Transcript-TWIS.ORG Nov 25, 2008

Synopsis: Miracles fruit from Japan makes bitter tastes seem sweet, Flies Gone Wild delivering larva instead of eggs, Mammoth Operations, To the Birds, Sweet Space, Planetary Discovery, Madness, Genetic Explanations, and Learning to Speak.

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

The following hour of our programming deals with subject matter too interesting from most audiences. The show’s content does not represent the views or opinions of University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors as there is no way to tell what the host will say or do while under the influence of breaking science news stories.

The subjects covered here can at times be controversial, often debatable and endlessly offensive even to those who hold world’s views founded without scientific facts.

And while this host may perhaps arrogantly at times, hold scientific fact to be a greater truth in other beliefs or reasonings, it should be noted that the universe is much stranger than any of us realize. It is just now beginning to hint to us the bizarre nature of its quantum mechanical and biological inter-workings.

Such strangeness awaits us in this next hour. Such strangeness that has the power to change what you know about the universe you live in. So, get ready to have your reality altered with This Week in Science, coming up next.

Happy Turkey Day, Kirsten, almost!

Kirsten: Almost Turkey Day, that’s right. It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the good old US of A.

Justin: Yeah. For those international listeners, you don’t quite understand Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition that dates back to a time when the early pilgrims made peace with the native peoples and how to share a big meal together.

Since then, we slaughtered them into near non-existence, force them under reservations only recently allowed them to operate casinos to have some sort of livelihood. But we give thanks because we got a country out of it.

Kirsten: Right. And, it is good to give thanks just anyway.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, today is our day of…

Justin: Thanksgiving.

Kirsten: Thanks for science and thanks for all of you out there who listen to this program and keep us going…

Justin: I would like to thank you, Kirsten…

Kirsten: Inspire us.

Justin: …for inspiring to be part of the show for putting such a great show together, getting all these hosts – I mean, getting all the guests to interview, to making the thing work where it’s on the internet. We have websites. We have – I don’t know how it even works to this day.

Kirsten: I don’t know how it happens.

Justin: But Kirsten, thank you for doing all that. And I thank Michael Stebbins too for joining us bi-weekly, except he bailed on us.

Kirsten: He did bail on us.

Justin: So I guess he just messed.

Kirsten: But he had a higher calling. He – I guess, we can say it now…

Justin: Can we?

Kirsten: …because it’s been announced that actually is in publication in various places.

Justin: It’s been blurbed around there, yeah.

Kirsten: Blurb around. Michael Stebbins has left TWIS because he is part of the Obama transition team.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: I think he’s part of the Executive Office of the President.

Justin: That’s quite up in there.

Kirsten: Like choosing – helping to choose which people are going to take up various positions…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …once Obama’s administration comes.

Justin: I’m expecting a call at any moment.

Kirsten: I’m sure you are, sure you are. And Justin, I would like to say thank you for coming in every week.

Justin: (oh pshaw).

Kirsten: Bringing in your unique sensibilities to this show.

Justin: That’s it. Unique sensibilities, that always sounds like it’s skirting saying something else.

Kirsten: No, there’s nobody like you, Justin.

Justin: Thank goodness.

Kirsten: There’s nobody else who could do this the way you do. And I thank you for that.

Justin: Thank you for thanking me.

Kirsten: Anyway, this is This Week in Science and so, enough with the thanking and on with science. Today, I brought stories about mammoth reanimation, electrodes giving speech, German graves, distant gases and suggestions for following poultry tracks.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yeah. What do you got?

Justin: That’s going to be – actually I want to go about that one. I’ve just got bipolar disorder. I’ve got the fastest mandible in the world.

Kirsten: The fastest mandible, the fastest mandible in the west.

Justin: Some truly bizarre fly behavior which is going to create an interesting investigation behind it. Some ice stuff, some international observation stuff, sugar.

Kirsten: I like sugar.

Justin: Yeah. I have some galactic sugar news.

Kirsten: Oh.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I had some not sugar but very sweet stuff and experience this weekend that was very fun.

Justin: Uh-oh. Can you talk about it?

Kirsten: I can talk about it. So, I’ve gotten way into this thing called – this stuff called miracle fruit which…

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Miracle fruit, yeah. It’s…

Justin: Is that the one you eat it and then taste like anything, then later it taste like something.

Kirsten: It doesn’t taste like anything. But then, it attaches to the – there’s a compound in it that’s called miraculin.

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten: I love that they name the compound miraculin. And it attaches to the taste buds and changes the way that they function so that bitter – things that are bitter or acidic actually end up tasting sweet.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: So that the acids which normally stimulate your bitter receptors to make you go, “Ah, bitter.” The bitter is turned off but then somehow your sweet receptors are now receptive to this acidity and it makes things sweeter.

And so, got some of the miracle fruit from Japan online and the internet is amazing. You get anything from anywhere. And had a fun tasting, this last weekend, tried it out and like run around the kitchen eating everything.

I had a massive stomachache later. But lemons taste like lemonade, limes taste like limeade. Like we squeeze the glass of lime juice, no sugar added and it’s seriously – the mouth feel is still acidic so it still burns a little bit. But it’s sweet. It’s like limeade.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: And no sugar added. It’s the most amazing compound.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: It’s really fun. And things like horse radish, the hot spicy of horse radish and wasabi and like Tabasco, gone.

