Transcript-TWIS.ORG June 30, 2009

Synopsis: Digg’n Physics via Twitter, Dino Skinny, Bird Brain Insights, Fish Freakouts!, Tunguska Shuttle Hugs, Building Better Melons, Minion Mailbag, and The Question of the Month!

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

What is right is right. And what is wrong is wrong. What is true is true. And what is untrue is untrue. What is science is science. And what is not science is not science. Such absolutes are hard to find in the push-pull of human nature driven world.

For what is right, like a free election can be untrue in it’s result. What is most easily condemned as wrong, like the murder of innocents can be true as we have seen too often in the past than most recently in Iran.

What is not science can be disguised as science in order to gain our trust. And fake science journals rigged industry research and false claims by hired assassins of truth — tobacco isn’t addictive, global warming isn’t happening, drugs will never kill you.

As the fabrication of false denials are found out, defrocked, defiled and filed under fraudulent, they much like the following hour of our programming, do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

As living in a world without absolutes can make for a foggy notions sense of being, let us create a few absolutes upon which to stand. What is science is absolutely right and never wrong. For it is a continuing process, the self-correction, that is willing to change when it isn’t correct.

What is science is absolutely true and never untrue. For this ever moving towards truth, regardless of where it started and what we want truth to be has no relation to what truths we find.

And science is a process of getting it right. That is willing to get it wrong until we are getting at what is true more often than we are settling for what is untrue. And so, science therefore rejects all absolutes. All absolutes that is a long the way to becoming, This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirstenn: Good morning, Justin! That was an eardrum buster today.

Justin: (Well)…

Kirstenn: Yeah. I’ve got your microphone potted way down.

Justin: My microphone is way down there. I wasn’t even pushing it. You have no idea. You have no – I can break this glass. I can hit that high C with that “Good morning”…

Kirstenn: Oh, yeah.

Justin: …and take out the window…

Kirstenn: High C.

Justin: …out of this way.

Kirstenn: Yeah, operatic high C.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: Oh, High-C fruit drink. It’s good for you, vitamin C.

Justin: Commercial, commercial, commercial.

Kirstenn: Yeah, whatever. Welcome to This Week in Science. We have all sorts of science news as usual because we do love the science here at This Week in Science. It’s kind of what we’re all about. But this week, we also get to respond to a few minion letters.

Justin: There’s some corrections in there.

Kirstenn: Yeah, we really riled you up last week.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: So, Battle Royale is on and we ‘re going to get to it in the second half of the show. But first, the news.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: So, I brought some stories about bird brains, the sun snaking, the sun’s energy snaking up to high. And some, little news about Tunguska.

Justin: Oh, I love the Tunguska. That’s my favorite.

Kirstenn: Yeah, I tell you what, there’s a story about Tunguska and the space shuttle having something in common.

Justin: Oh, what?

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirstenn: What on Earth?

Justin: Interesting.

Kirstenn: So, we’ll go that a little bit.

Justin: And then, space as well.

Kirstenn: And there are other stories. As usual, so many stories. But we only have an hour and I really wanted to get to the listener emails this week.

Justin: I’ve got dieting through statistics.

Kirstenn: Dieting through statistics.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: The probability of my getting thinner.

Justin: Fit some…

Kirstenn: The “T” value.

Justin: Some fish freak-outs, predator, prey adaptations and that are happening now and a Question of the Month.

Kirstenn: Oh, I love the Question of the Month.

Justin: That’s one that’s been – it’s a question. It’s my question. I’ve submitted this (concept story).

Kirstenn: Wow!

Justin: I mean, that’s because it’s going to be – because I can’t – but it’s I’m like very excited.

Kirstenn: You’re very excited.

Justin: Variances.

Kirstenn: All right. So, we will get to announcing that later. Big story off the top. This is big on today. I actually got a Twit from – who was it this morning? Who sent me that Twit? I don’t remember.

But the story is…

Justin: By the way – Twit is the verb of…

Kirstenn: …the Identity4…

Justin: …using Twitter.

Kirstenn: Identity4 on Twitter sent me a Digg link about some research where researchers have developed a way of propelling radio waves so that they travel faster than light.

Justin: Yeah, I can see that. Why not? You’re looking at me …blind stare.

Kirstenn: Crickets (unintelligible).

Justin: When you exist in the world of crackpot Physics as I occasionally do…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …well, faster than light is not so – but why radio wave? Because of the length? Is it longer? Is it…

Kirstenn: Well, it’s all – so, here’s the thing, radio – I mean, is it the particle? Is it the wave that actually…

Justin: And there’s light.

Kirstenn: …that allows it to be able to move faster. I mean, radio signals, it’s part of the electromagnetic spectrum which is…

Justin: Yeah. It’s all source of (light).

Kirstenn: …all light.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: It’s all based on photon traveling at different…

Justin: Yeah. Frequencies it’s just the wave lengths are different.

Kirstenn: Yeah. So, what we’re dealing with here, I absolutely do not understand and so, I want to look into it some more. And maybe we can get someone like Sean Carroll on or even the researcher who worked on this – who is working on the story in New Mexico, working on this research. Maybe we can get them on next week to kind of talk about it and discuss this seemingly relativity theory breaking research.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: I mean, it honestly, this is the kind of thing that’s like, well, this doesn’t fit…

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: …necessarily into Einstein’s theory of relativity…

Justin: So, we should ignore it.

Kirstenn: …and so how do we explain it.

Justin: If it doesn’t fit with what science says, we should just ignore it.

Kirstenn: Just ignore it, right.

Justin: No, no.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: That’s amazing. That’s an incredible story, actually.

Kirstenn: It’s really…

Justin: I’m making too much fun of it.

