Accelerating development of industrial systems is highest priority for AI industry in China: top political advisor

"The highest priority for the development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in China is not to create explosive applications, but to accelerate the development of industrial systems and the real economy," said Xiao Xinguang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and chief software architect from Chinese cybersecurity company Antiy.

With the emergence of ChatGPT and Sora, the AI industry is accelerating its development, and human society is accelerating into the era of AI civilization. At the same time, the potential problems and uncertainties related to it may bring negative impacts and challenges to humanity. The security issues arising from it have also been put on the agenda.

"AI's extensive and deep empowerment in all industries and social fields is an inevitable trend in history. For the entire economic and social fields, there is only a difference between fast and slow, but no choice of whether to use it or not. Embracing AI may not necessarily mean success for various industries, but not embracing AI will definitely lead to elimination," Xiao told the Global Times.

Embracing AI requires a more open and collaborative mindset, said Xiao, noting that different departments have different focuses.

For example, the industrial sector needs to quickly follow up and apply AI to accelerate digitalization, intelligent upgrading, and transformation; however, government agencies should focus on how to better serve the people with AI, accelerate economic and social development, and also do well in risk control.

The field of cybersecurity, on the other hand, focuses on three major risks: the risks of AI technologies such as algorithms and data; application risks of platforms such as data leakage; and the risks of upgrading network attack capabilities under AI empowerment, Xiao said.

As a member of the national cybersecurity agency, Xiao described how he and his colleagues encounter cases of "AI-enhanced network attacks" in their daily work. "The graphic and textual content of phishing emails from some overseas attack organizations in the past two years are clearly generated by large model platforms. In cybercrime cases, deepfake technology has been frequently used."

According to Xiao, AI significantly empowers the entire attack chain. This includes, but is not limited to, efficiently exploiting software and hardware vulnerabilities and enhancing the organization of information intelligence. It also improves the exploration of attack entry points, the orchestration and automatic launching of attacks, and the writing of attack viruses. Additionally, AI enhances the ability to create highly targeted social engineering dialogues, deceiving network administrators and users, among other capabilities.

"We must pay attention to the challenges of content generation and deepfake for cognitive confrontation, and we must also conduct in-depth analysis and research on the deep empowerment of AI throughout the network attack process," Xiao said.

A thief crying "Stop thief"

The US has been the first to associate AI technology with the so-called "Chinese hackers" launching attacks on the US. In January, the FBI and US Justice Department used a court order to address vulnerabilities in thousands of internet-connected devices that are at the center of a so-called Chinese hacking campaign targeting sensitive US critical infrastructure, CNN reported.

In response, Xiao said the US continues to conduct network intrusions and intelligence activities in cyberspace to support its global hegemony system. By using its own behavior paradigm to judge others, the US was trying to shift its attack activities to China in order to muddy the waters in international diplomacy and public opinion.

The US reportedly has the most powerful global network attack engineering system, complete and continuously iterated network attack weapons and equipment, and the largest team of network attack personnel. Since the birth of the internet, the most long-term, covert, and severe network attacks and eavesdropping activities, such as Stuxnet, Flame, and Duqu, have all been initiated by the US.

"We have analyzed and disclosed the network attack activities of the US against other countries many times, including a detailed analysis and reconstruction of the attack process of the largest SWIFT service provider in the Middle East, EastNets, as well as a detailed exposure last year of the operation mechanism of the US attacking key personnel's phones and computers based on the 'quantum' system," Xiao said.

US intelligence agencies have long been concerned about the strengthening of AI capabilities in network attacks and the use of deepfake technology. It is necessary to pay close attention to the shaping of the US attack capabilities by super large model platforms, he noted.

Different paths

While smearing China for using AI technology for hacking attacks, the US is also actively downplaying China's AI technology development. In a report by CNBC on January 9, FBI Director Christopher Wray was quoted as saying "18 of the 20 most successful AI companies in the world are American." He then turned his focus to China, claiming that "You can bet your bottom dollar that foreign adversaries, especially the Chinese, are actively targeting that innovation, that intellectual property."

Xiao said that due to historical advantages and geopolitical factors, as well as long-term global dividends, the US has established a leading position in the global technology and industry. In order to solidify this leading advantage, the US government and capital groups have formed an inertia to suppress followers, especially by creating a false perception: "Whenever other countries show certain advantages in some fields, it must be the result of stealing American achievements." This is an extremely arrogant and deceptive rhetoric, Xiao said.

China's academic achievements in AI technologies have surged in recent years, with the number of top AI scholars ranking second globally. Universities and industries such as Tsinghua University and Harbin Institute of Technology have published high-level academic achievements in various subfields of AI. At the same time, scientific and technological development from basic theory to engineering implementation and application often follows a "convergence" path, so there will be a certain similarity in the basic path of technological innovation. Respecting the contributions of pioneers does not mean accepting that the first to develop can permanently monopolize, Xiao explained.

"The US has obtained more global dividends, gathered top talent resources worldwide, and naturally established a first-mover advantage in many fields; however, countries with strong self-development intentions, such as China, will also determine key development areas based on their own characteristics, relying on effective government organization, benign competition in the industry, and the diligence and unity of the people to make progress," Xiao stressed.

This cybersecurity expert believes China and the US will have certain differences in the development path of AI technologies. Information technology is the US' advantageous field, and through large-scale capital investment, it has established a large-scale intensive innovation model based on information complexes, forming a new strategic competitive capability. This system operates similarly to OpenAI+ChatGPT. The related experience is highly worthy of reference but difficult to completely imitate.

Currently, China has experienced a phenomenon of "one factory one model, a thousand-model battle with each other" in the development of general large models, which has brought about some resource waste and ineffective investment, affecting the aggregation of production factors. However, we should not be overly anxious. We are one of the few countries with all the elements to build a super large-scale general artificial intelligence platform. Our "formation" will be optimized and adjusted as we develop, Xiao said.

He noted that, at the same time, China has the most complete industrial system and a very solid foundation in the real economy. There is still a lot of room for improvement in automation, unmanned operation and intelligence. Our real industries cannot wait for the maturity of super large-scale general model platforms but must quickly gain AI empowerment and then iterate and improve. Therefore, the focus of China's AI development is still to accelerate the transition of the industrial system to new quality productivity and gain more benefits in the real industry.
Industrial development the highest priority

On February 12, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang said at the World Government Summit in Dubai that every country needs to own the production of their own intelligence to codify its culture while utilizing its economic potential.

In response, Xiao said that the development model of AI is highly related to the national industrial characteristics.

In the context of the hollowing out of industry due to profit-driven capital within the US, relying on information giants, capital power and rapid aggregation of talent, the best choice for the US is to establish a large-scale intensive innovation model in the field of large model platforms to form a new strategic competitive capability. On the other hand, China's overall industrial scale, completeness of the industrial system, and substantial real economy are globally leading. We have rich AI integration points and potential points in the industry and real economy, providing ample space for local innovation, he said.

However, China also needs to move from a fragmented small production model to an intensive large production model for AI platform construction. The country should gradually guide the formation of a super-scale general AI platform in terms of high-quality data sources, large-scale computing infrastructure, operational ecology, and organizational methods, supporting the industrial ecosystem, which is important for developing new quality productivity and strengthening national strategic security capabilities, Xiao noted.

Xiao added that it is also significant for building a community with shared future in cyberspace. The US government's suppression of China's high-tech industry development through a "small yard and high fence" strategy and the use of the so-called "table and menu theory" to force other countries to take sides is evident.

Especially in the field of AI, it has used a series of measures such as talent bans, access restrictions and hardware bans. In terms of AI platforms and applications, it forces other countries to make choices, which will inevitably lead to a camp-style rift in the development of artificial intelligence technology, causing a major division. This makes it even more necessary for the development of China's AI technologies to have an internationalist perspective, according to Xiao.

The development of China's universal large-scale model platform can not only provide empowering assistance for the economic development of other countries, but also help third world countries build their own sovereign artificial intelligence infrastructure, helping them break free from dependence on Western countries in modernization development. Peace-loving and progressive countries should work together to bring a new digital infrastructure system to a more equal world, Xiao noted.

Facing the rapid development of AI technologies, reducing the risk of AI proliferation is a challenge facing all governments. By 2023, the US had already signed the first executive order on AI regulation, which requires "companies developing any foundation model that poses a serious risk to national security, national economic security, or national public health and safety must notify the federal government when training the model."

Due to the significant security risks and uncertainties of AI technology, strengthening the management and guidance of technological capabilities and platforms is an important function and responsibility of governments around the world, Xiao sated.

Chinese authorities have already formulated an interim regulation on the management of generative AI services. Currently, China has a certain foundation for the management mechanism of AI technologies and platforms, but it still needs continuous adjustment and improvement. "We need to achieve better, faster, and safer growth and development, and development itself is the greatest security," Xiao said.

China signs 18 deals with France to expand economic cooperation, opening up wider for France, Europe

China and France have signed 18 cooperation agreements between government agencies, covering areas such as aviation, agriculture, people-to-people exchanges, green development and SME cooperation during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to France.

At the closing ceremony of a key business council meeting in Paris on Monday, the Chinese top leader vowed to enrich the economic and trade dimensions of the China-France comprehensive strategic partnership, open the Chinese market wider to create more opportunities for companies from France, Europe and beyond, while urging China and France to jointly oppose attempts to turn business relations into political, ideological or security issues.

The remarks and cooperation agreements underscore China's open and cooperative attitude, as well as its sincerity and goodwill to foster China-France and China-Europe cooperation and represent a positive signal for European entrepreneurs and a stabilizer to China-Europe trade ties against decoupling push, experts said.

China will work with France to enrich the economic and trade dimensions of the China-France comprehensive strategic partnership, deepen China-Europe mutually beneficial cooperation, and remains ready to join hands with France to tackle global challenges, President Xi made the remarks at the closing ceremony of the sixth meeting of the China-France Business Council in Paris local time Monday.

China will further open up the service sector including telecommunication and medical services, and open its market wider to create more opportunities for companies from France, Europe and beyond, Xi said, according to a readout released on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

Xi also said that China and Europe are two major forces in building a multipolar world, two big markets that promote globalization, and two great civilizations that advocate cultural diversity.

China-Europe relations are crucial for peace, stability and prosperity of the world. The two sides should always define China-Europe relations as a comprehensive strategic partnership, continue to enhance political mutual trust, remove various distractions, and jointly oppose attempts to turn business relations into political, ideological or security issues, Xi said.

Xi's speech sent a clear signal that China's market is open and inclusive, and that China seeks mutual achievements and win-win cooperation with France and the EU, Zhang Jian, a vice president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The remarks played a significant role in promoting stable, long-term cooperation between China and France as well as China and Europe against decoupling pushes, Zhang said.

New stage of cooperation

Some key highlights of economic and trade cooperation include collaboration in agriculture, artificial intelligence (AI) and green development.

In terms of agricultural cooperation, China will continue to make full use of the "French farm to Chinese dining table" whole-chain rapid coordination mechanism, and bring more cheese, ham, wine and other quality agricultural products from France to the dining tables of Chinese families.

In terms of AI cooperation, China and France have agreed to enhance global governance of AI to promote the development of AI for the public good and effectively address the risks associated with AI, according to a joint statement.

China also signed agreements with French departments to deepen collaboration in green development and aviation.

The deals highlight the successful progress of traditional cooperation projects between China and France. At the same time, they also point to great potential for new areas, innovative models, fostering growth in various sectors, experts said.

"The economic and trade achievements of this visit are very fruitful, reflecting the upgrading and expansion of China-French economic and trade cooperation on the existing basis," Cui Hongjian, a professor with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance with Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Although nuclear energy and aerospace industries have become landmark projects of China-French economic and trade cooperation over the years, the cooperation directions covered in the deals have expanded into some new areas, offering new opportunities, Cui said.

The 18 agreements signed during the state visit were thrilling as they precisely identified the key aspects of development between China, France and Europe, which include high-tech collaborations and green development, Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Zhao said there is potential for France and the EU to increase collaboration with China in high-end technology and agricultural products, as the increasing living standards and purchasing power of Chinese people align with this trend.

The signing of the deals comes as China and France are celebrating the 60th anniversary of China-France relations, during which the trade ties between the two sides have flourished.

The bilateral trade has expanded by nearly 800 times since the establishment of diplomatic relations, reaching $78.9 billion. Cumulative two-way investment has exceeded $26 billion. More than 2,000 French companies have woven themselves into the fabric of the Chinese market. China is the largest trading partner of France outside the EU, and France is a major EU trading partner of China.

Rejection of decoupling

The collaboration between Chinese and the French business sectors also demonstrates a rejection of the decoupling efforts pushed by the US. This collaboration is anticipated to pave the way for a positive and mutually beneficial relationship between China and Europe, experts said.

French companies are interested in collaborating with Chinese companies in various fields, despite the push of decoupling and cutting off industrial chains from the US, they said.

A survey of French companies in China conducted by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China in 2023 showed that members' willingness to operate in China over the coming three years had increased, with 47 percent saying they planned to further invest in the Chinese market.

Practical cooperation between China and France is a key aspect of China-EU relations, and it contributes positively to fostering mutually beneficial partnerships between China and Europe, Cui said.

While Europe may face competitive pressures from China in some areas, it is essential to manage this competition in a healthy and constructive manner and turn it into opportunities for cooperation between China and Europe, Cui said.

"Efforts should be made to control the competition within a reasonable range and prevent it from spilling over. At the same time, both sides can use their complementary advantages and form a strong alliance in third party cooperation," Cui said.

It is important for the European side to recognize the benefits of economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe, rather than resorting to tactics of suppression toward China, which could harm the stability and development of both parties, Zhao said.

"It is crucial for Europe to adhere to its own principles and cultivate its own strengths in certain market sectors," Zhao said.

Dam collapse exemplifies India’s gross incompetence, sparks safety concerns about mega projects in Bhutan

Sikkim Urja Limited's 1,200-megawatt hydroelectric project Teesta-III at the Chungthang dam on river Teesta gave way on October 4, killing at least 94 people in the downstream areas of Sikkim and West Bengal. The devastation has reignited wide worries surrounding two of three India-built mega hydropower projects under construction in Bhutan, local newspaper The Hindu reported on October 15.

The collapse reinforced long-held doubts about India's large-scale hydroelectric projects under construction in Bhutan. India's assessment of the fragile geological zone in the Himalayas appears to have been inadequate, leading to significant safety risks, local media criticized.

Analysts told the Global Times that a series of infrastructure accidents in the India-China border area in recent years have exposed India's seeming inability to carry out infrastructure construction under the complex geological conditions in the Himalayas. However, in recent years, India has been attempting to "monopolize" infrastructure projects in some South Asian countries, which also shows India's attempt to counter China in the region.

India's capacity collapses again

Although the glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) triggered the latest dam collapse, many Indian media outlets believe that catastrophe was more likely man-made.

Environmentalists have been criticizing the decision-making process of constructing a large number of hydropower projects in the geologically fragile southern foothills of the Himalayas, while politicians have also pointed out corruption issues during the projects' construction and operational management, especially flaws inherent in the duty alert mechanism.

Such doubts have raised concerns in Bhutan, which shares the southern foothills of the Himalayas with Sikkim.

"We need to re-look at the geological survey of the (Puna-I) dam because many things have changed in 15 years. There have been many reasons for the delay, including technical issues and COVID-19. The (soil) stabilization measures have not yielded the results they wanted. No expert will go on to do a project that is not technically, scientifically feasible," Bhutan's Prime Minister Lotay Tshering told The Hindu.

A note issued by the Bhutan's Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in February on the Puna-I, which was started in 2008 and is expected to be commissioned in 2024-25, said that "project commissioning is being delayed due to movement/subsidence of right bank hill mass in the dam area. Treatment/stabilization of the right bank and completion of dam work [is in] progress. The option of providing a barrage in the upstream and abandoning of the dam is being studied," according to the report.

Regarding the Puna-II, meant to be commissioned in 2023-24, the note said: "Poor geological strata and shear zone being encountered at [the] left bank and foundation of [the] dam and HRT (head race tunnel, a tunnel connecting water intake at [the] dam site to [the] power house for generation of hydroelectricity). Remedial measures are [in] progress."

The governments of Bhutan and India have tasked the Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) with reviewing and proposing a path forward for the 1,200mW Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (Puna-I) dam. One of Bhutan's primary concerns revolves around the dam's safety and stability, given the potential significant downstream impacts of any dam failure on lives and properties, according to a report by Bhutan's national newspaper Kuensel.

Lin Minwang, deputy director at the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that India has made significant progress in infrastructure construction along the China-India border in recent years, but its infrastructure capabilities still cannot be compared with China's. Overall, the quality and construction capabilities of India's infrastructure are still relatively poor.

"In recent years, accidents have frequently occurred in the construction of bridges and tunnels by India along the border. Especially in some disputed areas, accidents of various kinds are common, and the construction quality is worrying. In fact, India lacks the ability to build large-scale infrastructure in the complex and fragile geological environment of the Himalayas," said Lin.

International landslide experts have pointed out it was a blunder to start a dam at the location that seems to be on the debris of past landslides.

Lin believes that India's massive construction and blind leap in the border areas are an "image project" by the Indian government. On one hand, it aims to deliberately create an image of India's strong resistance against China along the border to gain popularity in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, it is India's leverage to counter China in South Asia.

"However, it is evident that these construction projects are largely rushed, which inevitably leads to problems in construction quality. Several previous accidents are proof," said Lin.
Hard to find right partners

Despite its outdated infrastructure capacity, India's attempts at cornering the market in some South Asian countries, especially in the field of hydropower sector, where it has essentially monopolized the market, have been relentless. This has made it nearly impossible for some South Asian countries to introduce infrastructure companies from countries other than India into their own markets.

In the "13th Five-Year Plan" announced by the Bhutanese government, which is scheduled to start in 2024, almost all hydropower infrastructure projects will be undertaken by India.

"Among South Asian countries, whether it be Bhutan or Nepal, their choice of cooperation partners in their own infrastructure construction is largely restricted by India through legal or policy means," Lin explained. "India may even directly interfere in the internal affairs of these countries, demanding that they prioritize India in the bidding process for infrastructure projects or block them from commissioning bidders from other countries."

Specifically, in hydropower projects, taking Nepal as an example, India has proposed that it will not purchase electricity generated by hydropower stations built by other countries. However, India is actually a country with a severe shortage of electricity and energy, but it still uses this method to restrict the free development of Nepal's hydropower industry and force Nepal to reject the participation of other countries in its hydropower development, Lin said.

Lin suggested that Chinese infrastructure companies also often face pushback from India when entering the market in South Asian countries.

Chinese companies, for example, may be required by their international partners to have an Indian company as the project supervisor. These Indian supervisory companies tend to set unreasonably high standards for the projects and deliberately make it difficult for Chinese companies.

"Although Chinese infrastructure companies can typically cope with this, it will inevitably increase unnecessary costs. India often uses this method to hinder the entry of Chinese projects in South Asia," Lin said.

Strict control becomes commonplace

According to Bhutan's 2023-24 budget report, the 10 projects in the pipeline include the 600mW Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, Kuensel reported. Several projects, represented by the Kholongchhu hydroelectric project, are being carried out through a joint venture between India and Bhutan.

An anonymous expert on South Asian affairs told the Global Times that although these hydropower projects are officially managed through joint ventures, the engineering team, technical personnel, and even the management team are all Indian.

Lin further pointed out that the electricity generated by Bhutan's hydropower plants is not only used to meet Bhutan's own needs but also sold to India, allowing India to implement a strategy of total economic dependence by Bhutan. In addition, India has also exercised strict control over Bhutan's importation and exportation of goods, military defense, and other fields.

And in terms of diplomatic issues, India's interference in Bhutan is now commonplace. India controls Bhutan's foreign policy through various means. On the one hand, India limits Bhutan's establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries. Although India has repeatedly stated that Bhutan is an independent sovereign country, it remains incredibly vigilant regarding Bhutan's development of foreign relations and even opposes Bhutan's contacts with other countries, according to Sun Xihui, an associate research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Moreover, New Delhi interferes in China-Bhutan border negotiations. China has resolved most of its land border issues through negotiations since the 1950s, but is yet to complete its border talks with Bhutan, largely because India insists on representing Bhutan in the negotiations, while China hopes to directly engage with Bhutan, Sun noted.

The 25th Round of Boundary Talks between China and Bhutan was held in Beijing on October 23 and 24. The two sides held in-depth discussions on the boundary negotiations and noted the progress made through a series of Expert Group Meetings held since the 24th Round of Boundary Talks in 2016. The two leaders of the delegations commended the Expert Group for the work done and agreed to build on the positive momentum.

This meeting brings expectations for the establishment of official diplomatic ties between China and Bhutan.

Observers believe that despite the strong desire for diplomatic relations between the two countries, it is still difficult for China and Bhutan to complete border negotiations and establish diplomatic relations in the short term due to India's significant interference in Bhutan's internal affairs. However, it should be noted that this meeting undoubtedly injects new momentum into the successful completion of border negotiations and the promotion of the diplomatic processes between the two countries.

Ancient whale tells tale of when baleen whales had teeth

A 36-million-year-old fossil skeleton is revealing a critical moment in the history of baleen whales: what happened when the ancestors of these modern-day filter feeders first began to distinguish themselves from their toothy, predatory predecessors. The fossil is the oldest known mysticete, a group that includes baleen whales, such as humpbacks, researchers report in the May 22 Current Biology.

Scientists have made predictions about what the first mysticetes might have looked like, but until now, haven’t had much fossil evidence to back up those ideas, says Nicholas Pyenson, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “Here, we have something we’ve been waiting for: a really old baleen whale ancestor.”
The earliest whales were predators with sharp teeth — a legacy carried on by today’s orcas, dolphins and other toothed whales. But at some point during whale history, the ancestors of modern mysticetes replaced teeth with baleen, fibrous plates that filter out small bits of food from seawater like a giant sieve. Such a huge lifestyle change didn’t happen overnight, though. And the new find, dubbed Mystacodon selenensis, shows the start of that transition, its discoverers say.

Mystacodon largely fits in well with what scientists have predicted from analyzing other whales, says Mark Uhen, a paleobiologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “It fleshes out this transition, rather than being something wacky and crazy we never thought of.”

Mystacodon was unearthed in a Peruvian desert by a team of European and Peruvian scientists. Like other early mysticetes, this one still had teeth — its name means “toothed mysticete.” The creature was probably close to 4 meters long, estimates study coauthor Olivier Lambert, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. That’s about the size of a pilot whale, and far smaller than today’s leviathan humpbacks.
The whale holds onto some features of primitive whales, Lambert says. For instance, it still had a bit of a protruding hip bone, suggesting the presence of tiny hind legs left over from when whales’ ancestors were four-legged, terrestrial creatures. “At this transition, scientists thought that this hind limb would be more or less gone,” Lambert says. But the new find suggests that completely losing those limbs took a little longer than previously believed. And the process probably happened independently in toothed whales, instead of one time in the common ancestor of baleen and toothed whales.
But Mystacodon also shows some more modern features. Its snout was flattened, just like in modern mysticetes. In the earliest whales, the joints in the front flippers — essentially elbows — could still be flexed, a relic of when those flippers were legs. Modern whales can’t move those joints, and neither could Mystacodon.
“This is the first indication of a locked elbow — the final step of the transition of the forelimbs into flippers,” Lambert says.

Wear patterns on Mystacodon’s teeth suggest that the whale was a suction feeder — vacuuming up its prey instead of chomping it. That could have been a step toward the filter-feeding strategies used by today’s baleen whales, Lambert suggests. (Other early mysticetes show similar wear, also suggesting suction-feeding tendencies.)

But the connection between suction feeding and filter feeding isn’t well-established, Pyenson says. Mysticetes didn’t become true filter feeders until millions of years later, he says. And scientists still don’t know what series of changes in the ocean environment and in mysticetes’ bodies led to the transformation. “I don’t think suction feeding alone is the primary step.”

Lambert and his colleagues will be looking for more ancient whales to further flesh out the story of early mysticetes. The region where the skeleton was found — the Pisco Basin on the southern coast of Peru — is a hot spot for evidence of ancient whales and dolphins that was overlooked for many years, Lambert says. “There is huge potential for the area where we excavated.”

Telling children they’re smart could tempt them to cheat

It’s hard not to compliment kids on certain things. When my little girls fancy themselves up in tutus, which is every single time we leave the house, people tell them how pretty they are. I know these folks’ intentions are good, but an abundance of compliments on clothes and looks sends messages I’d rather my girls didn’t absorb at ages 2 and 4. Or ever, for that matter.

Our words, often spoken casually and without much thought, can have a big influence on little kids’ views of themselves and their behaviors. That’s very clear from two new studies on children who were praised for being smart.

The studies, conducted in China on children ages 3 and 5, suggest that directly telling kids they’re smart, or that other people think they’re intelligent, makes them more likely to cheat to win a game.

In the first study, published September 12 in Psychological Science, 150 3-year-olds and 150 5-year-olds played a card guessing game. An experimenter hid a card behind a barrier and the children had to guess whether the card’s number was greater or less than six. In some early rounds of the game, a researcher told some of the children, “You are so smart.” Others were told, “You did very well this time.” Still others weren’t praised at all.

Just before the kids guessed the final card in the game, the experimenter left the room, but not before reminding the children not to peek. A video camera monitored the kids as they sat alone.

The children who had been praised for being smart were more likely to peek, either by walking around or leaning over the barrier, than the children in the other two groups, the researchers found. Among 3-year-olds who had been praised for their ability (“You did very well this time.”) or not praised at all, about 40 percent cheated. But the share of cheaters jumped to about 60 percent among the 3-year-olds who had been praised as smart. Similar, but slightly lower, numbers were seen for the 5-year-olds.

In another paper, published July 12 in Developmental Science, the same group of researchers tested whether having a reputation for smarts would have an effect on cheating. At the beginning of a similar card game played with 3- and 5-year-old Chinese children, researchers told some of the kids that they had a reputation for being smart. Other kids were told they had a reputation for cleanliness, while a third group was told nothing about their reputation. The same phenomenon emerged: Kids told they had a reputation for smarts were more likely than the other children to peek at the cards.
The kids who cheated probably felt more pressure to live up to their smart reputation, and that pressure may promote winning at any cost, says study coauthor Gail Heyman. She’s a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego and a visiting professor at Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua, China. Other issues might be at play, too, she says, “such as giving children a feeling of superiority that gives them a sense that they are above the rules.”

Previous research has suggested that praising kids for their smarts can backfire in a different way: It might sap their motivation and performance.

Heyman was surprised to see that children as young as 3 shifted their behavior based on the researchers’ comments. “I didn’t think it was worth testing children this age, who have such a vague understanding of what it means to be smart,” she says. But even in these young children, words seemed to have a powerful effect.

The results, and other similar work, suggest that parents might want to curb the impulse to tell their children how smart they are. Instead, Heyman suggests, keep praise specific: “You did a nice job on the project,” or “I like the solution you came up with.” Likewise, comments that focus on the process are good choices: “How did you figure that out?” and “Isn’t it fun to struggle with a hard problem like that?”

It’s unrealistic to expect parents — and everyone else who comes into contact with children — to always come up with the “right” compliment. But I do think it’s worth paying attention to the way we talk with our kids, and what we want them to learn about themselves. These studies have been a good reminder for me that comments made to my kids — by anyone — matter, perhaps more than I know.

Cracking the body clock code wins trio a Nobel Prize

Discoveries about the molecular ups and downs of fruit flies’ daily lives have won Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

These three Americans were honored October 2 by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for their work in discovering important gears in the circadian clocks of animals. The trio will equally split the 9 million Swedish kronor prize — each taking home the equivalent of $367,000.
The researchers did their work in fruit flies. But “an awful lot of what was subsequently found out in the fruit flies turns out also to be true and of huge relevance to humans,” says John O’Neill, a circadian cell biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. Mammals, humans included, have circadian clocks that work with the same logic and many of the same gears found in fruit flies, say Jennifer Loros and Jay Dunlap, geneticists at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.
Circadian clocks are networks of genes and proteins that govern daily rhythms and cycles such as sleep, the release of hormones, the rise and fall of body temperature and blood pressure, as well as other body processes. Circadian rhythms help organisms, including humans, anticipate and adapt to cyclic changes of light, dark and temperature caused by Earth’s rotation. When circadian rhythms are thrown out of whack, jet lag results. Shift workers and people with chronic sleep deprivation experience long-term jet lag that has been linked to serious health consequences including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.
Before the laureates did their work, other scientists had established that plants and animals have circadian rhythms. In 1971, Seymour Benzer and Ronald Konopka (both now deceased and ineligible for the Nobel Prize) found that fruit flies with mutations in a single gene called period had disrupted circadian rhythms, which caused the flies to move around at different times of day than normal.

“But then people got stuck,” says chronobiologist Erik Herzog of Washington University in St. Louis. “We couldn’t figure out what that gene was or how that gene worked.”
At Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Hall, a geneticist, teamed up with molecular biologist Rosbash to identify the period gene at the molecular level in 1984. Young of the Rockefeller University in New York City simultaneously deciphered the gene’s DNA makeup. “In the beginning, we didn’t even know the other group was working on it, until we all showed up at a conference together and discovered we were working on the same thing,” says Young. “We said, ‘Well, let’s forge ahead. Best of luck.’”
It wasn’t immediately apparent how the gene regulated fruit fly activity. In 1990, Hall and Rosbash determined that levels of period’s messenger RNA — an intermediate step between DNA and protein — fell as levels of period’s protein, called PER, rose. That finding indicated that PER protein shuts down its own gene’s activity.

A clock, however, isn’t composed of just one gear, Young says. He discovered in 1994 another gene called timeless. That gene’s protein, called TIM, works with PER to drive the clock. Young also discovered other circadian clockworks, including doubletime and its protein DBT, which set the clock’s pace. Rosbash and Hall discovered yet more gears and the two groups competed and collaborated with each other. “This whole thing would not have turned out nearly as nicely if we’d been the only ones working on it, or they had,” Young says.

Since those discoveries, researchers have found that nearly every cell in the body contains a circadian clock, and almost every gene follows circadian rhythms in at least one type of cell. Some genes may have rhythm in the liver, but not the skin cells, for instance. “It’s normal to oscillate,” Herzog says.
Trouble arises when those clocks get out of sync with each other, says neuroscientist Joseph Takahashi at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. For instance, genes such as cMyc and p53 help control cell growth and division. Scientists now know they are governed, in part, by the circadian clock. Disrupting the circadian clock’s smooth running could lead to cancer-promoting mistakes.

But while bad timing might lead to diseases, there’s also a potential upside. Scientists have also realized that giving drugs at the right time might make them more effective, Herzog says.

Rosbash joked during a news conference that his own circadian rhythms had been disrupted by the Nobel committee’s early morning phone call. When he heard the news that he’d won the prize, “I was shocked, breathless really. Literally. My wife said, ‘Start breathing,’” he told an interviewer from the Nobel committee.

Young’s sleep was untroubled by the call from Sweden. His home phone is the kitchen, and he didn’t hear it ring, so the committee was unable to reach him before making the announcement. “The rest of the world knew, but I didn’t,” he says. Rockefeller University president Richard Lifton called him on his cell phone and shared the news, throwing Young’s timing off, too. “This really did take me surprise,” Young said during a news conference. “I had trouble even putting my shoes on this morning. I’d go pick up the shoes and realize I needed the socks. And then ‘I should put my pants on first.’”

Actress Hedy Lamarr laid the groundwork for some of today’s wireless tech

Once billed as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” actress Hedy Lamarr is often remembered for Golden Age Hollywood hits like Samson and Delilah. But Lamarr was gifted with more than just a face for film; she had a mind for science.

A new documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, spotlights Lamarr’s lesser-known legacy as an inventor. The film explores how the pretty veneer that Lamarr shrewdly used to advance her acting career ultimately trapped her in a life she found emotionally isolating and intellectually unfulfilling.
Lamarr, born in Vienna in 1914, first earned notoriety for a nude scene in a 1933 Czech-Austrian film. Determined to rise above that cinematic scarlet letter, Lamarr fled her unhappy first marriage and sailed to New York in 1937. En route, she charmed film mogul Louis B. Mayer into signing her. Stateside, she became a Hollywood icon by day and an inventor by night.
Lamarr’s interest in gadgetry began in childhood, though she never pursued an engineering education. Her most influential brainchild was a method of covert radio communication called frequency hopping, which involves sending a message over many different frequencies, jumping between channels in an order known only to the sender and receiver. So if an adversary tried to jam the signal on a certain channel, it would be intercepted for only a moment.

During World War II, Lamarr partnered with composer George Antheil to design a frequency-hopping device for steering antisubmarine torpedoes. The pair got a patent, but the U.S. Navy didn’t take the invention seriously. “The Navy basically told her, ‘You know, you’d be helping the war a lot more, little lady, if you got out and sold war bonds rather than sat around trying to invent,’ ” biographer Richard Rhodes says in the film. Ultimately, the film suggests, Lamarr’s bombshell image and the sexism of the day stifled her inventing ambitions. Yet, frequency hopping paved the way for some of today’s wireless technologies.

Throughout Bombshell, animated sketches illustrate Lamarr’s inventions, but the film doesn’t dig deep into the science. The primary focus is the tension between Lamarr’s love of invention and her Hollywood image. With commentary from family and historians, as well as old interviews with Lamarr, Bombshell paints a sympathetic portrait of a woman troubled by her superficial reputation and yearning for recognition of her scientific intellect.

Some of TRAPPIST-1’s planets could have life-friendly atmospheres

It’s still too early to pack your bags for TRAPPIST-1. But two new studies probe the likely compositions of the seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting the cool, dim star, and some are looking better and better as places to live (SN: 3/18/17, p. 6).

New mass measurements suggest that the septet probably have rocky surfaces and possibly thin atmospheres, researchers report February 5 in Astronomy & Astrophysics. For at least three of the planets, those atmospheres don’t appear to be too hot for life, many of these same researchers conclude February 5 in Nature Astronomy.
TRAPPIST-1 is about 40 light-years from Earth, and four of its planets lie within or near the habitable zone, the range where temperatures can sustain liquid water. That makes these worlds tempting targets in the search for extraterrestrial life (SN: 12/23/17, p. 25)

One clue to potential habitability is a planet’s mass — something not precisely nailed down in previous measurements of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds. Mass helps determine a planet’s density, which in turn provides clues to its makeup. High density could indicate that a planet doesn’t have an atmosphere. Low density could indicate that a planet is shrouded in a puffy, hydrogen-rich atmosphere that would cause a runaway greenhouse effect.

Using a new computer technique that accounts for the planets’ gravitational tugs on each other, astronomer Simon Grimm of the University of Bern in Switzerland and his colleagues calculated the seven planets’ masses with five to eight times better precision than before. Those measurements suggest that the innermost planet probably has a thick, viscous atmosphere like Venus, Grimm says. The other six, which may be covered in ice or oceans, may have more life-friendly atmospheres. The fourth planet from the star has the same density as Earth and receives the same amount of radiation from its star as Earth, Grimm’s team reports in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“This is really the cool thing: We have one planet which is very, very similar to the Earth,” Grimm says. “That’s really nice.”
Having an atmosphere could suggest habitability, but not if it’s too hot. So using the Hubble Space Telescope, MIT astronomer Julien de Wit and his colleagues, including some members from Grimm’s team, observed the four middle planets as they passed in front of the star. The team was looking for a signature in near-infrared wavelengths of light filtering through planets’ atmospheres. That would have indicated that the atmospheres were full of heat-trapping hydrogen.

In four different observations, Hubble saw no sign of hydrogen-rich atmospheres around three of the worlds, de Wit and colleagues report in Nature Astronomy. “We ruled out one of the scenarios in which it would have been uninhabitable,” de Wit says.

The new observations don’t necessarily mean the planets have atmospheres, much less ones that are good for life, says planetary scientist Stephen Kane of the University of California, Riverside. It’s still possible that the star’s radiation blew the planets’ atmospheres away earlier in their histories. “That’s something which is still on the table,” he says. “This is a really important piece of that puzzle, but there are many, many pieces.”

Finishing the puzzle may have to wait for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2019, which will be powerful enough to figure out all the components of the planets’ atmospheres — if they exist.

What bees did during the Great American Eclipse

When the 2017 Great American Eclipse hit totality and the sky went dark, bees noticed.

Microphones in flower patches at 11 sites in the path of the eclipse picked up the buzzing sounds of bees flying among blooms before and after totality. But those sounds were noticeably absent during the full solar blackout, a new study finds.

Dimming light and some summer cooling during the onset of the eclipse didn’t appear to make a difference to the bees. But the deeper darkness of totality did, researchers report October 10 in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. At the time of totality, the change in buzzing was abrupt, says study coauthor and ecologist Candace Galen of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
The recordings come from citizen scientists, mostly school classes, setting out small microphones at two spots in Oregon, one in Idaho and eight in Missouri. Often when bees went silent at the peak of the eclipse, Galen says, “you can hear the people in the background going ‘ooo,’ ‘ahh’ or clapping.”
There’s no entirely reliable way (yet) of telling what kinds of bees were doing the buzzing, based only on their sounds, Galen says. She estimates that the Missouri sites had a lot of bumblebees, while the western sites had more of the tinier, temperature-fussy Megachile bees.
More western samples, with the fussier bees, might have let researchers see an effect on the insects of temperatures dropping by at least 10 degrees Celsius during the eclipse. The temperature plunge in the Missouri summer just “made things feel a little more comfortable,” Galen says.

This study of buzz recordings gives the first formal data published on bees during a solar eclipse, as far as Galen knows. “Insects are remarkably neglected,” she says. “Everybody wants to know what their dog and cat are doing during the eclipse, but they don’t think about the flea.”

Malaysia is ground zero for the next malaria menace

Vinita Surukan knew the mosquitoes were trouble. They attacked her in swarms, biting through her clothes as she worked to collect rubber tree sap near her village in Sabah, the northern state of Malaysia. The 30-year-old woman described the situation as nearly unbearable. But she needed the job.

There were few alternatives in her village surrounded by fragments of forest reserves and larger swaths of farms, oil palm plantations and rubber tree estates. So she endured until a week of high fever and vomiting forced her to stop.
The night of July 23, Surukan was trying to sleep off her fever when the clinic she visited earlier in the day called with results: Her blood was teeming with malaria parasites, about a million in each drop. Her family rushed her to the town hospital where she received intravenous antimalarial drugs before being transferred to a city hospital equipped to treat severe malaria. The drugs cleared most of the parasites, and the lucky woman was smiling by morning.

Malaria has terrorized humans for millennia, its fevers carved into our earliest writing on ancient Sumerian clay tablets from Mesopotamia. In 2016, four species of human malaria parasites, which are spread by mosquito from person to person, infected more than 210 million people worldwide, killing almost 450,000. The deadliest species, Plasmodium falciparum, causes most of the infections.

But Surukan’s malaria was different. Hers was not a human malaria parasite. She had P. knowlesi, which infects several monkey species. The same parasite had recently infected two other people in Surukan’s village — a man who hunts in the forest and a teenager. Surukan suspects that her parasites came from the monkeys that live in the forest bordering the rubber tree estate where she worked. Some villagers quit working there after hearing of Surukan’s illness.

Monkey malaria, discovered in the early 1900s, became a public health concern only in the last 15 years. Before that, scientists thought it was extremely rare for monkey malaria parasites, of which there are at least 30 species, to infect humans.
Yet since 2008, Malaysia has reported more than 15,000 cases of P. knowlesi infection and about 50 deaths. Infections in 2017 alone hit 3,600.
People infected with monkey malaria are found across Southeast Asia near forests with wild monkeys. In 2017, another species of monkey malaria parasite, P. cynomolgi, was found in five Malaysians and 13 Cambodians. And by 2018, at least 19 travelers to the region, mostly Europeans, had brought monkey malaria back to their home countries.

The rise of monkey malaria in Malaysia is closely tied to rapid deforestation, says Kimberly Fornace, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. After testing blood samples of nearly 2,000 people from areas in Sabah with various levels of deforestation, she found that people staying or working near cut forests were more likely than people living away from forests to have P. knowlesi infections, she and colleagues reported in June in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Stepping over felled trees, humans move closer to the monkeys and the parasite-carrying mosquitoes that thrive in cleared forests.
It’s out there
There’s no feasible way to treat wild monkeys for an infection that they show no signs of. “That’s the problem with P. knowlesi,” says Singapore-based infectious disease specialist Fe Espino, a director of the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network.

In 2015, the World Health Organization set a goal for 2030: to stop malaria transmission in at least 35 of the 91 malaria-endemic countries. WHO targets the four human malaria parasites: P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae and P. ovale. Monkey malaria is excluded from the campaign because the agency regards it as an animal disease that has not been shown to transmit among humans.

But as countries reduce human malaria, they will eventually have to deal with monkey malaria, Espino says, echoing an opinion widely shared by monkey malaria scientists.

“Something nasty” could emerge from the pool of malaria parasites in monkeys, says malariologist Richard Culleton of Nagasaki University in Japan. Culleton studies the genetics of human and monkey malaria. Malaria parasites can mutate quickly — possibly into new types that can more easily infect humans (SN: 9/6/14, p. 9). To Culleton, the monkey malaria reservoir “is like a black box. Things come flying out of it occasionally and you don’t know what’s coming next.”
Malaysia is very close to reaching the WHO target of human malaria elimination. In 2017, only 85 people there were infected with human malaria. But that success feels hollow as monkey malaria gains a foothold. And while monkey malaria has swelled into a public health threat only in Malaysia, the same could happen in other parts of Southeast Asia and beyond. Even in southeastern Brazil, where human malaria was eliminated 50 years ago, the P. simium malaria parasite that resides in howler monkeys caused outbreaks in humans in 2015 and 2016.

From tool to threat
In the late 1800s, scientists discovered the Plasmodium parasite and its Anopheles mosquito carriers. Humans retaliated by draining marshes to stop mosquito breeding and spraying insecticides over whole communities. Governments and militaries pursued antimalarial drugs as the disease claimed countless soldiers during the two World Wars.

Scientists soon found malaria parasites in birds, rodents, apes and monkeys. To the researchers, the parasites found in monkeys were a tool for testing antimalarial drugs, not a threat. An accident, however, showed otherwise.
In 1960, biologist Don Eyles had been studying the monkey malaria P. cynomolgi at a National Institutes of Health lab in Memphis, Tenn., when he fell ill with malarial fevers. He had been infected with the parasites found in his research monkeys. His team quickly confirmed that the malaria parasites in his monkeys could be carried by mosquitoes to humans. Suddenly, monkey malaria was not just a tool; it was an animal disease that could naturally infect humans.
The news shook WHO, McWilson Warren said in a 2005 interview recorded by the Office of NIH History. Warren, a parasitologist, had been Eyles’ colleague. Five years before Eyles became infected, WHO had launched the Global Malaria Eradication Programme. Banking on insecticides and antimalarial drugs, the agency had aimed to end all malaria transmissions outside of Africa. A monkey malaria that easily infects humans would sink the program because there would be no way to treat all the monkeys.

A team of American scientists, including Eyles and Warren, traveled to Malaysia — then the Federation of Malaya — where the P. cynomolgi parasites that infected Eyles came from. Funded by NIH, the scientists worked with colleagues from the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, established in 1900 by the British to study tropical diseases.

From 1961 to 1965, the researchers discovered five new species of monkey malaria parasites and about two dozen mosquito species that carry the parasites. But the researchers did not find any human infections. Then, in 1965, an American surveyor became infected with P. knowlesi after spending several nights camping on a hill about 160 kilometers inland from Kuala Lumpur.

Warren surveyed the forested area where the infected American had camped. The hill sat beside a meandering river. Monkeys and gibbons, a type of ape, lived on the hill and in adjacent forests. The closest house was about two kilometers away. Warren sampled the blood of four monkeys and more than 1,100 villagers around the hill; he collected mosquitoes too.

He found P. knowlesi parasites in the monkeys, but none among the villagers. Only one mosquito species, A. maculatus, appeared capable of transmitting malaria between monkeys and humans, but Warren deemed its numbers too low to matter. He concluded that monkey malaria stayed in the forests and rarely ever spilled into humans.

With those results, NIH ended the monkey malaria project, Warren said, and the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur returned to its primary focus: human malaria, dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases. Monkey malaria was struck off the list of public health concerns.

Wake-up call
P. knowlesi landed back in the spotlight in 2004, with a report in the Lancet by malariologist Balbir Singh and his team. The group had found 120 people infected over two years in southern Malaysian Borneo. The patients were mostly indigenous people who lived near forests. Clinicians initially had checked the patients’ blood samples under microscopes — the standard test — and diagnosed the parasites as human malaria. But when Singh, of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, applied molecular tools that identify parasite species by their DNA, he revealed that all the samples were P. knowlesi. Monkey malaria was breaking out of the diminishing forests.

By 2018, P. knowlesi had infected humans in all Southeast Asian countries except for East Timor. Singapore, declared malaria free in 1982, reported that six soldiers were infected with P. knowlesi from wild monkeys in a forest reserve. The parasite also turned up in almost 380 out of 3,700 visitors to health clinics in North Sumatra, Indonesia, an area that is close to being deemed free of human malaria.
Many scientists now recognize P. knowlesi as the fifth malaria parasite species that can naturally infect humans. It is also the only one to multiply in the blood every 24 hours, and it can kill if treatment is delayed. People pick up P. knowlesi parasites from long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques and Mitred leaf monkeys. These monkeys range across Southeast Asia. So far, malaria parasites have been found in monkeys near or in forests, but rarely in monkeys in towns or cities.

Scientists propose several reasons for the recent rise in monkey malaria infections, but two stand out: improvement in malaria detection and forest loss.

Malaysia, for instance, finds more monkey malaria cases than other Southeast Asian countries because it added molecular diagnostic tools in 2009. Other countries use only microscopy for detection, says Rose Nani Mudin, who heads the vectorborne disease sector at Malaysia’s Ministry of Health. Since 2008, annual monkey malaria cases in Malaysia have climbed tenfold, even as human malaria cases have plummeted. “Maybe there is a genuine increase in [monkey malaria] cases. But with strengthening of surveillance, of course you would detect more cases,” she says.

Data collected by Malaysia’s malaria surveillance system have also revealed strong links between infection risk and deforestation. Fornace, the epidemiologist, examined the underlying drivers of monkey malaria in Surukan’s home state of Sabah. Fornace mapped monkey malaria cases in 405 villages, based on patient records from 2008 to 2012. Satellite data showed changes in forested areas around those villages. The villages most likely to report monkey malaria infections were those that had cut more than 8 percent of their surrounding forests within the last five years, she and colleagues reported in 2016 in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Fornace’s team went into the field for a follow-up study, published in June in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The team collected blood samples from almost 2,000 people in two areas in Sabah and checked for current and past malaria infection. People who farmed or worked in plantations near forests had at least a 63 percent higher risk of P. knowlesi infection, and — like in the 2016 study — forests and cleared areas escalated risk of infection.

“It feels almost like P. knowlesi follows deforestation,” Fornace says. Several years after a forest is cut back, nearby communities “get a peak of P. knowlesi.”

Today, the hill where the American surveyor camped in 1965 is a small island in a sea of oil palm estates. From 2000 to 2012, Malaysia cleared a total amount of forest equaling 14.4 percent of its land area, more than any other country, according to a study published in 2013 in Science. A study in 2013 in PLOS ONE used satellite images to show that in 2009, only one-fifth of Malaysian Borneo was intact forest. Almost one-fourth of all forest there had been logged, regrown and logged many times over.

Since 2008, oil palm acreage in Malaysian Borneo has increased from 2.08 million hectares to 3.1 million, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. In Malaysia, the four states hit hardest by deforestation — Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan and Pahang — report 95 percent of the country’s P. knowlesi cases.
Fornace thinks deforestation and the ecological changes that come with it are the main drivers of monkey malaria’s rise in Malaysia. She has seen long-tailed macaques spend more time in farms and near houses after their home forests were being logged. Macaques thrive near human communities where food is abundant and predators stay out. Parasite-carrying mosquitoes breed in puddles made by farming and logging vehicles.

Where monkeys go, mosquitoes follow. Indra Vythilingam, a parasitologist at University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, studied human malaria in indigenous communities in the early 1990s. Back then, she rarely found A. cracens, the mosquito species that carries monkey malaria in Peninsular Malaysia. But in 2007, that species made up over 60 percent of mosquitoes collected at forest edges and in orchards, she reported in 2012 in Malaria Journal. “It’s so much easier to find them” now, she says.

As Fornace points out, “P. knowlesi is a really good example of how a disease can emerge and change” as land use changes. She recommends that when big projects are evaluated for their impact on the economy and the environment, human health should be considered as well.

What to expect
While P. knowlesi cases are climbing in Malaysia, scientists have found no evidence that P. knowlesi transmits directly from human to mosquito to human (though many suspect it happens, albeit inefficiently).
Following a review by experts in 2017, WHO continues to exclude P. knowlesi from its malaria elimination efforts. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, a tropical medicine specialist who coordinates WHO malaria control in the western Pacific region, says the agency will reconsider P. knowlesi as human malaria if there is new evidence to show that the parasite transmits within human communities.

In Malaysia last year, only one person died from human malaria, but P. knowlesi killed 11. “We don’t want that to happen, which is why [P. knowlesi] is our priority even though it is not in the elimination program,” says Rose Nani Mudin from the country’s Ministry of Health.

Unable to do much with the monkeys in the trees, Malaysian health officers focus on the people most likely to be infected with P. knowlesi. Programs raise awareness of monkey malaria and aim to reduce mosquitoes around houses. New mosquito-control methods are needed, however, because conventional methods like insecticide-treated bed nets do not work for monkey malaria mosquitoes that bite outdoors around dusk.

Fighting malaria is like playing chess against an opponent that counters every good move we make, says Culleton in Japan. Malaria parasites can mutate quickly and “go away and hide in places and come out again.” Against malaria, he says, “we can never let our guard down.”

This article appears in the November 10, 2018 Science News with the headline, “The Next Malaria Menace: Deforestation brings monkeys and humans close enough to share an age-old disease.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on November 6, 2018 to correct the WHO’s position on monkey malaria. The agency excludes monkey malaria parasites from its malaria eradication goals, not because those particular parasites rarely infect humans, but because the parasites have not been shown to transmit among humans.