Justin: Really?

Kirsten: So, they become sweeter. And chocolate, no chocolate flavor. The sweet and that was kind of dissipated.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah. We had cacao nibs and they just tasted like wood.

Justin: I don’t know what a cacao nib is? But…

Kirsten: A coco nib, sorry, coco nib.

Justin: Cacao.

Kirsten: Coco nib.

Justin: Cacao.

Kirsten: Yeah. It was very fun. And so, it’s this interesting science experiment in action to try and determine how you think something is going to be affected by this miraculin and then to test it and see how…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …it turns out, it’s a really fun experiment to play with. It’s kind of fun when you can do human experimentation on yourself.

Justin: Well, I just – I wonder why like – now how long did you have to wait? You said, you ate the fruit and then you had to wait to a little while.

Kirsten: No, it’s immediate.

Justin: It’s immediate.

Kirsten: So, they sell it in tablet form and also as a fruit. And the fruit is kind of like this dried, woody, kind of seed like pulpy seed, I guess. But they also have it as a tablet because they’ve isolated the miraculin compound and just started producing it. There was like, vats of bacteria in Japan that are creating this compound so that they can isolate it and make it into tablets for dieters and stuff.

Justin: I wonder how like nervous the entire sugar industry for bringing up something like that.

Kirsten: But it doesn’t. I mean, it doesn’t – I don’t think the sugar industry has anything to worry about. But at the same time, it is neat that you can make things that normally wouldn’t taste so sweet. And this is something that’s been suggested and that – this is what I think used for in other parts of the world as a diet aid.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: So that you can actually have the sweet taste without having the calories from the sugar.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It’s just kind of neat.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: I don’t know. It’s very interesting stuff. And it was fun to play with. It hits you immediately so there’s no wait time really, like 10, 20 seconds.

Justin: How long does it last?

Kirsten: Like an hour.

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: It depends on the person. Some people, it’s 20 minutes. Some people, two hours. But an hour is about average.

Justin: I was thinking like if it lasts the whole week. It’s like…

Kirsten: No, no. It goes away.

Justin: Everything is sweet.

Kirsten: I have one friend who – she tried it, she’s like, “Why did you do this to me? What have you done to me? Make it go away.” So now, I have to find the compound that counteracts it for the friends that don’t like it.

Justin: Bitter pill.

Kirsten: Yeah, the bitter pill. All right, from minion (Natalia), she says, “I love your podcast and salute you and Justin for a great job of making science news both educational and fun to listen to.

I have a minor correction to something you said about the ocean microbe that fixes nitrogen. It was from two weeks ago, last week’s show. The microbe binds nitrogen to other elements not molecules. By binding nitrogen to other elements, it makes nitrogen a part of new molecules which are accessible to be digested by other ocean inhabitants.

Also, while nitrogen is roughly 80% of atmosphere, oxygen is about 20% and not an infinitesimal amount as you said. You were however correct in saying that carbon dioxide is a very small fraction of the atmosphere.”

So, there was a couple of inaccuracies in my reporting, probably just because I was speaking off the top of my head and not checking myself too closely.

Justin: Always alibi yourself. But bigger thanks to the…

Kirsten: But I thank to (Natalia)…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …for keeping it real. And (Scott Morella) from Boston, he says, “Sorry for the email being so late. But I’m a bit behind of my TWIS podcast. Two weeks ago, November 4th air date, you received a letter in regards to robot domination which ended in a statement, ‘Sharks killed one person last year. We killed 38 million sharks.’ Justin, you seem a bit skeptical of the stat so I was emailing TWIS to assure you that as usual, it’s much worse.

Yes, in 2006, the estimated total of sharks killed for the fin trade alone was 38 million. But these are still conservative estimates. Estimates range in upwards of 100 million sharks per year.

No matter the estimate, however, shark populations have declined by about 70% worldwide in the past two decades alone. And at the Atlantic Coast of the United States has seen almost a 90% decline in large sharks since the 1970’s.

In the journal Science, a few years ago, study attributed the Atlantic Coast scallop fishery crushed to a cascading effect of shark population decline resulting in increased ray populations.

Sure, many people see sharks as mindless eating machines where they have nothing more than a dollar menu delicacy but sharks kill on average of ten people worldwide per year. The numbers just don’t add up.

You have a greater chance of being killed by lightning, a coconut falling on your head or obviously while getting into your car to drive to the beach. Yes, I know I haven’t given you all the references I am able to but it is 2 a.m., have a great show today. And I’ll try to catch up by tomorrow.”

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: Thanks for all those great statistics (Scott). I appreciate your research and bringing these numbers to light.

Justin: And the thing I have with sharks is that it’s one of those natural disasters, the chance of being bitten or eaten by shark. It’s one of those things that you really can avoid. It’s pretty simple.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Pretty simple. Like lightning’s a little tougher because it can track you down wherever you are or just about. But…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …yeah, you kind of have to be in the ocean for the shark to cause you any grief whatsoever. And why be in the ocean.

Kirsten: And for clarity, lightning probably is not going to track you down.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It watches my every move.

Kirsten: The sky is watching. The sky is watching. You have a story?