Kirstenn: Yeah. And so, there’s something – the story, there’s something to do with the fact of density waves or these photon, the phase velocity. So, the phase. And the Tim, TFJ on Twitter says that they’re talking about the phase velocity, a photon is like a bulge made out of electromagnetic waves…

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: …or at light speed.

Justin: They’re like packets of light.

Kirstenn: Like pockets, right. And the waves can go faster than the photon, they just peter out so the bulge itself which is also the information can only move at the speed of light.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: This still – this makes my head hurt, but it’s a really…

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: I mean, this gets at, “Okay, maybe we’re teaching Physics wrong because…” I don’t know.

Justin: Well, I think, what that would mean will be like, “Okay” This is going to be a silly analogy. But like, you’ve got a long jump rope and you (wavelength), you can make a wave go down it, right?

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: And then, you’ve got some people – there’s only – it only can go so fast. You can only get it to that wave to go from one under rope down into the other of the jump rope.

And then, you put it in the hands of two of our best relay-runners. Okay, and then, you get them run, full tilt. And they’re, as fast as they can run. They are the fastest thing that we’ve got in the universe. We’ll call them, (even the) speed of light, that’s how fast they run.

And as they’re running, they do this wave on the jump rope between them and the wave moves and catches up and so, it’s actually moving faster than them…

Kirstenn: Moving faster than they are.

Justin: …but there is no particle within that that’s actually moving faster than I think – that’s…

Kirstenn: The speed of light.

Justin: …right.

Kirstenn: I think, you’re on to something there, actually. I do think so.

Justin: I may not know my science, but I’m a master analogist.

Kirstenn: You are. There’s another – so, the term for this concept, for what’s happening is called superluminal currents. So, these signals or pulses that are not actual wave itself, but actually, superluminal so, above the…

Justin: Interesting.

Kirstenn: …light.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirstenn: But this is something that I think will be fun to discuss a little bit more. And it’s…

Justin: Absolutely.

Kirstenn: …hot off the presses.

Justin: Whoa!

Kirstenn: Yeah. I think, it was just presented – I don’t even – it might have been published – or something related might have been published or archive something related might have been published in Archive. NoisyAstronomer on Twitter says that there is a related pulsar paper talking about this superluminal electric currents in Archive.

However this is – this was just reported at an astronomer’s meeting within the last week or two. So, this is new stuff. This is very exciting. I’m excited. I’m learning something new about the way the world works.

Justin: I’m excited to learn something new about the way the world works. And I’m going to open this up to the minions. This is the – I’m going to go write to the Question of the Month, just in case somebody wants to try pipe in by the end of the show.

Last week, we’re telling them about how the world is smarter than we are.

Kirstenn: Yes.

Justin: And it’s been my conviction for some time that the listening audience of minions much smarter than me. Yes, we have probably the by far the smartest audience of any…

Kirstenn: What are you doing – what story?

Justin: I’m doing the Question.

Kirstenn: No, that’s the…

Justin: Right off the bat.

Kirstenn: End of the hour.

Justin: End of the hour.

Kirstenn: It’s in the list, end of the hour.

Justin: All right.

Kirstenn: Forum question, end of the hour. We’re doing science news right now.

Justin: It’s going to be source of…

Kirstenn: Get on it.

Justin: Fine, all right.

Kirstenn: Get on it.

Justin: Statistical slimming, dinosaurs – huh? – may have been much slimmer than we once thought, according to statistical models that have found flaw in past statistical models of the (girthy) past.

From millions of years, scientists have considered dinosaurs to be the largest creatures ever to walk on land. Okay, they haven’t actually been considering it that long. But the issue at least is – the dinosaurs were that long ago.

So, regardless of longevity of the consideration, the new study suggests that’s some dinosaurs may actually have weighed as little as much as previously pondered. In a study published this week in the journal of Zoology, Geoffrey Birchard, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, uncovered a problem with the statistical model used to estimate the body mass of dinosaurs.

“The original equation used by scientists produces fairly accurately results from determining the mass of smaller animals, but when used on a larger animals, our research showed that many errors have occurred,” said Birchard, I guess.

The new equation shows that dinosaurs are much smaller than we thought. But there is no mistaking, they were indeed huge animals. So, they’re not shrinking the bones, so to say, so to speak, they’re saying that there may not have been much impact on them.

Kirstenn: Okay. So, it just, maybe not as much muscle mass or as girth as…

Justin: Not as much muscle mass, not as much fat, not as much…

Kirstenn: Everything.

Justin: Yeah. They would have eaten less. They would have breathed less. Let’s see. So, this was a result – equations have been used by scientists to estimate or evaluate a variety of parameters including brain size and egg size. The brain size of dinosaurs might change a little bit.

The problem occurs as a result of transforming the data, which changes the properties of the original data and creates biases that can affect or predict the results obtained from the equation. Huh? Really? (Never looked that direction)

Birchard and his colleagues realized there was an error when they used the equation to determine the weight of living animals, such as like a hippopotamus and an elephant and discovered that the equation greatly overestimated the weights of these animals.

How do you not have like – how do – that not get applied to living animals before? And somebody would say, “Oh, gosh, it doesn’t work with real things.”

Kirstenn: It doesn’t work with the animals that are around us right now.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: Why would it work with dinosaurs?

Justin: Why would we be using it in the first place? Yeah. It’s like…

Kirstenn: It’s good question.

Justin: That’s funny kind of thing not to have tested out at one point. They developed new equation for calculating dinosaur mass based on bone dimensions. This equation doesn’t require the transformation of data that the original equation used.

“The best way to understand the new equation is to think about a building that is built on pillars,” said the researcher. “The bigger the building, the larger the pillars must be to support the weight of that building. In the same way the legs of an animal are the pillars supporting its body.”

