Transcipt: June 17, 2008

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

There is something wrong with the earth. There’s something wrong with our fair sister. Yes, we’ve ravaged and plundered and raped her in bitter, stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, tied her with fences and dragged her down.

But it now seems that these actions have had an adverse effect on the climate of the earth. And that we ourselves are in jeopardy of coming to some ill-effect.

And while, ill-effects like the following hour of programming do not necessarily represent the views of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

Some say, we should take heed the warning of the warming signs of the planet in distress and take some action before it’s too late while others would have us wait and see.

In any case, before we sink into the big sleep, while the lights are still on and the music still plays, let us dance on fire as it intends with your good friends until the end, the very gentle sounds of This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. How’s it going today?

Justin: Good.

Kirsten: Good.

Justin: Yes. It’s a good morning.

Kirsten: Excellent. That was a very nice disclaimer.

Justin: It is very Doorsian.

Kirsten: And I put on the very gentle music right after it. Yes, I just thought I’d just put a little cherry on top of that.

Justin: That disclaimer was almost entirely lifted. Well, yes, from that Doors’ song When the Music’s Over, which is like one of my favorite Doors songs for some reason. I like that one.

Kirsten: It’s a good song. It’s a good song. We are here. It’s This Week in Science. It’s 8:30 in the morning and you’ve been listening to the coolest folk show.

Michael here, he’s subbing for the new summer programming person, I believe. I don’t know, is it interim? I don’t know what’s going on here anymore. I don’t know what’s going on but it was a pleasant surprise to see Michael this morning.

We’ve got all sorts of Science news.

Justin: This is Just-in.

Kirsten: Really?

Justin: Yes. And you are Kirsten.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Potential proof of Panspermia present in plummeting meteorites.

Kirsten: Oh, yes. I love this story. Yes.

Justin: Okay. So, there’s research published in the Journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters that’s going to provide evidence that life’s raw materials -required to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA – may have come from sources beyond the earth. In fact, they think now that they very likely did.

Kirsten: I know. This is so great.

Justin: The materials they found include molecules, uracil — guessing. I’m so…

Kirsten: Uracil?

Justin: I’m so guessing.

Kirsten: It’s good, it’s good.

Justin: Uracil and is starts with an X but I know you don’t say the X – it’s probably xanthine.

Kirsten: Xanthine.

Justin: Okay. Uracil and xanthine which are precursors to molecules that make up RNA and DNA and are known as nucleobases.

So, okay, the team discovered the molecules in rock fragments from a meteorite that crossed in Australia in 1969. So, they went back and I guess they looked at the meteorite fragments and they’re finding this odd molecule.

What’s this?

Kirsten: What’s in here?

Justin: And so, they discover the uracil and xanthine and go well, okay. But here is the thing. We know it’s a precursor; we know it’s necessary for the make up of DNA and RNA but is this in this meteorite from contamination here on Earth or is this something that came with the meteorite?

And they weren’t really probably sure exactly that they could tell this but then they did the analysis.

Kirsten: Then they did. Yes. Bring it; I love it.

Justin: So, the analysis confirms that it was not contamination. It shows that the nucleobases contained a heavy form of carbon which could ONLY have been formed in space.

Materials formed on earth consist of much lighter variety of carbons. So, lead author, Dr. Zita Martins, Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Imperial College London, says the research is providing a very good piece of evidence explaining the evolution of early life.

We believe that early life may have adapted the nucleobases from meteoric fragments for use in generic coding which enabled them to pass their successful features on the subsequent generations.

Now, it’s also interesting between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago, large number of these rocks similar to the meteor that they were just analyzing had rained down on earth in that same time that primitive life was forming.

So, good timing, all around; maybe not a coincidence at all.

Kirsten: Yes. Maybe there’s no coincidence.

Justin: Yes. Maybe. But this is – co-author Mark Sephton also from Imperial’s Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering believes that the research has an important step in understanding how early may have evolved.

But also, he adds, because the meteorites represent left-over materials from the formation of the solar system, the key component for life including nucleobases could be widespread throughout our solar system and therefore the cosmos.

As more and more of life’s raw materials are discovered in objects in space, possibility of life spring forth wherever the right chemistry is present becomes much more likely.

So, astronomers have been doing the number crunching with the 76 trillion stars that are out there in the universe that we know of. Seven with 22 zeros after number of stars, more than every grain of the sand. Every grain of sand on…

Kirsten: On every beach…

Justin: From every beach on earth.

Kirsten: …on the planet, yes.

Justin: It’d still be short of that number, all right?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And now, we’re finding that these molecules that exist in the formation of solar systems are – yes, there’s the same as the building blocks of RNA and DNA. My goodness, that makes the numbers games so much better.

Kirsten: It absolutely does.

Justin: We’re still not going to hear from anybody. Okay. There’s nobody going to call us. We’re not going to be able to reach anybody on the…

Kirsten: No. But – that’s something…

Justin: …spacey little phone.

Kirsten: That’s something that people have been also talking about for years is the idea that if we do find life or if there is proof of life elsewhere, it’s most likely going to be cellular. And probably not multicellular. And if it is multicellular, it will still be very simple and probably not the kind of life that we could communicate with.

Justin: Right, yes. But I mean…

Kirsten: Probably — you wouldn’t be on the human level of complexity.

Justin: Yes. I mean like, even if you take like…

Kirsten: That’s what we’re thinking.

Justin: Even if you take like, human level of complexity, there’s very little human level of complexity on earth that we could communicate very well with.

Kirsten: Right. True.

Justin: I mean, you could say like a dolphin, a chimp or just a pig is just as – I mean you actually, I mean…

Kirsten: We can recognize other complex life forms, you know. We know what intelligence in various forms on this planet at least looks like. And it’s only a matter…

Justin: There’s only one that sends radar out in the space. That’s, you know…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And only for a little recently. And then, we’ll probably going to stop doing it pretty much because we’re getting all digital. We’re going to stop sending a lot of radio and television waves out there.

