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Lions engage in contagious yawning, mimic behaviour to harmonise group movements

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

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New Delhi: A team of researchers from the University of Pisa in Italy has found that lions engage in contagious yawning like several mammals including humans, to synchronise group movements. However, things don’t end there for lions.

According to the study, a lion that copies yawning behaviour from another lion is also likely to copy other behavioural patterns.

The team filmed lions living in the wild in Africa for their research, which aimed to find out if yawning is contagious in lions.

Prior research has shown that many animals yawn, and as with humans, it results in increased blood flow in the head, which oxygenates and cools the brain — in short, it makes humans and other animals more alert.

Over a four-month period, the team from Italy recorded 19 lions in their natural environment. They paid specific attention to yawning in the videos and first found that yawn contagion was very common among the lions, as they had suspected. But they also discovered that the lions also mimicked other behaviours.

For instance, if one lion yawned, another one is likely to yawn as well. Then, if the first lion stood up and walked a short distance, the same lion that had mimicked the yawn will also get up and walk a similar distance.

Researchers suggest that mimicking behaviour after yawning may be a means for boosting group vigilance in animals that live such a cooperative existence. Boosting collective awareness could help spot food opportunities or in some cases, to notice threats. Read more about the study here.

Also read: How vast is the universe? ‘Cosmic Zoom’ helps you explore this from the comfort of your mobile

Research shows why humans continue to ‘add’ to their problems

Researchers from University of Virginia have attempted to explain why humans favour adding to an existing problem, whether it helps or not, instead of subtracting from it.

The study noted that people rarely look at a situation, object or idea that needs improving and think of removing an element as a solution.

The team’s findings somewhat explained the fundamental reason behind everyday struggles of managing overwhelming schedules, the red-tapism that encumbers institutions and humans’ continuing efforts to exhaust planet resources.

The researchers suggest that additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort. People are often moving fast and working with the first ideas that come to mind, and so they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all.

Over time, the habit of looking for additive ideas gets stronger, and we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction. Read more here.

Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere hit record high this year

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have hit a record high this year, despite a dip in emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest measurements from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that global levels of carbon dioxide are 50 per cent above what they were when the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 18th century.

Data released by researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, shows that atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas in March this year averaged 417.14 parts per million.

The previous record for monthly carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa in the Scripps dataset was 417.10 parts per million in May 2020. Read more about this here.

Also read: Study shows how tapeworm infestation drug Niclosamide can help treat Covid

One-third of Antarctica’s ice shelf at risk of collapsing

A new study shows that more than one-third of the Antarctic’s ice shelf area could be at risk of collapsing into the sea if global temperatures reach 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Researchers from UK’s University of Reading found that 34 per cent of all Antarctic ice shelves — which is around half a million square kilometres — would be at risk of destabilisation under 4 degrees Celsius global warming.

Limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius would halve the area at risk and potentially avoid significant sea level rise.

The researchers also identified Larsen C — the largest remaining ice shelf on the peninsula that split to form the enormous A68 iceberg in 2017 — as one of four ice shelves that would be particularly threatened in a warmer climate.

The findings highlight the importance of limiting global temperature increases as set out in the Paris Agreement. Read more about this here.

Scientists track how bacteria exchange genes to become resistant

Researchers have been able to identify and track the exchange of genes among bacteria, which allow them to become resistant to drugs.

This phenomenon, known as ‘horizontal gene transfer’, occurs in bacteria that cause infections in hospitals. The team found that while this transfer is likely to happen frequently, it is a complex process.

Horizontal gene transfer is when the transfer of genetic material takes place between bacterial cells other than by the transmission of DNA from parent to offspring.

The horizontal gene transfer of mobile genetic elements allows otherwise harmless bacteria to transfer genes that provide resistance to antibiotics, turning them into drug-resistant ‘superbugs’.

The research demonstrates that with genome sequencing it is now possible to study horizontal gene transfer between drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals. The findings may pave the way for new strategies to prevent and control multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in patients. Read more here.

(Edited by Rachel John)

Also read: Why does hair fall when stress levels are high? New Harvard study on mice could hold clue


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