Transcript-TWIS.ORG March 10, 2009

Synopsis: Chickosaurus!, Horsing Around, The Moon Rules, Religious Brains, Cells and Ladders, Asteroids, Moonlets, and Holes, Oh, My!, Optimism, Naptime, and Avoiding Old Age, and The Question of the Month Minion Style

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

With the spring season rapidly approaching, time is running out for declarations of wintery discontent. Though it may still be chilly, the Northern hemisphere thaw is about to kick in. And a great veil of blossoming, sprouting upward surging vegetative life will sprig forth anew.

This time if you are also tense to foster fresh fancy for flirtation in more of fleshy forms of biological life as the winter coats come off and the bare skin becomes more common.

And while spring times is sprigging, much like the following hour of programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

Listeners need not wait for the fall harvest to enjoy the bounty of new knowledge. As each week, we attempt to catch glimpses of science-y seedlings before they break through the informational soil surface of main stream media. Ever so tenderly tending the radio tiller of truth it’s This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good Morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good Morning Justin! I thought you’re just going to keeping leaning your head against the wall…

Justin: One of these days…

Kirsten: …and perpetually just yawn and then fall back asleep.

Justin: No, no, no. I’m good. I sprang back.

Kirsten: You sprang back?

Justin: Yeah. That’s how I do it.

Kirsten: I’m so sprung forward and it was hard to get out of bed this morning.

Justin: Every year we have the same arguments.

Kirsten: Same conversation, right?

Justin: But it just — it’s so illogical to me. It’s such a bad memory device because I have a bad memory as it is. But to think of something springing forward? It just doesn’t make sense. If you compress a spring, it springs back.

Kirsten: Spring!

Justin: It springs back!

Kirsten: But it bounces.

Justin: You can fall back as easily as you can fall forward it makes no difference.

Kirsten: Springing jump?

Justin: I don’t know.

Kirsten: Jump springing! Bounce! Bounce!

Justin: Just, you know, just tell me to set my clock an hour more, an hour less. Don’t give me the other mnemonical attempts.

Kirsten: Well, some people appreciate the mnemonic, right?

Justin: It is Tuesday, March 10th?

Kirsten: March 10th and…

Justin: Two thousand of nine.

Kirsten: And this is This week in Science. We have again, as always, science news! Science news! Science news! Great show ahead. And you know how last week we talked about, Square Root Day…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …on the day of the show. Well, we don’t have a special math day today unless there is some special math equation that…

Justin: There is. There’s some sort of complex math equation that’s…

Kirsten: That defines March 10th…

Justin: …three people are excited about today.

Kirsten: Yeah! But this week however is International Pi Day.

Justin: Oh, yum!

Kirsten: Yes! Do you know which day is International Pi Day?

Justin: Would it be — no, I don’t.

Kirsten: You can guess.

Justin: No I can’t. I can’t think.

Kirsten: You’re like…

Justin: Three…

Kirsten: Three pi knot in like a big pizza pie or whatever that.

Justin: It’s 3.14, right?

Kirsten: Three point fourteen.

Justin: Yeah! I’m good. I remember things.

Kirsten: Yeah. Oh, you know what I don’t have that would be great would be…

Justin: A lot of money?

Kirsten: Yeah. That would be good too.

Justin: A new car?

Kirsten: A pi song.

Justin: A puppy? What?

Kirsten: There are some songs out there that sing the…

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Kirsten: …that do the entire — not the entire number of pi but a very…

Justin: I’m working on it.

Kirsten: …large number of the digits past the decimal point. Anyway, do you know how useful pi is on a daily basis?

Justin: I never — it never comes up.

Kirsten: Have you ever used it?

Justin: Uh-oh.

Kirsten: (Unintelligible). Do you know how you could take advantage of the fact that there is pi in our world?

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: You can.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: You can. (Dennis Santier) wrote in to remind me how important it is to be able to calculate the value of pizza.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Without pi, how else would we know whether two medium pizza pies are a better deal than a single pizza pie?

Justin: Oh. You know, I think I’ve been probably losing. I (think) I’m guessing.

Kirsten: Or is it a better deal? Which is the better deal? The only way you can find out is by calculating the total area of the pizzas and, you know, dividing it by the cost and figuring out cost per area and you need…

Justin: If you don’t know the size of the crust though? I say, it’s — I think it’s…

Kirsten: You need pi to figure that out. You don’t need to know the size of the crust.

Justin: Hey, you do! Because two medium pizzas, you’re going to have a whole bunch more crust on there than you would on one large. And that might make up the difference in the cosmic balance of things.

Kirsten: Unless you’re like me and you like a crust. That’s right. On this week show as usual science news. I brought stories about reverse engineering dinosaurs.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yeah. We’re going back in time.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: The Paleontological Wayback Machine, mister!

Justin: It’s going to be awesome.

Kirsten: Stem cells scaffolding, living forever and insect memory.

Justin: I’ve got your brain on God, near tragedy may not have notice, horse history, lesson in humility, maybe some apes gone wild and why napping could be more dangerous than Alaskan crab fishing for old ladies.

Kirsten: Wow! That’s – I can’t wait to hear that. That one’s a good one. Oh, napping, napping. This is why I don’t nap.

Justin: No. It’s apparently extremely dangerous.

Kirsten: It’s extremely dangerous. Wow! We’re also going to be reading minion answers to the Question of the Month. It was a really great one this last month and that’s going to be coming up in the second half of the show.

In the meantime I guess, on to the news. How do you turn a chicken back into a dinosaur?

Justin: How?

Kirsten: You talk to paleontologist who have gotten into genetics and molecular biology. That’s how you do it.