Kirsten: Yes. So there are chances…

Justin: So, we’re going to get quieter actually going forward into the future. We’re going to become – digital is going to make us very, very quiet compared to the rest of what we’ve been doing the last 50, 60, 70 years whatever.

Kirsten: Right. And if there are other life forms out in space who have been developing in a similar manner with technological advances of similar forms, they probably turn their self, you know….

Justin: Back off again too.

Kirsten: …back off.

Justin: So there’s a little blip.

Kirsten: And so, when we actually or if we actually find radio signals from some distant star, then by the time it reaches us, they would have evolved well past the stage of communication that we are at.

And so, the whole of finding of intelligent life is- it’s a needle in a haystack. But in terms of finding microbial life or the building blocks which we are finding more and more evidence of is this meteorite find is telling us. It’s just very cool.

Justin: And it’s actually probably our best chance of finding of life out in space would be something that’s traveling through space. Right? Something that left their planet or left their solar system, left their place long time ago.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: And chances are based on our technological development is that THAT traveler is going to be a probe or a robot, right? It’s going to be something that can handle all the heavy radiations of space; doesn’t need sustenance and can go on gathering energy just from the vacuum space.

So, it’s very likely that anything that could come in contact with us, that’s been traveling for thousands and thousands of light years is probably going to be a robot. And maybe their own society did die out or get taken over by robots and overthrown long ago.

So, even if we find life, I mean intelligence, excuse me, if we find intelligence, it’s probably not going to be life even then.

Kirsten: It’ll be a robot representative.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I actually went this weekend in San Francisco at Fort Mason to the RoboGames. It was very exciting.

And they’re the battle bots, the combat robots that really are like the remote control cars design for combat. They’re not autonomous in any way. But they’re great, fun to look at. They’re really fun to see these things that are built for destroying each other to attack and…

Justin: It’s all fun and games until they come after you, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Yes. I know, it is. But there are certain number of designs that seem to be working very well.

And so, I was really appreciative of the engineering that’s going into it. They’ve got the – there a few that a have spinning blade and the front of the blade hits their competitor first. There’s the wedge designed that gets underneath their competitor and they can wedge underneath and they can flip them over so that they become non-useful.

There’s the wheels on both sides with a small body so that if they do get flipped over, they can still drive on either, either side of their body.

There’s just all these designs that seems — that are fairly standard across the board. It was pretty interesting to see how these bots are being developed in where the engineering is going.

And then, on top of that, it was neat, there were all sorts of other events. There are the martial arts robots where they’re more humanoid.

Justin: Hiya.

Kirsten: Or there’s soccer robots where they play soccer.

Justin: Soccerbots.

Kirsten : But those also are remote controlled.

Then, they do have autonomous robots and there are competitions. There’s the Magellan competition where there is a GPS transmitter that is placed somewhere on the property. And then the bots have to go find it.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: And the bots, it’s kind of like a small version of the Darpa Road Race or Off-Road race where they’re trying to develop autonomous vehicles that can go wherever – navigate wherever without any human intervention.

So, it’s neat to see that people on the private scale, these aren’t, research institutions. These are private individuals developing these robots.

There are also autonomous robots that are – they’re small but they’re built to navigate through a maze that’s built like a house kind of to go put out of fire which is actually a candle in the corner of one room.

And I talked to this young guy, 16 years old, he’s been building these autonomous robots since he was 10. He built the robot that he was competing with when he was 13.

I saw lots of kids building robots and it’s just so neat to see. And there’s a group – a non-profit group called “They shall walk” that are developing. They were inspired by Science fiction. The guy who heads the group, he was paralyzed as a military parachuter. He was a ranger, parachuting, he had an accident. He was paralyzed, he’s lying in bed. The doctors are telling him that he’s never going to get any better.

He read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. And in that, they have these basically like XO skeletons that they get able for you to do more work or made it easier for the characters in the book to do work on a foreign planet.

And so, he was inspired. He’s like, “Wow! Why can’t I make something like that?” And so, he’s building XO skeletons for people who are paralyzed or who have neurological disorders and can’t walk.

And it’s a really great organization. And it was fun because he had taken one of the units and retrofitted it. So, it could be a weight lifting robot. And so, it was built for the Tetsugen competition which is the iron man, the Japanese term for iron man competition for weight lifting. And so, he was running around and then, he was going to be lifting weights later.

It’s pretty neat. He’s actually in the process of trying to develop an autonomous self-balancing robot XO skeleton for people. I mean, it’s turning in – I mean what I was seeing there is like private citizens doing stuff that are really on the forefront of robotic technology. And it was just a really neat event.

Justin: The age of tinkering is not lost on us, then. That’s excellent.

Kirsten: No, it’s not. The age of tinkering is well, well at hand. And people are really doing some amazing, interesting work.

Beyond the tinkerers though, the Mars lander which is not really autonomous but it’s doing some great work on Mars may have found ice, scraping up a little hole on Mar’s surface. There is a white substance that was found.

In the picture of it, it’s like brownish red dirt and there’s white underneath. And so, they think it’s ice. And so, they’re doing some tests to see if it doesn’t evaporates.

I’m blinking on the term — sublimates, to see if it’s sublimates. That’s evaporating without turning into a liquid first. Ice, ice directly to gas, yes. Sublimation.

Justin: I thought that was illegal.

Kirsten: They’re not illegal. No.

Justin: Ever feel like you’d – if you didn’t get your morning coffee like you would die?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Really?

Kirsten: Yes, no.

Justin: You never had that?

Kirsten: I’ve never had that feeling.

Justin: Okay. I’ve had that many – I’ve had that almost every morning.

Kirsten: I’ve had the feeling if I don’t eat, I’m going to die or I’ll hurt somebody.

