Feb 09, 2010

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

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

The future is not difficult to see. Unlike the past, events of the future have yet to commit themselves to exacting detail. Yet in the mystery of an unfolding world, there is much that can be foreseen. The little things we expect from the future often come true with incredible reliability, like when the rent is due or whether or not it’s going to rain.

The more often our future unfolds as we have expected, the more comfortable we are in commanding the course that it will take and that we get to go where we want to.

And though, comfortable foreseeing of the otherwise unforeseeable – much like the following hour of programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors – through science, the past is always becoming clear.

We can see how one event lends itself to another. Through science, we can understand so well the workings of the world that the future cannot only be predicted, it can be manufactured to our liking, making the only time that is not as well known to us as the past and future is the one we are currently in – the moment of now.

And since this is the only moment in which we can do, we will now do what the past predicted and what was expected in the future by bringing you another episode of This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! I’m alive!

Justin: You are. You are once again amongst the living.

Kirsten: I am. It feels good. It feels good to be alive.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m liking it. I’m liking it.

Justin: And here we are. It is February 9th, 2010.

Kirsten: It is February 9th, 2010.

Justin: Only a month into the new year…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: …and I had a pretty stellar prediction come true.

Kirsten: You did?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Already? Wait, which?

Justin: You got – you were – yeah, all week, you have no idea what happened.

Kirsten: I – yeah. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Justin: You don’t remember? Like that – come on. The Super Bowl, I predicted the two teams that will be in the Super Bowl. I predicted that…

Kirsten: Did you?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Did you?

Justin: Yes, which is okay, anybody can do that.

Kirsten: I’m going to have to go back and listen to the prediction show

Justin: I also predicted that late in the fourth quarter, the Saints will be up, Peyton Manning will be driving with a few minutes left in the game, will throw a pick – oh go away back for touchdown and the interception! Putting the game out of reach and Saints win. Woo!

You don’t remember – and that’s exactly frighteningly, scarily…

Kirsten: I’m going to have to go – really, I’m going to have to go back and listen to that because I have no recollection.

Justin: It was my most specific prediction.

Kirsten: I remember – no, I remember you made a football prediction and I was…

Justin: And it was – it became mostly correct.

Kirsten: Mostly correct, yes.

Justin: Well, I got the wrong player getting the pick for the…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And I missed the score by ten points overall. But if, you know, Sean of the Saints who kicked the field goal and I said go and forward and maybe the Colts have gotten that last minute touchdown, then I would have been exactly right. But still, it was really close.

Kirsten: Justin’s crystal ball rides again.

Justin: So yeah.

Kirsten: Awesome.

Justin: So I’m now – anybody who wants to call in and get a personal prediction, you know, I’ll do a little bit of free psychic work here in the midst of This Week in Science show.

Kirsten: Right because we are in the psychic business. Not.

Justin: I am now.

Kirsten: Not.

Justin: I am now.

Kirsten: Hey Ali, I want to say thank you for sitting in last week. That was – way to go. Way to go on stepping up to the mic.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: Thank you. I appreciate it with only like five minutes’ notice. I was not going to make it.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, and so are you co-hosting the radio show today?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Come on. Let’s go to the studio. It’s literally last, last minute.

Kirsten: Last minute. And – but I’m here now. So that’s good. And I brought stories.

Justin: Bring it on.

Kirsten: Science stories. I have stories about bats galore, quantum algae and some tidbits about beer and whales. Not necessarily in the same tidbit but, you know.

Justin: I have a reiteration of a previous request. I’ve got some gay science news. And why beer might make you stronger, yeah, as if you didn’t already…

Kirsten: I’m sure we already – we both have the same beer story.

Justin: Yeah, as if you didn’t already know – that beer makes you – increases your killing power.

Kirsten: That’s right, plus ten. All right, everyone. We have some cool science news. This is a hot tip going out to (Lars Roman) for sending in this story last week. wrote up a really great write up of this story.

Quantum algae – well, really, it’s more just the quantum states of photosynthesis. We’ve had stories in the past where we’ve talked about scientists discovering that photosynthesis possibly works by quantum means because the quantum probabilities of the speed of photosynthesis work out for the most efficient path of the electron transferring from one atom to the next within the photosystem that exists in photosynthesizing organisms, plants, algae.

That the path of that electron is – it kind of makes sense that the math all works out that they think it works through quantum means, that there is this quantum path of least resistance. And the scientists have kind of worked this out. And the math all works out.

But now, some scientists actually put it to the test. So they’re not just looking at this theoretically and saying, “Well, the math looks right. You know, the speed of the electron moving from one side of the photosystem to the other side of the photosystem, you know, probably quantum going on in there.”

Instead of doing that, what we’re seeing now are the actual quantum experiments that the scientists set up an experiment where they took algae. So, you know, plants where they have a really tightly packed photosystem. And when I say tightly packed, that means that all of the components of the photosystem are really close together.

So, if you’re an electron jumping from one part of the photosystem to the next…

Justin: You don’t have far to travel.

Kirsten: …you don’t have far to travel. It’s kind of easy.

Algae, however, their molecules are a little bit bigger and more widely spaced. And so, it’s like the buildings are farther apart. You know, the electron has farther to jump between…

Justin: It’s a very relaxed plant.

Kirsten: It’s kind of relaxed, this algae. Yeah. So the algae, has a different system than photosynthetic plants. But these photosynthetic proteins are pretty much the same. When they get stimulated with light, they interact and it’s possibly on this quantum level.

So, the scientists had to set up a situation where they were able to stimulate the photosystem and they used lasers to do this. We always love experiments with laser beams. So they shot laser beams at these photosynthesizing proteins that had been isolated from photosynthesizing algae. And what they looked for were oscillations that happened in tandem.

So basically, what they call a – it’s a kind of quantum coherence, I think is the state. So what they looked for, they want the wave particles that when the laser light is shot at these proteins that they get excited and they both get excited in the same way. So they both enter the same quantum state and oscillate with the same frequency.

Justin: Right. One way of picturing that, it indicates there is a connection going on between them.

Kirsten: That they’re connected, right.

Justin: One way to picture this is if you took a long like a jump rope and two people on either end are moving it up and down really fast…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …after a while, you’ll see some sort of a wave function.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And the faster you oscillate it, the more waves you’ll see in that little oscillation between the ends – along the jump rope. So if both of them are oscillating it the same, it means that they’ve got this – they bridge the sort of connection. They’re like trying to pass through. Very cool.

Kirsten: Exactly. And so, the hypothesis that they were basing this on is, okay, if we can excite these proteins and get them oscillating, we will show that they are quantumly connected. If they don’t oscillate in sync, if we can’t get them to do the same activation, they’re not connected. There’s no quantum excite – there’s no quantum connection going on at all.

Justin: Both are rolling on a piece of rope but they’re not connected. So there’s no – yeah.

Kirsten: Right. So they shot the proteins with lasers and they oscillated in sync.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: They showed that there was a quantum connection. And then they were able to get them to oscillate the same way, in a different manner like they did a couple of different variations on the experiment.

Justin: And did some of that trick jump roping.

Kirsten: Yeah trick – double dutch, double dutch. But – so, they basically did a couple of variations on how they were stimulating the proteins and they were cohered. They had quantum coherence within these molecular states. The states were maintained for a decent length of time before they naturally broke out of the coherence state.

So what this experiment shows is that they’re experimentally verifying this idea that photosystems in photosynthesizing organisms are using quantum properties to transfer electrons down the chain.

Justin: That’s hot.

Kirsten: It’s pretty cool. And so I think – and the big thing that’s really interesting about this is once we – if we can figure out how photosystems work, how the – what the most efficient path of energy transfer is or energy transformation within photosynthesizing organisms is, we can maybe create solar cells that are based on photosynthesis.

Maybe we can do this synthetically. Maybe we can create a way for ourselves to harness energy in the efficient manner that plants and algae have already done.

So that’s the neat application.

Justin: That will be awesome.

Kirsten: Once we figure out is, you know, it’s like, “Okay, it’s neat to understand how it works,” and like, “Whoohoo! Plants are using – plants and algae are using this quantum physics.”

But taking that and being able to apply that to our own energy needs – because right now, our solar panels, they’re getting more and more efficient but they’re still limited, really limited in what they can do. And so, if we can take that and really ramp up the efficiency of energy harnessing from the sun, it’s a whole new world, it’s a whole new world.

Justin: I still – this is a longer term prediction but – and maybe this is being ruined already by the fact that they’re going to come up with a synthetic for it. But I had predicted an algae tank on every roof by 2050.

Kirsten: It’s possible. There’s – it might be an algae tank. It might be a tank of synthetically derived algae that have been made to have more photosystems than the normal blue-green algae so that they’re really harnessing the sun.

Justin: An efficient way of pulling those electrons out of – like a tank of algae that’s doing the photosynthesis would be such a crazy boon.

Kirsten: And then there’s that, and then there are people like – who’s the MIT scientist? There’s a scientist that’s working on – Dan something, or rather, I can’t remember his name – but he’s working on home fuel cells. So you have solar panel on the roof. You have fuel cell in the basement. You have algae that’s involved in there and taking sunlight and hydrogen and converting it into energy.

Justin: Instead of filling in that swimming pool…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …that you don’t use often enough to justify having…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …turn it into a power plant.

Kirsten: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s possible. I get excited by stuff like this because the possibilities of technology are just so great in some cases.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: If we can…

Justin: When we can.

Kirsten: And the most – and it’s like can we – is it going to be that we’re just mimicking nature? Can we just find a way to harness nature itself or can we do…

Justin: That’s all we do anyway…

Kirsten: Can we do a better job?

Justin: …in every aspect of being humans.

Kirsten: No. Can we do something that’s more efficient than what has already come across through natural selection and evolution? Can we do that?

Justin: Of course we can. And yes we will.

Kirsten: Yes we can.

Justin: Yes we will.

Kirsten: All right, Obama.

Justin: Okay. After a horrible accident in which his Toyota Corolla unexpectedly failed to accelerate and the railroad crossing gate failed to operate, TWIS minion co-host Justin Jackson was struck by a train.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: He didn’t seem to care that he had much to live for.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Left him in a vegetative state with no way to communicate to his fellow human being. Conversation takes place which doctors and dearly beloved ones are debating the next course of treatment. He has made no responses, seems completely lacking in awareness, could just as well be a large paperweight at this point.

Should they pull the plug and let him rest peacefully ever after? The answer is no. No! No! No!

Kirsten: Ali says yes.

Justin: No! Cries out, the voice goes unheard in the vaguely bleach-smelling hospital room. Wait, please. Did you never listen to my show? I do my best work as a disembodied brain. Now I just have fewer listeners.