Jack Horner, a leading paleontologist has written a book called “How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever” with a co-worker of his, a colleague named James Gorman. He is — well actually, he’s the Deputy Science Editor of the New York Times.

So, they’ve co-authored this book, kind of a fun book at what we know about the genes of modern day birds. And through many different species research looking at birds, flies, nematodes, humans, apes, all of the research that’s been done looking at different levels of evolutionary history on the genetic scale, but now they pieced together, which genes are important for body form and function.

And so, they think they can actually re-engineer a dinosaur. And they’re going to take it pass the idea of the book.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: And they’re actually going to attempt to give a chicken a tail, teeth, scales. They’re going to — they want to turn a baby chicken into a dinosaur.

Justin: Baby T-rex.

Kirsten: A baby dinosaur. Yes.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yeah. So it’s kind of like Jurassic Park in the sense that the idea behind Jurassic Park was, you know, making dinosaurs from dinosaur DNA.

DNA that was preserved in the fossil record. Now, this is living DNA. Taking DNA that is in the genome of living creatures that’s been switched off…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …or that’s been turned off by mutations or by other instructions. Let’s say “Okay, you know, turn this one off, turn this one on. You’re going to have feathers instead of scales. You’re not going to have teeth.”

Justin: We could have an actual flying ostrich.

Kirsten: Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know if that ever existed. I don’t think ostrich has ever flew. I don’t know if we could do that.

So it’s a really — I think it’s a really interesting idea because hypothetically they should be able to take chicken embryos, take a chicken while it is just at a very small early stages of development within the egg and manipulate the genome adding particular instructions that will insert genetic instructions that will turn on the body code to grow the spinal cord to create a tail, to change the feathers back into scales, to grow teeth.

And this is stuff that they’ve done in different experiments already. I mean they’ve already given chicken teeth. This stuff has been done a couple of years ago.

Justin: I thought too, yeah. I remember hearing that before.

Kirsten: But they haven’t done all of it at once. They haven’t taken everything that is known and tried to apply it all at the same time. You know, this is all little tiny bits and pieces that researchers have been working on separately around the world for years.

But now here is this idea of look, we know all this about it. We should be able to put all these information together and make a dinosaur out of a chicken.

Justin: That’s so awesome.

Kirsten: Could you imagine though? I mean, if the dinosaur…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: If the chicken develops healthily and has these features of a dinosaur, is it then a chicken or a dinosaur? What is it then? How do we define that?

And then if it is healthy and grows and develops, I mean, I don’t know, not like a normal chicken and not like a normal dinosaur but if it starts developing and it, you know, becomes a young adult, you know, is Jack Horner going to take his chickasaur out on a leash during lectures? Present his creation to the world? There is a certain…

Justin: Picture that ending badly.

Kirsten: Yeah. I mean, there is one side of this that I think is like, wow! We should try this because if we do know all these information, how neat to be able to manipulate it and know that it actually does work and that we understand the science well enough to do this. Second idea though is, “That’s a little mad science-y.”

Justin: Well, absolutely.

Kirsten: That’s a little crazy. Do we really need to be doing that?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m there but I know there are — I’m right there with you but I’m putting that argument out there because that is what so, you know, many people are going to be like “Whoa! That’s too much. That’s not cool. We’re not supposed to be playing with that stuff.”

Justin: Supposed to.

Kirsten: Right. Who says suppose to?

Justin: Supposed to. Supposed to.

Kirsten: Yeah. This is This Week in Science, you are listening to. Our phone number 752-2777 in the 530 area code.

Justin: I bet there was a lot of resistance early on in the domestication of animals. You’re going to do what?

Kirsten: Maybe or maybe not.

Justin: The animal shall be coming to eat for my bowl that we give food — like this has probably been, you know…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …all sort of abhorrent behavior by humans. It’s now perfectly acceptable.

Kirsten: So that, yeah, probably. I am sure. What do you have? Let’s move on.

Justin: I’ve got — yeah. Archaeologist have discovered the world’s oldest horse farm in Kazakhstan. And they may have now pinpointed the origin of equestrian domestication.

The Botai, people of Kazakhstan have been long in consideration for being one of the first domestication efforts. But it is now clear that if they were the first to ride horses — or no, at first it wasn’t clear if they were the first to ride horses or if they’d just hunted down, if they were just hunting and eating them. And that’s why there were lots of early horse bones and such around the — this really old area of Kazakhstan.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: This horse farm though is 5,500 years old.

Kirsten: That’s an old farm.

Justin: Yeah. It puts them in the historical lead for full domestication by about a thousand years over the next contender. And I think it’s still a couple of thousands — it’s thousands of years before horses were known to be in Europe.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Right? So when bones collected from the site were examined they were found to be similar to later domesticated horses and they were very different from wild horses.

The horse teeth at the site were found to be worn and patterns that indicated they were bit and bridled. So this is, you know, not just they had them (brawled) for the first time. They were…

Kirsten: They were actually being used as work horses or transportation horses.

Justin: Yeah. And the latest edition to the endless stream of new found knowledge that categorize personally as things I didn’t know existed. They also analyze residue and pottery and found traces of horse’s milk. Horses can be milked. I did not…

Kirsten: It makes sense but it’s not something that you normally consider. Yeah.

Justin: I never even notice a horse’s teat before. I know they must have them but — so there’s an odd, also nuts. This is — okay.

Kirsten: You learn something new every day.

Justin: And then, this is off the map and this is probably ridiculous. But — okay, Kazakhstan has this sort of tradition of wife abduction. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this. So, instead of a marriage proposal, the man just kidnaps the woman. And in the modern era…

Kirsten: Yehey!

Justin: And they become married though. They have a whole marriage thing after that. The modern era, a lot of times it was a pre-planned, you know. You know you’re getting married. There’s already been like a wedding dowry and that sort of thing.