Justin: No. I can do without food as long as I’ve got coffee.

Kirsten: I can’t go without food. I need food.

Justin: Well, if you ever had felt like you were going to die needing that morning cup of coffee, new research says, “You might be right.”

You might be right. You might be ready to die if you don’t. Study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that regular coffee drinking, which I love, is how it’s defined here is up to six cups a day.

Kirsten: That’s a lot of coffee.

Justin: It depends. It’s like…

Kirsten: Substantial coffee imbibing.

Justin: Yes. I kind of do that at work.

Kirsten: Imbibition?

Justin: I probably hit six, maybe more.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Yes. I can do that. It’s not associated with increased deaths in either men or women. So, it doesn’t increase your chances of dying, right?

Kirsten: That’s a good thing. You could drink a lot of coffee and not die.

Justin: But in fact, drinking coffee, caffeinated or decaffeinated, didn’t matter is associated with a somewhat smaller rate of death from heart disease. Somewhat smaller.

And coffee consumption has been linked to various beneficial and detrimental health effects over the years. But data on it’s relation to death were lacking says Esther Lopez-Garcia PhD who studies lead author.

Coffee consumption was not associated with the high risk of mortality in middle age man and woman. And the possibility of modest benefit of coffee consumption and heart disease, cancer and other causes of death needs to be further investigated.

Women, consuming two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 25% lower risk of death from heart disease during follow up period.

Kirsten: I wonder if it’s black coffee or if this includes like mochas and lattes and all that kind of stuff.

Justin: I don’t know if they got specific there.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: But the follow up period was from 1980 to 2004. So it was like 24 year follow-up period. There were 25% less likely to die.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Justin: Well, 25% lower risk of dying from heart disease, 18% lower risk of death cause by something other than cancer or heart disease which I guess could be anything. I guess that could even be a car accident.

So, research has then compared to frequency of death from any cause of death due to heart disease, death due to cancer among people with different coffee drinking habits.

And we’re counting further as factors such as body size, smoking, diet, other diseases, researchers found that people who drink more coffee were less likely to die over all in the following period.

Kirsten: That’s cool.

Justin: Yes. So, coffee makes you less likely to – that’s a nice thing to know.

Kirsten: That’s awesome.

Justin: It makes every cup of coffee that much more important. Okay?

Kirsten: It makes you feel that much better about it.

Justin: No. I’m actually going to die. There’s scientific research. It’s been proven. I’m going to die if I don’t get my coffee.

Kirsten: No. Coffee also – you’re not just drinking it. But just smelling coffee, just smelling coffee actually could change gene regulation into protein transcription within the brain.

Study on rats that were sleep deprived – poor little rats, kept little the rats awake and won’t let them sleep – they had them sniffed some of them, sniff coffee beans and others not sniff coffee.

And the ones that sniffed coffee showed at different levels of activity in 17 genes in their brain, 13 of those genes have differential mRNA expression that’s the RNA is one of the things that’s important for transcription of DNA, between the stressed group and the stressed with coffee group. This includes proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage.

So, if you’re sleep deprived, well at least in rats, if rats are sleep deprived, smelling the aroma of coffee can help protect them from the stress of sleep deprivation. Keep the brain from losing it and causing forgetfulness and all that kind of stuff.

There is another study that was talking about memory – where did it go? I’m totally not going to be able to find that, am I?

Memory loss, so, there’s another study out of UCLA. The study was sent in by Ed Dyer showing that people with sleep apnea have changes to an area of the brain called the mammillary body which is related to memory that are similar to alcoholics or people with Alzheimer’s Disease that they are shrunken.

And so, people with this breathing, sleep breathing disorder actually may have memory loss or a lack of memory formation as the disease or the disorder progresses as you live longer. It keeps the mammillary bodies from building up to the size that they want to be.

Maybe this could be treated with Vitamin B. People who are alcoholic are treated with massive amounts of Thiamin, B1 and that I think helps to keep the dying cells recovering and enabling the brain to use those cells over and over again.

So, they’re going to try and figure out exactly what it is about sleep apnea that leads to the decrease in size of the mammillary bodies.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: That’s frightening.

Kirsten: Sleep is good for you.

Justin: It is.

Kirsten: Sleep is very good for you and you should sleep.

Justin: That’s…

Kirsten: But maybe you sniff the coffee when you wake up if you don’t sleep that much. I don’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know.

Justin: I like think that coffee one has like a good potential for like a study guide scratch and sniff like if you’ve been up all night studying and it’s exam time…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …and you go in there, you can have your little scratch and sniff and have coffee smell while you take your test.

Kirsten: Hough and coffee.

Justin: Like, “What are you doing?” “I’m just smelling my stickers. They need to be…”

Kirsten: I know there’s something about the smell of coffee someday and I just – it smells so good.

Justin: And I’ve got like roommates now for the first time and I think forever…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …that I’ve ever had roommates, roommates and they get up way earlier than me because they go out and work…

Kirsten: Do you wake up to the smell of the coffee?

Justin: Yes. It’s amazing.

Kirsten: That’s nice.

Justin: Yes. It’s amazing. So, are you behind on your bills? Credit card companies calling you? Looking for some fast cash before payday? No problem! Kidneys…

Kirsten: Oh.

Justin: …for cash can help.

Kirsten: Ah!

Justin: Eh!

Kirsten: The what?

Justin: Yes, it’s the human kidney market.

Kirsten: Oh, dear.

Justin: And it is under some scrutiny lately. It makes me wonder why it wasn’t before. But yes, former transplant surgeon in London Professor Maqsood Noorani wrote recently about the trouble he sees in the transplants obtained from Pakistan and other poor countries in the world.

Organs come mainly from live, unrelated donors, right? So, you’re getting within the country – most of the donors aren’t related to the person getting.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Okay.

