Transcript-TWIS.ORG Feb 17, 2009

Synopsis: Searching Synthetically, Teach the Children, Neander Clear-Up, Weakest Winners, Oceanic Melting Pot, The End of the World, Tattoos and Health Tips, Space Age Break-Up, and the Question of the Month.

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

From the first moment life stirred into being on the Earth to the latest discovery in genetic engineering, life on Earth has not been boring. It may have looked a little slow in the beginning not much in the way of what we are used to thinking as exciting stuff going on at first, although I think we can all agree it was time well spent, there has been a lot of action in between — with fascinating creatures coming in and going like members in some sort of Evolutionary time share.

And for all we know, we are the first and only species ever to look at things with any sentient level of esthetic, artistic, or scientific appreciation, well, us and the Neanderthals anyway. And while appreciating the esthetic of Neanderthals, like the following hour of our programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

And while it may have taken nearly 4 billion years for television, radio, Internet, let alone books to come along, it is all here now. Now is by far the most excitable, accessible incomprehensively, understandable era that the planet has ever known. Now is by far the best time to be alive as long as we’re looking backwards in the time line anyway.

I have no doubt that the people of tomorrow will look back at our primitive time and be glad they were not forced to trudge through such ho hum times. But until that day comes and even when it does, now will remain the best time ever to be alive on planet Earth. This now, especially if for no other reason then this now includes, This Week in Science, coming up next.

Science! Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin!

Justin: Some old school intro music alive.

Kirsten: That’s right. Pulling out the old school to Anton Barbeau with a science song of the 2006 Music Compilation way back when?

Justin: Really?

Kirsten: Yeah, he wrote that song for us ages ago and we appreciate it…

Justin: That shows that…

Kirsten: …now he’s gone on and he’s like, in the International Music scene.

Justin: Famous.

Kirsten: He spends lots…

Justin: He got himself a sugar mama.

Kirsten: He spends lots of time in England. I don’t know…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …drinking, drinking (unintelligible).

Justin: Everybody seems like come by and visit the show and then go on, like they got work, they go work in the government, they win Nobel Prize, you see this astronauts they do all this cool stuff. And yet, we still stay here keeping to the home fires of science-y news burning.

Kirsten: That’s right because we are This Week in Science. And we have a science-y filled show ahead.

Justin: Yes, we do.

Kirsten: Absolutely. I brought stories that you brought.

Justin: Yeah. Well…

Kirsten: Kind of.

Justin: We started to do this thing like it used to be weird just show up in the morning, no idea what the other person had brought and these stories happened to work out. We just had different sources. We pick different things. It always just happened. And now we started to do this thing where at least we’re giving each other a heads up…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …like the day before what we’re bringing.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And I was slow. I admit, I had my big stack of stories and I just – I was like kind of put off like really putting the show until late last night.

Kirsten: I was so on the ball yesterday.

Justin: Yeah. I come in, I looked at your list and it’s everything that I have in front of me. It was on that list. So, which is good, that means, I went and found other even better stuff. So…

Kirsten: Great. That makes the show that much better. So, I have a big story today about synthetic life. There is the Neanderthalian news. And oh, I’ve got a health tip for you.

Justin: Oh! I could always just couple of that – I get tons of those in this – my spam email all the time.

What do I got? I’ve got a message from America. I’ve got a good chance to surviving a pop quiz. I have “what happens when satellites collide”, a post-Valentine’s Day love story. And we may be ending the world sooner than we thought.

Kirsten: And in the second half of the show, we will introduce our question of the month, which hopefully we’ll have time for people to answer if their world is ending.

Justin: Yeah. (Soon), it’s going to be a race.

Kirsten: So, we’re going to be racing to that. Big story, shall we get to it?

Justin: Yeah. Go ahead, bring.

Kirsten: Go Science! All right. So, this last week end was the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences annual meeting and there’s always a ton of big stories that come out of there. And this is not necessarily a new story per se, but it just – is revisited and just really interesting to me, the idea of creating synthetic life.

Now, one Biochemist, Steven A. Benner in Gainesville, Florida announced at the AAAS meeting, that he and his team of researchers at Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution have created an artificial life system that they quote say is “capable of Darwinian evolution”.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: What does that mean? Natural Selection. So what they have done is they have created using DNA’s four bases – adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine – they have created an additional number of bases. They have 12 bases in all. The additional ones are named Z, P, B, V, J, Iso-C, Iso-G, X and K.

Justin: Remember that’s part of the pop quiz later.

Kirsten: Pop quiz. Yeah. You will be tested on this. So, they’ve started with the four molecules that all life on Earth are based on – DNA based life here that is based on. And then they’ve made the synthetic modifications.

They’ve created other building blocks, other base pairs that pair up together. And together they end up – it basically comes down to a six-base pair system. So two more – so there’s the four plus two and that system seems to work really well.

So when two more bases are added to the normal four, you know — any combination of six — seem to work really well. In a dish, in a lab, these bases – they link together, there are mutations. Some of them seem to last a little better than others in certain mixes.

Justin: So awesome.

Kirsten: However, they – it’s not life. This is not a self replicating system. There is no enzyme there that leads to actual replication of this synthetic DNA because the basis of life is the idea that DNA is replicated and can pass on these traits over time. And that’s not what’s happening.

But in the dish with what’s there, there are mutations that occur. There are switches and swaps that happened and this is pretty much the beginning of the idea of creating artificial life.

Now, there’s another researcher, he was an Astrobiologist named Paul Davies, and he is at Arizona State University. He is thinking that maybe we should use this idea of a six-base pair system to search for extraterrestrial life – evidence of extraterrestrial life here on earth.

Justin: And what better place to look?

