Transcript: Nov 4, 2010

Kirsten: This show was brought to you by listeners like you and your contributions. We couldn’t do it without you. Thanks.

Justin: Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer. The following hour of programming is not a part of a clandestine operations sponsored by secretive governmental departments or intelligence agencies to covertly strengthen the scientific awareness and critical thinking capabilities of freedom loving people.

It is not funded by any nation’s military or insurgent guerillas with the intention of making you a more secure person and you’re understanding of the world. Listening is not enforced by or mandated by any law, statute, or men with guns.

No part of this program was conducted by or supported through a charitable organization of citizens concerned with the state of science literacy in this country. What the following hour is not says as much about what it is, as we will say on This Week in Science. Coming up next.

Justin: Hello and good morning Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good evening, Justin! It’s sometime evening, sometime morning, somewhere on this round planet we call Earth isn’t it?

Justin: Yeah. I think so, most of the time.

Kirsten: Yeah, most of the time. Welcome everybody. Wherever you are. Thank you for joining us. This is This Week in Science and today we have science. Can you believe it, lots of science? I brought a whole bunch of stuff that is a lot of fun today. Stuff about, you know, making new livers in the laboratory. Little mini-livers you can take with you kind of like a mini-keg.

Justin: That would actually be a great combo, mini-liver and mini-keg.

Kirsten: Exactly. Electrifying your brain to learn math and Ozzy Osbourne’s connections.

Justin: Sorry, I think we have the same story.

Kirsten: What did you bring?

Justin: I also have the, how to electrocute yourself into better SAT scores.

Kirsten: Yeah. It would be nice, you know, if you filled out the show notes then we wouldn’t have this kind of problem. Anyway, moving on.

Justin: Not having problems is like having a problem. Let’s see. Genetic risks, new genetic evidence for risks of Autism and Schizophrenia which is weird because Autism is caused by getting a vaccine. So I don’t know how there could be a genetic connection to their…

Kirsten: What? Moving on. Disregarded.

Justin: The researchers have found, yeah, some bacteria’s immune system may be able to be used, may be finding a way to boost the immunity of bacteria for our benefit.

Kirsten: Hopefully for our benefit because, you know, the bacteria, the things that are involved in causing colds, in causing disease. I’d rather not boost their immunity. Rather not.

Justin: Actually, in this case, you may really want to. It’ll be an interesting story. And also this is a very interesting sort of psychological study that was done on consumers and brand loyalty. I’ll talk about that a little bit.

Kirsten: Very, very cool. Alright let’s just jump right in. Let’s start with the story that we both have, electrifying our brains to learn math. So in the realm of self-electrocution. Normally, electrocution doesn’t do so much for learning, right? It is not something you would really consider.

However some researchers, Roi Cohen Kadash at the University of Oxford being among them, one of the leaders of this study that was just published in Current Biology. They say that very low, low current – electrical DC current stimulation, to the brain, specifically the parietal area of the brain in which we know numerical ability is kind of managed there. It has an effect to increase mathematical ability among people who have normal math skills.

So the interesting thing here is that potentially, if they test further and if this seems to continue to work, potentially this result could help people who have Dyscalculia or numerical disabilities. People who have problems calculating, who have trouble counting, whose lives are pretty affected – strongly affected in a negative manner because they can’t deal with numbers the way that an average person might.

If we could electrocute their brain basically very, very slight, just a little light tingling really. Now, if we could do that, it could potentially help a large number of people. They found that…

Justin: I’m just going to tickle your brain with electricity.

Kirsten: That’s right, just a little electrical tickling. The researchers used a method that’s called Trans-cranial Direct Current Stimulation or TDCS. It’s not invasive at all. There are electrodes which are attached to the surface of the scalp and then allowed to – and then the current is directed towards a particular area of the brain. Mostly, according to this story, the technique is known for its potential to improve various functions in people with neurological deficits.

So they said, “Why not let’s try it on math abilities? Let’s see if there’s some connection here.” They directed the current at the parietal area of the brain and now Roi Cohen Kadash says, “I’m certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shock but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings. We’ve shown before that we can temporarily induce Dyscalculia with a different method of brain stimulation and now it seems we might also be able to make someone better at maths. Electrical stimulation will most likely not turn you into Albert Einstein but if we’re successful it might be able to help some people cope better with Math.”

And the treatment, the improvements that are found to appear seem to last for about six months. So it’s a pretty long lasting effect in your math ability.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: I mean, I can’t really see somebody, I mean, to go have your head electrocuted every six months? I mean you would have to have…

Justin: Just tickled. Just tickled. Not electrocuted, just tickled a little bit with electrons.

Kirsten: Right. Right. Right. So it’s very light but still the same time to go into the doctor to have this kind of treatment every six months. You would have to have some, I think that you’re impairment would have to be very – pretty striking to be able to think that undergoing this every six months would be worthwhile.

Justin: No, I think if you’re severely impaired probably you’re level of improvement won’t, you know, if you’re talking about like you already can’t balance a check book then maybe being able to balance the checkbook for a couple of months out of the year won’t really help – won’t make a big difference.

I think who should be definitely getting line for this is our leading, you know, mathematicians and physicists. If the tickle can give them a little bump, you know, percentage wise; if the same percentage of improvement is possible. My goodness! The new maths that we could be exploring and playing with. This seems like something a genius needs to be doing. Even though this won’t…

Kirsten: I don’t think the improvements that you would get once you’re already a genius would be that great. I mean the improvements that average people saw were slight.

Justin: Right. So the improvements that a genius of mathematics would see might be grandiose.

Kirsten: Probably not. I would guess that..

Justin: Because it’s not a basic math course, it’s excitation of neurons and if some of these guy’s neurons that when excited are going to be very geared around mathematics in the first place. It seems like, you know, it would make them even better than it.

Kirsten: I think that’s a decent hypothesis. I would probably go in the other direction that the processing of that area is probably pretty well, the highways are pretty well stocked. They’re pretty well full and that additional stimulation wouldn’t necessarily give that much more improvement if you’re at the genius level already but maybe if you’re not at the genius level, you’re average or below average, that the amount of improvement would be proportionately larger and have a greater effect.

But more research needs to be done, that’s why we’re talking about it. That’s why we’re talking about it. But really, I don’t know why, I just don’t know how many people once if and when this is, you know, this is just one study. If and when this becomes considered a treatment for math disinclined – how many people would really choose?

“Oh yeah, I’m not so good at math. I got to go in and get my head shocked every six months.” You know, a little bit of math training, a little bit of shocking and I feel smarter. I don’t know.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, it makes me sad that we don’t live in a world like that.

Kirsten: However, I do, I would – okay – just struck me who might actually go for this: high school kids studying for their SATs.

Justin: Hmm…?

Kirsten: I betcha.

Justin: Oh, absolutely.

Kirsten: High school kids trying to get into the next best college. You know, they’re looking for that leg up. What’s the next leg up? Go shock your head.

Justin: I would need the electrodes or the mouse trap or whatever sort of painful, weird mechanism required to make a decent speller. I’m so bad. I would spell..

Kirsten: They might be able to help you with that.

Justin: Yeah. I spell words different like every time I write them which is like, I don’t know why.

Kirsten: I know, I read your book.

Justin: Yeah, you read like the un-edited, the pre-unedited version.

Kirsten: Uh-huh. Exactly. Give me a story man. What you got?

Justin: Oh. Electrical stimulation to the brain can help math skill – oh wait.

Kirsten: Wait.

Justin: That one. Let’s see. There’s a study that is reviewing a new genetic risk factor for both Autism and Schizophrenia spectrums which is very interesting. I didn’t realize that they were close enough related to have been genetically connected as part of the spectrum. Because usually you think of a spectrum and a genetic spectrum being also, either way, being you know, you have Autism you have very autistic people who really can’t function well on their own and society and the very high functioning autistics who can be a doctor or may tend towards computer programming or interest in technology to where they might be actually watching right now.

But they found that, yeah, this one gene that they found is this overlapping gene between ASD and Schizophrenia which are both very inheritable diseases. It says no single specific genetic cause accounts for more than one to two percent of cases overall, however. So they’re still, even though they found things that seem to correlate. There’s only correlation of a very small portion.

Kirsten: So it’s not all of the, it’s not everyone that correlates? So it’s correlation within a small portion of the overall sample?

Justin: This genetic variation is thought to be, it correlates well but in itself is only there in a small percentage of the cases themselves. So they haven’t found like, the Autism gene or the Schizophrenia gene. It’s not quite that simple ’cause it is a very convoluted thing…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But the more of these that they uncover, it still amazes me that we’re very aware of the inheritability of the disease that it is genetically triggered. And yet, I’m still confronted to this day with people who’s like, “Oh. So you do a science show. So what is it about, what is it about the vaccines that causes Autism?” I’m still getting that question. Do you still hear that? Or are people afraid of you now?

Kirsten: I think people are either afraid of me or I’m just ignoring them better. Not yet.

Justin: Billy’s still hearing that, like and people are saying it to me like seriously.

Kirsten: Yeah. I mean you just, to me I think it’s just important whenever anybody comes up with that statement or that argument that the facts are that there is no evidence that vaccines are tied to Autism. There’s no evidence and, you know, it’s all hearsay.

Justin: Well there was concern, the concern was around the Mercury that was used as a stabilizer in the vaccines.

Kirsten: But there’s absolutely no evidence. The concern was there but there’s no evidence actually tying it together.

Justin: The concern was there. Well, there were correlative because you know, there’s more and more children getting the vaccines. There’s more cases of Autism and so the Mercury must have been the cause. There were totally correlative evidence which means not really evidence but two things that seem to be going in the same direction which is simple..

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Which is simple with vaccines ’cause everybody’s supposed to get it. Then they reduce the Mercury…

Kirsten: They remove Mercury. Not just reduce, remove.

Justin: Well yeah, so they remove the Mercury and the Autism rates continue to climb – which I’m actually very surprised that there wasn’t an outcry to put more Mercury, like higher does of Mercury into the vaccines for the future because apparently the Mercury was holding down the Autism rate. It was keeping it low, suppressing it.

Kirsten: Right. Right.

Justin: That’s what I tell people when they ask me that question. I was like you know, I think Mercury was suppressing Autism rates. It helps prevent Autism and when we took the Mercury out the rates just started jumping and, you know, now there’s all this outcry over it. It’s going to be very hard to get it back in again, you know.