Justin: A lot of times here we’ll have – you find a relative who’s got similar DNA or what have you or they volunteered to give you their kidney. Good job, right? Wonderful! Or we get them from dead people, somebody is a donor and they die and then you get it.

But a lot of this comes from live but people who are unrelated. And the claim is that there are voluntary donations says Noorani but in reality, most are sold by the desperately poor and transplanted to people who are much more wealthy.

Kirsten: Much – yes, wealthier people who can afford to buy a kidney.

Justin: Yes. This exploits not only the poor but also women who according to Noorani professional experience constitute 95% of related live donors. Related live donors – that’s an important distinction. This isn’t the unrelated, but this is the related.

And he is saying that this is partly because it’s a male-dominated society. In Pakistan, women may not have so much say over what happens to them. So, my cousin so and so needs a kidney and I go, “Okay. Wife, you’re giving him a kidney” and that’s the end of the story, which is frightening.

And so, the trade of kidneys has become so lucrative, businesses in Pakistan where private hospital advertise their services in newspapers and on the internet. They have like I was joking, behind on the bills? Credit card companies calling you? Looking for something – that’s the pitch, your kidney.

Kirsten: That’s just awful.

Justin: That’s horrible. That’s gruesome, right? So, where you go, okay. “More needs to be done,” he says, “to bring this system under control.” And recipients as well as donors are dying through this because it’s not always the most reputable people who are taking or even implanting these kidneys because it’s very much a sort of gooly, underworldy activity.

Police in Pakistan however, can’t simply change for the system in the UK or non-related donations are largely made after death because this would encourage a black market and not only cadaver organs but it could result in people being murdered for their organs, which I would be surprised wouldn’t already be happening because in India, Pakistan and Philippines, most donors receive less than $2,000 for their kidney whereas the brokers and transplant surgeons can be charging in excess of $80,000 for the delivery of procedures.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: So there’s a huge, I mean that’s a nice markup right there, I mean if I’m a young man and I’m looking for a business to go into, organ broker, transplant surgeon on the black market – $80,000 is a pop. That’s pretty solid.

Kirsten: Yes, but then you have to live with yourself.

Justin: No, no, no. Well, you live. Oh, yes, yes. You have to live.

Kirsten: You live. That’s right.

Justin: Oh, sure. You have to live.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: But there are huge risks for the recipients.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: There’s a lack of screening and testing that results in people getting HIV, hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis from their transplanted organ.

Kirsten: Note to self, don’t go through a kidney broker. Mammals have a bunch of different light sensitive cells in their retina. There’s one however, that researchers at the Salk Institute have found that might explain how people’s biological clock gets off as they get older.

Justin: Oh, I think Pakistan is calling, a guest.

Kirsten: There’s – we have a phone call. Should we go with this?

Justin: Yes, sure.

Kirsten: Let’s go with this.

Justin: Good morning TWIS minion you’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: Yes, hello.

Kirsten: Hello! Welcome! Good morning.

Man: Hi! I’ve been listening to the archives that go back to like 2000.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yes, they go back quite a way, don’t they?

Justin: The pre-Justin era?

Man: Oh, yes, yes. But you know what? I also appreciate you, Justin also.

Justin: Oh, thank you. I just wanted to say that you guys – between you and Explorations with Michio Kaku on KPFA, I’d learned a lot…

Kirsten: Oh, fabulous.

Man: …I have because – I appreciate you guys’ consistency with the humor and the information and your dedication.

Kirsten: Wow! Thank you very much.

Justin: I’ve got like the warmest fuzzies right now. This is…

Kirsten: Yes.

Man: It’s cool. Excellent.

Kirsten: That’s really great.

Justin: Thank you.

Kirsten: It means a lot.

Man: You guys are like my major source of entertainment. I’m up in the mountains up in Oregon though.

Kirsten: Calling from Oregon. Wow!

Man: Yes.

Kirsten: It’s a long distance call, thanks.

Man: I was in California but I just moved so…

Justin: What mountains are you like? What part of north, south, each, west – what part of the state are you in then?

Man: Let’s see southwest.

Justin: Oh, beautiful.

Man: And it’s over by Oakland, Oregon. We’re probably about an hour from Eugene.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: Yes. I got shot at Oakland, Oregan.

Man: Wow!

Justin: This is a true story.

Kirsten: Why does this not surprised me?

Justin: I took – I was in Oakland, Oregon. I was driving, we’re heading up to Vancouver in some roadtrip, pulled off in Oakland, Oregon and we’re just barely off the highway there and we heard this pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. And somebody was shooting at us. I think we were…

Man: We’re you…?

Justin: Not saying there’s pop farms out there. That’s not what I’m saying.

Man: We’re you dressed like a raccoon?

Justin: No, no but I was dressed…

Man: That’s the main thing people take a pot shot at.

Justin: I was at the time probably dressed a little bit like an urban Mohican something or another.

Man: Great.

Justin: That was many years ago. But thank you for calling.

Man: Yes. I just wanted to thank you guys for your level of entertainment and bringing it to – it’s awesome.

Man: Right on.

Kirsten: Thank you very much. That’s great.

Man: I appreciated Carl Sagan when I was younger but wow, he was difficult to listen to sometimes, you know.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: You just said that – if you haven’t found the tapes you got to get a couple of beers on that guy first and then he really loosens up.

Man: I imagine. I imagine. So, thank you very much and keep it up.

Justin: Thanks.

Man: Let’s rock.

Justin: Thank you for calling.

Kirsten: Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

Man: All right. Bye.

Kirsten: Bye.

Justin: And that’s a beautiful area of the country.

Kirsten: Warm fuzzies, yes!

Justin: That’s like right where the – because I used to live up in the northwestern part of California and the southwestern part of Oregon. So, very similar. Like the red woods and it’s very lush and it’s basically like a tropical forest with red – it’s just beautiful up there.

