Transcript: Dec 04, 2008

Justin: Hey! Good morning Kirsten:.

Kirsten:: That was an interesting one Justin, good morning.

Justin: I’ve got a cold. Something and I could…

Kirsten:: You do?

Justin: Yes, which is a perfect opportunity for me to do an entire show as Krusty the clown.

Kirsten:: Oh, I think we can do without Krusty the Clown this morning.

Justin: No?

Kirsten:: Krusty’s one of – I don’t know. I have a soft spot in my heart for Krusty but, he’s a little bit annoying. There’s obnoxiousness going on.

Justin: I’ve heard that now.

Kirsten:: I’ve heard that before.

Welcome to This Week in Science. It’s a bit after 8:30 in the morning on Tuesday, December 4th. It’s Kirsten: and Justin here and we are going to be with you for the next hour talking all about science news. What else is new in it?

Justin: Probably some stuff that’s not science because…

Kirsten:: Maybe some stuff that’s not science but I think we’re going to do all right. Unfortunately, this morning we are not going to have Michael Stebbins joining us.

Justin: Which I’m kind of suspicious about. I understand the man says he has a cold but gosh, there’s so much good science policy stuff this last week and I didn’t bring it because I thought he would.

Kirsten:: But maybe you could remember be if you didn’t put on paper, maybe it’s still in your brain and you can talk about it.

Justin: I didn’t put it down on paper as it leaves the show completely.

Kirsten:: Anyway, yes, he has a got a cold this morning. His voice just doesn’t – it’s not going to work for the radio. So, he said, “I’m out.” And he sent me an email this morning, not going to happen and…

Justin: Yes, I have known like yes, some people have photographic memories where they can see something, read something once, whatever and then it’s there. They can always go back and access it. My brain is constantly erasing while I’m – and like lifetime with me observing things…

Kirsten:: You’re…

Justin: …it is erasing them for my memory. I don’t know what it is.

Kirsten:: Things get replaced very easily.

Justin: I don’t know if there’s anything going in after it. I think it’s just I have a very – I’ve got old hardware, very limited memory, very limited hard drive. Don’t even try to store pictures or a song in my head because it will take forever to save and then they won’t…

Kirsten:: Well anyway, we’ve got a lot of science news for you today. And well, hopefully, have enough time to get through it all as normally we do. I’ve got a big story on beetle feces otherwise known as frass.

Justin: Frass, that’s a (inaudible).

Kirsten:: Well, it’s not a big story. It’s a little story, but I just love the idea of… story of…

Justin: Sounds frasscinating, Kristen.

Kirsten:: Frasscinating. Yes. And since we don’t have a guest this morning, I invite everyone out there who’s listening to us live to call in this morning. We’d love to hear from you. And if you have…

Justin: Bail us out.

Kirsten:: We don’t need to be bailed out.

Justin: Oh no.

Kirsten:: We’ve got plenty of stories.

Justin: No, this ship isn’t sinking.

Kirsten:: No.

Justin: No, no. We just grazed the iceberg and we couldn’t…

Kirsten:: Justin…

Justin: If wee were taking on water, we’d be floating right but whoa, whoa…

Kirsten:: Our phone number for those of you who would like to call – if you keep up I’m going to turn your microphone down.

Justin: I’m wearing shin guards.

Kirsten:: That’s right.

Justin: Just bring it.

Kirsten:: Bring it. Our phone number 530-752-2777. We’d love to hear from you and find out where you are listening to us. And we’d love to hear science stories that you are interested in this morning. Let us know what you’re reading and why it’s interesting, 530-752-2777.

And our website, if you’d like to continue conversations later on during the week, is I haven’t been updating as much for the last couple of weeks but I’ve been uttering…

Justin: Uttering.

Kirsten:: Uttering, yes. You can go to the website and on a daily basis – I’m going to try and do this on a daily basis, I’ll do short science blurbs — stories that we did not get to during the show, things that I think are interesting. It’s an audio file. You can listen to it on the website.

And one of the interesting things is if you follow that link back to the (utter’s) website where it’s originally posted, you can give me an audio response so I can hear what you think about (Mike Utter). So let’s – yes, moow.

Justin: That’s right. You can actually see Kirsten:’s (utter) on his website so…

Kirsten:: No.

Justin: Well, that was you helping…

Kirsten:: There’s none of that. And I guess that’s about it for the announcements. Let’s move on, huh?

Justin: Yes. Let’s do some science. Based on a report by Malcolm Ritter of the AP Science where I found this, a Japanese researcher has pitted young chimps against human adults in a test of short-term memory. And the grand champ…

Kirsten:: Oh, it’s got to be human, right?

Justin: Wait, wait, wait.

Kirsten:: We’re so smart. We got the big brains. We got lots of in-folding. It’s overly good stuff in the brain, right? Go.

Justin: Well, actually, if it was humans that won, it wouldn’t really be that news worthy for the show. So, of course it was…

Kirsten:: Okay.

Justin: …the chimp that won. Researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University, a pioneer in studying the mental abilities of chimps said even he was surprised. Results are in the current issue of the Journal of Current Biology. Cold.

One memory test included three five-year-old chimps who’ve been taught in the order of numerals between one and nine. And so the three chimps and five – excuse me, a dozen human volunteers, they saw the nine numbers displayed on a computer screen…

Kirsten:: A lot of human volunteers that went in and going, “This will be easy.”

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: “I can beat a chimp.”

Justin: Oh, yes.

Kirsten:: “It’s just a chimp, come on.”

Justin: Well, I’m sure the chimp wasn’t in the room with them…

Kirsten:: No.

Justin: …staring them down. They probably not even realized they were…

Kirsten:: There was no intimidation factor.