Kirsten: Yeah. There are all sorts of arguments about vaccines and Autism. I haven’t heard so much about vaccines being related to Schizophrenia at all but with Autism they’ve turned it into a moving target. So the new one is now kids are getting too many vaccines all at once which – that argument is really weak because if we consider how many germs bombard our bodies every single day. How many particles of foreign material are inhaled, you know, swallowed, blinked in our eye – all over. The amount of stuff in the vaccines is much lower, much, much lower than that.

Justin: And really the reason that they correlated it with vaccines is because a lot of times, especially, the severe cases of Autism are apparent at a very young age and it’s usually, you know, ’cause when kids are like, up to like two, three, four years old they’re getting a series of vaccination shots all their first years. So then this Autism kicks in right there and the only explanation, the only thing out of the household, the only thing out of the most control that they can see is this injection by doctors and so of course that must…

And actually it wasn’t really the mothers who were coming to that conclusion it was a bunch of British lawyers who went around contacting mothers who had Autistic kids and were telling them, “You know your child’s Autism is likely caused by the vaccine and, you know, we got to sue this people ’cause they damaged your child and aren’t taking, aren’t ‘fessing up to it.”

So that’s how this whole craze started. It started as one of those class action lawsuit things.

Kirsten: It was started by a lying scientist.

Justin: Well..

Kirsten: It was started by a scientist who had money concerns and interests and…

Justin: Right, lawyers came first.

Kirsten: …a total bias in these like, using kids as a study subject. He was getting money for it and like, the initial study didn’t have anything. It was Autistic kids but it had to do with like dietary stuff and then it lead to Mercury. The initial study was flawed, biased and the data, like there were lies in the data. Like the whole thing has been retracted.

The scientist has been barred and, you know, he’s no longer, he was a medical doctor. I think he’s no longer allowed to practice, I think, medicine or I think he was a medical doctor but I might be wrong in that.

But, I mean, he’s in a world of hurt right now as a result of, you know, finally people are standing up and going, “Look your research was completely flawed and you were totally in like somebody’s pocket and you were looking out for your own interests and not for the interests of these kids and not for the interests of the health of people.” You know, you’re a bad man Mr. Science Man.

Justin: Yeah. Actually I don’t think he was as…

Kirsten: That’s how it started and that’s…

Justin: I don’t think he was really even a scientist he was like a doctor. So it’s not, doctors aren’t scientists.

Kirsten: Not always. Some doctors are scientists but not all doctors are scientists.

Justin: Some doctors are but I mean they’re medical doctors. I think it was a medical doctor doing research but not a, you know.

Kirsten: But we’re not going to say anything about medical doctors here in general.

Justin: But one of the things I was like you would mention that they hadn’t associated it ever with Schizophrenia. It’s because Schizophrenia will mostly show up in later, later years, like teenage years.

For a long time they thought it might have something to do with the hormones of becoming an adult – might be affecting the brain in such a way as to create the Schizophrenia or it was the, you know, maybe it was the rock and roll music the kids are listening to or it was the drugs they were doing or whatever it is. It’s not created by drugs or Ozzy Osbourne music it just happens to be that that’s the age when those things are maybe present.

Kirsten: Right, exactly and many times there are actually, there was some news out this last week actually that researchers are looking for cues for Autism in children earlier and earlier. So a lot of parents who say they’ve, you know, they don’t notice it until about the time that the vaccination stage of life around two or so. That actually there are signs much, much earlier and if you know what to look for we might be actually be able to diagnose and get some help for these kids much earlier in their developmental stages. So that’s a really interesting area of research now.

Additionally, talking about the Schizophrenia stuff. You know, we don’t know exactly what the cues are there are some people who think that it might be some kind of retrovirus or something that is triggered by an immune response, an immune system response. It could be hormones it could be an immune system response. It could be the timing. You know a lot of this is like, you have certain genes and they are predisposed to react in a particular way to a particular situation.

And so if you never get into that situation those genes probably won’t react and you won’t end up with say Schizophrenia. But if you’re the unlucky person who ends up in whatever situation it is, environmental situation that triggers the genes to go into action then that’s when the changes start.

I think it’s really fascinating. All of this stuff. We’re learning so much but there’s still so much that we don’t know. You know, there’s a lot of this that we still have to be patient and understand that, you know, medical science is doing what it can with what it knows at the time.

Justin: Yeah. It’s a real sort of catch all for latter diseases that they haven’t labeled or defined properly. Schizophrenia, like, we know that it can be cured by removing Toxoplasma gondii in parasites in some percentage. We know it’s an inheritable disease because it can be, you know, it can show up within a family throughout generations. But it’s not – Schizophrenia isn’t a one thing. Schizophrenia is almost, if you..

Kirsten: It’s a spectrum disorder.

Justin: Well, it’s a spectrum disorder but it’s also a spectrum of disorders that may be spectrums on into themselves. It’s almost like instead of – we can pretend that Schizophrenia is a French word for a minute and say that Schizophrenia in French means haven’t really figured out what it means but it’s a disease and it affects the mind. Like for that whole category of we haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.

Kirsten: Yeah. We’re learning. We’ll get there. Moving into another story before we go into the break. Let’s get some more stories in here. We’ve been talking on this subject for a little while.

Another healthy kind of story, things that might be coming down the pike for us. In the future, those of you who tend to enjoy imbibing a little bit too much on the weekends. Imbibing a little too much of the alcoholic beverages you’re probably putting the hurt on your livers. Okay, just putting it out there.

However, researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have created mini-livers; little tiny livers that seem to function like human livers in a laboratory. They’re not big enough. They’re only about 0.2 ounces in size and they’re about an inch in diameter. So they’re kind of, you know, tiny little things. You could, I don’t know, maybe you could put a liver, one of these livers in a cabbage patch doll and send them out to the bars but..

Justin: What is this like you swallow a bit of liver in your beer chaser, take the shot? Like how do you…

Kirsten: That’s right, a little liver, a little beer.

Justin: How do we do this, do you put a little salt on it first?

Kirsten: A little salt…

Justin: A little, bite the lime after you swallow the liver. Like how does this..

Kirsten: How does this all work? Well, right now this is just as I said early, early stages. This is the first step. The first time that researchers have been able to use human liver cells to engineer functioning mini-livers. I mean even if they’re small they’re functioning. So what they need to do now is figure out how to get more cells to grow. To grow a big liver that could be transplanted, say into a person who has cirrhosis or other diseases of the liver.

The researchers say, “We are excited about the possibilities this research represents but must stress we’re at an early stage, many technical hurdles must be overcomed before it can benefit patients. Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients. We must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients. Our hope is once these organs are transplanted they will maintain and gain function as they continue to develop.”

What they did to engineer the organs; they used animal livers that were decellularized. So they used a detergent that broke down cell walls and removed the cells that left basically a connective tissue skeleton. The connective tissue of a type called Collagen is a structural fiber. The skeleton then could be – was used as basically a scaffolding on which they put a bunch of human immature liver cells called progenitor cells and endothelial cells that are cells that line blood vessels.

And so together, the cells grew and they grew blood vessels that went into the little mini-livers and all the cells grew. They put the liver in what they call a bio-reactor? It’s equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen around the organ and they documented the formation of the human liver tissue and saw lots of cells grow.

So this is the first time that they’ve been able to engineer this kind of an organ, the liver. You know, many more may be on the way but this is exciting. To be able to do this, might be down the road where, you know, you can drink all you want your whole life and then just be like, “Get me a new liver!” Or not, or you could be nice and healthy and never have to have a liver transplant.

Justin: Wait a second. Wait a second. Wait a second. Are you somehow construing good health with abstinence from alcohol consumption?

Kirsten: Whatever. I didn’t mean…

Justin: Because we’ve done enough stories, shown enough studies to show there are many, many health benefits to having a reasonable number of alcoholic drinks per hour.

Kirsten: Per hour. Everything in moderation my dear Justin.

Justin: Everything in moderation.

Kirsten: Everything in moderation. That’s right.

Justin: Stay below the two drink per hour.

Kirsten: Maybe.

Justin: Isn’t that what the…

Kirsten: Yeah. No, I think it’s even below that. Sorry. Sorry.

Justin: It’s below. Okay, sorry. Stay below the two drink per half hour moderation. You get it.

Kirsten: You’ve got a different idea of moderation, completely different idea.

Justin: Is it lower than that?

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah.

Justin: Try not to drink more than two drinks every 15 minutes.

Kirsten: You’re going the wrong direction, dude.

Justin: I’m still going the wrong direction?

Kirsten: Yeah. You’re going the wrong direction. Drink responsibly. Yeah. But anyway it’s an interesting study and, you know, it’s the kind of thing that gosh – five, ten years ago we were talking about this kind of stuff and going, “Ah. Someday, maybe they’ll be able to do that” and all of a sudden they’re starting to be able to do it. So this is kind of one of those, the “future is coming”. The “future is now” stories. I kind of like it.

Justin: Yeah, that’s awesome. I thought my liver was supposed to grow on its own anyway, though. Isn’t it? Like if you cut off your liver isn’t it the one organ that can regenerate itself?

Kirsten: Actually, yeah. The liver is amazing and in its regenerative abilities. You can, humans can even survive with having lost up to two thirds of their liver. So they can survive basically having only about 30% of their liver left. But the liver can regenerate. The liver is an amazing organ. However, sometimes damage is done that cannot be fixed. Sometimes, disease occurs that necessitates transplantation. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You know, we’re joking about alcohol in the liver and all that kind of stuff, you know. Kind of putting it in a light sense but it’s, you know, there are a lot of people that can be really, really helped by this kind of technology.

Justin: Yeah. There are friends and family of people who need liver transplants who match them in blood type but really don’t want to go under the knife. So this technology will help them live a guilt free life and their friend and loved one will be able to live and they will be able to continue on without the stress of having made that decision one way or the other.

Kirsten: All right, let’s take a break, very short break. This is This Week in Science and we will be back in just a few moments after these words.

[Commercial break]

Justin: Thank you for listening to TWIS. If you rely on this show for weekly science-y updates please understand that we rely on your support to keep bringing those to you. Donate keep the science-y goodness on the air we’ve made it very easy for you. Go to our website, click on the button that will allow you to donate $2, $5, $10 or if you like you can donate any amount of money you choose – as many times as you like. Again just go to and donate today. We need your support and we thank you in advance for it.

Kirsten: Do you like audio books? If so you can get yourself a free one. is the leading provider of audio books with over 75,000 different titles in a variety of genres. TWIS has found many a science-based book in the audible library. You can start a free trial today and get any audio book download for free. We like the word “free” don’t we? All you have to do is sign up at T-W-I-S. Go to now for your free download.

