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TS Picks: February 29, 2016

Reintroduced apes facing challenges; Zika conspiracy theories sow confusion; UK researchers nervous about new anti-lobbying law

Feb 29, 2016
Bob Grant

An orangutan in SumatraWIKIMEDIA, TBACHNER

Selections from The Scientist’s reading list:
 

  • Are the best efforts of conservationists and scientists wreaking havoc in the jungles of Borneo? That’s the question Science’s Virginia Morell poses in a piece about primatologists who reintroduced dozens of orangutans into the South East Asian country’s jungles in the 1970s and 80s. This was decades before genetic investigations had determined that Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are separate species that include about three distinct subspecies. She cites a recent study of orangutan populations that include the reintroduced apes and their descendents as showing mixed results: some reintroduced apes that were of a different subspecies than the Bornean group to which they assimilated were reproducing successfully, making scores of healthy hybrid offspring; but another female orangutan who was introduced into a foreign subspecies was struggling to reproduce and her offspring were unhealthy. The problem could be more widespread as researchers have sought to bolster wild populations of imperiled species without first conducting rigorous studies of population genetics.
     
  • There are many unknowns when it comes to tracing the march of Zika through Latin America and the effects it is having on those infected. As researchers get a handle on how Zika works and how it might be stopped, Zika conspiracy theories abound: depending on which fringe group you listen to, the disease is caused by vaccines, pesticides, Monsanto, or genetically modified (GM) mosquitos. None of these appear to be true, and The New Yorker set the record straight—particularly regarding the GM-mosquito-theory—last week (February 25). “This is a particularly dangerous misapprehension, because, for now, controlling mosquitoes may be the only way we can hope to control Zika,” wrote Michael Specter.
     
  • Scientists in the United Kingdom are nervous about a new anti-lobbying rule that will go into effect in May. The ban on using public funds for political lobbying is meant to curb influence in Parliament. But recipients of government research funding are afraid that it may limit their ability to suggest changes in national policy or legislation from a scientific perspective. “Major UK research funders say that they do not know whether they will have to implement the rule,” according to Nature. If they do, the move could have a potentially chilling effect on UK scientists.

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