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JUSTIN: Ho ho ho! Merry TWISmas Kirsten!
KIRSTEN Merry TWISmas Justin and it is TWISmas morning isn’t it?
JUSTIN: Yes! Yes I got absolutely everything I wanted for TWISmas.
KIRSTEN Well I have to say that. I have to. I had a fabulous fabulous year of TWIS. .
JUSTIN: Yes good. It’s been a good year. We’ve had –
JUSTIN: ..an amazing cast of guests this year.
KIRSTEN Yup. It’s been an amazing cast of guests. The – all the researchers we’ve brought through this year have been.
KIRSTEN Incredible, it’s been a gift to have been able to talk with them and to learn from them and I just hope that we can continue to keep doing that.
JUSTIN: Me too. And it – because there’s a lot of hard that goes into getting that many good guests year in and year out, week in and week out. And I have to say I am absolutely exhausted, just watching you do it.
KIRSTEN (laughs) Do I make you tired? (continues laughing while MH replies)
JUSTIN: Makes me tired just thinking about how much you know, emails and calls and hounding people and getting connections and going to these things. And meeting people and getting things done. My only regret this whole year has been James Watson.
KIRSTEN Oh. I don’t see that as anything that we should regret at all –
JUSTIN: Oh I do.
KIRSTEN …For not asking particular questions or not make …
JUSTIN: I regret not making those
JUSTIN and KIRSTEN: those impermissible comments on our show
JUSTIN: Just for the publicity’s sake. We would’ve been mentioned in every magazine worldwide. We’d you know, be huge. We got close. We got like put him onto the edge and he hesitated.
KIRSTEN Yes well I was very excited, and actually proud to have had him on the show because that’s really neat to have talked to a piece of history like that. (laughs)
JUSTIN: Yes he is a piece of history.
KIRSTEN He is a piece of history. (laughs)
JUSTIN: In his own time.
KIRSTEN That’s right. Well we have an hour of science news ahead as our Christmas – TWISmas oh I’m sorry. Our TWISmas gift to you and yours. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this entire last year of TWIS and I guess without further ado what do we have on the show today?
JUSTIN: Oh that’s right. Recent breaking news where is it? Ok …
KIRSTEN Recent? Recent breaking news?
JUSTIN: I have very important story here that could well impact all of mankind. I have it in here somewhere. Something about a giant …
KIRSTEN Who knows where you put it. That really important story. That you just kind of put somewhere. I don’t know.
JUSTIN: Something about a giant meteor headed for the Earth with a better than one in 75 chance of crashing into us by the end of next month? Letting loose with energy equivalent to like a 15 mega ton nuclear bomb and I’m like –
KIRSTEN It’s going to be headed towards us?
JUSTIN: No, I look forward to –
KIRSTEN Are you sure –
JUSTIN: Hold on to your loved ones. Hold on to your loved ones. This may be the last month you have together. One in 75 chance.
KIRSTEN What a, what a special TWISmas then.
JUSTIN: Yes. Uhm..
KIRSTEN Are you? You’re sure. You’re sure?
JUSTIN: Yes absolutely there’s the story. Hang on. Okay here it is. Something –
KIRSTEN I mean. I don’t know Justin. But …
JUSTIN: There the story’s right here. It said that the fourth planet was in imminent danger of being impacted by a giant meteor.
KIRSTEN Wait. What?
JUSTIN: Here it is. Fourth planet is in imminent danger –
KIRSTEN Fourth planet?
JUSTIN: Fourth planet from the sun. That would be the Earth.
KIRSTEN Fourth planet from..?
JUSTIN: That would be the Earth. Here it is. It’s going – why are you looking at me funny?
KIRSTEN I think you’re …
JUSTIN: Why are you looking at me funny? It’s going to fly by Mars –
KIRSTEN I don’t think you’ve got your math right Justin …
JUSTIN: It’s flying by Mars which is going right into that …
KIRSTEN I think you did 1 to 4 in your accounting.
JUSTIN: miss mars and into us no doubt. Impact, if happens is expected to happen late January and will hit near the equator!
JUSTIN: This is 1 in 75 chance.
KIRSTEN Didn’t you watch that TV show ‘3rd rock from the sun’?
JUSTIN: About aliens. Yes. They’ve live on Mars.
KIRSTEN On Earth.
JUSTIN: Oh. So where did. No no no no no.
JUSTIN: I don’t think you’re right. I think we’re the fourth. Because here it is – because it may hit the equator – why would it be such an imminent story then if – close to where the rover opportunity has been exploring the Martian plains since 2004. Robot is not in danger ‘cause it lies outside the impact zone.
KIRSTEN The robot is not in danger. Yes. On Mars –
KIRSTEN The robots on Mars.
JUSTIN: Oh. Okay.
KIRSTEN False alarm peeps.
JUSTIN: Are you sure we’re not the fourth?
JUSTIN: I was so sure we were the fourth planet from the sun.
KIRSTEN You’re so so silly. (laughs) You’re so silly.
JUSTIN: Anyhow …
KIRSTEN He who wants to be Mr Wells. (laughs)
JUSTIN: Anyhow (laughs briefly) Space rock has one in 75 chance of slamming into the red planet –
KIRSTEN He, who wishes he could replay, reproduce a radio fear-induced riot on the streets of –
JUSTIN: Reality is much more frightening than science fiction anyway.
KIRSTEN …the planet Earth.
KIRSTEN Yes. It is.
JUSTIN: The asteroid known as 2007 WD5 was discovered in late November and its somewhere in size to an object that hit remote central Siberia in 1908. Which is actually …
KIRSTEN Was that the Tunguska impact?
JUSTIN: Yes! That unleashed the equivalent of a 15 mega ton nuclear bomb.
JUSTIN: Wiping out over sixty million trees and untold number of animals, people and what have you. That one was really interesting because I watched that on one of those science channels.
KIRSTEN Mm hmm.
JUSTIN: It never touched the ground. There was no impact crater.
KIRSTEN Yes they think that it completely – that it just fizzled out as it – it just exploded. Right.
JUSTIN: And it kind of blow up the whole atmosphere. That is just amazing.