Kirsten: That’s nice. It sounds like a nice place to live.

Justin: Barns everywhere, the ocean…

Kirsten: Well, these cells…

Justin: I’m going to Oakland.

Kirsten: Going back to the story, back to the story that we’re going to try…

Justin: Yes, yes, yes.

Kirsten: … and get to before we have to go to the break…

Justin: Yes, (unintelligible).

Kirsten: …because it’s almost time for the break and you’re like a rambling man today.

Justin: Oh, I’m not. Well, these are stories. That’s all I got.

Kirsten: What are you doing?

Justin: I didn’t get to my rambles.

Kirsten: It’s like you don’t even want to talk about Science today.

Justin: That’s – I do. This is all Science. This is how I brought it.

Kirsten: All right. So there are the rods and the cones that we know of in the eye and there are some cells that have this – the rod cells have this pigment called rhodopsin that allows us to pick up dim light.

And there’s another kind of cell that contains a pigment called melanopsin that it’s different from the rods and the cones. It doesn’t allow us to see color. It doesn’t allow us to see in dim light. But what it allows us to do is differentiate light intensity.

And it’s actually thought to be involved in the opening or contracting of your pupil. So the eye, the…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …how much light is let into the eye. And so, it’s thought to be related to that. However, it also seems that these cells when they die, they mess up your circadian clock. And so, as people get older and cells in the eye do deteriorate, people seem to stay up later and they have I guess more odd sleeping hours, waking hours.

And that these sleeping disorders might be related to the deterioration of these melanopsin-containing cells because the study showed that these cells which are embedded in the inner retina and there are about 2,000 of these cells in the retinal ganglion cells.

They signal directly to the human circadian clock, which is this little tiny area of cells that’s just above where the optic nerves cross. And so, these 2,000 cells go directly there. And when they die, it messes up our ability to really relate to the circadian patterns of the sun. It’s really neat.

Justin: So maybe that gives some onus to some of the light therapies…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …that are out there that – yes.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely. But it – yes, I think it’s neat because it actually shows a link between light coming in and why and how we might relate to it and react to it the way that we do. And you don’t – when these cells die, you don’t go blind. You can still see. You still pick up light because you still have your rods and your cones. And so, you can see fine but it’s just this light intensity and the way that light affects you and your natural rhythms that kind of gets screwed up.

So it’s just an interesting – that’s fine, I mean these small number of cells among all of the cells that are in the retina of the eye.

Justin: You know I just realized that guy’s been listening to the original shows – the caller?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Listen with me, Ted was with me in the car when we got shot at. He was with me on that trip. We were – it was two of the hosts of this show might never happened. Not the old or the new version of the show…

Kirsten: Like I said…

Justin: …may never have happened because…

Kirsten: …this doesn’t surprised me at all.

Justin: …he could have (unintelligible) both of the, co-hosts to this Oakland, Oregon. No, no, it just came and this all comes together. It’s amazing.

Kirsten: Everything comes together in the end.

Justin: Should we have further ado before we go to the break? Do you want more ado? I can bring some more ado.

Kirsten: No, we’re going to go to the break because we have to bring Dr. Michael Stebbins on.

Justin: You don’t want more ado? I’ve got more ado. I’ve got plenty of ado over here.

Kirsten: No, no, no more ado.

Justin: I’m packful of ado right now.

Kirsten: Please stay tuned. We’ll be back in just a few moments with more in This Week in Science.


Kirsten: We’re back. This is This Week in Science and on the line we have Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Justin: The weird from Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Michael: Sweet music to my ear.

Kirsten: Bringing you in in style.

Michael: It really is. I feel like I’ve got a white wall.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: Moving out of the powder blue caddy convertible?

Michael: Mm hmm.

Justin: Stepping out with a matching suit.

Michael: Yup.

Justin: The suit matches the car.

Michael: Why are we in wheels my friend? That’s the way you go.

Kirsten: That’s how you roll.

Michael: Yup.

Kirsten: How is the DC?

Michael: Oh, craziest ever. There’s a whole stack of crazy this week. It’s really great.

Kirsten: Stack of crazy?

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: Wow!

Michael: Man, like some of it is almost clinical. So great.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Kirsten: Well, where should we start?

Michael: Well, let’s start out in California and work our way over, shall we?

Kirsten: Sounds fabulous. I like starting close to home.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: The California Department of Public Health just sent cease and desist letters to 13 companies that offered direct consumer marketed genetic test on the internet. This is companies like Navigenics and 23andMe where you can actually just, order a test online for whatever disease.

And the reason they did this is because that they must show – that the test currently being sold in California residents have been ordered by a doctor as required by California state law.

Now, companies face fines as much as $3,000 a day if they don’t comply. New York State Department of Health actually issued similar notices to almost 24 companies last April. Now, they follow the launch of a batch of new DNA analysis services, which was basically directed at consumers.

And some of these are absolutely crazy because a lot of things that they’re testing for actually don’t tell you something that is clinically relevant. So, in other words, they’ll list a whole bunch of markers. And I have found some really great ones that I’ll probably be blogging on later on this week, some of the really funny ones like you can repair your karma, you know.

So, do you think…

Justin: What?

Michael: Yes. You could repair your DNA karma, yes, which is fantastic.

Justin: Nice. A whole new world of snake oil has just been opened up.

Kirsten: Oh, absolutely.

Michael: That is the perfect description of it. It is absolute snake oil. And the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate these tests for accuracy even though a Federal panel recently recommend that they step up oversight over these things. This issue has been going on for years. They’ve been warned about this for years, the FDA, and they just haven’t done anything about it.

And so, there are people who are being bilked. And so, the Californian Department of Health got complaints and they actually did something about it. So, maybe the FDA should take a page out of their book.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: The only thing is, I wonder when the folks are looking for the DNA that fixes their karma, their karma DNA fix or whatever it is…

Michael: Mm hmm.