So, I guess the new research is suggesting that at some time, dinosaurs are so much slender than had been thought. And it also changes many of the fact our scientists have already determined about dinosaurs such as muscle required to move their bodies, et cetera, how fast they move. Next thing, I’d like to see in this, is to go back and retool the sauropods.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: Those are the really big long necks, right.

Kirstenn: Yup.

Justin: Your apatosaurus, your fake tyrannosaurus, all you really long – big long necks. Because there is recently research that showed that they would be – their necks would be too heavy for them to be lifted up in the air like we’re used to seeing.

Kirstenn: Right.

Justin: So, it would be interesting if, you know…

Kirstenn: Maybe this…

Justin: …the weight loss program.

Kirstenn: Maybe, it would make more sense for the actual dynamics of how their body works.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: It would be odd that they wouldn’t have been able to lift their heads.

Justin: But then again, how much are they – if they’re slimming, if they’re getting less muscle mass in the neck then, maybe, they’ll just drag their heads around and never leave the ground.

Kirstenn: Yeah. Really comfortable way to live.

Justin: Make it even worse.

Kirstenn: Yeah. Big bird brain news this week, two stories, actually. One of them, from David Eckard, about a neurologger which is a brain activity, reading device, if it’s on top of the head that was used to record the in-flight neural activity of pigeons, of homing pigeons.

So, homing pigeons are known they fly over landscapes and they’re able to navigate very well from one location to another they come home to roost.

Justin: Yeah. They were used actually as a male service at one point, they’re trained pigeons.

Kirstenn: Right. So, they’re trained to go to different locations, different routes and there are different ways that they’re thought to recognize landmarks. So, the idea is that over large distances, they used magnetic – electromagnetic information, the position of the sun, their sense of smell, all sorts of external cues to kind of generally guide their sense of direction to where they’re going.

But then, as they get closer to their start point or their end point, they start relying on local landmarks and so, actually things in the environment that they see. And what they’re finding, what they found with these little EEG caps, this little brainwave recording caps with GPS with it that had GPS activation and ability to correlate what the brain activity was like when they were in a specific location in space and know exactly where the birds were — they found that there were couple of different kinds of brain wave frequencies that seem to correlate with different activation from stuff in their environment.

And so, what they found is that there is a biphase. So, there’s high frequency oscillations and middle frequency activations. The middle frequency activity was the most reliable indicator of visual stimulation.

“So, when a pigeon looked at something with attention, this activity increased,” so says the researcher whose name was Alexei Vyssotski of the University of Zourich.

They also say that, “The activation of these oscillations, these frequency oscillations maybe associated with some memory processing or some other high level brain functions.”

And some interesting points is that there were some points where the bird seem to pay really close attention to something in the environment and the researchers didn’t really know what it was. They just saw these high frequency or these interesting brainwave patterns.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: And they checked it out “Okay, here’s the GPS. Here’s where it was in space, let’s go look at it.” So, they actually drove out to these places and they found…

Justin: An old man on a bench throwing crumbs in the fire.

Kirstenn: Probably. They discovered a farm and a cattle paddock and in the second case a nearby barn and in both of those places, there were colonies of feral pigeons.

Justin: Huh? Interesting.

Kirstenn: So, the pigeons were like, “Hey, there was other pigeons. They’re hanging out.” Okay and so, they actually were able to see that this something…

Justin: Wow!

Kirstenn: …of interest…

Justin: That’s cool. Yeah.

Kirstenn: …based on particular brain wave activation. So it’s all correlative and you don’t actually know the memory processes or what attention or processes are actually taking place.

But at the same time, there is a relationship between what the brain – what they’re reading the brain doing and what these birds are actually paying attention too, or remembering in their environment.

Justin: I want a French sounding accordion to play behind me right now as I say, “It is correlative.”

Kirstenn: It is a…

Justin: Put a pigeon on my shoulder and (unintelligible), “It’s correlative, Kirsten. It’s all subjective correlative. We do not live in the world. We only live towards it.”

Kirstenn: We live towards it, yes. And the second big story was David Clayton from the University of – oh, I forget where he is. University of Illinois and the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, looking at genetic activation within the auditory region of the zebra finch brain.

They left a bird alone in a room with no sound and they checked out, okay, what’s happening with the messenger RNA and then, with gene activation. And then, they played them a song and then, they looked for three hours, they play them the same song over and over and over again. Bird song, bird song, bird song and looked at what happened to mRNA activations.

So, the mRNA is an indicator of what genes are being transcribed and also what proteins might be up regulated. Then, they looked 24 hours later at what happened in the brain and they found that there were three completely different activation patterns in this RNA activity.

Justin: Wait. That’s like a genetic…

Kirstenn: So, they were like three different – yeah.

Justin: …operation based on real time learning an experience that’s happen in the world. That’s not possible.

Kirstenn: Yeah. And so, the quote that comes from this like – there were two quotes from this that just – as I was reading the story, it just got my brain really going. So, what’s happening is that these networks of genes are being engaged. So, it changed in the actual gene activity, which proteins are being turned on created changing…

Justin: (Kind of a) hierarchy…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …(that) what happen, whatever.

Kirstenn: Says Clayton, “It’s like we’ve lifted the hood and we’re seeing that these things are just chugging away. The bird has this one day of experience and the day later, the brain is in a different state. It’s still in high gear. It’s still processing stuff. It’s still reverberating and echoing.

Whenever something unexpected and different comes along such as the song of a new bird in the neighborhood, it’s going to deform the listening bird’s neural network.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: “And so, the system has to basically absorb some of that, makes some changes and not be overwhelmed by it. If you push the system around too much, cells die.”