KIRSTEN Yes. Didn’t they find a whole bunch of like kind of small, little areas where they think that little fragments of it came down and actually hit?
JUSTIN: Yes maybe. I know that the main evidence they used for figuring out that there was a nuclear type explosion was that the trees.
KIRSTEN They are laid down.
JUSTIN: The trees at ground zero were all standing straight upright. And they laid down and you know as though that was the epicentre.
JUSTIN: And they did some experiment with some small nuclear explosion and found that they could recreate that in the laboratory.
KIRSTEN Right. Which is also been part of the evidence used by conspiracy theorists who suggest that you know that was some kind of weapon being …
JUSTIN: Weapon of the alien.
KIRSTEN …unleashed at the time.
JUSTIN: Unleashed upon mankind.
JUSTIN: Scientists tracking asteroid which is currently halfway between Earth and Mars. That tells me 50-50 chance.
KIRSTEN I don’t think so.
JUSTIN: Improved the odds of impact at 1 in 350 but have increased the chances this week to 1 in 75 and scientists expect the odds may diminish again by early next month after getting some new observations of the asteroid’s orbit thinking so perhaps it will become even closer.
Speeding at eight miles a second the collision could carve a hole in Mars the size of meteor crater in Arizona. Which is huge that’s a …
KIRSTEN That’s a big crater
JUSTIN: I’ve been there. I haven been in you know like you go down to the bottom anymore. But I’ve been on the outskirts of it and it’s pretty impressive. Mostly impressive that – and there is a big stretch of Arizona in which a giant hole in the ground is the most impressive thing about the region but …
JUSTIN: …besides that (sound of paper crumpling)
KIRSTEN (laughs) What else what else? There’s other Mars news that’s around and about these parts and its all accidentally discovered.
JUSTIN: Ah I love the accidental discovery.
KIRSTEN I know it’s … this is wonderful. One of the Mars rovers “Spirit” has a lame front wheel, it locked up and they’ve since turned Spirit around and it’s kind of been dragging that wheel behind it. Yes. But one of the interesting things about that is that it’s been raking up a little trail in the surface of the Martian soil.
JUSTIN: With its limp limb. God bless us everyone.
KIRSTEN (laughs) Oh Spirit.
JUSTIN: Oh Spirit I beseech thee! Tell me of the child’s fate. Tell me this rover shall make it through.
KIRSTEN I believe the rover shall see a fourth birthday.
JUSTIN: If that meteor don’t hit it.
KIRSTEN If the meteor doesn’t hit. But Cornell’s Steve Squyres the principal investigator says that this is a very significant discovery however, even though it is accidental. They looked down into this little trench being carved by the lame wheel and they realised that the colour was kind of different. They did a …
JUSTIN: Mmm …
KIRSTEN …Ah Ha. They used the rover’s alpha particles x-ray spectrometer and mini thermal emission spectrometer to figure out what this well was made up of. And they found that it was about 90% amorphous silica – which is actually associated with environments that have life in them here on Earth.
KIRSTEN Yes it’s very interesting. So he’s been talking about this around and about and although the rover seemed to be … they’re going to hit in their winter. Their winter of discontent. (laughs)
JUSTIN: They’re going to be hit in the slopes.
KIRSTEN That’s right. So they can’t really look and do a lot of test right now at this soil but it does give a lot of hope that if we go back and dig into the soil, we might be able to find some interesting information on whether or not there are actually were life forms on the planet at one point or another.
JUSTIN: [hum a tune] And it’s also interesting is if there weren’t life forms at one in time, something in the nature of a very large meteor impact could have potentialifically…
KIRSTEN Possiblifical [sp] law.
JUSTIN: Possiblitory [sp] – sent some of that matter and debris with life form onboard to a place like the earth.
JUSTIN: So what, [?] what would…
KIRSTEN It’s very possible that if life were on Mars, impact could have led to ejecta. It would have to been a big impact though.
JUSTIN: We may actually, you know, we may actually find ourselves with an opportunity to collect some Martian samples without actually going to Mars with this impact.
JUSTIN: I think we have to do that, how, we have to figure out a way how to do that probably with a satellite probe kind of a thing. Because I think, you know, we’ll most likely be particles that we’ll be burning up in the atmosphere.
So if we can actually find a way to get, you know, send something out there, I wonder if we have anything in that area already that can do it or If we can redirect something that’s out there. I don’t know enough about my space probes what’s out there right now, what’s going on.
KIRSTEN We should learn that.
KIRSTEN Maybe I’ll get somebody out there, I’ll get on that, I’ll get on that.
JUSTIN: Hey if we were good researchers, we already know. Now if we ever compare stories, talk, but this is all like you get this…
JUSTIN: As the news is breaking, it’s being broke across the counter here.
KIRSTEN Being broke?
JUSTIN: It’s been breached to each other. Well this is the first time I learn about your stories is when I heard it from you. Yes, we can go out there and just, you know, just grab some samples right after the impact out there in space and bring them back. It’ll be pretty convenient.
KIRSTEN That would be convenient.
KIRSTEN If the impact were to be large enough for there to ejecta…
JUSTIN: Well there is, and then we still need the impact.
KIRSTEN The impact yah, we need one and there is still a possibility that it won’t happen.
JUSTIN: You can make it happen.
KIRSTEN I don’t think so. Twismas, Twismas, people if you were at your computers yesterday, I don’t know if anyone out there had the chance to do it but Los Alamos scientists are using their satellites to search for and track Santa’s progress.
KIRSTEN That’s right. So starting at 6 a.m. Monday, December 24th yesterday, Los Alamos scientists used two advanced science satellites to track the path of the traveller – Santa.
And his travels could be monitored at http://santa.lanl.gov online. And what they expect is that Santa would be arriving in – they expected that Santa would be arriving in Northern New Mexico near midnight, Mountain Standard Time, of course, on Christmas Eve as he travels around the world, crossing time zones.
He is chasing midnight, hour after hour, and delivering his treasures to families everywhere, says Diane Roussel-Dupré of Space Data Systems. It’s pretty exciting that they’ve got a beat on Santa.
KIRSTEN They have been watching Santa, they always think Santa’s watching you, you know, figuring out who’s naughty and who’s nice. But the scientists, they are watching Santa now.