Please, please, I refer you to the February 9th, 2010 episode where I distinctly remember reporting on recent research and the individuals previously diagnosed as being vegetative states was conducted using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging- that’s something – one that lets you see the brain moving in real time, operating real time and uncovered something stirring below the surface of the deep end of the consciousness pool.

So because it could see the activity in real time, the researchers used an ingenious method of determining awareness that even became, in some cases, a form of communication.

So what they did was they were asking vegetative patients to imagine themselves playing a physical sport. So you would imagine yourself out there shooting hoops or doing your karate deal or what-have-you. Do some sport that you’ve done in your life.

And they observed activity then in the premotor cortex – part of the brain that would handle the actual physical movement. They then asked others to recall a memory of a room they had lived in because the spatial memory of remembering a physical area registers differently in the FMRI scan.

So the really amazing part then is then by identifying that the patient was thinking of the sport versus the room, they had a differentiation. They had now a 1 and a 0.

So what they started doing was asking yes or no questions and prompting the person to if they wanted to indicate yes, imagine themselves to be shooting hoops or if the answer was no, imagine themselves in their garage or whatever the case may be.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Justin: So Dr. Adrian Owen from the Medical Research Council in Cambridge said, “We were astonished when we saw the results of a patient’s scan and that he was able to correctly answer the questions that were asked by changing his thoughts. So they were basically asking him biographical questions like, “Is this your father’s name or is this your father?” You know, yes or no questions that they could easily decipher.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Since then, the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London did a survey of 60 patients using this system that were all admitted and diagnosed with vegetative state and found that a staggering 43% of them could communicate. I heard it already.

Kirsten: No, I’ve read the study. The statistics have been messed with. It’s not 43%.

Justin: What do you mean it’s not 43%?

Kirsten: It’s not.

Justin: This is out of 60 patients, 43% were found to communicate.

Kirsten: No. No. That’s absolutely wrong.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Out of 59 patients, they found that – among 23 patients who received the diagnosis of being in a vegetative state on a Mission 4 were shown to be able to willingly modulate their brain activity. And two of those patients were able to show evidence of awareness.

Justin: That was in original test. Since then though, they’ve gone through – the hospital has been checking people. And they checked the 60 people and found that 43% were able to communicate.

And part of the original test is the thing is – the problem is it’s not necessarily that those folks can’t communicate at some point.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: They can’t tell if they’re even awake when they happen to be doing the FMRI procedure.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So the fact that they got a good percentage that were alert and aware, you’re still sleep when you’re in your vegetative state. You still go from “sleep to awake” awareness where you have the ability to hear. And some of the folks might actually just be deaf too which makes the whole process just harder. No, really.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Like it’s hard to distinguish what’s actually going on there. And because so many of them could have been sleeping during the test in the original one, they don’t know. They still would need to keep retesting those people a few times a day as opposed to when they happen to have the FMRI machine ready to do this test.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But the ones that did respond, the ones that did communicate, they found that there is awareness in 60 of the patients that they tested at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London.

So, I’m just saying don’t pull the plug on me.

Kirsten: I’m waiting for that scientific study to actually come out in the literature as opposed to being just reported in the media.

The one study that has come out is the New England Journal of Medicine and that study, did a study. They looked at 60 patients, like 20 – what they said 20 – 54 patients enrolled in the study. Five were able to willingly modulate their brain activity. Three revealed some sign of awareness. The other two patients, no voluntary behavior could be detected. One of those three patients was able to answer the yes or no questions.

So yes, there are misdiagnoses going on. I don’t know whether the extent of the misdiagnosis is as great as what the end of the news article says. Or, you know, it’s somewhere probably in between what they found in the research study and in the hospital.

Why would it be that the research study that was done with – in a rigorous manner, only found five out of 54 as opposed to, you know, the hospital finding almost half of 60? There is something weird going there. So, you know, either the methodology or…

Justin: Sleep pattern. They could be any, I think, and I don’t know if it’s a misdiagnosis. Maybe the correct diagnosis for a lot of vegetative states includes awareness which makes – I mean, right now, it is completely legal for the family to decide we can pull the plug. And they can.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Yup.

Justin: And it becomes illegal under the laws of the UK, at least, if they’re found to have awareness.

Kirsten: If there’s brain activity. If there’s awareness, right. Yeah.

Justin: So, I mean it’s a really critical…

Kirsten: Very critical, very critical.

Justin: …thing to determine that they haven’t had a way of even looking at before which is why this is, you know, why this study is so amazing.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: These are the folks that they’ve tried everything that was available to them up until then to determine awareness, couldn’t, FMRI…

Kirsten: Right. Poking them on the shoulder doesn’t – wasn’t working.

Justin: Right. They’re not saying, “Aw, quit it!”

Kirsten: No.

Justin: So you keep doing it.

Kirsten: Yeah. FMRI, brain imaging is the methodology that you would want to use. If you can find a way to ask, if, you know, get through to the person that’s in the vegetative state, if you can get through to them and they can respond in some way, if it’s just their brain reacting to hearing sound, you know, whatever it happens to be, there could be some kind of awareness there.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And it’s – yeah, it needs to be tested and this needs to be worked out more greatly because it could have a huge impact. But I think the running around and saying, “Forty-three percent of vegetative…” – ah! It’s like that’s – I think that’s just crying it out too soon.

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: I think it’s a little bit going crazy.

