Synopsis: LHC News!, Valentine’s Day Warnings about mating, Don’t Feed the Fish, Giant Pythons and hotter weather in the past, Malignant Marijuana may cause testicular cancer, This Week in the End of Florida, Dog/Wolf Love, and Interview w/ Dr. Sean B. Carroll re: Evolution.
Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
The following hour of our programming has been deemed so improbable that it ventures on the impossible. The chances of the universe existing with all the right tools to create this show such as radio waves, a planet capable of supporting life and the sentient race capable of speech and hearing are incredibly slim.
What are the odds if the hosts will be Kirsten and Justin, not one of the other six billion people wondering aimlessly across the face of the planet? That’s not even considering how vastly improbable the chain of events that led you to finding our show. It’s simply cannot be chance alone.
And while the winds of chance are mind boggling much like the following hour of our programming, they do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors. Listeners should be aware though that the universe may have made many natural selections.
What you are about to hear is no mere random assortment of words. Come to think of it, the ads against the show are so perfectly tuned to allow you to listen to this show.
Perhaps there is only one conclusion that can be reached. The universe was designed by an intelligent creator and with only one purpose in mind. That’s right. The universe was most assuredly design for This Week in Science, coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten!
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! Yay! We are here. It is such an exciting week. It is the week of Darwin’s birthday.
Justin: Yay! Darwin, Happy Birthday!
Kirsten: I know. I’m so excited. Happy birthday almost, on Thursday, actually.
Justin: Yeah. We’ve been talking about for a year now.
Kirsten: I know. We’ve been talking about it every year.
Justin: That disclaimer by the way was courtesy of (Laura) from Britain who wrote in with that disclaimer about six months ago.
Kirsten: Oh fantastic. It’s just the timing worked out.
Justin: The timing worked out. I finally got around to reading one of my emails. But she says big ups. We did a great job. She loves the show and this is I got to say though. She says, “Justin, don’t let anyone ever tell you to be more professional.” I love it. Thank you. Confirmation of my righteous life.
Kirsten: Oh no, what have you done? Oh, what has been done? Well we – I mean, okay big things happening this week.
Justin: Oh my goodness.
Kirsten: Darwin’s birthday. We have an interview today with Sean B. Carroll. He is an evolutionary biologist. He’s written a book called “Remarkable Creatures”. He has spent several years working as a biologist. He uses genetics to study the evolution of various forms of life.
And this book that he’s written, the reason that we’re talking to him not only just because he’s knowledgeable in the arena of evolutionary biology but also because he’s written a book about the many adventures that people have embarked upon for the last over 200 years.
So, since before Darwin was born people have been exploring our worlds, studying, writing about it, making scientific observations and studies of the world around us.
And they have come to the conclusions through 200 years plus of study that natural selection is the cornerstone of biology. I mean it’s the major process by which evolution takes place.
Kirsten: Yeah. And so I’m really excited to talk with him about these adventures. Who were the people? I mean, all we ever hear about are Darwin, Darwinists, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But there have so many other people on this path. I mean the influences are many and varied. And so, it’s important to bring up at this time of celebrating Darwin, all the other people who have been involved.
Justin: Yeah. The evolution, it’s sort of evolution’s birthday.
Kirsten: It is evolution. And this is the 150th anniversary of the origin – I mean this year itself is the 150th anniversary of the origin of species, which is the major writings of Darwin that explained natural selection that he had to write and get out. He had to rush it out to be able to beat Wallace – Alfred Wallace to the punch.
Justin: Yeah, although he apparently was delaying.
Justin: Publishing it first because his wife didn’t really care for it.
Justin: He’s wife was kind of like, “That’s sort of like…” you know, she’s really religious and stuff.
Kirsten: That’s kind of heresy.
Kirsten: I don’t know if I like that too much, honey.
Justin: And then – so, after watching him slump, gloomily around the living room day after day, sitting down in front of the T.V.
Kirsten: But he was also a perfectionist. And he really wanted to make sure that he had the evidence behind the theory.
Justin: But she also gave him the okay. Otherwise we might still not have it.
Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah.
Justin: Very good woman.
Kirsten: But we can talk with Dr. Carroll.
Justin: Mrs. Darwin. I’d give the ‘ups’ to Mrs. Darwin.
Kirsten: We can talk with Dr. Carroll today or maybe he can tell us a bit more about the adventures of Darwin and Mrs. Darwin. I don’t know if we get their marital adventures. I don’t know.
But today I have a sea story about the Large Hadron Collider, evolutionary stories and fishy tales of fish meals.
Justin: I have a giant python.
Kirsten: Whoa! You do?
Justin: Yes. Yes. I have also a Valentine’s tale of caution and something about testicular malignancies.
Kirsten: That doesn’t sound like fun.
Justin: Well not all together, separately it might be interesting.
Kirsten: Separately. Separate and interesting, yes. Well, the big story of the week, the Large Hadron Collider has a time-line.
Kirsten: Announced yesterday by CERN’s management team. The restart schedule for the Collider has been confirmed. So, we have the Large Hadron Collider first beaming up again at the end of September. So, we’re not really going to see it get going the spring as was hoped.
They have some more repairs that they’re looking at doing some an implementation of a new enhanced protection system for the bus bar and magnet splices; installation of new pressure-relief valves to reduce the collateral damage in case of a repeat incident, which is one of the magnet’s shifted too much and there was the pressure build up, shifted the magnet and there was a lot of damage that occurred, which is why the whole thing had to be shut down, heated up, repaired now they’re cooling it down again. So, there’s a lot that has to be done.