Justin: …are they really being bilked or are they buying in to their own beliefs? It is a little bit of a gray (unintelligible) there but…

Michael: The desire for hope actually will make someone do things that they normally wouldn’t.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: That’s a good way earn.

Michael: And in this particular case, people will be bilked out of it. And sometimes, there’s just people who don’t know any better, and that’s fine, that’s not necessarily stupid. It just seems that they’re ignorant about this particular topic.

And some people like to put crystals on their forehead and think that they’ve cured their cancer and that’s fine because it actually does give them a form of hope that they probably can’t get elsewhere. But in this particular case, people are actually being bilked out of money in a lot of these cases.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: And not all these companies are doing things that are bad. Some of them are for very valuable test in fact.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: And most of the genetic test market is privatized. So – in fact, all of it is. For the most part, there are very few that aren’t. So, this is actually just aimed at getting at the snake oil salesmen but then they’ve got two weeks to respond to this and to say how they’re complying with state law.

So, not all these companies are bad but there are bunch of snake oil cells that are really muddying the waters for everyone else so…

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: That’s good.

Michael: Now, let’s slide on down over to South Carolina. I got an email from a This Week in Science listener from South Carolina the other day who informed me that there’s a candidate running for Congress named Ted Christian who is a former aerospace engineer. In other words, a rocket scientist…

Kirsten: Yehey!

Michael: …running for Congress for the fourth district against a Paul Corden. And they have a runoff on June 24th because in South Carolina there’s an automatic runoff in elections where there’s no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote. And these guys are vying for the Democratic nomination.

Now the winner will face the incumbent Republican, Bob Inglis who last election beat the Democratic nominee by two to one margins. So, it’s an uphill battle for either one of those. But it’s just nice to see a scientist getting involved.

Kirsten: Absolutely.

Michael: And I got to give hat to (Neal) for enlightening me on this one. My favorite part of this guy’s webpage is the quote where he actually addresses the fact that he’s rocket scientist…

Justin: Yes.

Michael: …where he says, “Okay. It’s been a running joke that I’m a rocket scientist but I have a degree in aerospace engineering and I did an initial design of a rocket pack that was baselined on the space station. And I’ve done trajectory analysis and coded guidance algorithms and led spacecraft design teams. And people keep telling me I need too play the theme up so whatever. A rocket scientist is exactly, I guess you could call me one.”

Justin: That’s bright because I could see debates…

Michael: Yes, sir you are.

Justin: …in Congress like, “Now, I’m looking at this legislation. And I’m no rocket scientist but – oh, wait. Actually I am.”

Michael: Yup. So, it’s absolutely brilliant. I love that. So, all right. Now, let’s slide up the crazyville. So, welcome to Washington.

Kirsten: Crazyville. Yay!

Michael: A recent poll by the National Journal questioned 39 GOP senators and congressman and 39 democrats. And what they found was that when they were asked the question, “Do you think it’s been proven beyond the reasonable doubt that the earth is warming because of a man-made pollution?”

Ta da da da. They had actually asked this question before in April 2006. Seventy-four percent said “NO” of the GOPs.

Justin: Wow!

Michael: Now, amongst the democrats, it actually is a little bit different. But we’re – it’s up in the 90s so that actually agree with it. So 74% now, and that’s actually a gain of 3% over the April 2006 where 77% said they NO, they do not believe that manmade pollution has actually contributed to global warming, so.

Justin: Progress.

Kirsten: Three percent, right.

Michael: Now, while riding that crazy train…

Kirsten: Three percent is like a margin of error.

Justin: Yes.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: Yes, I mean but it’s…

Michael: Yes. It’s a wiggle. And this is not really a very good poll. It’s just 39 people randomly. But it’s disturbing nonetheless.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Yup. While riding that crazy train, James Inhofe who has compared people who raised awareness about climate change to the Third Reich actually said on the floor of the senate during the Climate Change bill debate the other day, actually well whatever debate you’d call it, that he claimed that everything in An Inconvenient Truth, this is Vice President Gore’s Oscar winning documentary where he – and he won the noble price therein afterwards, has been refuted many times.

And here’s the quote. “Now, Al Gore’s done his movie. Almost everything in that that’s been in the movie, in fact, everything has been refuted.”

Kirsten: Everything?

Justin: Yes.

Michael: And interestingly enough, the IPCC on sea levels and other things, scare tactics used in that science fiction movie have been totally refuted and been refuted many times by the IPCC. That’s the…

Justin: Oh.

Michael: …Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is the UN group that shared the Nobel prize with him. And of course…

Kirsten: Ah, no.

Michael: …that’s completely untrue.

Justin: See I agree. I thought he was right up to the point where he pointed out who refuted it.

Kirsten: Yes. Right, right.

Justin: And I’m like, “Sure. No, it’s been refuted. Exxon refuted it, Shell…” I mean like a lot of big – a lot of companies have been refuting this.

Kirsten: And there are actually are some like points like some like individual…

Michael: Absolutely.

Kirsten: …points that – yes, the evidence does not support some of the claims of Gore. Not every single claim that Gore made…

Justin: Huh? Name one. Name one.

Kirsten: I can’t remember…

Justin: Ah, actually (how you are).

Michael: Yes. So the essence that…

Kirsten: I don’t know. I don’t have these like lined up on my queue cards right now. Yes, at the end of the day though, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence does suggest that we are involved in what is happening to the climate. Climate is changing; we are a part of it.

There are individual aspects of exactly how it’s happening that we don’t know everything about it yet. And that’s the way that science works. There’s still a lot more to work out.

Michael: Indeed. Now, let’s ride that crazy train down the tracks a little further to Oklahoma now. Go over to Senator…

Kirsten: Yoo-hoo!

