Transcipt: Mar 25, 2008 Part 1

Justin: Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer.

There is no such thing as logic. There is no history to the world. There is no technology, no written word, and no art. There’s no intellectual progress of any kind, without science.

And without science, there is no reason for the University of California – Davis, KDVS as its sponsors, to point out that the views and opinions of the following hour of programming are not their own, because without science, there would be no sponsors, no radio!

Let alone a radio station, there would be no university, no Davis, no California. Luckily for all of us, science exists, science is real, and as proof, we offer you, This Week in Science, coming up next.

(Music playing)

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten. Is that new music?

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin.

Justin: Is that new compilation CD music?

Kirsten: It’s not. But –

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: It’s something completely different. What it is, is we’re starting out this show, because you know – we’re getting a new theme song.

Justin: We are?

Kirsten: We’re going to have a new theme song. And it may be one of the songs from this year’s compilation album; it may be a song that is written by a friend of mine; it may be a song that is written by somebody else entirely.

Justin: Huh? We don’t even know?

Kirsten: We don’t even know.

Justin: How are we going to find out?

Kirsten: Well, we’re going to get all the songs that people sent to us, and we’re going to pick our favorite.

Justin: Oh, wow. Cool.

Kirsten: Oh, yes. We’re going to have a new theme song everybody. This Week in Science is moving on up.

Justin: Moving on up to the different league.

Kirsten: (Laughs) that’s right. It’s time to move on.

Justin: We’re still going to be here, though.

Kirsten: It’s time – it’s time. We’re still going to be here at KDVS, doing This Week in Science, every week, Tuesdays. I mean –

Justin: Still in the morning?

Kirsten: I don’t know.

Justin: Yes. Find out.

Kirsten: (Laughs). We’ll find out later.

Justin: We have no – apparently I have no idea what we’re doing.

Kirsten: We have no idea what’s going on here, but we do know that there’s lots of amazing science out there. And you listeners have been a major part of bringing that to us.

If you would like to call in, and continue the conversation, the phone number down here is, 530-7522-7777. [Pause] That’s my big pause to allow you to dial. (Laughs).

Our website is and you can e-mail us for any concerns, send us any stories, you know – just e-mail us to chat, if you like, you know – or Put TWIS in the subject heading, please.

Justin: Quick shout out to my five year old, who is five years old today.

Kirsten: Happy birthday, Sebastian.

Justin: Happy birthday, Sebastian.

Kirsten: Yey.

Justin: Alright. Into this – I don’t know if I brought the story. Oh OK. So, they found this ancient lemur, right?

Kirsten: Oh, yes. That’s like – I love this story.

Justin: The story wasn’t that interesting to me actually. (Laughs)

Kirsten: The finger bones – the finger bones of the lemur.

Justin: Got so many finger bones makes it somewhat more monkey like than lemur like but is this a – this a – ?

Kirsten: The finger bones of a lemur have put the scientific community all in a tizzy. (Laughs)

Justin: (Laughs). It is what I’m tizzying about. I’m tizzy by something that’s not even in the story. I’m tizzy by the side note to the story. You can tell the story.

Kirsten: Side note?

Justin: You can bring the story, but –

Kirsten: No, that’s OK. You go for it.

Justin: No – no – no – no. OK, I guess I’m not even interested in the story, that’s what I’m telling you.

Kirsten: No – no – no – no.

Justin: That’s the side note at the end. That the discovery of this strange fingers or short thumb, maybe they walked different than ancient lemurs – blah – blah – blah. Discovery underscores the amazing diversity of lemurs that existed more than 2,000 years ago. When lemurs of all types range from, pocket size to the size of gorillas.


Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I don’t even know lemurs got that big ever. Gorilla size lemur?

Kirsten: Yes, that’s the lemur that I avoid. (Laughs)

Justin: (Laughs) you’re afraid of the giant lemur?

Kirsten: Instead of the elephant in the room. It is the gorilla size lemur in the room.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: So, nobody is talking about it.

Justin: No. Hush – hush. That’s wild.

Kirsten: (Laughs) It is wild. Lemurs. I love lemur finger bones.

The Tuatara –

Justin: Tuatara?

Kirsten: Tuatara – is the slowest – actually physically changing, animal out there, but it’s the fastest evolving – in its DNA.

Justin: Yes? Wow.

Kirsten: Yes. It’s called “New Zealand’s Living Dinosaur”.

The tuatara has been studied for quite a while by a professor known as David Lambert from the Molecular Ecology with Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution.

He is been looking at DNA from the bones of ancient tuatara, those bones happen to be as old as about 8,000 years, and he is been checking out the DNA sequences. He’s also been looking at them – physically to look at – is this physically trait changing is that – kind of comparing and then contrasting the actual fundamental and instructional level, versus the outer expression of that.

Justin: Yes?

Kirsten: Yes. And they found that the DNA is evolving much more quickly.

There’s lots and lots of changes happening at the genetic level, but not so many that are actually happening at the outward level. And this supports an idea that he came up with about 40 years ago that the molecular evolution of animals can be unhitched from the physical evolution.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And that there can be lots and lots of changes that kind of build up over time and then maybe – eventually some threshold is hit. And enough proteins change – actually make changes.

Justin: Wow. Interesting.

Kirsten: Yes. So, the other animal on the planet with super high rate of evolution are Adelie penguins.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yes. Adelie penguins are also very quickly evolving, but slower than Tuatara.

The tuatara thus far is the fastest evolving, faster than a horse, it’s faster than the cheetah, faster not than a speeding bullet I guess though. But, yes.

Justin: Yes. How much do they evolve?

Kirsten: Yes. It’s pretty interesting that the physical changes can be completely uncoupled from what’s going on at the molecular level though it’s (unintelligible), (unintelligible) interesting.

The Tuatara – Sphendon Punctatus is only found in New Zealand, and it’s the only member of the reptilian family called “Sphenodontia”, that’s left in the world.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yes. Use to live with the family – was around at the age of the dinosaurs about 200 million years ago. The Triassic period.

Justin: But that’s interesting, because there’s another – story which is one that I read but I didn’t bring that said that Specietion, like diverse species.

More diverse species you have of something the slower – the slower evolution is. I guess. I’m going to bring it next week, because it didn’t sound – oh, it’s sound interesting but I didn’t bring it now it’s like you got a story that’s perfect for it and we all teamed up like rolling in the luck before –

Kirsten: Yes. No luck.

Justin: No. Not this week.

Kirsten: (Laughs).

Justin: Instead of that Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has revealed, ants using technology.

It seems they found some ants farming fungus.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Ants are –

Kirsten: It’s another incarnation of ant farm, I guess.

Justin: (Laughs) it’s like – yes the real thing.

Kirsten: The real thing.

Justin: Entomologists Ted Schoeps and Sean Ray, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has published paper on the March 24th issue of the “ General Proceedings on National Academy on Sciences”, providing new insights into the agricultural ability of ants, and how these abilities have evolved throughout time.

Using DNA sequencing, scientists were able to construct an evolutionary tree of fungus growing ants. Which revealed a single pioneering ancestor that discovered agriculture approximately 50 million years ago.

In past 25 million years, four different specialized systems have evolved, leading to the most recently evolved and best known fungus growing ants species “Leaf Cutter Ant”.

Kirsten: Oh, I like leaf cutter ants. They’re fancy.

Justin: Agriculture in general, is very rare in animal world. The only four animal groups have discovered agriculture – ants, termites –

Kirsten: Yes. I was going to say termites.

Justin: Bark beetles –

Kirsten: Bark beetles.

Justin: And then, the better known humans.

Kirsten: Oh, we’re right up there you know.

Justin: It’s like – we’re up there. We’re doing good.

Kirsten: Insect world.

Justin: Studying certain fungus growing ants. The study indicates our most like living fossils might be able to better understand the steps involved in the evolution ant agriculture. And it did some kind of interesting things they used the 91 ants species 65 which for fungus growing ant species representing all the different groups of fungus growing ants that we know.

They sequenced the DNA and combined it with a variety state of the art computer algorithms, and they also used evolutionary tree. They created an evolutionary tree also using, what is it – the Dominican amber of fungus growing ant fossils.

So, I guess they’ve pulled fossils out of you know – ants that were trapped in amber. There’s sort of backtrack their history. Which is kind of fun. Giving them little time stamps from when they were and what phase and what have you – scientists were ….

Kirsten: What have you.

Justin: …able to determine 50 million years ago, couple of ants got together, figured out how they could grow themselves some fungus.

But each of the fungus growing ants has a sort of a different cultivation technique and they used different fungi. Example, there’s one – this is just crazy.

About 20 million years ago, one group of the fungus growing ants discovered the higher agriculture. So, they actually cultivated their fungi, to produce specialized fruits that the ants will then harvest from the fungi.

A fungi that made something that they would then eat. And they basically, would pluck it from the fungi farm.

Kirsten: I love that.