Justin: But I’ll take those odds.

Kirsten: And Tim Beauchamp on Twitter says, “It’s only shown in vegetative from trauma and not from O2 deprivations.” So if there’s been oxygen deprivation, the brain is probably not working as well. But trauma may be working a little bit better because the brain has not been deprived. I don’t know. Anyway, that’s my thoughts on it.

Justin: Don’t unplug me. It’s going to happen now. I’m sure of it. I’m just doing…

Kirsten: I’m just going to stick you in a bunch of machines. Zip, zap, zap!

Justin: Like get a generator back there, something to make my heart go, something, you know.

Kirsten: That’s right. That’s right. You are listening to This Week in Science. Keep on listening. There’s prions in your memory.

Justin: Oh, I don’t seem to recall that.

Kirsten: Yeah. What? Prions – known to be a potential cause of mad cow disease.

Justin: Jakobs.

Kirsten: Jakob, what – Creutzfeldt-Jakob disorder. They are the – these little proteins, very small proteins that are found in yeast cells even they’re incorporated into the cell membrane. They’re all over the animal kingdom, you know. So, there’s something important about them. But we don’t really know what it is.

But some things go wrong. And these proteins somehow…

Justin: Start unfolderating themselves.

Kirsten: …misfold, yeah, unfold, refold in the wrong way. And when they do that, they gum up the works and cells stop working the way that they’re supposed to work and you have problems like scrapey mad cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disorder that are severe and can cause – can lead to death.

So, we want to know more about the basic function of these prions, right? Yes, we do. Justin says, “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

So this researcher, Kausik Si of Stowers Institute for Medical Research in collaboration with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, have published a study in which they looked at these proteins in the sea slug Aplysia. And the sea slug Aplysia has been used for learning a model species for neuro-learning for a long time.

They know that if you touch the animal’s gill – the sea slug has a gill – if you touch it, the gill withdraws. And if you touch the gill and shock the tail, the withdrawal reaction, the gill withdrawal is stronger. And that reaction lasts for a really long time. So somehow the shock is strengthening the learning experience.

Researchers are staring to dig…

Justin: Please, let’s not apply this to our school system.

Kirsten: I know. Fear learning is a little bit different, I guess.

Justin: Does it work better though? Because I want my child to succeed later in life.

Kirsten: Yeah. It works pretty well. Yeah, works pretty well.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah, PTST. Yeah. Great!

So, what they’ve found is that researchers looking at this system have found that serotonin, if you look at the molecular details of what’s going on at the molecular level, not just “touch-shock-ahh”, but what’s actually happening at the molecular level inside the neurons, serotonin gets released. And somehow if you block serotonin, the memory does not occur as strongly.

The researchers wanted to understand this even better. And so they turned up this protein called CPEB which is a prion-like protein that exists at the synapse of this Aplysia in the system. They turned it up and they found that the CPEB look like prions that other researchers had found in yeast cells. They block the CPEB and the memory did not quite occur as well. And it didn’t persist for a long period of time.

So what they’re finding with this study is that CPEB which is a prion-like protein, looks like prions, is integrated into the molecular level memory process.

Justin: So that means that I could have extra prions in that part of my brain that’s supposed to record names?

Kirsten: But it’s not prions. It’s a prion-like protein. It’s just very similar.

And so, the reason that they’re looking at this is that your cells are constantly turning over and you have memories that last for a really long time, longer than the lifespan of most proteins.

And so, you need – and a lot of cell processes, like there’s a lot of turn over. Your cells, your neurons inside of them, it’s a really dynamic environment. And so, to imagine that you have these memories that last for a month, years, how does that happen? How do you – what proteins are involved that stick around somehow? What is the process that keeps the memory going?

And what they’re thinking is you need a protein that’s self-perpetuating. Self-perpetuating proteins are like the prions. Prions, when they misfold and get sticky when they touch another prion, they turn that prion into a misfolded sticky protein. So it’s like a domino effect. One prion touches another prion and transfers its conformation on to that other molecule.

And so, they started looking at the CPEB thinking, well, it has to be self-sustaining somehow. So it’s prion-like in the effect that these CPEB proteins are somehow self-perpetuating. And they’re continuing. And these molecules, these proteins might be really essential to the perpetuation of memory.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: It’s cool, right? There’s these tiny molecules that bend and fold, and suddenly you remember.

Justin: Just, I wonder if like a new neuron or prion that’s coming into the brain going in and finding out, “I wonder what my memory is going to be. I hope it’s a good one.”

Kirsten: I hope it’s a good memory.

Justin: I hope I get a good memory to hang on to because I don’t want to be handed one that’s, you know.

Kirsten: No. We have to go to a break.

Justin: We have to go to a break. Can we take the caller really quick?

Kirsten: Sure.

Justin: Can we take the caller before we break?

Kirsten: Let’s take the call.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS minion. You are now off the air with This Week in Science. I think I hung up on him. All right.

Kirsten: All right.

Justin: We can go to a break.

Kirsten: We will…

Justin: We will be right back with much more of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: Oh yeah.

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 good news 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.

And we’re back.

Kirsten: We are back. This is This Week in Science. So much going on. So much going on.

What was I going to say? I had this whole announcement. Oh, spiel time.

Justin: Spiel.

Kirsten: Spiel. Everyone out there, if you are a musician, if you know a musician, send me your science-y songs.

Justin: Yeah, we have the new fund raiser album coming out in April.

