Quirks & Quarks

May 14: Ancient oyster mounds, seagrass' sweet secret, saving the Mekong delta and more…

Reading minds to produce sound and next-gen COVID-19 vaccines

Reading minds to produce sound and next-gen COVID-19 vaccines

Seagrass meadows like this one convert and store carbon into massive amounts of sugar which they deposit through their roots into marine sediment. Researchers estimate that world-wide, seagrass produces an amount of sugar equal to that of 32 billion cans of soda-pop. (HYDRA Marine Sciences GmbH)

On this week's Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald

Oyster shell mountains show history of sustainable Indigenous fisheries

At sites around the world ancient people disposed of oyster shells in piles that, over many hundreds of years, reached meters high. In a new study published in the journal Nature, a team of archaeologists including Torben Rick examined these massive oyster shell piles around the world and found that they revealed a history of sustainable oyster harvesting practices that modern scientists think we can learn from.

Seagrass is hiding a submerged sweet CO2 secret

Seagrass meadows around the world absorb carbon dioxide at a prodigious rate. Now researchers have discovered that they're converting and storing the carbon in marine sediments in a surprising form – as ordinary table sugar. Nicole Dubilier, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany, led a team that detected the sugar-rich sediments. They also found the seagrass also produced antimicrobials that prevent the sugar being consumed by 'sweet-toothed' microorganisms, and its carbon safely locked away. Her research was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

A Vietnamese fisherman is pictured on his boat on a canal in Thua Duc Village in the Mekong River Delta. Scientists say if current damming, land use and agricultural practices continue, the Mekong Delta, home to more than 17 million people, will completely disappear by 2100. (Linh Pham/Getty Images)

Saving the Mekong delta in six (not) easy steps

The Mekong Delta is the size of the Netherlands, and home to over 17 million people. But if current damming, land use and agricultural practices continue, it could be almost completely inundated by rising sea levels by 2100.  Matt Kondolf, a professor of environment planning and geography in the College of Environmental design at the University of California Berkeley, and his colleagues, have proposed several measures to save the Mekong and deltas like it around the world. His research was published in the journal  Science.

Researchers can read a bird's brain to tell what it's about to sing

Scientists have been able to decode neural activity in bird brains to anticipate the song the birds are about to produce. Vikash Gilja, an associate professor of computer and electrical engineering at the University of California San Diego, led the work. The team hopes this could lead to development of a device for people who've lost the ability to speak, which could produce synthetic speech in real time by reading brain activity alone. The research was published in PLoS Computational Biology. 

Researchers can predict what notes a bird will sing, and when it will sing them, by reading electrical signals in its brain (Peripitus CBC)

The first COVID-19 vaccines were a medical miracle – the next ones could be even better

The development of vaccines for the SARS-COV2 virus a little more than a year after the pandemic emerged saved uncounted lives. Researchers are continuing this work, developing new vaccines they hope will anticipate future variants and help us finally put COVID-19 behind us. 

Quirks producer Amanda Buckiewicz brings us up to date on some of the latest research. She spoke with: 

  • Dr. Kawsar Talaat, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Dr. Wayne Koff, epidemiologist and founder of the Human Vaccines Project at Harvard University
  • Dr. Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr Fiona Smaill, a professor of molecular medicine and pathology at McMaster University Medical Center
  • Michael D'Agostino, a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Matthew Miller at McMaster University


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