Justin: That’s wild.

Kirsten: Thank you for the fruits fungus.

Justin: We grow fungus too, but it’s – you know we grow lots of stuff.

Kirsten: Mushroom –

Justin: Yes. We grow a lots of mushrooms stuff.

Kirsten: Yummy.

Justin: So, we’re still more advanced than an ant in that technology. But that’s amazing.

Kirsten: I think we are.

Justin: That’s Amazing.

Kirsten: We don’t – (laughs). Yes. In terms of taking other animals and getting them to do, what we want them to do – story that was sent to me by listener – and who was it if I can remember who is it from – Andrew Buck? Yes, Andrew Bucks sent me the story.

The story is out of Oregon State University, and what they’re doing up there is they’re taking algae, and trying to scrub carbon dioxide to be able to use the effluent of the carbon dioxide from various – like coal refining plants, some other industries that produce carbon dioxide as a by product. And be able to feed that to algae.

Justin: They love it.

Kirsten: Yes. And then use the organic molecular buy products of the algae metabolism, to create bio-fuels, bio-diesel and stuff like that.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And so it says here – the researcher says that algae required 99% less water, than any other crop.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: So, in terms of the – that was a question that came up last week, when we were talking about electric vehicles and how electricity is going to be produced for those cars if we’re using crops that require a lot of water for their production that were then refining into fuels that are then maybe used for electricity or whatever. Or anything that we can find to reduce our use of water is going to be a beneficial and –

Justin: You said – and also not to be using fruits – we’re not competing …against food.

Kirsten: No. Not competing with – I mean we don’t eat that much algae. I – maybe there are those who enjoy the green smoothie beverages –

Justin: There’s that but it’s also doesn’t require vast amounts of farmland, I mean they can do it in this huge baggy body things.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Yes. It – don’t use our precious agriculture land.

Kirsten: Absolutely. So, algae – yes it’s like – it’s not what a Murthy, the researcher says it’s not a food use it versus fuel issue they can re grow and use some waste water and in areas that cannot support agriculture.

So, we can use lands that are – you know non – that are aired and non plantable or non-farmable.

Justin: And also the – the energy in energy out ratio like for bio fuel is like one and a half – it’s one to one and a half or something like that. I mean you get a little bump out of it than you do oil attraction.

With the algae, it’s something in a neighborhood of like 350 to the one you put in. I mean, it’s incredible, incredible power boost.

Kirsten: Yes. It’s says here that, in this article from – I don’t have it written down. From and it says here that “algae can grow 30% faster than normal, when fed carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels combustions”.

So, supplementing their environment with carbon dioxide actually increases their growth.

Justin: Oh, yes.

Kirsten: Which is that’s big boost. And then the model that they’re using compared to conventional crops, it says that “48 gallons of biodiesel can be produced from one acre of soybeans. Algae with the equivalent of a single acre can produce 819 gallons of biodiesel and theoretically, that can be boosted to as much as 5,000 gallons.

So, we’re looking at a – if they can get the efficiency up there, we are looking at a huge percent increase in the pay out, for using algae to scrub the emissions from various plants and industrial applications. It’s just can –

Justin: Right. What you would have is you would have your coal burning power plant or what we have here – burning away there and – the emissions would basically get send off to the second power plant right next to it with this giant green bags of algae.

And that would filter through air. Fed them, they’d be exploding in reproducing and doing all their good stuff. And then we’d have a second fuel source right there, afterwards. And it’s brilliant.

Kirsten: It’s absolutely brilliant.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes. Let’s farm algae. I love the idea.

Justin: OK. Where do we go? Where do we go – more green stuff? Where’s the other green stuff?

Kirsten: You like green stuff?

Justin: Low levels of foliate in the diet –

Kirsten: Oh, this is a good article.

Justin: Been linked to more chromosomal abnormalities in sperm.

Kirsten: Yes. Long term folic acid has been something that for a while people have been saying “Oh, pregnant women need to take it”, but nothing has been said about supplementing men at all. And so it’s really interesting that foliate might be linked to viability.

Justin: Yes. They found the pretty good association between the vitamin, found in a vitamin – it’s a vitamin B, right? Folic acid. Found in lots of green leafy vegetables – spinaches, stuff like that. Some fruits.

Kirsten: I love spinach.

Justin: Found the association between those levels in the chromosomal abnormalities in men’s sperm. Men who consumed high levels of foliate, tended to have lower level of abnormalities.