Kirsten: And we need you or it won’t happen.

Justin: You.

Kirsten: Yeah. If we don’t get songs from you…

Justin: Then I’ll have to do them all. And I’m not a good musician.

Kirsten: Yikes.

Justin: And I’ve got a tin ear.

Kirsten: Yikes.

Justin: I’ve got a golden voice but a tin ear.

Kirsten: Yeah. So…

Justin: …which makes it come out as though I was tone deaf and I actually have the ability to hit notes. I just don’t know where they are.

Kirsten: But anyway, email me,, if you have any questions. I want you to send me an MP3 so I can hear what the song sounds like. It has to be science-y. That means about science or inspired by science, based in science somehow.

Justin: Or have robots in it.

Kirsten: Or robots or space, you know, fun stuff. We want science to be fun, interesting, engaging, entertaining. So that’s what we’re looking for. And it can be any style of music. We don’t have particular styles that are better than others in our book. It’s a compilation. It’s a hodgepodge of musical themes.

And we need the songs soon because the fund raiser is coming up in April. So I need the songs by beginning of March. And so, MP3 is just so I can get a sampling of what it sounds like and make a decision as to whether or not it will go into the album.

And then I’ll probably ask you for a high quality uncompressed WAV or AVI file. But those details come later. So just make you – make sure you record something science-y, high quality, good.

Justin: Things we’ve never seen before which could make it in just because of the uniqueness.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Mariachi science song, a opera song, sung opera style, you know, science-y song. I mean there’s a lot of genres that we don’t – I don’t think we have like a, you know, show tune one out there.

Kirsten: We don’t have a show tune one. No. Yeah, those are musical themes.

Justin: So just think outside of the box people.

Kirsten: Make it good though because if it’s…

Justin: One of those things where you’re clicking stones to make music.

Kirsten: Who judges the songs? Me.

Justin: Marimba…

Kirsten: If I don’t like it – so anyways,, science-y music for the people. So get yourself on the compilation. If you’re on the compilation, you’ll be highlighted throughout the year on This Week in Science during our program and all sorts of fun stuff and your CD will go out to all sorts of people who want to support the radio station.

Justin: Hundreds of thousands of people will hear your song and know that it was you.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, that’s that, and now on with the science news. Go, Justin.

Justin: Oh me. The American Psychological Association is urging the Pentagon and Congress to end the restriction on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military citing decades of scientific research demonstrating that no threat to military readiness or morale exists.

“While we were heartened by the congressional testimony of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, we believe that a year to study the matter and another year to implement change is too long,” said the APA President Carol Goodheart.

“The military has proved itself willing, able and effective in the integration of African-Americans and of women. This experience can and should inform efforts and end current situation in which gay and lesbian service members, who everyone acknowledges are currently serving, must conceal their sexual orientation to avoid being discharged.”

So this is an issue that yeah, right now, there’s an Admiral and Secretary Gates who’ve testified that this is, you know, this is where we should be heading. The President mentioned it in his State of the Union speech.

And part of the reason the American Psychological Association is also urging this is because they believe there’s a mental health issue for those who are in the military being afraid to seek mental health, being afraid to seek help for trauma or, you know, stress in the military because they’re already afraid to reveal too much about themselves to their employer.

So, that’s from them. In other gay science-y news, Canadian researchers at the University of Lethbridge have studied the evolutionary merits of homosexuality. It turns out there may be more to passing on genetic information than being a breeder. Evolutionary Psychologists Paul Vasey and Doug VanderLaan studied for several years homosexuality on the Pacific island of Samoa. They chose Samoa because gay men are widely recognized and accepted there as being just sort of a different category. Right?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And can therefore be viewed as they would appear in a civilized society. As it turns out, these men tended to spend a lot of time raising their nieces and nephews, either by caring for them as guardians or in supporting them through financial contributions when they had a medical or a school need or something like that – stepping up to help pay for some of the expenses of nephews and nieces and also contributed greater to their extended family unit than non-homosexual aunts and uncles who were of the same family.

So they spend a lot more time dedicated to the sort of core unit of the family. And the next generation, if the next generation is more successful by these effort, genes they have in common with those nieces and nephews carry on as well.

So in a way, they are still protecting the gene pool as we assume the drivers in natural selection making homosexuality natural and an important part of the traditional family structure.

Kirsten: Fantastic.

Justin: Yeah, great study. We got another caller callering.

Kirsten: Oh, caller callering.

Justin: I think I’m trying to hit – did I- good morning TWIS minion, you are on the air with This Week in Science.

Bradley: Hi. Good morning Justin and Kirsten. This is Bradley.

Justin: Good morning, Bradley.

Bradley: How are you guys this morning?

Justin: Pretty good.

Bradley: Yeah, it makes sense – I’d like to comment on – ask you guys a question about the story earlier that Kirsten mentioned with regards to the prion potentially being a time independent mechanistic component of memory control.

I live ten miles outside of the largest chronic wasting disease epicenter for the American white-tailed deer. And growing up as a hunter and living around hunters in this area, the government has obviously taken great lengths to allow hunting but they cut off the heads and remove this final component of the deer before they allowed them to process the meat…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: …to test for, you know, the chronic wasting disease. So it makes you also wonder about the possibility of these potential prions being in animals as well. Because you would think that they would have to have the same type of memories conserved through time.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, these prion-like proteins are found throughout – like I said, throughout the animal kingdom.

