Sex can relieve nasal congestion, and other work honored by 2021 Ig Nobels.

Scientists are never satisfied with their work and can sometimes be compelled to do research in unexpected directions. They might be exploring sex as a natural remedy for nasal congestion. Or maybe they will end up taking vitals from a rhinoceros, while it is being sedated and suspended from its feet to allow for helicopter transport. They might discover surprising insights into cats' communication or the bacteria in chewing gum discarded from other parts of the globe. These and other interesting research topics were recognized tonight at a virtual ceremony that announced the 2021 winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes. The livestream of this ceremony can be viewed above.
The Ig Nobels, which were established in 1991, are a parody of Nobel Prizes. They honor "achievements first making people laugh, then make them think." The award ceremony is unabashedly silly and often features miniature operas, scientific demonstrations, and 24/7 lectures in which experts have to explain their work twice in 24 seconds and seven words each. Acceptance speeches can only last 60 seconds. The motto suggests that while the research being honored may seem absurd at first glance, it does not mean it lacks scientific merit.

You can tune in to the lectures and the premiere of A Bridge Between People. This miniopera features children trying to resolve disputes between adults through the construction of tiny suspension bridges. The winners usually give public talks in Boston the following the ceremony. However, the pandemic has put an end to that tradition for the second consecutive year. In lieu of the public talks, the winners will now be broadcast as webcasts in a few weeks.


These are the 2021 Ig Nobel Prize Winners.

Biology Prize

Citation: Susanne Schltz, "for analysing variations in purring and chirping, chattering tweedling murmuring, meowing moaning, squeaking hissing, howling, growling, or other forms of cathuman communication."

Schtz, a researcher from Lund University in Sweden was inspired by a talk she heard years ago that compared the purrings of big cheetahs with domestic cats. It turned out that both animals had a purring rate of around 30 Hertz despite their large sizes. Intriguing, she returned home to record the purrs of Vincent, her cat, as well as the purrs from Turbo, Rocky, and Donna, three of their litter-mates. The beginning of a long-running project to understand the vocalizations and sounds of domestic cats led to five papers in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016, as well as a review paper. All of the studies involved Donna, Rocky, Turbo.

Cats can purr for many reasons, including when they are happy and contented, or when they are stressed, angry, or in pain. The phenomenon is not well understood, especially in terms of acoustic analysis. You will also hear them chirp, chattering, moaning, yowl and meow as well as other vocalizations. Schtz found that meows and murmurs are the most common cat sounds. However, watching birds through a window can elicit chatter, tweets and tweets as well as chirps and tweets. Meows that are related to food will have a rising pitch contour, while meows that are associated with a vet visit will have a falling pitch contour.

Schtz and her collaborators were able to obtain a grant to study Melody in Human-Cat Communication. This was affectionately called "Meowsic". Their ultimate goal is to collect more data to support their key hypotheses. They believe that cats can alter their intonation, intensity and length to suit different contexts. That most cats have similar types of "prosodic variations" and that experienced humans can correctly interpret these variations. Most cat owners would agree.


Ecology Prize

Citation: Leila Sadi, Alba Guilln and ngela Vidal Verd "for using genetic analysis in order to identify different species of bacteria found in wads discarded chewing gum left on the pavements of various countries."

For millennia people have chewed some type of gum. This includes wood tar in the Neolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the various commercial chewing gums sold today. People have a bad habit, once the gum has dissolved, of dumping the waste on public surfaces such as pavements and walls. It can even become a tourist attraction like the "gum wall" in Seattle, which is located behind Pike Place Market. The wall was steam cleaned in 2015 to remove 20 years worth of gum.

However, discarded chewing gum can also have potential benefits. Not only can used gum contain DNA, but it also may have oral bacteria and certain opportunistic pathogens such as Streptococcus. Corynebacterium and other spp. Leila Satari, her co-authors from the University of Valencia in Spain, set out to determine the bacteriome of discarded chewing tobacco gum from five countries. They also monitored how it changed over the years. The researchers also tried 13 different brands of chewing gum, including Trident and Orbit. They then placed the wads on outdoor pavement for 12 weeks to observe how the bacteria content changed.

Satari et al. Satari et al. found moderate diversity in terms of bacterial populations in chewing gum samples. The researchers also discovered that the types of microbes found in chewing gum samples (the oral microbiome), gradually gave way to those found in the environment. The authors concluded that their results suggested that bacteria could play a role for natural biodegradation and may also provide a source of strains having other biodegradable characteristics. While there are concerns that chewing gum may be contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms and could lead to waste, the relative longevity in oral bacteria could prove valuable in legal and forensic areas, similar to DNA analysis.