Kirsten: Yeah. And what better place like – and is that’s something that’s really neat about the AAAS meeting this year. A bunch of scientists came out and said “Hey! Let’s look at our own planet. Let’s see – let’s take a different perspective on traditional search for life. And just check it out here. Maybe we’re just not looking for the right things. Maybe we’re not looking in the right places.”

We’re stuck on this idea of life as a four DNA base pair system. We’re stuck looking for particular biological signatures – chemical signatures of life that are based on us, based on our biology, our genetic make up. What if it’s different?

Justin: So is it also could it be that we have things that are already four base pairs that we’ve looked at that have more, that we just didn’t realize because we weren’t looking for it? Or is this mean, we need to be looking for completely different things that we didn’t assume they’re living?

Kirsten: Right. Is it possible that we just missed it? That there are that as we’re sifting through the bacterial, Venter and his team of Geneticists, they’ve gone out into the Sargasso Sea and they were doing sampling for bacterial species to come back. And, you have – they do the sampling and all they have are a bunch of base pairs.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: they have these nucleic acids and that’s pretty much – they’re like “Oh, this goes with this and this goes with this because we know this,” and they’re putting it all together. But what if they’re, you know – what if things are, you know – what if their missing something because…?

Justin: Yeah. What if Panspermia happened like last weekend again and – just we haven’t noticed.

Kirsten: Yeah. So it’s based on – this high idea, it’s really fascinating how synthetic biology can, you know – it isn’t only about, creating new life. It’s maybe about giving us new ways of looking for existing life that we have never thought of before.

And so it’s kind of neat seeing these genetics and molecular biology coming together with the astrobiology. And these two, what you would normally think of as completely disparate fields, synthetic genome mix and astrophysics – astrobiology coming together and whoa!

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Hey, this is kind of a new collaboration. I like it.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m expecting to see a movie out on this topic sometime in the near future.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: I know. I’m just guessing here.

Justin: Are you – have you been doing some writing?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No?

Kirsten: No. But I mean this whole idea just – it’s – this is begging for a movie plot. Come on people. And I – because it was an idea of mine just now, I’d like a spot in the movie, Cameo.

Justin: Cameo.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Absolutely – well two because – yeah I’ve made some whop sounds in the middle of your reporting.

“Attention America! You are raising a generation of easy marks for crackpot pseudoscience remedies and anti-science hucksters.”

This is according to University of Colorado-Boulder biology professor — what is his name — go to spend something fray. I’ll find him in a minute. Yeah, “Failure to grasp the fundamentals of Biological systems maybe leaving K2-12 teachers and students vulnerable to claims by intelligent design creationists, new-age homeopaths and other hucksters.” I love the way they use the word “hucksters”.

Kirsten: “Hucksters”.

Justin: It’s just so – where we’re at — the 150th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s classic book “The Origin of the Species?”

Kirsten: Yeah, in November.

Justin: Yeah. That first described natural selection detail. Polls still show that only about 1/3 of Americans who believe evolution is supported by science.

Kirsten: That’s it – and that’s the different from a – I don’t even think it was 1/3. I looked at some numbers last week from – I think it was the 2006 survey that said 14%…

Justin: Well, it’s because…

Kirsten: …of Americans believe in evolution.

Justin: Right. That’s because half of the people who believe that it’s supported by science still don’t believe it.

Kirsten: Right. There’s a lot.

Justin: I understand it’s – I’ve got my professor mixed up. This is Professor Mike Klymkowsky of CU-Boulder’s molecular, cellular and developmental biological department there. “The questions we are asking ourselves as scientists and educators is – what the problem is here and what are the objections to evolution?

“A staggering percentage of the American public, ranging from plumbers to presidential candidates fail to accept, at least in part, because they don’t understand the evidence for and mechanisms behind evolutionary processes.”

So he also was adding that, “There’s a difficulty in grasping the idea in many that random biological events can produce novel and useful adoptions and that there is inability to understand how such random events take place at the molecular and cellular level to generate evolutionary change.” Like people…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …just don’t get where and how and when it’s taking place.

Kirsten: Great! Well, I mean it’s complicated. The science behind it is complicated in some that, unless you are in a field, it’s hard to understand the jargon that’s used in scientific papers. the terminology that’s used to allow scientists just to speak very specifically to each other makes it very difficult to make it easy for the public to understand.

And, when it comes down to it – a lot of these topics are just difficult to grasp beyond even the most basic concepts. And then like you said, the random aspect of it people – it’s like, well, how could that kind of randomness actually do something?

Justin: Yeah. I still think they’re like – I understood how a bill got passed through Congress when I was seven. Thanks to something called “Schoolhouse Rock”.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: A little cartoon that would break it down for like – remember that?

Kirsten: Oh yeah.

Justin: So I think that’s what we need. I think we need like some sort of little science-y…

Kirsten: I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill.

Justin: So yeah. He’s saying, “We can’t leave students with mysteries about how biochemical processes work because that’s when nonscientific information sneaks in.”

Kirsten: Yeah. That kind of stuff, the biochemistry, you don’t get to that like the really in depth biochemistry details, I mean until you’re a third year undergraduate…

Justin: Right in which…

Kirsten: …second year, third year undergraduate? So it was like…

Justin: And it’s also part of his…

Kirsten: …at least until you’re like 20 years old?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Oh, come on.

Justin: And they actually just mentioned is they’re doing a bunch of studies where they’re testing students ahead of courses…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …to see where they’re missing information before they actually get into the classes…

Kirsten: Mm hmm, yeah.

Justin: …which is pretty smart because it’s a good, that way you’re not just delivering information. It’s over the head or way too simple which ever way it is.