Justin: Do I have a story?

Kirsten: Yeah. And if anyone would like to call in today to This Week in Science, please feel free to dial in 530-752-2777.

Justin: Okay. This is a story that I thought was very unusual. It’s part of – a couple of flies that are being studied very closely now by biologists as UC San Diego. There are flies that are part of a very large collection of flies that they have and there are flies that have had their genome sequenced.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, they know a lot about the flies and they’re going to just study different elements about them.

Kirsten: Drosophila?

Justin: Yeah. And it’s a fruit fly.

Kirsten: Drosophila Melanogaster?

Justin: It’s Melanogaster. There are a couple of different ones actually.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: They were looking at it and says “My goodness, these eggs hatched within like an hour of being laid.” This is incredible laid, I mean, it’s just like, boom!” And then they went and look that out. I was like “Well, that’s not just possible. This doesn’t seem right.” It turns out that the eggs weren’t hatching, the flies were laying larva.

Kirsten: Wait, what?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, they weren’t laying little eggs…

Justin: Live birth.

Kirsten: …that they will turn into…

Justin: Little squirmy larvaes.

Kirsten: Really?

Justin: Yeah, which flies don’t do.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Or when it thought to.

Kirsten: They usually – yeah, it’s usually a very small little…

Justin: Eggs.

Kirsten: …egg and then that grows into…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …a larva eventually.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And Yeah.

Justin: This will be the equivalent of…

Kirsten: And then it usually feeds off of some like putrefying meat or something.

Justin: This will be the equivalent of going to the hospital to give birth and coming home with an egg. It sounds strange, this is. This is not normal, well not thought to have been normal fly behavior. But it turns out that this actually – and it’s not every time, they have one fly, it’s happening occasionally.

Kirsten: But not all the time.

Justin: But not all the time.

Kirsten: Interesting.

Justin: So, yeah. So, there are a couple of different scenarios they’re running through. Luckily this is a sequence gene. So, they can start to compare this fly to other flies, the ones who are doing it, the ones aren’t.

Interestingly though, they’re actually concentrating, focusing a lot of attention on the male fly…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …and not the female. Because they think it maybe a protein in the male fly sperm that is signaling the change to accelerate the development.

Kirsten: I wonder if it has something to do – we’ve talked before about how their epigenetic controls based on stresses that occur during and organism’s life.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: I mean I don’t know what would cause…

Justin: I used to call it genetic memory of the…

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, kind of.

Justin: It was kind of starting – science starting to catch up with me.

Kirsten: It’s not genetic so much. It’s more like – it’s outside of…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …the DNA.

Justin: It’s involved in the host.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Go back and listen to shows two years ago where I’m saying this is going to be found. This one of my predictions.

Kirsten: Predicting the future.

Justin: But it’s…

Kirsten: But it seems as though that would be the kind of thing that if, there’s something that happens to the male or even female flies during their lifetime…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …that would say, “Okay, you need to get – these offspring…

Justin: Speed this up.

Kirsten: You need to get going fast.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: We need to have a quick turn around time. Get up, get moving. There’s no time to lollygag.

Justin: Yeah. And they’re hoping too is that if they can track this down, organize, like this a little bit of code in the fly, they perhaps can find where that code exists in the humans related. Because they’re thinking, or not just in humans but in biological life, in general, the transition from egg to live birth.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s a very interesting intersection that this fly, this one is sort of going back and forth between the two.

Kirsten: Right and we have – it’s a very pretty strict delineation – I mean the marsupial family is kind of, the odd balls. They’re the odd balls between the reptiles, marsupials, mammals, you know.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Where marsupials can have this halfway in between. It’s live but not really. They’re not ready to come out. So, it’s like this external…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …pouch.

Justin: And then there’s humans which come out and then are useless.

Kirsten: Useless.

Justin: But not useless, the babies are cute, nothing wrong with babies.

Kirsten: And there are other organisms that the young are ready to go like gazelles…

Justin: And can run from lands immediately.

Kirsten: …zebras. Okay, I’m a prey species, got to run.

Justin: Oh, that will happen.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s very interesting to see how those different – what factors lead into that. That’s fascinating.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And it could all – we could – how much we learn about ourselves from flies? It’s amazing.

Justin: Flies and mice, they’re huge for science.

Kirsten: Yeah. And a study out recently – I forgot where it came out. There’s a study out recently talking about the cloning of frozen mouse – from frozen genetic information. So, taking frozen eggs and cloning…

Justin: Snow flakes.

Kirsten: …mice from frozen eggs. And this a really – the research suggests that it might be possible to take eggs or sperm and freeze it over long periods of time, thawed out and then still be able to produce viable offspring at a time when it’s required.

And so, it’s a really neat technology and neat ability. But the twist in it here is that – so, it relates to woolly mammoths. Yes.

Also, recently in – see where they’re publishing it. I don’t know where they publish it. But recently, some researchers from the Max Planck Institute, they’re looking at different methods to be able to resurrect the woolly mammoth and what we would be able to do to reconstruct the mammoth DNA to be able to recreate it.

And there’s this idea that maybe we could use some of the technology that we’re using in mouse cloning and the ability to take this frozen genetic information and reanimate it basically.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Other researchers at Pennsylvania State University have sequenced the DNA from the fussy hair of two woolly mammoths which died about 20,000 to 60,000 years ago, respectively.

