Transcript: Dec 15, 2009 Part 2

Justin: Thank you for listening to TWIS. If you rely on this show for weekly science-y updates, please understand that we rely on your support to keep bringing those to you. Donate. Keep the science-y goodness on the air. We’ve made it very easy for you.

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Kirsten: Oh, but there’s more. And I think we’re going to do a little extra long This Week in Science this week. We – yeah, the next DJ didn’t show so what we get to do is have more science. So many – so many TWISmas presents for the world out there.

I just found some great news – Justin went upstairs for a little bit so I’m just going to chitter-chatter – the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider has produced its first results. There’s a paper published online this week in Springer’s European Physical Journal C relating to measurements that were taken on November 23, 2009 during the early use of the CERN LHC.

What they did, they spun two counter-rotating proton bunches circulating concurrently for the first time in the LHC at an energy of 450 gigaelectron volts per beam. And they recorded 284 collisions by the ALICE experimental detector. And they reconstructed them and analyzed them.

And what they wanted to do was compare them against other collisions that have occurred at similar energies to see if they fit the models and if they fit, what other research has already gotten.
So they’re not looking for anything new, just basically confirming that the LHC is working the way they think it should be. And, tan-ta-da! Yey! The results are consistent with earlier measurements of proton, anti-proton interactions at the same energy and they compare with model calculations.

I just saw this article in E! Science News – your daily dose of eureka. Wee! I just went searching. I went through – I go through Twitter and I’m like, “What stories are showing up in Twitter?” And that’s what I see – the LHC producing its first results. I’m excited about that.

Justin: Here’s a somewhat local interest story.

Kirsten: Local interest. Woohoo!

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Woohoo!

Justin: Global warming could significantly impact US wine and corn production according to Stanford scientists. When in comes to nature, timing is everything. Spring flowers depend on birds or insects for pollination. But if spring arrives – like weather arrives earlier than usual, flowers bloom and wither before the pollinators even appear.

And we’ve had other stories that we’ve done in the past about…

Kirsten: And then…

Justin: …birds migrating to an area where there’s lots of grubs that are going to become butterflies. But the butterflies – grubs turn into butterflies and fly off before the birds get there to migrate so then it impacts the bird population for their breeding grounds and…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: These are the sorts of things that – if the global climate change is taking a thousand years, 10,000 years to take place, migration habits could be altered, you know, things would happen very slowly and everything would sort of adjust together.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Whereas, it’s happening so rapidly that this sort of stuff is happening.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And it’s been – according to this – back to the paper, “Global warming has made the early arrival of spring commonplace across the planet,” says a climate scientist. “Plants are blooming earlier, birds are nesting sooner, mammals are breaking hibernation patterns earlier than they were a few decades ago even. Understanding how global warming altered the timing of natural cycles in the past can provide important insights about the impact of climate change in the future.”

“In recent years,” says Noah Diffenbaugh, “In recent years, there’s been quite a work – a lot of work in phenology which is the study of timing of life cycles – when the birds migrate, trees drop their leaves, crops mature, etc – many of these natural events are tied to the climate.”

So, drilling this down, they come to – they basically came up with a couple of things that are going to be locally impacted. And it looks like wine and corn – wine which – California wines are now global and they are the premier wine in the world.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Much to the…

Kirsten: Don’t tell the French that. Don’t tell that to the French.

Justin: But this is California.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I do not – I have not heard of this California. What…

Kirsten: The French will not be happy with hearing you say that. That’s a very California attitude there, Justin.

Justin: We won! We won in a blind taste test with – against French wines in France with their premier wine tasters who didn’t know they were tasting the – they knew they were – they took this challenge actually and knew there were California wines in the mix and almost across the board, California wines won. And their number one top pick was the California. Yes, yes, yes.

And they thought they were…

Kirsten: Woohoo!

Justin: …all those – that they were all the French wine.

Kirsten: Go, California!

Justin: And they never wanted to do that again.

Kirsten: Hot. They never want to do it again.

Justin: But it – you know, the climate for growing grapes is delicate as the grape itself, as the texture – I don’t know, I don’t know anything about wine.

Kirsten: The grape is influenced by the pH of the soil, by the amount of water that it gets, so the rainfall that is in a certain area – if it gets to be drier, that’s going to influence the amount of sugar in a grape. There are all sorts of things that are going to tie into how the grape – that are environmentally based…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …climate-based that are going to tie into how that wine tastes.

Justin: And looking at the historical regions of California (unintelligible) they found that temperatures in the (growing) season had increased about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1948 to 2002. And using that data, observation to, you know, pitch it forward, figure out what will be going on in the – by the end of the century – so they’re talking about like 90 years from now, right – they’re saying that the wine grape region in the United States would be reduced by 81%.

Kirsten: Whoa.

Justin: Now of course this doesn’t bring up the fact that it’s possible for other regions to become better – better grape-growing regions than they are now. Although the time it takes to mature vines and all that is like, you know, a good long time to get the wine industry up and running…

Kirsten: A couple of years. Yeah.

Justin: …to get the grapes growing. Many years.

But that’s – there’s probably – where’d that dire news for corn go? I don’t know.

Kirsten: Dire news? Where’d that dire news for corn? Yeah, where’d I put that?

Justin: We got some dire corn news in there, too.

But I guess, you know, we keep having the debate about global warming. And some of the arguments now are saying, “Global warming exists. It’s real.” But they don’t want to tie it to anything man-made. And I don’t – it’s sort of like we’re talking about the – it’s…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Even the conservation of energy isn’t going to help the problem. I really believe this at this point. That…

Kirsten: There are…

Justin: …that it makes sense that energy that’s not being used here gets used somewhere else that drives economic growth which leads actually to more carbon footprint, that sort of thing.

But it’s in your best interest because it saves you money. If you have children it’s in your best interest to halt global warming and I would say figure out whose interest it is to fight this.

