'One goes completely cuckoo': Scientists get high on penguin poo

IN THE PRESS © France 24 screengrab

IN THE PRESS, May 21: A US study has found that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if lockdown measures had begun even just days earlier. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation has surpassed New York in the number of coronavirus cases per capita. We also head to Antarctica, where green algae blooms are spreading and penguin poop is emitting laughing gas. Finally, from "antivax" to "coolitude", some of the new words being added to France's Larousse dictionary.


When it comes to stopping the spread of Covid-19, every single day counts. Disease modellers at Columbia University in New York have found that if US cities had begun social distancing just a week earlier, some 36,000 lives would have been saved. The report, on the front page of today’s New York Times, warns that outbreaks could spin out of control as states reopen unless the process is closely monitored by authorities.

Earlier this week, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York in the number of virus cases per capital. In the Native American territory, which covers parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, 2.3 percent of the population has contracted coronavirus compared to 1.8 percent of the population in New York. The situation has become so worrisome that France's Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans frontières) sent a team to the reservation earlier this month, a rare intervention within the United States.

In Antarctica, British researchers have found that the vast white peninsula is slowly turning green due to algae blooms. The green patches can be seen even from space. While it’s still uncertain what impact the algae could have on climate change, scientists believe that the algae will continue to thrive as global warming increases.

There is another substance in Antarctica that is producing a greenhouse gas – penguin poop. The nitrogen in the faeces combines with soil to produce nitrous oxide. It’s a greenhouse gas but it’s best known as “laughing gas” – the kind that’s administered by a dentist. Danish researchers studying the substance said that, “after nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo”.

And lastly, France has some new words in its vocabulary. The Larousse dictionary has revealed a list of words that will be added to its next edition. They include “féminicide” (or femicide), "antivax", "hipstérisation" and "gréviculture" (a cultural tendency to go on strike, "almost systematically"). For the full list see this week’s issue of Le Point magazine.

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