Justin: So, safety checks.
Kirsten: Safety checks.
Justin: And they’re also hiring outside – people who are not working on the project to do a number of inspections on the project.
Justin: The idea being if you’ve been so focused on just getting it to work, you’re less likely to see some of the problems with it.
Kirsten: The problems that are there.
Justin: No! No! I can actually do this but then there might be yeah.
Kirsten: The (bios) of just wanting to see the project come to fruition.
Justin: Right. Right.
Kirsten: Exactly. So, let’s see the pressure-relief system is going to be designed in two phases, installation of relief valves and the second phase will be adding additional relief valves on all the dipole magnets that would guarantee minor collateral damage in all worst cases over the life of the LHC.
What else are they doing? They’re going to – yes, safety constraints, scheduling constraints associated with helium and transfer and storage. So, the first beam in September, collisions late October and then a technical stop for the Christmas period to save energies, yeah also the holidays. Give the physicists and the engineers a break.
And then it will get up and running through to the autumn of next year and hopefully have enough data to be able to get some results announced by 2010. It’s very exciting.
Justin: It’s extremely exciting.
Kirsten: So, I just keep waiting for something, you know. This has been like the big news and last we’re all excited about it. And no data, no data, no data.
Justin: Well, the longer…
Kirsten: 2010! 2010!
Justin: I don’t know. I’m split because the longer there’s no data, the longer my crackpot philosophies can exist. My intuitive belief of the universe can still be maintained without evidence.
Kirsten: Or maybe when there’s data and evidence they will support your crackpot hypothesis.
Justin: Well No. You see my whole crackpot hypothesis means that they’re supposed to NOT find things. They can’t find the Graviton or the Higgs boson. I don’t know what they could find that could confirm it.
Kirsten: Right. Well, I’m kind of – I don’t know about the whole like Graviton. I have this – I don’t know that there’s necessarily going to be a Graviton.
Justin: Yeah. Well…
Kirsten: That’s just sounds like a made up particle.
Justin: That’s what I said to what’s her name (Lisa)…?
Justin: (Randall) and she was like, “No Justin. No, it’s what we believe because we’re smarter than you,” like I don’t know, sound like you just kind of make it up at one night on a bar napkin. Okay.
With Valentines Day now rapidly approaching as well as the Darwin birthday thing, a word of caution from the world of nature, “Trust no one.” This is a quick little collection of things that are just wild.
And there’s also – it also leads in the – I sort of like this promise I have with just natural selection, I think there’s something intelligent that happens that in the genes that can figure stuff out that we’re not aware of — like sort of like subconscious thinking.
I think genetics has the ability to adapt in ways that natural selection cannot simply account for. But here’s a couple examples of both the bolar spider can produce the sexual signaling pheromones of a moth to attract it. Then eat it.
Justin: The female – this you got to listen closely, you know, I have to pronounce it correctly, the female Photuris. Okay? Female Photuris firefly can mimic the courtship flashes of a Photinus firefly. So it’s different species…
Kirsten: Different species, mm hmm.
Justin: …or genus of the firefly. When the male Photinus gets close, he’s eaten. And the chemical he produces that naturally wards off birds and even hungry spiders becomes HERS. So, now she make a meal of this other genus of fly that mimic his mating call, devours him.
Kirsten: She takes his power.
Justin: And then takes his super powers away. It’s very brutal.
Kirsten: I’ll take your super power.(laughs)
Justin: So there’s a new one though, Marshall and Hill – this is on PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science online, they found a predatory Australian katydids.
Justin: Katydids of the…
Justin: Cicada by imitating the responses of females, they can entice the male within reach.
Kirsten: And then they eat them.
Justin: Yes. And they can even do specific wing-flick sounds as well as make these head jerky movements. I mean they’ve – and they can do it from different species of it and even ones in species they have not encountered before as well.
Kirsten: Oh wow. So, there must be something common to the different species that the katydid is able to…
Justin: And this is one of the points I think that’s…
Kirsten: Just – that’s wired.
Justin: Right. And that’s on of the points of natural selection which genetics is filling in greatly is these sorts of cases may be having a genetic common background.
It could be a long, long time ago but something in the genes – something in the system that says –some, I don’t know why but I recognized this and I know how to do this.
Kirsten: I know how to do this.
Justin: I know how to do this.
Kirsten: Or maybe I mean or it’s possible as anybody look whether or not they’re learning. So, if they’ve never seen it this cicada before do they just learn…?
Justin: Is it just your mimicry?
Kirsten: …absorb and mimic?
Justin: It could be. Let me give you one tougher than that though. Okay? The pupa is it a pupa when it’s a baby butterfly?
Justin: Pupae. The pupae of the European butterfly, Maculina rebeli exude a scent that mimics that of ants, okay, and it makes them welcome guests in the ant nest. So, little baby butterfly gets to live in the ant nest. Once they become a caterpillar, they begin to beg for food like another ant larvae.
Kirsten: So, they just get fed by the ants.
Justin: They get fed by the ants. Now, then it gets…
Kirsten: “You like me. You really, really like me.”
Justin: But they’re not content just to be – with being just fed. The caterpillars have another crazy nature bending trick up their many sleeves. They pretend to be queens.
Kirsten: So they get special ant jelly? Special ant food that’s just for the queen.
Justin: This is from Oxford University, Jeremy A. Thomas and his colleagues report that ant queens make these subtle sounds that signal their status. The caterpillars mimic those sounds. So, they sound like the queen. What’s also interesting is the caterpillars never come in contact with the ant queen. They’re going to be in completely different parts of the ant nest.