But they’re also been doing surveys with a lot of teachers and they’re finding that also – perhaps because you’re going to a teaching program in a biology and maybe you’re not getting that advanced, third year stuff…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …for your teaching credential…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …for science and biology. So it’s actually finding that a lot of teachers are missing fundamentals here.

Kirsten: Don’t understand that. Yeah.

Justin: So Klymkowsky and Clemson University Chemistry Professor Melanie Cooper have begun a three-year project called “Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything” which answers…

Kirsten: That’s neat.

Justin: …you breaks down it’s called CLUE.

Kirsten: CLUE.

Justin: Yeah. The project includes developing a General Chemistry curriculum using the emergence and evolution of life as a springboard to introduce, explain related chemistry concepts.

Kirsten: Neat.

Justin: So that’s – yeah. That’s pretty awesome. I think they’re on the right track and maybe they’re going to fix this blank spot in our comprehension.

Kirsten: Well yeah. I happen to think that there is a – I mean I think that’s a great one place to start. But I happen to think it starts with Physics and…

Justin: Well now, absolutely! Yeah.

Kirsten: …if we were to start and there is actually a movement to teach Physics first and that’s what’s called Physics First.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And the way it works is you teach basic Physics concepts starting with particle physics, elements of atoms and then how atoms come together. And eventually you build up to the point where you have molecules binding to each other and what are the physical properties that bind them together. And then you’re getting, getting chemistry.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And from chemistry, that leads in to biology. And in everything builds on everything else thematically.

Justin: I think still when we were kids, biology, chemistry and physics could be taught of as three separate subjects but…

Kirsten: And sometimes you don’t have to take it. Like in high school I had the option of taking physics OR chemistry.

Justin: Yeah. Exactly right.

Kirsten: And somehow I got a way with like barely taking any physics in High school and just doing all biology.

Justin: I know.

Kirsten: And then, in college that’s when that was remedied.

Justin: For me in high school’s all about biology.

Kirsten: Yes. Whatever! Whatever! Yeah. But that’s I think it’s neat. I think – great. We need to find new ways to work with teachers and to get curriculums working for students.

And in this really complicated complex time where science is starting to really come in to play in people’s lives in choosing medical treatments in making decisions about your life, your children’s lives, you know. There’s more and more of that – this kind of knowledge is important to everybody. It’s not like— had additions, subtraction and hey, Biochem.”

So, Neanderthals…

Justin: New Neanderthal news?

Kirsten: New Neanderthal news. What’s his name – Paabo – what’s his – I think – Dr. Paabo from — I forget where he is from — in Germany I believe. The Max Planck – Svantae Paabo, there it is, Svantae Paabo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Germany.

They have sequenced Neanderthal DNA bringing it the most complete sequencing job ever.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: And they believe that they have answered the question of whether or not Neanderthals and humans ever mixed and…

Justin: Drum roll please.

Kirsten: …the answer is no.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yeah. There were not distinguishing human DNA segments within the Neanderthal DNA that would suggest that there was some kind of reproductive mixing that was going on at the time that humans and the Neanderthals lived side by side. What it suggests is that Neanderthals were out competed and died off.

Justin: Yeah. And that they had speech.

Kirsten: And that they had speech. That’s big.

Justin: That was a big unknown in the whole thing which – and we also know that they had ceremonial as burials where they would bury with like herbs and some burnt offerings and have the fire and like.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And really this is like – I was sort of – I was writing the disclaimer today and I was like, we’re the only sentient species blah, blah, blah. And I had to catch myself on those writing because Neanderthal, being a separate species and being sentient. “Ah! We’re not the only ones.” It happened twice. I mean, to closely related family perhaps.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But still, that’s pretty awesome.

Kirsten: It is pretty awesome. And what it suggests since – it suggests that those traits go further back than just us.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so, maybe back to a common ancestor.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Which, that goes back ways, possibly. So sometime there are really important genetic changes some time between 5.7 million years ago and 300,000 years ago. So, 5.7 million years ago was when we split from chimpanzees, 300,000 years ago was when the Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans split off.

Justin: It doesn’t seem that long.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I mean 300,000 years is a lot of hundreds of thousands of years of things going on.

Kirsten: But at the same time when you start thinking about these really big time scales…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …300,000 years is not that long ago.

Justin: No, they all happen pretty quick.

Kirsten: Really very quickly that Neanderthals split off and then died off 30,000 years ago? I mean that’s so – I mean it’s like yesterday.

Justin: Yeah. Well, yesterday we were still contemplating the (aluminum ferrous ether). But the day before that, I think it happened. Yeah.

Kirsten: The day before yesterday maybe, yeah. And something else here that I find fascinating, there’s a story in – I think the story’s from the New York Times, a Dr. Church who is suggesting – Dr. George Church from Harvard Medical School – so Harvard, pretty prestigious university and credible, right?

Justin: Sure.

Kirsten: He says that, “Neanderthal DNA could be used to clone a Neanderthal and bring a Neanderthal back to life for about 30 million dollars.”

Justin: All right. I’m going to start passing the hat around. Look, wow! Like I was just – and the another sentient being on the planet, that would be kind of cool.

Kirsten: that’s the question, you know. Is it something that we want to do?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Is that something that would be useful to us?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And what would it be? I mean…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …if the Neanderthals were sentient as you’re saying.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: So they had speech.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: They had the ability to communicate.

Justin: Cared for the dead.

Kirsten: Would it be fair to that individual that would be cloned and bought for just 30 million dollars to be fair to them to bring to life and say, “You’re my study subject. You’re going to live in a lab…

Justin: No.

Kirsten: …in your entire life.”

Justin: No. No.

Kirsten: What do you think about that?

Justin: I think it would be like a bad TV, movie or like Encino Man. It would totally be like going cave man at high school, you know.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But I bet you we would find that they’re not so different after all.