Kirsten: Yeah. We have a caller.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS minion. You’re on the extended edition of This Week in Science.

(Caller): Hey, This Week in Science! I’m just following orders. Dr. Kiki said on the Twitter that I have to call if I’m listening. And I’m listening so I’m just following orders.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yey! Welcome. Where are you calling from?

(Caller): I’m calling from lovely Greenville, South Carolina.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten: Exciting. Do you have any…

(Caller): Well…

Kirsten: Well…

Justin: That was the most cogent “Well” I’ve ever heard. Well…

(Caller): But it’s really pretty actually. And the weather’s great. We have seasons, discernible seasons, but they’re not harsh.

Kirsten: That’s nice.

Justin: Yeah. I have…

Kirsten: That’s different from us.

Justin: My family originated somewhat from the Carolinas before – some segment of my background before moving to California. And I’ve seen…

(Caller): It could be scary depending on which part of…

Justin: It may have been but I have seen lots of photographs of the lovely Carolinas. They’re beautiful. It is beautiful country there.

(Caller): That’s right. It’s nice. They’re very nice.

Kirsten: So do you have any thoughts on any of the topics we’ve been bringing up this morning? Anything? Any global warming/climate change ideas…

(Caller): Oh, gosh. I saw this great quote today about this stuff – I wonder if I could find it again – there’s a fellow called Arthur Goldwag…

Kirsten: I’ll look him up on my computer.

Justin: …who I started to – guest posted on Boing Boing a couple of weeks ago and I started following his blog and he writes about conspiracies and such. And he has a blog posted up today about global warming denialism and conspiracy theory.

He’s at…

Kirsten: Okay.

(Caller): …and the quote he threw in at the end comes from someone else. And he talked – and he – mentioning about this whole idea of the global warming denialism and that, “the idea that,” let’s see, “virtually the entire scientific enterprise at a planetary level is involved in a conspiracy to hoax the planet in order to overthrow capitalism and install planetary totalitarian rule is every bit as absurd as the conspiracy posited in the protocols of Zion.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

(Caller): “What’s more, it’s just about as hateful.”

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah, I think that’s a good – I think that’s a good statement. I mean, the – it’s taking something to its absurd limit. It’s like, “What is – what are you actually saying by saying that there’s some kind of a conspiracy theory? And who’s involved?” All of the scientists in the world? Yeah. I don’t think so.

Justin: Here’s where I go sideways on everything.

Kirsten: You always go sideways on everything.

Justin: Here’s where I go a little bit sideways on everything. This is the thing that I’m not asking about what’s happening in Hopenhagen right now: is that – there is a way to make money off of global warming. There is a way of making a profit off of change, right?

And what I’m seeing is even and the conspirators are being backed up in their elements of their conspiracy that there’s some agenda of making money and stopping capitalism because a lot of the talk that’s going on right now is about these carbon trading markets which is going to create – it’s actually going to create a mechanism for governments to say which industries are in, which are out because who gets to choose who’s in and out of this carbon trading market is going to be very political, okay.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s – and it – creating a market for trading means you’re finding ways to profit off of creating carbon as well as maybe having industries that will lower carbon. But how do you compare these? How do you put them – it becomes political, becomes an economic powerhouse for those who are creating it.

It has nothing to do with the researchers who have brought this to the world’s attention though.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: These are completely separate things. Those who have brought this issue to the forefront are chasing down data points, are finding, “Well, if there’s been global warming in the past, then we’re going to go check the, you know, the carbon content of seashells from 50 million years ago when we know the temperature was much higher and see what the carbon was like in the atmosphere then.”

And then, “Ah, okay, it actually fits with the – a high level of carbon in the atmosphere at the time when we know there was no ice on the poles.”

So what the scientists have done is they came to an idea and there was a small bits of the pattern that were emerging. And other disciplines of science went and tracked down whatever points they could look at to confirm or deny that has – it has been confirmed over and over and again. You would have to deny everything from paleontology, geology – not just climatology – it’s not just ice cores and temperature.

Ice cores and temperature, really, the temperatures were just sort of tip of the iceberg – can you say that in global warming? I guess you can – the tip of the iceberg of data points that were showing as a trend.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Then when we’ve started to look at everything else. I mean, sea level we know has gone up something like 13 inches in the last hundred years or so.

Kirsten: No, I don’t think it’s that.

Justin: It’s – where is it? Is it a hundred years? Maybe it’s more than a hundred – 150, 160 years. It’s something along that realm.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: There’s – the data points…

Kirsten: I don’t know the numbers.

Justin: …the data points are out there. Where is it? Okay. I got that written down somewhere. Oh, temperatures…

(Caller): Okay. While you’re trying to find that, I’m working on ways to profit from ice cores because obviously that’s what this is all about.

Kirsten: Yes. That’s where we have to start.

Justin: Oh here it is. Since 1900s sea level has risen by about 13.8 inches. And that level of rise is accelerating.

So it’s already started to take place. It’s the kind of thing that we are aware of from all these different fields and it’s not a simple issue of just temperature. It – I mean, temperature is trending up or – that’s happening, globally it’s happening quicker in the Arctic regions than it is towards the center. But it is occurring. But that’s not the only data that scientists are working on. They’re not looking at the last 50 years of temperature and saying, “Aha!”

Anyways, and then I lost – I completely lost the point. Oh, yeah, but the conspiracy thing – what’s happening right now in this whole carbon trading market and – good gosh, the most anti-sense conversation I heard is that the developing nations are asking for financial compensation for the economies of the first world nations because they got those based on carbons.

And they want money and reparation, basically, for the carbon damage that’s been done to their localized environments.

And I think that’s – if that’s what got us mired – if that’s the kind of conversation that’s taking place in Hopenhagen right now, if that’s what where we’re at, is figuring out how to transfer money around and move money and wanting to create this system that we put under the World Bank to market it as like a Wall Street type model for this – then nothing is going to be fixed. Nothing is going to be done.

