Quirks and Quarks

Feb 5: Long COVID and the brain, gravitational waves from supermassive black holes, swapping spit and more…

Climate change and fish wars, and hibernators recycle nutrients

Climate change and fish wars, and hibernators recycle nutrients

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On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

What we know about what long COVID is doing to the brain

Early in the epidemic it became clear that some people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection continued to experience a range of neurological issues, from fatigue, concentration problems and persistent headaches to strange sensory aberrations and psychological disturbances. Today we look into what researchers have learned about just how this respiratory virus is able to have long-term effects on the brain. 

We speak with researcher and long COVID sufferer Prof. Manali Mukherjee of McMaster University, who's recruiting for a research study on long COVID, and Dr. Serena Spudich, a professor of neurology and Co-director of the Center for Neuroepidemiology and Clinical Neurological Research at the Yale University School of Medicine who's research focuses on the neurological impacts of infectious disease.

Seeing gravitational waves from the biggest things in the universe

Astronomers believe that when galaxies collide, the titanic black holes at their cores, weighing as much as a hundred million or even a billion suns, fall into close orbit around each other and emit low-frequency gravitational waves in the process. Astrophysicist Maura McLaughlin of West Virginia University is participating in a new project that aims to use pulsars — a special kind of neutron star — to measure these elusive ripples in space-time. Her team's preliminary results were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope operated by the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory is used by the NANOGrav collaboration to track pulsars in an effort to detect low-frequency gravitational waves. (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Kids take note of who you kiss and who shares your ice cream

A team of researchers led by Ashley Thomas at the National Science Foundation Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at MIT has found that infants as young as 8 months old interpret willingness to engage in spit sharing — like sharing an ice cream or other food, kissing, or wiping up drool — as a sign of the closest and most trustworthy long-term relationships. Her research was published in the journal Science.

Climate change could spark fish wars around the globe

Fish stocks are on the move due to climate change, and that means they will be shifting between the territorial waters of fishing nations. In a new study zoologist and fisheries researcher Juliano Palacios-Abrantes and his colleagues have projected this movement globally, through the next century, and have warnings about how this could lead to international disputes over fisheries that could compromise sustainability of the stocks. Their research was published in the journal Global Change Biology

A hibernating thirteen-lined ground squirrel. (Robert Streiffer)

Squirrels survive hibernation by having their microbes recycle their pee

How squirrels and other animals hibernate for months without muscle atrophy has long puzzled scientists. New research suggests their gut bacteria efficiently recycles their waste, helping them maintain muscle strength during the long winter months so they can be fit for the spring. Bob speaks with University of Montreal animal physiologist Matthew Regan about his research, published in the journal Science.