Justin: So, it can’t just be learned, it can’t just be imitating as another sound you’re hearing by your neighbor. It’s something in the genes…
Justin: …that is pre-set to mimic that queen.
Kirsten: To make that sound at a particular stage in development.
Justin: Yeah. And this allows them to be rescued if the nest is in trouble. They’ll get rescued ahead of other larvae. If food is tight, the nurse ants have been known to kill their own larvae and feed them to the ‘pretend’ queen caterpillars.
And what they did is because the real queen and the caterpillar aren’t in the same place they did this experiment where they put the real queen and the caterpillar in the same area. They put a…
Justin: What they found was they put in with four real ant queens and what they found was the ant queens began to attack and bite the caterpillar like they weren’t fooled at all.
Kirsten: Right. The ant queens are like, “You are not one of us.”
Kirsten: “Get out of here.”
Justin: But the workers, the worker ants couldn’t tell the difference so they attack. They intervened and began biting and stinging their own queens which they then pulled to a different area of the nest. And then went back to take care of the caterpillar.
Isn’t that wild?
So, natural selection at just random chance, I don’t know. There must be some ant butterfly connection WAY BACK when that the butterflies are like “Hang on to that. That’s going to be useful. We’ll keep that floating around our genetic makeup somewhere.” Just in case it comes in handy.
Kirsten: Yeah. Those changes – behavioral changes, genetic changes over time…
Justin: But what if it’s possible in humans?
Kirsten: …that allows some individuals to perform better and survive longer.
Justin: Yeah. Take another look at your significant other though on this Valentine’s Day. Just making sure you’re not going to get devoured.
Kirsten: Don’t eat me. Just eat the chocolate. Wow! The wild, wild world out there honestly, it’s amazing.
Justin: So, crazy.
Kirsten: The world that we live in is crazier than fiction.
Justin: I think it’s made up. I don’t think it’s a real world.
Kirsten: Or as you would say ‘makity uppity’.
Justin: I think it’s ‘makity uppity’ out there.
Kirsten: ‘Makity uppity’ world.
Justin: That’s just too crazy.
Kirsten: Oh my goodness. So, there’s a study that is being embarked upon by the California Sea Grant Researchers that they are working with commercial offshore culture in Southern California and Baja California.
Fish stocks, the production of fishmeal to feed fish for commercial fisheries. And also fish that fishmeal also goes to feed other animals — all sorts of different purposes. But large portion of it goes to actually feeding fish that are being grown for consumption.
There’s some ridiculous percentage. Meat production – let’s see, meat production accounts for 20% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. And fish stocks are a very large portion of creating fishmeal to be able to go into the production of meat.
People are starting to look into — because we’re having a problem with the fish stocks – the wild fish stocks and to the commercial fish stocks, the fisheries are failing. And so, we’re trying to figure out how we can reduce the production of fishmeal and the use of fishmeal in these commercial fishery diets.
And they’re looking at nutritional levels. They’re actually looking at replacing fishmeal with alternative protein sources from soybeans, canola, corn, barley, poultry meal, blood meal trying to figure out how they can keep nutritionally benefiting the fish, you know, with other forms of meat.
All right. So, it says here, this article that I got from – it’s a press release from the California Sea Grant initiative, scientists are hoping to build a cut fishmeal use dramatically. And they’re looking at success rate now developing low-fishmeal Atlantic salmon diets as encouraging evidence that this is going to work.
“Marine fish feed currently contains about 45% fishmeal.” So about almost half of what they’re eating is fishmeal. And they hope to get it down to about 10% or 15%. And they think it’s doable without reducing the growth rates of the fish that they’re trying to grow.
And so, they’re going to be doing a number of experiments to determine this. They’ve shown that the fishmeal content of Atlantic salmon feed has been cut 75% to 80%.
Marine fish, however, have different nutritional requirements than anadromous ones so there might be some more challenges that they have to deal with. They just haven’t figured out.
So, yellowtail and white seabass are two fish that they’re looking at trying to reduce the fishmeal content in their meals. Both species are cultured regionally – white seabass in commercial-sized hatchery in San Diego for stock enhancement and yellowtail in net pens in Baja California on an experimental basis.
And Mexico fattens wild-caught bluefin tuna in open-ocean net pens for the sushi market. And the tuna – and this is because the tuna are getting harder to catch and they’re smaller. The wild-caught tuna, it’s getting more difficult. So, they wanted to – Mexico wants to diversify and raise yellowtail side-by-side with the tuna or raise them instead of the tuna. They’re trying to figure out what they can do here.
I think the sustainability issues here are something that should give us pause, you know, make us think a little bit about what’s going on in the overall global sense of what is eating what is eating what and how that’s going to have an effect globally on all sorts of different things.
So, the fish stocks are declining. So, what are – and the food that we would normally feed fish that were growing commercially that means that’s declining. So, we need to come up with another source. That source is probably going to come from – the study is actually being funded by the U.S. soybean industry.
And so soybeans are an expensive replacement for the fishmeal. But, you know, it’s going to benefit the soybean industry and, you know, hopefully they don’t know it might benefit the fish.
However, what happens – what are the potential downsides, not just nutritionally maybe you can get the protein content right.
Kirsten: But what about other things? Soybeans are known to contain high plant estrogen concentration. So, what about the fish getting more estrogens into their bodies? How is that going to have downstream effects or will it even?
Justin: Well, it won’t be a downstream effect if it’s in the ocean. But, you know…
Kirsten: Ha ha ha ha! I think it’s something that is…
Justin: I think we should all go vegan.