The Los Alamos scientists are using the – what are they using, a satellite tracking dish, located in Los Alamos and sensors on the Laboratory’s FORTE and Cibola Flight Experiment satellites, using its nine tracking stations around the world to help monitor the sleigh and its eight tiny reindeer.
JUSTIN: Isn’t that nice?
KIRSTEN That’s right.
JUSTIN: Isn’t Rudolph the ninth reindeer?
KIRSTEN If you count Rudolph, they didn’t, they obviously forgot Rudolph.
JUSTIN: And how does Santa deliver all those presents all in one night?
KIRSTEN Well it’s thought that he uses Ion shielding personal magnetic devices, personal magnetic fields and multi-dimensional travel…
KIRSTEN To be able to do what he does. So it might actually, this tracking progress might be very complicated and convoluted so we’re lucky to track him at all, really.
JUSTIN: Yes, he’s shifty. You can – of course, Twismas time, Christmas is the time of the year when we here at Twis, celebrate the birth of one of histories most important figures. You speak, of course, of the baby Newton.
KIRSTEN Oh, Newton.
JUSTIN: You’re baby Newton who is born to this world, December 25th, 1642. Sir Isaac’s Laws of Motion and descriptions of Mechanics, grasped the nature of gravity through Mathematics for the first time. And really the Mathematics of Newton really led us to everything – what happened…
KIRSTEN I press a button now. I’m trying to get rid of the background noise. I’m sorry.
JUSTIN: Oh we have, we are in studio that is crossed wired with another studio.
KIRSTEN That’s right. So you get to enjoy other programming…
JUSTIN: Other programming that’s being done late in the night, as well as our occasional air traffic control, police dispatch and whatever else seeps through.
JUSTIN: So, Happy Birthday Netwon.
KIRSTEN Happy Birthday Netwon, baby Newton.
JUSTIN: Baby, cute little baby.
KIRSTEN Yes I bet he was a cute little baby and didn’t he know, I mean, how important he would be to…
KIRSTEN Future science discoveries. I mean…
JUSTIN: Yes, Newton. Newton – I think he one of the few scientists that actually got, absolutely got his impact.
KIRSTEN Yes. He was he, I mean he really, really had, I mean, Newton’s Law of Physics, we…
JUSTIN: He was Sir, he got knighted because of it.
KIRSTEN And basically before Einstein’s Relativity came down, it was Newton’s Laws that really governed all of what we understood about Physics. So…
JUSTIN: And fig trees.
KIRSTEN And apples.
KIRSTEN Yes so well, I really think that, you know, today it’s amazing, we should take time for an apple in the Twismas tree, and celebrate the birth of Newton.
JUSTIN: Won’t that be great? Apples on top of Christmas trees.
JUSTIN: [?] Eating Twismas trees.
KIRSTEN Twismas trees. [laughter]
JUSTIN: And then you have like some sort of rituals ceremony when everybody takes a shot at knocking the apple off at the top of the tree.
JUSTIN: To watch it fall.
KIRSTEN That would be great.
JUSTIN: Yes. Like you go back…
KIRSTEN Archery. [laughter]
JUSTIN: Archery, yes, oh indoor archery…
KIRSTEN It’ll be a lot of injuries.
KIRSTEN I’m not going to suggest that people try this at home – disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer!
JUSTIN: Well if you are not going suggest it, you don’t have the disclaimer.
KIRSTEN Oh right.
JUSTIN: If you do suggest it, then you disclaimer that, you know, injuries may happen.
KIRSTEN Rats, I’ll never get this right.
JUSTIN: And it’s ok, it’s a fine art of disclaimer. I had to, it took me many years of being in a opinonologist become the proper, proper level of education.
KIRSTEN Yes, yes, oh what do I, I have a couple of great stories here, animal behaviour stories from UC Davis. UC Davis turning up…
JUSTIN: UC Davis? I have never heard of that University.
KIRSTEN Yah, right here at home, turning up the animal, animal news, animal science, yes. Karen Mabry who just completed her doctoral thesis here at UC Davis has just published a study relating to young brush mice.
In evolutionary theory and then a lot of biological theory, it’s kind of thought that what’s good for one, is good for all individuals in the populations.
So in terms of doing research on populations of animals, when biologists are modelling their behaviour or their environment and their population growth or decline, they often take, you know, say this is the general thing – you have woodland creatures or you have chaparral creatures, you know, and these are usually different populations of animals.
But in reality what Karen Mabry has come up with is an idea that goes against this, suggesting that animals do whatever they were reared in and whatever is most familiar.
So she radio tracked a bunch of little tiny mice, she put collars on them when they were still in the den with their mama and then she followed them off into the chaparral or the woods as they grew up and got little families of them own.
And she found that the ones that were reared in the chaparral even though they ventured into the wooded areas sometimes, they eventually decided to stay in the chaparral and the ones in the wooded areas, you know…
JUSTIN: I have got to, yah, I have got to pause you for a second though.
JUSTIN: I have never heard of a chaparral before.
KIRSTEN [laughter] The chaparral it’s like, you know, brushy, like pastures, meadows but it’s specific type of vegetation.
JUSTIN: Ok I’ll buy it but it’s I never heard of a chaparral.
KIRSTEN Chaparral, chapparal [spelling chaparral], chaparral.
JUSTIN: The show? Ever heard of the Chappelle’s Show?
JUSTIN: It is related in anyway?
KIRSTEN No, no, not at all.
JUSTIN: Cause I have nothing else to, chaparral? Yes I was like trying to like, it’s like that old French for like an urban area with small shoppies[sp] like, that’s what I was picturing, something more urbanized.
JUSTIN: I’m sorry, ok.
KIRSTEN [?] Anyway.
KIRSTEN That’s ok.
JUSTIN: [?] Just an interrupters.
KIRSTEN Justin-interrupters. And so basically her study here is suggesting that what is not, the old wisdom of biology is not necessarily the case. It’s not necessarily a population-wide answer that individuals do what is most comfortable to them, which is usually doing something like the ones – living somewhere home.