Michael: …Tom Coburn who just placed a hold on the HIV/AIDS prevention legislation. Now, this is – the senate introduced this bi-partisan bill to triple funding for President Bush’s program to fight HIV and AIDS.

So this is the Bush program that got Coburn and six other republicans who are blocking the bill because too much of the money is being spent on the prevention of AIDS rather than the treatment which means – and I know I have to say the word so people who have sensitive ears cover them up — condoms. Condom use is the number one prevention for AIDS and, it’s teaching people on providing them with that.

Now, Coburn, he’s an obstetrician by training; at least that’s what he claims. And he’s out of – I mean some of the things that he says are just completely out of the mainstream for medicine.

And so, I dug up an old quote of his which I absolutely love to bring up. And this was in 2005. So he said, he said — immediately, “I thought about silicon breast implants and the legal wrangling and the class-action suits off that. “

And I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicon breast implants. “If you have them, you’re healthier than if you don’t have them.”

Kirsten: What?

Michael: Yes. That is what the ultimate science shows. In fact, there is no science that shows that silicon breast implants are detrimental – that’s actually true and in fact, make you healthier- That’s not true.

Justin: Make you healthier?

Michael: Yes.

Justin: They give you a bigger lungs which allows you to take in more oxygen. Wait, no.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: Like in the class-action suits, all that stuff had more to do with the manufacturing of the breast implants at the time and how they were in the surgery, for the procedures and it wasn’t the – oh my goodness!

Michael: How can we know?

Justin: So ladies, for your own health…

Kirsten: Michael, Michael…

Justin: You got to get a bigger — I got to watch my language.

Kirsten: You can’t bring such comedy to this show.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: I’m just going to laugh the rest of the hour. Oh, my goodness.

Michael: It’s like. Betty, I love you but, this is for your health.

Kirsten: This is for your health.

Michael: I think you’re perfect just the way you are but if you want to be healthier, maybe you should do it.

Kirsten: Well, why do people say things like that.

Michael: Yes. So, wonderful. Right?

Kirsten: Where does that come from?

Michael: So in other words, actually, the porn industry, healthiest people on earth.

Kirsten: That’s right. That’s right.

Michael: It’s so…

So, wonderful, wonderful. So that’s my Tom Coburn quote for the day.

Now, as – last week, I spoke about the Climate Change bill that it’s basically it was the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. Now, and what I was talking about there was this is a cap-and-trade bill.

And there’s a couple things that are interesting that popped up out of this whole thing. First of all, at 11:00 pm on the night that they were actually going to start debating the bill on the senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is from Kentucky actually forced them to read the entire bill on the floor. It’s close to 500 pages long.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Michael: So they had to sit there and read the entire bill aloud.

Justin: Was that what? A Friday?

Michael: Yes.

Justin: That’s fine.

Michael: So, now, what happened though was Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the senate got a memo and it was given to him by a lobbyist involved with one of the republican strategy meetings and that it admitted that the goal of the republican goal was actually just completely distract people from the bill.

And here’s a quote from it. “The goal is for a theme, for example, climate bill equals higher gas prices each day. And the focus is much more on making political points than in amending the bill, changing the baseline texts for any future debate or affecting policy.”

In other words, their entire goal was to actually just try and block the bill from any sort of consideration. And so, this memo got out. They didn’t want to debate the bill at all. They didn’t – you know and this was revealed again and again.

So it’s one of these things where they didn’t like this cap-and-trade bill. Okay. You don’t have to like the bill. But when you actually take a look at what economist recommends, okay, so in May of 2008, the Government Accountability Office released a report where they asked the opinions of economist who specialize in climate change what they thought would be the most important thing.

Now, so the first they asked the action of the congress might consider to address climate change and the key strengths and limitations of policies that they could take. Fine, 18 economists responded and 14 of the 18 recommend an initial price, a cap-and-trade system, okay. So, it’s exactly what they were trying to do.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: And a hybrid policy, that would feature both tax and a cap-and-trade program. So you would tax people on their emissions, okay, so companies on their emissions. And you would allow a cap-and-trade system so that you could actually regulate the market.

So now, many of the panelist said that the cap-and-trade program would be more effective in achieving a desired level of greenhouse gas emissions because unlike a tax, it would provide certainty that emissions wouldn’t exceed a certain level.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: So, we’ve got, 14 economists who specialize in the – 14 of 18 economists specializing this saying that this is important and all of them agreeing that some sort of cap-and-trade system really has to be put into place. The republicans didn’t even want to actually have a discussion of this on the floor.

So that’s actually thoroughly disturbing that they – they didn’t have to like the specifics of this bill. And we can actually argue this – what this bill did and did not do.

John McCain for example, did not actually even show up for a vote on this because he quote and quote – actually it’s not a quote – he said that it didn’t do enough for nuclear energy. So he wanted actually to push nuclear energy which is fine. It’s a good idea.

Justin: Wouldn’t that fall under like a – I mean if you’re not putting on – I mean I guess you have the nuclear waste. But if you’re not putting out carbon, wouldn’t that be a huge boom to the nuclear power plant when they get a huge amount of energy credit that they’re producing to parlay off and maybe sell to somebody else.

Michael: In some of forms of the system, yes, absolutely. That’s exactly what would happen.

Justin: Yes, there’s huge boom to that…

Michael: Now, it depends on how you actually structure the cap-and-trade. And this is getting into the weeds a little bit for the audience. But, I don’t want to get too much on the policy here but it really does show that there’s a major risk here in – with some senators at least…

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: …really not wanting to do anything to address this issue.

Kirsten: Just not even coming to the table.

Michael: And they haven’t introduced any bills themselves.

Kirsten: Yes. They’re not giving any alternatives and they’re not coming to the table. They’re just trying to sweep it under the rug and not talk about it.

