Quirks & Quarks

Mar 26: Boa breathing, green fire retardant vampire bat evolution and more…

Building urban biodiversity and fungal leather

Building urban biodiversity and fungal leather

A boa constrictor seen swallowing a rat. A new study looks at how boa constrictors can inflate only parts of their lungs, to enable them to still breathe while squeezing their prey and then swallowing it whole. (Scott Boback)

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

How do snakes breathe when eating huge meals?

When a snake squeezes the life out of its prey and then swallows it whole, the process can also constrict the snake's airways and lungs. Researchers wanted to understand how boa constrictors can withstand these forces without choking or suffocating themselves. In a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, John Capano and his colleagues x-rayed boa constrictors while parts of their lungs were compressed by a blood pressure cuff. The scientists found that the snakes have the ability to inflate only a part of their lungs, so that they can still breathe while gulping down a meal that can be wider than their own body.

A new chemistry for green fire retardants

Fire retardant chemicals used on fabrics, furniture and building materials since the 70s have been implicated in a range of environmental and medical issues. Now a team that included Dr Tom Kolibaba, a chemist with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, has developed a new kind of chemically benign retardant that may be able to protect us from fire without compromising our health.  He presented the research at this week's meeting of the American Chemical Society.

VIDEO: Green fire retardants from the American Chemical Society

How vampire bats had to evolve to live on blood alone

Researchers have traced the broad range of genetic changes that occurred in vampire bats as they evolved to exist on a diet of blood.  Micheal Hiller, a professor at the Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics in Frankfurt, Germany. One of the most significant changes was to allow the bat to process the iron-rich diet of blood. His research is published in Science Advances.

A common vampire bat emerging from a cave roost in Belize (Sherri and Brock Fenton)

How do we build urban biodiversity as cities continue to grow?

The urban environment is a challenging place for wild plants and animals to eke out a living. But as cities expand to accommodate human population growth, encouraging biodiversity within them could be good for humans and for nature. 

Colin Garroway from the University of Manitoba released a study showing that the overwhelming majority of terrestrial vertebrates struggle in cities. James Santangelo from the University of Toronto looked at how cities are driving white clover evolution around the world. Chloe Schmidt from Yale University studied how racial discrimination in US city planning led to variations in the health of the biodiversity in neighbourhoods, based on the race of the people who live there. Rohan Simkin of Yale University recently published a paper evaluating the challenges to biodiversity growing cities will present, but also exploring how cities can be made more biodiversity-friendly in the future.

Fungal fibers can be turned into yarn (left) or a leather substitute (right) (Akram Zamani)

Waste food fed to fungi is turned into faux leather

Researchers in Sweden have figured out a way to turn food waste into faux leather. Akram Zamani, associate professor in the faculty of textiles, engineering and business at the University of Boras, extracted fibre from a fungi that had been fed waste bread then processed it into a material that resembles leather. She presented her research at the American Chemical Society Spring 2022 meeting.