But here, the woman still waits for the abduction. That’s still the wedding ceremony, right? It’s like — it could happen, you could be ahead to the store and then suddenly, here comes the car and you got thrown in and “Oh! I’m married.”

Anyway, that’s kind of an awful thing there. But I wonder if the fact that Kazakhstan has the earliest oldest history of domesticating horses, there is any connection between marriage titles of bride and groom like, the bridal, the wife, the horse groomer. Is anybody else — is that just — it might just be me. Kirsten is looking at me like, “No, Justin.” I can’t be right.

Kirsten: I have no idea.

Justin: Bride bridal?

Kirsten: You come up with interesting ideas.

Justin: Bride bridal, groom, horse groom — I just — I don’t know. When I was looking at the story — it all came together.

Kirsten: You know, there’s probably a linguist or somebody out there who knows the…

Justin: That’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping for somebody smart.

Kirsten: …knows they — where those words come from. You could probably Google it too.

Justin: I love the idea of it. The whole — the all of marriage. The entire institution, having bridal who’s still attach to the wife. It’s kind of…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s sort of like, you know, livestock, kind of the groom…

Kirsten: Okay, that’s…

Justin: …the husband’s job to groom her?

Kirsten: There’s enough of that. Maybe, just maybe we should stop blaming the sun for global warming.

Justin: Who did? Who started this? Who is the first because that’s ridiculous?

Kirsten: Well, you know, people say things. Maybe it’s the moon’s fault instead.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Let’s blame the moon.

Kirsten: Let’s blame the moon. I mean, we blame the moon for like all sorts of craziness anyway.

Justin: (Well, you know.) Oh yeah.

Kirsten: Werewolves, pregnancies.

Justin: PMS.

Kirsten: Yeah. All like the moon — it’s the moon’s fault for everything. And now, Peter Yaukey of the University of New Orleans has found a correlation between phases of the moon and hurricanes.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yeah. He analyzed storms between 1950 and 2007 in the Atlantic Ocean. And he found that they were more likely to form right after the new moon and intensify almost 50% more often after a new moon than at any other time.

So if there was a storm, it would become stronger right after the new moon. If there wasn’t a storm, there was one more likely to form right after the new moon.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: So, somehow the new moon — there’s this correlation.

Justin: And, okay. Right off the bat, I’m lacking my lunar knowledge here. So I don’t know if the moon cycle shows up at about the same times each year. I don’t know if it correlates. I don’t know if like the end of August is usually a new moon or not. Like if there’s a correlation there, then it could just be…

Kirsten: It moves over a course of a few days, you know. It has — it’s not always like the same day. Yeah.

Justin: It’s not the same day but if it’s in the same — if it stays within a week, I’m saying. Then, you know, then you’re just talking about there’s — late August is when maybe the hurricane show up normally. And late August there’s usually a new moon somewhere in the last week.

It’s just kind of — it could just be that easily correlated. If that’s how lunar calendar works. If the lunar calendar just doesn’t carry it all as it goes…

Kirsten: But it is — the calendar is a what, 29 to 30 days cycle so it probably is…

Justin: It’s probably pretty close.

Kirsten: It probably changes over a month. So, you get one new moon a month and that’s going to progress.

Justin: I’m saying is — right, but I’m saying if we usually have the most hurricanes say, I’m just going to say the last month of August.

Kirsten: Right. Right.

Justin: And we usually have a new moon the last month of August, I don’t know if you’re blaming the moon or if you just made a ridiculous correlation between two things or both on (unintelligible).

Kirsten: And that’s a good point to bring up. There are other — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Scientists who are saying that there are other explanations that need to look at.

Number one, he only looked at the Atlantic Ocean so let’s look at the other oceans around the world because storms form in other oceans as well. The Atlantic Ocean is not where all the hurricanes in the world form. It’s only a few percent of all the hurricanes like 10% or between 10% and 15% of all the hurricanes are in the Atlantic Ocean.

So if we’re going to look at the other oceans and see if they correlate as well, that would be a really good thing to do.

Justin: Having said that big, you know, (right).

Kirsten: And look at data before 1950 in the Atlantic Ocean because it could just be a short period — 1950 to 2007 — then, it somehow works.

Justin: Although, you know, the other is, it makes perfect sense that the moon will be correlated because it creates different ocean swells as much gravity. So maybe there is like a high tide, low tide version — a difference between how a hurricane can form, maybe having more water. Maybe the surge creates more uptake for a water from the (back). Yeah, it sounds like a lot of possibility.

Kirsten: And it’s possible that if there is, you know, if that’s happening as well, maybe there’s also more water vapor pulled into the air. And if there’s more water vapor in the air and then maybe there’s more likelihood of a storm forming as a result.

Justin: Very interesting.

Kirsten: So the gravitational pull of the moon may have some kind of an effect.

Justin: I now believe it. I now believe it a 100%.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Well, I can do that. I’m not a scientist. I don’t need evidence first. I don’t need facts. Oh, goodness.

Kirsten: Oh, facts, who needs facts. Just — who needs facts? Just blame the moon.

Justin: I’m so completely — I had a story there. What’s my next story? Why am I supposed to be…

Kirsten: Your brain on God.

Justin: Oh, you want the God story. Okay.

Kirsten: That’s what you’re going to do next.

Justin: As if we didn’t really already (know). Researchers have found distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers in God.

Believing in God, it turns out can help block anxiety, minimize stress and even might make you more proficient at avoiding mistakes. Yeah.

In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task which is — it says here a well-known test of cognitive control, although I have never — I don’t know it. So, it can’t be that well-known, right? You know about it, alright? You’ve come — all kinds of this Stroop test?