Justin: …about to be beaten down by a chimp. When they touched the first number though of this one to nine that was randomly displayed on the screen, the other eight would turn to white squares. So, you then you’d have to remember where all the rest of the numbers were.

Kirsten:: Like a game of concentration.

Justin: Yes. Both of them were doing okay. They were both by 80%. The chimps weren’t any better than humans until they started to reduce the amount of time.

Kirsten:: Really?

Justin: Yes. They took out one of the chimps named Ayumu who actually did track a little bit better than the rest of the chimps and better than some of the students.

And he pitted them against nine students for a second test. So this time, the numbers flashed on the screen only briefly before they were replaced by the blank squares.

The challenge again was to touch these and remember the proper sequence. When the numbers were played for about seven tenths of a second, the college students and the chimp were actually both about 80%. They were still holding on to a pretty good percentage there.

But when the numbers were displayed for just two tenths of a second, the chimp took over.

Kirsten:: Ha!

Justin: The chimp stayed at 80% while the humans dropped to 40% or below. So, the briefer the time was too short for the humans to look around, to track all the squares.

Kirsten:: Right. To get an idea of what they were looking at.

Justin: Indicating that Ayumu, the chimp, was taking in the whole set at once.

Kirsten:: At once. Yes.

Justin: Wow! So just sort of remembering…

Kirsten:: It’s fascinating!

Justin: …a full picture of them instead of like individually tracking. Even with six months of training, three of the nine students in the second test failed to catch up with him.

Kirsten:: Ha!

Justin: Even after six months of practicing on this, just couldn’t do it. He thinks a couple other factors, maybe actually the chimp’s age for one thing because five year old chimps – they’re kind of younger, they’re still in that – sort of young humans really learning new things and this is probably one of the bigger things that they have been put forth.

Now, they want to do the test again…

Kirsten:: With younger people?

Justin: …humans versus people I mean humans versus young…

Kirsten:: Humans versus people.

Justin: Humans versus littler humans and likewise, chimp versus children.

Kirsten:: Yes. That would be interesting. I wonder if it is a developmental process, something that’s developmental or if it’s something that is evolutionarily based on the needs of the animals where chimps evolving in the jungles. Wherever they’re living, maybe it makes better sense for them for to be able to take in an entire scene with more predators and that kind of stuff.

Justin: Matsuzawa actually does believe that human ancestors gave up much of that skill through the evolutionary process, making room for things like language ability perhaps.

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: But yes. They actually did some tests on older chimps and the older chimps did do worse than the humans.

Kirsten:: So, older chimps did worse?

Justin: Older chimps weren’t as good.

Kirsten:: Mm hmm. Interesting! Maybe they don’t care as much.

Justin: Oh, yes.

Kirsten:: Whatever. I don’t care. Well, it turns out that some group of ancestors, extinct homo-relatives of the Homo sapiens known as Paranthropus robustus actually more similar to gorillas than they are to humans in their social structure and their growth patterns.

So, researchers from UCL Department of Anthropology, Dr. Charles Lockwood published in this week’s Science Magazine that he and a group of researchers checked out some old fossilized specimens of this ancient Homo sapien relative and found that the males seem to continue to grow throughout their lives.

So, in humans, we have a very distinct growth period where females and males grow until the end of their developmental stage and then they stop growing.

And it turns out that in gorillas and in these Paranthropus robustus fossils, the male seem to have the traits of growing continually so that they reach a much larger size than the females ever do.

And by linking the growth patterns of these fossils with modern gorillas, what they’re thinking is that the old social structures must have been similar to that of gorillas where the males would have kind of a high payoff, yet in the sense that if they grow well, if they survive, they’ll be able to attract lots of females and they’ll be like the silverback with their tribe of females – taking care of all the females in a group.


Justin: It’s good to be the silverbacks.

Kirsten:: But because they’re growing and it takes so long for them to grow to their full size, then it’s also very dangerous to them that they have a high predation risk as well. So, it’s risky yet there’s high payoff for their growth patterns.

And something that’s really interesting about where the fossils came from is this area – let me see what it’s called, Swartkrans. And it’s an area within the South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. That’s near Johannesburg in South Africa.

They think that this site was actually like a litter box for predators where predators like hyenas and jackals and leopards. And these old predators would take their prey to it them and dump the bones. And so, it’s this site where it’s just littered…

Justin: Could be a pretty nice site.

Kirsten:: Right. And so, it’s just littered with all these fossil bones. And it turns out that there are many more male fossils than there are females which kind of links to the idea that males might have been, traveling on their on. So, when they reach maturity, they kicked out of the group that they’re living and then they have to set off on their own to find their own females.

And during that time, it’s very dangerous because they’re on their own, they’re not quite at their full size, they’re at a high risk for dying. And so, they’re thinking that that’s why they are finding so many more males that females in this particular site is that there was much more predation for them. And this is the predator dumping ground where they’re finding the bones.

Justin: Something seems weird to me about that.

Kirsten:: Yes?

Justin: Like to have a predator, I mean is that something that’s – I’ve never hard about a predator dumping ground where like lots of animals will – because I would think like even a cheetah is going to take its prey and it’s going to drag it somewhere. Most are going to drag it into a tree where most other predators can’t get to it.

Kirsten:: Right.

Justin: It seems like you would want to keep it away from where all the other predators are and you wouldn’t want to bring it to the feast like a big smorgasbord.

Kirsten:: I’m sure it’s not that kind of (even). It’s like…

Justin: I’m picturing…

Kirsten:: …it’s all pretty large area. It’s like caves and stuff.

Justin: Yes. And I’m picturing what it is it’s actually a giant nest.

Kirsten:: A giant nest?

Justin: Of a yet undiscovered giant bird that would bring back gorillas and other…

Kirsten:: Giant eagle.

Justin: …other prey and drop it off to its young.

