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Nipah virus, Australian pink diamonds and the way cockatoos mate : NPR

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with Maria Godoy and Regina Barber of the Brief Wave podcast a couple of new Nipah virus outbreak, Australian pink diamonds and the mating lifetime of cockatoos.


And it’s time for this week’s science roundup with our associates at NPR’s Brief Wave podcast – Regina Barber and Maria Godoy – within the studio. Hey there, you two.



KELLY: So you’ve introduced us three science tales – three that caught your eye this week. What have you ever acquired?

GODOY: Properly, we have got an outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala, India…

BARBER: What mysterious pink diamonds in Australia right now inform us about what occurred on Earth tons of of thousands and thousands of years in the past…

GODOY: And the way cockatoos woo their lovers by moonlighting as drummers.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK, so virus, pink diamonds and romantic cockatoos. I acquired to go for the third one first. Maria, inform me in regards to the wild palm cockatoos. They’re drumming out love songs?

GODOY: Yeah. That is as fabulous because it sounds. So these palm cockatoos solely reside in distant elements of northern Australia and lowland New Guinea, some offshore islands. Feminine cockatoos solely lay one egg each two years.

BARBER: Which suggests they need to be tremendous choosy about selecting a male mate.

GODOY: Proper. And as TLC taught us all within the ’90s, they do not need no scrubs, which implies…

BARBER: (Laughter).

GODOY: …The male palm cockatoos need to go all-out to persuade the females to mate with them. Rob Heinsohn has been finding out these birds for many years. He is a conservation biologist at Australian Nationwide College, and he says the males placed on a reasonably unbelievable present. They begin off by whistling and making numerous calls and noises to catch her eye.

ROB HEINSOHN: And on the identical time, he is erecting his large crest. And he is blushing his pink cheeks, and he is bobbing and dancing on the department, twirling, doing the whole lot he can to get her consideration.

KELLY: OK. I’ve pink cheeks imagining him erecting his large crest…


KELLY: …On his head, proper?

GODOY: On his head.

KELLY: Oh his head.

GODOY: Sure, on his head.


GODOY: This can be a household present.

KELLY: So fast-forward to the drumming – what occurs?

BARBER: Properly, that is the massive finale, proper? After he is been whistling and bobbing, the male cockatoo goes out on a limb and makes an enormous present of chopping off the largest tree department. And he does it together with his invoice to mainly present how robust he’s.

GODOY: After which he whittles that department down together with his beak and begins drumming. And in a brand new research printed by the Royal Society, researchers report that every chook really has his personal most popular type of drumstick. Some like them quick and fats. Others choose lengthy and thin. Typically they use seed pods, too. However they every have their very own signature instrument type.

BARBER: Not solely that – every chook has its personal signature drumming type, too. Heinsohn says he can acknowledge which male palm cockatoo is drumming simply by listening – kind of like individuals say you possibly can inform when Keith Moon is drumming on a Who album.


KELLY: OK, I am undecided The Who’re shedding any sleep over that, however, Maria, inform me what the feminine cockatoos are doing whereas all this is occurring.

GODOY: Yeah. Properly, so Heinsohn says this entire elaborate musical mating show is how male palm cockatoos present they’ve the brains and creativity to be worthy as mates. So the females watch this carefully the entire time, and the males do these shows again and again till they lastly get the lady.

KELLY: Till they get the lady – so a cheerful ending. That’s pleasant.

Talking of pleasant – pink diamonds. That is our subsequent matter – pink diamonds in Australia – Regina.

BARBER: Yeah. So for a very long time, the Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia loved a bounty of pink diamonds. Till they closed in 2020, they had been the main provider of them. However the entire time, geologists have been stumped by how the diamonds acquired there and when.

GODOY: Yeah. See, pink diamonds are stunning, however they’re very uncommon. Like, when you scooped up 500 random diamonds from Argyle…

KELLY: As you do.

GODOY: Yeah, precisely – just one can be pink. And so they’re much more uncommon at different mines, which makes them fairly coveted stones. If you happen to’ll bear in mind, Ben Affleck gave J.Lo a pink diamond throughout their first engagement within the early aughts.