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s a psychological test.

Justin: Psychological test, compared to non-believers to religious participants. And the religious participants showed significantly less brain activity in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex.

Kirsten: (And it) finish the sentence.

Justin: The portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed. So this is I guess, usually as a result of anxiety-producing events. In this case, it was — the anxiety-inducing event was making mistakes.

So the stronger the zeal, the more fervently, firmly the God was believed in, the less the Anterior Cingulate Cortex fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

So, it says here — this is the quote, “You could think of this part of the brain as like an alarm bell that rings when an individual has made a mistake or experiences uncertainty. We found that religious people…” says, this is again Inzlicht of the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“…We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They’re much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error.”

So, God can keep you from making mistakes. But apparently when it goes on, (unintelligible) not serious.

Kirsten: No, it does not going to keep you from making mistakes.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It will keep you from feeling stressed about making mistakes.

Justin: No, no. They actually made less errors in the cognitive test, too.

Kirsten: They made fewer errors.

Justin: Made fewer errors. And what’s interesting about this is the over arching of this is, because they made fewer errors, which is good in the first run, but the problem they say is and this is could be from not having anxiety over the errors that they did make, they are likely to make those errors again.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, those of us who were, you know, neurotic brain and make lot of errors maybe learning more from those errors than those confident who don’t, right?

Kirsten: Right, yeah. So if, that’s one — one interpretation is that if you’re not getting any stress about making mistakes then there’s no impetus for you to fix your mistakes.

Justin: Exactly.

Kirsten: And so you could continue just making the same mistakes over and over and over again. However, that is just an interpretation.

Justin: I like the fact believing God makes fewer errors. Just kind of interesting.

Kirsten: Just calm down. No. I don’t think it makes — I am not seeing that.

Justin: You don’t want to see that. You’re blocking it. It’s there.

Kirsten: I’m not seeing it anywhere. It’s just that they’re making — they are not stress out when they make.

Justin: I’ll extrapolate it in a way that it will make you happy, Kirsten.

Kirsten: They’re less stressed out.

Justin: Believing in God makes you less of a critical thinker. There we go. There we’ve done it. We’ve said it out loud.

Kirsten: Wow! It makes you less stressed out. Makes you less…

Justin: You think less critically.

Kirsten: Makes you less stressed. Mm hmm. So researchers have — where are they? The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London have been doing research on neural stem cells.

Now, one problem with taking stem cells and sticking them on the brain to fix any problems that are going on is if you’re taking the stem cells and they just go into a dead area of the brain where there’s nothing there, what are they going to do? How are they going to get blood vessels? How are they going to structure themselves?

They just kind of start growing and if they don’t really have something to — any structure to grow on, they might not grow really well. So, these researchers have developed a biodegradable material that — it’s a polymer called PLGA that they can inject into the brain — into an area that’s been damaged and then, inject the stem cells. And the PLGA acts as a scaffolding for the stem cells to grow on.

Then as the stem cells start growing and they are able to set themselves up there, the polymers slowly degrades away. The body just kind of takes it up and it disappears and is excreted by the body.

Now — so, they’ve tested this out and they see that — they’ve only done this in mice so far. They haven’t got into a point where they’re able to actually inject this into humans but they’re hoping that they’ll be able to get to this point in the next couple of years.

They used MRI scans to pinpoint where the stem cells injections were needed and then they monitor the development of the brain tissue. And researcher Mike Modo says, “Over a few days we can see cells migrating along the scaffold particles and forming a primitive brain tissue that interacts with the host brain.”

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: With the host brain.

Kirsten: Yeah, I know isn’t that..

Justin: With the host.

Kirsten: Isn’t that terminology fantastic?

Justin: That’s pretty amazing.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, they’re foreign neural cells and you hope that they will interact and…

Justin: You know, I’ve got a great idea.

Kirsten: …get themselves coordinated with the natural brain.

Justin: I’ve got a terrific idea. The only problem is it’s not really mine. It belongs to the host brain.

Kirsten: Right. The next step, they’re hoping to be able to add a growth factor called VEGF that encourages blood vessels to move into the new tissue to speed its development into maturity. So, the idea is that eventually with this kind of technology, these treatments could allow people who suffer from strokes and lose portions of their brain.

Because when you have a stroke, there’s no oxygen to an area of brain, the tissue dies. And then, that tissue is degraded and there are holes left in the brain, basically. And if you can replace that tissue and give the brain more tissue to work with, “Hey! You got function. You’re working.”

Justin: I want to do it and I don’t even have any recognizable missing parts of my brain. I would just go for it as a second brain like a back up. You know, we’ll do a little build on on the top of my head, a little cone head, little extra brain tissue.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Right before the break, did anybody notice the large asteroid that buzzed us last week?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: It happened like the day before we’re on the air last week. I missed it.

Kirsten: I heard about it after the fact just like “Oh! Hey, nice.”

Justin: Asteroid 2009 DD45 showed up a million miles away on the Australian Sliding Spring observatory, the radar there — not radar but, you know, from the observatory they saw it. It was 1.5 million miles away. Two days later, it was cruising by the earth within 50,000 miles.

Kirsten: That’s really close.

Justin: That’s very — it was about twice as far as away as our deepest communication satellite. It was about a 1/5 of the way to the moon.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It was between us and the moon and a 1/5 of much closer to the earth and the moon.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: The understatement of the award maybe have a front runner now and Astronomer Timothy Spahr, Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who said in an interview “This was pretty darn close.” Spahr said he knew within an hour of the discovery that it would pose no threat to the Earth. Power of science.

Kirsten: Well, that’s good. It’s the power of Math. Math, yes people.

Justin: Yeah. What — the would be ragnarok.

Kirsten: I bet he used pi in his calculations.

Justin: Oh no, two Pi. They always use two Pi which I never understood. Why not just make…

Kirsten: I don’t know. (There’s something) Pi are squared.

Justin: Yeah. Why not just pi larger and then the would be ragnarok measure on 100 ft. diameter. Planetary society said that it made — it would have made — it would have made it about the same size the asteroid that was believed to have caused the 1908 Tunguska event in Siberia which hit with the force of a thousand Hiroshima size the explosions and felled trees over 800 plus Siberian square miles.

While this was a short notice event — I mean two days. A million and a half miles away, two days later it’s zipping by. Wow! It didn’t have — they didn’t even inform people. They’re like “It’s probably not going to hit us. What’s the point, you know, why make a (statement).”

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: The next known near missed event will be on 2029 when an 885 foot Asteroid called Apophis comes within 20,000 miles. This pass is not expected to be threatening to anything more than a few satellites but may set up a 2036 impact depending on how its course is altered in passing so close to the Earth. So, current estimates or that impact destroying the Earth, about 1 in 45,000.

Kirsten: It’s pretty good chance. Well, fantastic. Fantastic. And I just want to tell everybody the stem cell story I brought up, Obama opened up federal funding for stem cell research yesterday. He also put out a call.

He made a memorandum for scientific integrity where he made a statement that science is important and should not be meddled with and should be allowed to tell us things even if they are inconvenient. And I think he said, ESPECIALLY if they are inconvenient to help us form proper policies.

So, scientific integrity coming from the top man, the top guy of the US government, I really really believe that yesterday when he made that statement, it was a change for the way that science will be viewed and used in politics in the United States for at least the next four years, three years.

Justin: Eight years.

Kirsten: Hopefully. With that we will take a break. Then, we have more science news and I got so much to talk about.

Justin: We’re not going to get through all of that.

Kirsten: And the Question of the Month.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: The Question of the Month, its coming!

Justin: There’s too much news.

Kirsten: Be back in just one moment. Stay tuned.

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Justin: And we’re back.

Kirsten: We are.

Justin: More of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: Yehey! Super excited. You know what was also found in addition to that asteroid that almost hit us?

Justin: Huh? What?

Kirsten: Two super massive black holes.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yeah. Visualized by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Justin: I’m glad they missed us.

Kirsten: Yeah. They were found orbiting each other — they’re far away. They are at some distance away but these two giant black holes were found orbiting each other and they’re going to collide someday. One is going to give — big boom black hole smash. Yeah.

Observations published in Nature this last week. And the calculations suggest that these black holes are separated by only 0.3 light years which is one-tenth of the distance from the sun to its nearest neighbor.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Anyway, they are also orbiting each other at the speed of 6,000 kilometers per second which is really fast.

Justin: That’s pretty quick.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s moving. It’s moving.

Kirsten: They’ve got — I mean this is like the last bit of how you watch the water go down the drain in the tub sometimes and how it just at a very end it starts to get — it just seems like it’s getting faster and faster and faster that I thinks that’s what happening.

They’re circling in, circling in. Their gravitational force is pulling on each other and it’s like a ballerina pulling her arms in, spinning faster. Oh, so exciting! But unfortunately we probably won’t be around for the collision.

Justin: You might not be. I don’t plan on going anywhere.

Kirsten: No. They also found a moon in Saturn’s outer…

Justin: In the ring.

Kirsten: …Saturn’s G ring. Yeah.

Justin: Within the ring.

Kirsten: It’s not really a moon. It’s a moonlet.

Justin: A moonlet night.

Kirsten: Little moonlet. “Oh my little moonlet.”

Justin: It’s so cute.

Kirsten: So cute.

Justin: Little baby moon.

Kirsten: Yes, baby moon. Oh Cassini you’re wonderful. They’re going to go back around and try it this next year and try and get some good visuals of that little baby moon. Okay.

Okay I guess let’s — it’s about eight after eight so we have some work to get done. I want to do the Question of the Month and so we can get to it or do you want with the science news?

Justin: It’s up to you, either way, either way. I’m good to go.

Kirsten: Yeah, good to go. All right, let’s hear the Question of the Month. And then we will come back around if we’ve got time after this one because I have been wanting to do this for a while and I don’t want to run out of time.

Question of the Month was from Trebetheric. “What is it about spices that people have evolved to like them? Is it just the fluke of their unique molecular structures like some drugs? Could the fact that they have been used to keep foods fresher allowed enough time for humans to evolve a taste for spice? Is there any advantage to them? This is something I think every time I eat spicy foods.” I think about it too. It’s very — I mean, why? Why do I love the spice so much?

Planarian wrote into the TWIS forums a simple obvious but important answer. “Humans may not enjoy spices as much as they tire of bland food” that’s possible.

Justin: I like that answer.

Kirsten: Yeah. “Maybe taste in a sense evolved by taking a path similar to domestication. Essentially, I guess you could say, accidental. Possibly there is no real advantage taste for spices merely occurred via human yearning for the exotic.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s one possibility. It’s an idea. Mark Pursglove from the UK says “Really great question! The taste for spicy food is definitely more prominent in certain cultures, India, Thai, Mexican, et cetera, than others.

Western European, Easter European, Scandinavian, et cetera are the ones that are not so prevalent which suggests that it isn’t human being as a whole that crave spice.

Indeed, cultural variation appears in a wide range of food types to the point where one group might find the food of another group repulsive like horse meat, dog meat, whale meat, frogs legs, awful cheese.” Eeww! All of that sounds gross to me.

“However, why different cultures decide to cook spicy food in the first place is probably more functional. There are many examples of taste giving compounds also being preservatives. The idea that they were originally used functionally to keep food edible before becoming established as the cultural norm.