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: But speaking of…

Kirsten:: I think it’s pretty interesting thought that they had enough fossils that they’re actually starting to be able to look at the diversity…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: …within this one specific species to be able to look at maybe growth patterns and be able to infer social patterns in a similar way. So, it’s just fascinating. I like it. It’s interesting.

Justin: Amazing duck-billed dino find in North Dakota. Possibly the most intact dinosaur ever found.

Kirsten:: Wow!

Justin: Ten thousand pound hadrosaur nicknamed Dakota is actually discovered in 1999 by Tyler Lyson, then 16 now 24 and currently a graduate student in paleontology of all things in the university.

Kirsten:: Fancy that! You finally find that you find the dinosaur and then go, “Hey, maybe I could go into paleontology.”

Justin: Isn’t that a great – that’s a good story all by itself. So okay, what makes the specimen so unusual is that Dakota is fossilized with the skin and bone turned to stone. And shows ligaments, tendons and once fully examined have also internal organs.

Kirsten:: That’s impressive. It’s very impressive.

Justin: Yes. Finding a dino so nearly in the flesh has actually altered some of the characteristics about which we’re only guess – they’re surmised that previously. The skin is a relief of both large and small scales and has some evidence to suggest that it may have even had stripes.

Kirsten:: Stripes?

Justin: And yes. And had like different colored stripes on.

Kirsten:: That’s so neat. It’s just so rare that you find the soft tissues that get fossilized as well.

Justin: Yes. And it’s…

Kirsten:: And well enough that you’re able to actually be able to figure out traits of the animal.

Justin: And it’s a huge animal and a huge swath of the skin is actually available I mean it’s like…

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: It looks like if it was still in a leathery form, you could really redo a number of couches. Scientists are estimating that its backside bulk is actually 25% larger than previously thought on the hadrosaur.

Apparently, the bulk was muscular. Upper legs and tail had all the connective tissue there to indicate that neither there the retooling of the locomotion which they have done and it’s giving the beast a running speed about 28 miles per hour which is really fast.

Kirsten:: Yes. You’d be hard-pressed to outrun that animal.

Justin: Yes. That’s a good ten miles and hour faster than tyrannosaurus rex who was also found in this same area of the Dakotas and was most likely the biggest predator of the hadrosaur.

So it’s a pretty good – you can outrun them. But that, and if that is the biggest prey of the tyrannosaurus rex, they would have been much more scavenger-y than like racing down a prey like that, you know?

Kirsten:: Right.

Justin: Ten mile an hour per difference was sort like if I’m chasing you but I’m standing still and you’re moving away from me at ten miles an hour. That’s what a ten-mile an hour difference would be.

Kirsten:: Why, thanks for clarifying that, Justin.

Justin: Well, no, but I mean that’s significant in the hunter/prey ratio there.

Kirsten:: It is significant.

Justin: Spacing between vertebrae is nearly half an inch. And it seems like…

Kirsten:: Wow!

Justin: Yes this is more than what’s been assumed in a lot of models. In fact, a lot of times when they’re putting them to get bones together for displays like in museums, things like that, they actually put those vertebrae very tightly together.

Kirsten:: Tight, right.

Justin: So, certain dinosaur specimens on display could grow as much as 3 feet in length just based on that.

Kirsten:: Fascinating.

Justin: And that’s just hadrosaurs but that could really be all dinosaurs if you looked at maybe, because this is like this is…

Kirsten:: If that’s something – a characteristic that is continuous among dinosaurs.

Justin: Correct.

Kirsten:: You’d have to find more I guess distantly related dinosaurs with a similar situation to be able to make that kind of an assumption though I think.

Justin: Yes. More on this book in stores now. Well, right now, we have non-(other) to go. You know what I mean? It’s like…

Kirsten:: Exactly.

Justin: None versus some. I’m going to some. More on this in bookstores now as well as the documentary coming out. Maybe it already did or some time soon. Maybe they’ve got lots to lots to look at so they’re going to – they’re trying to isolate proteins from it. They’re using some really…

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: …high tech scanners that’s usually used by I guess NASA and Boeing to test aircraft internal components and things like that. So they’re actually looking at the insides. There’s an alligator inside of it.

Kirsten:: What?

Justin: Yes. A very large alligator type ancestor inside that they think may have crawled into the creature after it died…

Kirsten:: Right.

Justin: …to begin to feast and may have – I don’t know maybe there was a shifting or maybe it got stuck somewhere but…

Kirsten:: Wow!

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: Maybe it crawled in during, like a yearly hibernation or something.

Justin: Yes. It was just a cold night.

Kirsten:: It was just cold. It’s a scene from Star Wars crawling inside the (Ton-ton) valley.

Justin: There’s a potential even, if they can find some tissue in there that hasn’t completely fossilized to (yedey!). Then the next thing you know we got hadrosaurs around the park.

Kirsten:: How smart do you think your dog is?

Justin: I’m a little bit afraid of dogs in general. But of all the dogs I know, I’d say some dogs are very intelligent.

Kirsten:: Right. Well, researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria have come up with a new way to test the intelligence traits of many animals, species of dogs that it’s never been used to be tested on dogs before but it’s been tested on monkeys and other species and humans and birds.

What they did is they used touchscreen technology to test dogs’ abilities to make up concepts…

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten:: …to be able to create concepts within their “mind”.

Justin: But wouldn’t I see now right off the bat there, I would think that that would create a problem because I thought their vision like…

Kirsten:: Well, their…

Justin: …I’ve never seen a dog watch television or even pay attention to it.

Kirsten:: But they can. They could I mean if you train them I mean basically these animals were trained to pay attention to a screen by giving them a reward in return for their acting in a particular way.

