Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

El gorila y el hombre tienen más en común de lo que se creía

Por:  | 4:10 p.m. | 07 de Marzo del 2012


Fotografía de un gorila facilitada por el zoológico de Barcelona.

Foto: EFE

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Humanos, chimpancés y orangutanes… Sólo faltaban los gorilas para que los biólogos pudieran comparar los genomas de los cuatro “grandes monos” modernos, supervivientes de la gran familia de los homínidos.

Ahora ya se logró, gracias a un equipo internacional de varias decenas de investigadores, que publicaron sus resultados en la revista británica ‘Nature’.

“Gracias al ADN de Kamilah, una hembra de gorila de las llanuras occidentales, ensamblamos una secuencia genética del gorila y la comparamos con los genomas de los otros grandes monos”, teniendo en cuenta unos 11.000 genes, resumió el responsable del estudio, Aylwyn Scally, del Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Los biólogos consideran tradicionalmente que, en el árbol de evolución de los primates, el chimpancé y el hombre tienen un ancestro común más reciente que el que los une respectivamente al gorila.

En consecuencia, en cualquier secuencia genética humana, la secuencia más cercana debería encontrarse entre su “primo” el chimpancé. Según los análisis efectuados por el equipo de Scally, esto se verifica, pero sólo en un 70% de los casos.

En realidad, un 15% del genoma humano está más cerca del gorila que del chimpancé. Y un 15% del genoma del chimpancé está, a su vez, más cerca del gorila que del hombre, revela el estudio.

“Hemos descubierto que los gorilas comparten con los humanos numerosas modificaciones genéticas paralelas, en particular la evolución de nuestro oído”, subrayó el doctor Chris Tyler-Smith, del mismo instituto.

“Los científicos sugirieron que la rápida evolución de los genes auditivos en el hombre estaba ligada a la evolución del lenguaje. Nuestros resultados lo ponen en duda, porque los genes auditivos evolucionaron entre los gorilas a una velocidad más o menos equivalente a la de los humanos”, estimó.

Según los cálculos de los investigadores, los gorilas divergieron de los humanos y chimpancés hace unos 10 millones de años, mientras que la separación entre el hombre y el chimpancé se remonta a 6 millones de años.

En cambio, la separación entre el gorila occidental y el gorila oriental parece más reciente, de hace 1,75 millones de años, y además fue progresiva.

“Estos datos cuestionan la idea según la cual la diversidad de las especies de primates siempre aumenta cuando una especie se divide rápida e irreversiblemente en dos especies ‘hijas’ aisladas”, destacan, en un comentario separado publicado por ‘Nature’, los genetistas Richard Gibbs y Jeffrey Rogers.

También pueden influir otros factores, como un flujo de genes entre especies tras su divergencia inicial, subrayan, citando por ejemplo “pruebas de tales flujos de genes entre los neandertales y el linaje genético que desembocó en el hombre moderno”.



Robin Hammond for The New York Times

The work of the artist Owen Moseko was blocked from view. The artwork depicts atrocities committed a quarter century ago.
Published: January 23, 2011

Exhibit Rouses Ghosts of Past in Zimbabwe

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe — The exhibit at the National Gallery is now a crime scene, the artwork banned and the artist charged with insulting President Robert Mugabe. The picture windows that showcased graphic depictions of atrocities committed in the early years of Mr. Mugabe’s 30-year-long rule are now papered over with the yellowing pages of a state-controlled newspaper.

But the government’s efforts to bury history have instead provoked slumbering memories of the Gukurahundi, Zimbabwe’s name for the slaying and torture of thousands of civilians here in the Matabeleland region a quarter century ago.

“You can suppress art exhibits, plays and books, but you cannot remove the Gukurahundi from people’s hearts,” said Pathisa Nyathi, a historian who lives here in the provincial capital. “It is indelible.”

As Zimbabwe heads anxiously toward another election season, a recent survey has found that 70 percent of Zimbabweans are afraid they will be victims of political violence or intimidation, as thousands were in the 2008 elections. But an equal proportion want the voting to go forward this year nonetheless, evidence of their deep desire for democracy and the willingness of many to vote against Mr. Mugabe at great personal risk, analysts say.

In few places do such sentiments about violence in public life run as deep as here, and in recent months the government — whether through missteps or deliberate provocation — has rubbed them ever more raw.

Before the World Cup in South Africa in June, a minister in Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, invited the North Korean soccer team, on behalf of Zimbabwe’s tourism authority, to base itself in Bulawayo before the games began, a gesture that roused a ferocious outcry. After all, it was North Korea that trained and equipped the infamous Fifth Brigade, which historians estimate killed at least 10,000 civilians in the Ndebele minority between 1983 and 1987.

“To us it opened very old wounds,” Thabitha Khumalo, a member of Parliament, said of the attempt to bring the North Korean team to the Ndebele heartland. “We’re being reminded of the most horrible pain. How dare they? Our loved ones are still buried in pit latrines, mine shafts and shallow graves.”