JUSTIN: You can take the, race the, where is that? How does it go? You can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
KIRSTEN That’s right.
JUSTIN: Something like that.
KIRSTEN That’s right.
KIRSTEN Now in the second study, Barbara Clucas who is another graduate student from UC Davies, she studies squirrels. And what did she find from studying squirrels?
JUSTIN: Oh this is awesome!
KIRSTEN This study is great I know. So she watched California ground squirrels and rock squirrels. As she was watching them, she found that these squirrels would pick up rattle skate. The sloughed off rattlesnake skins and chew them and then wipe themselves or groom themselves with their saliva.
JUSTIN: So awesome.
Thus possibly scenting themselves like a rattlesnake and her hypothesis is that it would make them less able to be detected by these predators. Or by predators who used odor as a cue for catching them.
So possibly, they would be less squirrel smelling. (laughs). More like a rattlesnake.
JUSTIN: Smelling like a rattlesnake of all things. That can even make other prey who would – I mean other predators potentially afraid to come after you.
KIRSTEN Right. If they use odor and they scent a rattlesnake! That does not scent so good.
JUSTIN: And if a rattlesnake can determine in any way that you’ve got chewed off bits of rattlesnake…
KIRSTEN Maybe that’s …
JUSTIN: That’s a bit of a warning sign. Like if I saw…
KIRSTEN I don’t want to mess up with anyone who chewed up a rattlesnake!
JUSTIN: Well I’m saying if I saw a squirrel with a chewed up human, I’d be pretty afraid of that!
KIRSTEN You smell like my friend Bob squirrel! Squirrel, why do you smell like my friend Bob?
JUSTIN: Torn up sweater like his socks!
KIRSTEN (Laughs) It’s a horror movie. Scott (Siegler). Scott (Siegler) this is your next horror book, I’m telling you – the squirrels who chew …But it’s really – they’re not limited to the use of the shed snake skins. These animals also pick up snake odor from soil and other surfaces where snakes have been resting and use that to apply scent. And other rodents have been observed doing similar behaviors.
And it is suggested that these squirrels are actually have a very highly tuned defensive package that they use against these rattlesnakes. Like their tails that they also heat up – they also heat up their tails…
JUSTIN: Their tails superheats.
KIRSTEN And so that the rattlesnakes sense infrared and so by – and that heat gives off an infrared signature. So rattlesnakes think that the squirrel is bigger than it is. And so they don’t attack it.
JUSTIN: And that is one of those really weird natural defence mechanism that – that’s the kind that really confound me. The ability to heat up a tail and have that work against you know work against a major predator.
It’s one of those things that – it’s like – first of all, like if you would try to do something intentionally, how would you even think of it?
JUSTIN: Like you know how would you figure – okay they seem to have – like squirrels aren’t …
KIRSTEN I seem to not get attacked when my tail gets hot!
JUSTIN: …constantly, intelligently, I mean, you know based on their vision, I think my best defence would be…
KIRSTEN Well that’s not the way it works. You know that.
JUSTIN: No, well I’m saying that of course it’s not the way that it works. And that’s why …
KIRSTEN It’s completely accidental. The snake attack who they attack. The animals that have these behaviors, or some how do these behaviourally antics, then they survive versus the one – more often the ones that don’t.
JUSTIN: Squirrels don’t do that to predators who aren’t snakes.
KIRSTEN Right only snakes.
JUSTIN: Yes, they’ve figured out that that works! They don’t know why. They don’t know how it came about. Don’t know which hot tailed squirrel ancestor manage to run through the snake pasture. “Look what I can do! Woo hoo!”
KIRSTEN This give a whole new meaning to “A hot little piece of tail!” – whole new meaning.
JUSTIN: What was the old meaning?
KIRSTEN No, I don’t think it had anything to do with it. I don’t think it had anything to with the squirrel.
JUSTIN: What was the original meaning Kirsten?
KIRSTEN I don’t know.
JUSTIN: This is Christmas. It is a kid’s show you know.
KIRSTEN What? Merry TWISmas. Ho ho ho.
JUSTIN: What kind of tangent are you taking Kirsten? My goodness!
JUSTIN: Australia! Victorious in war against Japan-ese Whalers.
KIRSTEN Wow, really.
JUSTIN: Giving in to worldwide pressure most notably from Australia and yours truly, This Week in Science. Japan’s government on Friday announced a whaling fleet now on the southern ocean for its annual scientific culling will not kill the threatened species of humpback whales as originally planned.
The fleet will of course still continue with its 935 mink whale killing. It’s a more plentiful species than the humpback and its 50 fin whales are going down as well, or coming up- coming out. In any case, late friday Australia led some 30 other countries into lodging diplomatic protest with the Japanese ambassador to Australia over the whaling program.
Fleet was planning on killing 50 humpback whales as part of its scientific – and they keep – I’m doing quotations. Can you hear them? “Scientific Research”.
Whaling – Japanese whaling fleets are backed by a government research institute that operates under an international whaling commission clause that allows for killing of whales for scientific purposes.
Of course, it’s – they’ve been hard press to explain what the science is going to be. That they are going to gain from killing 50 humpback whales.
JUSTIN: And it’s showing – what this is also showing is the fact that Japan has backed off from killing these humpback whales, shows that there is – and I’ve mentioned this before. Now there is something weird about this situation, because there is so much whale meat in deep freeze that is not being eaten.
That they have tried to introduce this mandatory thing into schools. But there is resistance from the Japanese people who aren’t actually eating very much whale meat. You know there bundles of whale meat being eaten is declining, declining.
JUSTIN: And it sound like now the government has decided that the international relations laws is not worth the payoff of allowing the fishing industry to use the scientific research clause to do the culling.
So it seems like there is an internal thing going on in Japan that’s…
JUSTIN: …sort of changing this. And yet still the rest of the whale hunt goes on. But the Australian government – I have to [clapping] – way to be on the forefront. They have of course sent their warships and the flyovers of military aircraft. They’re committed to …
KIRSTEN Do they still do that? Like…
JUSTIN: They’re still sending them. They’re already down there.
KIRSTEN Is it actually the military or is it..?