Kirsten: I know.
Justin: That will solve a lot of problems.
Kirsten: Yeah. But the researchers who are working on this, there’s a bunch of people working on this and this guy Rick Barrows, a fish nutritionist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Idaho, he says, “People like to say that aquaculture is not sustainable because it takes fish to raise fish. But fish don’t require fish. They require nutrients. That is what this project will show.”
So, and that’s the question. Is that the basic? Is that crux of it? Is that all it is? Is it just nutrients? You know, what is this going to change? Will implementing other protein sources into their diet affect anything other than just the commercial fisheries?
Justin: I think what we need is just like create a fishing industry that doesn’t work every year. Like, you know, every other year.
Justin: They go out and they get their catch. Let’s give the fish some time to grow. Let them grow. That’s all they need, time. We keep taking them all out of the water. There are less of them to make more of them.
Kirsten: Yeah. And I actually heard something really interesting that’s another crazy point. As fish are declining in the oceans, jellyfish are increasing.
Kirsten: And there was a great, great report on NPR last week about chef. There’s a chef, probably more than one. But this one particular chef in Japan – I think it’s Japan, who is starting to try and get people to like jellyfish as a food. So, using jellyfish for making sushi, for steaks, for…
Justin: Peanut butter and jellyfish. Why not?
Kirsten: Peanut butter and jellyfish, jellyfish cake? I don’t know.
Justin: I’ve never – I have no idea that they’re even edible.
Kirsten: It’s very – they are edible. And that’s what the chef is trying to prove and it’s very interesting that if we don’t do something about the fish stocks, we might not have fish in the grocery stores at some point. It might be jellyfish.
Justin: And of course I meant edible in the American pallet sense. They know the Japanese find lots of stuff…
Kirsten: There is no jellyfish burger.
Justin: …yummy that I would not.
Kirsten: Oh it’s slimy and crunchy at the same time.
Justin: Maybe we should learn to eat snake. Yes. In a Colombian Coal Mine scientists have discovered the serpentine fossil remains of an extinct species of stunningly, stupendous super snake unseen for some 60 million years.
Weighing in it over a ton and measuring as much as 50 feet from tip to tail, the Titanoboa terrorize the traffic shortly after dinosaurs took the delusionary dirt map.
Five million years after the dinosaurs which is, you know, kind of short historically in evolutionary term. The estimates of Titanoboa’s ancient tropical climate, beside from the enormous size of this, this is the biggest snake ever found in the history of our planet.
Kirsten: Right, giganto snake.
Justin: Crazy big. The other thing though is this actually gives climate scientists kind of a heads up to what was going on in terms of temperatures 60 million years ago. Because what we know is that there’s – reptiles don’t regulate their own temperature and there’s a limit to how big a snake will get based on where they live. It’s correlative to the temperatures they live in.
So, you have your large snakes in your hot regions, your Australian desert, your tropical rainforests nice warm places year round. And you get smaller ones the further way that the colder the region is. Right?
So, based on this, the size of Titanoboa scientist correlate that the temperature in the ancient tropics had to be six to seven degrees hotter than they currently are — which is potentially great news for the survival of the rainforests in a globally warm environment. As it would appear the rainforests don’t really mind that heat so much but it’s bad news if you’re really, really afraid of big snakes.
But on the other hand, maybe we could grow really big snakes in the global warming and therefore…
Kirsten: And then we can all eat snake meat.
Justin: Yeah. Oh and a quick side note to this.
Kirsten: Yeah, instead of fish. I’ve heard snake tastes good like chicken.
Justin: I don’t think it tastes like chicken.
Kirsten: Or it does taste like chicken.
Justin: Do you got no – are you great?
Kirsten: Oh yeah, I have more stories. I thought you’re just going to jump.
Justin: Oh no, I got…
Kirsten: I thought you had more snakes stuff.
Justin: Well, they did also find this some evidence down in Bermuda that around 400,000 years ago the water levels of the seas may have been as much as 21 feet higher around the equatorial regions.
Justin: Twenty one feet higher than they are today.
Kirsten: That would put a lot of islands under water.
Justin: And This Week in The End of…
Kirsten: Bye Florida.
Justin: Bye Florida. It was nice…
Kirsten: I really – maybe we should take advantage of vacationing there while we can. Right?
Justin: Disney World while you got it people.
Kirsten: Go out there.
Justin: Before it’s water world.
Kirsten: All right. We have a few minutes left and I have to run through some headlines. Let’s run through headlines before we go the break. News from (Ed Dyer) sent in a story about robotic wheelchair from the University of South Florida fittingly enough. They have developed a wheelchair-mounted robotic arm that is powered by the brain.
Yes. It is a – they call it a BCI system, Brain-Computer Interface system that was developed by Emanuel Donchin and his colleagues. It captures a particular type of brain wave called the P-300 brain wave — converting that wave, that electrical signal from – it’s something of an EEG of a cap that they wear and that measures the waves, the electrical signals that are going on in the brain, captures THAT particular signals and then converts it into an action.
So, through biofeedback learning, individuals can learn how to use this arm to type on a – or not as arm but they can use the P-300 brain signal to type on a virtual keyboard just by thinking to serve as a virtual finger for patients who can’t move.
And now with this arm, without moving a muscle, the WMRA control system, that’s what they’re calling it WMRA control system wheelchair-mounted robotic arm, can translate the signal to the arms similar to the monkey research that’s been happening the last couple of years.
Kirsten: Very slowly, it translates that signal. The arm then carries out the movements allowing an individual who is trapped in their body to be able to have some movement arm functionality.
