Synopsis: Short Legs In A Single Step, A Bloody Mess, Screaming Moths, This Week in The End Of The World, Ancient Dung balls Tell Tales, A Catastrophic Reduction, and Interview w/ Physicist Jon Singleton About Traveling Faster Than Light.
Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
Welcome to life! Don’t be bashful. Don’t be shy. There’s no need to walk on by. This is it. The big go around on Theme Park Earth. No pushing now. No need to crowd yourselves. It doesn’t matter where you’re standing now, as the line is irrelevant to where you will end up.
The maps you are handed at the entrance are for general reference purposes only and should not be considered entirely accurate navigating the many points of interest ahead as they were printed before your life was conceived and may bare little resemblance to it once your events are unfolded. There’s a lot to see here if it is your first day on the planet or if you’ve been here for a while now.
And while the rides have ups and downs and bubble gum may occasionally get stuck in your shoes, keep in mind that much like the following hour of programming, this does not necessarily represent the views or opinions at the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.
If you think you have seen it all, I encourage you to take another look as the park is under constant renovation. If you have yet to see it all, I highly recommend starting at one of the planet’s many informational booths such as This Week in Science, coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten!
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! It’s off to a great button-pushing start, isn’t it?
Justin: Hey, you know what though? I had a six balloon morning. You had a nine balloon morning.
Kirsten: I had a nine balloon morning.
Justin: This is of course how you rate mornings in the Central Valley by number of hot air balloons you can see on your way down to the studio.
Kirsten: That’s right. It was a beautiful site.
Justin: Yeah. It means it’s a nice day today.
Kirsten: It’s on the freeway, driving in.
Justin: It means it’s going to be a nice day.
Kirsten: I look to my left and there were just balloons hovering on the horizon.
Justin: I don’t need to look at weather report today. I have seen the balloons, many of them. And I know today is going to be nice.
Kirsten: Today will be a beautiful day. And it’s a great day for science. Thank you everyone for joining us. This is This Week in Science. I am Kirsten Sanford.
Justin: And yes she is.
Kirsten: And that’s Justin.
Justin: I’m confirming her.
Kirsten: Thanks, the daily, weekly confirmation. That’s good.
Justin: Yeah. I will vouch.
Kirsten: I’ve been validated. Awesome! Just like in scientific experimentation, validation is important.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I’m not just going to take her word for it.
Kirsten: Yeah. Take your own. Take your own. So, today on the show we will be talking with physicist, Jon Singleton. Who is hanging out at a – just a small national lab.
Justin: He invented tachyon.
Justin: He discovered them. He moved faster than light. He went backwards in time.
Kirsten: No. No. No.
Justin: He recreated the big bang.
Justin: Well, we’ll figure it out.
Kirsten: We’ll figure it out. Exactly!
Justin: It is something possibly amazing or having – it may be construed as such.
Kirsten: It’s – yeah. It is being construed that way. Some have said that he has broken the laws of relativity. But, we’ll figure that out.
Justin: But we’ll find out, yes.
Kirsten: We’ll find out.
Justin: We’ll ask the man himself, seek validation.
Kirsten: In the meantime, I brought stories about short legs, noisy bats and ancient dung balls.
Kirsten: What do you have, Justin?
Justin: I’ve got a bloody mess for genetic researchers.
Justin: A little bit of end of the world so far. And an in-depth explanation, (editorial) venture into last week’s catastrophic cat reduction comments.
Kirsten: The catastrophic, yes.
Justin: I gotten more comments on – that has been the biggest comment. I think I got more comments on my cat reduction rant from – aside. I don’t even know where it was. A little aside between stories that – than I think I’ve gotten on anything. It’s been quite some time.
Kirsten: Cats, it’s a divider. Cats, you know, the love for cats can tear people apart.
Justin: It runs deep, people.
Kirsten: It runs deep. So we’re going to have to deal with what you’ve dredged up. Oh, man!
All right, my big story for the day, how some little tiny dogs got short legs? Listen. Once upon a time in scientific history, so there are all sorts of dogs.
Justin: Large herds of weiner dogs roamed the open plain in search of mammoth.
Kirsten: They had long legs and they strided widely, (stroded).
Justin: Packs by the hundreds. I mean, that would be huge numbers. (Unintelligible)
Kirsten: Huge numbers. All right. So we’ve got dachshunds, corgis, basset hounds. And according to this article from ScienceDaily.com at least 16 other breeds of dogs that have genetically shortened legs.”
And a team at the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, have reported in Science Magazine what happened to give these dogs short legs, what happened historically from their wolfen ancestry to get them to this point of short-legged breeds.
It turns out doing a bunch of genetic DNA sequencing and computational analyses, the researchers figured out that there is a single retro-gene that is produced.
So, a retro-gene basically was a normal gene that genes are translated, there’s a bit of mRNA that’s produced, the mRNA leaves the nucleus, goes into the cytoplasm of the cell, translated by the ribosomes, then transcribed by the ribosomes, then into amino acid chain to create a protein. So, that’s the whole process.
But sometimes when those genes leave the cell, something happens to make them actually instead of being turned into a protein they get turned back into DNA. And that little segment of DNA then goes and gets shoved back into the genome. And it’s not necessarily shoved back in the right place.
Kirsten: And depending on where it lands and how much of it is turned into DNA, you might have a fully active gene some place else that causes something different to happen or it can be completely inactive and not do anything at all, just suddenly silenced by this extra copy of a gene.
So there’s this possibility of it doing something or not. And if it actually does something, it’s called a retro-gene. So sometime between – at one point in time, just one event, a retro-gene was formed in dogs after they were domesticated from wolves.
So, at some point early in their domestication history, a mutation occurred that allow the retro-gene that controls growth, controls a growth-promoting protein called growth factor 4 – fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4). And that gene turns everything off so that instead of having fibroblast growth factor 4 do its normal business and let everything develop, get things to grow normally, this gene comes along – this extra gene comes along and goes, “No more leg growth.” And it just has this one – it’s a single gene that got shoved back in the genome and has this effect of giving dogs shorter legs.
Now, the question is, is this related to – it doesn’t have implications for human biology and dwarfism. And can we potentially take a look at how this single retro-gene has affected dogs and maybe see if there’s this kind of an effect in humans as well for…?
Justin: And if we can find that then we should start encouraging it so that we can be smaller and use less resources. This is brilliant.
Justin: This is like I’m going to be shrinking you into the future.
Kirsten: It is going right along of the shrinking human theory. No, I mean the idea is maybe we can fix things if maybe there’s a way…
Kirsten: Not fix, I didn’t mean it that way. But maybe there is a way to adjust the way that genes work, that this growth genes work. So if you have the child who is going to – who has a gene mutation for hypochondroplasia, which is the shorter limb growth, maybe early in their development, you can use some kind of gene therapy to allow their legs to grow longer, their limbs to grow longer. That’s very possible.
Justin: I’m already picturing a ten-foot tall person with the arm span of a five-foot tall person.
Kirsten: I don’t know if that’s necessarily will be the effect that will happen.
Justin: Well, I guess their arms will be that long too.
Kirsten: And it’s very, very early to even be considering this — very early.
Justin: Yeah. But it’s sort of like instant NBA center. Yeah.
Kirsten: Yeah but it’s really neat to think that – I mean the researchers have even said – the lead author says we were surprised to find that just one retro-gene inserted at one point during the evolution of a species could yield such dramatic physical trait that has been conserved over time, you know. And possibly with dogs and dog breeding, it’s become something that’s been conserved because it’s been chosen for by breeders.
Justin: They found a beneficial use for it.
Kirsten: I don’t know. Maybe that’s why it’s so prevalent why you have this different, so many breeds of short-legged dogs that was a trait. They was like, “Oh, breeders like we really want this.”
Justin: Oh yeah.
Justin: Like some of those who are also trained for going in after like badgers or rabbits and stuff, I mean to be able to grow a little bit.
Justin: And shorter legs help to get in there. Yeah, right.
Kirsten: Right. There’s an absolute, absolute benefit to that at certain stage. Yeah.
Justin: Very cool. So, I should bring a story, shouldn’t I?
Kirsten: Maybe if you want to.
Justin: I had the wrong cue there so I’m looking at it going, “Wait, that’s not what I was going to…” One of the strangest things nobody would have guessed was true might in fact to be true putting much of what we thought was true in serious doubt.
Well, this is a headline that kind of seems to come up like a lot on the show, things that we thought we knew that we found out we maybe don’t know so well.
Justin: This time, it’s not only just going to open new doors of research but it may put a great deal of previous work in further jeopardy. At the heart of the problem is blood.
Justin: Yeah. Blood is often used in the very large scale genetic studies where they test DNA and they try to find associations between genetics and diseases, trying to coax out the genetic risk factors.
So, lots of people have cardiac problems and they all share common gene perhaps there’s a correlative between that gene and their heart problems of this to the other.
Justin: But now, a study from a group of Montreal scientists has shown that the DNA of blood can be different than that of tissue cells, thereby casting questioning, a bit of data over one of the largest assumptions in genetics, which is that the DNA of one cell is identical pretty much to that of every other cell in the human body. The results appear in the July issue of the Journal Human Mutation, which I don’t know if it’s a for or against sort of a journal but…
Kirsten: I don’t – yeah, right. I mean one interesting thing to bring out I don’t know what the impact factor of the Journal Human Mutation is. So in scientific literature, the different journals have this what’s called the impact factor which is how well cited, how well used, how well respected within the scientific community that…
Justin: Are you casting doubt upon the sources of my story-tellings?
Kirsten: I don’t know.
Justin: Yes you are. Okay. But well is – okay.
Kirsten: I’m just saying this is not…
Justin: I’ll go further. I’m not…
Kirsten: I don’t know how major – I’m just saying I don’t know how major this journal is.
Justin: Right. Well, here’s…
Kirsten: And if it’s this major of a study, why isn’t it in a bigger journal?
Justin: And part of it is the – because there’s – if there is this genetic difference between blood and human tissue…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …I’ll just throw one out to caveat. It may actually undercut the numerous very large scale expenses of genetic studies that have been conducted over like 15 years, it brings the premise of them…
Kirsten: It’s huge, yeah.
Justin: …into huge question.
Justin: Studies which were intended to isolate the causes of scores of human diseases, but it also might explain why those large scales of studies did not produce crystal clear connections that scientists were hoping to find between the genes within the body and the diseases people are afflicted with.
So there’s already in those large scale studies. There were so much inconclusive and so much sort of just not – it wasn’t the technical trouble-shooting manual that was emerging.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: It was very cloudy. This might explain part of it. So they’re going a little bit explain that except for cancer where they actually remove and take biopsy samples.
Justin: Samples of diseased tissues are often difficult or actually impossible to remove from a living patient. So the vast majority of these genetic studies and because just the ease of being able to get to thousands of people for these studies, they just used blood samples and they test the blood samples. So the researchers were focused on BAK, a gene that controls soda.
Justin: And they were looking at this while studying a very rare vascular disease where tissue samples can be removed easily. When they compare them, the researchers discovered that there were differences between the BAK genes in blood cells and the tissue cells coming from inside the same individuals. So, that’s wow.
Some more – the same differences were later evident in samples derived from healthy individuals too. So, it wasn’t just that in the diseased tissue was triggering a different, right. It’s also tissues from healthy people they’ve started checking that versus the blood and found the BAK genes are also different.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: So, the researcher, Dr. Bruce Gottlieb, I am guessing.
Justin: Gottlieb – in multi factorial diseases that’s in cancer, usually we can only look at the blood. “Traditionally, when we have looked for genetic risk factors for, say heart disease, we have assumed that the blood will tell us what’s happening in the tissue. It now seems this is simply not the case.”
So, it could be another one of those nails being removed.
Kirsten: It could be.
Justin: So that’s a huge, huge – it’s unfortunate because it means that we’ve been doing a lot of good science that’s been answering that question that always needs to be answered which the wrong way to do things thoroughly and now may open up some treatments, actually specifically for the vascular disease they were looking at because they have now figured out that the tissue has a different BAK set up than the blood.
Kirsten: Than the blood.
Justin: They can actually zero in and may be able to create treatments for it that actually will, you know – they figure out some stuff that they wouldn’t have otherwise. But it gives us another thing to look at and shows us that we don’t know everything yet.
Kirsten: I think – yeah. I think that’s a huge point. Yes, we do not know everything yet. And there is a lot left to understand about the systems within the body and how the genetic systems were set up.
And there probably are a lot more layers. And one study – I mean the thing that to always bring back is one study is not enough to change the paradigm, but it is enough to start people thinking in a different direction.
And so, this probably will spawn many other studies. However, it’s not base on its own. I don’t – I mean it’s great and it’s interesting and I’m excited about it.
Justin: Right. Yeah.
Kirsten: I was like, “Wow, this is cool.” And probably in five years, it’s going to be like, “Yeah, okay, whatever, of course.”
Justin: Maybe I give it a year.
Justin: I would say actually the opposite. I would say that the large scale studies were the discovery that needed to be a paradigm shift.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Because they didn’t produce the results that were expected because it wasn’t the clear picture that we thought it would be. I think that was a paradigm shift. This is just one example of somebody discovering, “Oh, here is one of the reasons why the paradigm shift.”
That’s what I would say. I wouldn’t say that this research was the ground breaking. I think the large scale studies that we did that didn’t produce the results we expected was the paradigm shift. And now we’re discovering some of the “whys”. That’s what I would say.
Kirsten: All right. So people looking for those explanations?
Kirsten: Right. Mm hmm.
Justin: Discovering the reasons why the paradigm…
Kirsten: Why is it so muddy? Why is it so cloudy?
Justin: Right. Right.
Justin: Paradigm shift already happened. It was in the…
Kirsten: All right. Okay. Okay. I got you.
Justin: I say I get the Journal of Paradigm Shift. It’s a weekly, actually.
Kirsten: Oh, weekly.
Justin: You would think something like paradigm shift to be like every decade or so. It’s now weekly.
Kirsten: Paradigm Shift Weekly. That would be a great journal. All right.
And yet another thing that’s very surprising. I want to thank Kalidasa for sending the story the story in. You never think about the way that certain insect species might be acting to protect themselves from certain predatory species. Right? Take bats for instance.
Bats have their sonar high pitched squeaks that bounce off of things. And by bouncing off of the objects in their environment, they get a picture of the world around them.
Justin: And themselves as we learn in our story a few weeks ago.
Kirsten: Yeah, and themselves. And the things that they want to eat. So if there’s a moth, something flying, it has a different sonar tonal picture than other things because it’s moving. So, it probably has a lot of interesting Doppler shift to it. However, what are the moths doing this whole time? Are they just flying idly by?
Justin: Oh, bat! Oh, bigger wings! Oh, get me out of here! It’s what I’m guessing.
Justin: I’m wrong. I thought…
Kirsten: Yeah. No. Turns out that these — some researchers looking at tiger moths have realized that a particular species have ultrasound emitting tiger moth, Bertholdia Trigona, actually emits a radar jamming or in this case a sonar jamming ultrasound signal so that the bats sonar is disrupted and it can’t find the moth to eat it.
Justin: That’s so awesome.
Kirsten: Yeah. How do they do this? Well, they stock a bunch of bats and moths in rooms and then kind of watch to see what happens. And they figured that if it was a matter of the bats getting used to these kinds of outburst as maybe it’s just like a startle effect and they’re just not used to the sound that if they were able to habituate to it over time, they would get better at catching the moths.
Kirsten: But they didn’t. So even exposed to this in a single room over time, the bats never got better, but they also never got worse at catching the moths.
Justin: That’s important too. Yeah.
Kirsten: Yeah. So, the odds of catching a moth do not change. And as this article says from LiveScience, “It remained consistently poor over time.”
And so, it’s not – the ultrasound then is not startling the bats and it’s also not warning the bats that they’re going to taste bad. So, the other ideas that maybe the bats will get worse at catching them over time because they would learn, “Oh, this moths taste bad. So moths are telling me something and I should listen to it.” Kind of like the bright coloring of the monarch butterfly.
So they looked – they took a look at this and they’re like, “Hey, that’s really cool. But, how do we know that these moths are actually emitting the sound? This is what we think they’re doing. Let’s take a look at it.”
So they actually analyzed. They checked out the sounds that were emitted in the room. And they found according to the researcher, Aaron Corcoran at Wake Forest University, these moths can make an incredible amount of sound, 450 clicks in a tenth of a second.
Kirsten: So, they’re clicking. And this is lasting a much shorter time period than the actual sonar, the attack sequence of a bat. So what’s happening is that the bat – the moths hear – take enough time to maybe hear the sonar, figure out when the right moment is to let off its ultrasound and then jam the bat’s auditory signal. It’s pretty amazing.
Justin: It is.
Kirsten: It’s pretty amazing.
Justin: I wonder how you naturally select to something specific. What did I – no, I’m not opening that can of worms. Yeah.
Kirsten: Bats without sonar, without ultrasound get eaten.
Justin: No. Moths, yes.
Kirsten: Moths. I mean moths without the ultrasound get eaten.
Justin: Exactly. We agree on that.
Kirsten: And this will be an – I mean, if over the next 10,000 years maybe, it will be an interesting system to keep watching. I mean predator-prey interactions change over time. And so, who’s to say that the bats maybe aren’t going – specific bats in areas where these ultrasound moths appear more often, maybe the bats will get better at dealing with the ultrasonic jamming signal.
Kirsten: So there’s going to be – how can – we can probably expect that over time there’s some amount of change is going to take place between these different species.
Justin: It’s actually – I love the whole – I love when the things do get that specific, like the squirrels that move their tails really fast and heat them up.
Kirsten: For the rattle snakes. Yeah.
Justin: For the rattle snakes because it makes them look much bigger and more intimidating to rattle snakes. The rattle snakes then avoids them.
Justin: It’s very, very interesting. It’s the interplay of life.
Kirsten: Yes it is.
Justin: Well, okay. So, here’s this – this is going to be kind of a brief. There’s this – the report that’s out from the National Research Council. It’s talking about blah, blah, blah, less arctic ice that were something like 20% less arctic ice in some places than they were a couple of years back blah, blah, blah.
Well, here’s the interesting thing of the story because we know the end of the world was coming. We know when you did something about it, right. But one of the interesting things is back some time in the mid-90s a program was started where scientists were recommending collection of high resolution imagery of environmental hot spots around the world. And they were asking this through the best satellites available on the planet Earth – no, near the planet at the time…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …which is our spy satellite networks, notary secret NSA stuff, right?
Justin: So, all these pictures were taken. And then, researchers have been trying to get those pictures now.
Justin: Part of the problem is they’re all classified because they were taken on the secret satellites where they don’t even want to tell you…
Kirsten: These pictures do not exist.
Kirsten: These pictures that you see, they really do not exist.
Justin: There’s hundreds of hundreds of images that have been declassified at this point. But there’s many, many more whole series that were done apparently around 2005. I guess they actually added a bunch of new locations, specific arctic locations to be tracking. And they’re trying to get the whole setup accelerated so they can see these pictures sooner.
But I guess part of the resistance might be if you reveal too much about the resolution ability, like the photos they have been getting are lowered resolution than they were actually taken in.
Justin: They don’t want to tell you when the pictures were taken so you can track. So this really goes, complicated stuff involved. However, if we do get these images, we do have a very clear picture of what’s going on in the arctic. And there’s another study here published in the scientific journal Climate Dynamics that shows that sea ice is shrinking to a level which has not been in more than 800 years.
According to Aslak Grinsted, they did a bunch of correlated data where they took stuff from logbooks of ships over the years. They use mineral data. They did the ice cores. They took all these various points of reference to come up with this look at this one arc area of the arctic and says that the ice is shrinking to a level which has not been seen in more than 800 years.
And I want to touch on just that real quick. When you hear stuff like ice is shrinking to a level which has not been seen more than 800 years, it doesn’t mean that ice was this low 800 years ago.
It means that they tracked back 800 years and this is the lowest that’s been. Not that it’s back to that low level, it’s – I’ve heard it – I’ve heard when they say the lowest in 50 or 100 or 200 years, people go, “Well, it’s a 200 year cycle. It’s 800 year cycle which we have – no.”
Justin: They look back 800 years and it’s like…
Kirsten: It could have been at any point at any time during that entire period.
Justin: Right. It looks like your 401-K. It’s just straight. Yeah, isn’t it? It’s not like it went up and then came back down to this level.
Justin: But they looked over 800 years and there was at no point in that 800 years that was this low.
Justin: It could be another way of doing it. So, end of the world is coming, people. We need to start playing attentive to…
Kirsten: This Week in the End of the World. We’re all going to die. No, we’re not. Well, yes we are.
Justin: Yes. Yes, we are Kirsten. I hate to break it to you.
Kirsten: Unless the — what is it — the singularity comes.
Justin: I think that I don’t even – I understood. It’s so meaningless to me.
Kirsten: But even if we die, our leftovers might tell tales so that that whole — what is it — dead man tell no tales. Well, ancient dung balls do. Sorry.
Justin: I’m like – actually not laughing at dung balls. I’m laughing at the glee in your eyes while you say dung balls. It’s awesome.
Kirsten: Yes. Thirty million year old fossilized dung from South American Megafauna.
Kirsten: So this is published in the Journal, Paleontology, researchers – so now-a-days, we have dung-beetles.
Kirsten: And dung-beetles do a very important job in the ecosystem of cleaning up dung burying it under – they form these balls. They bury it under the surface of the ground. It reduces the number of flies. It has all sorts of – it also fertilizes the plants.
Justin: Fertilizes the plants. Yeah.
Kirsten: Exactly. So, it’s a very important part of an ecosystem’s process. Now, who’d have (thunk) that “Hey, right. Dungballs, dung fossilized over time to tell us stories about 30 million year old ecosystems.
Justin: Oh, interesting. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Kirsten: So, after this giant – could you imagine that the beetles that would have buried the Megafauna dung. They just – that to me is – it must have been.
Justin: Are they still small beetles or this giant, giant that…
Kirsten: I don’t know. They would have been bigger. I have no idea it could have been bigger.
Justin: What? Now, they could have been taken from a (unintelligible). I don’t know.
Kirsten: I don’t know. That’s what I’d like to know.
Justin: Oh, I thought you’re (unintelligible) giant dung.
Kirsten: Little tiny beetle pushing a giant, giant ball of dung before it turns into a coprolite. Anyway, I mean the Armadillos were the size. This is – at that time you think about the dung that would be produced…
Kirsten: …armadillos were the size of a small car. This is from ScienceDaily.
Kirsten: Ground sloths were six meters tall.
Kirsten: They were hoofed-mammals like horses that with the size of elephants.
Kirsten: I mean big animals. And so they’re going to produce…
Justin: They were elephants that were bigger than elephants.
Kirsten: Yeah, elephants bigger than elephants. And so, the beetles did some work, and this was a lot of work to do. The fossilized dung balls show the paths of burrowing animals.
Some little underground creatures, insects, buried their eggs, their larva – had their larval offspring in this dung balls. There were burrows and borings that indicate other beetles according to this article.
There is evidence of flies, earthworms, all sorts of activity. There’s activity that indicate some of them stealing the dung as food.
Kirsten: Other, you know – so there’s – these balls created a rich part of the social – not social but the animal interactions 30 million years ago. And these – it was all from this ecosystem, this dung-based ecosystem. Very interesting.
Justin: That’s really awesome.
Kirsten: So these fossils, these coprolites, these fossils are giving us insight into the eco.
Justin: Coprolites — for this entire conversation, I’ve been trying to remember that word.
Justin: There’s a word for fossilized dung.
Kirsten: There’s a word. All right, we’re at the end of the first half of our show but you have – is it a whole page?
Justin: I got it before we do – before we do, yeah.
Kirsten: That’s a whole page? That’s going to take like five minutes.
Justin: During last week’s show, after Kirsten – you did a story about caloric reduction.
Justin: At the end of it I piped in with an off the cuff aside about having had a cat today that tempted to train to live without food by reducing its food ration by half each day.