park that features 650 primates from more than 70 species and a magic carpet ride. But just down the hill from the monkey park, 14 chimpanzees live far from the public eye—although they have grabbed the attention of scientists worldwide. The chimpanzees are research subjects at the Primate Research Institute (PRI), part of Kyoto University, and since 1978, Director Tetsuro Matsuzawa and his 13 co-workers have conducted cognitive studies here that have stretched human minds about the capabilities of our closest animal relatives.

    Matsuzawa stands on a high balcony of PRI's research annex and looks down at the chimpanzees ambling about a monumental, tangled, five-story climbing tower. “Look at that!” Matsuzawa says, as a chimp tightropes between two portions of the tower's top. It is an astonishing sight. Yet even more impressive is what goes on inside the research annex.

    A series of catwalks connects the outside enclosure to laboratory rooms inside the research annex, and each weekday morning, chimps amble through an enclosed metal catwalk to take part in a variety of experiments. The chimps enter a Plexiglas-walled booth within each room. Holes in the Plexiglas enable them to reach the touch-screen computers used in experiments. This morning, a chimpanzee named Ai and her son Ayumu enter the same room, and each begins tests on different computer screens.

    The first experiment has received international media attention: Both mother and son have learned to recognize Arabic numerals in sequence and can remember their order even when the numbers are obscured milliseconds after they flash on the screen. When humans try the same task, we fail miserably. “This experiment clearly shows in this one cognitive domain, chimpanzees are superior to humans,” says Matsuzawa. “No one can deny it; it's not a trick. We can repeat our findings in front of you. The highest standards of science are here. This is not ape-language research.”

    In a newer study, Matsuzawa and his team of graduate and postdoctoral students use a staple in experimental psychology known as the “Stroop task.” The chimps have learned to touch a color that corresponds with specific Kanji symbols; the Stroop test will assess whether they have simply mastered the association of symbol to color or if they understand the word's meaning. The test relies on the fact that if the word for the color blue is written in red it takes longer for humans to read than if blue is written in blue. The computer tracks their success, and the researchers also videotape each chimp individually.

    When the chimps are done, Matsuzawa dons what looks like a race-car driver's suit over his clothes, puts gloves on his hands, and enters the booth. Ayumu, a randy 8-year-old, obeys Matsuzawa's commands as he checks his teeth and weighs him, although he play-fights a little too hard at one point and receives a stern reprimand. Ai receives the same checkup, and when she urinates on the floor, Matsuzawa wipes it up with a paper towel so they can later extract hormone levels and assess whether ovulation affects her cognitive performance. “For 30 years, I've been in the same room with chimpanzees, and I still have all 10 of my fingers,” boasts Matsuzawa.

    Touching relationship.

    Matsuzawa and team have taught Ayumu (left) and his mother, Ai (right), to identify numbers in order.


    The intimate relationship that Matsuzawa and his team have with their chimps is a key feature of PRI. Few of the researchers actually handle the chimps the way he does, but they share a philosophy that defines the institute. “The most important part of our research here is the chimpanzees are our partners,” says Masayuki Tanaka, who did his graduate work at PRI and has remained there for 10 years studying perception. As Tanaka conducts a touch-screen experiment with Pan and her daughter Pal that gauges their ability to connect symbols to photographs, he emphasizes that both crawled through the catwalk and came to his lab by their own volition. “All we can do is call their names,” he says. “Everything is voluntary.”

    Of course, the chimpanzees depend on the researchers for their food, and the experiments all involve treats. “It gives us so much power over them,” acknowledges Laura Martinez, a French-Mexican graduate student who came here 3 years ago to study the ability of chimpanzees to connect voices to faces. Martinez, who before coming to PRI did a census study of wild chimps in Guinea and Mali, says people who study captive chimps must also confront whether their relationships with the animals affect their findings. “You love them as much as you love your family—and you spend more time with them than you do with your family—so finally how objective can you be?” she asks.

    Martinez, who ultimately wants to return to Africa to do chimpanzee conservation and sees a Ph.D. as a means to that end, is not simply criticizing her colleagues. She, too, has been swept away by her chimps. “Every morning, I wake up and all I'll want to do is come see these chimps,” says Martinez. She is especially fascinated by Pan, the only chimpanzee in the world, says Martinez, that so far has demonstrated an ability to match voice to face. “I really wonder what she sees in me,” Martinez says. “Does she realize how close I am to her species the way I see how close she is to mine?”

    No studies, of course, can answer that question. But given the unusual glimpses into the chimp mind that have already come out of the innovative experiments at PRI, is it so far-fetched that an investigator would think to ask?

  19. Chimpanzee Research Today

    Cutting to the Bone Of Human Origins

    1. Jon Cohen

    Computed tomography scans of a large collection of skeletons from closely monitored captive chimpanzees will soon become part of the growing "anthropogeny" database at the University of California, San Diego.

    Grateful dead.

    Froehle (center), Crittenden, and Gagneux (top) were thrilled that CARTA inherited bones and will post images like this skull online.


    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Over the past 2 years, the Primate Foundation of Arizona has sent the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), 51 of its chimpanzees. UCSD has no housing for chimpanzees or any other primates on campus. But this group did not require special caging or experienced animal handlers: They were dead.

    The meticulously cleaned and preserved chimpanzee skeletons, each individual kept in a separate acid-free box, is a treasure trove for researchers, who can also access the medical records and observation logs of the animals, as well as stored serum samples. And in conjunction with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies across the street, UCSD is making the collection a centerpiece of its recently launched Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA), which is now doing computed tomography scans of the bones and plans to make the digitized images available on the Internet. “The collection is really extraordinary,” says Alyssa Crittenden, a postdoc in biological anthropology who is helping with the project. “We're so privileged and thankful to have it.”

    The atmosphere in the former lab room that holds the bones is more arty, Day of the Dead, than macabre. As part of the digitization project, Crittenden and biological anthropology grad student Andrew Froehle have spread out individual skeletons on tabletops. Froehle is wrapping each bone in plastic bubble wrap, which does not show up on the MRI and protects the skeletons during the scans. The walls feature photos of a few of the chimps now on the tables or inside the stacks of yellow boxes, as well as old chimp-centric poster art, all gifts from Primate Foundation of Arizona Director Jo Fritz, who once bred the animals for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (they died from natural causes) but is closing up shop because funding ran out.

    UCSD evolutionary biologist Pascal Gagneux, the associate director of CARTA, holds up the skull of a 2-month-old chimpanzee and points to the nearly fused sutures that separate its plates. “If you have to do an autopsy on a neonate chimp, you need a hacksaw,” says Gagneux, who previously studied wild chimps in the Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire and now does lab studies of chimpanzee reproduction. “On a human neonate skull, you can just peel it open.” The earlier fusion of the chimp skull reflects an important biological difference between us and them: Our brains are less developed at birth and complete their growth much later, which means human children have a longer period of time in which to wire their brains, possibly explaining why we have such unusually sophisticated social skills.

    It's questions like these that CARTA hopes to bring into sharper focus. Spear-headed by UCSD glycobiologist and evolutionary biologist Ajit Varki, UCSD anthropologist Margaret Schoeninger, and Salk neurogeneticist Fred Gage, CARTA evolved from a project that since 1998 has gathered together the world's leading chimpanzee researchers with colleagues from diverse disciplines who study human origins (the meaning of “anthropogeny”). These CARTA “members,” who hold public talks when they come to town for symposia several times each year, contribute to a Museum of Comparative Anthropogeny that has the ambitious aim of cataloging every difference between humans and other great apes; to date, they have compiled more than 500 entries, fewer than 10% of which are anatomical. “CARTA has snowballed into a productive and incredibly interdisciplinary group of scientists with a shared interest in human origins,” says Gagneux. “We're far from reciprocal fluency in each other's scientific languages, but all sides are making admirable efforts at translating.” CARTA also offers graduate-level classes and hopes to launch a journal, Anthropogeny.

    The birth of CARTA, as Varki stresses, illustrates that two of the oldest questions about humans—where do we come from and how did we get here—“have become tractable issues for scientific inquiries.” The fledging center also demonstrates that an academic institution doesn't need living chimpanzees to become a locus to advance what science knows about them.

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