And yes, they don’t have the full compliment of color receptors but they do have bluegreen vision. So, they basically have night vision. They don’t have the color vision that we have. They have the red, I mean they’re basically like colorblind.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten:: They’re colorblind in the sense of how they see. But these researchers published an animal cognition. They took four dogs and they showed them pictures of landscapes and dog photographs, okay? And then, they trained the dogs to respond to dog pictures.

So if they touch the screen when they saw a dog picture and then they would receive a food pellet as a reward. So it would be this positive reinforcement. You see a dog? Yay! Food. You go get food. Do it again and again and again.

So, that’s just testing the concept. Could they learn to do this task? Could they touch the screen and pick one picture over the other? Yes.

The first test though, they were shown completely different dog pictures. So, they hadn’t seen these pictures before. And they were showing different landscape pictures that they had not seen before, and wanted to see if they could take a new set of stimuli and transfer the concept of dog.

So, would they respond to dog pictures that they had never seen before in the same way as they responded during the training phase? And the answer is yes. The dogs reliably returned to the pictures of dogs.

In the final phase, they showed the dogs – new dog pictures that were pasted on to familiar landscape pictures. So, they basically overlaid the dog pictures over the landscapes. And so now, they are getting conflicting messages.

So, they’re supposed to respond to a dog but they’re not supposed to respond to the landscape. So what do they end up doing?

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: Because that means they weren’t just looking for the reward, they were also had a negative reinforcement on the other one.

Kirsten:: Right, because the negative reinforcement was they didn’t get anything for responding to landscape pictures so they learned not to respond to them.

Justin: Landscape is bad.

Kirsten:: Yes, exactly. Don’t do that. It’s not going to get you anywhere. And so, what they ended up finding is that when the dogs were given a choice between a new dog on a familiar landscape and a new landscape that they’d never seen before minus dog, they responded to the pictures of landscapes that contain dogs.

So, they were able to – what the researchers believe is that these dogs that they tested were able to form a concept of “dog” and respond to that and be able to know reliably what to respond to.

It doesn’t tell us whether or not they actually recognized them. So, whether or not they were…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: We don’t know…

Justin: So, here should be the next step.

Kirsten:: …whether they would recognize the dog in the picture as natural dog.

Justin: Here’s the next step then, see? Then you give them series after series of two dogs at a time and let them rate the dogs.

Kirsten:: Attractiveness?

Justin: Yes. And if there’s some dogs that are tending to come out on top, there you have it. Then, you have some doggy preferences.

Kirsten:: Yes. Well, I mean there are many dogs who, I mean anecdotally it’s been shown that dogs can respond to fetch the ball versus fetch the stick, like if you train them on particular objects, you can get them to retrieve one versus the other.

They respond to particular commands. They do have – it would seem that by being associated with humans for so long that maybe they’ve had to develop the abilities to be able to recognize certain things, to be able to react, respond to certain things.

So maybe there are concepts and abilities that they have that we don’t even understand or know yet. The interesting thing about this method that they’ve used is that it’s been used successfully in many other species of animals but it just hadn’t been used in dogs before.

So it’s really neat that now this opens up a whole new way to test dogs’ cognitive abilities without having human interference. Because historically…

Justin: Are they testing with their noses?

Kirsten:: Probably. I don’t know.

Justin: I have to keep wiping the screen…

Kirsten:: Dunk. Dunk. Yes.

Justin: …until the dog is like hu, hu.

Kirsten:: You can put them in a cage or a chamber with the screen in front of them…

Justin: A chamber. Not chamber. Cage is fine for a dog, not chamber. Chamber sounds frightening.

Kirsten:: All right.

Justin: Chamber sounds like something really bad is about to happen.

Kirsten:: A testing room.

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten:: A testing room.

Justin: Testing lounge.

Kirsten:: Testing lounge. Yes, okay. There we go. If you can set up the right test, it will give researchers the ability to test them on all sorts of different things without the human interference. And their responses are simply what they do or how they interact with that computer screen.

There’s no interpretation. There’s no, “Oh, I think the dog liked it, you know?” And there’s none of that human inference that in so many animal psychology studies biases the studies…

Justin: Yes. Right.

Kirsten:: I mean there’s one video I saw of what is it, (Coco)? Was it (Coco) that – (Coco) is the gorilla that…

Justin: Gorilla with the sign language.

Kirsten:: Yes. There was one with (Coco), the gorilla and there’s another with – I remember there’s a chimp with sign language also. But basically, there’s like this video that’s supposed to show how much this primate understands. And you watch the video and it’s ridiculous.

The researcher is leading the animal. The researcher is like…

Justin: Yes. The really interesting thing…

Kirsten:: There’s all this interaction that’s taking place and it’s like the animal is not doing anything.

Justin: The really interesting thing would have been…

Kirsten:: I don’t know.

Justin: …to put that chimp and that gorilla in rooms next to each other and put clear window whatever so they could communicate and just see what they talk about when we’re not around.

Kirsten:: I know.

Justin: That would be…

Kirsten:: And there actually was something but I don’t – never mind. I don’t remember it exactly so I’m not going to say anything about it.

Justin: But there is something. Well, I’ll tell you what? My baby’s mama who’s from Denmark has a dog, it’ a very intelligent dog. And I just remember her saying one day in class she was explaining to another student that all the commands for the dog are in Danish.

And the other student being like, “Your dog can speak a foreign language?” And it was kind of like obviously the dog is not speaking a foreign language but the idea that the dog could even understand a foreign language is like, “That’s a really smart dog” when to a dog, any human language is a foreign…

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: It was just – oh well.

Kirsten:: I love it.

Justin: Where we are at now? We got more filler? Hey, where’s that sideshow guy? What?

Kirsten:: Give me a story.

Justin: No, I got stories.

Kirsten:: I got tons of story.

Justin: I’m going to save this one for the second half.

Kirsten:: All right.

Justin: Here’s a good one for…

Kirsten:: Justin, you’re in awesome shape this morning, I just want to say.

Justin: Honey, which I didn’t partake in is a better option for childhood coughs than over the counter medicines.

Kirsten:: Cough syrup, yes.

Justin: Wow! And I actually know this. Better not know this but this is like always a home remedy at my house during – because we would, if you had a cough or sore throat you’d take a spoonful of honey, before bed and you’d sleep through the night and be great.

But new study by a Penn State College of Medicine research team found that honey offers parents an effective and safe alternative to the over-the-counter children’s cough medicines.

The study found that small dose of buckwheat honey given before bedtime provides better relief of night time cough and sleep difficulty in children better than no treatment and better than treatment with (dextromethophin) – the big DM that you see on all the cough (inaudible).

Kirsten:: Yes. Dextromethorphan.

Justin: Methorphans making – okay, over-the-counter cold medicines coming in just as well as no treatment.

Kirsten:: Wow!

Justin: Honey also does a better job in reducing the severity, frequency and bothersome nature of coughs from upper respiratory infection than again, same than the over-the-counter medicines or no treatment at all. This is basically what…

Kirsten:: Do they have any idea why? Is it just the coding? Is it something in the honey that’s – some compound in the honey that has the effect?

Justin: I know that they’ve used honey on wounds because it’s…

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: It’s – okay, where it’s somewhere in here to…

Kirsten:: It has antibacterial properties.

Justin: Yes. Honey is then used for centuries in some cultures blah, blah, blah. Honey’s well-established anti-oxidants, antimicrobial effects is going to explain its contributions.

Honey also soothes on contact and it probably sticks better – a little bit. I think…

Kirsten:: It’s a little sticky, yes.

Justin: …it’s a little bit more of a coding like a lot of times I think it’s raw tissue in the throat that keeps getting irritated and agitated because it’s all nervy and exposed from having been coughed on.

Kirsten:: Yes. And the irritation there is a bit of swelling that’s going on. Yes.

Justin: Exactly. So you need to get us nice honey coating and then, it doesn’t so much. It’s like a better mucous. Almost like…

Kirsten:: Honey, the better mucous.

Justin: This is like a quadruple blind study, one of those studies where the parents didn’t know if they were getting honey-flavored-nothing honey or honey-flavored the DM orphan making extra which is kind of annoying because this is like they were talking about there could be some potential side effects for kids under six years old using…

Kirsten:: Dextromethorphan.

Justin: And therefore, it’s kind of weird that they would actually use that in the study in the comparison to honey because that means they were giving some kids dextromethorphan. But anyway – and the doctors didn’t know who is getting what.

Kirsten:: So that was only children. They didn’t look at adults?

Justin: Yes. This is like – no, they were up to the age of 18 was the cut-off on this one. But this is one of those things like it’s double, double blind…

Kirsten:: (Cut out). Great.

Justin: …meaning the scientist didn’t know who they had, who is getting what, the parents didn’t know who is getting what. That’s the difference between doing it for science and doing it because you’re a drug company knowing who is getting what and paying attention to all these things. All right, we’ll be right back with a second half of This Week in Science right after these (inaudible).

Kirsten:: Right. We’ll be back in just a momento.


Kirsten:: That’s right. Welcome back. This is This Week in Science. Kirsten: and Justin will be here for the next 24 minutes. We’ve got science stories going on. A caller during the break called in to say…

Justin: Anonymous caller during the break called in to point out that the children under the age of one year should not be given honey in any circumstances.

Kirsten:: Yes. That is true.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: It is true. There are negative effects but I can’t…

Justin: We couldn’t really remember why that is but that’s definitely the truth.

Kirsten:: Yes. However, forest should be given beetle dung…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: …because beetle dung is good for forests.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: It is. A researcher at the University of Alberta Facility of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics in the Department of Renewal Resources worked with beetle dung to figure out what was in it and what benefits it had on soil. Beetle droppings known as frass are actually very important – crucial even to helping forests recover from forest fires.

So it turns out that they actually increase microbial activity in the soil which increases the nutrients that are being laid into the soil that are good for the plants that are going to be growing up after a forest fire comes through.

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten:: One of the problems however is that timber salvage is now removing dead logs in which beetles often lay their eggs in which their larva grow.

So what he is suggesting, the researcher here is that maybe we need to let dead trees lie or have logging delayed for a period of time and possibly even leave some timber behind – a certain percentage of the total in the forest area that’s being salvaged.

Just leave some behind and not take it all so that there is a place for beetles to live and grow, so they will end up maintaining the forest…

Justin: So great.

Kirsten:: …in a positive manner.

Justin: These fallen timbers are sort of like now the foster child for both sides of the forest and deforestation, like sides of the argument like the logging industry and the environmentalist are not going to both be able to point to dead logs. Like part of the pro-logging folks have been saying, “Well, if you leave all that lumber lying around, it will catch fire and…

Kirsten:: It’s just timber, an old (grout) – yes.

Justin: That’s what starts fires. That’s what helps them go. And the other side is like, “No, you can’t say that. There’s beetles in there are actually going to help after the fire.” The thing that was annoying to me…

Kirsten:: There are a lot of things about leaving some stuff there. And forest fires are actually good for the environment.

Justin: They can be.

Kirsten:: They can be good.

Justin: Anyway, the thing that was annoying to me during the San Diego fires, I kept hearing all of this talk about and all the canyon fires or so, “That’s because they never pulled it. They leave the dead lumber in there and that’s why they’ve been – The Sierra club blah, blah, blah” like all this kind of talk about, all this old lumber lying around.

And the thing is most of these are in places where there’s not very many trees for those fires. Those are mostly grass fires that got started in canyons and such scrub brush and that kind of thing. Well, I have nothing to do with timber lying around on the ground so.