Kirsten: Yeah. What the idea…

Justin: Actually it happened that you don’t want to make two. Like that would be cool, otherwise.

Kirsten: …what they would end up doing, it would not be actually just, okay. Here’s Neanderthal genome, stick it in an egg, make it grow into Neanderthal. They would actually take key segments that are different from humans and chimpanzee. And they would put those into the egg – a clone they would basically hybridize to create a chimera of a chimpanzee and a Neanderthal.

Justin: Well, not a human.

Kirsten: Not a human because that brings up moral hybridization.

Justin: Oh, if we’re not doing with human, then I think it would be immoral. If we do a human I think it’s moral. No, really. Just because of the closer relation to the sentientness of the whole thing.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I think it makes more sense that way.

Kirsten: Right. Okay.

Justin: Mm hmm. Closer than then I think that might be (blopal).

Kirsten: I think this is bringing – putting us in some really hot boiling water here.

Justin: I think so. I think if you make the acceptance for Neanderthal.

Kirsten: If you just tuned in, you’re listening to This Week in Science. And we’re talking about bringing Neanderthals to life.

Justin: Yes! Let’s do it! Go! All right.

Kirsten: Pop quiz?

Justin: Pop quiz! Pop quiz!

Get your number two pencil sharpened, have your eraser at ready and prepare to hide your work. The test is untimed but we will be over quickly so start writing your answers now.

The question is. An angry ninja, a hostile alien and Justin walk into a bar, only one walks out. Which one and why?

And pencils down. The correct answer is Justin. Yey! The reason? Is that aside from being a passivist, he is also the weakest link of the bunch.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And was likely hiding under the table or in the bathroom or and the unavoidable brawl began.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: LMU researchers led by Professor Erwin Frey, I knew there was a Professor Frey in here somewhere, simulated the progression of a cyclic competition of three species. Each participant is paired to one other species but will be beaten by a third partner, so it’s these species…

Kirsten: “Rock-paper-scissors” is it – yeah.

Justin: Rock – exactly. It’s “rock-paper-scissors” of the Eco-biological form. Okay.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, what they found was that the weakest species proves to be the winner in this scenario almost without exception. The two stronger species on the other hand die out as experiments with bacteria previously had shown.

And the results are not only a big surprise, they are important to understanding the evolution of ecosystems and development of new strategies for the protection of species.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think it’s really fascinating to think of it in terms of back in the day of the dinosaurs when mammals were just getting their start. But they were, small…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …and lived in the under brush and were – fairly – they, they have their little niches but they were…

Justin: We were no dominant species.

Kirsten: …not dominant species.

Justin: For I think it was a while.

Kirsten: And then, situations changed. Dinosaurs lost their strength and the weaker – mammalian species came to the forefront.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: They were just – it’s just an interesting thought to think about how things happened and why certain species became more dominant. Maybe we were…

Justin: Survival of the fittest.

Kirsten: …weaker than the Neanderthals, really.

Justin: Yeah. But then – part of me is like – yeah, that make sense. But then the other part I mean is like – yeah, but I wonder how many like small fury mammals were devoured before like, you know.

Kirsten: Oh, many and they tasted so good.

Justin: Yeah. It it’s something like – yeah, when dinosaurs died out, but no fault of their own. I don’t know. I’m not really sure in the big cosmic balance of things. I think dinosaurs still won. They probably have plenty of snacks to – anyway.

Yeah. So, this is also referring back to the bacterial study that was done a few years ago that showed that the bacteria in the dish this also was happening the same sort of these three species. Each one having some way of getting over on the – one or the others but the weakest one consistently kept on going.

Ecosystem is saying here is composed of large number of different species which interact to compete with each other for scarce resources. They compete, competition between species in turn affects the probability with which an individual can survive and reproduce.

All of these processes are largely probabilistic – probable – see this – this is twice – they existed and never knew word probabilistic and lead ultimately to the extinction of species. I just kind of love the – I’d never thought of it that way before. But in the way this is being presented that no matter what the scenario, everything eventually leads to extinction.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: For that little species and like – well, yeah if you look back nothing survives ever.

Kirsten: Eventually everything dies. Hey, that’s a positive thought for the morning. Hey!

Justin: Some 50 species become extinct everyday on the Earth, largely due to the influence of man. So, theoretical Ecologists and Biophysicists are therefore intensively researching conditions, mechanisms that affect our biodiversity.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s important to know, I mean how ecosystems work, how different organisms work together to maintain ecosystems. And be able to predict what will happen if, we or if we effect change on the environment or if the environment changes…

Justin: Affects changes on Earth.

Kirsten: … due to some kind of – yeah – if there’s some kind of natural disaster. It’s very, very interesting. What will happen?

Justin: The future!

Kirsten: Yeah!

Justin: The future will happen?

Kirsten: The future will happen. And last story before we go to the break. It turns out the ocean really is one big melting pot.

Justin: Oh?

Kirsten: You’ve think that things at the North Pole that live in the waters there wouldn’t necessarily be the same or even travel around down to the South Pole. Are they the same? The South Pole and North Pole are so far apart.

Justin: Conditions are similar but – yeah. It seems like they…

Kirsten: How would things…

Justin: …whatever lives in one wouldn’t be a little trouble to the others.

Kirsten: How would they get there?

Justin: So they think after many, many years of the planet existing they would be very different.

Kirsten: Right. You would think that there would be separate – very different. But a survey – a census of the oceans, it’s called the Global Census of Marine Life. And the report is actually going to be published in 2010.

The study involved 500 researchers from 25 nations. And it looked at these areas at least 235 species from both regions, 12,000 km apart. And they found that very many of them are the same. A lot of them are actually finding circulation routes around the planet from pole to pole.

So even though the water on the surface may change temperature greatly from the pole to the equator to the pole, deep water doesn’t have that much of a temperature range. So, it’s maybe -1 °C which is about according to this article, 30 °F to 4 °C.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: So it’s a fairly small range. It’s 39 °F -1 °C to 4 °C.

So organisms wouldn’t have to if they stayed deep and if they followed these really deep conveyor systems of circulation through the oceans, they wouldn’t be bothered with temperature changes that could potentially kill them if they are adapted to cold environments.

So they actually found that these little tiny creatures like worms, sea cucumbers, swing snails, sea butterflies – there is one that was found in both – Clione Limacina and it feeds on Limacina helicina which is another – it’s a swimming sea butterfly which feeds on another sea butterfly. They are these swimming snails and they’re really tiny creatures. But they follow, the food source and the food source…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …they are moved around by the ocean’s currents. And they’re actually moving all the way around the globe.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Which is – this is a shock to many people in the aquatic ecosystem environment.

Justin: I’m actually surprised that they’re doing that it’s – they’re traveling under these currents. I mean, I could see them sort of hitching a ride on a migrating whale perhaps, something larger that actually swims from one side to the other but wow, just floating around down on the currents.

Kirsten: Just floating around down on the currents and they are getting mixed everywhere. And so the oceans are mixing things up and they are actually, making things – they are big melting pot.

Justin: We are at the top of the hour.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Middle of the show. Bottom of the next half of the show is something…

Kirsten: It’s the bottom of the ninth. And we will be back in just a few more minutes with more This Week in Science.


Justin: And we’re back.

Kirsten: That’s right. You are listening to This Week in Science with Dr. Kirsten Sanford and Justin Jackson.

Justin: And Doctor – oh wait, no.

Kirsten: And I just want you all to remember that we are currently taking submissions for the 2009 Science Music Compilation CD.

Email me for details or just send me a link to your science-y song. I want to hear them, and looking forward to hearing what you’ve got.

Justin: How many have we got so far?

Kirsten: A couple.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: We got a couple. Yeah. You have had – we’ve had a few submissions and a couple of very good ones that I’m very excited about but I need more.

Justin: Uh-oh.

Kirsten: I need more songs. They need to be science-y and they need to be yours.

Justin: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah.

Kirsten: The thing every year I get people sending me links to songs that other people have written, that are professional musicians, that are connected to labels that will only let me use their songs for this compilation if I pay…

Justin: Hundreds of thousands of crazy.

Kirsten: …thousands of dollars licensing fees. No I’d – this is a nonprofit effort. So we’re looking for donations of your songs to the CD Compilation. Science-y music for the masses, come on now. Come on, bring it. Deadline is March 1st, so you’ve only got a few weeks.

Justin: Wow! What?

Kirsten: Only a couple of weeks left. Yeah.

Justin: All right. If nothing else, I’ll come up with like five. And you don’t have to suffer through them. That’s me.

Kirsten: Okay. Everyone you hear that?

Justin: You want to hear me sing? You want to hear me sing?

Kirsten: You hear that everybody. I hope that gets you motivated, motivated to write science-y music.

All right question of the month. This is from Trebetheric who entered the question on the forum in the “Ask a Question” section which is what everyone should do if you want to have your question potentially asked as the question of the month, coming up.

Trebetheric asks, “What is it about spices that people have evolved to like them? Is it just a fluke of their unique molecular structures like some drugs? Could the fact that they have been used to keep foods fresher allow enough times for humans to evolve a taste for spice? Is there any advantage to them? This is something I think about every time I eat spicy foods.”

So, please submit your answers to the forums under the “Answer a Question” portion of the Question of the Month section.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Yeah. Go to the forums.

Justin: Ask the thing, I need to click on you can answer the question?

Kirsten: It says – yeah.

Justin: Cool.

Kirsten: There’s question of the month and just answer the question and…

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: Yeah. So I’m going to have to put that in there and you can answer the question about what do you think it is about spices because we know that chilly spices, cats don’t like it but chili pepper in your garden and you’ll keep cats or from…

Justin: Really.

Kirsten: Yeah, using it as a litter box.

Justin: Then suddenly I have to use for chili peppers.

Kirsten: And yes, so the answers that you enter in the forums will be read on the air at the end of the month.

Now on to next science news story.

Justin: He was an ex-Russian military satellite. She, a communications liaison satellite for Iridium Satellite LLC. When they met it was instant fireworks and their explosive romance turned meteor like almost immediately. Huh?

Kirsten: What?

Justin: Federal Aviation…

Kirsten: Love story in the science world?

Justin: Way up high, a love story that took place 485 miles above the Russian Arctic. Gosh, this is such a classic love tale. Federal Aviation Administration put out warnings to pilots over the weekend after receiving numerous reports of falling debris of what look like fire balls racing across the skies of Texas and Kentucky.

Though the US Strategic Command said there’s absolutely no connection between those reports and the collisions of two satellites that played a tragic game of orbital chicken last week – last Tuesday in fact.

Kirsten: Well, they didn’t really play chicken.

Justin: No – yeah. They’re like – yeah there were barreling at each other.

Kirsten: Yeah. They were barreling. There was nobody…

Justin: Thousands of miles per hour.

Kirsten: …nobody was going to turn away.

Justin: It’s like 10,000-20,000 miles an hour. Some of these things are zipping around up there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Iridium Satellite LLC, which operates 66 to 65 orbiting voice and data satellite said on Thursday that it had no advance warning of the collision between one of its communication satellites, the 1200 lb Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251, a 2000 lb. defunct Russian military satellite.

The company said it receives a weekly average of 400 reports from US Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operation Center that tracks the debris in space. Four hundred weekly reports, making it a veritable information over load of data that goes pretty much unread. It’s pretty much not – to give some idea of how – these are…

Kirsten: Should we take this call?

Justin: Mm hmm! Oh, we have a caller. Yeah, certainly.

Kirsten: We have a caller. I’m just thinking maybe we can take the call.

Justin: It’s on the wild card line. Let’s see what’s going on.

Kirsten: Wild card!

Justin: Good morning, TWIS-minion! You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: Oh excellent! It seems a dangerous time for a slow-moving large object that — did you hear about those two nuclear submarines near the planet.

Kirsten: Yeah. The French and British, right?

Man: Yeah – running into each other and they didn’t even know they hit each other so like they got back to the docks like – Oh, I guess I have a few scratches on this side. How did that happen?

Justin: they…

Man: Everyone’s looking at each other (unintelligible).

Justin: There is no window! There are no windows on the submarine.

Man: Yeah, exactly.

Kirsten: Don’t they have pretty sophisticated sonar that…

Justin: You would think.

Kirsten: Hey look!

Man: Yeah. I guess they are looking in silence. So they’re hoping to hear it through like microscopes and like high ultrasound frequencies and like they totally messed everything and run into each other.

Kirsten: That’s nice.

Man: So like, maybe we shouldn’t be driving around in the ocean.

Justin: The ocean is so big, too.

Kirsten: Blind folded. Make it, you know.

Justin: It’s like spacing – you think the upper atmosphere is huge – the oceans…

Man: Yeah.

Justin: …three quarters and, three quarters of the planet, “How you bump into stuff?”

Man: Exactly. Yeah, it makes so nice…

Kirsten: I guess eventually it happens.

Man: …to fill up the space around most atmosphere too what a satellite and what not…

Kirsten: And we’re just…

Man: Yeah. But keep up the great work.

Justin: Oh, thank you.

Kirsten: Oh, thank you. Thanks for calling in with another collision story.

Man: Yeah. It’s another love in the ocean.

Kirsten: Love in the ocean, love in the air…

Justin: Love is everywhere right now.

Kirsten: Love is everywhere.

Man: Exactly.

Kirsten: Have a great day.

Justin: I think the next step is maybe it’s one of those things that comes in threes. So we’re going to find this meteors heading towards us.

Kirsten: Maybe let’s just not chance it.

Justin: So okay. There’s – okay. To give some idea of how much traffic actually is going on up there because maybe there is little bit more than we might think.

Kirsten: Right. There’s a bit.

Justin: Of the 66 – 65 satellites, they were getting on these 400 reports per week from the US Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center. And one – these reports are generated any time an object comes within three miles of a commercial satellite.

Three miles – so that’s the four – that’s happening 400 times a week to their many satellites. So typically, no action is taken because even though there are 18,000 trackable pieces of space junk zipping around up there.

Kirsten: There are lots of untrackable smaller objects as well.

Justin: There’s lots of – right. There’ lots of untracked stuff and it actually even of the 18,000 trackable, very small percentages actually under constant monitoring.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: They get prioritized in different ways.

Kirsten: If it’s on a collision course with the space station or it’s going to…

Justin: Right. They’re going to check out everything that could come in to contact with those space stations or shuttles or something like that.

Kirsten: Or shuttle during – yeah exactly.

Justin: So typically no actions taken also though because there’s so much junks up there. The chances in act of collision are still very slim and if you actually put your satellite on a new sort of unknown risk trajectory, you send it off in the different direction where you don’t know what’s, haven‘t gotten got reports on what might be coming at you. You could just easily be increasing your collision potential or making it worst.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So this collision last Tuesday has been tracked…

Kirsten: Yes!

Justin: …to 500 new objects in space.

Kirsten: Adding to the space junk fray.

Justin: So now 18,500. This collision is the first time two intact spacecraft have accidentally run into each other. So most…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …of the collisions have been with debris, other debris, junk heading junk kind of stuff. But the first time that space craft actually run into another spacecraft, has created a good game of dodge ball out of its floating debris that would be producing unread US Strategic Command Joint Space Operations in the reports for decades if not centuries to come because it’s so high up there.

it’s usually they say it will take, around ten years for the debris to come out. But because this is so high up into the Orbital atmosphere…

Kirsten: It’s going to take long time.

Justin: Long time. NASA says, “The risk to the International Space Station however is low, as it orbits about 270 miles below where the collision took place.” So, it’s not likely to threaten the shuttle launch planned later on this month.

Ironically perhaps, Chinese scientists have said that the debris does post a serious threat to a number of Chinese satellites. This is perhaps ironical because to the dismay of the space faring community at large, China added significantly to space debris when it used the ground based ballistic missile of blow part and obsolete weather satellite in January, flexing it’s military’s ability to be incredibly short-sighted.

Chinese anti-satellite test increased risks due to space junk by a factor of about three. It increase the overall risk of collision by about 15% and maybe it concern for shuttle and space station. it…

Kirsten: Yeah. Thanks.

Justin: Yeah. Thanks – although increased of 15% still – that’s a big huge jump but we’re still talking about its very improbable for things to run into each other.

Kirsten: Right. So it’s increasing not very much by a little.

Justin: You could double or triple the percentage chance of being hit by a space junk and it would still be very low. But it’s getting crowded up there.

Kirsten: It’s getting crowded up there. I’m just waiting for the, someday they’re going to be, giant advertisement billboards in space. There’s going to be way too many…

Justin: No. No. No. No.

Kirsten: …junk satellites goods. It’s going to be like…

Justin: The day I see the movie promo on the moon is the day I absolutely get the ax handle out of the trunk of the car. That will be the end of all ends.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Don’t mess with moon.

Kirsten: Well, in other cool technology advances, wherein this is isn’t so much collision, this is a cool advance not something devastating. Controlling your diabetes could make you look tough.

Justin: Yeah. I like the story.

Kirsten: Yeah. This one is great. So, Researcher, Heather Clark at Massachusetts-based Draper Laboratories has designed a nano-injectable ink that could be used as a tattoo that would indicate a diabetic person’s insulin and glucose levels.

Justin: So wow!

Kirsten: So this ink is – there are these nanospheres. And within each nanosphere are three components. These spheres are about 120 nanometers across. They have a glucose detecting molecule, a color changing dye and then a glucose mimic.

So normally, if it’s going to – the dye will be one color if there’s not a lot of glucose around and the glucose detecting molecule gets bound inside the sphere to the glucose mimic.

But if there’s a lot of glucose around, then the probability of the glucose detecting molecule to be bound to real glucose is going to be higher and so the dye – the ink actually changes color.

Justin: It’s awesome.

Kirsten: And so, you could hypothetically put entire back tattoo using this ink if you wanted to. But more realistically because I don’t think it’s really a pretty color. It’s a kind of a muddy that changes like a muddy orangey yellow color.

You could put a little tiny patch, a little tattoo on the inside of your wrist or, on a spot where you normally wear your wristwatch and remove your wristwatch out of the way.

And this ink would just sit in your skin and change color as your glucose levels shift throughout the day. And one of the things about this though is there is a time lag. So, it doesn’t shift immediately. So, your critical glucose levels, it’s about 20 minutes lagging behind changes in the glucose levels. But if you’re watching it, it will indicate trends.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So the color will change and giving you – as you learn to read it you’ll know you’ll read it as a trend of, “Oh my glucose is going up. Oh, my glucose is going down.”

And maybe be able to instead of injecting yourself or, sticking yourself to be able to get a blood test or smear test or whatever you have to do or even, it might allow people to control their diabetes in a much easier manner.

Justin: That’s brilliant, awesome idea.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s so neat, a little tattoo.

Justin: I like the idea though.

Kirsten: They say it works really well. They’ve tested it on mice not in humans.

Justin: The little risk tattoo would be enough I supposed.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Although I still can’t – the way I’m picturing is like the bathing suit on the lady on your shoulder when it changes, it changes to the flesh tones. One of those pants when you turn them upside down the bathing suit disappears.

Kirsten: Or like the coffee mug where if it’s hot or cold.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. Oh dear. You come up with the best ideas, Justin.

Justin: Well, I didn’t invent the tattoo that tells you if you have your glucose is out of whack. But yeah I can come up with the buffoonish application of good sides, absolutely, every time.

Kirsten: Oh yeah.

Justin: I’m here to buffonify Science to the very end. This Week in The End of The World count down to climydia.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: This is a story. I just – I looked at it and I was like I’m going to just read this guy story because he did a really good job. This is written by Randolph E. Schmid, science writer for the AP.

“Despite widespread concern of a global warming, humans are adding carbon to the atmosphere even faster than they did in the 1990s” researchers have warned on Saturday. “Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5% per year since 2000.”

Kirsten: Oh yeah.

Justin: “In the 90s, there was about 0.9% per year throughout the 90s.” So that’s my Math isn’t good but that seems it’s about four times, about four times as much carbon going in the last decade as one as that did in the decade before it. Oh my, “It’s now outside the entire envelope of possibilities” considered in the 2007 report of the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change.

So, this is – and former Vice President, Al Gore, received Nobel Prize for drawing attention to the dangers of climate change. His whole presentation with a big chart in the hockey stick and everything was based on the data that we were having up to that point and even, if we could stabilize.

The fact that we’re four times as much carbon is going up now. Change is that for the nod is good. All right, I’ve got to stop crumpling my papers so I can continue to read it.

Past projections have even included some declines in the emissions of greenhouse gases as we were getting more clever about it and would start conserving it. But those turned out to be not only optimistic we have had there’s no part of the world, no part of this planet that has had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008. Nowhere, ever, anywhere. Any (unintelligible).

Kirsten: Well, part of it also is going to be we’re seeing less industrialized nations become more industrialized. They’re building more coal plants. China is adding coal plants at a ridiculously high rate.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Many countries are relying on coal and other petroleum products for their energy needs. So unless we start really making a consorted effort to advance renewable technologies around the world, around the globe if that’s not important —we will continue to see these kinds of increases and there won’t be any decreases.
But the industrialized world needs to help the part of the world that is trying to become more industrialized. That’s the only way that it’s going to stop.

Justin: Yeah. The high-tech stuff has got to come and come quickly.

Kirsten: Yeah and there needs to be…

Justin: Science.

Kirsten: …a push on it.

Justin: More science.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, France’s National Center for Space Studies also added into the meeting at improved science measurements now show that sea levels are rising much faster than had been expected.

Rising ocean can post a threat to low level areas such as Southern Florida, New York and other coastal areas as the ocean warms and expands.

Kirsten: India is starting to experience many problems as their ground-water and ocean in coastal regions are becoming salinated. As the ocean rises, its affecting people’s water supplies.

Justin: Time to buy a stock in dike building companies. Right? I think that might be…

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: So, yeah. This is why I don’t really…

Kirsten: Invest in the Danish.

Justin: This is going to be my next – not the Danish. It’s the Dutch.

Kirsten: The Dutch, sorry.

Justin: Good Dutch.

Kirsten: The Du, du, du that was my bad.

Justin: And the rise is uneven, which is this is going to be my question for next month.

Kirsten: Wooden shoes?

Justin: My next month’s question.

Kirsten: Wooden shoes will you float?

Justin: Okay. That’s I think that’s the Dutch. I think you got that part right. Also it’s where that the Dutch are known for chocolate except they don’t grow the chocolate there.

Kirsten: No, they don’t.

Justin: I think it’s kind of those – see why this is going to be my question for some time in the future, one of those questions of the month. The sea rise is uneven? The fastest rising areas are rising about a centimeter or about 0.39 inches per year are parts of the North Atlantic, Western Pacific and Southern Oceans surrounding Antarctica. It’s kind of interesting that it would be not everywhere. It’s somewhat similar rate. But I guess it’s…

Kirsten: Probably has to do with thermal expansion of the waters. That’s my guess.

Justin: Yeah. Also they’re saying another aspect of the biofuel back fire that’s going on as demand for biologically based fuels has led to the growing of more corn in United States. But by growing more corn, we didn’t just double plant the field, we didn’t just open up a new Agland of course, we switched from soybeans to corn.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Meanwhile, soybeans still cost what soybeans cost so there’s still demand for it. And so, now Brazil has increased his soy crop by making more Agland out of rainforest, which is one of the best ways.

Kirsten: Releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Justin: Which is one of the best ways to absorb carbon is by having a rainforest.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, you can check this out more

Kirsten: Yes. Health tip for you, Justin.

Justin: Uh-oh.

Kirsten: So, research suggests that every time you crave a cigarette…

Justin: Mm hmm?

Kirsten: …you should do push ups, you should go running. You should go for a walk, do yoga.

Justin: I do.

Kirsten: Do some kind of physical exercise. University of Exeter scientists look at functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brains of smokers after they had been forcibly – well, I don’t know if it’s forcibly – but they were told to abstain from nicotine for 15 hours.

So, then they were put in an FMRI machine. They were shown images of sometimes regular images, sometimes images that would induce cravings in an addicted smoker. And in one group, they got to exercise before they were put in that FMRI machine and then the other group no exercise.

Those that exercised did not have any activation of the craving or reward areas of their brains. So, exercise seemed to be something of a craving reducing mechanism.

Justin: That’s very interesting. I do yoga about – I’ve done it like everyday this last week just about. And yeah, I don’t know.

Kirsten: But the idea is that when – and maybe when you get that craving for a cigarette, maybe go for a walk, maybe to do…

Justin: Oh no, outside, going outside increases the desire.

Kirsten: Okay stand in place do jumping jacks.

Justin: Oh standing up makes – oh breathing.

Kirsten: Something like jumping jacks, push ups, downward dog.

Justin: No. Wild moving it doesn’t…

Kirsten: Oh dear. We have a couple of oh we actually have to go. Gosh, darn it! It’s the end of the show.

Justin: The end of this week’s show. We’ll come back next week.

Kirsten: That’s right. This I’ve been trying to get out for weeks. Marburg hemorrhagic fever actually made it to America from Africa. The CDC’s special pathogens branch retrospectively diagnosed a case of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in a US traveler who returned from Uganda in January of 2008.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: The patient developed illness four days after returning to the United States, was hospitalized, discharged and fully recovered. However, testing of samples collected during the illness didn’t initially show evidence of the infection. But testing another sample later indicated the previous infection. And then more detailed testing at the CDC confirmed that it was Marburg hemorrhagic fever.

The patient had visited the python cave in Maramagambo Forest Queen Elizabeth Park, Western Uganda. And this is supposedly a popular tourist location to go look at pythons in a bat infested cave and bats are the major…

Justin: (Batguana).

Kirsten: …it is the major transmitter through contact with the guano other things of the Marburg Zoonotic virus. And it can also be transmitted to direct contact with symptomatic patient or materials contaminated with infectious body fluids.

And there have been previous deaths as a result of tourist visits to this cave as other people. One person from Holland was killed as a result or died as a result of an infection with Marburg hemorrhagic fever.

Justin: Hey Holland, isn’t that where Hamlet’s from?

Kirsten: That’s right. So, anyway there’s no evidence of apparent transmission in this case but this – I mean if you look at the CDC webpage this is one of the first instances of this kind of a hemorrhagic virus setting foot on to American soil.

Justin: Yikes.

Kirsten: It’s big. That was really big and so quiet.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So quiet.

Justin: No, I know. I have a friend whose future is going to be the CDC, no doubt, who always whispers things to me in my ear like, “Yeah. Well, this happen (unintelligible)” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll talk about it on the show.” And he’s like, “Shhh. No! No! No! No!”

Kirsten: No! No! No!

Justin: You can’t just shhh-shhh him.

Kirsten: All right everybody, if you’re looking for a book to read consider joining the TWIS Book Club. We’re currently digging into “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin. Think about sending in your music submission for our compilation album. And tell us what you think the answer is to the question of the month.

Big thanks to everyone who’s mailed in with questions, comments, frustrations, et cetera — (Archie Alm), (Kalidasa), (Steve Nierlik), (Alexandra Triano), (Felix), (Shannon Sanders), (Andrew Sherman), (Marty), (Michael Johnson), (Philip Fujiosi) — I have your story unfortunately we aren’t able to get to it this week — (Hans Hoffman), (Michael Jackson), (Logan Waterman), and (David) and as always (Ed Dyer). Thank you so much for writing in with all your great stories. We do appreciate them ever so much.

Justin: And for listening. Thank you for listening to the show. We are also available via podcast if you’re interested in that sort of formaty thing. You can visit and click on Subscribe to TWIS science podcast. For information on how to subscribe, just search This Week in Science on the iTunes.

Kirsten: That’s right. And for any information you’ve heard today Show Notes are going to be on the website with links to source articles at Email us at or

Justin: Be sure to include TWIS in the subject line. We love your feedback. If there’s a topic you would like us to cover, address, suggestion for an interview, let us know.

Kirsten: And we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30am Pacific Time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

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

Kirsten: It is all in your head.

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