Saturday 20 January 2024

The tail wag, the sick chimps, reversing memory loss | Last Week in Science (21st Jan 2024)

The tail wag

Can't get enough of your dancing dog with their tail wagging on seeing you? Do you wonder why they wag their tails?

In a recent compilation of existing studies, researchers have made some interesting findings. Tail wagging is seen in many other animals like wolves for communicating. In the wild, wolves may show a sign of submission to a more aggressive wolf by tugging their tails between their legs or moving it slowly, which is also true for dogs. Dogs not only wag their tails more often than wolves but also show an asymmetry when it comes to their preference towards the object that they are wagging their tail after looking at. When they want to approach towards an object then their tail wags more towards the right side while it is towards the left when they want to move away from the object. The speed of their tail movement does help in distinguishing whether they are happy or aggressive.

But we still do not have clear answers to whether they feel happy and so less stressed after they dance with their tails wagging fervently, how does their brain control the movement of their tails and is this a behaviour that they can control voluntarily.


The sick chimps

It's not only animals who transfer disease causing microbes to humans but the reverse is also true. Remember how you were asked to stay away from your pets if you caught COVID-19. The cases of cheetah and deers getting affected of COVID-19 were also reported, which created a fear of SARS-COV2 evolving in these animals into more deadly forms. What we overlook is how we can affect the different species especially of apes like chimpanzees and gorillas who are closely related to us. There have been disease outbreaks in the wilderness of sanctuaries because of microbes that may not harm humans that much but have been deadly for the apes. The situation is more pertinent because many of these species have such low numbers that we cannot afford to lose them to such infections. 59% of deaths of these apes which had a known cause were because of infections coming from humans.

Transmission from tourists who do not follow safety guidelines of wearing masks and not going close to the animals are one of the causes.

A study that was conducted in Kibale National Park, Uganda traced the transmission from scientists working at the Park who had young children studying in schools. By testing children, their parents and the chimpanzees' stool samples the link was established. This brought to light the unhygienic conditions of the schools where these kids used to study and the initiation of Happy Children Happy Apes program with measures like creating awareness about infections in children. It is hoped that making scientist, tourists, Park officials, and nearby residents aware would help in keeping the apes safe. 


Reversing memory loss

Athletes like football players often get hit by the football on their heads. Multiple mild hits on the head can cause memory loss or what is known as amnesia. It was earlier thought that such a memory loss is because of the death of neurons in the brain, an event that cannot be reversed. But in a recent study scientists have shown that this isn't true. 

They gave multiple mild head injuries to mice to see the effects on its memory. These mice had neurons tagged in a manner that the scientists can switch them on and off. What they discovered was it is the connections between the neurons that are responsible for remembering a memory get affected and when the scientists switched on the specific neurons they could reverse the memory loss seen after the head injuries.

Although, we are still too far from using this finding in humans but what gives hope is the possibility of reversing memory loss in instances of mild brain injuries.

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