And speaking of books it’s November, the TWIS book club has a new book of the month. Read Bad Science. Speaking of vaccines from the first half of this show, vaccines and Autism is one case of it. Bad Science is a whole book by Ben Goldacre about the bad uses of science that is out there. The way it’s misconstrued. What’s going on. We’re going to read it with the TWIS book club. Head on over to TWIS. to get your copy and join in the conversation about the book. What do you think? How misused is science these days? Come on join the club.

Justin: So I want to read something.

Kirsten: We’re back. We are back huh. You want to read something?

Justin: I want to read something ’cause I just…

Kirsten: Is it a science story that we can use?

Justin: No but it’s…

Kirsten: The current science news that we’re supposed to be telling everyone about?

Justin: I know but this is from this book that was sent a while ago that I just finally started reading.

Kirsten: Is it short?

Justin: It’s short. Yeah.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: It’s just the opening page or opening paragraph. On an autumn day in 1947 much like any other day, Kathy and Keith Haze returned to their suburban American ranch house with their newborn infant girl, Vicky. After a few difficult days, Vicky began feeding well and growing rapidly. She was a very quiet baby, sweet and affectionate and loved to be held and tickled. She learned to walk early, entering into a rambunctious phase and breaking numerous household objects. But eventually her loving parents’ gentle discipline bore fruit and she developed into a playful obedient little girl.

By age three, Vicky could feed and bathe herself, eat with a spoon and drink through a straw and help with cleaning. She was fond of looking at herself in the mirror and loved assembling jigsaw puzzles. She enjoyed playing on the backyard swing, climbing trees, and playing peek-a-boo at the neighborhood children.

She was in many ways a normal girl with one major exception: Vicky did not speak. Not a word. She was able to grunt, scream and laugh. So her problem was not with vocalization in general. Instead it seemed to stem from a neuro-difficulty specific to spoken language.

After consultation with experts Kathy Haze instituted a speech training regime, manipulating her young one’s lips manually and rewarding her with treats whenever she approximated a word. Unfortunately, even these dedicated efforts were mostly in vain. Vicky’s vocabulary reached a plateau of three words: Mama, Papa and cup. And even these attempts were breathy and inarticulate. Poor imitations of normal English speech.

Vicky seemed tragically doomed to a life without speech. Fortunately, Vicky’s parents were not totally surprised or alarmed by her failure to achieve speech or language because Vicky was a chimpanzee.

Kirsten: Nice twist there.

Justin: That’s the opening page of the Evolution of Language by W. Tecumseh Fitch, available via Cambridge books. I’ve gotten a little ways further into it from that first page today. I’m on page 3 but so far its a very, it’s actually a very, very interesting book about language, how it takes places and it’s sort of delves into a lot of our cognitive abilities being evident through language in such a way that it is sort of giving us clues as to how language may have started. Very interesting. I can’t wait to get further into it. We should..

Kirsten. Yeah. Sounds like an interesting read.

Justin: Yeah. We should get the author onto – talk on our show sometime soon. So that I don’t actually have to read the book. I can just ask him to…

Kirsten: Right. Hey, I have an actual science story. I got a science story.

Justin: Go for it.

Kirsten: Biologists, this is from Wired Science, biologists have grown super sized Dragonflies and it had nothing to do with lots of French fries in their diet. Nothing at all. They grew Dragonflies to 15% larger than the normal Dragon fly size by putting them in special containers, growth chambers that had lots more Oxygen in them. They were simulating the environment during or the atmospheric environment during the Paleozoic era which occurred about 300 million years ago when we know that there were huge Dragon flies flying around the planet in certain places on Earth.

Back then, however, the Dragonflies were really big with wing spans that were like two and half feet in diameter, two and a half feet across. The atmosphere had about 50% more Oxygen than it does today. So they put beetles, cockroaches, Dragonflies – a whole bunch of different insects that the researchers call living fossils. Those that haven’t really changed too much since the Paleozoic era.

They put them into chambers with 31% of today’s Oxygen level. The late Paleozoics, 31% Oxygen level. Another one at today’s 21% level and another at 12% which is the lowest Oxygen level that the Earth has experienced during which life was actually around.

Justin: Did they shrink?

Kirsten: Did they shrink, that’s a good question. They grew faster. Yup. They grew faster and bigger in the high Oxygen concentrations and they got smaller in the low Oxygen concentration.

Justin: If I’m not mistaken Dragonflies actually breathe somewhat like bees do or other flying insects. They got like a tube through which the air passes.

Kirsten: Yeah. They have breathing tubes. Exactly.

Justin: And so they’re completely dependent not on a, not on like a rate of breath. I mean they couldn’t just breathe faster, move their lungs more – their air sacks more – to get more Oxygen to maintain. They’re just completely dependent on what is in the air and it supports flying. Interesting. Interesting. Wow. You know, if they had the tubes first and then the flying allowed them to go faster and if somebody on the IRC pointed out Dragon flies are, you know, for the amount of space that they travel – I think they said it was the fastest insect.

Kirsten: But it’s not just Dragonflies. They were also looking at other animals like beetles. Insects like beetles that also grew larger.

Justin: Oh yeah. I just was taking the tangent that the flight and the additional speed may have been a way to take control of Oxygen intake and moving themselves through the environment quicker, getting more air through the tube that way.