It is estimated that between 1 to 4% of sperm in an otherwise healthy men have some type of abnormality. But there’s a large variation amongst individuals. And the mechanisms aren’t really quite figured out yet.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Why this one is 8%, this one is 2%, like they don’t know.

Kirsten: They’re just looking at what’s happening as a result of the study. It’s all correlative at this point.

Justin: It’s all correlative.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: But, they went through and looked at all kinds of different vitamins supplements of these 89 different unassuming men. Oh, yes that’s just that. But what they found was – yes those that had a really high intake of foliate had 20 to 30% lower frequencies of several types of the abnormalities when compared to the men of the lower intake.

So, yes the previous studies had showed that micro nutrients make it easier for conception. This is also saying that the male nutritional diet, may actually have a larger effect on the development of the child going forward because it’s – yes. That’s – wow! So, you’re going to go –

Kirsten: That’s fascinating.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I wonder if – did they find the difference between dietary and synthetic supplement?

Justin: No. They want –

Kirsten: No. no difference? So, just as long as it’s getting into the diet?

Justin: Correct. In fact, they even say that – here that the-

Kirsten: No matter how, just get it.

Justin: If they would – perhaps, if other studies can confirm these findings, that one possible intervention to chromosomal abnormalities in children, might be for fathers who are planning to have children to up their recommended daily allowance of foliate, like three months before they’re planning to conceive.

Kirsten: Huh!

Justin: Yes. Or con –

Kirsten: Yes, conceive.

Justin: Not conceive, conceived is at the end. Ain’t it?

Kirsten: No. No. Conceive – yey I conceive of robots.

Justin: Robot. Uh oh. What happened?

Kirsten: Yes. World robot domination story sent in by Ed Dire – it’s an article from technology review, by Rachelle Ross. Harvard University has been funded by DARPA. DARPA is like the main funder of robotics research, I think.

The US Army, really-really-really loves the idea of robots. But they funded Harvard University? To create a robotic fly.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: The fly on the wall, might be your own worst enemy.

Researcher Robert Wood the leader – I mean – yes Robert Wood, the leader of Harvard’s “Robotic Fly Project”, and professor at the school of engineering and applied sciences, has been copying nature’s design to create a very small and fly like robot.

They had to create a completely new processes to actually build the robots. There aren’t any techniques that are currently known to be able to create something so small and so accurate.

And what they ended up having to do was fabricate their own parts and then put them all together themselves in their own new methods – what they call “Laser Micro Machining” –

Justin: I’m just sort of picturing like – the new intern to the lab –

Kirsten: (Laughs)

Justin: Coming in and being like “there’s no equipment”. Oh, no you’re going to look really close. It’s small.

Kirsten: Look out, it’s down there – it’s all tiny.

Justin: Like really – tiny like – even like the lab benches are like really small –

Kirsten: Really small –

Justin: They all like kind of hunkered down on the floor. (Laughs) what kind of scene,

Kirsten: That’s funny. And this is not – these aren’t micro machines, but they are micro machines. They make the micro machines.

Lasers are use to cut very – very – very thin sheets of carbon fiber into a pattern, that’s been used to put it – be bent and molded into the shape of the fly. Sheets of polymer are also cut and then the sheets of carbon fiber and the polymer are put together, to create parts.

They say here – she says here, that to create a joint, the researchers arrange two pieces of carbon and leave a gap in between and then they add polymer in between – across the two pieces – like a table top.

And then they placed – the carbon fiber is placed at either under the polymer as a top layer. And then, it resembles the letter H – the center is flexible but the sides are rigid. So that’s the flexible polymer in the in the middle but the very rigid carbon and the light weight carbon fiber and the polymer are just very, very light.

Justin: Kind a like the frame of a vehicle.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: The little flexion is allowed, but it allows stability and allows it to maintain its form.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: But it lands on the wall.

So, the researchers have published their process or going to publish their fabrication process in the “Journal of Mechanical Design”. They’ve been studying flight dynamics and researcher actually got a fly to take off.

It’s tethered to a cable at this point, so it’s not flying on its own and it only flies straight up. It doesn’t have any directionality or any ability to move from side to side and actually maneuver in the air. But they actually got it flying, which is a huge feat to be able to get a fly like creature to actually to have been able to study, insect flight dynamics and get this little robot …

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …up into the air. Because – it’s not that they’re creating new methods of getting there, actually, they’re trying to mimic nature to get this fly behaving.

Justin: By the way, I only just saw the – the goggle on Big Dog or the YouTube on the Big Dog.

Kirsten: Yes. The one we’re talking about last week?