A molecule called Allicin in garlic is well known — a well known anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and it has been suggested that it’s used in preserved meat products like salami is because of this reason.

Capsacin, the “heat” in chili peppers has been shown as an anti-fungal agent and also has shown to reduce the number of salmonella bacteria in live chickens.”

Mark’s favorite example – and possibly Justin’s — of a practical use being turned into a cultural taste is beer. “The hops in beer where originally intended to preserve the alcoholic beverage. However, they have now become intrinsic to what we consider the beer taste. This has further evolved in the example of the India Pale Ale or IPA which was originally a beer brewed in Britain to ship the troops stationed in India.”

Justin: High hops.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: High hops.

Kirsten: “However, to allow the beer to survive the weeks in transit it was brewed with a higher alcohol content and loads more hops. This new taste was a big hit and it remains very popular style of beer long after the practical need.”

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah. I thought that was a really, really interesting…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …interesting little tidbit of information. Now I have something to bring up in cocktail parties – I love that stuff. “You know that beer you’re drinking? Wasn’t always that way.”

Aaron Leeper from Columbus Ohio. “While Marky P’s answer is very well thought out and I tend to agree with most of it, I think there may be more to it. Although the use of spices like salt, et cetera to preserve food increases, our exposure to it thus making us more likely to appreciate it. It doesn’t really necessarily make it something we prefer.

I would suggest that it is an evolutionary or at least a utilitarian mechanism. If food is NOT preserved it is less more likely to rot more quickly and thus more dangerous for us to eat.

Consider Cro-Magnons eating meat 300,000 years ago, the food that found its way into the quartz salt corner of a cave ended up being edible for longer which is important when you’re five-member clan just brought down an entire mammoth and can’t eat enough mammoth sandwiches before it goes bad.

So, Og who refuses to eat a salty food because it taste funny naturally possesses a higher likelihood of contracting disease from eating unpreserved meat. Well, it may not be wholly biological at this point, I think that a habit which increases human survival is a strong impetus for our love of spices.”

Justin: On the other hand you could argue that those that preferred the salty tastes lost the ability to handle rancid meat like say a, scavenging animal would.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So, maybe we actually lost something for our love of spice. It’s hard to say.

Kirsten: Maybe we did like well, you know, some animals have a higher number of bacteria in their mouth that are able to counteract and combat the bacteria that are in meat that you would be scavenging.

Justin: I’m saying, maybe we have that once.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Maybe we had all the, you know. Yeah.

Kirsten: It’s possible.

Justin: Yeah?

Kirsten: Mm hmm, interesting idea. Tom Trude from Altus Oklahoma says “Before the invention of refrigeration and preservative chemicals, spices were used to mask the taste and smell of rotting meat. In warmer climates, meat rots more, so they use more spices.

The use of spices as handed down as a tradition in families. It has nothing to do with evolution.” This is what Tom says. “As to the question of how spices became food, ancient people probably used them as medicine. Perhaps chewing on a pepper or two cures the tummy ache after eating rotten meat.”

Justin: And also you got to figure, you know, this is before — alright, this is before television, thousands of years ago. It was, you know, there might have been one show on the back of the cave wall a month that people gather around for. Now, I’m going on. You know, something like the taste of mint might be really exciting. That might be a really — that might be a thrill.

Kirsten: An absolute thrill.

Justin: Tingly.

Kirsten: Tingly.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Alright. And our last letter — our last post on the forums was from Naomi Most and she wrote a novel. She seriously spent some time looking in to this question and answering it. She wrote some great stuff here so I’m really excited to read this to everybody.

So, Naomi says “As a linguistics, anthropology major and occasional professional recipe developer, the topic of food in evolution is a pet one of mine. I would agree with the above statement that it’s not evolution i.e., genetics but rather a cultural evolution which I will call memetics.

However, I have reservations about giving all the credit for food preference over to cultural preference because there are growing bodies of medical and nutritional evidence that indicate that individuals may thrive or suffer eating a particular cuisine on a regular basis depending on their ancestry.

To start off, the “anti-parasitical” theory of spicy foods seems well supported.” And she has an article that she linked to. “To summarize the study, it seems they compiled statistical data about the use of spices from thousand of recipes crossed-referenced by location in the world and also by presence of human parasitical organisms.

The overwhelming evidence indicates a sort of culinary arms race against bacteria, fungus and other parasites like worms who are competing for the same food. Humans can take the heat, bugs can’t.

Similarly a group of scientist who compiled a book called ‘Genes, Culture and Human Evolution’ described what they call the spice cline. They observed tendency for prepared foods to vary in spiciness directly with the cultures’ latitude. In other words, foods are prepared bland towards these poles, spiciest at the equator and variably spicy depending on the proximity to the equator.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: “I want to keep exploring the question of whether genetics are involved at any level because it does seem there is more to the equation than just the tendency for foods to be spiciest in the high parasite density locations.

Food preservation may remain the tropic of spicy foods but in terms of survival advantage the fact that it’s a mean that increases the availability of food and therefore the lifespan of individuals who use it rather than a gene for food preference seems pretty cut and dried, so to speak.

There are health consequences for people of various ethnic backgrounds choosing to eat certain cuisines, combinations of spices, etc. It seems that certain people with background “X” who have been eating cuisine “Y” their entire lives often experience chronic illnesses that only resolve after the person switches to cuisine “X”.

At either cuisine, that matches what the people of their ancestry ate and cooked. This is relevant to the spice question and that there are many people who experienced congenital intolerance reactions to capsaicin, the hot spicy chemical in chili peppers to the tune of airway constriction, coughing, asthma, headaches and so on.

While on the other end of the spectrum, I have personally witnessed five year-old girls in Honduras chewing nonchalantly on Serrano peppers.”

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: “So, there is some kind of a spectrum there. There’s also the question of why the first chili pepper was consumed in the first place. If it’s a first time you’ve ever put one in your mouth even a mild pepper won’t stand up in a taste preference taste versus like a banana.

Then again, the chemical AFTER effects of the spice — spice in raged tongue namely epinephrine and norepinephrine do produce an enjoyable perking up sort of a feeling. Maybe the first chili pepper wasn’t enjoyed so much as tolerated for the promise of its mild intoxication.

The mechanisms though which the taste for spicy foods have been examined in at least one study.” And she gives the link again. And it says “It hurts so good: oral irritation by spices and carbonated drinks and the underlying neural mechanisms.” So maybe it is that kind of — it hurts but we like it. Maybe we have that.

Justin: I think there’s just too much choice being put in a lot of these answers though.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I picture myself wondering the ancient thunder without agriculture, eating whatever was there. Like I don’t care, I don’t care what it tastes like, I’m hungry. There’s no restaurants.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I’m going to eat what’s here.

Kirsten: I’m going to eat it. Let’s see. So she goes on to say. “There are definitely…”

Justin: I actually take the point because if there is something that has insect resistance, I’m more likely to, you know, pluck that meat at versus something that’s crawling with worms or bugs or being devoured already. Which also probably means I’m even (unintelligible) poisonous things but…

Kirsten: Yeah, probably. I don’t know…

Justin: But the garlic might be safe.

Kirsten: Would you survive so long? I do not know. “There are definitely measured health benefits from the use of spices — Turmeric contains a potent anti-inflammatory, curcumin which has been associated with reduced risk of arthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Cinnamon and cloves seem to regulate insulin and other risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Whole books have written about garlic’s health benefits.

The use of chili peppers in food is consistently associated with the healthier cardiovascular system, prevention of ulcers even weight control. But do any of these factoids point towards such as significant survival advantage for individuals in the cultures who use them as to affect genetic outcomes.

After almost individuals going to live well into child-bearing age without seeing any ill effects from their diets until they’re 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. If the next generation can be born before any survival differentiation takes place in the parents, then that’s a win for genes regardless of taste preferences for spice.

And modern genetic theory does posit a mild selection pressure. Consider following scenario featuring Mother A who doesn’t use anti-oxidant rich, anti-inflammatory spices on her food and Mother B who does.

Mother A and Mother B experienced comparable health in their early child bearing years. Mother A and Mother B both give birth to three children.

Mother A begins to experience deleterious effects of aging possibly cancer, arthritis. Those kinds of conditions were beginning to see as preventable through diet and exercise.

Mother B experiences for a FEWER deleterious effects of aging and is therefore able to stay a stronger caretaker for her children as they grow older and have children of their own.

Mother A experiences health problems that severely limit her ability to provide value to her family possibly even becoming a burden to her descendants. Mother B remains a strong caretaker in the family and confers higher survival odds to her grandchildren.

In this scenario, the descendants of A end up with a much weaker survival situation than the descendants of B. The consequences of a weaker survival situation could be that fewer children make it to childhood.

And then the Mayans come along and totally wiped out Mother A and all her descendants who were fat and too easily winded because they don’t eat chili peppers.

But at just at this is point, is this, nutrition science is still completely and its infancy and we have only discovered the structure of DNA about a century ago. We also don’t have much good information about the dietary habits of people thousands of years ago. We do see variants in the health effects of the use of various spices by individuals of different ancestries.

Some experience negative effects while others wouldn’t live as well without them. So, while the memetic explanation of spicy foods is certainly the strongest, I definitely hesitate to rule out genetic influences in the choice of spices in modern foods.

At this point, I’ve spent almost two hours on this question out of the sheer joy of it pulling in all the articles and books I’ve been reading anyway. I hope some of it has been useful perhaps even food for thought. Har! Har! I would love to hear more from others. Keep the discussion going.”

Naomi recommends a book called, “Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes and Cultural Diversity” by Gary Nabhan for anyone else who is interested in this question.

And I do suggest that if you were interested continuing this discussion, there’s a great discussion going on on the forums, You just go to, click on forums on the sidebar and go to Question of the Month, Answer a Question.

And the February question was this food question by Trebetheric. And I hope Trebetheric found an answer somewhere in all these responses.

It was really really fabulous to read all of the responses this month and I will have a new question for you next week. If you have a question, stick it in the “Ask a Question” section of our forums and maybe it will be chosen for our next Question of the Month.

Justin: Very Nice.

Kirsten: Very nice. Yes. I like this. I like learning and having, you know, inspiring — it’s neat to think that people are being inspired to look into things, to think about things a little bit more than maybe they do or maybe there are questions coming up that they knew people never asked before. So, all together, it’s very very, very fun.

Justin: We have smart listeners. Way smarter than me which is sometimes intimidating. Yeah.

Kirsten: Who’s learning from whom here? What’s going on?

Justin: So yeah, next week I’m going to ask — I’m not going to have any stories. I’m just going to ask questions. Kind of be learning over and listen.

Kirsten: I think we got time for a couple of stories very quick.

Justin: Okay. Let me — I’m kind of going to the hyper mode here. The early bird may catch the worm but if you are old bird, you now have even more reason not to sleep late.

New study appearing in the Journal of American Geriatric Society has found that older women who reported taking daily naps have a significantly greater risk of dying. They are actually 44% to 58% more likely to die than counterparts who do not take naps.

Kirsten: Good to know. Well maybe…

Justin: Everybody — a 100% of these people are going to die.