Kirsten: Possibly.

Justin: It’s just a.. I don’t know. We’re going to have to back further than the study.

Kirsten: You’d have to actually do some tests there, Justin. You actually would.

Justin: You know.

Kirsten: But anyway, the study – VandenBrooks – the leader of the study, says, “It wasn’t quick but it paid off.” For this study, he says, “As you become a larger insect more of your body is taken up by Tracheal tubes. Eventually, you reach a limit to how big you can be. The more Oxygen that is available the smaller that system needs to be and the bigger you can grow.”

So they’re not really sure why particular, why the dragon flies and beetles grew larger but that they found cockroaches did not grow larger. So they don’t really know why that happened and…

Justin: They haven’t been to Davis yet.

Kirsten: And the sizes that they grew to were definitely nowhere near as big as like the, you know, Paleozoic sizes that they saw. The fossils tell us they were. So one of the models out there. He says, “Levels were lower than now. Another says higher than present levels. We need a good proxy to estimate his historic conditions. Amber fossils are promising if we can more tightly correlate breathing tube volume to Oxygen.” And researchers want to take a more in depth look at the fossil record and expand forward to the present and backward to the past to see how it all works.

Anyway, it’s kind of interesting how closely tied to Oxygen levels some insects are and some and others doesn’t seem like they are so much. They just keep living. The cockroaches just are. That’s the way it works.

Justin: They found a giant hissing Japanese cockroach in a sleeping bag that previous This Week in Science co-host Ted Dunning gave me. Like, I got it from him like after he’d taken it to Japan and apparently this was some sort of stow away. That I don’t know how, you know. It was some time later, I thought, maybe even a year later that I finally unfurled this thing. I mean it was, I have to say about four or five maybe even inches long. It was just massive. It lives, scared the hell out of me.

Kirsten: Yeah. I understand that. All right, give me another story dude. Give me a story.

Justin: Alright, let’s see. A team of Université Laval, I think they’re in France somewhere. Researchers have just unlocked the secret of bacteria’s immune system. Details of discovery which may eventually make it possible to prevent certain bacteria from developing resistance to anti-biotics, presented in the recent issue of scientific journal, Nature.

Team, led by Professor Sylvain Moineau of Université Laval department of Biochemistry Microbiology showed that the mechanism called a bunch of letters, CRISPR/CAS, works by selecting foreign DNA segments, inserting them into various specific locations into the bacterium’s genome. The segments show us the kind of immune factor in fighting off future invasions by cleaving in-coming DNA.

So basically, what they’re doing, what they’ve done is they’ve created an immunity within bacteria from getting other DNA transferred to them. It’s sort of an immunity from learning. This is what they’ve…

Kirsten: Yeah. Horizontal gene transfers, one of the ways that bacteria are known to get new traits to transfer information from individual to individual. It’s one of the big steps in bacterial evolution, really. It’s really important for them.

Justin: I have to do a quick correction as the IRC has just pointed out to me and has been confirmed by other sources. Université Laval while sounding French is actually in the French colony of Quebec and not in France itself.

Kirsten: The French colony, yeah, you’re going to get some mail for that one.

Justin: I just wanted to make that correction before, any further. Researchers demonstrated the mechanism using Plasmids DNA volume that are regularly exchanged by bacteria. The Plasmids used in the experiments which contain the gene for anti-biotic resistance was inserted into bacteria used in making yoghurt, Streptococcus ThermoPhilus.

Soon the bacteria integrated the segments of DNA from the resistance gene genome and subsequent attempts to re-insert the Plasmid into these bacteria then failed. “These bacteria have simply been immunized against acquiring the resistance gene”, commented Professor Moineau. A lot of vowels. They love their vowels in the French colony of Quebec.

The phenomenon could explain among other things why some bacteria develop anti-biotic resistance while others do not. But, yeah, we may be able to get to the point where we can boost bacteria’s resistance to DNA from other bacteria that would prevent it from dying. Therefore allowing us to either live or if something went terribly right, no longer be able to digest sugars. Depending on..

Kirsten: Right. So if like, if some of that horizontal gene transfer from other bacteria confers resistance to an anti-biotic. Suddenly, those bacteria are not able to become resistance and the anti-biotic will actually work. That’s what we want. That’s great. We like that stuff right?

Justin: Yeah, for some bacteria. For a very select few. For a very small minority of bacteria that whatever they’re function is, was or planned to be doesn’t like groove with our, you know, big macro multi-cellularness.

Kirsten: Right. I mean.

Justin: There are a lot of bacteria that we rely on to do a lot of things.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I get a little freaked when, you know, they start going after bacteria in some ways. ‘Cause there are so many bacteria that are not just beneficial but are absolutely necessary for survival on planet Earth.

Kirsten: Yup. I agree that we are a macro organism, a super organism. We are mostly made of bacteria. There are more bacteria in us than on us, than there are cells that we could call human and that’s something that we don’t understand – our symbiosis with bacteria.

We really don’t understand it completely. We don’t understand, you know, we’ve got an idea of some bacteria that are really great, others that are not so good. But we don’t even know all of the bacteria that are present. We don’t know them because a lot of times we can’t even culture them in the lab to find out who they are.

So something that could provide this genetic immunity, it could go awry and we could really mess ourselves up. It should be…

Justin: It’s not an eco-system we want to mess with…

Kirsten: Yeah, the human ecosystem.