Kirsten: Yeah. There is only a short, short way to go before we have the fully controlled body suits. GUNDAM!
Kirsten: I’m so excited. This Week in The End of the World. No, I mean not the end of the world, I mean Robot Domination.
Justin: This week in the end of your testicles if you smoke marijuana. Yeah. Put down the – apparently smoking pot has been associated with aggressive – the most aggressive fastest growing testicular cancers.
Justin: Research performed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found that there’s a 70% risk of testicular cancer amongst marijuana users and particularly elevated rate in the long-term or frequent users.
Justin: This is a testicular cancer that shows up mostly between the ages of 20 and 25 and it accounts for about 40% of all testicular cancer cases. The reason is coming up so early and the reason I think there’s this link between marijuana use and chronic use is that there’s in the testicles – testicles are one of the few organs in the body that have receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol – THC.
Kirsten: The active ingredient.
Justin: The active psychoactive aspect of it in the brain because it connects to the brain. It also has receptors in the heart, uterus, spleen and immune system. But the testicles have a natural Cannabis type receptors. Right?
Kirsten: Mm hmm. For compounds that are released within the body naturally.
Justin: Right, that actually protect it from tumors. So, they think these other – the THC is somehow interfering with that system and especially they think they’re going to be a link between teenage use when there’s a lot of testosterone in the body and when a lot of development is going on.
Kirsten: So, if there’s early use, there’s maybe…
Justin: Early use maybe the big factor that increases the chance of getting testicular cancer before you’re 35.
Kirsten: Well, we have to take a break.
Justin: Another reason.
Kirsten: We’re at the half hour. There’s a lot more science news that I have sitting here in front of me. Dogs gave wolves a gene for black coat color.
Justin: Oh yeah. That’s cool.
Kirsten: Very cool. And researchers at Advanced Cell Technology are looking at clone human embryos, animal and animal-human hybrids trying to figure out how animal human hybrids work best. Very interesting.
Justin: We’re going to have to revisit that wolf one. That guy has a problem. There’s something weird about that.
Kirsten: Yeah. And if you’re interested you have a student who loves Math and Science, a child who is interested in a Math-Science based summer program and wants to have a chance to spend four weeks at UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz or UC San Diego this summer, learning about astronomy, biomedical sciences, engineering robotics — The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science otherwise known as COSMOS is accepting applicants now.
Justin: Signing up.
Kirsten: So, you’re invited to apply for one of the four campus programs and you have to complete that application online. We will link to it on the TWIS website by March 15th.
Justin: I’m totally going for it.
Kirsten: So, if you are in California and you have a child who you think…
Kirsten: Yeah, child.
Justin: Oh, it’s not for me. Oh, it’s for the kids. Oh, great.
Kirsten: Grades eight through 12, grades eight through 12.
Justin: Kids get all the breaks.
Kirsten: Kids do get all the breaks. We’ll be back in just a few moments with Dr. Sean Carroll to talk about adventures in evolution.
And we’re back.
Kirsten: We are back. And on the phone, we have Dr. Sean Carroll. He is a molecular biologist and geneticist. He is – what else do I have here? He is Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin, author of “Remarkable Creatures”. And before we bring him on, I just wanted to make a note about how evolution is viewed around the world.
According to the economist via New Scientist, in the most recent international survey available which is from 2006, Turkey is the only country that’s less accepting of evolution than America.
Iceland and Denmark are the most believing or accepting of evolution. And America has only become slightly more accepting of evolution in recent years. In 2008, 14% of people pooled by Gallup agreed that man evolved over millions of years compared to 9% in 1982. So what’s up?
Justin: Oh my goodness.
Kirsten: Yeah. But with that, let’s bring Dr. Carroll on the line.
Justin: Good morning, Dr. Carroll. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.
Sean: Good morning, Justin!
Justin: Good morning.
Kirsten: Good morning. It’s wonderful to have you here on in such a I guess celebratory week.
Sean: It is, absolutely.
Kirsten: Absolutely. And you’ve got a book out called “Remarkable Creatures” that is a little bit different from some of your other books. It’s more of a history story, a tale of adventure.
Sean: Right. But my first two trade books were really about emerging Science from the laboratory about how evolution works. And this one is we’re looking back over the last 200 years over some of the great voyages and expeditions and other really remarkable people that have forwarded the ideas of evolutionary Science.
Kirsten: Now something that kind of – and I think is important to know is, you know, when we think about the controversy that is – I don’t know – that has been created by the media. And people who call one side of it the Darwinists and there’s all this about Darwin and his crazy idea of natural selection.
But there are so many other people who have gone into really providing all the evidence. He came up with the original idea but this is – natural selection has really become something bigger than just Darwin’s ideas.
Sean: Well, sure. The study of it has gone on for 150 years. So, all sorts of naturalist at the same time as Darwin so Alfred Wallace independently discovered natural selection while he was exploring other island.
Henry Walter Bates was a naturalist who is in exploring the Amazon came up with really beautiful evidence of natural selection in the wild. That was right on the heels of Darwin’s great book.
And for the next 150 years, biologists have been working on understanding how that process works. And in the last – in the 20th then we have much more powerful tools for seeing natural selection in action in terms of exactly how specifies change, exactly how they adapt to places.
So, we don’t have any doubt of how, you know, the reality and the power of natural selection certainly not after a century and a half.
Justin: So, you’re saying we’ve confirmed the theory?
Sean: Yeah. I think that many, many times over and it’s not just a matter of confirming Darwin. It’s a matter of also building upon it. So, you know, Darwin didn’t know anything about genetics. He didn’t know how anything was inherited.