But yes, that’s, it makes sense that the fact that there have been forests for so long and there have been forest fires and everything else and there wasn’t, logging on.

Maybe there is a system. Maybe part of the system allows forest to continue beyond the forest fire which we’ve seen happened many, many times over the history that just makes sense.

Kirsten:: Yes. Sometimes the minutia of academic research is actually incredibly fascinating I mean the fact that somebody really got into beetle dung for their graduate work or whatever it happened to be able to come up with, well, it’s actually good for forest. okay, fantastic. It’s interesting.

Justin: I like it when science comes together.

Kirsten:: That’s right.

Justin: As we head into this sweater-wearing months of winter, I like everyone to take a moment to consider the injustice of ignorance in a world being perpetrated upon mankind’s most mistreated, misunderstood appendage speak of course by our long-time friend the foreskin.

Kirsten:: What?

Justin: There is a Southern African BBC radio correspondent Kennedy Gondwe who is having himself circumcised live on the air to get protection from AIDS in a bizarre sort of sniff-it-before-you-hit-it pro-circumcision publicity campaign going on down there.

Kirsten:: Right.

Justin: Actually, this is now since happened after I started looking at this story. I was going to offer that once it was removed that you send to me and I would reattach to myself…

Kirsten:: Oh, Justin.

Justin: …just to make my own public – gosh, Kirsten: is kind of looking pale now.

Kirsten:: No. No.

Justin: Okay. But this is further result of the findings published in the Lancet medical journal in February, disagreed with by me on the show which concluded that three trials — Kenya, South Africa and Uganda have claimed to show that circumcision can significantly reduce men’s chance of contracting virus caused by AIDS by as much as 100% difference.

In my view, the findings were statistically challenged or in fact the education alone reduce the chances of contracting the disease to a point where the difference is between and circumcised or not within a few percentage point nowhere near 100% difference that the study reported before being shut down prematurely so that the U.N. health agencies which ignored me as they always should. They ignored me and endorsed the findings but the stressed that the procedures offers only partial protection.

It doesn’t offer protection. This is a misnomer. This is the part that – I can understand okay, this guy is on board with the public circumcision campaign. He’s getting himself circumcised on the air and it’s great for his career too, why not? Maybe he was playing or doing it. Anyway, who knows? Who cares?

This is what’s really harmful. David Alnwick, a senior AIDS adviser at the UNICEF said that UNICEF supports educating people that – and I’m quoting, “Circumcised men are relatively well protected against HIV.”

Well, I only repeat that because that was a quote and it may have sounded like I was leaving something out. “Circumcised men are relatively well protected against HIV,” that’s the education that UNICEF is supporting in Africa.

Kirsten:: It doesn’t offer protection. It just lowers the probability that the virus will be against your skin long enough to be able to…

Justin: Possibly.

Kirsten:: Yes. It…

Justin: I don’t even agree with that but…

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: …protection? Are you insane?

Kirsten:: Yes. It’s not going to help. That kind of language is not going to help teach people that they just need to use protection.

Justin: No. It’s actually contrary to education at that point.

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: But he said there was a danger? There is a danger. Adding too much creams to the poorly constructed, overhyped study but in that the danger lies in creating a demand for circumcision that the world’s poorest continent is not now prepared to meet. That’s the danger. That’s the danger. It’s that they’re just not prepared to meet the demand for circumcision.

New study started by me and ended just now finds that removal of Mr. Alnwick from the position of senior AIDS adviser to UNICEF will greatly protect people from contracting HIV. Snip it to you, sir.

Kirsten:: Oh my goodness.

Justin: That’s astounding.

Kirsten:: It is astounding.

Justin: That’s like jump up and down on your chair and scream at the computer that you are reading. That’s what I did.

Kirsten:: Did you? I’m sure you did.

Justin: I would know. I went and have to go, I found actually multiple sources of where that statement was repeated. I find that just mind blowing that in this day and age, somebody could make a statement like that. That they are for educating that circumcision leaves men well protected. That is just nuts.

Kirsten:: Yes. Yes. I’ll agree with you there.

Justin: Okay. I’m done.

Kirsten:: I’m on board.

Justin: I’m going back to stand up on this chair.

Kirsten:: I know you’re getting ready to go. Oh, I’ve got so much fun stuff here. A system developed at the University of Bath has developed a system called Toe-to-Heel Air Injection that is going to be used by Duvernay Petroleum to extract heavy oil from beneath the ground.

As oil becomes more and more scarce, methods to extract oil from more difficult places where it’s stored…

Justin: Siberia?

Kirsten:: Well, in places – there is lots of oil in gravel beds. So, areas beneath the ground where it’s not just easy to pump it up where it’s got lots of stuff in it, where it’s heavy, it’s viscous, it’s of a different character all together. It’s harder and less energy-efficient, more expensive to get this oil out of the ground.

However, this group at the University of Bath has created this new method that is being picked up and used by companies now to actually get at the oil that is traditionally been very hard to get at, and which now is much more economic to get at because light oil is up and around $100 a barrel.

This method, Toe-to-Heel Air Injection – how it works is it injects air into the oil deposit down the vertical well. Then, that air gets ignited and the heat melts basically the heavy oil so it becomes less viscous, and it causes that less viscous oil to drain.

They have a second chamber that they’ve drilled so the oil drains into that second chamber. And then, they can pump more air in and also use normal pumping technologies to get the oil out of that second chamber.

Justin: (Inaudible).

Kirsten:: The way that it works can produce oil for less than $10 a barrel.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten:: Yes. So, they’re looking at getting this into action in…

Justin: And it didn’t used air but used…

Kirsten:: …these oil fields all over the place.

Justin: …carbon. They pumped greenhouse gasses down there.

