Thursday, 1 December, 2022
HomeScientiFixMysterious diseases in chimpanzees at Sierra Leone sanctuary linked to bacteria 

Mysterious diseases in chimpanzees at Sierra Leone sanctuary linked to bacteria 

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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Illness in chimpanzees leads to discovery of new bacteria

After decades of analysing mysterious deaths of chimpanzees at the Tacugama sanctuary in Sierra Leone, researchers have identified a bacteria that causes intestinal damage in the primates. 

None of the chimpanzees that got the disease survived but it is not contagious. The infection does not infect humans and has not appeared at other sanctuaries.

It took researchers five years to identify the new species of bacteria linked to the disease, which they have named “epizootic neurologic and gastroenteric syndrome” (ENGS). The researchers proposed in their paper that the new species of bacteria be named Sarcina troglodytae. 

At this point, however, the researchers have only found that the bacteria is associated with the disease and is not the cause. 

The new bacterium may be more widespread than scientists thought. They believe that illnesses and deaths in humans and animals attributed to Sarcina ventriculi — another member of the same genus — may actually be caused by the new bacterium, or similar species. 

Read more about it here.

Arctic ocean had freshwater twice in the past 

Scientists have found that at least twice in the last 1,50,000 years, the Arctic Ocean was covered by up to 900-metre-thick shelf ice and was filled entirely with freshwater. 

In fact, detailed analysis of the composition of marine deposits revealed that even the Nordic Seas did not contain sea-salt in at least two glacial periods.

Instead, these oceans were filled with large amounts of freshwater under a thick ice shield. 

About 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, in a particularly cold part of the last glacial period, large parts of Northern Europe and North America were covered by ice sheets. The European ice sheet spanned a distance of more than 5000 kilometers, from Ireland and Scotland via Scandinavia to the Eastern rim of the Arctic Ocean. 

Large parts of what is now Canada were buried under two large ice sheets. Greenland and parts of the Bering Sea coastline were glaciated too. 

According to the study, the floating parts of the northern ice sheets covered large parts of the Arctic Ocean in the past 150,000 years. This happened once about 150,000-130,000 years ago and then again 70,000-60,000 years ago. 

In both periods, freshwater accumulated under the ice, creating a completely fresh Arctic Ocean for thousands of years.

It is possible that this water was then released into the North Atlantic in very short periods of time. Such sudden freshwater inputs could explain rapid climate oscillations for which no satisfying explanation had been previously found. Read more about it here.

Marmosets eavesdrop on other monkeys 

Scientists have discovered marmoset monkeys eavesdrop on the conversations between other marmosets. Based on what they hear, these monkeys then make a decision about whether or not they want to interact with the group. 

Human beings continuously observe and evaluate interactions between third parties to decide with whom to interact. But so far, it was not known what information animals gain when they eavesdrop on vocal interactions between other members. 

Even if animals do understand such conversations, they do not necessarily exhibit behavioral expressions that can be easily observed by humans. 

Researchers from the University of Zurich created a study combining call simulations, thermography methods and behavioral preference measures.

Using thermal imaging, the researchers were able to non-invasively measure temperature changes in the faces of marmoset monkeys to quantify subtle emotional responses. 

For their study the researchers used playbacks of vocal exchanges between marmosets as well as calls of individual animals who were not involved in an interaction. 

The results showed that the response to interactions was significantly different than the response to individual calls. This means, marmoset monkeys are able to distinguish a dialogue among conspecifics from a pure monologue.

After the monkeys had heard the different interactions, researchers found that the marmosets preferred to approach the simulations that had a cooperative interaction. More on the subject here

Noise pollution is harming marine animals 

Scientists have recorded the soundscape of the ocean, which shows that marine life is being increasingly disturbed by the noise pollution. 

According to a team from the University of Exeter, the damage caused by noise is as harmful as overfishing, pollution and the climate crisis. 

The researchers explain that marine animals can only see across tens of metres at most, and can smell across hundreds of metres, but they can hear across entire ocean basins. Behaviour of marine animals hence depends on the soundscape they encounter — and too much noise is creating an ‘acoustic fog’. 

The researchers analysed more than 500 studies that assessed the effects of noise on sea life. About 90 per cent of the studies found significant harm to marine mammals, such as whales, seals and dolphins, and 80 per cent found impacts on fish and invertebrates. 

One of the most obvious impacts of human made noise include  deafness, mass strandings, and deaths of marine mammals due to military sonar equipment. But the noise also impacts marine life’s ability to communicate with mates, or protect themselves from prey. Read more here.

Genes of world’s fastest growing plant may hold key to food security

Researchers studied the genetics of the world’s fastest growing plant to decode how they can make plants of the future climate resilient. 

Duckweed, also known as Wolffia, is the world’s fastest growing plant. It has no roots, and is made up of a single stem-leaf structure. Each duckweed plant is around the size of a pinhead, and the plant doubles in size on a daily basis. It reproduces when a daughter plant buds off from the mother. 

Scientists wanted to understand what makes the plant grow so quickly, as the answer may hold the key to food security in future. 

They found that Wolffia only has half the number of genes that are regulated by light/dark cycles compared to other plants. This means, unlike other plants, it’s growth is not regulated by the availability of light. In fact, the plant has shed most genes that are unnecessary for its survival, and instead evolved in a way that most of its genes are focussed around growing. Read more here.

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1 COMMENT

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