KELLY: So many engagements in the past. OK, so pink diamonds – you stated they’re very uncommon. Why?

BARBER: It is as a result of they require a distinct sort of physics to be made. So you’ve your basic, colorless diamond, and that is created from pure carbon put below excessive stress. However one of many researchers, geologist Hugo Olierook, says pink diamonds are broken diamonds.

HUGO OLIEROOK: You may harm a diamond. You may really take that diamond and twist it and bend it a little bit. And when you bend it and twist it simply the correct quantity, it turns pink.

BARBER: And the constructions inside a diamond get compressed, and the sunshine touring by means of the pink diamond makes it that shade.

GODOY: So geologists have lengthy identified that diamonds are usually fashioned deep down.

BARBER: Greater than 90 miles deep down.

GODOY: Contained in the Earth’s crust. And so they tended to type again when there have been supercontinents on the floor of the earth.

KELLY: OK, cling on, ‘trigger I am making an attempt to maintain up right here. Supercontinents – that is once they had been all smushed collectively, like a gazillion years in the past?

GODOY: Yeah, precisely. So Pangea is the latest one. There was one other supercontinent referred to as Nuna, and scientists suppose that these pink diamonds had been created in the course of the formation of the Nuna supercontinent some 1.8 billion years in the past.

BARBER: Yeah. And Hugo and his colleagues wrote about this within the journal Nature Communications this week. And thru extra exact courting, they had been ready to determine that when Nuna broke aside 500 million years later, the diamonds spewed out. The subcontinents banged collectively and stretched, which precipitated a volcanic eruption of diamonds.

KELLY: A volcano of diamonds.


KELLY: Wonderful.

GODOY: Signal me up.

KELLY: OK, now our remaining story that you’ve delivered to us – it is a little bit bit extra of a downer, however it’s an attention-grabbing detective story.


KELLY: That is an epidemiological thriller. It’s in southern India. It is an outbreak of a virus referred to as the Nipah virus. Inform me extra.

GODOY: Proper. Properly, so Kamala Thiagarajan wrote in regards to the outbreak for NPR’s Goats and Soda weblog. It is the fourth outbreak within the state of Kerala since 2018. There’s been two deaths – the primary one was on the finish of August – and 6 instances to this point.

KELLY: Six instances to this point – and what does it do to you?

GODOY: Properly, this can be a virus that jumps from animals to individuals. Fruit bats are the first hosts, and it is on the World Well being Group’s listing of viruses with pandemic potential. And the same old signs can embody extreme respiratory issues like pneumonia, even encephalitis, which is mind swelling, and that may deliver fevers, complications, generally disorientation and even result in coma.

BARBER: And the virus might be lethal, too. There was an enormous outbreak in Malaysia within the late ’90s that killed over 100 individuals.

KELLY: Ugh. OK, this sounds terrible. Do we all know how this present outbreak – the one in India – started?

GODOY: Properly, scientists know that Nipah can unfold from bats to people when bats contaminate issues individuals eat or drink. In some previous outbreaks in Bangladesh, that is been by means of the sap of date palm bushes. And when individuals drank the palm sap, they acquired sick. Researchers are testing bats in Kerala for the virus to see if that is likely to be the case right here, however they have not found out but precisely how this outbreak began.

BARBER: However they do know that after this specific pressure of Nipah virus jumps from animals to individuals, it could unfold from human to human by means of bodily fluids or contaminated meals.

GODOY: And several other instances on this outbreak are linked to a hospital the place the primary one that died was getting handled. So plainly the contaminated individual went to the hospital, and it started to unfold from there. Now, containment measures have been put in place, and docs in Kerala are optimistic.

KELLY: Me too – very a lot wishing them luck in containing that exact outbreak. Maria Godoy and Regina Barber from NPR’s science podcast, Brief Wave, which is the place you possibly can study new discoveries and on a regular basis mysteries and all of the science behind the headlines. Regina, Maria, thanks.

GODOY: Oh, thanks.

BARBER: Thanks.


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