And because of the way that the hair is – because of the strength of the hair, it has kind of a hard outer sheet, hair comes from a protein called keratin.

Justin: Keratin.

Kirsten: Keratin. And the keratin has protected the genetic information inside the hair.

Justin: Nice strong shell for the DNA to survive many, many years.

Kirsten: Good, good shell. So, they’ve been able to take the DNA, separate it out and be able to make some pretty pure samples to be able to match up against the mammoth’s closest living relative, the African elephant and start putting the pieces back together and see how much we’ve got. And they’ve got about 50% of the mammoth’s DNA sequenced.

And so, they’re getting a rough draft. They basically created a very rough draft of the mammoth DNA. And they’re hoping that over time, they’re going to be able to keep analyzing it, getting more samples and be able to put together a much more complete genetic blueprint over time. And then, the idea is that they’ll be able to tweak a living elephant. It’s just…

Justin: I kind of like…

Kirsten: …so fast, either tweak a living elephant or even like a cow or something to be able to act…

Justin: Well, act with elephant.

Kirsten: Yeah. But to be able to act as a…

Justin: Host.

Kirsten: …a host…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …for a little baby mammoth.

Justin: Yeah. I’m kind of picturing like…

Kirsten: A little baby mammoth clone, it would be interesting.

Justin: …having half the DNA, it’s just like patchy fur or like half the elephant, (inaudible) like fur, you know.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: There is a little bit of an irony here which is – we’re on the cusp of okay, being able to bring back the woolly mammoth.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: That’s once went extinct and lives in this cold – very cold habitat store far north at the same time that we have the polar bears about to lose their habitat and possibly become extinct.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, something that really struck me is…

Justin: Not funny but I’m laughing.

Kirsten: Something that struck me as interesting was the – I guess the distance in relation from the woolly mammoth and the African elephant. It’s half that of our relatedness to chimpanzees.

So, they are – the woolly mammoth and the African elephant are even more closely related than we are to our own closest living animal relative. And it just seems to me that it just – it makes sense that maybe it was a very small – just a very small amount of change…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …that led to the woolly mammoth adapting to colder climates. And so, maybe it’s the kind of thing that – is it the kind of thing that could happen again? Is it the kind of thing where with the polar bears, we’re actually looking at the genetic difference between the polar bear and its closest northern relative which I can’t remember if it’s the brown bear, black bear – but anyway…

Justin: I think it’s a grizzly.

Kirsten: Yeah. I am not sure of that off hand, might be the grizzly. But they – it does have a very close relative and pretty much it’s not that – it’s as if they’re subspecies of each other and that…

Justin: They can crossbreed, actually. They can have hybrids.

Kirsten: They can have a hybrid.

Justin: Grizzly, polar.

Kirsten: Yeah. And so, the question of what does species, where do you draw the line sometimes? Is it the kind of the thing that would, “Okay, the woolly mammoths went extinct. But we have this elephants that given another 10,000 years in cold climates will turn into woolly mammoths again.”

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Or something very similar. is that going to happen? It just seems very…

Justin: And it used to be the…

Kirsten: I don’t know that we will go – we’re not going to end up becoming chimpanzees. So, this is a stretch in terms of the woolly mammoth to the elephant. But at the same time, where does the number of genetic mutations or (flurries) can draw a line.

Justin: I think it’s going to be – I think it’s tied up into the epigenetics into what one generation requirements are to the next over thousands of years.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And you say that we won’t turn into chimpanzees not the way we’re living now.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But if they came to a point where it became important for us to climb trees everyday and get that big strong upper body everyday, aside from just natural selection, mating selections based on the ability to climb a tree quickly and the lack of need for running around…

Kirsten: And the lack of ladders.

Justin: Ladders – we lose our ladder technology, you know. It’s one of those gaps like going back to the moon. It’s like, “Oh, we did it but now we forgot how we did it. We can’t do it again.” It’s going to be too hard to reconstruct.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: So, I think…

Kirsten: And a hundred thousand years worth of changes and…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: We could totally do it.

Kirsten: Maybe there would be a…

Justin: We could do it better this time.

Kirsten: Maybe. Maybe, given a lack of technology, 100,000 years of different, more tropical…

Justin: Lots of climbing.

Kirsten: …climate over the world.

Justin: Lots of climbing.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Longer arms, longer stronger arms once again. I don’t know about this.

Justin: I see more of the (hit) climbing…

Kirsten: This is going difficult directions.

Justin: More man (tits), more, it’s you know. We don’t – our distance, our depth perception is going to get worse. We’re going to become far-sighted…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …or you know.

Kirsten: Okay. So, the whole idea like bringing extinct animals like it’s good for just like proof of concept….

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …that we understand how genetics works. We understand how this – it’s great proof of concept.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: But at the same time, why? Why not just start manipulating genes and making us better?

Justin: Totally. I’m totally for it. I don’t see a problem with it. And in fact, there’s a lot of controversy that, they want to make human animal hybrids being thrown out there by the anti-cloning…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …anti-stem (folk). And I’m probably the worst person, I think, in the world to try to represent the side of science here because I’m actually for that. I think that would be brilliant.