Bradley: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Prions are – they’re a protein, it’s a small protein that is – the scientists just really haven’t understood what the importance of it is. But it is something that’s fundamental to neural processes – to some kind of neural process, some cellular process.

And so, this is the first evidence that just – taking the traits of what prions do basically when you see prions in disease and in this chronic wasting disease and other prion diseases where the prions become self-sustaining and self-perpetuating because they’re turning other prions into the disease form of the protein just by contact.

And so, what they did is they took that understanding and went looking for a similar type of protein that might be related to memory. And it looks like they’ve found it.

So, it’s not saying that this is a prion protein. It’s just something that a prion-like protein.

Bradley: Prion-like.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Bradley: But it’s exciting to see the fact that they’re bridging the gap from the disease, you know…

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Exactly, from form to function. Yeah.

Bradley: Because prions, like you said, I mean as a medical chemist, I can tell you that we really don’t know a lot about prions and they’re highly indestructible. I mean you have to…

Kirsten: Yeah. You have to – they’re like a cockroach.

Bradley: Exactly. You got to feed on them or else to where it comes though. But I really appreciate the story this morning. It was really exciting. Thanks.

Kirsten: You’re welcome.

Bradley: But I just wanted to say hi.

Kirsten: Thank you, Bradley.

Justin: Thanks for checking in, Bradley.

Bradley: Have a good day.

Kirsten: Bye, you too. Yeah, I think prion stories are fascinating. And we’re just – it’s just that we’ve been talking about prions for years and it’s just that one little weird thing that I was like, “What does it do? What does it do?”

Justin: If anything that what if the animal kingdom doesn’t have the regenerative ones for the memory like we do? Maybe that’s like one of those big distinctions between a lot of animal kingdom and us is the long-term memory aware.

Kirsten: No, no.

Justin: You don’t think so?

Kirsten: No. Nope. I mean the Aplysia, they studied it in a sea slug, long-term memory in a sea slug. Say that three times fast. Yes. I’m going batty.

Justin: Bumper-baby-buggy, bumper-baby-buggy, bumper-baby-buggy…

Kirsten: I’m going batty here.

Justin: You are.

Kirsten: I’m going batty.

Justin: What’s going on? Calm down, woman.

Kirsten: Okay. Well, I’ve two bat stories. I’m going to run through them as quickly as possible so we can get on to other stuff. But bats! I’m making up for the fact that I called them a rodent two weeks ago by bringing in more bat news.

Ed Dyer sent in this story conducted at University of Maryland’s bat lab on Egyptian fruit bats. And the headline is…

Justin: I’m not working at bat lab.

Kirsten: I know. The bat lab. Well, if you contact Cynthia Moss at the University of Maryland Department of Psychology, she runs the bat lab at the university’s Auditory Neuroethology Lab.

Justin: That’s hot.

Kirsten: Yeah. That was good. Cynthia Moss is one of the co-authors on the study. And they study echolocation in bats. So these Israeli scientists trained bats to echolocate at an object in a room in Israel. Then they took these trained bats and shipped them to the bat lab in Maryland where they were tested for their ability to echolocate and how they echolocate.

And the way they do that is they put a bunch of recorders, microphones all around the room to be able to triangulate the direction from which any high pitched echolocation or noise will be coming from and how – try and figure out how the bat is echolocating.

And it’s really neat. And they’re actually able to pinpoint exactly – differentiate exactly how the bats are aiming their pulses of sound.

So, the fruit bat first, it doesn’t echolocate using its vocal cords or emitting a high pitch squeak. It clicks. So it uses a click to echolocate. And in addition, what they found is that it doesn’t aim at the object that it’s trying to track like other bats. It aims around it. Yeah.

So, a lot of bats will aim directly at the moth, aim directly at the mosquito whatever it is that, “I got you. I got you in my sight.” You know, after it. But this fruit bat is a little different, it kind of aims to either side. So if I talk to this side of the mic, that side of the microphone, this side of the microphone, from that side of the microphone, if these were in stereo, you would really get the effect.

But it’s kind of – it releases – the bats released two clicks, like one right after the other so that one goes on one side of the object. And one goes in the other. And it’s kind of like if you think of the clicks as this clicking, this wave, this pulse of energy that goes out, one edge like that one edge of the wave will hit the object, and one edge of the other click’s wave will hit the other side of the object.

And so, in that way, the fruit bat is able to pinpoint, find out where whatever it’s after.

Justin: Yeah. It gives you the depth perception…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …that might not be there quite with the just regular echolocation to start with.

Kirsten: Yeah.

And they are able to change their strategy so that if it’s a more complicated environment, they’re able to use a couple of difference. So going from this side to side, not aiming at it strategy to aiming directly at it. They’re able to – they do change their strategy depending on the environment.

So, it’s kind of interesting that they have this different way of echolocating.

Justin: Not bad for a rodent.

Kirsten: They’re not rodents. You’re funny. You’re funny. A second study, scientists got bats drunk. Yeah. I found…

Justin: Science!

Kirsten: Science, let’s get bats drunk. Well, the logic behind this is that bats, in order – fruit bats often…

Justin: Oh yeah, they get drunk – fermented fruit.

Kirsten: They will feed off of fermented fruit.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: High in sugar because all of the fermentation is going, lots of sugar, lots of energy. So these are quick pick-me-up energy sources for animals and bats will partake of the fermented fruit.