Justin: Yes. Yes.

Kirsten: Isn’t that crazy?

Justin: Oh, my goodness. I post it upon a – it’s on under – I think high tech gadgets or maybe it’s under music – I don’t know where –

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I post it or I clip it there somewhere. Is that frightening at.

Kirsten: Yes. Big Dog.

Justin: This is – the Big Dog is like – this is a robot that’s like slipping on ice but correcting itself. Just so – I mean that is so much further advanced than I thought it was.

Kirsten: Yes. And I think this fly is also the same idea. It’s very – A lot further advanced than things you’ve been – or maybe we’ve been seeing things go today.

Justin: Ever do this show like every week and yet –

Kirsten: (laughs) they sneak upon us somehow.

Justin: Science is so much further ahead of where we think it is.

Kirsten: Yes. So, what they’re going to – the next step with the fly, I mean the whole idea with this fly is that a fly could be used for chemical monitoring to enter an environment before people do – fly through it, be able to have sensors that could test the air as it’s flying through, to be able to determine, whether or not the air is safe for people. It could also be used with video or audio recording capabilities to be able to monitor environments as a fly on the wall.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: OK. It’s going to be for spies and paparazzi. Razz is going to love that.

Kirsten: Paparazzi. I know (Laughs).

Justin: (sp) to go out.

Kirsten: Yes. So the next steps they’re actually going to have to get it maneuvering and behaving in the air – you know, actually having routines that it goes through in flying left to right. All of the above.

We have a call, should we take it?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Should we take it? We’ll take it.

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

Paul: Is this Justin?

Justin: Yes.

Paul: Hey, Justin it’s Paul. How are you doing?

Justin: Doing good.

Paul: I love your show man.

Justin: Thanks.

Paul: I’m just calling to find out if – you know, you guys are a little bit more compassionate to robots these days and the –

Kirsten: Well, I didn’t like – you know – I kind of like – you know I kind of felt sad that – have you seen the “Big Dog” video? It was kind of –

Paul: Yes.

Kirsten: I was sad when they kicked it. (Laughs)

Paul: Yes. It was kind of mean.

Kirsten: It did look a little mean. And the guy seemed to very happy to have kicked the robot. (Laughs)

Paul: I know. It was like –

Kirsten: Robots abuse.

Justin: I’m a little bit of – see my thing is, I’m a little bit nervous around – I have a big pet peeve about dogs that aren’t on leashes. And they make me nervous.

To me, they’re walking – it’s like dog of the leashes like me walking around with the firearm. I know, I’m not going to shoot anybody. You know, but nobody else knows that. It’s like the same thing with the dog off the leash.

Dog off the leash with no head and it’s a robot? It’s such a little more frightening to me. It’s – I would be very nervous around that thing.

Kirsten: (Laughs) Yes. In terms of robot compassion you know, I go back and forth. They will be our overlords one day, so maybe we should be nice to them. And maybe they’ll be nicer to us.

Justin: Maybe we should make it mandatory that robots have tails. So, they can know if they’re happy when they’re wagging their tail after – you know. Tail must – straight up all of a sudden like – bad robot.

Kirsten: Yes. I mean, like any – like any creature – don’t advocate violence.

Paul: I have a dog and my dog comes from my car every once in a while when I pull in the driveway and –

Kirsten: Oh, goodness.

Paul: I wouldn’t want that jumping on my car.

Kirsten: No. A few more dents. Yes. Thanks for calling.

Paul: Alright. You guys have a great day. I love your show.

Justin: Thanks Paul.

Kirsten: Thank you Paul. Have a wonderful day too. No violence towards robots

Paul: (Laughs) Oh I think I got to go.

Kirsten: Bye. That was Paul calling in.

Justin: That was almost like, an evil genius laugh at the end – we’ve been storage robot not the other way around.

Kirsten: Evil – I think we’ve got – got to take a short break and get an evil genius on the phone.

Justin: Oh, I had another evil story. Hello?

Kirsten: Can we talk our evil genius Dr. Michael Stebbins?

Justin: Yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s bring him. Let’s get the “Weird from Washington”.

Kirsten: I have a couple of evil genius stories also. So we’ll talk to him for about 10 or 15 minutes and then we will bring our last evil genius stories –

Justin: That never worked. H’s been off for like four weeks. He’s going to have so much stuff to talk about. We’ll see what we can do.

Kirsten: There’s nothing going on in Washington.

Justin: How, I wish. I wish.

Kirsten: I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is, This Week in Science. We’ll be back, just after these messages.