I mean you would, if you could start to manipulate it to where you’re getting sentients, the mental capacity, right? Self-awareness sentients into animals, they can be their own representatives.

Kirsten: There is one science fiction series that if you haven’t read it, you should, the Uplift series by – I think it’s David Brinn, maybe David Brinn. Oh my gosh, I can’t remember. But it’s called the Uplift series.

And it deals with the fact that we have – there are higher beings that have – it’s this pattern that keeps perpetuating itself that once a specie reaches a certain level of sentients, it wants to lift, uplift other species to points of sentients. And then, it happens over and over again.

And so, it’s the point that humans have been uplifted by other alien species that came first and then, now in the books, we uplift dolphins and chimps and like (unintelligible).

Justin: Dolphins could be a good one. I think pigs would be great.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. So, it’s very interesting series and gets that the problems inherent in the idea.

Justin: Oh, yeah the first farm animal that you make sentients could be pets.

Kirsten: Science fiction has dealt with all the bioethics issues already. This is This Week in Science. We need to take a break from all of this science fiction, fantasy discussion. We’ll come back with science after the break. Just stay tuned.

And they died.

Justin: Died, died. And you’re back with more of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: That’s right. In the background is the Flu Pandemic by the Flying Fish Sailors. That was off of the 2007 Science Compilation CD. And I played that because it is getting into flu season. And right about now is the time that people, various people are suggested to go and get and their flu shots.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: This is a public service announcement — care of me.

Justin: No. I am the one who don’t do the flu shot and it’s not out of any fear of vaccinations or whatsoever. I never really get – I never get it to begin with.

Kirsten: Well if you – yeah. You are not the target market for the flu vaccine, children, infirm, elderly. It’s a good idea. But there is something to be said for carrying the virus and like a transmitter.

Justin: Oh, because you’re not a transmitter. Because then I can get it and then I’m like I don’t get sick. And then people are falling dead all around me. Typhoon Justin, got you. Wow. No, that’s a great reason to get it though. I didn’t – I never though of it that way.

Kirsten: Yeah. But anyway, yeah.

Justin: Especially the holidays. You get all the young and the infirm gathered around the table…

Kirsten: And, even…

Justin: …take them all out in one dinner.

Kirsten: Even if you don’t get the flu vaccine, make sure you wash your hands.

Justin: Oh, I don’t do that either, shoot.

Kirsten: And if you’re going to cough or sneeze, don’t cough on to your hands, cough into the (crook) of your elbow or your armpit.

Justin: Yeah. You know…

Kirsten: your clothing is a good block but your hands, you touch lots of stuff and if you sneeze…

Justin: I wonder about that one though because my son does that. My son does it because I taught him, yeah, cough into his like elbow or whatever, into your shirt.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And I’m kind of like wondering if that’s a good idea because there’s always like these crusty, remnants, sort of on his sleeve the whole time…

Kirsten: Maybe he needs…

Justin: …versus using your hand and then just washing them.

Kirsten: Well, if you’re good on washing…

Justin: This is kind of hard to, you know…

Kirsten: Let’s not even go into this.

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: Anyway the flu pandemic – people get kind of upset recently. The bird flu is still something that people talk about. And it’s like – mostly it’s affecting the birds…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …which is unfortunate.

Justin: Bad for birds.

Kirsten: But birds have all sorts of things that are actually transmissible to humans.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And a recent study out of John-Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, look, it was published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health, they looked at bacteria in the air and on the surface of cars – two or three car lengths behind poultry trucks who drove behind poultry trucks on the road for about 17 miles.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: They found bacteria – these cars were driven with the air-conditioners or fans turned off and the window is open so the bacteria could come in. Samples collected from inside the car showed increase concentrations of bacteria including antibiotic resistant strains that could be inhaled. Bacteria were also found on a soda can inside the car and on the outside door handle. Yeah.

So, there’s actually – the scientist say that there are increased levels of pathogenic bacteria both susceptible and drug resistant on surfaces and in the air inside cars traveling behind trucks that carry broiler chickens.

The study was only – this was only on the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. But there are chickens all over the United States and there are other poultry species as well that get transported from one place to another. It’s a very, very interesting that there’s bacteria float off the trucks…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …into the wind then unto your car.

Justin: That’s a major travel. I wouldn’t have expected that much (unintelligible).

Kirsten: I know. major travel. However, there’s — the exposure sure find but this does not look at your how many people are actually getting – having problems as a result of exposures to these bacteria as a result of driving behind poultry trucks.

So, there are bacteria everywhere than, whatever.

Justin: Absolutely. But that is an amazing…

Kirsten: Wash your hands after driving behind the poultry truck.

Justin: And wipe your soda can before you drink out of it. Or…

Kirsten: Drink out of it. (Pinch) you at anyway.

Justin: That is pretty amazing that they can sort of grab on to the – like little – I’m picturing like little Aladdin carpets. This little bacteria grabbing on to the air, sailing freely throughout the – wow!

Kirsten: It’s fascinating, right?

Justin: Yes. Yeah.

Kirsten: So, think about that on Turkey Day.

Justin: On your Turkey Day. Hey, this is a story that – it’s just a blurb on this. It’s just something interesting. That’s why I’m talking about. That’s what this show is for, right?

Kirsten: Blurbiness.

Justin: International team of scientists using the IRAM radio telescope in France have discovered organic sugar, Glycolaledehyde molecules in space.

Kirsten: Glycolaledehydes?

Justin: Glycolaledehydes molecules in space.

Kirsten: That’s cool.

Justin: It was found to exist in the central region of our galaxy. Now, this might not seem like off the cusp though it’s very fascinating, sugar in space except that Glycolaledehyde – what do you call it? Say it again.

Kirsten: Is it aledehyde? Glycolaledehyde, that’s aledehyde?

Justin: Yeah. That’s one. Yeah.

Kirsten: Glycolaledehyde.

Justin: It’s one of the two primary ingredients in the formation of RNA. In fact, it’s the one that reacts with the thing to make the other stuff. The finding is – and it’s found in an area that’s very likely to have habitable planets, in an area that’s very likely to be like our local – very localized region of the galaxy.

Kirsten: That’s interesting.

Justin: So, it’s given – yeah, a very fascinating new probability factors jumping up to the roof of finding a form of life out there. We’re find our building blocks for an RNA floating in space in an area where there can be habitable planets in our galaxy, in our backyard, under our noses, in fact, give or take 26,000 light-years. But that’s very – that was an interesting finding.

Kirsten: That is interesting. I wonder how much sugar is just floating in our solar system where there is life. I don’t know. If anybody knows that, let us know.

Justin: That’s a good question.

Kirsten: If I mean, if sugar floating in space is a possible indicator, how much is floating in our solar system?

Justin: Yeah. That’s an awesome question. And I don’t have the answers.

Kirsten: If anybody has answered that, I’d like to know.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Also, in space news, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, NICMOS on the Hubble Space Telescope has detected carbon dioxide which is one of the four potential fingerprints for life on a planet orbiting a star.

The planet is called HD189733b and it’s very hot, hot, hot, hot, too hot to be habitable. So, even though there’s carbon dioxide, not a habitable planet. It’s about 65 light-years away which is pretty close in terms of how far away space objects are. It’s known as a hot Jupiter because it’s a very large planet and it orbits very, very close to its host star.

The astronomers who found this planet, they used a trick that basically they recorded light with the planet and the star together. So, when they could actually see the planet orbiting the star, all the light that came from it.

And then they recorded light again when they knew that the planet was hidden behind the star. So, it’s only light coming from the planet. And so, that way, they had the light spectrum that could subtract out the light spectrum…

Justin: Of the planet. That’s interesting.

Kirsten: …from the star – of the star and get the planet light’s spectrum all by itself.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: And then knowing the light spectrum, they were able to – be able to match that up with the spectrum that would be emitted if or reflected if there is a large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Justin: Wow! And this just…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Wait, this is HR8799, is that the one?

Kirsten: No, HD189733b.

Justin: So differently. Okay. I’m getting my suns and planet confused. Interesting.

Kirsten: what’s really exciting also right now is the fact that just planet, planet, planet, planet, planet, planet, planet, planet, planet, planet. These planets being discovered around stars, everywhere now. Like it’s almost every week, there’s some new news about this planet orbiting really fast around some star. This planet was the first planet seen basically by the naked eye…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …around the star. This planet, so long – I mean, when we were little, there were no planets. It was just hypothesized.

Justin: There were none.

Kirsten: There were none.

Justin: There were none.

Kirsten: It was like hypothesized…

Justin: Not even this one.

Kirsten: …that they would be there but – yeah, no, they were just our solar system.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: but now, they’re taking planets away. Pluto is not a planet anymore.

Justin: Kids today…

Kirsten: There are adding planets.

Justin: …just take the amount of planets, they have to talk about for granted. You know. God!

Kirsten: Seriously.

Justin: Well, look 70 sextillion stars in our own universe.

Kirsten: It’s amazing.

Justin: More stars and there are – approximately equivalent number of stars in the universe to number of grains of sand on planet Earth. If we take all the beaches and all the sand, put it together.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s an incredible amount of stars factoring around each of those stars has the potential for as in our own case, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, depending on how you count planets going on it.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Orbiting objects, all the rest of it – so yeah, it’s a pretty healthy vibrant universe we’ve got going out there.

Kirsten: Yeah. And as the technology increases and increases — as it gets more and more accurate and more able to delve deeper and deeper into distant space, we’re going to find. It’s just not — it’s not just going to be “oh, this planet” or “that planet”, “Oh, this one has carbon dioxide. That one has water.” It’s going to be, “oh, habitable planet over there. Habitable planet over there.” Like, give it like 20 or 40 or, 50 years maybe.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: This is my prediction, 50 years from now…

Justin: Fifty years.

Kirsten: …we’re going to be actually like looking at solar systems around other stars and figuring out which ones are good solar systems for us to keep in mind before leaving the planet.

Justin: Yeah. And I – I’m totally for that sort of deep space exploration of the rest of mankind. I think that will be awesome if (unintelligible).

Kirsten: I know you want to stay here.

Justin: I’m staying.

Kirsten: I know. I know.

Justin: Especially like, what’s with NASA, like they have to drink – okay, I understand you need to drink your own urine when you’re on the space station.