Justin: …because we’re not just..

Kirsten: The ecosystem that is the human.

Justin: Lives within the sphere of being a body of being a (?). There are really ways of looking at bacteria that you can, with some degree of, some reasonable amount of certainty refer to us as vessels for bacteria.

Just going for by the numbers, there’s more of them than there are of us. That we’re, you know, a host that’s a big bacteria space ship. You know, they get them from one spot and transfer them all over this world. Allow them to travel with all sorts of places, mingle with other bacteria, go about their bacterial society ways, you know. But really are in charge of running a lot of the ship’s operations, many more than I think most people would even realize.

Kirsten: Moving on forward, there’s a fun story out of Scientific American this last week that involves Ozzy Osbourne. I have to say, I never thought I would find a science story that was you know, a science story that involved Ozzy Osbourne.

Justin: This is the second Ozzy Osbourne reference tonight too. We brought him up earlier in the Schizophrenia, yeah.

Kirsten: You brought him up.

Justin: I know I did but with the correlative between rock and roll music and the crazy kids today.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, Ozzy Osbourne gave Co-factor Genomics a Saint Louis based genomics company a little bit of his blood. So that it can be sequenced and he can get a copy of his genome. Another company called Knome, K-N-O-M-E Inc., helped raised money for the project and analyzed the data. The result is that there maybe some relation to the Neanderthals in Ozzy Osbourne, maybe? I don’t know. There is no, according to..

Justin: We kind of covered this a while ago too.

Kirsten: Huh?

Justin: We kind of covered this a while ago that most if not all Caucasians likely have Neanderthal.

Kirsten: Right, but what they found so far, what they found. He has like shakiness and he has a Parkinson’s like condition. And so they look for genes that would be, that would explain that and they found a little bit but basically they say that is passed with drug abuse – probably contributed more so to his current condition than anything else. There were a lot of what they call novel variants in genes of his, associated with addiction and metabolism. Nothing that was really definitive in that direction, however.

One variant that they found involved a gene that makes CLTCL-1 which is a protein that helps to pull things into cells and it does this in cells all over the body. He has two copies of an unusual variant that makes a grossly different version of the protein than most people produce.

So it could affect how his nerve cells communicate with one another. Another thing, Ozzy has an unusual variant near his, one of his alcohol dehydrogenase genes that helps regulate how much of the protein gets made. So his body responds a little bit differently to alcohol than other peoples.

Big surprise though, they found a little segment on chromosome-10 that traces back to a Neanderthal forbearer. Not everybody would be find this in their genome but a lot of Asians and Europeans do have some evidence of Neanderthal lineage, like a very, very tiny amount. George Church is another individual who is a scientist. He has had his genome sequences and he’s the founder of Knome. This article says that George Church’s genome has about three times as much Neanderthal as Ozzy Osbourne.

So you can’t have the Neanderthal gene explaining Ozzy. You know, that gene just… It doesn’t explain the phenomenon that is Ozzy.

Justin: No. No. No. No. No. Because first of all Neanderthals were much more articulate. Although, I don’t know if they quite had the singing and song writing capabilities that Ozzy has. You know, but it’s actually not probably as rare as people think. It’s most likely that all non-Africans, probably a vast, vast majority of non-Africans, in fact, have Neanderthal DNA because at the time there were so few people on the planet when we were inter-mingling that the ancestry and the lineages it’s just, it’s comprehensible really that it wouldn’t have gotten to everybody. It wouldn’t be somewhere in everybody’s.

What’s mostly living in us and being able to say, “Ahh-hah,” this is Neanderthal. There’s probably a lack of a complete Neanderthal DNA to compare to. To say, “Ahh-hah”. One of the things, those that they haven’t yet found. The human DNA in any of the Neanderthal samples that were inherited that way. So they definitely, you know, they definitely are much more part of our ancestry than the other way around.

Kirsten: Right. They came first.

Justin: Our ancestry being only those who were non-Africans because it would have been the migrating group of Africans..

Kirsten: That would have encountered the Neanderthals that..

Justin: Made friends, had you know..

Kirsten: And then went on, would have gone on to colonize Asia and Europe. Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yup. Yup. It’s true. Yeah, I mean this is just like a fluff story. It’s not, you know, it’s not something that is like, you know, super science but I think it’s really fun to find out, you know, who is getting their genome sequenced.

What does that information tell us and very often we find out that it doesn’t really tell us very much. I mean most of what this does tell us about Ozzy Osbourne is that, you know, he has pretty good genes.

He’s lived a hard life and he’s, you know, he’s damaged himself through hard living. But it doesn’t, you know, having a Neanderthal gene, having Parkinson’s like symptoms they don’t tell us why he – none of this stuff is going to tell us why somebody is the way there are. Why is Ozzy a successful musician. Why, you know, what are the things that bring that into his life. The genome information is just too vague to give us the specifics about somebody. But you know, it’s kind of fun to read into things a little bit.

Justin: It is and it isn’t. Last week, you know, they found a strong correlation to a certain Dopamine gene and whether or not you’re going to be a liberal or conservative.

Kirsten: Right. Again once..

Justin: Maybe we’re just…

Kirsten: Correlation.

Justin: Correlation but we’re going to be talking 10 years later and we’re like, “Oh. Of course, now we understand we should have been looking for it. Ozzy has the heavy metal gene.”

Kirsten: Exactly.

Justin: We just didn’t know it existed yet. Now it’s all so clear.

Kirsten: It’s so clear to me now. Absolutely, you have any more stories?

Justin: Oh. There’s this one I could do. It’s kind of long. Do we have time?

Kirsten: No, not for a long one.

Justin: I’ll bring this one next week ’cause I really want to do it. It’s about the connection between, the fact that we can actually get separation anxiety. The same as we would from losing a loved one, if we purchase a product from the competitor’s brand of a brand that we’ve been previously loyal to. That means that..

Kirsten: Brand loyalty.

Justin: …they have marketed deep into your psyche.

Kirsten: Deep. Very deep.

Justin: They’ve made a parental connection, a familial connection to your psyche, to your mind, to who you are in the planet.

Kirsten: That’s fascinating.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: That’s a little scary actually.

Justin: I just want to learn how to do it. I want to be able to replicate it.

Kirsten: Oh, this brand of corn chips. My favorite long lost sister.

Justin: This year’s clothing store in downtown Davis whose name we won’t mention.

Kirsten: Crazy. Exactly. I have one last story. This one’s from Cassini. I love the Cassini mission, out imaging the rings of Saturn. Cassini finally has, the researchers who are working on Cassini have finally published a study in the Astronomical Journal and I’ve been kind of waiting for this to come out. Looking at Saturn’s rings, basically they are confirming that Saturn’s rings behave like a miniature version- a bug just bit me in the face that wasn’t nice.

Justin: Love the action TV.

Kirsten: They behave like a miniature version of our galaxy. So the dynamics of how they move and what’s going on really seem to be mimicking the movement of the Milky way galaxy, really interesting things.

It’s like a small scale model of the Milky way. So there’s an area, there’s a region of Saturn’s rings. The B-ring that’s really dynamic. It’s irregular and its shape varies a lot and the Cassini spacecraft has really done a lot towards allowing researchers to see what’s going on.

Researchers say, “We have found what we’d hope we’d find when we set out on this journey with Cassini nearly 13 years ago -visibility into the mechanisms that sculpted not only Saturn’s rings but celestial discs of a far grander scale. From solar systems like our own all the way to the giant spiral galaxies.” That’s Carolyn Porco whose a co-author on this study.

So the analysis of the B-ring took over four years and they say that there are at least three additional independently rotating wave patterns that distort the edge of the B-ring. These oscillations with varying numbers of lobes are not created by moons. They’ve spontaneously arisen partly because of the density of the ring and the edge of the ring is sharp enough for waves to grow and then kind of reflect in and out at the edge.

The lead author on the article Joseph Spitale says, “These oscillations exist for the same reason that guitar string have natural modes of oscillations which can be excited when plucked or otherwise disturbed. The ring too has its own oscillation frequencies and that’s what were observing.”

They think others of these self-excited oscillations exist elsewhere in other disc systems similar to the milky-way galaxy, spiral disc galaxies and also proto-planetary discs that are found around stars. So not quite at the level of our own solar system which is very well defined but at the beginnings of formation where rings of matter are starting to clump together, form moons, form planets, etc. Researchers haven’t been able to confirm existence of this self-excited oscillations anywhere really until now.

So Peter Goldrick, another researcher says, “Normally, viscosity or resistance to flow damps waves the way sound waves travelling through the air would die out but the new findings show that in the densest parts of Saturn’s rings viscosity actually amplifies waves explaining mysterious grooves that were first seen in images taken by the Voyager space craft back in the early 1980s.”

So anyway, new information from a far away ringed planet.

Justin: That’s super cool.

Kirsten: Yeah, and the pictures are beautiful – the images that Cassini sends back they’re mesmerizing. They’re gorgeous. I can understand how a scientist could just become devoted to studying this planet. You know, spend your whole life studying it. I can absolutely understand. Pretty amazing.

I think it’s time to be done with the show. What do you think?

Justin: That’s it. You got any shout outs?

Kirsten: Of course, I have shout outs. Shout outs to (Jess Mason, to Pamela Taylor, to Ed Dire, to Logan Waterman, Hanna Cox Peralta, Dale Fisher) and I’d like to say congratulations to Daisy Whitney – a good friend of mine who has a book called “The Mockingbird”. It’s out, she said she used some of my bird brain science stuff in her book. That’s kind of cool, kind of cool.

So love all emails and everything that I got from everybody. Once again I’d like to say thanks to Patrick whose writing up our show notes every week. You rock.

Justin: Thank you everyone for listening. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show. TWIS is available also as a podcast just Google us. Google “This Week in Science” in the iTunes directory or if you have an Android device you can look for the TWIS for Droid app in the Android marketplace.

Kirsten: We do. We do. For more information on anything you’ve heard here today show notes will be available on our website, We also want to hear from you. So send us an email or you know write us a letter. Whatever that happens to be that fits your fancy. You can email me at You can email Justin at

Justin: Or you can get a hold of us on the Twitter, it’s DrKiki or JacksonFly. We love your feedback so if there’s a topic you would like us to discuss, a suggestion for an interview. Please let us know.

Kirsten: And we’ll be back here, next week. Same time, same place and we hope that you will join us for more great science news.

Justin: And if you have learned anything from tonight’s show, remember.

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.

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