(Caller): But the Wall Street model is perfect. I mean, did you notice there were like, “A couple of years? Hello?”

Justin: Exactly. Exactly. What we need to do is kick out every single politician and lawyer that went to Copenhagen and say, “I’m sorry, you know, this isn’t – you’re not invited other than to sign checks. You’re not here to do anything else…”

(Caller): I lost – another call. Bye.

Kirsten: Thanks for calling.

Justin: Thanks for calling in.

Kirsten: Bye. Yeah.

Justin: What we need is – what we need to be doing is opening a nuclear power plant everyday. What we need to be doing is investing monies into not creating a carbon market but into creating a technology that’s carbon-free. I mean, we can pour money and resources into doing this and instead we’re trying to figure out a financial answer to this. This is ridiculous to me.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s – of course that’s where it’s going to go. There is a financial answer to it. This is – it’s interesting that the global – I mean, because it is a global economy it’s interesting that it’s – that this is where it’s landed – is the carbon trading issue.

When there is such a market for the – new technologies, different technologies – we’re going to find huge uses for new technologies, the science that underlies the research to develop technologies such as water purification to make it more efficient and economical for more efficient nuclear – and cleaner nuclear power plants.

Carbon sequestration, because we aren’t going to get rid of our coal burning habits anytime soon as much as we’d like to. More efficient solar panels, more efficient wind turbines, more efficient power systems to be able to transport electricity from large solar installations in the middle of nowhere to our urban centers.

We’re also going to have to find urban solutions – the science of moving people from places where they are now to new places. How are we going to deal with the population issues that we’re going to have when the water level start rising even more?

I mean, these are all things that have to be dealt with. There’s science that underlies all of them. But there is the political, I mean, where it all comes together is politics. Because everybody, this is a change…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …politicians know, governments know that things are going to change drastically. And they’re trying to volley for their position to be in a position of power when things shift. And that’s what’s happening right now. And then it’s unfortunate that we’re having to deal at the same time with…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …so-called conspiracy theories. There’s no conspiracy out there. It’s just people trying to find power.

Justin: Well, right now I think there’s a very visible conspiracy in Copenhagen by the looters mentality…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …to find a way to create a profit center on this which is – to, I mean – which is just…

Kirsten: I don’t necessarily think that’s bad.

Justin: Well…

Kirsten: I mean people…

Justin: …I don’t think it’s a solution to any of it.

Kirsten: …you have to have – no, but that’s going to be – but it’s going to be part of it. It is going to be part of it. You’re going to find that you can motivate more people by having – I mean, this is psychology…

Justin: Yeah, yeah.

Kirsten: …right? Motivate people with economically based solutions, so-called solutions. And then…

Justin: It sounds to me…

Kirsten: …tie them together with stuff. I mean…

Justin: …sounds to me more like we’re going to hell in a bucket but at least we’ll be enjoying the ride.

Kirsten: Well let’s make it a nice bucket.

Justin: We’re going to figure out a way to profit on the way down. Woohoo!

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: And if all else fails, we shoot – what is it, cannonful of zinc? Is it zinc oxide or is it nitro – what is it? There’s that one scientist he said like if we launched cannonfuls of…

Kirsten: Silver into the atmosphere…

Justin: …silver, whatever it was – it can block the sun long enough. Oh, God!

Kirsten: No. No. Those solutions are not going to work. You’re listening to KDVS Davis.

The first binary star system that was ever discovered with the naked eye has been…

Justin: Naked eye.

Kirsten: …discovered to be more than just a binary star system.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: This is pretty cool. So this star system, two stars – Alcor and Mizar – were – they are a pair of stars, so-called pair of stars, that orbit each other. And they are – they used to be thought as just the brightest star in the Big Dipper.

So if you look at the Big Dipper, the brightest star there, people are like, “Oh, bright star!” and they started taking a look at it, look at the night sky. And then they developed telescopes and they take a look at, “Oh, hey! That’s not one star, that’s two stars! Alcor and Mizar,” – the first binary star system ever discovered.

Okay. Since then…

Justin: Did they really name one of them Al Gore?

Kirsten: Alcor.

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: Alcor. A-l-c-o-r.

Justin: Al Gore the Miser. What?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Alcor.

Kirsten: Yeah. The first – so modern telescopes since then have revealed Mizar to actually be four stars.

Justin: Oh, my goodness!

Kirsten: Mizar was not just one star but now four stars which they thought that Alcor was orbiting kind of around Mizar. But…

Justin: Hmmm?

Kirsten: …Alcor had this kind of weird…

Justin: Wobble-wobble.

Kirsten: …wobble to it and so they’re like, “Maybe it’s not really a part of this quadruple star system. Maybe it’s separate.”

Justin: Maybe there’s something in the background. Maybe there’s something in the foreground. Maybe there’s something…

Kirsten: They don’t know. And so now these researchers at the University of Arizona using the multiple-mirror telescope in Arizona that what – it’s a special telescope because it has a flexible mirror that can compensate for the Earth’s atmospheric distortion and able to get a really clear image of these stars. They used computer algorithms to remove glare form the image – took a look at Alcor, found it had a tiny star hidden in its glare.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So now Alcor is not just a single star orbiting a quadruple system that used to be thought of as a single star system. Alcor now is a setoff twins – a binary star. Alcor is a binary star system orbiting a quadruple star system. So this entire star system that used to be one star with the advancement of technology is now known to be a sextuplet.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Isn’t that pretty cool?

Justin: What an amazing configuration.

Kirsten: I know. You just – as things have gone forward – take a look at that star, that brightest star and just kind of keep looking at it and we just get to know more and more and more about it.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: It’s really neat.

Justin: And I’m not – I’m not a – I’m not truly up on my astronomy, my astrophysics and all of that. I just didn’t – I wouldn’t have thought that was possible to have four stars and some – that’s a wild system out there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s a wild, wild universe.

