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Research News: Mammal forerunner that reproduced like a reptile sheds light on brain evolution

Research News: Getting to the roots of our ancient cousins' diet

Research News: Why leaf-eating Asian monkeys do not have a sweet tooth

Compared with the rest of the animal kingdom, mammals have the biggest brains and produce some of the smallest litters of offspring. A newly described fossil of an extinct mammal relative -- and her 38 babies -- is among the best evidence that a key development in the evolution of mammals was trading brood power for brain power.

The find is among the rarest of the rare because it contains the only known fossils of babies from any mammal precursor, said researchers from The University of Texas at Austin who discovered and studied the fossilized family. But the presence of so many babies -- more than twice the average litter size of any living mammal -- revealed that it reproduced in a manner akin to reptiles. Researchers think the babies were probably developing inside eggs or had just recently hatched when they died.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin found a fossil of an extinct mammal relative with a clutch of 38 babies that were near miniatures of their mother.
Credit: Eva Hoffman / The University of Texas at Austin
Posted: 2018-09-12
 
Since the discovery of the fossil remains of Australopithecus africanus from Taung nearly a century ago, and subsequent discoveries of Paranthropus robustus, there have been disagreements about the diets of these two South African hominin species. By analyzing the splay and orientation of fossil hominin tooth roots, researchers of the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, the University of Chile and the University of Oxford now suggest that Paranthropus robustus had a unique way of chewing food not seen in other hominins.
Paranthropus robustus fossil from South Africa SK 46 (discovered 1936, estimated age 1.9-1.5 million years) and the virtually reconstructed first upper molar used in the analyses.
Credit: Kornelius Kupczik, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Posted: 2018-09-12
 
Asian colobine monkeys are unable to taste natural sugars, and in fact have a generally poor sense of taste. This is according to research led by Emiko Nishi of the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan. Nishi and her colleagues found that the receptors on the tongues of colobine monkeys do not function in the same way as for fruit-eating monkeys, who are sensitive to sweet tastes. The study is published in the Springer Nature branded journal Primates, which is the official journal of the Japan Monkey Centre.

In general, mammals are able to taste sugary flavours thanks to the sweet taste receptor gene TAS1R2/TAS1R3 and related taste buds on the tongue. In a previous study, the same group of researchers showed that colobine monkeys do not pick up bitter tastes. Nishi and her colleagues conducted a series of laboratory and genetic tests to investigate these protein expressing cells reconstructed from leaf-eating Javan lutung monkeys 

This is a monkey feeding.
Credit: Copyright Yamato Tsuji
Posted: 2018-09-12
 
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