Quirks & Quarks

Jan 29: 130,000 new viruses discovered, chimpanzee social learning, what's moving the tectonic plates and more

Deer return to wildfire landscape and why aliens might look like us.

Deer return to wildfire landscape and why aliens might look like us.

A chimpanzee cracking nuts with stone tools in the Bossou region of Guinea. (K. Koops)

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

Researchers discover 130,000 new viruses, giving us a new way to watch for emerging pathogens

A team including Canadian computational biologist Artem Babaian has discovered 130,000 new RNA viruses by searching previously unexamined global databases of genetic material. RNA viruses include the ones that cause COVID-19, Ebola, measles, mumps, polio, influenza and the common cold. This work means we know of about nine times as many RNA viruses as we did before, and the team hopes this will let scientists detect potentially dangerous viruses in the future. The research was published in the journal Nature.

A Canadian led team has discovered 130,000 new RNA viruses in genetic data collected from around the world, and think they've developed a new tool to monitor for potentially dangerous viruses. (Robert Edgar)

Chimpanzees aren't monkeys, but they learn by monkey see, monkey do

Chimpanzees and humans have a lot in common — which isn't too surprising, given that chimps are our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. They're intelligent and highly social, and they're good with tools, too. Now, researchers have found that we have something else in common: Chimps, like us, are social learners, which means passing on knowledge is a group effort.

Bob spoke with Kathelijne Koops, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich, about her study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Is the moon driving the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates?

A team of geoscientists is proposing a new theory for how the movement of Earth's jigsaw-puzzle surface of tectonic plates is driven. The dominant theory has been that heat from deep in the Earth was responsible, but Anne Hofmeister, a geophysicist from Washington University in St. Louis, and her colleagues are now suggesting that the irregular orbit of the moon, together with the spin of the Earth are the driving forces. Her research was published by the Geological Society of America. 

A black-tailed deer at the University of California’s Hopland Research and Extension Center, seen after returning home to a scorched landscape in the wake of the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire. (Samantha Kreling)

Deer choose to return to their smoldering home in the wake of a massive wildfire

A team studying deer in California with automatic cameras and GPS collars had their project interrupted when a massive wildfire tore through their study area. The deer fled the fire, but to the researchers' shock, returned when the ground was still smoldering. Ecologist Kaitlyn Gaynor, thinks this behaviour, known as 'site fidelity,' may be counterproductive in a new era of extreme wildfire. Her research was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution

Aliens often look like us in movies — will they look like us in real life?

University of Cambridge zoologist Arik Kershenbaum talks about his new book The Zoologist's Guide To the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens and Ourselves with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. He argues that universal evolutionary pressures and physical laws will mean alien life will likely be surprisingly similar to life on Earth.

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