But if you don’t, you know – and so, you have to have a balance between how much deformation of the cells you allow so, you have a cushion of genetic activity that determines how your brain, your underlying cellular genetic activation or structure is actually changed.

And like, what this says to me, is that like, if this is going on with birds — this is happening in every brain that the neural cells, the genes that control their activity, every instant of everyday, when something is upregulated or down regulated because of a stimulus in your environment, that stimulus – every stimulus in your environment is changing your brain.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: Yeah. So, from one minute to the next, one day to the next, your brain is not the same as it was before.

Justin: Is that a good thing? I don’t know.

Kirstenn: I don’t know?

Justin: What did I do yesterday?

Kirstenn: To me, that’s what it seems like. And this is just such a cool bird-brain story. So, Ed Dyre, thanks for sending that in – you got…

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirstenn: Ed, you changed my brain.

Justin: Yeah, mine too.

Kirstenn: I mean brain…

Justin: We are forever altered.

Kirstenn: My brain is forever altered.

Justin: Some negative brain altering.

Kirstenn: Oh, dear.

Justin: I’ve got little of that going on.

Kirstenn: Oh, no.

Justin: Yeah. First, it was the cows, now fish might be freaking out.

Kirstenn: Oh, fishy, fishy, fish.

Justin: It’s just that maybe, but University of Louisville Neurologist, Robert Friedland is questioning the safety of eating farmed fish in a recent Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. He’s a little bit concerned that the Creutzfeldt-Jakob, also known as the mad cow disease…

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: …maybe potentially transmitted through fish that are farmed.

Kirstenn: Really?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: Interesting.

Justin: I guess, he’s concern that they can be – sometimes they’re fed byproducts from rendered cows and is urging the government regulators to ban feeding cow meat or bone meal to fish until they’ve a chance to study whether or not it can. So, he thinks it could, but they haven’t done the study yet.

Kirstenn: Right. So, he hasn’t actually figured out whether or not the prions are transmitted from the cow meal to the fish brain or even into their digestive system.

Justin: Their digestive system because he, okay – he says, “We have not proven that it’s possible for fish to transmit the disease to humans.”

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: “Still we believe, that out of reasonable caution for public health, practice of feeding rendered cows to fish should be prohibited.” he says, adding “Fish do very well in the seas without eating cows.” I love that. Yes.

Kirstenn: And I like your quote voice, too.

Justin: Yes, my quote voice.

Kirstenn: That was good. Yeah, I mean…

Justin: “Fish do very well in the seas without eating cows.”

Kirstenn: …fish have lived a long time on this planet without eating cows, right?

Justin: Oh, my goodness. So, the fact that there’s – more quoting so I got to do the voice more – oh, wait, wait now here isn’t a quote, according to the authors of the research, it’s possible for the disease to be spread by eating a carrier that is not itself infected.

So, it doesn’t even have to be sick fish. These prions can exist that don’t affect the fish. It’s also possible though that this is also a disease that has a variant – what is it, incubation period, that can be decades.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, it can make the association between feeding practice and infection very difficult with what they’re saying don’t feed the cows. In the first place, we won’t have to back track that – it’s a horrible scenario if it should happen.

I don’t think the fish live that long. So, even if…

Kirstenn: Yeah. I think – that’s one issue. I mean…

Justin: Oh no, or is it in the incubation in humans that can be a decade.

Kirstenn: That can be a decade in humans to incubate, yeah.

Justin: So, that hamburger I ate nine years ago could kill me tomorrow?

Kirstenn: No. It won’t kill you tomorrow. It will be a slow painful death.

Justin: Over a week or so.

Kirstenn: Over months.

Justin: Oh, really? Okay, as long as I’ve got time.

Kirstenn: This is something that we found – so, the Creutzfeldt-Jakobs – we’ve seen that in wild deer – people who hunt wild animals sometimes come down with this as a result of eating infected meat that’s been transferred somehow into cows and sheep which is the mad cow and/or Scrapie which they still – like there are still some people who question whether or not Scrapie and mad cow and Creutzfeldt-Jakobs are the same underlying disease which is basically this prion-based disease.

However, all the evidence seems to point in that direction. And when we feed cows and if the cows have that too — sheep then, suddenly sheep become infected and maybe there are other animals, I mean, animals that never had this kind they wouldn’t have the problem. He has a point.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: They wouldn’t have the problem of the potential contraction of the prion disease if they didn’t eat the other animals that they were not – they don’t eat in the first place. And the only reason the fish are going to eat them – eat the cows because we’re grinding it up and…

Justin: But I think it’s a great…

Kirstenn: I don’t know.

Justin: I think it’s a great point. And I think, I mean, the mad cow disease that we encountered from Britain, Canada, a couple of cases of Canadian – those Canadian cows sneaking in into the U.S.

Kirstenn: Right.

Justin: They are papers looked good was that they’re being fed sheep.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: They were being fed – (Europhinian) herbivore, another herbivore that never would have encountered that…

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: …over the entire history of its evolutionary track, never ate a sheep. It didn’t come up, right. So yeah, we’re messing with – I mean, talking about, if anybody who’s worried about genetic manipulation, at least we have an idea of what we’re changing when we do those things.

The most insane thing you can do is feed an herbivore to another herbivore, you have no idea what’s going to take place.

Kirstenn: The idea – I mean, the idea is that all of the feed is basically broken down to it’s constituent protein parts, fat, crude-fat, protein, carbohydrate and they give them a mix, a chow of that’s been, that’s not just like, “Here, have…”

Justin: “Have a hamburger.”

Kirstenn: “Have a hamburger.” It is not the way it works.

Justin: Oh, it’s mix in with some corn or soy or hay or…

Kirstenn: Yeah. I mean…

Justin: It’s all grind up…

Kirstenn: …it’s mixed. It’s balanced to become…

Justin: …(to locate) things.