Kirsten:: I know. Maybe they just got more…

Justin: You see? Then the greenhouse gas could actually stay in that substructure and then pump out the oil in the nice little system we got there.

Kirsten:: That’s right. Take out the oil. Put the carbon back in. Maybe they should look into that.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: But the rationale behind this process is that basically, we don’t have the technologies yet. Our renewable systems, our hydrogen systems, the fuel cell technology is not in place yet to be able to deal with the increase in price of the oil that we’re using now. That with our oil stores decreasing, we need to find a new way to get at the oil stores that we know are there but have been hard to get at.

And so, the rationale behind it that this researcher gives is that it’s basically like we need to switch to clean – Professor Malcolm Greaves, he says, “We need to switch to cleaner ways of using energy such as fuel cells but we are decades away from creating a full blown hydrogen economy. And we need oil and gas until then to run our economies.”

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten:: And it’s pretty true, like we are reliant on oil and gas. And as much as, I’d love to see a transition to electric to hydrogen fuels whatever else from the oil and gas that we’re currently using, it’s not going to happen overnight.

And it would be fantastic to be able to decrease our reliance on oil from the Middle East when we could be able to get oil from Canada, from down – I think there’s off of Brazil or something. There’s another huge oil field that has millions of barrels.

Justin: Siberia has more oil than the entire Middle East.

Kirsten:: Yes.

Justin: More diamonds than South Africa. I take the opposite point of view. I think this is a bad idea. I think $100 a barrel oil – you know what I’m saying?

Kirsten:: No, I’m with you totally but it’s going to happen.

Justin: Let’s go $200 a barrel, okay?

Kirsten:: People will stop using it.

Justin: Let the oil companies make as much money as they need to to secure all their future generations and families and stuff and be done with the business.

Kirsten:: Be done.

Justin: Just let them take the next generation’s worth of money now and then, get everybody so hurt. Make us all pay so dearly that the alternative is actually a blessing so that we can actually put our finances into something like an electric car.

Kirsten:: Oh, sure.

Justin: Put something into…

Kirsten:: I’m with you there.

Justin: The one I’m banking on, the biofuel that I think is going to work? Algae. Algae that’s feed off of the CO2 output from coal-burning plant or other power plants…

Kirsten:: Yes, I think…

Justin: …that one has the most – from the energy into the energy out system, that those algae biofuels they’re coming up with are insane. They’re like hundreds of times better than the corn ethanol and all that biofuel junk.

Kirsten:: And it’s decreasing the dirtiness of the coal power plants.

Justin: Yes. Yes.

Kirsten:: It’s creating another fuel source that we can use. And it’s decreasing our need for land to grow all of those food stocks basically. And it will keep people in Mexico able to buy corn for their tortillas.

Justin: Oh, wow! And it’s algae which I just think is cool.

Kirsten:: And it’s algae.

Justin: I think just the fact that it’s algae alone is…

Kirsten:: Yes. I think that’s a very positive technology.

Justin: Mexico has got mariachi like people hunting each other down there right now. All these mariachi shootings, I don’t know what’s up with them. Mexico, call me sometime. Tell me what’s going on. It sounds like things are getting rough over there.

Kirsten:: Things are getting rough. Yes, I agree with you on the oil friend I mean I personally think it would be a great idea for us to not be able to use this, that we can’t figure out any way to extract this oil that’s down there because I think that would be great. Our reliance on oil wouldn’t continue as long.

But in the sense of economics and the way that our societies work, we need it. We really do. And it’s going to keep happening.

Justin: Everyone who has dragged foot up to this point…

Kirsten:: But there is a huge movement, the Green movement has grown and it’s growing and growing and growing. And it has momentum now and it’s not going to stop. So, there is going to be continued research into these green technologies.

Justin: Kirsten:, I guarantee you, $0.90 a gallon gas kills half the Green movement.

Kirsten:: Oh, yes.

Justin: No, seriously.

Kirsten:: I believe you, yes.

Justin: If they’re pocket book is not affected by the world around them, do not care. They just don’t care. They have just been foot dragging for years. Oh, gosh, it’s $1.60 and people started thinking, “Oh, well, let’s start looking into the alternatives.”

Now, let’s double that and people are still like, “Well, that stuff is years away. Let’s see if we can just get it down to $90 a barrel then we’ll be all right.” Like no, people are adjusting too easily. We need $200 a barrel.

Yes. Go ahead they can put the price up, “Well, pay. They have no choice. They don’t live anywhere near where they work.”

Kirsten:: How a nanobot powered by the power of sperm.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten:: Huh? Some researchers from Cornell’s Baker Institute of Animal Health have demonstrated the proof of concept that the power supply from which sperm gets its energy, the power of glycolysis actually. It can be tethered to a chip, a nickel nitrilotriacetic acid chip. Nickel-NTA is what is what it’s called.

Now, what they have done is they have used what they know about sperm power, which is that sperm rely on glycolysis and the enzymes within glycolysis to convert sugar to ATP, which then powers that whip-like flagellum that drives the sperm home.

Actually, what they did is they took the enzyme hexokinase and they replaced a sperm’s specific targeting domain with a tag that binds it to a special gold surface which allowed them to be able to put it unto to this chip onto this chip.

And then, they took the second enzyme in the glycolysis pathway glucose-6-phosphate isomerase and they attached that too to the chip. And they were both active. So when they were given glucose to break down, they actually started the work that they normally do when they’re with sperm but on a chip.

So, the proof of this concept is that it might provide…

Justin: Energy source?

Kirsten:: …an energy source for very, very tiny, tiny things…

Justin: Tiny, tiny stuff. Wow!

Kirsten:: …which has been the problem. We can make these little nanobots, these little machines made out of little, tiny biological molecules and different things, how are we going to power them? Where are they going to get their – where’s their field source coming from? Sperm.