JUSTIN: Yes. It’s warships. Because it’s – well it’s what they have probably the most mobile and what the government can order around. I mean they can’t tell private vessels to go and monitor this. So they’ve sent yes, the prime minister – what do they have? Do they have a president or prime minister or king?
What do they have in Australia?
KIRSTEN Prime minister.
JUSTIN: On parole?
KIRSTEN They just got a brand new prime minister.
JUSTIN: Yes and …
KIRSTEN Who is much more..?
JUSTIN: Sane? Liberal? What is the word that they use now? There is always “progressive”.
KIRSTEN Progressive. Yes.
JUSTIN: The word that you know…
KIRSTEN More progressive, we’ll go with that one.
JUSTIN: We’ll go with that one. So kudos to the Australian government for saving their – because it’s a 1.5 million tourist apparently go to the coast of Australia because that is where a lot of the whales congregate for their mating season.
JUSTIN: So it’s a huge benefit they’re getting from keeping them alive. It’s awesome. Way to go Australia.
KIRSTEN Way to go Australia!
JUSTIN: No Australia bashing this christmas.
KIRSTEN Absolutely, merry TWISmas Australia. We will not bash you at the end of this 2007 year on the august day of Newton.
JUSTIN: Maybe you know we’re getting close to having to pick another official – an official person of the year. And is it Rudd? Is that the new one who is taking over in Australia?
KIRSTEN I don’t remember.
JUSTIN: I don’t recall either. We have to figure out who – because that’s my – that’s a contender. I like that.
KIRSTEN Might be a contender. Interesting. Well we are going to have to take a break here pretty soon. So I guess I’m going to put on a song that was sent to us by who was it? (J Michael Pins)?
JUSTIN: (Pins), yes.
KIRSTEN ( J Michael Pins) He sent us this song and there maybe a lot of you out there who may have heard this song already by a singer-songwriter named Jonathan Coulton, and it’s called Chiron Beta Prime. It’s a TWISmas song that we are bringing for you today. So enjoy it.
JUSTIN: Oh and when we come back. I’ve got a story about songs.
KIRSTEN Bird songs?
JUSTIN: No it’s music in general. It’s a pretty interesting story.
KIRSTEN I have a story about bird songs. So we’ll do song news.
JUSTIN: We do song news when we come back.
KIRSTEN And that was …
JUSTIN: Wicked cool!
KIRSTEN Wicked cool.
JUSTIN: What was that?
KIRSTEN That is “My Robot Friend” myrobotfriend.com is the website with the song called “Robot High School” and if you go to robothighschool.com you can download the song yourself. I’ve emailed them to find out if we could play it on the show. And they said “Yes please!”.
And I asked also, I said you know we are going to have a compilation music CD that we could put out every year…
JUSTIN: Is it going on?
KIRSTEN And they said they can – that we can put it on the CD. So this song will be on our compilation CD this next year. But..
JUSTIN: For some reason…
KIRSTEN It’s fabulous! It’s a fabulous song.
JUSTIN: It is. But it just reminded me of the intro song for the “Sopranos” for some reason.
JUSTIN: I got this whole like I’m ready to you know going to watch some hard core gangster action with robots this time.
KIRSTEN Was it robot! Robot! Well that is just is going to lead into my little section on World Robot Domination. And the robots are going to take over next in very subtle ways.
JUSTIN: Oh oh.
KIRSTEN It’s all about power. Power needs, power supplies…
JUSTIN: Of course, they were created by humans and that’s where we kind of dwell on quite a bit.
KIRSTEN Yes, well you know you have to look across disciplines to be able to find out where things are happening and how the robots are going to take advantage of human advancement NEXT.
JUSTIN: I want to continue to have that song in the background. Is that possible?
KIRSTEN (Laughs) Do you want to hear it again?
JUSTIN: Yes, just put it on. We’ll have it on really low in the background. We might as well have that ..somewhat…yes, I am feeling it. (music playing)
KIRSTEN All right, I am putting it on in the background. We got “My robot friend” that is right with robot high school. And all right, so a researcher in Arizona, Henry Sodano. He works at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in IRA A. Fulton School of Engineering.
And he is looking into energy harvesting and trying to make energy as efficient as possible. Where can you get energy? What things in our environment or even actions of ourselves can we use to get energy- to harvest energy?
KIRSTEN And so what he has created are straps for a backpack. So that basically as you wear your backpack and bounce up and down as you walk or round upstairs or do whatever else – the backpack has little piezoelectrics within the straps of the backpack itself.
The straps are made up of a polymer called Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF). It’s a flexible material similar to nylon. And it has – the straps are piezoelectric so it can generate and transfer electric…
KIRSTEN Piezoelectic…electrical charge when force or pressure gets applied to them. So when you walk, when they stretch and move up and down and back and forth, they actually can power many electronics. You know various things that you can plug in to the backpack.
JUSTIN: So you’ve got – so then basically you can charge your phone as you walk.
JUSTIN: ..or your iPod..
KIRSTEN Or your iPod or whatever it happens to be.
JUSTIN: Probably can’t – I would assume, probably not going to be able to recharge laptop.
KIRSTEN Not at this point, but if you had a number of things that were recharging themselves as you walked, as you moved…
JUSTIN: Even better if you incorporate my idea of the exercise bike into an actual bike.
KIRSTEN (Laughs) that’s good.
JUSTIN: And as you ride your bike to class, I think you might get close to charging your notebook.
KIRSTEN Possibly, so he is working with the Office of Naval Research looking for alternative power sources for Marines in the field. They have some pretty heavy backpacks. Can you imagine how..?
JUSTIN: Oh perfect!
KIRSTEN Yes and they could possibly be used to recharge handheld GPS systems or night vision goggles for Marines in the field. But there are some other applications that his guy is suggesting that is pretty interesting.
So being able to put them into struts and bridges or in highways. When traffic drives over them, when the bridges move, you can actually get a reading – or it could power electronics that could then read the bridge and see whether or not it is structurally sound.
JUSTIN: Wow interesting.
KIRSTEN Or could you imagine using similar technology in a pacemaker so that each beat of your heart powers the pacemaker to continue powering your heart.