Justin: Meanwhile, industries are already geared up for this. I mean the wind turbine industry, wind generated power has been increasing it like 25% a year over the like the last five years. I mean they’re gearing up for sudden system like this.

Michael: Sure. But they’re only approaching 1% of our total energy use in the country. In the next year probably they’ll reach that mark. So they’re in 1%.

Justin: Probably. Yes. But that’s great increasing at 25% a year.

Michael: Not so bad though with this huge increase but it’s — in all reality, that’s not going to be able to replace fossil fuels in the immediate future. (Unintelligible) building nuclear power plants.

Kirsten: No. There isn’t anything. Yes.

Justin: It can take 15 years just to get one on line.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Right. So part of the republican strategy is actually to drill offshore more oil to…

Kirsten: More oil.

Michael: Yes. Drilling for oil which also…

Kirsten: Well, and I’m wondering…

Michael: …isn’t going to be – that’s not a quick answer either. So…

Kirsten: No. Building oil rigs and doing anything related to that, that’s going to take time as well.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: I’m also wondering though, how much of this is related to these senators wanting things to not be regulated at the federal level and wanting companies to be allowed to regulate themselves, to allow the industry to self regulate.

Michael: That’s the president’s stance on this. In fact, the idea that companies will voluntarily do this has been the president’s stance all along and it’s not working.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: So, people actually have this false notion that regulation equals higher prices for everything. And that simply doesn’t bear out in most cases. And because – one other thing that these economists actually recommended was that the US move forward with this whether other countries do it or not.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: So, they said that we should still do it because when you do a cost benefit analysis on it, it actually winds up helping us in the end. So we wind up in a situation where we have people on both sides of the aisle who are really still not getting this, that the country really does want change here and that they don’t want to hear about more drilling unless you also have ideas for changing, for decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: So, now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t drill more. We should in fact, probably. We’re not going to…

Kirsten: Oh, we need to.

Michael: Yes. We are going to need to do this in the short term but at the same time we have to move very, very quickly. And everyone sort of gets this at this point except for some people in congress.

Kirsten: Yes. It seems like, there are people all over the place we get that. if we need to move forward with the renewables; we need to move forward with nuclear; we need to continue drilling like everything needs to be continuing but we need to pick up the pace on the renewables and the things that are not petroleum based.

So that at – in eventually, the slack can be picked up. But for the time being, there is no replacement immediately…

Justin: There is. There is.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Yes, there is.

Kirsten: Immediately available that is scalable to everybody?

Justin: Yes, there is.

Kirsten: No, there’s not.

Justin: Absolutely there is.

Kirsten: That can be immediately implemented?

Justin: Yes, yes. Everybody can go out and buy a hybrid vehicle.

Michael: Indeed.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: No. That would – the technology is there. And everybody should be doing it.

Kirsten: And not every – no, yes “should”, right. That’s fine enough to say but not everybody can afford it. And that’s…

Justin: Everybody can cut their consumption. And people like “Oh, we don’t want a backup for…” I’m not talking about walking, the 10 miles, 20 miles to work. I’m talking about figuring out a way to do it with less of an imprint. And it’s not that difficult.

Kirsten: Right, but…

Justin: It’s small baby steps.

Kirsten: Not everybody’s going to do that.

Justin: And there’s hundreds millions of us.

Michael: This reminds me of a really cool thing…

Kirsten: It can happen.

Michael: …that’s happening actually out of Berkley, California. There’s a group called Carrotmob.

Kirsten: Carrotmob. Yay!

Michael: Check out Carrotmob. Your listeners should absolutely check that out. They’re doing something really unique. And it may or may not take off but the idea here is that using a carrot instead of a stick for actually getting companies to go green.

Kirsten: That’s cool.

Michael: In other words, pledging to go to – and use companies that devote a certain percentage of their profit towards making themselves green.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: And so, using the carrot instead of the stick. A very simple principle but actually they did it a little test – a pilot test in San Francisco and it worked really well as it turns out. So, Carrotmob, check those guys out.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Michael: And the other thing you should check out, of course, is Scientists & Engineers for America. People should join. And if you like the stories that you hear from me on here, on This Week In Science, we have a daily Scientists & Engineers for America website, in the Action Fun’s website, we have a daily e-mail alert that goes out and people who are members actually can get that as well. So there you go.

Kirsten: Great.

Michael: Yup.

Kirsten: Thank you very much.

Justin: See, I’m a big believer in the stick. I don’t know. I think it’s worth that…

Kirsten: Feeding people with the stick.

Justin: Well, I think regulations worked in the past. Without it, we wouldn’t have airbags, seatbelts, collapsible steering wheels. All the safety features that are in vehicles today that the industry resisted are now selling points.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, we have to wrap this up and…

Michael: Yes. Look what it did to asbestos.

Kirsten: Yes, great. Great.

Justin: Huh? What?

Kirsten: Thank you very much, Michael.

Michael: Thank you.

Kirsten: This has been a wonderful half hour as always. We’ll see you — talk to you in two weeks.

Michael: Bye-bye.

Justin: Bye, Michael.

Kirsten: Take care.

Justin: Remember, folks, if you learned anything from today’s show…

Kirsten: You’re too quick.

Michael: Are we done?

Kirsten: No.

Michael: I didn’t know. I hear it…

Kirsten: I was just putting Michael out. And then we we’re going to…

Justin: Oh, you we’re like rushing. I’m like you’re pointing and waving and hitting buttons. I’m like, “Are we out? Are we gone? Are we done?”

Kirsten: You’re too quick for me. Anyway, I would like remind everyone that if they’re interested in checking out stories from this show, our show notes are up at

Justin: We got show notes?

Kirsten:, that’s right, where you can find out a little bit more about stories that we’ve talked about. And the music that’s played on the program, thank you very much for listening.

Justin: And now, if you’ve learned anything from today’s show which you should have, maybe because if you were listening, then remember…

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.