Discovered: A rare photo of the world's most endangered gorilla, turning white fat into brown fat, sperm don't swim and numbers won't save your species from extinction.
- Here's a photo of the world's rarest gorilla. It's a bit blurry because it was taken from footage. But, those black fuzzy shapes are of the Cross River gorilla, of which there are only 250 in the entire world. Chances are you have more Facebook friends than that. Researcher Christopher Jameson gives an idea of how exciting this sighting is. "The video represents the best images to date of Cross River gorillas, normally shy animals that flee at the slightest hint of human presence. The footage provides us with our first tantalizing glimpses of Cross River gorillas behaving normally in their environment. A person can study these animals for years and never even catch a glimpse of the gorillas, much less see anything like this," he explains. As these guys are severely endangered, the photo evidence not only serves as a rare thing to show off to friends, it also might help save the species. "Spectacular footage such as this, which we've never had before for Cross River gorillas, is absolutely vital to inspire local people, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, and the global community to care about and to save this unique subspecies," explains researcher Dr. James Deutsch. It's still okay to get all giddy, but channel that giddy to help these almost extinct creatures. [Wildlife Conservation Society]
- Turning bad white fat into the good brown kind. Brown fat is the awesomest kind of fat to have, as it burns calories. It's like a miracle fat that science made up to trick us into thinking we could get skinny just by having fat. Considering all the exciting properties of this darker fat, science has figured a way to turn white fat -- the lazy, good for nothing kind that just make us fat -- into our beloved brown fat. "Although more work is needed, we can add specific aspects of retinoid metabolism to those factors that appear involved in determining white versus brown fat," explains researcher Jorge Plutzky. Ignoring that "more work is needed" part, this is excellent news, as this has potential for our obese nation. "Brown fat, and mechanisms that might allow white fat to take on brown fat characteristics, has been receiving increasing attention as a possible way to treat obesity and its complications," he continues. [Brigham and Women's Hospital]
- Sperm don't swim much, actually. Turns out, it's less athletic than that. It's more of a drunken crawl thing. To get to the egg, for most of the time, sperm crawl against the channel walls, only swimming around corners. "When the channel turns sharply, cells leave the corner, continuing ahead until hitting the opposite wall of the channel, with a distribution of departure angles, the latter being modulated by fluid viscosity," explains the research. This leads to a lot of apparently hilarious collisions. "I couldn't resist a laugh the first time I saw sperm cells persistently swerving on tight turns and crashing head-on into the opposite wall of a micro-channel," said Dr Petr Denissenko. Like we said, it's not so heroic. [University of Warwick]
- Numbers don't matter when it comes to extinction. Okay, for those 250 remaining Cross River gorilla, numbers do matter. They need more. But, in general, having more of a species does not protect it from eminent doom. "It turns out that a lot of extinction events are idiosyncratic; there are a specific set of circumstances that come together and dictate whether something goes or doesn't," explains researcher Steven Holland. "This study shows that extinction is much more complicated than generally realized," he continues. [University of Georgia]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.