Kirstenn: Yeah. It’s supposed to be a high protein, high muscle-growth or milk-production to allow these animals to grow to feed us.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: Yes. But I think, it’s just because prions potentially are very – they’re very hardy. They don’t like to – just small hardy, little proteins.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: To unfold the other proteins.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: I’m still not sure about unfolding my proteins would feel like.

Kirstenn: You probably experience that everyday and don’t even realize it.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Kirstenn: It’s nine o’clock. So, we’re going to go to the break.

Justin: But it was – at the top of the next hour, (you told) my Question of the Week.

Kirstenn: No, to the bottom of the hour.

Justin: Bottom of the top of the – beginning…

Kirstenn: Before the end of the show.

Justin: It’s like endings it’s more like, “Oh, God, I can never keep track at the top of our…” All right, we’ll be back with more of This Week in Science, right after this.


Kirstenn: If you’re enjoying today’s show, if you learn something new or if you would just like to support our attempt at info-taining you, feel free to donate to the podcast by visiting and clicking on the Donate button. Donations of any size are always welcome. Thank you for listening.

Justin: And we’re back with more of This Week in Science.

Kirstenn: That we are. And that song was “A Trace” by the Amygdaloids, a brain-related rock and roll band led by a neuroscience researcher.

Justin: Oh, really?

Kirstenn: Oh, really.

Justin: Oh, really.

Kirstenn: Yes. Brain scientists on guitar is what you get. Quick story, I just wanted to get to…

Justin: Wait, wait, it’s not time for stories right now, Kirsten.

Kirstenn: Yes, it is.

Justin: It’s not science stories time.

Kirstenn: I told you the…

Justin: No, no, it’s Question…

Kirstenn: I told you the end of the hour.

Justin: The end – no, it does…

Kirstenn: What?

Justin: …beginning of the show.

Kirstenn: No, in the end. The Tunguska and space shuttle.

Justin: I want to hear about this (one). This is awesome.

Kirstenn: I know. So, Tunguska, it was an explosion that was very, very mysterious at the beginning of the 1900’s, 1908 over the Siberian forest flattening trees. Miles and…

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Kirstenn: Cause devastation. But the question was, okay, was this some kind of weapon that was discharged? Was it volcanic in nature? Was it a comet? What actually caused this devastation?

Justin: And the leading theory was a comet that got into the atmosphere but was still really big and then exploded basically over the forest creating like a very nuclear-like explosion…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …in the kind of low atmosphere that based on a pattern of the trees, like trees in the very…

Kirstenn: The way they were laid down…

Justin: …ground zero was standing straight up and down.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: And then, there was, yeah, there was the laid down pattern all around that. And they’ve done some experiments with nukes – mini-nukes that they’re blowing up over these sticks and things and they’re finding the same sort of patterns.

Kirstenn: Right. So, in the June 24 of 2009, journal, Geophysical Research Letters, there is a paper that connects space shuttle launch and the Tunguska explosion.

Justin: What?

Kirstenn: Yeah. So, after the space shuttle launches and – the space shuttles injects the flight, injects 300 metric tons of water vapor into the atmosphere. And so, these particles of water, this water vapor travels through the atmosphere, there are a lots of eddies and currents that actually cause the water to move to different places in the atmosphere.

They have been found – these water particles have actually been found to travel to the Arctic and Antarctic regions and when they settle in the mesosphere, that they turn into ice particles and formed noctilucent clouds with are night shining clouds. So, they’re just like these odd shining clouds in the night sky when you wouldn’t normally expect to see something like a cloud shining.

Justin: Yeah. And it’s also part of…

Kirstenn: They reflect light off the other (unintelligible) but…

Justin: But they’re also like – aren’t those the ones – they can be like up there like way, way, way up high in the atmosphere. I mean, they can be basically in space, really.

Kirstenn: I don’t know about that. I’m not exactly sure, but pretty – yeah. It just close to space.

Justin: How far?

Kirstenn: Fifty-five miles.

Justin: Yeah, that’s space. You get your ass on that wings…

Kirstenn: Space, Mm hmm.

Justin: …right there. Yeah.

Kirstenn: And so it’s – because it’s so cold…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: …at that height, that the water just – ice…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: …when it turns into this very diffuse ice cloud. Anyway, they noticed this noctilucent phenomenon after the space shuttle Endeavour launched in 2007. And they saw other cloud formations in 1997 and 2003 following launches.

And these – the Tunguska experiment, there are historical observations, eye witness accounts of noctilucent clouds in similar areas. And so, what they’re trying to model and trying to answer is how water vapor traveled so far from the point of the explosion.

But what they’ve basically saying in these papers that the current understanding of the mesosphere-lower thermosphere region is quite poor, but this does put a link with what might have happened with a comet explosion over the Siberian forest.

Justin: Cool.

Kirstenn: Yeah. So, the space shuttle give a clue to as to support this idea of the cometary explosion.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: Now, this is cool – somehow they discovered a tiny warp in which the space shuttle gone back in time landed in Tunguska here 1918, they would have been a better story (but) – I suppose…

Kirstenn: Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Justin: …and that is scientifically.

Kirstenn: There will be a lecture at the plenary session of the annual meeting of Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions in Sta. Fe, New Mexico on July 1st where one of the authors will give a lecture –Two-dimensional Turbulence, Space Shuttle Plume Transport in the Thermosphere and a Possible Relation to the Great Siberian Impact Event.

So, if you happen to be in New Mexico in a couple of days or I guess tomorrow.

Justin: Yeah. Now.

Kirstenn: Now.

Justin: Are you there now?

Kirstenn: Are you there? Are you there?

Justin: Are you there?

Kirstenn: Are you there?

Justin: Is anybody out there? Competition between predator and prey is an ancient ritual of adaptive evolution. We’ve seen many, many, many, many times at the history of our planet, where a predator seeks a new way to capture it’s dinner and the prey comes up within an inventive counter tactic to avoid being devoured.

Now, this ancient battle of wits, wills and evolutionary “know-how” has new arena, your local produce aisle. The genetically decoded melon is on the agricultural alteration block, thanks to Texas AgriLife researchers who were studying hundreds of melon DNA markers and hopes of making a better melon.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: Or are they?

Kirstenn: Yummy.

Justin: “This will help us anchor down some of the desirable genes to develop better melon varieties,” said Dr. Kevin Crosby who has just completed a study with Drs. Soon O. Park and Hye Hwang. “We can identify specific genes for higher sugar content, disease resistance and even drought tolerance.”

So, in addition to the complete map, the researchers have located genetic markers link to fruit sugars, ascorbic acid, that’s the vitamin C, the male sterility – huh? – which is useful in developing hybrid varieties and said that the genetic map will help for future studies in identifying generally, other fruit sweetness, quality, size, shape and resistances to disease.

My only concern with this – in the whole predator-prey thing is, when it comes to modified foods, I think the biggest, my biggest fear in the genetically altered food is that when it gets to the shelf, is it – is the priority going to be making the melon keep its color longer? Is it going to be like, making a melon that has that nice firm, hollow sound when you tap on it, right?

Kirstenn: I don’t know.

Justin: Is it going to make it sound like a perfect fruit on the shelf but not really but maybe lose flavor?

Kirstenn: I like flavor.

Justin: And they say, they were working on the sugars but I don’t want like a candy version of the melon, either. I think, the melons – I’m talking about the honey dew or (caramel), it’s perfect, don’t mess with it. If it’s fresh, it’s perfect. The tomatoes, that have been designed…

Kirstenn: The flavor-savor…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: …tomatoes.

Justin: They have they look red. They stay red-looking. They looked like good tomatoes but they don’t have any flavor to them. Or the one that’s not genetically altered is the Ecuadorian avocados, ever get suckered into that?

Yeah. It’s like you get the whole bag of them. They’re like high the price of the California. Avocados – they don’t taste like avocados though. They’re like a cardboard avocado. Like, how you can ruin that fruit, I have no idea, but.

So, anyway, it says here that in U.S the average person eats about 25 pounds of melon per year.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: I thought that was a lot.

Kirstenn: That’s a lot of melon.

Justin: All right. Except that…

Kirstenn: I don’t, because I really am not a fan of cantaloupe.

Justin: I do like them. But I’ve never gotten anywhere close to 25 pounds in a year. Although – and I would…

Kirstenn: I wonder where they came out with that number. Just based on the sales from grocery stores?

Justin: Maybe. You know what? The only thing – the last time – the absolute last time I was at the store, there was an older couple in line behind me – I think they had all 25 pounds, right there that day. We’re planning on putting it down.

So, maybe. Maybe, there is a segment of our population that’s just going through maybe, 50 pounds. Because neither of us have eaten melons. That means, there’s two people out there who are eating 50 pounds a year or some such thing like that.

Kirstenn: Listener minion mail, time for the Mailbag. Taken into the minion Mailbag, we got some great comments from the show last week. (Brian Bug) is from Olympia, Washington wrote, “I’m confused on the plant consciousness story this week. I do not see how either of the story is seen as communication or as a decision process being performed by the plants, but it seems more like basic biology and evolution.

In the case of genetically, identical plants within a certain radius, being less damage by predators are trimming the communication thing just seems like a large leap in stating findings.

Many plant species produce a chemical to fend off predators when they are attacked. If plants that are genetically identical to them are nearby, wouldn’t it just be expected that they automatically react the same way when a chemical reaction takes place in one.

Communication or self-awareness sound like a very over-stated description for this phenomenon. Is it a fact that the clones produce a reaction before they are attacked? This does not show awareness, just that the reaction does not need a physical connection to take place.”

Justin: Yes. But maybe awareness is just reaction anyway, my friend.

Kirstenn: Bingo! From the Abstract to Karban and Shiojiri’s paper which was in Ecology Letters, the actual Abstract says, “Animals have the ability to distinguish self from non-self, which has allowed them to evolve immune systems and in some instances, to act preferentially toward individuals that are genetically identical or related.

Self-recognition is less well-known for plants although recent work indicates that physically connected roots recognize self and reduce competitive interactions. Sagebrush uses volatile cues emitted by clipped branches of self or different neighbors to increase resistance in herbivory.

Here, we show that plants received volatile cues from genetically identical cuttings accumulated less natural damage than plants that received cues from non-self cuttings.”

“Volatile communication is required to coordinate systemic processes such as induced resistance and plants respond more effectively to self than non-self cues.”

Justin: Oh.

Kirstenn: “This self/non-self discrimination did not require physical contact and is a necessary first step towards possible kin recognition and kin selection.”

“So, I didn’t say it first, the researchers did. Self-awareness might be overstating the results of the study, yes, but self-discrimination is not. And responding to signals of like-kind is a step down the road to awareness. Self-preservation is an important trait to evolve for evolutionary success and why not extend that then to preservation of like or of kin.”

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: So, I mean – it’s not – yeah. This is evolution in action. This is a natural selection process. There’s nothing saying that it’s not and- but, I mean, yeah.

Justin: Or, I mean, I think, if you think the absolute broadest brush possible, you’d have to say that like the intelligence that we consider intelligence and mostly we looked at mammals when we say things…

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: …are intelligent. But then, mostly we’re talking about people is being intelligent and self-aware and all the rest of it.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: Intelligence is sort of a biological function all the way down…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …of some form of something smart going on.

Kirstenn: Reacting – reaction to signals, to things, to threats in the environment.

Justin: And self-preservation, self preservation versus self-awareness, I mean…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …what are you preserving? Wax don’t do anything to help preserve themselves because they’re not life. Life has this sort of desire to be life and it’s there. There’s an intelligence in life without the without getting into any other reasoning for it.

There’s something really clever about life, very smart. And I think, self-preservation is a good example of a self-awareness because if things weren’t self-preserving in some way, I mean, that…

Kirstenn: How – yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirstenn: Where does survival come from?

Justin: Right. What’s the point of being self-aware also if you have no self-preservation.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: I mean, that will be horrible.

Kirstenn: It helps to be aware of your limbs, of your branches.

Justin: Yeah. Have some signal that you know it’s there. You know, there’s…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …something of you over there and…

Kirstenn: And I want to save that if something bad is happening.

Justin: I want to send it food when it’s hungry.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: I want to let it rest when it needs to.

Kirstenn: Yeah. That’s very interesting. There was a similar comment or no, Brian also went on to say, “In the case of the mining moths, could this not just be evolution and environmental condition or deformity cause some of the plants to grow this way that did not get attacked by the moths so, they fell into the niche. The deformity just happened to help demounted this case. Any thoughts on this?”

And yeah, the modeling or variegation of the leaves that we talked about last week, the plants that we said were tricking or tricking their predators, that modeling should – the point is that the modeling should put the plants at a disadvantage energetically because they should be photosynthesizing less than plants without that kind of modeling.

So, it shouldn’t be helping the demount it all. But the key is that they’re not disadvantaged and they’re surviving really well.

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: And so, that’s unusual. And it suggest that there is a selection advantage to this kind of – what you would expect to be disadvantaged, advantageous trait.

Justin: Right. And what I would suggest then, because going back to the thing I was saying is that maybe it’s based on the fact that the plant did survive.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm. Yes.

Justin: And it had this alteration in its leaves and survive.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: Now, the alteration came outside. It was an environmental alteration. But why not try to reproduce that, if you’re the plant. I survived, this is what happen and I’m going to try to model that same thing.

And I’m putting this in the context of the drought studies where the rains would come very early and so, they want to sprout quickly in one plant. And then, the next generation, they put their seeds out there and they actually did sprout earlier or if they gave their prolonged…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …drought to the parent plant, the offspring seedlings waited longer to sprout. So, there is some ability to – in plant easily to adjust for actual circumstances that the previous generation has experienced.

Kirstenn: Right. But this has also – it’s there genetically in the plants to begin with or it’s a mutation that change the coloration of the plant’s leaves, the plant survived better because it wasn’t eaten by moths and…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: …you know, that goes on down the generations and you have more…

Justin: Wait, and it’s not that it was countering the moth though, it was that, it was just reproducing something that was successful in the…

Kirstenn: But it is also countering the moth because the moth…

Justin: By accident.

Kirstenn: …by accident because the moths choose not to eat the leaves. They don’t respond to leaves that are molded. They go to unmolded leaves. So, it helps – it ends up helping them survive.

But it’s a mutationally derived advantage. It’s genetically derived…

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: …and they’re mimicking in this genetic manner, they’re mimicking ill plants. And mimicry is trickery.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: Even if it’s not conscious. All right it’s not the plants thinking about it. They’re just – it happened, they had a selective advantage, they survived and that’s what get passed on.

Justin: But I would still suggest – I would still suggest that it was because of alterations to the leaf over millennia or whatever…

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: …that the plant incorporated that into its survival. Says, it might – “If something happens to my leaves every time, I might as well start that way. It seems to best way to survive, you know.”

By the time, I see it is made, the leaves of the parent plant are always been always molded this way. Why shouldn’t I be doing it in the next generation.

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: That will be genetic.

Kirstenn: It is genetic. It is. Minion (Phillip Fujiyushi) from Davis says, “Guys, I was excited to hear this week show would have plants and bacteria in it. More of the ecological science, all that Mars stuff really puts me to sleep.

However, imagine my disappointment when evolutionary theory went missing. Plants know how to model their leaves, bacteria can learn, social competition increases human brain size, running gives you athletic children.”

Yeah. I’d like to say that in the show, evolutionary theory was not missing last week. You know, evolutionary theory forms the basis for these ideas of survival and how the plants that we were talking about on the bacteria, we’re talking about how genetics leads into their ability to survive.

But, (Phillip) asks, “Can human cells be trained the way that it E.coli populations can be?” Basically, no. One of the requirements for doing an evolution is a variety of genotypes, genetic fitness of a population is increased when the less adapted genotypes go away and the human body with genetically identical cells, there’s not genetic variation for selection to operate on.

Justin: Disagree.

Kirstenn: And so, your comment about runners having more well-adapted strong-muscled children, I actually, I didn’t say it strongly enough last week, but I do not agree with Justin.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirstenn: I do agree that there are epigenetic processes that we don’t know enough about, and we shouldn’t necessarily put every egg in one basket for explaining how it works. But Lamarck was not right.

Justin: I’ve read nothing of Lamarck, by the way.

Kirstenn: You need to…

Justin: I have never read Lamarck. Why? If he is wrong…

Kirstenn: I’m going to get you a book on…

Justin: If he’s wrong, I’m going…

Kirstenn: …evolution.

Justin: …to ignore Lamarckian evolution, if he’s already wrong and I’ll just call it “Justinarckian” evolution.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: Look, what if – would you disagree with me that if there were genes somewhere in my pool that wasn’t turned on, that spent more time working on longer legs, but it wasn’t turned on, it’s in my gene pool somewhere, but it’s what do you call it, a silent gene right now.

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: And if I’m running everyday with my short legs, all right, running around, running, running, running, maybe there will be something in the system that would want to turn on those longer legs for the next generation.

Kirstenn: Right. But the problem…

Justin: Right? Is that right?

Kirstenn: But the problem…

Justin: So, is that real time generation to the – that’s what I’m saying.

Kirstenn: But the problem with it is that we have different types of body cells. We have our body cells, the somatic cells and then, we have reproductive cells. And the reproductive cells are kind of cloistered away. They’re their own little population of cells.

And so, the question of whether what’s going on when you run is going to affect those cells, the probably of that happening is very, very slim. I mean, what signal is going to get, I mean, the point that (Phillip) was trying to make, is that when you have a plant where all of the cells can go into creating a new leaf going into growing, when the body cells are reproductive cells in themselves…

Justin: Mm hmm. When we take…

Kirstenn: Or bacteria – that a single-celled bacteria, it’s going to split. And whatever happens in that single cell is going to affect everything. You know, we have so many cells that are basically all have the same genetic instructions.

Justin: Well, let me ask you this one, if I’m doing a lot of athletic stuff versus not, is it possible I’ve got more testosterone being produced as I’m running (let’s say)…

Kirstenn: So, maybe…

Justin: Are these hormones going to affect the…

Kirstenn: Yeah.

Justin: …reproductive of the next (generation).

Kirstenn: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, If I’m running a lot and creating hormones that are used in athletics more often than if I might live in the sedentary lifestyle, that can affect my next generation.

Kirstenn: Right. So, maybe that there are signals that can be transferred, but the question is which signals are going to or not. I don’t know that running is the best example. I think, if you came up with the better example…

Justin: Well, wait, here’s a good example for it. I think, it’s perfect, because here is the thing, if I do both then, I have the gene, it’s not turned on for the longer legs, it was somewhere back in the history of my family where people have longer legs and for whatever reasons, sort have been selected up, but the gene is still there, but it’s not turned on.

And now, I’m doing a lot of exercise. I’m running and now the testosterone is affecting the production of these – you don’t think that those hormones can adjust to – maybe “game” the genetic – we don’t know. But I think, it is not so far off.

I think, natural selection is right for like 90% of the big mash up of genes in humans, especially humans where…

Kirstenn: Random mutation leads to variation in genes and then those, lead to…

Justin: I don’t believe in random, no.

Kirstenn: …differential survival between individuals.

Justin: Not random.

Kirstenn: Yes, random.

Justin: I think environmentally affect in more or so. I think the environment – we keep thinking along the terms of the environment and our hormones and our body and our lifestyle do not affect…

Kirstenn: Wow!

Justin: …our next generation. I think, they all – I think it all pours into that – I don’t think – it may looked random, it may have looked random in 18 – gosh, whatever, you know. But we’ve come a long way, baby, you know. We can figure out some things.

Let’s take another look at this. Let’s not be afraid – and not let’s not be afraid to question Darwinism for fear of destroying it for fear of people going, “Aha! You were wrong all along,” or something like this.

Kirstenn: No. It’s well supported enough that that’s not…

Justin: Right.

Kirstenn: …that’s not going to happen. But it obviously – this is really interesting that we have such a schism in our – I don’t know whether it’s necessarily the language that’s being used that we’re having a difference of opinion or whether we really do have a very divided opinion here. But it’s very interesting and I basically, we know natural selection works.

Justin: Yes.

Kirstenn: We do know it works. So…

Justin: And we know that the environmental factors will affect offspring just as dramatically.

Kirstenn: Okay. Question of the Month. So, give us the quick…

Justin: I lost it. I don’t know where it is now.

Kirstenn: Give us the quick-and-dirty because we are over time.

Justin: Okay. The Question of the Month of July, gravity – where did it come from? And by where did it come from, I do not mean the origin of its Physics. I’m not talking about the tracking the source back to the Big Bang or beyond. What I’m asking is where did the human understanding of the concept of gravity originate? When can we source this to? When is gravity thought of as gravity?

It might sound kind of easy. But – because gravity has always been with us throughout the history of time. But the first years of life for all humans, first year of life for all humans is this constant struggle against the force of gravity from holding our heads up under own power to mastering the task of balancing on two feet to experimenting with how things can fall-off of high chair or table. Like, kids will just keep pushing that food off the table over and over again.

So, you’re giving me the (wave, hang on).

Kirstenn: Wrap it up. We’re over time.

Justin: So, there’s no gods of gravity though. There’s no Greek gods. They have gods of the Earth, the sea. Each direction of the wind has its own deity. There were gods of human emotions, of war, gods of mining, flocks of sheep, yet none of gravity.

So, what we need is for somebody to source maybe the word. Maybe, it’s a linguist out there who can source the word and track it back to when we started talking about gravity as separate – Aristotle, never really mentioned gravity, talking about the weight of things.

Kirstenn: Right.

Justin: And he thought that the heavier something was, the faster it would fall. It took 2,000 years for Galileo to actually drop some objects to illustrate that that wasn’t the case.

Kirstenn: Right. So, we will post that in the Forums. That will be there in a little bit. So, visit our Forums at for the Question of the Month. Share your knowledge and dare to answer the question. We’re going to be reading Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Impossible” in the TWIS Book Club, book of the month for July.

And next week, we’re hopefully going to talk some Physics and maybe revisit this evolutionary conundrum that is…

Justin: Justin versus the Darwinians.

Kirstenn: Justin versus the world. Thanks everyone for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. We’ll be back next Tuesday, 8:30 am. You can follow us on Twitter @jacksonfly or @drkiki.

Email us at or And our website is if you’re interested in anything you heard.

Justin: Absolutely. And if you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirstenn: It’s all in your head.

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