Kirsten: Yeah. That was before Mendel’s paper.
Sean: Yeah and before the obviously structured DNA and all that.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Sean: So, what’s interesting is that Darwin’s idea – and there’s really two idea, not just natural selection but the idea of species descending from ancestors that independent lines of evidence have come along in the molecular era.
So, we can see in the DNA record the history of species. And we can see also in DNA how they’ve adapted to the various places they live in the world. So, it’s independent confirmation by means that Darwin never would have imagined.
But it’s also discovering phenomena that Darwin didn’t expect. And so, you know, we’re not bound to just say, “Well, we’re only going to operate within the squares outlined by Darwin.” We found a lot of other things to understand in terms of the evolutionary process.
Kirsten: I’d love to talk a bit about the, you know, the adventure, the search for information that’s been going on. Has that search changed much over the last 150-200 years?
Sean: Well, I think your paleontology is maybe that one place where that adventure is the most obvious aspect of the field.
Sean: So, you know, paleontologists have to unearth literally evidence of the past. And in the early days, there was of course a greater degree of sort of throwing a dart at a map.
In these days, the paleontologists are guided of course by, you know, much more sophisticated geologic mapping as well as of course all of the lessons learned from their varied ancestors over the last 150 years.
So, the adventure is still there. It’s just that it more guided adventure. And then one chapter in “Remarkable Creatures”, I described an expedition to the Arctic that unfolded just at the end of the 90’s and over the first several years of this decade…
Sean: …to find transitional fossils that would reveal the steps taken from fish living in water to four-legged animals living on land. And these was a series of really educated — I won’t say guesses — yeah, okay I’ll say guesses. By me educated that if you look at the right kind of rock that was the right kind of age, and you went to a place in the world where it was exposed, it was not covered by parking lots or by trees, which makes searching for fossils a lot easier.
Sean: You might find something. And this team led by Neil Shubin, and Farish Jenkins and Ted Daeschler uncovered spectacular fossils.
Sean: Now, to do that, they had to live in polar bear territory, put up with really, really high wind, they have a very short collecting season, the weather is awful, getting there is tremendously difficult and hopping by helicopter above the arctic circle.
So, the physical challenge, the hardship, the passion it takes to do this is unchanged from the days of, you know, Darwin voyaging on the Beagle and retching his way around the world. It’s just a little more technologies in play to do this.
Justin: Although I would take a 24-hour sun over – all the rest of it I could live with if it just didn’t get dark.
Sean: Yeah. They actually tell me that that’s a little concern. They have to be very careful of the people they select to go up there because weeks of continuous daylight does drive people a little bit to the edge.
Justin: I’ve heard that. I love – actually, I ended up – I was up in Greenland for a little while. I end up sleeping like 12 hours a day. I was so relaxed there.
Sean: Well, see you’d be a really good for an expedition.
Justin: Except that I’d be always asleep.
Sean: Yeah. Well, that could be a little bit of a hang up.
Kirsten: Yeah. I think that the modern expedition sound, you know, it does – you have airplanes and helicopters as opposed to wagon trains or horses and maybe boats. Now we have big cargo ships and little boats that are maybe a little bit sturdier than the older boats. But…
Sean: Right. So, it’s maybe – I mean health and safety concerns can be taken cared of a bit better. There was a much higher degree of physical danger in these early expeditions because, you know, the boats were – yeah, they didn’t have even navigational devices that would or weather forecasting. So, they would get cross caught in storm.
Justin: No satellite phones.
Sean: Yeah. Exactly! I’ve even gotten calls from – in fact Neil Shubin as described to me before, it’s from the Arctic, in the field. I’m sitting in my office and he’s on a sat phone. That’s a little a bit different.
But, you know, and in “Remarkable Creatures”, I explained it out for the Wallace who spent four years in the Amazon. He was on his way home when his ship caught fire and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic with all of the specimens.
Kirsten: With – and there were live animals in that too.
Sean: Yeah. He had live animals as well as he was hoping to take home to the London Zoo. So, he spent ten days in an open life boat soaked by the sea and parched by the sun and unsure whether he’d be rescued. So yeah, there was perhaps a greater degree of danger and risks that the early pioneers had to take.
Kirsten: Yeah. And he ended up going back out again after that. He thought that wasn’t a lesson to him to stay home.
Sean: Yeah. Well, no – that’s right. And that’s because – that’s why I described these people as “remarkable creatures” is that their passion was not dissuaded by tragedy.
And Wallace did go a back out after his ship wreck and while he had vowed on the ship ride home once he was rescued that he would never go out, he actually started planning as soon as he get back to England and spent eight years island hopping from Singapore to New Guinea across the Malay Archipelago. He made 96 crossings.
Sean: Over that eight year span.
Sean: So he was, you know – and that kind of drive, that’s partly how I selected these various stories to tell is that for these folks it would go repeatedly to the Arctic or repeatedly into the Gobi Desert or spend for example like the Leakeys, 31 years in East Africa hunting for hominid fossils without success. They find tens of thousands of tools but they, you know, it’s not until 31 years into their effort did they find their first hominid fossil.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Sean: And that takes a tremendous amount of – you can just find all the adjectives, you know, persistence, passion, endurance, stubbornness. And these folk are all had out in…
Kirsten: In spades.
Sean: In spades, yeah.
Kirsten: And it’s good, I mean without these individuals, without this incredible drive things would not have moved forward as rapidly maybe in the field of evolution in biology? Do you think?