Kirsten: Right. You have to get water somehow.

Justin: Yeah. And so they recycle all the moisture from, you know.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: When that breaks down, “that, gosh!” I mean they’ve been having a problem I think they got it fixed but they’re going to send – I guess they’re sending samples all the way to Earth to test the samples to make sure it’s drinkable. Yeah, they’ve got to fix.

Kirsten: They haven’t fixed it. So…

Justin: It is fixed.

Kirsten: …that it is the testing station on the planet.

Justin: Apparently not, apparently not.

Kirsten: I mean on the space station.

Justin: Apparently, nobody is just going to take a sip to see, “That’s good” No, no.

Kirsten: (Unintelligible).

Justin: Apparently, they need to get the sample all the way back down to Earth to the lab to investigate, make sure it’s drinkable and give the, “Okay, all clear.” But looks like, they finally fixed the – was that $150 million “pee-pee” drinking system.

Kirsten: Yeah, there is a – I’m trying to see if I can find it. There was a link – here it is. The Top Ten Mad Scientists in the history. And I found it – this was found by somebody who twittered it to me. It’s on a website called Oddee which is a probably a nice blog.

And a couple of stories have kind of fit in here the mad scientist persona. Vladimir Demikhov is number one. He was in 1954 a soviet surgeon. And he would – it’s just crazy. He would graft the heads of dogs on to the bodies of other dogs to create two headed dogs.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And you know…

Justin: Very bizarre.

Kirsten: Very bizarre. And the head that was grafted on would actually live for…

Justin: A little while.

Kirsten: …a little while, very interesting than any idea of things you drink. In the 1800s Stubbins Ffirth, that’s two “f’s” at the beginning of his name.

Justin: Ffirth.

Kirsten: Ffirth, Stubbins Ffirth did not think that yellow fever was infectious. And his scientific method involved actually drinking vomit…

Justin: Oh, God.

Kirsten: …to show that…

Justin: Oh, that’s just not right.

Kirsten: …you wouldn’t get yellow fever…

Justin: That’s just not.

Kirsten: That if this is how it spreads, this is how you should you get it. And so, he tested it. And yeah, later, it was discovered that his hypothesis was just a false hypothesis or his testing regime was not a good testing regime.

Justin: I wouldn’t try that.

Kirsten: Because yellow fever has to be injected into the blood stream. So, anyway, this is a very interesting list. If you are interested in being creeped out beyond like all repair, ten mad, mad scientists in history on

Justin: Wow! Speaking of two headed dogs, bipolar disorder which is sometimes known as manic depression and affects a few million people in America at least, probably more so worldwide. They’ve done this really interesting study where they’ve never been able to really nail down and say, “Aha, this is what’s responsible for bipolar disorder.”

But they’ve done – they’ve collected all of the genes that they think are most prevalent in people who have bipolar.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And they’re creating this really interesting model now where they’re showing that there’s not just one but perhaps hundreds of genes involve with this. And they can go through now and are saying, “These are ones are the most likely.” If you have this, this, this, this and how they work together. But it’s an interesting idea where you don’t have one specific marker that’s going to initiate a disorder.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: You have a sort of a collective.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And the way it interacts with all these different genes together is producing this sort of an effect.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And it’s very difficult to – at this point still when we don’t have every genes known using though – what it’s design to do and how it can interact.

Kirsten: And sections of DNA that control the transcription of genes that we don’t, non-coding DNA, coding DNA, genes, I mean there are so many instructions we don’t – epigenetic factors, things we don’t understand.

Justin: Lots and lots of stuff going on. But it couldn’t – approximately as much as 10% of the human genome could be in play for something like a bipolar disorder. I mean that’s…

Kirsten: That’s huge.

Justin: That’s an enormous amount of stuff that, you know…

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: So, with the model – the models are interesting – and the way it’s describe I thought was kind of interesting. Dr. Niculescu he’s a professor of Psychiatry at the Laboratory of Neurophenomics at the IU University, a school of medicine.

The process to tracking this down is similar to a Google approach which is the more lengths there are to a page on the internet the more likely this will come at the top of your search. The more experimental lines of evidence for a gene, the higher it comes up in your priority list of genes involved with the disorder.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, it’s a whole groupings that they’re being – they’re now looking at combined to try to get the big picture, which in the past there have been lots of ones that have been identified, “This ones prevalent. That ones prevalent” Now, they’re getting the big picture which I think is cool.

Kirsten: Big picture is very cool. Yeah. That’s very neat.

Justin: And it’s sort of like when we were talking last week, remind me about how, you were saying, looking at the bacterial, the gut flora of a patient before. Like, how do you know what the right assortment is after because every individual is different and the way they interact is going to be different?

I think, they’re going to start finding – they’re going to have start really or they’re learning how to really tailor drugs now to people’s combination…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …to their network of different things going on, which is a huge advancement. I mean, we’re going to look that back. In 20 years or 50 years when we find all this habitable other universe, other solar systems, I think we’re going to look back at these days in medicine as a sort of dark age, as a sort of shotgun effect where we would just sort of…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …throw a pill that has an overall effect. For some people it might work, for some, might not work for others and just kind of hope it works as just sort of blind medicine.

Kirsten: I think there are people who look at it that way currently. Yeah. Another step in helping people who are paralyzed become active engaged participants in their lives and in the world.

Researchers at Boston University in Massachusetts have implanted electrodes into the brain of a man who has locked-in syndrome. It’s a condition where the patient is almost completely paralyzed where they can communicate sometimes using blinks of eyes, they can move their eyes but they really can barely move. They can’t do anything.

Justin: Very lazy.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No. It’s not right.

Kirsten: No. So, fully conscious but locked into their bodies…

Justin: Oh, my Gosh.

Kirsten: …unable to communicate or it’s very difficult to communicate, laborious to communicate. What they’re doing though is this ties in with the research that the electrodes that allow monkeys and some people now to control robotic arms.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: They are doing this for speech where they took this man. They recorded his brain using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging while he was concentrating on making vocal sounds, on saying particular vowel sounds and saying particular words. They recorded the activity in the vocal centers of his brain.

Justin: That’s brilliant.

Kirsten: And in the motor cortex that are – the vocals and there’s also the motor cortex that’s involved in creating the sound.

Justin: Wait. It’s immediately the thing I ever look is of course speech does have a motor neuron signature. It’s a physical activity just like walking or running or moving arm or anything else.

Kirsten: Exactly.

Justin: It has a physical – oh, that’s brilliant.

Kirsten: Exactly. And so now, they have this electrode that – it’s amazing. It was designed by Philip Kennedy of the firm Neural Signals in Duluth Georgia. And they implanted it into this speech production, the motor areas of the man’s brain and it’s going to stay there. It’s just kind of going to be in there to be able to use and develop the technology further. They have gotten it now so that a computer can translate this gentleman making a small number of vowel sounds.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: So that when the man thinks about certain vowel sounds, the computer is able to accurately translate and produce those sounds for him.

Justin: So, we’re training the computer and we’re also practicing the subjects control over this.

Kirsten: Exactly.

Justin: Because this is a one thing that they developed with the monkeys who were doing it. They were doing a combination, they held a joystick in removing a data across the screen while the electrode.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And after a while, they could let go of the joystick and just control everything with their mind.

Kirsten: Their mind. Yeah. And that’s the idea behind this is just to be able to eventually and the speed with which the computer produces it is so much faster. Like, a lot of these people who have locked-in syndrome, they can communicate like blinking their eyelids and it takes – it’s, like…

Justin: Morse code of the eye.

Kirsten: …morse code. Yeah.

Justin: It’s rough.

Kirsten: It’s very slow going…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …to communicate and get any ideas across. And so, this is basically as fast as normal production of speech.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: The electrode to computer to production, the guy is thinking and speaking. So, right now, it’s just a couple of vowels sounds but hopefully as they continue this, they will be able to have him and other people being able to speak.

Justin: That is awesome.

Kirsten: I mean it’s the ability to communicate when you are locked in your body. I could only imagine how important that would be. And this technology is just amazing. I’m just imagining this paired with the robot arm technology and people will be able to live full, rewarding lives.

Justin: Absolutely. University of Washington, they were working on ways for mammals to regrow retinas.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: By activate – getting stem cells to activate and do self-repair which happens in fish already.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: It doesn’t happen in mammals. It happens a little bit in birds, little bit. They have some ability to repair retinas from certain toxins. But not something that’s prevalent or happens in mammals. So, they’re working with this in mice showing a lot of promise there.

So, the blind will see. The deaf will – like we’re fixing it. We’re fixing everything that ails us.

Kirsten: I love science.

Justin: We’re coming up at the end of the show.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: The fastest mandible in the world – Termes Panamensis. It’s a termite. It’s a – wow, clocked in at – where is it out here? You need a high-speed camera that could capture 40,000 frames per second to even visibly see this.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: That is amazing. Seventy meters per second, I don’t know what a meter is. No, I don’t use that point anyway…

Kirsten: I like to give a shout out. So, at the end of the show, shout outs to (Ed Dyer) who has done house-sitting and has his Internet back. Thanks for all the stories you sent in. (Kalidasa), who is now listening to us from (Bali). I’m totally jealous.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: (David) who is studying Astronomy and Physics in Galway, Ireland; (John Kerabeck) who unearth the factoid that Mike Stebbins is a part of the Obama Presidential Transition Team; (John Sudeep) who wanted to know of Justin really said but (dunk-a-dunk) on the air last week and everyone else who wrote in for various and sundry reasons, Happy Thanksgiving.

No matter where you are in the world, we are thankful of you our faithful minions. And of course for the scientists who worked tirelessly to bring facts and understanding to the world. And I guess that’s about it.

Justin: Yeah. We hope you enjoyed the show. We’re available on iTunes. You can get to us You can email us at or Put…

Kirsten: TWIS in the subject line so that avoids the spam filters. And we’d love your feedback. Let us know what you think and questions, comments, stories, frustrations, you know – maybe no frustrations. I’m not into that right now.

We’ll be back here.

Justin: If you don’t like it, just deal. All right. Let’s just maintain for a while. If you learn anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: It is all in your head.

Tags: NASA, animals, astrobiology, avian flu, bioethics, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, chickens, emergent behavior, evolution, extrasolar planets, genetics, infectious diseases, medicine, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, podcast, science, science history, sharks, space, stem cells