The researchers gave bats – some bats got just sugar water, and some bats got sugar water with ethanol in it up to I think it was 1.5% alcohol level in the solution. And then they let the bats do an obstacle course and recorded how they echolocated and checked to see how good they were after partaking any of the control substance or the alcoholic substance.

Then they tested their blood alcohol by proxy of testing their saliva. So they took these saliva swabs and checked to see how much alcohol was in their saliva which is a relative measure of how much alcohol is in the blood. And it turned out, these bats, a lot of them were pretty, pretty toasted like at least up to 0.08 blood alcohol level which is what we call – what we say is drunk here in California.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: If you’re driving, 0.08 alcohol level will get you thrown in the clink.

And so, a lot of the bats were up to 0.08 alcohol, many of them were above 0.08 up to over 1% to 3% alcohol.

Justin: Yeah. Like it’s somewhere around 1.5%, you can’t drive but you can still be charming.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: You get up to like 3%, charm is pretty much gone.

Kirsten: Turns out though, these bats are just – they’re awesome. It’s like, “Yeah, I drink all the time. What’s 3% alcohol, 0.8%? I scoff at that.”

Justin: Alcoholic bats.
Kirsten: They didn’t get clumsy. Their changes in their calls , they didn’t slur their speech. Bats do much better. Don’t get into a drinking competition with a fruit bat. That’s all. That’s what Ars Technica has to say for advice.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: I love this. Let’s get the bats drunk. You’re listening to This Week in Science.

Justin: In other alcoholic news, researchers from the Department of Food, Science and Technology at the University of Davis claim to be studying hard. The pyramid of empty beer cans in the lab may suggest otherwise, yet it is in the name of science, that the researchers have been on a 100-beer sampler tour.

Kirsten: A three-hour tour.

Justin: Beer, often renowned for its empire and relationship-building abilities, is now being noticed as a nutritional assist as well.

Kirsten: Yeah, beer is good for your bones.

Justin: It contains a great source of dietary silicon. Silicon is present in beer in its – apparently in its most soluble form.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, even if you’re taking it – even if it’s in other foods, the way it comes out in the beer…

Kirsten: Your body can use it.

Justin: Yes. It’s 50%…

Kirsten: Fifty percent.

Justin: …bio availability.

Kirsten: That’s good.

Justin: That’s huge.

Kirsten: Good.

Justin: So it makes it a major contributor for the – for silicon in the entire western diet. It’s like the big one now.

And according to the National Institutes of Health, silicon is a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.

Kirsten: Yeah. And development and growth of bone and connective tissue, it has – yeah. It’s good for you.

Justin: Based on this…

Kirsten: Silicon.

Justin: …it may be that moderate consumption could help you fight osteoporosis or better yet, the making it up disease of osteopenia.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: See this is when you can really connect now to the osteopenia story.

Kirsten: Do I want a glass of milk or a beer?

Justin: Because here’s what it is. Now, if say Budweiser, okay. Because Merck came out with the bone scan, everybody is using that, suggesting they have osteopenia introduced the Merck product. And a lot of people were like, “Well, but these industries are…”

Okay. If Budweiser came out with a bone scan and using a “Put your arm in here, grab the handle, hold it a minute,” and a card comes out and says…

Kirsten: You need a beer.

Justin: … “You need to drink more beer.” People will be like, “Okay, right, right, right.” But that’s what Merck did with their bone scan machines like, “Put your – oh look, oh you need to be taking our drug.”

Kirsten: Yeah. The thing with the beer here though, it’s not – all beers are not created equal when it comes to silicon content.

Justin: Oh no, they are not. Factories and brewing that influence silicon levels have been pretty – study pretty well on this. And they examined a wide range of beer styles. It’s basically, it’s from the malt.

Kirsten: The hops.

Justin: The hops, not so much. The hops actually have a higher percentage of silicon content. But when you hop beer, you’re doing it for seasoning. It’s a flavor thing. Whereas the malts, basically your mash.

Kirsten: Beers – I have a quote here. “Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon.”

Justin: Yeah. That’s the malt. The wheat beers aren’t going to do it.

Kirsten: Barley – yeah. Wheat, the husk has less silicon than the barley husk.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah, the mash.

Justin: And the mash is when – the first step in making beer is you make a giant pot of oatmeal.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: That’s basically what it is.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And then that gets all that. You can put that. You cook off the sugars are getting loosened up in there and you can go…

Kirsten: So, probably microbrews are…

Justin: Yeah. And they did all…

Kirsten: …hoppy, hoppy, IPA maybe.

Justin: Their study was of – but still even then. It’s still seasoning. There’s very little hops that go in even though the hops themselves have a lot of silicon that’s mostly from the…

Kirsten: Barley.

Justin: …yeah, from the malt.

Kirsten: Malted barley.

Justin: Mash.

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s great.

Justin: And the lighter the mash actually, apparently the more – the lighter the type, the more silicon in it.

Kirsten: Yeah. That’s great news for…

Justin: But I guess the bottom line is…

Kirsten: That’s great news for people who like the more – the lighter beers, I guess.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Good for your bones. Can help you fight osteopo – what-have-you’s.

Kirsten: I love it. I love it. I’ve read This Week in Science history news.

Justin: Which is?

Kirsten: Yesterday in This Week in Science history, actually.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah and…

Justin: Something that happened This Week in History but not necessarily this year.

Kirsten: Yesterday.

Justin: But it’s news.

Kirsten: But in 1865. Gregor Mendel presented his research on his pea plants and his genetic breeding experiments at the Nature Research Society of Brunn on February 8th, 1865.

In that, he explained his concepts of dominant and recessive factors, traits. And he presented his two laws of heredity: The Law of Segregation and The Law of Independent Assortment. Which, you know, we now know are a little bit more complicated. But at the same, this was the first time that a mechanism for the process of natural selection was presented to a scientific audience.

And even though it was presented, it was ignored by many individuals including Darwin who how do you taken the time to read the reprint that was sent to him? It might have been a service to his and Alfred Wallace’s ideas on natural selection.

Justin: What year is this?

Kirsten: 1865.

Justin: Oh my goodness.

Kirsten: But today, Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk is acknowledged as the founder of genetics and the scientist who first worked out the nature of the mechanism of natural selection. So, thank you very much Gregor Mendel.

Justin is running around a bit. I’ve got a bunch of TWIS bits.

Justin: I’m listening to your story.

Kirsten: I’ve got TWIS bits galore.

Justin: I’m listening to a really good story.

Kirsten: (David Eckert) sent in a story. Blue whales have changed their frequency. Researchers are saying that since the 1960s which correlates with the global ban on hunting blue whales, the whales are singing songs that are 30% lower in pitch. The question now is why.

From the abstract, they say, “Hypothesis examined, considered sexual selection, increasing ocean noise, increasing whale body size, post whaling, global warming, interference from other animal sounds and post whaling increases in abundance.”

None of the commonly suggested hypotheses were found to provide a full explanation. However, increasing population size post whaling provides an intriguing and testable hypothesis that recovery is altering the sexually selected trade off for singing males between song amplitude, the ability to be heard at a greater distance; and song frequency, the ability to produce songs of lower pitch.

So the big daddies want to sing lower songs to sound sexy for the female is the idea that they’re presenting.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: From Ali, Ali sent in a story about plants. Plants have progesterone. For the first time, researchers discovered the steroid hormone in plants. The female hormone that maintains pregnancy in the uterus in females in mammals, yeah, found in plants.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Intriguing. What’s it doing in plants? Researchers still have to find out.

Pluto might not be a planet but it has seasons.

Justin: It’s a planet.

Kirsten: Yeah, it has seasons. Images taken by Hubble Space Telescope show definite changes in coloration that occurred between 2000 to 2002. And they think the changes are thought to be due to sublimation and movement of ice. And we’ll get a clearer picture in a few years when New Horizons begins to take in a closer view of the planetoid.

(Tony Steal) sent in a story about LoJacked chickens. Chickens got the LoJack on them.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yeah. A team of Michigan State University researchers are going to be exploring the use of wireless technology to determine its effectiveness in monitoring the welfare of egg-laying chickens. That means they’re taking money from the US government to stick Wi-Fi LoJack devices on chickens and watch how they wander around the chicken yard to see if there are better ways to design housing for chickens.

Justin: That’s cool.

Kirsten: Kind of cool.

Justin: Chickens.

Kirsten: Listener Doug from Madison, Ohio wrote in with a question. And if you listeners out there have an answer for him, we’d love to get your answers. I think I know the answer but I’m going to let you guys answer it for Doug from Madison, Ohio.

Justin: The answer is no or is it yes?

Kirsten: Here’s the question.

Justin: Wait. Can I change mine, maybe.

Kirsten: Here’s the question: “I’ve been watching the TV show Space:1999. They show a lot of spaceships crashing into the moon. When they crash, there’s always a lot of smoke coming up from the crash. My question is, if a crash happened in space, would there be smoke from an explosion or fire and what would it look like?”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s a good question. It’s a good question. So, I’m putting it out there to you listeners.

And on next week’s show, because we are at the end of the hour, Ali is going to be in the hot seat where Ali is bringing as the first installment of our special review of the TWIS Decade in Science.

What happened during the past ten years of TWIS? You have to stay tuned until next week to find out.

Also, we’ve got a cool project that we…

Justin: I don’t think I showed up till the fifth season of that.

Kirsten: You don’t – fifth season is when Justin shows up.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: We have a cool project that we’re probably going to announce next week. We’re going to see about that and we’ll tell you.

Justin: Cool project.

Kirsten: Yeah, TWIS minions unite. We’re going to tell you about it. Until then, you can find fun science-y reading with the TWIS Book Club. This month we’re reading the book called “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. What would the world be like if people just disappeared? You can find that at

Justin: Sweet. Okay, thanks everyone for listening. We hope that you – we know you’ve enjoyed the show. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been listening this long.

Kirsten: We know it.

Justin: TWIS is also available as a podcast. You go to our website, Click on the Subscribe to the TWIS Science Podcast for more information on how to subscribe or just search for us, This Week in Science in your iTunes podcast directory.

Kirsten: iTunes! For more information on anything you’ve heard here today, show notes are going to be available on the website, We’ll have links and stuff like that. And we want to hear from you. So email us at kirsten or

Justin: Put TWIS somewhere in the subject line of that email. Otherwise, you will be spam filtered into oblivion.

Kirsten: Yeah, we mean it. We mean it. We might not hear from you.

Justin: We won’t.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, address, suggestion for an interview, let us know.

Kirsten: And we’re going to be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 AM Pacific Time. And we hope you’ll join us once again for more great science news.

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

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.

Link to the Audio: