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Fossil Primate Ardipithecus Ramidus Described (Finally) 369

Omomyid writes "I wasn't actually aware that Dr. Tim White of UC Berkeley had been 'sitting' on A. ramidus but apparently he has (I remember the original flurry of interest back in the '90s when it was announced), but now Dr. White and others have assembled a nearly complete skeleton of the 4.4mya specimen and the descriptions being carried by the NY Times and the AP are intriguing. Ramidus is clearly differentiated from the other Great Apes and also more primitive than A. afarensis (Lucy), providing a nice linkage backwards to the last shared ancestor between humans and chimpanzees. According to the NY Times, a whole passel of papers will be published in tomorrow's Science magazine describing A. ramidus." Update — 10/01 at 22:05 GMT by SS: Reader John Hawks provided a link to his detailed blog post about Ardipithecus, which contains a ton of additional details not covered in the above articles.
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Fossil Primate Ardipithecus Ramidus Described (Finally)

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  • by Eevee ( 535658 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @03:57PM (#29610085)
    Why rush? After 4.4 million years, what's a decade or two?
  • Re:Science (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:02PM (#29610135)

    What's your point, exactly? The entire gist of this is that humans and monkeys/apes come from some common ancestor somewhere down the line, that's not a new idea.

  • Re:Science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by StrategicIrony ( 1183007 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:02PM (#29610151)

    srsly? :-o

    Somehow the goofiness of vestigial things we have like tailbones and the appendix may lead one to believe that we're very unlikely to be "another race". Nobody has ever claimed (with any knowledge) that we descended directly from chimps, but merely that we likely have a common ancestor.

    The simple fact that by sheer statistical analysis of decoded DNA, we're closest to chimps makes that a pretty logical starting point, don't you think?

    We could start with snails and work backwards, but that seems a tad silly, eh?


  • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu ( 126918 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:10PM (#29610241)

    why is it so interesting to study where humans have come from and why exactly monkeys? Yeah they maybe look the most of us from all the animals, but intelligently and in other ways they're totally different.

    This is exactly what's mentioned in one of the articles: "Ardi has many traits that do not appear in modern-day African apes, leading to the conclusion that the apes evolved extensively since we shared that last common ancestor."

    It makes sense, if we evolved from the common ancestor in six million years, it's only reasonable to assume monkeys and apes also evolved. Think of the common ancestor not as an ape, but something that's as different from modern apes as it's different from humans.

  • by RelliK ( 4466 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:23PM (#29610411)

    If a genetically-modified human were cloned today, would that clone be outside common ancestry?


    Would it be designed?

    not any more than a naturally occurring sequence of mutations

    Do we know this hasn't happened in the distant past?

    The burden of proof is on you to show that it did.

  • Re:It bothers me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:29PM (#29610471)

    The long delay can be attributed to the scientist actually doing his job. Catalog, research verify, then publish. Its the difference between reactionary pseudo science and actual work that produces results.

  • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @04:55PM (#29610825) Journal

    How could you NOT be interested in knowing where humans came from?

    A religious upbringing, a lack of imagination, and a poor understanding of why abstract scientific endevours can be of practical use to mankind all help. That and having your head firmly planted up your posterior.

  • Re:Science (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:00PM (#29610879)

    I think God made both the apes and the humans...I like to call him the life hacker...and by definition its no wonder humans, apes and even pigs and frogs are similar in some of their DNA structures to humans.

    God is a smart enough hacker to put in some self modifying code to keep it interesting and to keep his creations viable as things change in the environment, evolution is critical to survival, I just don't believe it was to the extent that science is trying to prove that it is.

    In that case, which hacker made "God"? He had to be totally UBER to be able to create something that divinely awesome. And then if you REALLY want to make your mind spin; who is the hacker that made the hacker that made God? Man this sounds like an infinitely recursive loop.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:00PM (#29610883) seems rather odd to me that we could've had a significant population of ancestors that failed to leave a fossil record.

    That isn't at difficult to explain. The problem lies in the assumption that evolution is continuous, steady change over time and that fossilization events are spread evenly throughout history. In reality, neither of those is true. Sudden changes in environment the rate of evolution to increase as ecological niches are created and destroyed. Likewise, fossilization events are rare and not spaced evenly throughout history. All it requires to create a seamingly large gap in the fossil record is for there to be a dearth of fossilization events while at the same time a sudden change in environment.

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:13PM (#29611053) Homepage Journal
    Not all birthers or deathers are white people.
  • Mod Parent Up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by copponex ( 13876 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:24PM (#29611187) Homepage

    The unifying characteristic of birthers and deathers is hopeless credulity.

    Whatever the man on the Fox channel says becomes their reality. And he's convinced them someone else is forming a cult of personality. The parade of irony continues.

  • by TheCrayfish ( 73892 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:27PM (#29611245) Homepage
    And they're the complementary, inverse set to the group of people who worked so hard and so fervently to prove the George Bush could not possibly have won the 2004 election.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @05:35PM (#29611317) Journal

    No they're not, Captain Clueless. The two (or three, as it were) have nothing to do with each other. Only the jackass who modded you "insightful" is more clueless.

    All three are absolutely ridiculous assertions that have been debunked six ways from Sunday. Believing that death panels will kill your granny, or that the President of the United States was born in Kenya, are as ludicrous as believing the Earth is flat, or that we never landed on the moon.

  • by Bowling Moses ( 591924 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:22PM (#29611823) Journal
    "If a genetically-modified human were cloned today, would that clone be outside common ancestry?"

    There are limits to what we know how to do. We've figured out how to do mammalian cloning (with some caveats and high inefficiency; Dolly the sheep for example). We could, if we expended sufficient effort, take chromosomes from different people and probably produce a viable clone from that, but the ancestry could be traced: It wouldn't be mom and pop, but mom(s) and dad(s). We could get a bit more exotic than that, by swapping out say the human citrate synthase gene and replacing it with one from a different species, so the resulting organism's heritage would be mom(s)+dad(s)+other species contributor. Venturing out more into science fiction than actual genetics it might be possible to construct an artificial genome that would produce something that for all intensive purposes is a fully functional and viable human, yet have lower sequence identity to humans than chimps do (~98%) by removing or modifying endogenous retroviral sequences, mucking about with introns, and introduction of alternative codons in protein coding regions or even some swapping of whole genes with closely related species. The more changes the more of a bitch it will be to accomplish but is not totally beyond the realm of what is at least conceivable, if not possible quite just yet. Anyway the resulting artificial human genome could have low sequence identity with any other human genome yet could still be identifiably human as in chromosome 1 has genes x,y,z arranged this way or minimally expressed in a way that is the same spatial and temporal pattern in naturally occurring humans. It wouldn't fit in with common ancestry aside from being able to trace the bits and pieces. So the short of it would be that yes a constructed human genome could violate common ancestry to various degrees. Would it be human, well, people could certainly argue over that, even if the resulting organism could pass as a human unless you had your DNA sequencer handy.

    "Would it be designed?"

    Trivially, yes, in that we have a reason (um, presumably), a method, and a goal, but the more exotic the human-like genome the more we'd turn to random mutation and artificial selection to get our artificial human genome to function. That's what we do now for vastly simpler problems.

    "Do we know this hasn't happened in the distant past?"

    The scenario above for making our more outlandish artificial human genome has us taking a starting point (human genome), modify individual nucleotides to produce neutral or highly conservative mutations, we remove (or add) noncoding elements that also have no or negligible effect, or we swap out human gene X for, say, gorilla gene X (and then test and if necessary modify to make it work). Changes like that are easily detectable by comparing genome sequences, and are comparable to swapping, adding, and subtracting parts from a golf cart, a go cart, and a 57 Chevy to make a vehicle of some sort. However if someone(s) at some time(s) muddled with DNA(s) for some reason(s), there is no evidence that this has occurred. We see no plants with mitochondria that are clearly more related to those from a wolf than those from a rose, no apes with highly modified feather genes used to produce hair, and no bacteria sporting TCA pathways that were clearly dropped in from fish. Instead we see a pattern of nested hierarchy indicative of common descent. The mouse gene for citrate synthase is more closely related to rat citrate synthase than it is to human citrate synthase, those in turn are much more closely related to turkey citrate synthase than one from bacteria. You can do this with any gene you like and you will observe a common pattern of nested hierarchies, which is required for evolution and common descent to be true. The same will go for gene expression patterns, developmental patterns, etc. Can we unambiguously state that no designer fiddled about even though there's no evidence in support of the idea? No, but neither can we unambiguously state we're not brains floating in jars hooked up to an artificial reality. Both ideas are similarly useless to science.
  • by Knara ( 9377 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @06:46PM (#29611993)

    I was hoping to hear an answer on more of a philosophy or philosophy of science level, rather than on Judge Judy fan level.

    Your query was on the "how do we know that intangible pink unicorns don't run the universe?" level. Unless there's evidence that would indicate such a thing happened, it's not worth thinking about in a *scientific* way.

    If you wanna think about it while toking up, be my guest.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:39PM (#29612447) Journal

    As Clinton proved, a skillful president can cut costs at the same time as they increase services, by trimming the bureaucratic fat. Our health care system is enormously inefficient. We spend twice as much, as a percentage of GDP, as the next most expensive health care system, for results that would make a third world country blush. Surely there are things we can do to bring our standard of care up to the level provided by Europe, while still cutting costs down to the level of same.

    But this does not address the major fallacy of your argument.You seem to be assuming that we are not rationing care now. Insurance companies are for profit businesses, and they ration care as much as they possibly can. And if you do not have health care, you are effectively rationed to zero.

    You are also assuming that we would do away with private health care, that someone unable to receive needed care through a government program would be unable to find it in the private sector. I really don't see that happening. So what you are really claiming in your argument is that some percentage of people who are currently not receiving health care, and who would then enter a government program, would still be in the same boat they are now, unable to receive needed care. And? So what? No system is perfect.

    However, this is not the real argument as presented by deathers. There was a sensible provision in one version of one bill to provide end of life counseling, and to track adherence to the patients stated end of life plan. Meaning, if the patient says, "Give me everything you've got!" the system would track whether that desire was followed, the same as if the person said, "pull the plug." Certain vocal special interest groups seized on this as proof that Obama wanted to kill your grandmother. This is the real origin of the death panel rumor.

  • by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @07:41PM (#29612467) Homepage Journal

    Please provide some sort of evidence to back up your wild assertion, a photo of a minority at a teabag party or town-hall rally clearly holding a birther/deather poster would do the trick.

    I don't know about the "birther" thing. I think these fringe people are being focused on because it's easy to try to claim they represent a much larger portion of people than they really do, and the entire issue creates a distraction from other real issues that people should be talking about.

    There is no such thing as a "teabag party" that I've heard of, although I have heard many of the big-government statists attempting to dismiss and denigrate any opposition to the current and proposed Washington policies by either using sexual innuendo ("tea-bagging") or simply implying (oops - more than just implying it now) they are in opposition because of the President's race. That being the case, it's impossible to provide the evidence you are looking for.

    There are, however, plenty of Americans of every race that have been awakened to the goings-on in the US government and joining in opposing them (there are a few examples here []), but of course many blacks are content that there is a nice, friendly black face in the White House that says all the right things, and don't try to look behind the scenes at what is going and and the people that really stand to gain from the massive debt and spending.

    But, of course, dismissing any opposition as racist and extremist is convenient since it absolves you of any responsibility for addressing the real issues. One would think that a country $12 trillion in debt, with trillions more in current unfunded liabilities, and a planned annual deficit of another $1 trillion a year over the next 10 years, would be looking at ways to get their financial house in order, rather than looking at new ways of spending money and creating more liabilities that they have no plan for funding.

    But, go ahead and dismiss all this as racist tea-bagging. Now that it's not W running the show, I guess is okay that the wars (and funding for them) are continuing, that the illegal wiretapping is being even more vociferously defended, that federal agents can write their own warrants and continue to do so, and the widening income gap will continue to widen as the rich are bailed out and the middle class is left to pick up the tab.

  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @09:23PM (#29613081) Homepage Journal

    There are, however, plenty of Americans of every race that have been awakened to the goings-on in the US government and joining in opposing them [...] But, go ahead and dismiss all this as racist tea-bagging. Now that it's not W running the show, I guess is okay that the wars (and funding for them) are continuing, that the illegal wiretapping is being even more vociferously defended, that federal agents can write their own warrants and continue to do so, and the widening income gap will continue to widen as the rich are bailed out and the middle class is left to pick up the tab.

    All of a sudden, they're awakened to those issues! Funny how all those same goings ons were fine by them when there wasn't a black man in the white house.

    It is a dam shame that the new boss is the same as the old boss, but it's a really HUGE coincidence that the same policies suddenly frighten some that didn't mind them before, and that the new boss is different in one very visible way. Huge coincidence.

  • Re:Communist?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @10:16PM (#29613305) Homepage Journal

    I thought he was socialist!

    Or maybe that was yesterday...

    He socialist communist nazi antichrist fascist muslim black-supremacist [insert bad thing here], and NO ONE who opposes him is racist. Not. One.

  • Re:Science (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Thursday October 01, 2009 @11:35PM (#29613693) Homepage

    Humans have: [...] genus Homo.

    Chimps, Bonobos, and Bili apes have: [...] genus Pan.

    If we'd applied the same criteria to these groups that we apply to other mammals, there actually wouldn't be two genuses here, there'd be one.

  • The problem with framing it as "killing granny" is it has been shown time and time again that often truly outrageous amounts of money are spent on those elderly who are in already bad shape, all to gain maybe another year. While you might think it is fine to spend half a million to let grandma go from 90 to 91 the simple fact is we fall apart when we get really old. That isn't cruelty, that is just part of being human. We get old, our organs begin to fail, we fall apart.

    The problem we face now that we frankly have never really had to face before in history is this-with modern technology you can keep someone going past when their body would have conked out, but at often a truly insane cost. So we as a people need to decide if things like aggressive cancer treatments for someone who is pushing 90 is really where we should be spending our limited resources. That isn't being cruel, or 'killing granny" which BTW happens everyday to those a lot younger than granny who don't have health insurance and literally 'can't afford to live', this is just common sense.

    My mom spent nearly 40 years as a nurse and some of the horror stories of families who simply refused to face reality and let a loved one go even though they were well past the point of hope would break your heart and sometimes sicken your stomach. Ones like the 32 year old girl whose family demanded aggressive treatment for their daughter after her head hit a concrete divider at 65MPH+. My mom had to put towels around that poor woman's head because her brains were coming out of her ears, yet thanks to "modern technology" they kept her alive like that for nearly a month before her body finally followed her brain and died. I can't tell you how much that month cost, but I'm sure it was truly staggering. These are things that we as a people are gonna have to sit down and talk about, because modern tech can keep a human body going for a lot longer than nature would allow, and just because we can do so doesn't always mean we should do so, especially when there is absolutely no hope like in that girl's case.

    So I honestly think all the hysteria and politics are getting in the way of an important conversation we as a people are long overdue in having. While I have no problem in helping pay for cancer treatment for some little girl or father of two with decades of life yet to live if they can be saved, spending crazy amounts of money on somebody pushing 90 or on those that are just so horribly mangled or messed up that short of act of God have no chance whatsoever seems like an obscene waste of resources that could better be spent on those that have a fighting chance. We have limited resources and despite our technology we just can't save everybody, and unfortunately our technology can give the appearance of hope where there is truly none to be had. We as a nation need to sit down and decide where these limited resources are spent. Again this isn't some evil plot to kill granny, this is just common sense.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!