Kirsten: And the researchers are still going to keep paying attention and looking at Alcor and Mizar because as the quote says, “You see how that disk of Alcor bead doesn’t seem perfectly round?” pointing it.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: “Some of us have a feeling that Alcor might have another surprise in store for us.”

Justin: Still more to come.

Kirsten: Still more to come. Yeah. Kind of exciting.

Justin: One of my favorite stories actually this week, three University of Alberta paleontology grad students were looking at an 85-year old fossil find – a dinosaur that was originally found and identified back in – yeah found and identified back in 1924- blew off the dust off…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …the big…

Kirsten: Shake it off.

Justin: …thing under the basement of the university. And they discovered that this dinosaur was originally discovered by – what is the researcher’s – scientist’s name -something – William Parks had found this and identified this in 1924 as an ankylosaurus.

And in 1970 however, it was looked at again and found that that was the incorrect identification. It was not an ankylosaurus.

Kirsten: No?

Justin: It was misidentified and it’s actually a species of euoplocephalus.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: And a reclassification was given to the bones in the mid-70s correcting the original mistake from 1924. However…

Kirsten: Really?

Justin: …after re-reexamining the bones, they found that it is in fact a known ankylosaurus species.

So that the original researcher back in 1924 was correct all along. Of course since the 1924 and even since the 70’s there have been many, many more finds of this ankylosaur called the dilophosaurus that has been found on the Alberta area or the Canadian (thunders) there of the double-armored dinosaur.

And because they now have many more to compare it to, it was much clearer that the original identification of the ankylosaurus species was correct. So he is no longer rolling in his grave.

Kirsten: Yey! I’m an ankylosaur!

Justin: I like the idea of this self-correcting system. That’s nice.

Kirsten: I like it, too.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It’s cool. We’re going to take a little break. We’d be back in just a few moments with more of This Week in Science extended edition.

Justin: Extendo-dition.

Kirsten: Thank you for listening to TWIS. We rely on your support to bring you the show. Please donate to keep the science-y goodness coming. We’ve made it easy for you on the website,

With a click of a button, you can donate $2, $5, or even $10 a month or you can donate any amount of your choosing as many times as you want. Just go to and donate. TWIS needs your support and we thank you for it.

Justin: And you’re back with more of This Week in Science Extend-O – Extravaganza-O-Rama show.

Kirsten: O-Rama. More! More! More!

Justin: We’re in the interim… This is when we’re travelling. We’re in the interim. It’s the period of time when most of the student-run staff – the station goes on vacation.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And somehow or another…

Kirsten: Someone went on vacation.

Justin: …no matter where we look, there’s nobody scheduled to be after us today. So there’s nobody came in to…

Kirsten: So we get more time.

Justin: And we’re stuck here. If I get a ticket in my car by the way, which is parked here on campus, I’m definitely taking that to somebody’s office while stomping around.

Kirsten: That’s right. What do you have there? You’ve got a biography of Justin.

Justin: I have a like a two-minute biography of how I came to be that I wrote for my birthday…

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: …re-wrote to me. I’m living by vicariously through myself.

Kirsten: Completely scientific?

Justin: No.

Kirsten: No. All right.

Justin: Nothing to do with science but we’re killing time here.

Kirsten: We have more science though.

Justin: And I have this written on paper. Yeah, we’ve got more science stories.

Kirsten: We do have.

Justin: But I want to take this tangent. Let’s see.

Kirsten: You want a tangent.

Justin: I want a tangent.

Kirsten: Of course you do.

Justin: Okay, a brief history on how I came to be. Before I was born, I had an uncle who was my grandparents’ only child. At age 16 he had a horse that was stabled in a town next to the one he was being raised in that my grandparents knew nothing about.

This has nothing to do with my story. I just think it’s really cool that a 16-year old kid can own a horse that his parents know nothing about.

He was a good looking kid, bright, charming, athletic kind of kid every parent hopes for until he broke his neck diving off a bridge in the Sacramento River. At his funeral, my grandparents learned about the horse. Having lost their only child, they then – as I cannot even imagine – fell into a deep depression.

My grandfather – as any good Italian Catholic man would – turned to his priest for advice. The priest advised – as any good Roman Catholic priest would – that my grandfather impregnate my grandmother, not once but at least three times. That way, if anything went wrong with one child, there will be backups.

Kirsten: Oh, gosh.

Justin: That was – my father was the third of these. Thank the Big J, or else this atheist would never have been born.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: My parents, though not married, did have sex. Of this much I am certain. By my mother’s account, I’m a miracle as she was on the pill at the time. I never asked her specifically which pill she meant. But I assumed she meant the birth control.

Kirsten: What? It was a tic-tac.

Justin: My father in his only attempt at sex education recounted the fact that I was born even though he was wearing a condom at my conception. I think he was trying to tell me to wait, which is kind of a dual message. I mean, I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for – but even though you’ve tried to use it.

So, I don’t know if they ever compared notes on the stories that they gave me. But if you take both of their accounts, using every form of protection that didn’t require a restraint led to me – which is actually a pretty good definition of who I am.

Kirsten: That’s true.

Justin: So really, my whole outlook on life can be boiled down to the fact that I have overcome more obstacles, more impossibilities, more incredible achievements just in arriving here than most people encounter in their actual, you know, post birth life.

So, that all of these is just gravy to me. A hundred percent free ride bonus round. We have a caller going in now.

Kirsten: A hundred percent bonus round.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS minion. You are on the air with This Week in Science Extend-O-Rama Extravaganza Edition.

Bradley: Oh yes, the Extend-O-Rama version. This is actually TWIS minion Bradley calling in. I hope you have the time left in the hour here. All right.

Justin: Welcome Bradley. Welcome back.

Kirsten: Yes we do. Welcome.

Bradley: Just kind of quick question for both of you. And it’s just – if you were – either one of you – if you were either a state or a federal politician or representative that was capable of suggesting or passing policy, or even the president…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: …that would affect science – whether it be science education, funding for science education, funding for scientific research or funding for any other facet of science in general – what do you think would be of the most critical priority out of all of those different things that we direly need funding for?