JUSTIN: Well ok now right there, right there, that doesn’t, I wouldn’t want to be…
KIRSTEN Isn’t that interest? That could be
JUSTIN: That’s very interesting but I have a feeling that somehow …
KIRSTEN Cause you don’t deal with the pacemaker all the time
JUSTIN: Maybe working the heart slightly harder just to, I don’t know there might be some sort of calculation there you know that pulls away from the intention. But I like the idea. Yes.
KIRSTEN It’s just interesting. So what things you know, just go on thinking about it, what things could actually lead into recharging? What can we harvest energy from recharging?
JUSTIN: Oh I got a good one, I got a good one. Door hinges.
KIRSTEN Oh yes.
JUSTIN: Every time, there you go, every time you pull, because a lot of them have a little because of their spring loaded and you got to close again. You have some resistance to them anyhow.
JUSTIN: But you just make it all resistance both ways and then there you go.
KIRSTEN There you go.
JUSTIN: There’s one more. One more that one’s free. Out there, if anyone wants to…
KIRSTEN It’s just an invention, if somebody who wants to …
JUSTIN: Engineer that, and run with that you can have, yes all the, think of all the door hinges. All the doors have to open and close each day across the …door.
KIRSTEN I’m just trying to wait and you know see how robots are going to grab unto this technology of self-powering and self-motivation.
JUSTIN: How are they going to self-motivate? They have, they can just …
KIRSTEN… harvest their energy? Where are they going to get their energy?
JUSTIN: I think they are going to go through a, go for a biological energy source, to do all the heavy lifting. This is going to be you and me. Ok so I teased a…
KIRSTEN A song.
JUSTIN: A story of a song. Or actually of music.
KIRSTEN Sing, sing a song, sing out loud. (singing)
JUSTIN: Turns out, ok well actually you are going to run counter to my story. A little bit, turns out or maybe not. Maybe you’re an example. We’ll see.
About 4% of the world’s population, which accounts for a great number of people – 4% of the world’s population suffer from congenital amusia, also known as tone-deafness.
KIRSTEN What is it called?
JUSTIN: Tone, oh amusia.
JUSTIN: Congenital amusia. While this prevents these individuals from having a career in music or even joining a Christmas carolling group, it’s probably fine by them. Turns out the tone deaf, not only can’t carry a tone, but can’t perceive one properly.
KIRSTEN Right, right, the perception is that they just – it doesn’t clue in.
KIRSTEN They never get it.
JUSTIN: Right, it makes all music that is, all that is music to the ears of others, just a series of un-connectable, often unbearably unpleasant sounds.
KIRSTEN I wonder how that works for a tonal language, like Chinese and some of the dialects of Chinese, where other Asian languages that are tonal in nature – so that where the tone of the letter or the part of the word that you are speaking makes a big difference.
And if, I wonder tone deafness actually affects the understanding and the speaking of the, in those languages.
JUSTIN: The ability… interesting.
KIRSTEN Yes, or if it is primary Western.
JUSTIN: There you go there’s a little bit of pre-neuroscience project from Kirsten. Look at that!
KIRSTEN That’s right, that’s right. I am thinking.
JUSTIN: Well they did that neuron-imaging – neuron-imaging studies conducted by researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University and the Université de Montréal at the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound Research, BRAM, that’s cute, has found that tone deaf or amusic individuals have more grey matter in specific regions of the brain related to processing musical pitch, namely the right interior frontal gyrus.
Point to it, where is it Kirsten? Oh it’s up behind the eyes, somewhere. As in up and …
KIRSTEN It’s in, in there.
JUSTIN: Up like right above the temple.
KIRSTEN Kind of like in …
JUSTIN: Above the temple somewhere, right in there, behind the eyes, above the temple, somewhere up in that.
KIRSTEN Right frontal interior gyrus, yes it’s in there.
JUSTIN: And the right auditory cortex – which at that cortex is, cortex means basically a bunch of grey matter. Is that right?
JUSTIN: And another word for it is stuff that is not really, is it, is it just like brain fluff?
JUSTIN: Brain fat? Cortex is used for …
KIRSTEN No, no, the cortex is definitely used. Cortex is important for a lot of our higher cognitive functions.
KIRSTEN So our cortical grey matter…
KIRSTEN …is where umm, is very important.
JUSTIN: I thought the white matter, did that? I don’t know my grey, I don’t know my grey matter from my white matter and yet I am my brain.
KIRSTEN White matter is white because it’s fatty so it’s surrounded, it’s the axons of nerves. Grey matter is the cell bodies and so that’s where, that’s the actual nerve of the cell body.
KIRSTEN So the grey matter maybe is where- is near the dendrites so information comes in, you have the cell body that creates all of the proteins and everything and then it gets sent down the white fatty matter axons.
JUSTIN: Well so according to this, there is actually more of the grey matter, more of the cortex as compared to people who are musically intact.
JUSTIN: Interesting. A uniquely human capability: music that predates language. Now that’s something interesting. First of all, just to stop up there, how do they determine that it predated language? That’s – I don’t get that.
KIRSTEN I don’t know. I don’t, I haven’t read the study. I don’t know the study at all.
JUSTIN: That’s, yes this – I mean this is, this is sort of a side to it is saying you know, a uniquely human capability that predates language – music is a fundamental aspect of life.
I think that’s a hypothesis because I doubt that’s provable. But I don’t know.
So this – but it does provide according to the study, a very unique window into brain function. Listening to and creating music involves many different regions of the brain – auditory system, visual system, if you are playing the music, you have the motor system.
Actually if you are listening to music, the motor system gets involved, as well as memory, emotion, lot’s of things.
JUSTIN: Making music an excellent tool for gaining insight to all these different systems and studying them in the human brain, says Dr Krista Hyde. I love doctors named Hyde, Kirsten we can make the jackal joke.
JUSTIN: Who is a post-doctoral fellow at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Cortical thickness differences in the right interior frontal gyrus and right auditory cortex of amusic brains relative to controls may be due to abnormal neural migration or atypical cell pruning during development.
So you have migration versa pruning according to this here and you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, I’m hoping.
KIRSTEN If I have to catch it.
JUSTIN: Because there is two different ways I think this is happening.