Sean: Oh absolutely. So, people were inspired. I mean, you know, people read Darwin’s voyage of the Beagle and they said, “Well, you know, I’m going to go out looking for things.” And then people read these accounts and see what discoveries are being made and that inspires yet more people. And so, that sort of chain of inspiration has been so important in science.
And I’ll confess. One of the reasons for writing this book is I think that there’s some risks of losing some of that. I was an unfortunate to grow up at a time when exploration was – it really highlighted on the three or four TV channels that we had. And that was NASA going to the moon.
Sean: There were things like Jack Custaeau saw, you know, National Geographic Special. And you, you know, with only three or four channels that meant that most of the country was watching this special event and sharing them. And now, you know, the scientific efforts are sort of diluted out. You get a bit of some of the cable channels but it’s not necessarily a shared sort of cultural experience.
Sean: And we may be losing site that something there’s some tremendous human achievements to explore the parts of the world that were unknown let alone to, you know, live the planet or as we are now, you know, exploring the far reaches of outer space. And the passion it takes to do that I keep using the word passion…
Sean: …because, you know, people may think of science as sort of this intellectual, you know, cerebral pursuit. But I don’t think that’s true. I think that – I mean certainly there’s an element to that. But I think that people are driven by much more than that and that they’re trying to make some sense of who they are, how they got here, why they’re here, what’s going to happen in the future. And that takes a lot more drive than, you know, merely sitting in one’s laboratory.
Kirsten: Yeah. Let’s go back to Darwin a little bit. Go back and, you know, his drive. He was going to go into a seminary.
Kirsten: His dad wanted him to become like a minister?
Sean: Yeah. He was going to go to divinity school. He’s washed out at medical school.
Sean: And he was really keen on natural history. So, he was a good hunter. He love beetle collecting which was serve a rage in England at the time. And he was – his father was a wealthy physician and sort of one of the respectable things he could do would be to go to divinity school and sort of secure sort of a country parsonage and he could do some of the hobbies while taking care of, you know, his flock.
But while he was at Cambridge and all the faculty at Cambridge are ordained members of the Anglican church, they realized that Darwin had this spark for natural history and encouraged it.
And particular, Reverend John Henslow took Darwin under his wing and show them a more systematic way to approach collecting and his interest in natural history.
And Darwin then started to express an interest in travel based on some of the reading that Henslow was getting him to do. And he said, “Well Charles, you’re going to have to learn some Geology.” So he set him up on a field trip with Adam Sedgwick who was a great geologist at the time. That’s the person who named for example the Cambrian period of the geologic record.
Sean: And so Darwin got great…
Kirsten: He had good mentors.
Sean: He got great mentors. And then he showed his mentors something. He really took to everything they share within. So, Henslow recommended him for the voyage. And – well, Darwin was not an impressive student, didn’t have a lot of direction going on. He got this great opportunity and then made the most of it.
Kirsten: Yeah. And he did it against what his dad wanted.
Sean: Yeah. His father at first vetoed the voyage.
Sean: He thought it was a waste of time, you know, way too dangerous. These ships were sailed by some pretty shady characters, you know, the British sailors were not exactly the most cultivated lot.
He didn’t think that was a good place for fine, young gentleman like Charles. And really dangerous, I mean I think he probably feared for Charles’ safety more than anything.
Sean: But Charles’ uncle intervened and said, “No, I think it would be good for him.” And while the voyage was originally expected to be a two-year serving voyage, about a year in Darwin realized he’s going to be much longer.
Sean: And so, while he had taken a fair amount of strength to commit to doing something where you’d be away for your love ones for two years has turned out to be a five year voyage. So, you know, from 22 to aged 27…
Justin: That’s wild.
Sean: …pretty meaning period of anyone’s life to spend, you know, away from home, in foreign land, often at some significant danger and discomfort, he never got over seasickness. So, anytime he was on the boat, he was miserable. And of course he did it- he went all the way around the world. So, he was miserable a lot.
Kirsten: A long time.
Sean: Of course he was homesick too.
Sean: But – so when you think about that, you think of the danger and you think of the discomfort and being away from your love ones you say what would sustain him?
Because he could have gone home. He could have got, brought a ship coming back to England. He was sending his mail and specimens back on British ships. He could have said, “Hey, I had, you know, I’m throwing in towel.”
But what sustained him? And what sustained him was of course seeing the marvels of the world, in South America, the jungles, in seeing the highlands of the Andes and seeing islands that got the ocean and sort of not knowing what was around the corner.
And he was an avid collector. And so, he was in a collector’s paradise because, you know, all the birds, all the mammals, all the insects, all the plants, these was all stuff to be collected.
So, he relished that. So, I think that that was what kept him, you know, going against what was for him a physically, really draining experience. So draining that he never step foot on a boat again.
Kirsten: He’s like, “That’s enough. I collected.”
Sean: That’s it.
Kirsten: “I took copious notes.”
Sean: He got all that lust for wandering and never wandered again.
Justin: Maybe that’s the reason for the good notes. I’m not coming back. I’m not doing this again. I got to write everything down.
Kirsten: Yeah. If I take – if my notes are good enough I never have to go back to double check them.
Sean: Exactly. Yeah.
Kirsten: That just speaks – I don’t know- these volumes about how…
Justin: I think it was a different timber of people back then.
Kirsten: I don’t know. Was it? I mean was – life was different back then, society.
Sean: I think what’s different and that you accepted maybe a little higher risks because let’s face it. Real life expectancies weren’t the same.
Sean: And the British Empire, you know, going away by sea whether you’re, you know, a merchant or, part of the military or whatever it might be, that was perhaps an accepted hazard.
But I do believe there are plenty of people like Darwin and Wallace and Bates and the Leakeys in Science today and wanting to be in Science tomorrow.
Sean: I have no doubt about that because I met a lot of them. And people who are absolutely devoted to exploration and to searching out the unknown is what – I think it’s what drives a lot of us.
I’m not speaking just as a scientist. I mean it’s what drives a lot of us as species. You know, we – our ancestors left Africa 60,000 years ago and spread out over 6 continents. I think wandering is in our blood.
Kirsten: We’ll see where that wandering will take us next. It will be just amazing to see where we go. Do you – what are your adventures right now? Where are you going next?
Sean: Well, I’m an indoor biologist but I do wander outside when I get the chance.
Sean: I’m actually going to the Galapagos in about three weeks.
Kirsten: Oh fun.
Justin: Fun time.
Sean: With the film crew, I’m working on a documentary with NOVA for the fall. So, this will be my first trip to the Galapagos and but most of my wanderings in the world whether that’s in jungles of Central America or barrier reefs or the American West or things like that, those are all done as a tourist as an amateur just enjoying those wild places.
Kirsten: Yeah. A final question with your work and in genetics and evolutionary biology, what do you think of Epigenetics and how that is going to change the phase of natural selection and the evolutionary theory?
Sean: Well, I think it’s a fertile research area. I don’t think we have a lot of case studies where it’s clear that traits have been passed from generation to generation epigenetically with no contribution from sort of hard inheritance.
So, we’re speaking of the difference – excuse me – the difference between changes in DNA and changes in the inherited state that genes are in terms of their expression.
And we know a lot, I mean we have case studies prior the ceiling of changes in DNA that account for how populations and species have diverged. We just don’t have those sorts of case studies. So, I think it’s an area that, is more to be explored than it is yet a solid underpinning of sort of a new addition to an evolutionary synthesis.
Kirsten: So, it’s a new area for adventure.
Sean: Yes. It’s absolutely an area for adventure.
Justin: One in which you don’t necessarily have to get so seasick either.
Sean: Yeah or face headhunters or malaria or things like that. Yeah, these folks had to put up on a lot.
Justin: Oh my goodness.
Kirsten: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Unfortunately, we’re at the end of our show but your book, “Remarkable Creatures” just seems like a fabulous history, a ramp and an inspiration for, you know, to replace those places that, you know, we’re losing our shared cultural experience. Maybe we can inspire new generations through books like yours.
Sean: I hope so.
Kirsten: Yeah. Well, thank you very much for joining us.
Sean: Thanks for having me.
Kirsten: You’re welcome. Have a great day.
Kirsten: And that was Sean B. Carroll.
Justin: “Remarkable Creatures” is the book.
Justin: Yeah. I thought it looks like a very exciting book.
Kirsten: Yeah. And I love the cover. It’s probably like old, old style naturalistic drawing. It’s pretty. It draws me in. Yeah. I love the adventure, the action and the adventure.
Could you imagine like trumping through the forest – the rainforests, or the Amazon rainforests eluding headhunters, gathering specimens, taking them home with you on a creaky wooden ship?
Justin: It wouldn’t have lasted, would not have lasted very long.
Kirsten: You know, maybe the new – the next adventures are, you know, going up to the space station, going up to the moon, going to Mars, bringing back samples from Mars. There are so many adventures that we have yet.
Justin: I like home.
Kirsten: And so many things.
Justin: I like to be at home watching those things on television.
Justin: I don’t want to go.
Kirsten: So, I’d like to thank everyone who’s emailed us with questions, comments and stories.
Shout-outs go out to (Ed Dyer), (David Eckerd), (Jessica Spalding), (Doug Perry), (Cameron Lee) and (Karl Hanson), (Kurt Larson), (Christopher Smith) and (Frank Light). Thank you so much for writing in, (Owen Glenn) from Vancouver.
Justin: And again, (Laura) from Britain who wrote that disclaimer during a 12-hour plane trip from Mexico back to the UK.
Kirsten: Wow. And also, Minion (Dale) who’s not really a pirate from the Niles, Michigan wrote in asking to give a shout-out for his daughter (Arwin) who was born on Saturday, February 7th.
Kirsten: At 6lbs 4ounces 18.5 inches long. He and his wife are trying to raise her in an atmosphere where there is, “A commitment to the use of critical recent factual evidence and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human question.”
They want to raise a science baby.
Justin: Yehey! Science babies.
Kirsten: Yehey! Science babies. And remember if you want to submit music to The 2009 TWIS Science Music Compilation, we are taking submissions until March 1st. Send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I want science-based music, science-inspired music, music, music. Send it to me.
Justin: Okay. Where are we?
Kirsten: We’re at the end.
Justin: I lost my place. Is it the thing where I say the thing yet?
Justin: Is that – are you sure?
Kirsten: I’m sure.
Justin: I don’t want to – I can’t get kick in the shin again. They still haven’t healed from last couple of times.
Kirsten: I’ll kick you if you don’t do it.
Justin: All right. If you learned anything from today’s show…
Kirsten: No, you’re telling it wrong.
Justin: See, that’s what I was trying to say.
Justin: Oh, our website, www.twis.org. If you want to get a hold of us, it’s justin@thisweekinscience or kirsten@thisweekinscience. You can of course put TWIS in the subject matter. Otherwise, you will get spam filtered away.
Kirsten: Yes. And we’ll be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific Time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.
Justin: Now can I? Is it the time? If you learned anything from today’s show, remember…
Kirsten: It’s all in your head.
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