Kirsten: Education. I think science…

Bradley: Education?

Kirsten: Yeah. Science teachers, I think education is – plays a huge role. And that educators should be – schools and educators should be well-funded and educators should be well-paid for the work that they do because they are advancing our society by educating them.

Justin: Wouldn’t be the first on my list.

Kirsten: Nope.

Justin: Nope. And it would be – oops. It would be number two. It will be a close second. But I wouldn’t fund it nearly as much as I would fund production of scientific equipment here in the United States.

I’m talking about scientific equipment but also new technologies and actually building industries that are working and making things like, you know, alternative energy either in research or in actual production, solar panels, that sort of thing. And the reason is you need somewhere for those scientific minds to go.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: You need some place to land them once they’re – and if you create the industries and create the demand for it, what you’re going to find is you won’t have to pay for the education. Because what will happen is, these companies that are relying on the fact that there’s enough bright-minded engineers and researchers and R&D people, they will fund the education system. They will pour that money into getting themselves more…

Kirsten: Has it happened so far?

Justin: Well, it has. Yeah. Well, it absolutely has. But not…

Kirsten: Bradley is like, “Oh, no.”

Justin: No, it will happen in grants. It will happen in – you can go to work and receive tuition grants from work. I mean, these are things that companies have done in the past…

Kirsten: Yeah. That’s true.

Justin: …to get – to keep themselves in a position where they’ve got bright minds running, working and developing these new technologies.

Kirsten: That’s how it is, yeah.

Justin: Until we have a place for them to go, you know, really…

Bradley: Right.

Justin: …it – we’ll be the most educated people on the planet…

Kirsten: With nothing to do.

Justin: …with nothing to do working at, you know…

Kirsten: What do you think?

Bradley: On that very point, you know, and this goes to the heart of brain drain. The US has been and still is, you know, experiencing considerable regional as well as global brain drain.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Bradley: And our intellectual capital is exiting the country to work for research institutions either academic or private. And I agree with you. We need to bring or give incentive or funding to bring the companies in there to attract these companies back to the US.

And to tie that in with, you know, you Kirsten, I believe too that the education, you know, these children that we’re teaching in our grade schools and in our high schools are going to be the scientists of our future.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: And if we don’t train them properly, you know…

Kirsten: They won’t just be the scientists of our future. Because a lot of students, if you think of the grade school and secondary school education that they get, not all of them are going to go on to be scientists. A small percentage will be scientists. Many more will go into business positions, will go into educator positions, will go into politics, will go into, you know, so many – it will go into the arts.

But if they have a proper education and a proper grounding in science and an understanding of science rather than a fear of it, it will make everything in all different areas of our society and the way that all, you know, business and culture and everything you’d imagine it all comes together.

Bradley: It’s a very good point because it will trickle down eventually. And, you know, I have a cousin that is a high school teacher that teaches science in a public school and a very underfunded public school…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: …let’s just put it that way. And, you know, I know the struggles that she goes through.

So, you know, I think both of those arguments tie together ultimately. It’s just that at the time span, in order for us as a society to be able to produce, like you said, Kirsten, you know, future is not only business and science professionals. That they’re also going to be our leaders, our citizens and the representatives of our country.

Kirsten: Yup.

Bradley: And all of these things I think need to be taken into account. So, I think you both put that on. And I agree with everything both of you said.

Justin: Cool.

Bradley: We’re just curious as to what you’ll say about that.

Justin: I’m a little bit more of an industrialist I think than Kirsten. I think if we – cool.

Kirsten: No, I’m behind that as well. I think we go back – I think we kind of balance it where you put the industry first, I put education first…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: But I would put industry a very close second.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, you know, I’ve…

Justin: We both got to be there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But the one thing I would – like if you give for a specific thing to do, I would say is you create a government car. You make a government…

Kirsten: Government car?

Justin: No, you create a state-owned business to start out with of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to whatever capacity you can do that at. And it would be a non-profit making venture for the government. But that’s what a government does constantly anyway. That’s what’s it for is the non-profit elements of things.

We create a non-profit hydrogen fuel cell car factory. We roll cars. We build infrastructure around it, okay. And what follows from there is competition from business that may be more savvy, can spend more money once some of the big hurdles, economic hurdles are overcome.

Then, all of a sudden, industry will follow and say, “Hey, now we can all do cars. We can all do these hydrogen fuel cells.” Some of the infrastructure is there, we didn’t have to pay for. We didn’t have to build it advance of our vehicle. There’s a standardization that’s already being created out there.

Something like that could really motivate – and the brilliant thing is no matter how many tax dollars you spend…

Bradley: Oh, yeah.

Justin: …if you spend them here…

Bradley: Yeah.

Justin: … as opposed to sending them off somewhere else or giving them for us to spend on buying stuff from overseas, if you take that money and you build the product here and you pay scientists and researchers and manufacturing and infrastructure people to build that here, all that money stays here.

It generates income and it generates jobs and does all the rest of that. That’s – yeah. Something like that. Something like a public works for a scientific engine of hydrogen fuel cell car would be where I’d go. Not that I’ve ever thought about this.

Kirsten: Not ever, right.

Justin: If I rule the world because there’d be other things too that people wouldn’t agree with. But…

Kirsten: Oh, yeah.

Bradley: Sure. It’s multi-faceted.

Justin: Yeah.

Bradley: I mean, you know, across the board, you know, where there needs to be a lot of restructuring as far how the government budgets its money. But I, you know, I really think that science and education, you know, are two priorities. I really think they are. So, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.

Kirsten: That’s right. Thank you so much for the question. I really appreciate it.

Bradley: Right. Have a nice day.

Justin: You too.

Kirsten: You too, bye.

Bradley: Bye.

Kirsten: That was a good conversation, stimulating question. What would you do? Let us know.

Justin: Mm hmm. What would you do minions…

Kirsten: What would you do?

Justin: …if you ruled the world?

Kirsten: Well, that wasn’t really the question.

Justin: Isn’t it?

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, happy birthday, Justin.

Justin: It’s not my birthday.

Kirsten: Any more.

Justin: That was days ago.

Kirsten: Days ago, grudge match.

Justin: Huh? What is that?

Kirsten: Yeah. Stem cells versus HIV.

Justin: Oh, yeah. That was like, I mean, your lead story.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: What happened?

Kirsten: I don’t know. I changed things around. But it says – it’s a grudge match between stem cells and HIV. Who wins? The stem cells.

Justin: Yehey!

Kirsten: Yehey! In PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science One, an article published December 7th provides proof of principle that human stem cells, not just regular human stem cells, but engineered human stem cells can be the equivalent of a genetic vaccine.

And what the lead investigator Scott G. Kitchen says is, “We have demonstrated in this proof-of-principle study that this type of approach can be used to engineer the human immune system, particularly the T-cell response to specifically target HIV infected cells.”

I think this is really, really fascinating. He also says, “These studies lay the foundation for further therapeutic development that involves restoring damaged or defective immune responses toward a variety of viruses that cause chronic disease or even different types of tumors.”

So what they did is they took CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes from an HIV infected person. They identified the molecules that’s the T-cell receptor. So, it’s a receptor molecule on it that guides the T cell toward HIV cell. So that if a T cell bumps into an HIV infected cell, it will recognize it as being infected. The receptor basically recognizes this antigen that’s on the outside of an infected cell.

And these cells can destroy HIV infected cells. But there are not enough of these T cells, these cytotoxic T lymphocytes to clear to get the virus out of the body completely. So, there’s always going to be a low-level of the HIV virus hiding even though the T cells are really trying.

And so the researchers ended up taking the receptor and cloning it and genetically engineering human blood stem cells and placing the stem cells into human thymus tissue. Human thymus tissue – the thymus gland is where T cells and a lot of the immune cells originate.

They implanted it, the stem cells into the human thymus tissue that are implanted into mice and then – and so they saw the reaction as it occurred. They didn’t have to do it in a person. So, that’s just a proof-of-principle.

They saw that the stem cells created a huge population of mature, multi-functional HIV specific, CD8 cells specifically targeting HIV infected cells. And the HIV specific T-cell receptors have to be matched to an individual kind of in the same way that when you’re doing an organ transplantation.

So, the next step is to determine if this is actually going to work in the human body not just in a mouse. And Jerome A. Zack from UCLA, he’s a professor of medicine says, “This approach could be used to combat a variety of chronic viral diseases. It’s like a genetic vaccine.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Basically figuring out what the receptor is for a specific disease that’s hiding out in the body. So, the disease has a particular signature on the outside of an infected cell. Infected cells are like, “Hi, I’m here hiding, out in the open. Can’t catch me.” And the body tries to fight it with these T cells and the receptors that these T cells have are specific to that signature.

And we can just figure out what those receptors are and like they said, clone the receptor, put it into these blood stem cells, then create new T cells basically, CD8 cells and go out in larger numbers than what the body can normally do especially in a chronic system, a chronic disease where maybe the CD8 where the immune system is being suppressed and the number of T cells is lower than in a normal individual.

Justin: Being suppressed and having to fight off gosh-knows-what-else that’s taking advantage of the…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …situation.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s pretty fascinating work, fascinating, fascinating work. So, I think that’s pretty cool study.

Justin: Filed this next story under, capitulating tomorrow mystics.

Kirsten: Oh, man!

Justin: …or perhaps a dictionary phrase definition for slippery slope. Well, maybe not. But a discovery two years ago that turned ordinary skin cells back into embryonic pluripotent state was hailed as the solution to the mystical-based ethical question that has plagued stem cell science.

Wait, we got a call coming in.

Kirsten: We do have a caller.

Justin: Let’s jump over to that.

Kirsten: Okay. You want the call? Let’s see the story in a second.

Justin: Good morning TWIS minion. You are on the air with the extended extravaganza-o-rama edition of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: Boom shack-a!

Justin: And you’re on the air. Where are you?

Kirsten: Did I press the button?

Justin: Are you there? Are you there? Are you there? You should be there. They’re gone.

Kirsten: Somebody hung up. They didn’t want to talk to us.

Justin: Okay. So, here’s – they got the new pluripotent stem cells, they came from skin so now it’s not from a blastocyst. But now, the question seems to be, have the mystics truly been appeased or is this now just a whole new scientific progress that needs to be completely aborted to appease them?

This is completely paraphrasing the questions that were discussed by an international group of leading scientists, bioethicists and legal scholars who attended the workshop organized by the Stem Cell Network in the summer of Barcelona. Outcomes of the workshop will be published December 10th in the journal Cell which means it’s already been published because that was a few days ago.

Among the issues summarized in the article are consent, privacy, clinical translations and intellectual property rights for these induced pluripotent stem cells that are derived for scientific study and other clinical therapies.

One of the things that’s kind of interesting about this is it means that this could actually be used to create life. They could be used in fertility. They could be – I mean the stem cells themselves…

Kirsten: Mm hmm. The stem cells, yeah.

Justin: Right. So, the question is then is this something that is going to be attacked in the same way that using a tensile blastocyst or something that could be used to create life is sometimes being destroyed in the progress of science which is kind of ridiculous but it’s one of the things they’re looking at to – just in case.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, they have to – you have to look at all of the different angles to the research that you’re doing that involves human life…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …that involves any kind of ethical decision, you know, what are you going to try and say.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: This is from the legal perspective if the induced pluripotent stem cells can be made into a functional human gamete. The potential exists for reproductive purposes. What would this mean to the donor consent – concerns about cloning, rights of the potential child to know who his parents were. Oh, goodness.

If the cells can be made safe for clinical therapies are all going to make delivery faster more economical, meaning they can come up with these induced pluripotent cells much faster than they could from using the other stem cell derived version.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So that, “As a scientist,” said Michael Rudnicki, “As a scientist I am cautious. So much is based on future prospects and there is much work that needs to be done in the labs before it becomes a therapeutic reality. But if the cells can be made safe for clinical therapies, it will ultimately make the delivery faster and more economical.” We can save more lives basically.

Kirsten: I think that’s the side of it that needs to be – what you just rushed through at the very end there is the life-saving aspects of these technologies is…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …we had – going back to the…

Justin: To the moral dilemma.

Kirsten: …first hour, to the moral dilemma.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, if you – how many lives are you going to be – how many people are you going to be killing, how many lives will be destroyed, how many will be saved. You know, this is a moral question. And that – it’s a quandary.

Justin: It is to some. To some others it’s (unintelligible). It’s a ten-celled configuration that makes up a blastocyst that researchers are using to begin with, not an embryo by any means. It’s called the blastocyst.

Kirsten: It’s called the blastocyst.

Justin: It’s ten cells.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s it.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s not – I don’t think that’s anywhere near anybody’s – well, obviously, some people.

Kirsten: Obviously, some people’s, yeah.

Justin: Mystics, there’s a soul in there. Oh, I got to stop. I’m going to get into trouble.

Kirsten: You’re already in trouble. When have you not been?

Justin: Horse story.

Kirsten: A horse?

Justin: Horses, a horse is a horse, a course is a course.

Kirsten: A course is a course.

Justin: Unless of course there was…

Kirsten: Famous Mr. Ed.

Justin: Ancient DNA retrieved from extinct horse species around the world has challenged one of the text book examples of evolution. Wow! Fossil record or the fossil record of the horse family Equidae over the past 55 million years is now being relooked at.

Study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences involved in international team of researchers in the Australian Center for Ancient DNA based at the University of Adelaide.

Only the modern horse, zebras, wild asses and donkey survive today. But many, many other lineages have become extinct over just the past 50,000 years.

Despite excellent fossil records of the horse family, there are still many gaps in the evolutionary knowledge. “Our results change both the basic picture and recent horse evolution, and ideas about the number and nature of extinct species.”

The study used bones from caves to identify new horse species in Eurasia and South America, and reveal that the Caped zebra, an extinct giant species from South Africa, were simply large variants of the modern Plains zebra. So this isn’t completely different species there at all. The Caped zebra weighed up to 400 kilograms. What’s a kilogram again? Is that…?

Kirsten: A thousand grams.

Justin: Wow. That is. That’s a lot. That’s 400,000 grams of zebra and stood up to 150 centimeters at the shoulder…

Kirsten: Oh, man!

Justin: …which I think is 30 feet.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No? Is that wrong?

Kirsten: No. Nowhere close.

Justin: “The Plain zebra group once included the famous extinct quagga, so our results confirm that this group was highly variable in both coat colour and fur first size.”

Let’s see what else they find. “Previous fossil records suggested that this group was part of an ancient lineage.” This is the small hippidion, the small horse in South America. “Previous fossil records suggested that this group was part of an ancient lineage from North America but the DNA showed these unusual forms were part of the modern radiation of equid species and not an ancient variation.”

A new species of ass was also detected on the Russian Plains and appears to be related to the European fossils dating back more than 1.5 million years. And carbon dates show that the species was alive as recently as 50,000 years ago.

“Overall, the new genetic results suggest that we have under-estimated how much a single species can vary over time and space…”

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: “…and mistakenly assumed more diversity among extinct species of megafauna.”

So, it’s more about variation than there are about distinct species – species size.

Kirsten: This is species sizes.

Justin: Yeah. Within any species there’s a lot more flexibility than they had previously sort of surmised about the horse.

Kirsten: Right. Oh, there is another story. And I can’t – we have to take a quick break. And then we will be right back. And I have a story about the panda.

Justin: Oh, panda.

Kirsten: Panda genome coming up next.

Science! Science! Science! Merry TWISmas! In the name of TWISmas, for a limited time, TWIS has teamed up with Evolvems to bring you a special TWISmas deal.

Evolvems are the cutest, cuddliest, evolving plush toys out there. And Evolvems are offering all TWIS minions a 10% discount on orders of the little plush toys until December 25th.

You can see a Coelacanth evolved into a Icythyostega, a Cynognathus derived from a Dimetrodon, a Styracosaurus from a Yinlong. These cute evolving critters make gifts that are great for kids and adults and help spread science through play, which is something that we, at TWIS, always love to do.

Justin: Woo-hoo!

Kirsten: For your 10% discount, go to That’s to get your hands on some of the cutest science-y toys ever.

This is This Week in Science Extend-O Version-O-Rama Galactic-O Fantastic-O Fandango-Rama. And you’re listening to KDVS in Davis.

Justin: And now I will sing.

Kirsten: No. No singing. We have pandas. Don’t scare the pandas. Ssssh!

Justin: This is why I have to sing. This is my – my son invented this or at least is retelling this as something he learned at school.

Kirsten: Really?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: The song about pandas.

Justin: On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a panda in a tall tree.

Kirsten: Why did it get changed?

Justin: He changed it. And it’s like the second day of Christmas…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …is two polar bears and a panda in a tall tree.

Kirsten: Panda in a tall tree.

Justin: I don’t think pandas can climb trees. But we have another potential caller.

Kirsten: A giant panda genome has been sequenced. It’s so exciting.

Justin: Good morning TWIS minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science Extended-O Extravaganza-O-Rama edition.

Kirsten: Fandango-Rama Fantastic-O.

Justin: Lots of Rama already. Hello?

(Oakie): Hey.

Kirsten: Hi.

Justin: Hi.

(Oakie): Hey. This is just (Oakie) calling to say that I’m on my way.

Justin: Oh!

Kirsten: Great.

Justin: Yeah.

(Oakie): All right.

Kirsten: Well see you soon.

(Oakie): Okay. Bye.

Kirsten: Thank you. Bye.

Justin: All right. So there is help. The rescue is on the way.

Kirsten: The rescue is coming.

Justin: Oh, we should have told her. I need more coffee.

Kirsten: Yeah. Bring me coffee as payment. The giant panda genome has been sequenced. It’s so exciting. That’s my new song.

That’s right, 2.4 billion DNA base pairs. Female panda Jing Jing has been catalogued and it’s been reported in the journal Nature.

Justin: Good morning This Week in minion.

Kirsten: This Week in minion?

Justin: You’re on the science with O-Rama.

Tim Beauchamp: Hi, how are you?

Kirsten: Hello. How are you doing?

Justin: Good morning.

Tim Beauchamp: Hi, great. This is Tim.

Kirsten: Hello Tim.

Tim Beauchamp: Tim Beauchamp from Twitter.

Justin: Beauchamp, what’s going on?

Kirsten: You’re working on some cool stuff.

Tim Beauchamp: There was an article this last week about a project that DARPA had funded.

Justin: Ah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Tim Beauchamp: This is kind of a blend between science and social media where…

Kristen: Yeah. It sounds like Justin has a – he’s ruffling through his papers. Maybe it’s something else.

Justin: Maybe. It might be a different DARPA.

Kristen: Go. Okay. Science and social media. I want to hear it.

Tim Beauchamp: Yeah. Where DARPA had placed balloons – large, red weather balloons, ten of them – in different places that they did not publicize all around the country.

Kristen: Yeah.

Tim Beauchamp: And they put out a challenge. I believe it was $40,000 they were offering to any group that could identify where these balloons were first. And a group from MIT kind of did a little social media experiment where they essentially sent out a link that you tie back that you can then also send out to your friend saying, “If you have any ideas where these might be, send them back to us.”

Kristen: Right.

Tim Beauchamp: And also, they sent them all out to their friends. And the encouragement for it was if you found one of the balloons, you would get paid for it based on how far down the chain you were.

So even if you didn’t find it, if you sent it to a friend and they found it…

Kristen: Right.

Tim Beauchamp: …they would get some, you would get some.

Kristen: Pyramid scheme.

Tim Beauchamp: It’s kind of like a pyramid scam. You know, but…

Kristen: Yeah.

Tim Beauchamp: But it was really cool. The person who found it would get – I think it was $1000.

Kristen: Wow.

Tim Beauchamp: The person who kind of turned them onto this would get half that or $500. The person who turned them on to it would get $250. And it will keep going down. And if the chain was small enough, you would get some money left over. And that would be donated to a charity.

Kristen: Nice.

Tim Beauchamp: And then the way that it was split in half, you would never overrun the money. And they found it in just a phenomenal short period of time. I think it was in a matter of days that they were able to identify where all these were.

Justin: Wow.

Kristen: I heard about this just – it was on my radar a little bit. But I had no idea that it was coming up. I hadn’t heard about what DARPA was doing anything until after the fact.

Tim Beauchamp: What DARPA does – and they’re really cool things.

Kristen: Yeah.

Tim Beauchamp: You know, they did the autonomous vehicle races and…

Kristen: That’s what – I love that one.

Tim Beauchamp: I think they’re responsible for the internet than Al Gore.

Kristen: That’s right.

Tim Beauchamp: I just thought that was kind of a cool blend of social media and, you know, interesting things.

Kristen: I think that yeah, it is – I think it’s fascinating. And I think the speed at which the social media aspect was able to assist in the finding of these balloons is just, you know, the rapidity is – it’s amazing.

Tim Beauchamp: Right. And it also tied in a profit motive in a social medium aspect and charity.

Kristen: Yeah.

Tim Beauchamp: So there was – I’m not sure exactly how much. I don’t think they’ve actually awarded the money yet because they’re having the accounting group at MIT go back through the database to make sure that everything is correct and the auditing, making sure that no one’s getting too much or not enough money. But then they’re going to be awarding this.

Kristen: That’s great. Thank you so much for calling.

Tim Beauchamp: Sure. No problem.

Kristen: Awesome. Our cavalry is here. Have a great day, Tim.

Tim Beauchamp: You too.

Kristen: Bye. Yes, the cavalry has come running in, running quickly. Yeah, so the panda genome, completely read. And it was very fascinating to find that there’s a taste -why do pandas eat bamboo, it’s because there’s a taste gene called T1R1 encoding a protein that senses savory.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kristen: So the flavor of meat, cheese, the umami, like that savory kind of flavoring, they have a mutation in the gene that allows them to taste that. So they don’t taste it. And so maybe that’s why they eat bamboo because it’s just, you know, whatever. They don’t like the taste of meat anymore because they can’t taste it.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kristen: The flavor means nothing to them so they eat bamboo. They have no genes to encode for the digestive enzymes for bamboo which means the entire digestive process is…

Justin: Microbial.

Kristen: …product of microbes.

Justin: Yeah. Brilliant.

Kristen: And the microbe – microbiom expert Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland says, “This underscores the concept that the panda, and similarly the human, genetic landscape is truly made up of their own organismal and microbial genomes.”

Justin: We are but spaceships for microbes.

Kristen: That’s right.

Justin: That is our function on the planet.

Kristen: Spaceships for microbes flying through – hurdling through space as a vehicle for microbial life survival. Yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Kristen: And that’s about it for This Week in Science this week. I want to say thanks to all of you who called in today. And we’re going to end our extended…

Justin: Extravaganza-o-rama extendo edition.

Kristen: Fandango, genomical, galactical hugeness. Yes.

Thanks for listening. And we’ll be back next week, Tuesday, 8:30am. This Week in Science every week. Science, people.

Justin: And if you learned anything extra from today’s show, remember…

Kristen: All of it is still in your head.