One is that abnormal migration which occurs when nerve cells do not reach their target or proper location in the brain and therefore do not make the right connections.
So even though they have this more brain tissue or more brain matter in these areas, it’s not the type that was actually supposed to be there. It moved from somewhere else and it isn’t set up to handle auditory, audio and so therefore the connections aren’t properly made for deciphering it.
Whereas cell pruning the other option is that – cell pruning is the process by which frequently-used nerve cells and connections are strengthened while pathways that are of little use are eliminated. So then …
KIRSTEN They kind of die off.
JUSTIN: …that mean you didn’t have very much musically exposure perhaps as a child in development, the brain decided not to incorporate those cells into the final design.
JUSTIN: For running with, the brain that you run with once you are through the development stage. I think.
KIRSTEN Yes that is fascinating.
JUSTIN: Four percent though, that’s going to be hundreds of people.
KIRSTEN At least.
KIRSTEN Well J. Lo and Mark Anthony had better watched out because turns out that birds that sing together aren’t necessarily all that faithful.
KIRSTEN O-oh, yes and this news coming in just as the pop star J. Lo is expecting a young one.
JUSTIN: Oh good for her
KIRSTEN Good for her.
JUSTIN: You know I don’t trust people until they have children. Not proper. Because it’s like you don’t have a stake in the planet.
KIRSTEN Ok that means you don’t trust me and love me and working with me.
JUSTIN: Not entirely, not entirely. Not until you have kids, and then I’ll have a lot more. Lot more.
JUSTIN: You’ve a lot more credibility.
JUSTIN: Cause otherwise right now you know the world ends it is like, “Yeah you know I had a good life.” If you’ve got kids it’s no worrying about the time behind, it’s all about the time in front.
KIRSTEN Oh anyway, Lauryn Benedict of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, UC Berkeley, has been studying duetting California towhees. They are species of birds. Towhee Pipilo crissalis.
And duetting birds are basically – what that is – is a male and a female bird who sing together during the breeding season. And it’s thought that that duetting behaviour, the singing together, the making of the song in a, you know…
JUSTIN: Too bad humans don’t really do that in real life.
KIRSTEN J. Lo and Mark Anthony.
JUSTIN: No, I know I mean the professionals do but I mean just in general you know, people who…
KIRSTEN People who sing together, stay together.
JUSTIN: They have a bar who is full of people singing just to see who you know would sing well together.
KIRSTEN Who would sing in tune with you? Right.
Well she found out that even though these birds duet together and the females always sing with the same male every single day, more than a quarter – 25% of the chicks were not fathered by their husbands.
KIRSTEN So you know ornithologists have been looking at this bird behaviour and thinking, “Oh, it must strengthen their relationship…” You know make their bond stronger, make them you know, stick together in this time of creating a baby. A group of babies. A brood together.
And well, it turns out not necessarily so. However the researcher also said that she wasn’t able to actually catch any of the females in the act of cheating.
JUSTIN: So she find out after the act.
KIRSTEN Yes. So by doing genetic analysis of the chicks, she was able to tell that the father wasn’t always the father.
KIRSTEN So it’s as if the female may be duets with the male to convince him that all of the babies are his. It is interesting however to note that a lot of species – there’s been evidence that if – in some species of birds if the male catches or finds out somehow that the female has been cuckolding him. And has had babies-
JUSTIN: They start drinking?
KIRSTEN (laughs) No. Cuckolding.
KIRSTEN Having… it comes from the cuckoo. The cuckoo bird is where the name comes from and it’s actually having a child with another father and convincing the original father that it’s theirs.
JUSTIN: Wow there’s a name for that even.
KIRSTEN Yes, cuckoldry.
KIRSTEN Cuckoldry. And it comes from the cuckoo bird because that’s what they do a lot of the time. However in a lot of species when the male finds out that the female has been cuckolding him, they will feed the babies less often.
So if the male is involved in raising the offspring – if they figured it out then they become a little less involved in actually raising the offspring.
KIRSTEN So there is a price to be paid for being – for cheating and find –
JUSTIN: For getting caught.
KIRSTEN And getting caught in the bird world.
KIRSTEN Maybe as well as the human world. It’s fascinating. Fascinating stuff these birds. Thank you (Ed Dire) for sending that story in.
JUSTIN: I got another whale story. (Ed Dire)? (Ed Dire’s… Ed Dire’s) such a great source.
KIRSTEN I know. I know.
JUSTIN: He’s like… he’s like the –
KIRSTEN Merry TWISmas Ed Dire. Thank you.
JUSTIN: The third host of the show.
KIRSTEN I know. If only – it’s like we talk for him. He speaks through us.
JUSTIN: He refuses to TWIStribute.
KIRSTEN Yes. (laughs)
JUSTIN: A whale of a tale… okay I can’t do this right. Hang on.
JUSTIN: Whale of a tail. Tales of whales who tells about the size of a racoon. A whale of a tail I’ll tell you now, I swear by my tattoo. Left under the TWISmas tree a story of evolutionary origin, whales have long been hypothesized as descending from a hippopotamus-like ancestry.
The hippopo-thesis may be more hippopo-to-myth than zooapoto-fact, hippo-thetically speaking anyway. The missing link to this is the species of ancient whales, said Hans Thewissen. It almost looks like TWISsen but its Thewissen. An anatomy professor at-
JUSTIN: Thewissen, an anatomy professor of the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine has been found – the missing link that is. Fossils point to a deer-like Indohyrus. Indo… Indohyrus. That’s a tough one.
JUSTIN and KIRSTEN: Indohyrus.
JUSTIN: The animal could be the missing link to this sister species to the ancient whales. As a zoo animal, it looks nothing like a whale, says Thewissen, Thewissen.. Thewissen.
KIRSTEN (laughs) Thewissen.
JUSTIN: But he added that when it comes to anatomical features, the Indohyrus is quite strikingly like the whale. So there is some very interesting stuff with the whale and its thickened ear bone that is only in whales and other cetaceans. Ce-
JUSTIN: Gosh now I can’t talk. I got to my whole hippo hoppa thing in there and now I’m- an examination of its teeth showed that the land dwelling creature spent lots of time in the water, may have fed there, like hippos and whales.
