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June 27, 2017

Researchers use 20 years of data from Ngogo in Uganda to explore one of most dramatic forms of collective action in mammals

When male chimpanzees of the world’s largest known troop patrol the boundaries of their territory in Ngogo, Uganda, they walk silently in single file.

Normally chimps are noisy creatures, but on patrol they’re hard-wired. They sniff the ground and stop to listen for sounds. Their cortisol and testosterone levels are jacked 25 percent higher than normal. Chances of contacting neighboring enemies are high: 30 percent.

Ten percent of patrols result in violent fights where they hold victims down and bite, hit, kick and stomp them to death. The result? A large, safe territory rich with food, longer lives, and new females brought into the group.

Territorial boundary patrolling by chimpanzees is one of the most dramatic forms of collective action in mammals. A new study led by an Arizona State University researcher shows how working together benefits the group, regardless of whether individual chimps patrolled or not.

The team — led by Assistant Professor Kevin Langergraber of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Institute of Human Origins — examined 20 years of data on who participated in patrols in a 200-member-strong Ngogo community of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Despite plenty of opportunities to skip dangerous patrols, males joined 33 percent of patrols that occurred when they were in the group and young enough to take part, even if they weren’t related. 

The behavior is evidence of what’s called group augmentation theory. What is good for the group is ultimately good for the individual. Some sacrifice from each member translates into a larger, safer group. By 2009, the Ngogo chimpanzees expanded their territory by 22 percent over the previous decade.

“Free riders may increase their short-term reproductive success by avoiding the costs of collective action,” Langergraber’s team wrote, “but they do so at the cost of decreasing the long-term survival of the group if it fails to grow or maintain its size; nonparticipants suffer this cost alongside the individuals they had cheated.” In short, if a member of the group doesn’t pitch in, they’re ultimately hurting themselves.

Chimpanzees are one of the few mammals in which inter-group warfare is a major source of mortality. Chimps in large groups have been reported to kill most or all of the males in smaller groups over periods of months or years, acquiring territory in the process. Territorial expansion can lead to the acquisition of females who bear multiple infants. It also increases the amount of food available to females in the winning group, increasing their fertility.

Chimpanzee in a forest
The researchers found no consequences for those chimpanzees that did not join patrols. Most studies have focused on short term benefits of cooperation, said lead researcher Kevin Langergraber, “but our study shows the benefit of long-term data collection, and also that we still have a lot to learn from these chimpanzees.” Photo courtesy of Kevin Langergraber

 Male chimpanzees are homebodies and remain in the group they were born in their entire lives. Because they can live for more than 50 years, patrolling when they’re young produces future benefits.

However, if they don’t patrol, there aren’t any consequences — no sidelong glances, snubs or being chased out of the group, said anthropologist David Watts of Yale University, who worked with Langergraber on the study.

“We know from a lot of theoretical and empirical work in humans and in some other specialized, highly cooperative societies — like eusocial insects — that punishment by third parties can help cooperation evolve,” Watts said. “But it doesn’t seem to us that chimpanzees punish individuals who do not patrol. Sometimes individuals will be present when a patrol starts, and thus have the opportunity to join the patrol but fail to do so. As far as we can see, these individuals do not receive any sort of punishment when this occurs.”

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, but they aren’t capable of what’s called “collective intentionality,” which allows humans to have mutual understanding and agreement on social conventions and norms.

“They undoubtedly have expectations about how others will behave and, presumably, about how they should behave in particular circumstances, but these expectations presumably are on an individual basis,” Watts said. “They don’t have collectively established and agreed-on social norms.”

Humans can join together in thousands to send men into space or fight global wars or build skyscrapers. Chimpanzees don’t have anywhere near that level of cooperation.

“But this tendency of humans to cooperate in large groups and with unrelated individuals must have started somewhere,” Watts said. “The Ngogo group is very large (about 200 individuals), and the males in it are only slightly more related to one another than to the males in the groups with which they are competing.

“Perhaps the mechanisms that allow collective action in such circumstances among chimpanzees served as building blocks for the subsequent evolution of even more sophisticated mechanisms later in human evolution.”

Top photo: Two Ngogo chimpanzees out on patrol. Photo courtesy of Kevin Langergraber

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

 
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ASU's Biodesign C marks milestone with topping-out celebration

June 28, 2017

Research building will house a key drug discovery and bioenergy research tool: The world’s first compact free-electron X-ray laser

Arizona State University celebrated a major research building construction milestone Wednesday morning with the topping out of the $120 million Biodesign Institute C Research Building.

The ceremony officially commemorated the completion of the main structural work and gave the community a preview of future benefits when the third building in the ASU Biodesign Institute’s master-planned, 14-acre complex located on the main campus in Tempe, Arizona, is completed in the summer of 2018.

 Video by Grace Clark/ASU

Joshua LaBaer, Biodesign’s executive director and a renowned cancer researcher, sees the addition of this new space as concrete evidence of ASU’s significant commitment to leading the field with discoveries that keep people and the planet healthy.

“Powered by intellect, energy and innovation, our researchers believe they can accomplish what others often find impossible,” said LaBaer. “With the addition of Biodesign C, we will soon have nearly 700 scientists of all kinds — biologists, engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, computer technologists — and students working together to find creative and clean solutions for energy, air and water. We will invent new diagnostics and treatments that are accessible and affordable, and in some cases, we expect to be able to halt disease before it even begins.”

After a welcome address from Tamara Deuser, acting chief operating officer for the Biodesign Institute and associate vice president of research operations at ASU's Knowledge Enterprise Development (KED), the final beam was hoisted aloft — a 21-foot-long, quarter-ton metal beam placed by workers for McCarthy Construction, which oversees the construction of the nearly 200,0000-square-foot building. Attached to the beam were an American flag, Biodesign banner and a pine tree, traditional emblems of topping-out ceremonies for steel-constructed buildings.

“Topping out marks a significant milestone in the construction process, signaling the final beam placement of a new structure,” said Justin Kelton, president of McCarthy Building Companies’ Southwest division. “For a research facility of world-class caliber like Biodesign Institute C represents, topping out is even more meaningful because it brings with it significant hope for our future and the promise of new discoveries and innovations.”

Biodesign Institute C will house a key drug discovery and bioenergy research tool — the world’s first compact free-electron X-ray laser — a super X-ray that will peer deep inside proteins to better understand both the action of molecules critical to cancer and other devastating diseases and better understand how plants convert sunlight into renewable energy. Scientists of varying disciplines will be in the lab’s “neighborhoods,” a layout of close proximity that encourages collaboration. The design is modeled after state-of-the-art research complexes like the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, California, which was also built by McCarthy.

Major research highlights include the following:

  • A custom-designed vault in the basement will house the world’s first compact X-ray free-electron laser, attracting top-line researchers nationwide. This project miniaturizes existing technology that stretches out about kilometers long and is currently only available in California, Japan and Korea. Scientific “gridlock” is delaying the discovery of new, more effective drugs and clean energy. Once ASU has successfully completed this project, the technology can be made available to research centers throughout the world.

  • Led by Eric Reiman, the new ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center is expected to be one of the world’s largest basic science centers for the study of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The team is working to develop clinical and research programs with Banner Health.

  • This new building and its inhabitants will drive ASU’s collaborative spirit of innovation far into the future, building on ASU’s reputation of No. 1 in innovation in the nation. Building C is designed to be a workplace that drives cooperation and collaboration between researchers from different fields — to accelerate our ability to drive new solutions into practice, called use-inspired research. Talented researchers from the Biodesign Institute, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering will eventually house 80 lead researchers and 300 support staff, bringing Biodesign’s total workforce to 700 strong.

  • The cost of the building is $120 million. It is funded by “green bonds” that allows investors to invest directly in projects identified as promoting environmental sustainability on ASU campuses.

  • At full capacity, Biodesign C is expected to increase ASU’s annual research expenditures by an estimated $60 million, supporting ASU’s goal of increasing research revenue to $850 million by 2025 and contributing an estimated $750 million to the Phoenix metro area in the coming decade.

  • Building C is 189,000 square feet, 60,000 of which is flexible lab space (bringing the total size of all three Biodesign buildings to 535,000 square feet).

  • Additionally, following ASU’s green building standards, Biodesign Institute C has been designed to the highest levels of sustainability and includes an innovative HVAC system to limit its energy and environmental footprint.

The new research facility includes five stories, a mechanical penthouse, plus a basement that connects with the ASU Biodesign Institute B building and will house the X-ray laser facility. The building’s adaptable design will accommodate multiple types of scientific research, including chemistry, biological sciences and engineering research. The building, composed mostly of wet laboratories and offices, also includes high-bay spaces.

The project team, which includes architects Zimmer Gunsul Frasca and BWS Architects in addition to general contractor McCarthy Building Companies, is employing the latest in virtual-reality technology and modeling to successfully execute this project for fast-track completion in spring 2018.

Some of the design and construction solutions implemented to date include:

  • Building a small exterior mockup on site using building materials to test for any deficiencies before actual construction. This mockup was put through extreme worst-case scenarios of wind, water and smoke tests to ensure energy efficiency.

  • Creating an interior lab space mockup for researchers to understand the placement of important features like sinks, gas outlets, counter heights, etc.

  • Developing an extensive pour process for the 19 white concrete columns, ensuring consistent color, sharp edges, smooth surface and precise angles to fulfill the design goal of support while also serving as a building showpiece.

  • Degaussing (the process of decreasing or eliminating a remnant magnetic field) all rebar in linear accelerator and laser labs, which saved approximately $1 million.

The targeted official opening date of Biodesign C is June 2018.

 

Top photo by Veronica Gomez

Joe Caspermeyer

Managing editor , Biodesign Institute

480-258-8972