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SCIENCE

Spanish scientist reveals memory power of apes

A team led by a Spanish researcher has revealed that great apes like chimpanzees and orangutans can, like humans, remember events from years ago.

Spanish scientist reveals memory power of apes
Chimpanzees at Leipzig Zoo have challenged the belief that animals are "stuck in time". Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/DPA/AFP
Gema Martin-Ordas Martin-Ordas, a comparative psychologist at Denmark's Aarhus University in Denmark headed up the research project.
 
She and her team worked with apes at Germany's Leipzig Zoo with the animals carrying out task requiring them to draw on three-year-old memories.
 
Those apes who had taken part in the same experiments in the past needed only five seconds to remember the location of hidden tools they could use to access food.
 
The animals who had not previously completed the task were left confused.
 
"I was really surprised that they could remember this event and that they did it so fast," Martin-Ordas told Science Magazine.
 
The findings, published recently in Current Biology are the first report of such a long-lasting memory in non-human animals.
 
Until recently, scientists believed that animals had no sense of the past or future and that they were unable to recall specific events from their lives, living instead completely 'in the moment'.
 
The study changes this, as Martin-Ordas noted: "There is good evidence challenging the idea that non-human animals are stuck in time." 
 
But trying to show that apes also have a conscious recollection of autobiographical events is "the tricky part," she admitted.

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SCIENCE

Was Columbus actually Spanish? A new DNA study aims to discover explorer’s true origins

Researchers are restarting a DNA study of the remains of Christopher Columbus to try to settle the question of where the explorer came from.

Was Columbus actually Spanish? A new DNA study aims to discover explorer's true origins
Photo: A portrait of Christopher Columbus by Italian painter Domenico Bigordi

Was Columbus from the Italian port city of Genoa, as most historians believe? Or was he Spanish or Portuguese? There are several theories.

Five centuries after his death in 1506, this study could finally end the debate over the geographic origin of the navigator whose voyages on behalf of the Spanish monarchs between 1492 and 1504 opened the door to Europe’s colonisation of the Americas.

The results of this “pioneering study” are expected in October, Jose Antonio Lorente, a professor of forensic medicine at Granada who is leading the investigation, told a news conference.

Launched in 2003, the study achieved a major breakthrough after DNA tests established that bones in a tomb in the cathedral in the southern city of Seville were those of Columbus.

But it was suspended in 2005 because the research team felt that DNA technology at the time required a significant sample of the bones of the explorer “to obtain very little information”, said Lorente.

The research team decided to preserve the bones “until there was better technology” which can use small bone fragments as is the case today, he added.

The DNA of small bone fragments from Columbus which are stored at a vault at Granada University in southern Spain will be compared to those from the remains of suspected family members of the explorer.

Columbus in the court of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs. Artist: Juan Cordero, 1850 (Wikipedia)

It will also be compared with the DNA of people alive with the same family name as Columbus from the different parts of the world where he is believed to have come from.

While Lorente hopes the results will be “totally conclusive”, he acknowledged researchers were not certain they could obtain genetic samples from all the bones “in sufficient quantity and quality¬† to reach a conclusion”.

“The goal is to try to offer as much information as possible for historians and experts to interpret,” he added.

The study is being carried out with the University of Florence in Italy and the University of North Texas in the United States.

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