Sunday, May 26, 2024

May 25 Quirks & Quarks Podcast With Bob MacDonald

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Paleontology, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Wildlife, Agriculture, Nature, Geology, Models, Computer Sciences, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

This week (ending May 25) the podcast Quirks and Quarks discusses the following in its 54 minute program with host Bob MacDonald. Each segment description includes a photograph and segment lengths are indicated.

-- This little piggy escaped and wreaked havoc on crops and the environment 8m 37s 

Wild pigs that have escaped or been released from farms have established self-sustaining populations in the prairies and Central Canada and are wreaking havoc on farms and wilderness landscapes alike. A new study, led by Ryan Brook at the University of Saskatchewan, has tracked pigs to try to understand where, and how far, this porcine invasion can go. The research was published in the journal Biological Invasions.

-- Satellites and space junk burning up in the atmosphere is a new kind of pollution 8m 35s

Scientists doing high-altitude sampling of material deposited when meteorites burn up in the atmosphere are seeing a shift in the material they've been collecting. In a recent study in the journal PNAS, scientists found that increasingly the particles contain material that could have only come from vaporized space junk, such as the upper stages of rocket boosters and re-entering satellites. Daniel Cziczo, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University, said they're now trying to find out what kind of impact this in material in the stratosphere may have on things like the ozone layer and global warming.

-- A 200 million year old marine reptile the size of a blue whale 8m 44s

Hundreds of millions of years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the surface of our planet, ichthyosaurs ruled the Earth's oceans. Analysis of bones found in a river basin in the U.K. suggests a new species might have been one the biggest marine animals that ever lived. Paleontologist Jimmy Waldron was part of the team, who published their research in the journal PLOS One. 

-- Fox skulls are optimized for diving into snow 7m 40s

Foxes hunt in winter by listening for rodents under deep snow and then leaping and diving into the snow, plunging down to snatch their prey. A team including Sunghwan Jung, a professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, did a unique experiment to confirm that the pointed shape of the fox skull is better than any other shape they tested at penetrating deep into snow. The research was published in the journal PNAS.

-- The logic behind creating more dangerous viruses to understand them better 10m 07s

Anticipating how dangerous viruses — like avian influenza or coronaviruses — could transform from more innocuous forms into much more dangerous ones could help us prepare for future pandemics. Ron Fouchier, a molecular virologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, says without doing "gain of function" research, like the kind he published in the journal Science in 2012, we never would have known which changes to look out for with the current global H5N1 outbreak. Gain of function research, which involves experimenting with viruses to make them more dangerous, has become increasingly controversial, but Fouchier says with Europe's strict regulations to ensure safety and oversight, the risk is worth the reward.

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