Also, specific positioning shape of certain molars connects it to the earliest whales which are about 50 million years old. The earliest whales of course didn’t look like whales at all. They looked more like a cross between a pig and a dog.
JUSTIN: And they lost their legs and ability to walk on land about 40 million years ago. Part of the problem in connecting – even though the hippopotamus was very similar, its DNA is quite similar and a lot of other things are similar.
JUSTIN: It was in the wrong period. I mean it was in the wrong place and time to have really been there to be the ancestor.
KIRSTEN Right and they’ve been coming up with a lot of fossils – evidence for the lineage of whales. And this was – the Indohyrus is really like the last link that they’ve been looking for. To find that one step from land into the water. And it’s quite difficult to really trace it but this is what they’ve come up with.
JUSTIN: Yes. They’re described it as a tiny little deer about the size of a racoon with no antlers and a very long tail. Kind of a rat-like nose and they also found that it had a – I guess they had perhaps a thickened where is it in here, somewhere… somewhere in that compart-
KIRSTEN They had similar outside like the bones were thick. Very similarly to the aquatic mammals.
JUSTIN: Yes, exactly. Bone structures were similar. And it was very likely hiding in water from predators.
KIRSTEN Yes that’s one of the other interesting point. That they’ve actually been able to, with the fossils pieced together the actual behaviour of the Indohyrus. Indohyrus? Indohyrus?
JUSTIN: I’m guessing.
KIRSTEN (laughs) They’ve actually been able to piece together the fact that it spent a lot of time in the water. So it was doing a lot of behaviours that might have led it very close to you know being a completely aquatic mammal.
But it spent a lot of time out of the water as well.
JUSTIN: You know I was like I didn’t realise but there is mice that dive underwater and can hide underwater for quite a bit of time while hiding from predators.
JUSTIN: That’s pretty wild. I didn’t know that.
KIRSTEN It’s quite neat.
KIRSTEN You learn a lot in this job, reading the stories of Science.
JUSTIN: The hippos are still the closest living land relative to the hippo but very likely not resembling the ancestor.
KIRSTEN Yes. Oh what do I have? One last story here. A giant rodent five times the size of a common rat has been discovered in the mountainous jungles of New Guinea.
JUSTIN: New Guinea pigs?
KIRSTEN New Guinea pigs. (chuckles)
JUSTIN: And they found didn’t they also find like a tiny-
KIRSTEN They’re giants!
JUSTIN: They found like a tiny possum?
KIRSTEN They found a tiny possum and …
JUSTIN: Well I think I’ve said the story before but there’s lots of possums in Davis.
KIRSTEN There are.
JUSTIN: When I first moved here as a kid…
KIRSTEN They’re mean.
JUSTIN: …the first one I saw, I thought was a gigantic rat. Like a-
KIRSTEN They do look like giant rats. Yes.
JUSTIN: I don’t know how much they weigh but they’re probably 25, 30 pounds? They’re huge!
KIRSTEN Yes. They’re found – they also recorded courtship displays of the golden fronted bowerbird and the black sicklebill bird of paradise. The wattled smokey honeyeater was recorded and documented on this trip.
Who else did they capture… they also found Berlepsch’s six-wired bird of paradise. That’s a golden breasted bird. And yes they’re very excited though with this pygmy possum and giant rat that they discovered on the trip.
In addition (Ed Dire) sent out another story that’s just hilariously funny to me. This is not a TWISmas present to those of you who are involved in the horse racing world.
Researchers at the University of Edinborough have looked at the rearing and the genetic variability in race horses. And they found that only about 10% of a horse’s winnings over its entire lifetime can be traced to genetics. That the majority of it has to do with environment and training.
KIRSTEN Yes so it just turns the entire horse racing world kind of on its head because there’s a lot of value-
JUSTIN: Huge amount of money.
KIRSTEN Put in the stud you know that stallion who can you know sire a number of winning thoroughbred racehorses. But it turns out that those lines are not necessarily – you know those lineages are not necessarily what they’re thought to be and that it’s a lot of the environment.
JUSTIN: Then again, it can’t hurt. It can’t hurt to start from that platform. But yes.
KIRSTEN No. No it can’t. The study is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
JUSTIN: Size together, I can still consider myself a potential stud.
KIRSTEN (laughs) You could consider yourself a potential stud.
JUSTIN: Even – You just got to make sure my nature matches my…
KIRSTEN Yes. One final quick story before we go. A TWISmas present for those of us who are still… still towing the – still looking at the stem cell battles that are waging.
International Stem Cell Corp. has derived four unique embryonic human stem cell lines parthenogenetically. They stimulated Oocytes to create these stem cell lines that are called HLA homozygous. And what does that mean? Well it means that they do not stimulate the immune system of potential transplant.
JUSTIN: Wow! That’s huge!
KIRSTEN So they’ve been able to so far, with their study that they’ve published in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells apparently available online- HLA Homozygous Stem Cell Lines Derived, Human Parthenogenetic Blastocysts. They’ve shown that in this study they’ve shown that they’ve been able to parthenogenetically activate human Oocytes so female eggs they have been able to create these stem cell lines from them.
And then that’s been successful and they have the markers of human embryonic stem cells. So this is what they’ve shown. Now the next step is to actually go ahead and create multiple lineages of tissues. So actually take those stem cell lines and see if they actually act like the pluripotent stem cells that we would need to create organs for transplantation into recipients.
So researchers still a long way off but this is a huge step forward in the potential future ability of all of us – of humans to be able to …
JUSTIN: Farm organs.
KIRSTEN … create organs exactly! That do not cause immune reactions which is the huge thing. It is the end of the hour.
JUSTIN: It is.
KIRSTEN We were overstaying our welcome actually.
JUSTIN: Well no, because we’ve got to edit out all your curse words.
KIRSTEN All right.
JUSTIN: Merry TWISmas everybody!
KIRSTEN Merry TWISmas.
JUSTIN: Well see you in the new year.
KIRSTEN TWIS bless us. Newton bless us, everyone. (laughs).
JUSTIN: Oh and if you learned anything from today’s show…remember…
KIRSTEN It’s all in your head.