Ms. Khumalo, interviewed while the invitation was still pending last year, wept as she summoned memories of the day that destroyed her family — Feb. 12, 1983. She was 12 years old. She said soldiers from the Fifth Brigade, wearing jaunty red berets, came to her village and lined up her family. One soldier slit open her pregnant aunt’s belly with a bayonet and yanked out the baby. She said her grandmother was forced to pound the fetus to a pulp in a mortar and pestle normally used to make cornmeal. Her father was made to rape his mother. Her uncles were shot point blank.

Such searing memories stoked protests, and in the end the North Korean team did not come to Zimbabwe. But feelings were further inflamed months later when the government erected a larger-than-life bronze statue of Joshua Nkomo — a liberation hero, an Ndebele and a rival to Mr. Mugabe — that, incredibly, was made in North Korea.

Last September, bowing to public outcry over the statue’s origin, the statue was removed from a major intersection in Bulawayo. It now stands neglected in a weedy lot behind the Natural History Museum here.

Inside the museum hangs a portrait of a vigorous and dapper Mr. Mugabe in oversize glasses. He turns 87 next month. A massive stuffed crocodile, his family’s clan totem, dominates one gallery, its teeth long and sharp, its mouth agape. The signboard notes the crocodile’s lifespan exceeds 80 years.

Mr. Mugabe signed a pact with North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, to train the infamous army brigade just months after Zimbabwe gained independence from white minority rule in 1980. Mr. Mugabe declared the brigade would be named “Gukurahundi” (pronounced guh-kura-HUN-di), which means “the rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains.” He said it was needed to quell violent internal dissent, but historians say he used it to attack Mr. Nkomo’s political base and to impose one party rule.


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African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In
SOUMOUNI, Mali — The half-dozen strangers who descended on this remote West African village brought its hand-to-mouth farmers alarming news: their humble fields, tilled from one generation to the next, were now controlled by Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the farmers would all have to leave.
“They told us this would be the last rainy season for us to cultivate our fields; after that, they will level all the houses and take the land,” said Mama Keita, 73, the leader of this village veiled behind dense, thorny scrubland. “We were told that Qaddafi owns this land.”
Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.
Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.
But others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations.
“The food security of the country concerned must be first and foremost in everybody’s mind,” said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, now working on the issue of African agriculture. “Otherwise it is straightforward exploitation and it won’t work. We have seen a scramble for Africa before. I don’t think we want to see a second scramble of that kind.”
A World Bank study released in September tallied farmland deals covering at least 110 million acres — the size of California and West Virginia combined — announced during the first 11 months of 2009 alone. More than 70 percent of those deals were for land in Africa, with Sudan, Mozambique and Ethiopia among those nations transferring millions of acres to investors.
Before 2008, the global average for such deals was less than 10 million acres per year, the report said. But the food crisis that spring, which set off riots in at least a dozen countries, prompted the spree. The prospect of future scarcity attracted both wealthy governments lacking the arable land needed to feed their own people and hedge funds drawn to a dwindling commodity.
“You see interest in land acquisition continuing at a very high level,” said Klaus Deininger, the World Bank economist who wrote the report, taking many figures from a Web site run by Grain, an advocacy organization, because governments would not reveal the agreements. “Clearly, this is not over.”
The report, while generally supportive of the investments, detailed mixed results. Foreign aid for agriculture has dwindled from about 20 percent of all aid in 1980 to about 5 percent now, creating a need for other investment to bolster production.
But many investments appear to be pure speculation that leaves land fallow, the report found. Farmers have been displaced without compensation, land has been leased well below value, those evicted end up encroaching on parkland and the new ventures have created far fewer jobs than promised, it said.
The breathtaking scope of some deals galvanizes opponents. In Madagascar, a deal that would have handed over almost half the country’s arable land to a South Korean conglomerate helped crystallize opposition to an already unpopular president and contributed to his overthrow in 2009.
People have been pushed off land in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zambia. It is not even uncommon for investors to arrive on land that was supposedly empty. In Mozambique, one investment company discovered an entire village with its own post office on what had been described as vacant land, said Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations food rapporteur.
In Mali, about three million acres along the Niger River and its inland delta are controlled by a state-run trust called the Office du Niger. In nearly 80 years, only 200,000 acres of the land have been irrigated, so the government considers new investors a boon.
“Even if you gave the population there the land, they do not have the means to develop it, nor does the state,” said Abou Sow, the executive director of Office du Niger.
He listed countries whose governments or private sectors have already made investments or expressed interest: China and South Africa in sugar cane; Libya and Saudi Arabia in rice; and Canada, Belgium, France, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and multinational organizations like the West African Development Bank.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 22, 2010

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of an economist at the United Nations Development Program in Mali. He is Kalfa Sanogo, not Kalfo.