Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Cercopithecinae


For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.

Concepts: Language, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Monkey, Japanese Macaque, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae


A new partial cranium (UW 88-886) of the Plio-Pleistocene baboon Papio angusticeps from Malapa is identified, described and discussed. UW 88-886 represents the only non-hominin primate yet recovered from Malapa and is important both in the context of baboon evolution as well as South African hominin site biochronology. The new specimen may represent the first appearance of modern baboon anatomy and coincides almost perfectly with molecular divergence date estimates for the origin of the modern P. hamadryas radiation. The fact that the Malapa specimen is dated between ~2.026-2.36 million years ago (Ma) also has implications for the biochronology of other South African Plio-Pleistocene sites where P. angusticeps is found.

Concepts: Primate, Anatomy, Drill, Old World monkey, Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae


It is sometimes necessary for nonhuman primates to be restrained during biomedical and psychosocial research. Such restraint is often accomplished using a “primate chair.” This article details a method for training adult rhesus macaques to cooperate with a chair restraint procedure using positive and negative reinforcement. Successful training was accomplished rapidly in approximately 14 training days. The success of this training technique suggests that this method represents a refinement to traditional techniques. Further, this method worked effectively for animals previously deemed unfit for traditional pole-and-collar training.

Concepts: Mammal, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Old World monkey, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae, Systema Naturae


Hemorrhage is the leading cause of potentially survivable trauma mortality, necessitating the development of improved therapeutic interventions. The objective of this study was to develop and characterize a reproducible, clinically translatable non-human primate (NHP) model of uncontrolled severe hemorrhage. Such a model is required to facilitate the development and meaningful evaluation of human-derived therapeutics.

Concepts: Human, Mammal, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Old World monkey, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae


In aggressive interactions, game theory predicts that animals should assess an opponent’s condition relative to their own prior to escalation or retreat. Despite the benefits of such mutual assessment, few studies have been able to reject simpler assessment strategies. Here we report evidence for mutual assessment in a wild primate. Gelada (Theropithecus gelada) males have conspicuous loud calls that may function as a signal of male quality. “Leader” males with harems putatively use loud calls to deter challenges from non-reproductive “bachelor” males. By contrast, leader males pose no threat to each other and congregate in large groups for a dilution effect against bachelors. In playback experiments and natural observations, gelada males responded to loud calls according to both their own and their opponent’s attributes. Although primates routinely classify others relative to themselves using individual attributes, this represents some of the first direct evidence for mutual assessment in primate signaling contests.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Old World monkey, Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae, Papionini


Recently, we have seen a surge of interest in identifying possible evolutionary links between primate facial communication and human speech (for example [1]). One suggestion is that primate ‘lip-smacking’ - a non-vocal, rhythmic movement of lips usually given in conjunction with affiliative behavior - may have been a precursor to speech [1]. This idea arose because lip-smacking shares several production features with human speech that the vocalizations of non-human primates lack, most notably a 3-8 Hz rhythm [1]. Evidence that non-human primates are indeed able to vocalize while simultaneously producing rhythmic facial movements would lend initial, but important, support to the notion that lip-smacking is a plausible evolutionary step towards speech. Here, I report that a wild primate, the gelada (Theropithecus gelada), makes a derived vocalization (the vocalization is absent in their close relatives, the Papio baboons) that is produced while lip-smacking, called a ‘wobble’. The rhythm of wobbles (6-9 Hz) closely matches that of human speech, indicating that a vocalized lip-smack produces sounds that are structurally similar to speech. Geladas are highly gregarious primates with a relatively large vocal repertoire. Their independent evolution of a speech-like vocalization involving complex facial movements provides initial support for the hypothesis that lip-smacking was a precursor to the emergence of human speech.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Human evolution, Old World monkey, Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae


Comparative studies of nonhuman communication systems could provide insights into the origins and evolution of a distinct dimension of human language: intentionality. Recent studies have provided evidence for intentional communication in different species but generally in captive settings. We report here a novel behaviour of food requesting from humans displayed by wild bonnet macaques Macaca radiata, an Old World cercopithecine primate, in the Bandipur National Park of southern India. Using both natural observations and field experiments, we examined four different behavioural components-coo-calls, hand-extension gesture, orientation, and monitoring behaviour-of food requesting for their conformity with the established criteria of intentional communication. Our results suggest that food requesting by bonnet macaques is potentially an intentionally produced behavioural strategy as all the food requesting behaviours except coo-calls qualify the criteria for intentionality. We comment on plausible hypotheses for the origin and spread of this novel behavioural strategy in the study macaque population and speculate that the cognitive precursors for language production may be manifest in the usage of combination of signals of different modalities in communication, which could have emerged in simians earlier than in the anthropoid apes.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Macaque, Primate, Hominidae, Old World monkey, Cercopithecinae, Bonnet Macaque


Rapid facial mimicry (RFM) is an automatic response, in which individuals mimic others' expressions. RFM, only demonstrated in humans and apes, is grounded in the automatic perception-action coupling of sensorimotor information occurring in the mirror neuron system. In humans, RFM seems to reflect the capacity of individuals to empathize with others. Here, we demonstrated that, during play, RFM is also present in a cercopithecoid species (Theropithecus gelada). Mother-infant play sessions were not only characterized by the highest levels of RFM, but also by the fastest responses. Our findings suggest that RFM in humans have homologous not only in apes, but also in cercopitecoids. Moreover, data point to similarities in the modality in which mother-infant synchronous behaviours are expressed among primates, suggesting a common evolutionary root in the basic elements of mother-infant affective exchanges.

Concepts: Primate, Hominidae, Empathy, Mirror neuron, Old World monkey, Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae


Zika virus (ZIKV) has recently spread through the Americas and has been associated with a range of health effects, including birth defects in children born to women infected during pregnancy. Although the natural reservoir of ZIKV remains poorly defined, the virus was first identified in a captive “sentinel” macaque monkey in Africa in 1947. However, the virus has not been reported in humans or nonhuman primates (NHPs) in Africa outside Gabon in over a decade. Here, we examine ZIKV infection in 239 wild baboons and African green monkeys from South Africa, the Gambia, Tanzania, and Zambia using combinations of unbiased deep sequencing, quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR), and an antibody capture assay that we optimized using serum collected from captive macaque monkeys exposed to ZIKV, dengue virus, and yellow fever virus. While we did not find evidence of active ZIKV infection in wild NHPs in Africa, we found variable ZIKV seropositivity of up to 16% in some of the NHP populations sampled. We anticipate that these results and the methodology described within will help in continued efforts to determine the prevalence, natural reservoir, and transmission dynamics of ZIKV in Africa and elsewhere. IMPORTANCE Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne virus originally discovered in a captive monkey living in the Zika Forest of Uganda, Africa, in 1947. Recently, an outbreak in South America has shown that ZIKV infection can cause myriad health effects, including birth defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy. Here, we sought to investigate ZIKV infection in wild African primates to better understand its emergence and spread, looking for evidence of active or prior infection. Our results suggest that up to 16% of some populations of nonhuman primate were, at some point, exposed to ZIKV. We anticipate that this study will be useful for future studies that examine the spread of infections from wild animals to humans in general and those studying ZIKV in primates in particular.

Concepts: Human, Malaria, Africa, Infection, Macaque, Primate, Fever, Cercopithecinae


Species-dependent variation in proteins that aid or limit virus replication determines the ability of lentiviruses to jump between host species. Identifying and overcoming these differences facilitates the development of animal models for HIV-1, including models based on chimeric SIVs that express HIV-1 envelope (Env) glycoproteins, (SHIVs) and simian-tropic HIV-1 (stHIV) strains. Here, we demonstrate that the inherently poor ability of most HIV-1 Env proteins to use macaque CD4 as a receptor is improved during adaptation by virus passage in macaques. We identify a single amino acid, A281, in HIV-1 Env that consistently changes during adaptation in macaques and affects the ability of HIV-1 Env to use macaque CD4. Importantly, mutations at A281 do not markedly affect HIV-1 Env neutralization properties. Our findings should facilitate the design of HIV-1 Env proteins for use in non-human primate models and thus expedite the development of clinically relevant reagents for testing interventions against HIV-1.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Acid, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae