Synopsis: Kirsten was late here!Transmission Dismission, Chemical Replication, Defrosting Beef, Little Girl is Back!, My How the Fruit Flies, Mossie Love Songs, This Week in Science History, and Headline Round-up.
Kirsten: Today’s show is brought to you by Audible. Please visit www.audiblepodcast.com/twis for your free Audio Book download.
Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
There are more dinosaurs that have been discovered that you have never heard of than there are ones that you know about. For that matter, there are more creatures living on the planet today that you don’t know about than there are creatures living on the planet that you do know about.
There are more colors in the garden than your eye can see. There are more stars in unknown universe than our grains of sand and all the beaches of planet Earth.
There are more ways to the human heart than soft words or surgery, while a little knowledge is dangerous. More knowledge will make you down right lethal.
There are more reasons for the things you are thinking than the fact that they were thought by your brain. There are more discoveries in Science taking place now than any other time in the history of scientific pursuit. And the number of findings will continue to grow as technology becomes more and more efficient over time.
And while this pursuit of Moore’s Law like the following hour of our programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.
And while the pursuit cannot be grammatically stated that one thing is more truer than another it is true that there is more going on between the gutter and the stars than what is happening in the day you are now having. Still, we understand how busy your brain must be keeping up with the push and pull of being a human.
So, we offer you an easy way to keep the universe under your skullcap without having to wonder what more you should be knowing about. We accomplish this by offering you more This Week in Science, coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten!
Kirsten: Oh, good morning, Justin.
Justin: Good morning!
Kirsten: This morning comedy of errors. And there is a lot more going on in my life today. I don’t know if it still though more than universe. Funny thing happened to me on the way to the show?
Justin: You didn’t make it.
Kirsten: I didn’t make it on time, yeah. Oh transmissions and cars and – well, it didn’t explode. There was just a burning smell. But we’re here, this is This Week in Science. We have a half hour I would like to thank Richard and the Offshore Broadcast for keeping hold of the airwaves for the last half hour. Thank you so much.
Kirsten: Stepping up that’s awesome. It’s wonderful and people can do that. We apologize for being late but we’re here. So, let’s get on with the science news. I’ve got Want to be life Physics party tricks and your brain.
Kirsten: Yeah. What do you have?
Justin: That’s pretty cool. I’ve got an old beef with Japan. How the time machine, fruit flies and some other sort of lunacy.
Kirsten: Let’s see what we can get to in the next half our. Running in to the first big story, this is really huge story actually. And I’m expecting, I mean this is a prediction I’m going to make. I’m expecting this is going to be one of our Top Ten of 2009.
Kirsten: Yeah. This is what I’m expecting.
Chemists have created RNA enzymes that catalyze the joining of base pairs similar to the way that, you know, RNA goes into making DNA, and DNA makes RNA and vice versa the creation or the copying of the instructions for life.
Well, they have catalyzed the RNA-templated joining of RNA so that’s the RNA enzymes cross-replicate and have a self-sustained repeated growth. So, they go on and on and on. So, they’re about 70 base pairs – not amino acids, 70 base pairs long. Okay?
So, they’re about – and these little segments, one catalyzes the other, so you have a right hand and a left hand. So the right hand makes the left hand and left hand can make the right hand version.
Does it make sense?
Justin: So is this creating life where there was none, I mean we’re at the moment – we can’t quite say yet that, “It’s alive!”
Kirsten: No, we can’t say yet that it’s alive, no.
Kirsten: Unfortunately no but this is…
Justin: Self-replicating is still a huge.
Kirsten: Self-replicating is gigantic.
And this is a proof of concept for the theory of how life might have gotten its start. One of the hypotheses that’s out there is that RNA came before DNA. And RNA led to the creation of DNA eventually after there were a number of changes and mutations and various thing, you know, the environment leading to different things.
But the question is “Oh could RNA actually self-replicate itself enough to have a perpetuating cycle that would go on and on and on and grow and eventually developed into the RNA/DNA world that we live in? Could viruses, RNA viruses have been the first form of proto-life? Could that have happened?”
And so, this starts one of the questions that biologists and chemists have been asking for years. And nobody to date has been able to get RNA molecules to self-replicate in this way.
Normally they kind of grow and they get to a point where they stop. They kind of self-limit themselves. And that’s the way it’s been in the past and people have played with this idea.
But these chemists at the Scripps Research Institute have published this in Science Magazine and the lead researcher, Gerald Joyce, says, “So long as you provide the building blocks and the starter seed, it goes forever. It is immortalized molecular information.”
Justin: That’s awesome.
Kirsten: Yeah. And so it’s not life because there’s not like – they are not any novel, unique solutions to problems or behaviors coming out of this. It’s just growth and the ability to survive in a given environment.
And that’s another interesting aspect to this is that they had a number of different 70 base pair long molecules. But they were of different design so that the order of the components was not the same in each of them.
And so, they had a number of these things. And they put them in different petri dishes and see what happened. And they found that occasionally, a bit would flip and it would be like a mutation and that RNA chemical, that enzyme would have a little bit different function and would maybe be able to outperform the other chemicals in the soup.
And so, it was kind of like natural selection taking place with these non-living enzymes. Very interesting.
Justin: I don’t know if we all go back that far quite to our current design. But if you look at a lot of like mammalian, reptilian, like all, you know, the major big animals on the planet.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: We all have the, you know, four limbs ahead, you know. We’ve got sort of same basic design. I wonder how early that started. Could that have been an RNA situation or, you know, had just a few designs different?
And that’s what turned this into. No, it’s probably a little bit further down the line than that. It’s probably some sort of multi-celled creature that had the limbs starting to…
Kirsten: Yeah. I mean there wouldn’t – it has to be a multi-cellular organism to have body design. But in terms of the instructions that are the basic building blocks for the instructions, there might have been, you know, a common theme that could have come out of. Yeah.
Kirsten: So, this is really exciting. And they’re going – I mean we still don’t know the question of, you know, what made DNA? I mean not DNA, what made RNA? Where did RNA come from? That’s still a question, you know.
Justin: I’m totally cool with lightning bolt and primordial soup.
Kirsten: It’s possible.
Justin: It’s very vivid image in my brain. That’s could have been just what it took.
Kirsten: Yeah. But they think that – so this is a really good system, you know, that could have been enough mutations, this could have been the way things were for a while.
And then maybe something flipped into DNA and then you had a number of different molecules that were or compounds that were working together. And maybe then we had, you know, bacteria. And that’s where it could have started.
But where did – what was it that made RNA? And then were they self-replicating carbohydrate compounds? You know, was that where it started and that carbohydrates became RNA? You know, what is it that, you know, how did it happen? But we know that the self-replicating system, works.
Justin: It’s awesome.
Justin: That’s totally cool. Hey, it’s time for me to sell an old beef in Japan. Well, not for me. It’s time for Japanese scientists to announce that they have successfully cloned the ancestral bull of a high-end luxury brand of beef, marking yet another milestone in cloning and creating a potential pre-demand for a market of cloned beef.
At the start of the Year of the Ox, which is Chinese tradition but no matter – researchers have announced that they have kept frozen for 13 years the testicles of a bull named Yasufuku, the original.
Justin: Yasufuku, the original progenitor of an expensive brand of beef. So, “Yasufuku’s testicles were frozen for a decade without any special treatment,” the team said in a statement.
Poor bull, no special treatment just frozen?
The natural freezing and eventual cloning was actually a breakthrough all by itself aside from cloning being really amazing. It’s the first specimen that’s actually been cloned from a preserve that was not carefully frozen.
Normally, there’s a, you know, laboratory procedure of freezing things that you’re going to like…
Kirsten: Right. Because you don’t want to get water molecules forming ice crystals within the cellular structure of whatever it is you’re freezing because that damages – that causes damage so that when you thaw it out there are holes and it just – yeah it’s damaged.
Justin: Yeah. So this is kind of an interesting bit, you know. And it doesn’t explain how the testicles were frozen. I’m guessing perhaps like some farmer or whoever was raising the cattle was a little bit, “Oh, maybe it’s in the future we can.” And then here’s the future.
Okay. So, researchers at Kinki University – it’s a school name you can get behind – Kinki researchers where do they go? Researcher at Kinki U, used the frozen testicles to clone four Yasufuku cows, they’re born the last couple of years.
Justin: Two of them survived. Japan has a variety of these beefs that are marketed as high-end like, you know, coming from special name cows that they sort of you know the name of the bull that made the food that you’re eating.
Kirsten: That you’re eating. Yeah.
Justin: You know the family lineage. But there’s nothing wrong with that. But researchers often massage the animals. Feed them beer while they’re being raised.
Justin: Yeah. I might qualify for high-end beef actually because I’ve kind of great combination of that.
Japanese government panels right now is studying the safety of cloned beef but hasn’t come out with a report yet although it seems like they’re leaning towards allowing it as US and Europeans safety authorities already have. Last year, they’ve given the go-ahead sales of cloned food. Cloned animal food is fine in US and Europe now.
Kirsten: Yeah. As far as – it’s simply a mental switch right now here in the United States. I’ve read a couple of articles. People comparing eating cloned beef and natural beef, I mean they’re all natural. You know, there are a lot living animals until you harvest them for their meat. And there’s no…
Justin: Cloning is a technology just like farming is a technology. It’s not…
Kirsten: Exactly, it’s a technology and there’s no taste difference. There’s nothing that can be – if you’re eating it there’s nothing that will tell, make you know this is a cloned cow.
Justin: And they’re not human cow hybrids. So, it’s not like the cows are talking, like “Don’t eat me. No!”
Kirsten: No, there’s nothing like that. And yeah there’s – the cloning technology, as long as it works and you have healthy offspring from the cloning process, there should be no problems with it.
Justin: And if right now though the Kinki researchers say that they only plan to use the cloned animals to study what kinds of genes and protein structures make tasty beef because they can’t sell. They can’t, you know, market it yet because it hasn’t passed legally.
They also say that they hoped to advance an ambitious long-term project at Kinki University. The dream says, Kazuhiro Saeki, professor at Kinki University, “Our dream is to create a mammoth.”
Kirsten: Oh yeah.
Justin: And they are working on making their Kinki dream into a big hairy reality.
Kirsten: Kinki dream.
Justin: The unfrozen, uncarefully frozen bull testicles may give some hope to creating viable cloning material from frozen mammoth finds. Right?
Kirsten: Very possible because mammoths that have been preserved in ice were not carefully frozen.
Kirsten: They were not.
Justin: And it’s like a giant Easter Egg Hunt.
Kirsten: Find me a mammoth.
Justin: Find me some mammoth testicles.
Kirsten: Oh my.
Justin: So I can have mammoth burgers in the future. Can you imagine?
Kirsten: Oh my goodness.
Justin: Right out of the Flintstones.
Kirsten: I’m pretty – that is right out of the Flintstones but I’m pretty sure that if we start cloning mammoths they’re just going to go into a wild life preservers’ zoo before they go into your local restaurant.
Justin: And set them free in Greenland and then the ice thaw will kill them all. It’s like “Oh, we did it to them again. Yeah, how did that happen?”
Kirsten: Well, speaking of freezing and thawing and raining and cold and weather craziness, we had a little break in La Niña over the last year or so – but La Niña is back.
There is a cold weather, a cold water formation in the Pacific Ocean right now that suggest that La Niña is on it’s way back. And La Niña could cause all sorts of different weather throughout droughts, throughout the South and much rain in Indonesia.
Justin: In Indonesia? It goes all the way to Indonesia, really? Cause I heard…
Kirsten: Flooding in Indonesia, hurricanes in the Atlantic.
Justin: Really? I thought it was Calif — or South Pacific State.
Kirsten: So let me tell you something, this is from Science Magazine.
So, warmer than average water signify El Niño, the little boy. And El Niño causes severe storms, massive flooding in the Western, North and South America, so on our side of the continent.
Justin: The El Niño?
Kirsten: El Niño. And El Niño also causes droughts in Eastern Australia.
La Niña, little girl is caused by colder than average pacific temperatures and it dries up much of North and South America. So, there’s going to be maybe more drought. You know, a few years ago – was it last year or two? A few years ago, Georgia experienced significant drought situation. They used up much of their reservoirs. That was a result of La Niña.
La Niña kind of ease up a bit. We have a little bit normal pattern. And so, they were starting to get more rain. Hopefully, this is not going to affect them very seriously.
The tornadoes occur throughout the Midwest and like I said hurricanes in the Atlantic. So, we could be seeing a significant hurricane season this year. The question was because we were in a normal La Niña pattern, El Niño, La Niña they kind of go back and forth every three years.
Justin: I wish I just named them a little bit more differently.
Kirsten: It’s so confusing, little boy, little girl.
Justin: Well, if it was that, it’s because it’s in the Spanish language that my ears blended the two together.
Kirsten: Come on dude, get it together.
Kirsten: We’re in California.
Kirsten: Weren’t you used to it yet.
Justin: I’m mono-cultural, mono-linguistic.
Kirsten: Well anyway, so La Niña was the weather pattern we were in and it eased up. And that was what was unusual that we had the break in La Niña. So now forecasters and researchers think that we might be back to a normal La Niña which we can probably expect for, you know, a year or more.
Yeah. So anyway, that’s it.
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Justin: All right. What time is it?
Kirsten: Strange stuff and we’ve got about 15 minutes.
Justin: I have the time machine for class.
Kirsten: Yeah. You are listening to This Week in Science if you just tuned it.
Justin: All over my un-tricky intro.
Justin: This next story was sent to us Minion (Joseph Grank) and is an evolutionary caveat of sorts has been tagged as a reverse evolution experiment, which is an interesting concept that does run kind of contrary to my understanding of evolution. But I think it is somewhat self-cracking.
Scientists in parts of the United States have created a fake time machine, usable exclusively for fruit flies to see if evolution can reverse itself.
Kirsten: Is there such thing as devolution?
Justin: De-evolution. It starts with flies, flies that had been captured, captured in 1975. The flies are raised over500 generations, exposing them to different groups -exposing the flies to things like drought or starvation or hydration or dehydration.
Kirsten: Right. So the different groups of flies starting from that progenitor population. They’ve kind of been split off into different branches. They now have amassed different mutations.
Justin: Correct, that was the thing. They show evolution in these because they’ve adapted to this different environmental conditions and it created different changes in their DNA.
Kirsten: Yeah, their genes.
Justin: So they actually have different DNA now.
Justin: Yeah. Different genes and different flies from different environments over the 20-30 gosh some odd years, 33 years.
Kirsten: Thirty four, I think?
Justin: Five hundred generations, okay.
So, Heinrique Teotonio and colleagues then put these various populations back into what would have been their ancestral environment. The one that they were plucked from in 1975 to reproduce and allow them to…
Kirsten: Back from once you came, beast.
Justin: Yeah and allowed them to get on with it for another 50 generations to see if putting them back into the original will bring all the flies back if they would re-evolute, deevolute back to the…
Kirsten: Yeah. Would they go back with their adaptations back to the original Phylogen original…
Justin: Would they evolve towards it or would they, yeah, regress I supposed.
Justin: And this didn’t make any sense to me but they are also – I think this is also part of their point. They took a close look at some of the tell tale stretches of DNA on chromosome 3, which if you’re confused at all by is chromosome 3 is right between chromosome 2 and chromosome 4. It’s right in between, to see whether the right reverse evolution are taking place?
The answer is, “Yes, it had but it only kind of.”
Kirsten: Yes. So there were some adaptations some changes that started going back to the original but not completely.
Justin: Right. And it seems that the quote here said, “It looks like reverse evolution seems to stop when the populations of flies achieve adaptation to the ancestral environment, which may not coincide with the exact ancestral genetic state. So, on average only half the gene frequencies reverted to ancestral gene frequencies. Evolution is contingent upon history at the genetic level 2”
Which is – I mean this is where I thought it would be. This is if you were to give me the scenario this is actually what – I think their prediction wasn’t they are just illustrating it, which is that after all the adaptations when you send something back to an older state, something it’s seen before in its genetic code, what it’s doing isn’t actually making new mutations to handle that new environment.
What it’s doing is grabbing — you have DNA memory — the DNA that was in there before that was adapted to that is brought up. What is needed from it is actually shuffled up to the top as use then. And you will keep mutations that you’ve grabbed since then if they don’t conflict, if there’s no problem.
Kirsten: Right if there’s no conflict that’s going to cause you to die.
Kirsten: Yeah, exactly. So, it’s basically the external, the adaptation to be able to deal physiologically and behaviorally with the environment doesn’t necessarily rely on, you know, going making the DNA exactly what it was in the past.
Justin: So for instance would be perhaps if tomorrow all the stairways and elevators in the world disappeared and instead we had to climb a rope to get up to work on the third floor.
Kirsten: We’re not going to become chimpanzees.
Justin: There’s some potential that in 50 generations or so, we do start to have some of the strange longer armed, upper body, muscular topside. It’s a possibility. I mean it’s an experiment. We should try it maybe. I don’t know, small village, makes them climb ropes…
Kirsten: That would become kind of strange.
Justin: …to get to the food source.
Kirsten: Yeah, I don’t know about that. So, mosquitoes sing love songs to each other while they make…
Justin: They do some tantric business going on there actually.
Kirsten: Yeah. The males and females sing a duet by beating their wings in phase. So, you know, when you hear mosquitoes coming, it’s not, you know, they don’t go “Hum”. They don’t hum at you. It’s actually the beating of their wings at the flight frequencies that queues you to their presence. That’s just their wings beating it’s nothing, it’s nothing.
Anyway, the courtship love song has been recorded by a team from Cornell University and they published this in Science Magazine. By understanding the mating habits of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, maybe we could figure out how to get in the way of the mating process and stop as many mosquitoes from being produced in areas where malaria is very prevalent.
So, we have mosquitoes that we have genetically altered to be sterile. So, if they mate with a female the offspring will not be able to have any offspring. And so, that would stop their reproduction cycle.
Kirsten: Mulesquitoes exactly. And so hopefully they think, “Oh maybe we can trick the females into mating with these males who won’t give them any offspring.” Another is to genetically ear them so they – engineer them so they can’t transmit the dengue virus.
The problem says Professor Harrington, is that females can tell if a male has been altered.
Kirsten: Yeah. And they actually kick at the males, “Get away from me! Get away!”
Kirsten: And kick at the males while the males are like “Hum. Hi, look I can sing too, hum.” And they’re like, “No.”
Justin: No, because that’s not what they’re doing. They’re doing “Hum! Pretty lady! Pretty lady, over here. Can we talk please because I go so pretty?”
Kirsten: “No! No! Get away. Just get away.” Exactly!
And so they know, the females know. So, now if we can make these altered males but also genetically make them so they continue to sing the pretty love songs.
Justin: Hum, hum, hum. Hum, hum, hum. Come here, baby.
Kirsten: That’s right. Maybe there’ll be less kicking by the females. More attempts at reproduction but less offspring and maybe it’s a new area. The love song and the mosquito is completely new area for researchers to explore as they try and combat malaria.
Kirsten: Yeah. And it doesn’t involve DDT which is good.
Justin: All that, yeah.
Kirsten: That’s a positive.
Justin: No, DDT is (a faulting). Yeah, mosquitoes are one of those. It is sort of like the tantric thing though because they were saying also that they’ll move their wings and sync with one another, which is sort of like…
Kirsten: Right. So one of them will start and the other in their phase and it’s like “Ho.”
Justin: For the adults in the audience, if you’ve ever done some mosquito business yourself and have matched breathes for a little while going in, it’s pretty awesome, pretty sweet. So like share that little thing, yeah.
So anyway, on this day in history, in the year 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered Callisto or maybe it was Ganymede, one of the other ones. My sources plus a quick Wiki glance, I got different answers of which moon it was that was discovered this day in history.
I got both answers that sounded very convincing at this day. But they’re all, you know, it’s like 400 some years ago and so like normally they’re like it happened in this year. What day it happened, nobody cares. It was 400 years ago.
But it was this day one of the moons, with some certainty, of Jupiter was discovered by Galileo. A tidbit of Sciencey TWIS trivia follows. Originally, Galileo had been giving the moon’s group names. So like Jupiter would be the Medician planet which he named after a family who was very powerful at the time and also he tutored their kids in Math and Astronomy.
There was a group name for all the satellites. So, it would be the Medician planets were the satellites around you but they be then named one, two, three, and four.
So, he’s naming system numerical naming of satellites remain the standard until about the mid 1800s when more and more planets started to show up or more and more of these moons were showing up all over our solar system and they start giving them names.
Eventually Medician planets became the Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto instead of one, two, three and four. For the bit of TWIS trivia, the Galileo spacecraft investigated those moons. So not only did he discovered them with a telescope and the thing and wrote it down and then they made a spacecraft named it after him and sent it up there and took pictures of everything. So, awesome.
Kirsten: That is awesome.
Justin: Callisto, larger than the planet Mercury composed mostly of water and ice, Europa, icy covering, rock, iron core very Earthy in its construction. And Io, I think that’s how you say it, Io.
Justin: Io is the most actively, volcanic body in our solar system. This week, perhaps even this day 1978, NASA selected the first female astronauts ever. So, happy anniversary female astronauts.
One of those was Sally Ride, who also became the first American woman in space was the first person who used a robotic arm in space – first person to use a robotic arm to retrieve a satellite in space. And was also the first to say, “How cool it is to operate a robotic arm and retrieve a satellite in space.”
Kirsten: “Ride Sally, Ride” yeah.
Kirsten: That is very cool. We are just about out of time. So I’m going to run through some quick headlines very quickly. Memristors, University of California San Diego researchers have shown how memristors could work as low cost high density memory. So, the idea of making smaller electricity compliant memory, it’s very exciting. So anyway…
Justin: You’re such a memristor fan.
Kirsten: I am a memristor fan so I’m very excited that the research is going forward and this, you know, the applications are coming, the applications are coming.
Also researchers, where were they, at the Wiseman Institute of Science Israel showed that you can put two glasses of water in a box or container that contains a bunch of water and fill them of water and you can do that little trick with one glass, where you put your finger on the longer rim and make it sing.
If they’re both in water together then it will make the other one sing. The vibrations get carried through the water to the other glass and the other glass will hum and sing.
Justin: Oh. Yeah, you can actually do that with just sound without touching them if you hit that frequency with a speaker.
Kirsten: Yeah, it will make it vibrate.
Justin: The focus that the glass, you can actually blow up and watch the glass explode from doing that. It’s awesome.
Kirsten: That is awesome.
Justin: And in slow motion footage you could see how crazy the bending of glass, it looks like a liquid the way it’s moving around. It’s insane.
Kirsten: Researchers at Oxford have shown that playing Tetris might help prevent post traumatic stress disorder. And I’d like to give props to President Bush for designating three national monuments around 11 Pacific islands. Thank you very much President Bush. You did something good on your way out. I’m excited. It makes me happy.
Justin: Blank stares, blank stares, blank stares…
Kirsten: And on next week’s show, we will be speaking with Simon Baron-Cohen about his Autism research and a new cartoon.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Scott Sigler for making The New York Times Best Seller List last week. Awesome work Scott. We’re so proud of you. Make sure you don’t forget to thank us in your acceptance speech.
Justin: At the Book Academy? Do they give out awards for writing books?
Kirsten: Sometimes yes. Yeah. That’s about it for us we have to go. In and out, right?
Justin: Yeah. If you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…
Kirsten: It’s all – wait a minute. I have to do the announcement silly boy.
Justin: All right. What?
Kirsten: Don’t you read the thing here?
Justin: I don’t have the thing here.
Kirsten: Thanks for enjoying the show today with us. And thanks everyone for writing in. There were a bunch of you just last week. I wish I had more time to say thanks to everyone. I’ll get you on the shout-outs next week.
TWIS is available as a podcast. You can also visit our forums at our website link to we’re at twis.org, thisweekinscience.com. And if you want more information about anything you’ve heard here today, you can go find our Show Notes at twis.org. And if you want to email us with questions, comments, frustrations, stories, et cetera, we love your feedback.
Justin: We like getting the info from the listening audience.
Kirsten: Email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and put TWIS in the subject line. We’ll be back next week 8:30 am as always.
Justin: As always except for today.
Justin: And yes, if you’ve learned anything from today’s show it does reside somewhere but it’s…
Kirsten: All in your head.
Tags: KDVS, NASA, animals, biology, chemistry, end of the world, engineering, evolution, genetics, insects, mammals, molecular biology, nutrition, physics, podcast, science, science and politics, science history, space, technology
Podcast URL: http://www.twis.org/audio/2009/01/14/340/