Justin: So the good news, (Mr. Jackson) is we can actually get inside your artery and clear it out. Bad news is we’re going to be injecting you full of nanosperm.

Kirsten:: That’s right.

Justin: What? How did the… Oh, artery, the aneurism versus the – oh man.

Okay. Here’s something, climate change predicted a drive of trees north where hopefully, they’re going to bring the beetles with them.

Kirsten:: Yes. Maybe they will bring the beetles.

Justin: Most extensive and detailed study to date of 130 North American tree species concluded that expected climate change this century could shift their range northward by hundreds of miles and shrink their overall range by more than half. This is a study by Daniel W. McKenny of the Canadian Forest Service and his colleagues and is reported in the December issue of BioScience.

If the trees were assumed to respond to climate change by dispersing their progeny to more favorable locations – basically, assuming that they are. When it says here that they respond to climate change by dispersing their progeny, I’m hoping that means that the other life forms that are usually in those trees also are heading north and bringing their seeds because I doubt the trees are going do it themselves.

Kirsten:: Right.

Justin: The study of species would move by over 400 miles northward. Four hundred miles, so any localized tree wherever you are in the United States, figure your tree moves 400 miles north. If your state tree is this, well, look yourself up a few states north and yes, maybe even over the border into Canada and that’s your new hometown.

However, the average range over that – this is the most optimistic ability to adapt, on average decrease the overall size of the forest by 12%.

If the species were assumed unable to disperse well, the average expected shift north was almost 200 miles – not quite. But the overall size of the forest were reduced to 58%. So, most species of tree will fall somewhere in between that.

The authors also note that under climate change, new species might colonize the southern part of the continent. So, we would be looking a little more tropical.

Kirsten:: A little more tropical?

Justin: A little tropical in the air, the (heartland). Palm trees and the (heartland) people.

Kirsten:: Yes. Well, they’re already planting them in places where they don’t belong. I have a vendetta against palm trees in places where they don’t belong. I really dislike palm trees. I really…

Justin: Oh, wow! I love the looks of them but I have lived on streets, they had a lot of them on there. And at the first windy day and then there’s this just palm stuff everywhere and they always look like they’re going to fall.

Kirsten:: It smells so good. Leave the palm trees in LA people. Miami, LA, Sao Paolo, I don’t know.

Justin: I am actually out at the farmhouse, out of my little central valley farmhouse, there’s a nice big row of palm trees on the edge of the property.

Kirsten:: It’s just so strange. I don’t understand.

Justin: Yes, but it’s…

Kirsten:: I do not understand the palm tree.

Justin: Just a little of Hollywood out here in the middle of nowhere.

Kirsten:: Just stop with the palm trees people.

Cassini spacecraft after passing by Titan many times, they’ve passed by several times actually. They’ve tested it just to be sure that they saw what they thought they saw. Sixteen different encounters to make sure they saw what they saw.

Researchers are publishing in Geophysical Research Letters that Titan contains large, heavy, negative ions in its upper atmosphere, which could be the organic building blocks for life. Yes. So…

Justin: Humans, you have ventured too far. Huh?

Kirsten:: Right. The atmosphere does not contain oxygen is mostly made up of nitrogen and methane. But these large…

Justin: Plenty of nutrients in that for the right kind of life form.

Kirsten:: Yes. There’s lots of stuff that could definitely…

Justin: It could be there now.

Kirsten:: Yes. So these ions could grab on to rings of carbon and form molecules that they call polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are thought to be earliest, earliest forms of life, their building blocks.

So, it’s an interesting result. They expected that they might find something like this on one of the moons of Saturn but…

Justin: it’s very likely that if we did actually made an intelligent alien life form someday, that on that test that the chimps were beating us because it’s cut down to, quarter of a second…

Kirsten:: Do the chimps.

Justin: …when they got on to that, it might take them a full three seconds to recognize things I mean because time is different based on – if you’re on a non-predatory planet, they could be like on sloth’s speed, like you’ll never know.

Kirsten:: Right. We could be way faster.

Justin: We could be the fast, intelligent, crazy, smart aliens.

Kirsten:: Carolyn Porco from…

Justin: Hey guys.

Kirsten:: …the Cassini Imaging Team, she’s the team leader, has sent out and email. She’s asking people to take part in a contest that they’re running to pick the best image that’s been taken by Cassini’s cameras since its arrival at Saturn nearly four years ago.

If you visit, you can vote for your favorite color and black and white images and your favorite movie clip as well. And you could possibly – three lucky people will win a printed poster of the winning color image or an image of their choice.

So, if you take part in this, you could get a very cool poster to put on your wall. Voting ends at midnight, December 30th, Mountain Standard Time. Results will be posted December 31th. Voting begins now so go to

Justin: Bet they pick ones that has the rings.

Kirsten:: Possibly.

Justin: I’m just guessing.

Kirsten:: (Christopher Smith), Perth, Australia, (Joseph Ferney) in Utah, (Emilio Daliz) – I actually don’t know where you’re from, (Victor), sorry to be so boring, (Jason Etheridge), (Mac Green) in Edmond, Oklahoma and (Sangens Voynich) in Tulane, New Orleans, Louisiana.

That’s the shout out for you in this episode of This Week in Science.

Next week, we’ll be interviewing Chris Impey on astrobiology which yes, kind of tunes in nicely with that last story.

Justin: Space and biology combined?

Kirsten:: Yes. Yes. Life in outer space. Maybe we’ll be talking about it next week.

Justin: Well, hey, if you learned anything from today’s show, please keep in mind…

Kirsten:: Oh, it’s all in your head.

Justin: You just forgot.

Kirsten:: No, I didn’t.

To listen to the Podcast, click here.