Kirsten: Right. Everybody is going…

Justin: But I mean, within the period a time, a short period of time.

Kirsten: I wonder if it has something to do with, you know, their general energy levels and health levels and maybe they need naps because their — just their metabolism like things are just not working right.

Justin: Not metabolism but perhaps — the findings showed that…

Kirsten: Maybe they’re not getting enough oxygen somehow.

Justin: Exactly.

Kirsten: Cardiovascular system…

Justin: The idea is it maybe in sleep. It maybe in sleep. It maybe or something in this napping maybe — even though they reported going to bed and being asleep for as long, perhaps the sleep wasn’t restful and therefore, they needed an additional nap.

So, maybe there is something else that’s already going on because one of the things is heart attack, is like 59% higher chance of dying of a heart attack if you are the napper which makes less sense, so you think you’d be more well rested and more relaxed.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: But it could be that the actual long sleep that you’re getting isn’t resting you, isn’t relaxing, isn’t giving you that restorative power. And so therefore, you need a nap because you can’t stay conscious and then. So anyway, if your concerned about this at all in anyway, just don’t take naps and you might live longer.

Kirsten: And think positive thoughts.

Justin: Oh. Does that help?

Kirsten: Think positive thoughts. Yeah. There’s a study that just came out like I don’t know where it was published but as the study — and also trust people. A study looked at…

Justin: Trust people.

Kirsten: …trust people — looked at the women’s health study which surveyed over 10,000 women over several years, found that optimistic women were more likely to lead a healthier lives overall than pessimists.

So if you’re an optimist, you’re going to live longer. They were 14% less likely to die from any cause and 30% less likely to die from heart disease, specifically –which is rather interesting.

Another analysis found that cynically hostile women — which I love — cynically hostile not just hostile or cynical but cynically hostile women are 16% more likely to die than non-hostile counterpart. So, if you’re less trust — the less trustworthy you are the more…

Justin: They still got to give time frame because I’m telling you, 100% of people die.

Kirsten: Yes. It’s true. It’s true.

Justin: They got to qualify. Okay. The last note I’ve got here oh, there’s the apes attacking people story too and we have to do that thing.

Kirsten: With premeditating…

Justin: Premeditated stone throwing at zoo visitors. That’s a brilliant story.

Kirsten: It’s not lots of them necessarily it was one particular ape right?

Justin: So, one ape that over though, it’s over like ten years they’ve noticed this misbehavior. The ape…

Kirsten: Collecting rock.

Justin: … calmly collects rock within its enclosure. This is in a Swedish zoo — has figured out actually even when the best time is to pull these rocks. They’re actually pieces of the concrete off of being closure. Off of like this, you know, boulder himself.

Kirsten: Yeah. He chips away at the concrete boulders and pulls up pieces that he can use as ammunition.

Justin: Gathers — makes little stacks of rocks and what would he is intending to do and very calmly. And then when the zoo visitors are there, gets very aggressive. He’s doing the hostility display and begins hacking the stones at the visitors trying to…

Kirsten: Did anyone notice an obelisk, you know, landing like in the middle of the night?

Justin: And so, and which (oath) this is, you know, the behavior of premeditating and planning out later actions, this is all stuff that they’ve had a hard time identifying in animals.

Here’s a very clear sign. Because in the off season when the tourists aren’t there, he doesn’t bother collecting the stones and putting them near the — because he puts them all right there. Stock piles right there near where the people come to watch. Santino, I think is a chimp.

Kirsten: I wonder if he talks to himself. Santino probably talks to himself.

Justin: Santino, plotting and planning against us.

Kirsten: “I’m going to throw this rock at your head.” And all you have to close it up but you – yeah. What were you going to say?

Justin: Oh. Just this — I’ve just a little bit of something that’s affirmed my outlook in life. People who know me, know that I claim to be the most humble person that I know, and people who know me also know that for a long time now I’ve been kind of critical of humility as being a virtue, right?

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I personally consider humility more of a vice if it’s not applied correctly. For instance, somebody who holds humility highly as a virtue might attempt to act humble around others and is thereby showing off just how humble they can be. They’re actually making…

Kirsten: Not really humble.

Justin: No. They’re actually making other people’s humility seem inferior by comparison by acting so humble, show boating their humility if you will.

So, by claiming to be the most humble person that I am now, I am in fact keeping my humility humble refusing the temptation of flaunting my humility in front of others.

Humility one-up-manship will never be one of my character flaws. Now as it that happens and so often happens in the past, a brilliantly intuitive idea of my own has been confirmed somewhat by science — well, sort of anyway.

Two Northeastern University scientists have found that pride not only leads in individuals to take on leadership roles in teams but it also fosters admiration as opposed to scorn and makes people think of that person as being nicer.

Kirsten: Interesting. I want to thank everyone for writing in this last week. (Ed Dyer), thanks for the stories, (Paula), (Logan), (Bill), (Kalidasa), (Glenn in Vancouver).

Justin: (Ted Chavalas). Thank you (Ted Chavalas).

Kirsten: Yes. (Andrew Sherman), (Stacy O’Brien), so many of you. (Shannon), so many, so many, big thanks to all of you.

Justin: And minion (Kal Midan).

Kirsten: Thanks for listening to the show today. We’re also available as a podcast if you’re interested in that format.

You can visit and click on the subscribe to TWIS science podcast. For information on how to subscribe, you just search for us in iTunes. For more information on anything you’ve heard here in today’s show notes with links to source articles will be available on our website,

We want to hear from you so email us at or

Justin: Be sure and put TWIS somewhere in that subject, otherwise it will go immediately to the spam filter.

Kirsten: Oh, spam filter. And we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific time. We hope you will join us again for more great science news.

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

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.

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