Transcript:TWIS.ORG March 9, 2010

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

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As our show’s mantra, motif and theme, “For in the dance of science, every veil of mystery that drops, a truth is revealed. With every truth unveiled, new knowledge is born. And with every bit of newborn knowledge of the world comes a greater veil of mystery.” And more intense curiosity follows on This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning Justin.

Justin: What’s going on?

Kirsten: What’s going on? It’s Tuesday. It’s time for science.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, I’m always excited about science Tuesdays.

Justin: Yeah, it’s pretty brilliant that this show exists.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: Thank you.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Justin: No, thank you.

Kirsten: Thank you KDVS for giving us a place to have this show. We really do appreciate being here. And hope that…

Justin: And thank you science for giving us something to talk about. Otherwise, we’d just be rambling.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: (Inaudible), I’ll just be making sound effects. Kirsten will just be laughing. Or we will just be…

Kirsten: No, no. I’m the sound effects person. You would be ranting.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Huh? What? Hmm? Well, I don’t know what’s going on here.

Yeah, as usual we have science. We have science, it’s Tuesday. This is what you come to expect, know and love. Or at least, I hope you love it. We do hope.

I brought stories about the Earth today, a lot of interesting news related to our own planet. Snowballs, magnetospheres and maybe a story about heavy island (colliders).

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I think everyone of my stories takes place on planet Earth today.

Kirsten: Takes place here?

Justin: Yes. I’ve got a Ritalin on the brain, cities on the go, gluten-free genes, poisonous bunnies, frogs, toads, evolution and probably some more stuff in here, if we can get to it.

So let’s get to it.

Kirsten: Let’s, let’s get to it.

Justin: This just in – preliminary measurements are rolling in based on data gathered by researchers from four different universities, several scientific agencies and has revealed that the 8.8 Earthquake along the ring of fire near Chile…

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Is this the story I think that you’re going to bring up – this is…

Justin: This moved Chile’s capital, Santiago, about 11 inches to the west-southwest. The capital of Argentina – which is on the other side of the continent – Buenos Aires…

Kirsten: Eleven inches – that’s almost a foot, right?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Buenos Aires moved about 1 inch to the west but the winner in all these…

Kirsten: Oh ,my gosh.

Justin: The research team deduced the city’s movements by – they were comparing GPS measurements from satellite locations prior to the earthquake to those about 10 days after. And the biggest mover in all of this – not a minor nudge by any means – the city of Concepcion.

Kirsten: Concepcion. Yes.

Justin: Up and moved more than 10 feet. Ten feet to the west!

Kirsten: Right. Talk about the Earth moves under your feet.

Justin: Woo-ho!

Kirsten: I feel the Earth…

Justin: That’s ah…

Kirsten: …move under my feet…

Justin: …that’s a little bit of traveling.

Kirsten: …ten feet to the west. What?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I know. How is that possible?

Justin: It – well…

Kirsten: I mean, seriously. Ten feet.

Justin: Earth moved.

Kirsten: It did, it did. There are other – there was a story last week related to this as well, that it was such a large earthquake. And there was so much – so that the type of fault line…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …that we’re talking about is a – I didn’t get the word (unintelligible). Anyway, the ground goes…

Justin: One that goes under the other.

Kirsten: …under the other. The plate is slipping underneath the other plate.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: One plate is sliding underneath the other.

Justin: Subduction?

Kirsten: Subduction zone. Yes, there is a subduction going on. So basically, what a researcher at JPL said last week is that the slippage was enough that it actually tightened up the circumference of the Earth ever so slightly, making us actually rotate faster. Kind of like a ballerina or an ice skater bringing their arms in…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …more tightly. I mean, the models. I mean, we’re not talking about anything that we would notice. This is…

Justin: This is Justin being very devious. This is the devious – I don’t know. They’re like maybe milliseconds. Unlike…

Kirsten: Not even milliseconds. I mean, we’re talking tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second.

Justin: It’s such a maybe. I actually don’t believe it.

Kirsten: Right. And this has to be confirmed, still. This is something that’s…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …all just math at this point, which math is pretty great for being able to…

Justin: Math is cool.

Kirsten: …predict things and deduce things. However, this is something that does need to be looked at. We’re going to use our satellites trying to…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: This guy at JPL says, “Hey! This is something I can get some money for. Maybe I can keep my research going.”

Justin: Right. The thing is I don’t think it’s going to be a detectable thing in the first place. Even if it did take place because it’s taking place in a body that’s in motion in space. I mean, we have so many little adjustments in our – like, ginormous rotation around the sun. It’s just…

Kirsten: Right, there are already many adjustments that take place. But this is – let’s let the scientists take a look at it and see if it actually did.

Justin: I’ll let the scientist do whatever the scientist need to do. My analogy would be if you are a person just floating in space, not moving and your stomach gurgled – very vicarious stomach gurgling – it’s not going to move you. It seems to me it would take some sort of outside force to really – to cause a difference.

You don’t have gravitational forces the same way…

Kirsten: There doesn’t – no, there doesn’t. Listen…

Justin: …as on a planet as you do as an ice skater. It’s a different – the momentum, the shift is going to be – it’s completely different.

Kirsten: The idea behind it though is the same.

Justin: Yeah, in theory.

Kirsten: That if this rock is a particular circumference…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …and it is spinning at a certain speed, based on that circumference if you make the circumference ever so slightly smaller, it should speed up because there’s going to be a little bit less of the body there to be interacting with the space around it.

Justin: Yeah, but then you have to – I mean, you can look at the subduction zone and say, “Well, based it on what happened here…” But then you also have to…

Kirsten: But there could also be something growing on another part of the planet.

Justin: Exactly. I mean, it’s…

Kirsten: There are volcanoes…

Justin: You’ve got the ring of fire…

Kirsten: …there’s uplift in other places. There’s – yeah.

Justin: …encircles the entire Pacific.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And there are six point earthquakes all the way – I mean, there was…

Kirsten: Right. So, I mean, this is something that does not need to be looked into but this is something that could potentially be looked into.

Justin: The real number on that is “Any noticeable difference?” This is my Carl Sagan voice showing. “Any noticeable difference in the spin of the Earth or the change of the axis” would probably require an outside force like an asteroid and would have to be a large enough impact to have destroyed all life on the planet for it to be actually measurable and noticeable.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It would have to be that dramatic an event. The planet’s just too big, people.

Kirsten: And speaking of which, some researchers publishing this last week published a review of – in the journal science – of nearly 20 years of geological research and paleontological research looking into the fossil record at the Cretaceous-Tertiary, the KT extinction Boundary.

So, the idea is that there was a giant asteroid that impacted the Earth. We have an asteroid impact site in the Chicxulub crater in Mexico. And they think it was big enough to actually be the asteroid impact that could have killed-off all the dinosaurs around the K-T Boundary about 65 million years ago.

Justin: And this has become the prevailing theory.

Kirsten: But it’s…

Justin: But there’s a handful of other contenders out there that are less in popularity but still have made good points over the years.

Kirsten: Right. And one of those is that well, things didn’t happen fast enough. So, if you have an asteroid impact there should have just been – you should just see…

Justin: Dead dinos everywhere…

Kirsten: …dead dinos everywhere right then…

Justin: Right there. That day.

Kirsten: Right. And you don’t really see that.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: However, you don’t see dinosaurs in the fossil record after that point.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: The KT Boundary is pretty delineating in terms of there are not anymore – here’s dinosaurs, now there are no more dinosaurs. You don’t find the fossils anymore after that point.

And part of the reason that we, maybe, don’t see fossils all over the planet of the dinosaurs dying off as a result of this event is that at around the site of the impact, the Earth would have been molten, there would have been huge earthquakes that would have take in place. There would have been tsunamis on coastal regions that probably reach tens of hundreds of miles…

Justin: Oh yeah, can you imagine. Yeah, it would have…

Kirsten: …into the inland areas.

Justin: …just fire holes on the whole surface of the Earth.

Kirsten: Right. So, right around the site were just those dinos probably incinerated so you’re not going to find a lot of fossils right there.

On the other side of the planet there would be reverberating effects that would have taken place trough the entire planet that – probably volcanic eruptions; there would have been huge amounts of soot and ash and sulfuric compounds in the atmosphere, light would have been blocked out.

Justin: Would have gotten cold.

Kirsten: The air would have been toxic. It would have gotten cold. The dinosaurs in other areas probably wouldn’t have lasted very long either. And if they died maybe they didn’t die in a place that was conducive to the formation of fossils.

You have to be kind of in a special place when you die for your remains to be left around long enough for people like us and archaeologists to go dig into the dirt and find them later.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: They don’t just – fossils don’t just happen. They have to be in – there are conditions that make it happen.

Justin: Place like California might be a bad place because we got – we actually get great deal of rain, we’re a pretty wet place.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: We’re a great place to look for, like, minerals – like gold in the mountains here because there’s so much rain, it washes it out, you know, and brings it out of the depths of these things and sort of. But you need like a high air desert that’s been a high air desert for a really long time.

Kirsten: Or you need Tarzan.

Justin: To get stuff near the surface – oh, Tar is good.

Kirsten: Tar is good.

Yeah, the conditions, there are many conditions but at the same time they are very pretty specific for preservation.

So, 40 scientists – 41 scientists from around the world reviewed 20 years worth of research, 20 years. And they have printed, published their review of 20 years of research. This is an agreement, this study. Forty-one scientists have to come to agreement that the KT extinction was caused by the Chicxulub asteroid impact.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: They – that’s what they say.

So, you can argue – the people will still continue arguing other ideas but pretty much, I mean when you see 40 people coming together looking at all of the research, all of the evidence that has been brought to the front by so many different fields of science. You know, we’re talking geology, archeology, paleontology, volcanology. You know, all the various areas that maybe aren’t talking to each other all the time.

Bring them together and the researchers have shown that the fossil record show a mass extinction about 65.5 million years ago. So just after what would have been that asteroid impact.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: They say, “We now have great confidence that an asteroid was the cause of the KT extinction. This triggered large-scale fires, earthquakes measuring more than 10, more than 10 on the Richter scale continental landslides.” Not just little local landslides, continental landslides…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …which created tsunamis.

Justin: I think the guesstimation was 15 on the Richter scale, something like that…

Kirsten: We can’t even – you can’t even imagine….

Justin: …which is that so many (inaudible) of…

Kirsten: …the Earth is beyond liquid.

Justin: That’s the point. Yeah.

Kirsten: What’s going on? Yeah.

Gareth Collins, a co-author from Imperial College said that the impact created a hellish day that signaled the end of the reign of the dinosaurs. The KT extinction was a pivotal moment in Earth’s history, which ultimately paved the way for humans…

Justin: Woo-ho!

Kirsten: …to become the dominant species on the Earth. So now the question is…

Justin: Yay, asteroid.

Kirsten: Yay, asteroid for humans!

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: But now the question is, you know, is there going to be another astronomical event like a giant asteroid impact that will lead to…

Justin: Some future life form we’ll cheer on?

Kirsten: …whatever the next life form be coming?

Justin: Woo-ho!

Kirsten: The dominant life form on planet Earth?

Justin: Death to the humans! Long live the squid people!

Good morning TWIS minion, you are on the air with This Week in Science.

Woman: Hi there. Hey! Listen, I have a question. I heard about this new recent phenomenon of Geoengineering where they’re trying to spray or propose spraying aerosol chemicals into the air all over the world. It’s only going to cost, you know, $25 to $50 billion a year.

And apparently, these chemicals are supposed to combat global warming. And at the same time since the aerosol chemicals, they are further, you know, putting a hole on the ozone layer. And then, of course, there’s the fall out of it. Have you heard of this concept?

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah, we have. So, Geoengineering is an idea that’s been around for a really long time actually but normally people talk about – have talked about it in terms of other planets like Mars, terraforming.

Justin: Terraforming Mars so it can have an Earth-like atmosphere at some point in the future, kind of a thing.

Kirsten: Yeah, and a lot of it, it’s theoretical. A lot of it – there are ideas that scientists and engineers say, “Well, it should work this way if we do this.” However – so a lot of people are talking about it now in terms of solutions to the problem of climate change. However, you know, there are a lot of people who agree that we don’t understand enough about the way all the systems of our planet work to actually really do any of these Geoengineering solutions.

So, even though people are talking about it, I don’t think that there will be enough support for the idea any time soon to actually make any of it happen.

Justin: And by the time there is that kind of a support, we will probably have a lot of other options on the table. What they’re doing right now is running through scenarios.

So, here’s the way I look at it. The first scenario is, “We’re going to throw this potentially lethal substance into the air because it will stop global warming but it will kill off all fish, friends, or whatever.” The thing is…

Woman: Actually it’s not potentially, it’s lethal. It’s a toxic substances, the aerosol spray. I mean, it’s…

Justin: And so everybody looks at that and goes, “We can’t do that, that’s insane.”

So then they look at okay, what parts of that is it that we want to have the effect of and what parts of that is the negative? And let’s figure out the way to remove all the negative stuff, aspects of…

Woman: ..Which you can’t because it’s a chemical. It’s an aerosol spray, you know…

Justin: Right, which means you would have to do something other than that plan.

Kirsten: Else.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Yeah. And just because it’s a chemical or an aerosol spray doesn’t make it immediately bad or negative.

Woman: I’m sorry but in that kind of amounts like that? Yeah, it is immediately bad and negative. It’s a human intervention. It’s a short-term so-called quick fix. Why don’t they take that $50 billion that they say it’s only going to cost each year – which is an outright lie – why don’t they take that money and build solar panels…

Kirsten: Right.

Woman: …and you know, cover the globe with solar panels.

Kirsten: Right.

Woman: Completely get rid of gas-powered cars. Completely get rid of this…

Kirsten: Yeah, those are…

Woman: …whole concept, this archaic, backward concept called coal.

Kirsten: Yeah, these are really – I mean, and these are the kinds of solutions – I mean, if – what we need to do right now, what people are trying to do right now is put all the possible solutions on the table.

And really people are just saying, “Okay, here’s the problem, we know there’s a problem here. What can we do to actually fix it? So let’s put all our cards on the table and see what will work, what is actually a reasonable solution.”

And so you’re going to hear about a lot of these Geoengineering solutions. You’re going to hear about people wanting to do this stuff even if it isn’t feasible at the moment.

And so some things are going to work and some things aren’t going to. And if people put up a big stink about, hey, putting aerosols in the atmosphere or putting iron filings into the oceans or whatever it happens to be. If people know about it and are aware of it, people can have a voice in which solutions come to the front. And so if solar panels are more amenable solutions, you know, that’s what people need to push for.

Woman: Well, the thing is everybody saying, “Oh, solar panel. It’s not cost effective.” Right, they use that excuse to not use it. Well then, if it’s not cost effective then why are we taking all these money and putting it into other so-called unsolutions – sorry.

Justin: No, no, no, no. The thing is you’re absolutely right. And…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …what I would just point to is the money. And that’s what’s causing all this drama. We spent in the bail out of banks. We spent…

Woman: Yeah.

Justin: …enough money to fund the National Science Foundation for – at the current level of funding for 214 years or something insane like that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Okay.

Woman: Yeah.

Justin: Our problem is the people who are in control of the money in this world are insane, short-term thinkers, who have no idea what the big picture of the planet is, have apparently no stake – further stake in being on planet Earth other than today.

Kirsten: I wouldn’t say that all of the people are. I mean, that’s…

Justin: I would.

Kirsten: …stereotyping in putting everyone in the same basket

Justin: I will put them all in the basket and if I get a couple of bad and if get couple good eggs in that big smelly basket of sulfuric rotting egg, so be it. Right? I mean…

Woman: That’s okay. In this case, you know, it’s true. All the stereotypes, they are living up to the stereotype but we can’t just blame it on them, it’s us.

Kirsten: Blaming is not something that’s going to end up being – in making big strides. I mean, it’s actually taking action and, you know, trying to take responsibility for making change in your own life and in your local community.

So, I really appreciate your phone call today and at least you brought up some really important points and great points that are probably parts of conversations that people are having all over the United States right now. So, thank you.

Woman: Yeah, thank you. Thanks a lot guys.

Kirsten: Thanks. Yeah, I mean, the energy issue is something that’s a really big issue these days. Geoengineering, it’s scary. I think that’s something that’s the big point here. Is that what are we doing to our planet? I mean, we’ve already done this other stuff. And we haven’t…

Justin: We haven’t done this and to get an entire planet to agree on anything.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I mean, this is just not going to happen.

Kirsten: And these are the kinds…

Justin: It will take a global agreement and it’s just not – we don’t agree on anything as – we couldn’t agree on – if we just try to come up with like the Olympics. Nobody can agree on how the Olympics was judged – that was done correctly.

We’re going to all agree to put something in the atmosphere all at once. No, it’s not going to happen.

Kirsten: Yeah. Anyway, the asteroid story that I was talking about just a few minutes ago was brought out by (Arteom) in Odessa in Ukraine. I will put a link to the story, there’s a great website that’s been made for you to be able to see the effects of the asteroid impact itself which is very cool.

We have another caller. So we’ll take that right before the break. I’m sure that there’s…

Justin: We just – they just – either I hang up on them or they got scared.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well – they might have gotten scared. We have a couple more minutes. Do you have a story before the break?

Justin: A completely unrelated news although it seems it’s somewhat applicable. Forget about the atmosphere. Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have discovered that exposure during pregnancy to Bisphenol A, a common component of many plastics. It was in our plastic water bottles for a long time. It was in baby bottles.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Causes permanent abnormalities to the uterus of offspring, including alteration of their DNA.

Kirsten: Wait. So, are these – is this in like mice or rats?

Justin: This was in mice.

Kirsten: Mice.

Justin: Yeah, right.

Kirsten: Just one more study and – one more study in the Bisphenol A…

Justin: This is a big one now because this one doesn’t say…

Kirsten: …coffin.

Justin: There’s already been evidence that it can cause changes to somebody in their lifetime but this is showing that the next generation is affected. Basically, the gene expression and the amount of DNA modifications in the uterus, they found the mice exposed to the BPA had – they had an exaggerated response to estrogens as an adult. The next generation had an exaggerated response to estrogens as adult long after they were ever in the womb or are being exposed to BPAs.

So, it was permanently reprogrammed to respond excessively to the estrogen. And it could, you know, it’s a sort of thing that could even – it could affect somebody’s ability to have children.

Kirsten: Yeah, absolutely.

Justin: In their observation.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And this was, you know, there’s plenty of toxins that we can fight in this world that are already there that we’ve got to get rid of.

We got – I mean, these are things that we need to be taken action on today.

Kirsten: Yeah. And BPA is something that…

Justin: I’m going to get them.

Kirsten: …can create some replacements for it. It’s just…

Justin: You’re not escaping this time, Caller.

Good morning TWIS minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: I’m on the air right now?

Kirsten: Right now.

Justin: Right now. This very moment in time.

Man: Awesome, awesome. I have a comment on the cities in Chile moving…

Kirsten: Oh, yeah, the earthquake.

Man: Yeah, but first – I’ll take my response off the air.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Okay.

Man: But first a riddle.

Kirsten: A riddle. Oh dear.

Justin: Mm hmm. Sounds scary.

Kirsten: Oh dear.

Man: Okay. And this is ultra-scientific, this riddle. It goes like this, what did the heavens say to the tectonic plates?

Justin: What did the heavens say the tectonic plates? Riddle master, I think you’ve beaten me.

Man: You’re close, you’re close. Go west young land.

Justin: Oh. Woo-ho!

Kirsten: That’s funny.

Justin: Awesome.

Man: And like I said I’ll take my response off the air.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: All right.

Man: Thank you everybody. You were wonderful.

Justin: Willy, what’s your name?

Kirsten: He’s off the air.

Justin: He’s gone.

Kirsten: He’s gone.

Justin: The mysterious enigmatic riddle master has come, laid a riddle on us, perplexed our minds and then vanished into thin air.

Kirsten: Oh dear.

Justin: We got more. I got more time.

Kirsten: Oh dear.

Justin: Do we have to take the break now or can we keep going?

Kirsten: We should take the break.

Justin: All right.

Kirsten: It’s about 9 o’ clock. We have a bunch of stories to get to after the break. This is This Week in Science and we’ll be back with more science and conversation after these messages.

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

Again, just go to and donate today. We need your support and we thank you in advance for it.

Kirsten: Be a part of the magic. Make some science music. Be heard on This Week in Science. We’re using your science music for our annual science music compilation.

If you’re a musician or know somebody who is, why don’t you write us a song or get your friend to write us a song. Science-y goodness in the form of music. For more information, email The deadline is April 1st.

Justin: And we’re back.

Kirsten: That we are this is This Week in Science on KDVS. And let’s see some interesting, other interesting news this week related to the earth. Scientists publishing again in Science Magazine have discovered that our magnetosphere, the magnetic field that is produced by the earth’s core, by the earth, was weaker ages ago.

That it’s gotten stronger…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …over the last 3.5 billion years.

Justin: Planetary push-ups.

Kirsten: That’s right. And that the magnetopause was probably about half the distance from the earth than it is today. So, it’s…

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: …our magnetic fields gotten stronger which means it’s gotten bigger over the last 3.5 billion years so it shrunk down. And what the researcher say, John Tarduno, geophysicist at the University of Rochester says, “That means the particles streaming out of the sun were much more likely to reach Earth. And it’s likely the solar wind was removing volatile molecules, like hydrogen, from the atmosphere at a much greater rate than we’re losing them today. And that implies a loss of water.”

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah, and…

Justin: And we have another caller. Good morning TWIS minion. You are on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: Hi, good morning guys.

Justin: Good morning.

Bradley: (Inaudible). How are you this morning?

Justin: Good.

Bradley: Okay, I just wanted to make a quick comment about your discussion earlier before the break regarding the energy issue and the alternative energy issue. And you know, you’ve made a comment about, you know, changes in policy and whatnot. And you know, I think that there are two points that we really need to consider here. One is that, you know, it’s varied from state to state.

As many people don’t know as far as, you know, (tax issues) and monopolies, that major energy companies, petroleum-producing energy companies have in certain areas. And I think that there needs to be more action at the federal level to better not only regulate, you know, private sources of energy that are harvested from renewable sources will take energy cells, you name it, versus these coal-burning plants.

I know for example, in the Mid-West, you know, there are many companies that are willing to sell this type of renewable and natural energy to customers. But, you know, state regulations don’t allow it. And, you know…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Bradley: …I just think that, you know, federal policy can go a long way to helping kind of regulate and deregulate the pseudo-monopolistic practices that are currently going on.

Kirsten: That’s a great point. Thank you very much Bradley.

Bradley: Yeah. Thanks guys.

Kirsten: Thank you. Have a great day.

Justin: Hey, thanks for calling in.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah, I think, it is absolutely an underfunding of alternative energy that’s going on. And, you know, the thing is you can’t just say like, “Coal is bad and stop doing it.” Because it’s like what we rely on for keeping the lights on, keeping the economy moving, keeping people warm and healthy in getting to work. It does so much more than we actually think it does.

Out here in California, I don’t want to – at least in our area we don’t have any coal-burning power plants in our backyard. So, we think we’re being green when we plug-in our hybrid car and drive around without gasoline but we’re still using coal for that.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, for us to really take responsibility, means putting funds into alternative fuels as opposed to regulating anything else. I don’t think we need to, you know, I don’t know. I think we need to put our money where our – not just our mouth is but where our actual need is, which is going to be these alternative energy sources.

And yeah, if there’s regulations that say, “You can’t sell green energy across a state line” or something silly like that. Just knock it down. It should be just sweeps of a pen just get rid of stuff like that.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. And in terms of – back to the story that I was talking about.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: The magnetosphere in the magnetic field of the Earth. Really interesting aspects of the research, it was special as they had to find very unique crystals in Africa…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …in rocks that were 3.5 billion years old. And these special crystals had to be – had to – have been not contaminated by magnetic forces from solar winds that had – they had to have been affected only by the earth’s magnetic field…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …as this crystal cooled from the molten form into hard rock. So these crystals basically, as they cool from molten to hard rock, they become records of the past magnetic field…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …or whatever magnetic field was affecting them as they were cooling. And so they had to find these very special rocks in Africa to be able to do it. And they had to not also be affected by later molten events, volcanic activity, et cetera, cooling that would change their magnetic orientation.

So, these rocks, very, very special rocks. They only exist in very, very small numbers of places on our planet’s surface. And so it’s like a field hunt, a detective…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …sleuthing to be able to actually come up with this new study that suggests that our magnetic field has changed significantly over the last 3.5 billion years.

Justin: Brilliant that we have parts of the Earth that haven’t turned-over.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Three and a half billions years.

Kirsten: Right, that are still on the surface…

Justin: I thought…

Kirsten: …and haven’t been recycled.

Justin: Greenland had a good chunk of that but I guess I didn’t realize Africa had a nice piece of that too. That’s cool.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: New study, recent research certain to raise a controversial eyebrow or two has emerged seemingly unseen from the amygdala of the University of California, San Francisco.

Kirsten: We like UCSF, okay.

Justin: Yeah, well I didn’t even know it existed but…

Kirsten: I like the amygdale, too.

Justin: I didn’t know there was a UCSF!

Kirsten: What?

Justin: I didn’t. I had no idea.

Kirsten: Okay, now you know.

Justin: Now I know. How did I miss that? It’s like – it must be – it’s like a medical school, right.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s like a smaller than that one of these giant sprawling campuses like UC Davis.

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s medical-based. Yeah.

Justin: Just a real medical research kind of thing.

Anyway, it is being reported there that Ritalin may directly increase the speed of learning by enhancing brain plasticity.

Kirsten: Cool.

Justin: Yeah. Now, scientists have showed that in the state that there’s Ritalin boosts cognitive abilities by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine deep inside the brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemical network neurons that used to communicate with each other. They released a molecule, which then docks onto receptors of other neurons by updating their Facebook status to all their other neuron friends. How does that work? I don’t really understand what a neurotransmitter is.

Kirsten: Neurotransmitter is a signaling molecule that is released by one stimulated neuron. And that molecule travels the space between neurons until it attaches to special receptors on the surface of adjacent neurons and then triggers a reaction in that neuron if there’s a large enough number of them.

Justin: So is it like a poke in the face? I’m trying to make it a Facebook analogy here, like how does it…

Kirsten: It’s a kind of like – may, no.

Justin: Not a poke, more like – is this a status update? Because it goes out to all the other ones and they’re knowing that this is going on now.

Kirsten: Yeah, I guess so.

Justin: Like an event of – I don’t know why I’m trying to – okay, anyway.

Kirsten: Yeah. I don’t like Facebook.

Justin: Researchers demonstrated that one type of dopamine receptor aids the ability to focus, which is the one that we’re really aware of, that’s why it’s prescribed to a lot of times to people with attention deficit disorder.

It’s also used a lot by students where you may not have a prescription who are doing lots of studying. The idea is it allows them to focus and it’s kind of speedy so it keeps them – it helps them stay up that night…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …and they do all their research where they cram their homework and they do all the stuff.

Kirsten: And the dishes.

Justin: And they do the dishes and they clean their apartment and then they plan out the whole night semester’s courses that they’re going to take. But apparently, there’s another type of this receptor that actually improves the ability to learn, which is going to bring up the big question whether or not it should be a legal performance enhancer for people who are in school, people who are in training, you know.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Like why if there’s a drug out there that actually makes it, the time you’re spending, this fortune you’re spending on your education these days actually more effective, why wouldn’t you do it? You know, it’s going to be a controversial kind of a…

Kirsten: It’s already controversial.

Justin: It’s already controversial but that was just with focus. Now it’s being proven that it can actually increase your ability to learn. Scientists also established that it produces the effects by enhancing the brain plasticity, strengthening communication between neurons where they needed to synapse.

Research in this field has accelerated as scientists have recognized that our brains can continue to form new connections and remain plastic throughout our life, something that was previously unconceived of.

“Since we now know that Ritalin improves behavior through two specific types of neurotransmitter receptors, the finding could help in the development of better targeted drugs, with fewer side effects, to increase focus and learning,” said Antonello Bonci, MD, principal investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center and a professor of neurology at the university that I didn’t know existed, University of California, San Francisco.

That’s awesome. So – and finally…

Kirsten: Drugs for your brain.

Justin: And finally, there’s a drug that can help you make yourself smart. You think you still have to read though, it’s not instantaneous. You still have to do the work.

Kirsten: Yeah, you actually have to do the work still.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s kind of like exercise, you still have to do it.

Justin: This all takes place in the brain region called the amygdala, which is a cluster of neurons critical for learning and emotional memory as well.

Kirsten: I’m interested at that they’re saying that the amygdala is critical for just regular learning. That’s strange to me. Yeah, emotional learning is where the amygdala. And the amygdala gets stimulated during emotional events. So fear, anger and if you’re having an event that is traumatic then it becomes…

Justin: Like a final?

Kirsten: …it becomes highly active and can help to make learning occur faster.

Justin: There you go.

Kirsten: So that your brain gets things locked in a little more easily. But the hippocampus is one that’s usually more, which is near the amygdala. It’s in the same kind of area.

Justin: They’re attacking the amygdala. They found a dopamine receptor known as the D2 receptor that controls…

Kirsten: I think their – yeah. Okay, so it’s plasticity in the amygdala but I don’t think – I think they’re probably taking the results and spreading them out a little bit too far over learning of all kinds, that’s just – yeah.

Justin: Oh, actually, you know what? It says there’s a therapeutic action. Ritalin’s therapeutic action takes place in the brain region called the amygdala.

So, yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe it is – having another effect somewhere else in the brain, the hippocampus that’s actually assisting in the warning…

Kirsten: Yeah, so there are really other regions of the brain that are being affected.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s – I mean the D2 receptors throughout the brain, especially in the…

Justin: But now they discovered that the D1 is also being affected.

Kirsten: Yeah. Interesting.

Interesting! Okay, from brains, back to the Earth. The National Science Foundation funded some research by some scientists at Harvard University again, published in Science. This week is my science magazine week.

And the study was sent to me by Ed Dyer. I’d like to say thanks for that. Snowball Earth, the evidence is now even more accurate that a snowball earth event probably happened.

These researchers at Harvard looked at rocks in Northwestern Canada, again looking at rocks to tell the historical stories of our planet. They looked at these rocks that had moved from the tropics. They’ve been in the tropics about 716.5 million years ago. So, almost 720 million years ago, these rocks were in the tropics and since then, they’ve migrated up into Northwestern Canada.

So they looked at these rocks and found evidence that the sea ice had made it all the way down to the tropics.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, the glaciation, the covering of the Earth in ice, it made it all the way to the tropics. And the data suggest, say the researchers, that the Sturtian glaciation — it’s what they call it — lasted a minimum, a minimum of five million years. Five million years that this ice grew and spread and existed over the surface of the Earth covering almost the entire surface. Probably, with a small area around the tropics, around the belt of our planet that was slightly ice-free.

Justin: Brrr.

Kirsten: It’s really – yes. It was probably cold and icy. And the researchers say, “The fossil record suggest that all of the major eukaryotic groups — and eukaryotes are organisms other than bacteria, they have a nucleus in their cells — eukaryotes with the possible exception of animals, existed before the Sturtian glaciation.”

The questions that arise from these are: If a snowball Earth existed, how did the eukaryotes survive? Did the Sturtian snowball Earth stimulate evolution and the origin of animals? From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not always a bad thing for life on Earth to face severe stress.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, it’s an interesting study that was brought up. Another study though – I mean, I’m thinking about this, you have these organisms that are responding to the environment. Some animals are dying off because of the cold, because of the change in the environment and some that survive. And these researchers, what they’re pushing forward, is suggesting that animals and evolution are highly respondent to the environment.

However, there’s also another study that came out recently that suggests and this study was only in petri dishes in a lab. So it wasn’t actually in the real world. But they looked at bacteria and found that bacteria were more respond – they responded more in terms of natural selection and change in diversity to struggle between them and another species rather than with the environment. So…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …there’s a play with the environment, on one hand but it’s organisms competing against each other, that has a huge effect on evolution also. So, these are some really interesting points to be considered if we think about this.

Justin: It’s the – yeah, that’s the Red Queen Hypothesis. There’s a team recently that actually observed viruses that they evolved over hundreds and hundreds of generations.

Kirsten: Oh, it’s viruses. Okay.

Justin: Yeah, and they infected them with bacteria.

Kirsten: Okay, they’re – wait, no. Bacteria infected with viruses?

Justin: No, I mean to infect the – right, to infect the bacteria, right. Yeah, and then separated they didn’t each evolve, like counter-measuring (unintelligible) –they didn’t keep evolving as quickly. But when they were next to each other and they were having these interactions, they – yeah, they had much more evolution, much more mutations taking place. That’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yeah, so this competition leads to…

Justin: Drives us on.

Kirsten: …drives diversity.

Justin: And speaking of diversity, sometimes you have too much diversity. Sometimes you want less diversity.

Kirsten: We do?

Justin: Yes, this is what happened…

Kirsten: Like in my swimming pool. I don’t want piranhas and sharks.

Justin: …this is what happened in Australia recently. They have the cane toads.

Kirsten: Yeah, cane toads are a problem, these huge – big toads. And they eat everything.

Justin: (Menia Larson) recommended this – pointed this out to me a while ago, (Pamela Sue Taylor) also (Land of Oz)…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …sent me this story from the Australasia reporter, Wendy Zukerman, reporting that the war against Australia’s cane toads has a new tool – cat food. This is – they’re using cat food now…

Kirsten: Nice.

Justin: …to lure meat ants into areas where there’s large populations of these cane toads. And apparently, that they have a very high success – they go there because they’re lured by the – they can tell where the cat food trail goes and they’re lured in by that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But they really like to feed on these toads to the point where they almost upon contact, immediately like attack, like 98% of the baby toads were attacked by the ants within two minutes of their arrival.

Kirsten: So, ants, ants?

Justin: Ants, attacking toads.

Kirsten: Ah.

Justin: And 70% of those toads were killed by the ants. And now the cane toad, before you feel too sorry for this toad…

Kirsten: I think I’m now afraid of these ants.

Justin: …it’s an invasive species that’s not – it’s not…

Kirsten: Not native.

Justin: …not native to Australia, does lots of crop damage and they’ve been…

Kirsten: They’ve been trying to get rid of it for years.

Justin: They’ve been – yeah, they’ve instituted a National Policy of like cane toad golf. Like issued the golf clubs to all teenagers, you know, they’ve created a national sport out of it.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: They’ve been seriously, they’ve been – I mean, it’s overrun their native toad population as well as doing a lots of crop damage, a lot of insect damage. I mean, these things are – or in an environment where they don’t have a predator.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And finally, it looks like they may have found one. I think that’s a really interesting counter measure to a problem like that.

Kirsten: Really scary, hungry ants.

Justin: Hungry, hungry ants.

Kirsten: Oh, man. I think I am afraid as well.

Justin: Are you gluten intolerant?

Kirsten: Am I gluten intolerant?

Justin: Are you, are you?

Kirsten: I don’t know.

Justin: No, I don’t know either.

Kirsten: I don’t think so.

Justin: Well, I know some…

Kirsten: I eat a lot of bread so I think I’m not.

Justin: So then you’re not. Yeah, but some folks are. But the thing is they usually blame gluten, the wheat bread. Like something wrong – there’s something bad about all these gluten and wheat in there that causes people to have this reaction, these inflammations and these sort of reactions…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …to the glutens in them, but there’s a new study that says it may not be the gluten’s fault at all. It may be a virus.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: Yeah. Academy of Finland’s Research Program on Nutrition, Food and Health also known as ELVIRA, which is a cool name for a program for nutritional institutes and what have you. It zeroed in on the genes that are closely linked to this disorder of gluten intolerance and found that those genes are not linked at all with the breakdown of gluten in the digestive tract. Instead, it seems to be connected to the human immune system.

Kirsten: Huh.

Justin: And while this is interesting, you could think it’s like, “Well, it’s like an allergy then.” But still there’s something a little bit different. According to the research, some of the genes they identified are linked with the human defense against viruses. They’re pretty specific. And so, is it the gluten is mimicking, something like – what is it fooling…

Kirsten: Right, is the gluten similar to a virus that our body has some kind of evolved response to or is it that there’s a virus involved?

Justin: Right. And this is – so it does indicate that virus infections may be connected in some way with the onset of gluten intolerance. And the idea is kind of like this, these set of genes in the immune system aren’t in everybody.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: But they are in everybody who’s gluten intolerant.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: Right? But out of everybody who’s gluten intolerant there’s a lot more of them that have these genes that aren’t gluten intolerant. And so what they think might be the situation is there are some people who have this defense against the virus built in.

Kirsten: They get infected by the virus…

Justin: They get hit by the virus. They recognize it, starts to attack it and now that’s triggered, that’s turned on, that system’s turned on and it doesn’t turn off and gluten fits a close enough match to it. So it creates the inflammations.

Kirsten: The genes on the body continue to defend themselves.

Justin: Very interesting, yeah.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, this is another step closer to figuring that one out but it’s showing that it’s not that you’ve had too much wheat over your lifetime. It is an inheritable trait.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So that, you know, it is – you are genetically disposed to or not to have this set up but it may be that requires another trigger, which is why people aren’t always immediately gluten intolerant…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …but you can develop it over a lifetime.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And maybe at some point you encounter that virus that triggers this system.

Kirsten: That’s interesting. There is some other ideas for other intolerances and other auto-immune diseases…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …that are suggested that they are triggered by viruses.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …so that you get infected by a virus, you don’t really know that you’re infected by…

Justin: Right.

Justin: …you know, it’s something very mild. And then your body is sensitized to…

Justin: Might not make you sick really at all. You might not even notice it.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. But your body becomes sensitized to like triggers, and those could be things that are already within your body or they could be things in your environment. So, yeah, that’s a really interesting idea.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Hmm, go ELVIRA.

Justin: ELVIRA.

Kirsten: ELVIRA, I like it.

Your mitochondrial genome – it’s not the same. It’s just not the same. From your skin to your bones, to your liver, to your heart, to your…

Justin: The blood. We know the blood.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: We know the blood doesn’t share same genomes.

Kirsten: Yeah, at the – there’s another study – wait, this study published online in Nature, not in Science this time, Nature. Researchers at The Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetic and Therapeutics and the John Hopkins Kimmels Cancer Center in Baltimore have been looking at mitochondrial DNA in lots of different tissues in a couple of different people.

So they looked at two different people and they looked at a lot of tissues in them. And then they looked at ten people and the lining of the intestines, the colon – your large intestine.

And why they did this was to find out whether or not mitochondrial DNA – the mitochondria are those wonderful little structures inside of our cells that create ATP, which is the energy molecule that powers so much. The mitochondria is also known as the powerhouse of our cells. It allows us a lot of energy for our cellular functions, keeps us going.

And mitochondria, they might have come from bacteria, way back…

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: …when…

Justin: So, what’s…

Kirsten: …our cells may have been invaded.

Justin: What this gets me like speculating upon is (inaudible) instead of like having absorbed one form of mitochondria here for the blood or for something else, you know, that…

Kirsten: That maybe there are multiple bacteria.

Justin: …maybe we’re a collaboration of bacteria that evolved into a symbiotic system that just kept going and growing and adding and we add another bacteria that will fit…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …into the colony and keep it going until…

Kirsten: That’s interesting. I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s really interesting.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I don’t know if there’s enough of a difference to suggest there are like number of different bacteria there but…

Justin: Well, not right now but early on.

Kirsten: …early on. But the mitochondria themselves are so – they’re very similar throughout the tissues aside from these small differences in their DNA. These biomarkers or these DNA, the alleles that they were looking at within the DNA.

Now, mitochondria, this is the interesting point, they have DNA that is separate from the DNA that’s held in the nucleus of your cells.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It’s fascinating. And one thing that’s often, it’s also – it sticks around a little bit longer. It’s a little hardier because of the membrane, I think is little bit hardier around the mitochondria than it is around our – the nucleus. And so the DNA in the mitochondria often stick around a little bit longer…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …and are easier to sequence when it comes to trying to figure out the difference between individuals that left evidence at the scene of the crime.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, when – and there’s also not as much genetic information in the mitochondria as in nucleus. So it’s kind of easier to find specific biomarkers. Till recently they thought that all the mitochondria in your body is going to have the same genetic information, the same DNA from tissue to tissue to tissue to tissue.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: But now they’re finding…

Justin: They found out a couple of times like, these little things are different.

Kirsten: …different. A few things are – yeah, a few things are different.

Justin: The blood was different and this is (inaudible). And now it sounds like it could be every one of them, it could be everywhere. We can have all kinds of different DNAs jumping in around and wiggling through the…

Kirsten: Yeah. So, they’re wondering – so, if we use these biomarkers in mitochondrial DNA, how do we use them now for forensic science, you know, how do we tell that our biomarkers are going to be the same? Are they going to be different? What do we have to look at in future studies?

They’re going to have to investigate a lot of individuals they say, to carefully determine the normal control range because now that control range has a lot of variation on it.

Also, there is a big question mark about how early this increase in mitochondrial DNA variation appears in the blood. If it’s only apparent, once cancer is established then there isn’t much use as a biomarker in regards to cancer.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Justin: In regards to forensic science, it complicates things a little bit. The positive side is that in principle, you can even distinguish twins if you characterize the variation pattern.

So there are things to look at. They don’t know why it’s so variable. They think that possibly, the mitochondria might have had a higher nuclear, a higher mutation rate than DNA in the nucleus but there’s no reason why that would be true or why we haven’t noticed it before now.

And researchers say that “it’s sitting in the heat of the furnace where it’s likely to get damaged.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, that’s possibly why. Anyway, this is a very interesting development. And I’d like to thank…

Justin: So…

Kirsten: …Al Beeman for giving us the story from the

Justin: Most of the DNA in our bodies is in bacteria. Most of the DNA in our body’s tissues is not shared completely with – from our nuclear DNA. And our brains filter what we think and – where are we? Where are we Kirsten?

Kirsten: Well, I don’t know.

Justin: I can’t find where I am anymore. There’s all these other DNAs and processes taking place. Where is me?

Kirsten: Where is me?

Justin: Where is me? Well, me is at the end of the show, right?

Kirsten: We are done. Yeah, we’re at the end.

Justin: Okay, me is done.

Kirsten: We are at the end of the show. We are all done for the week. If you are interested in reading along with the TWIS Book Club, we are reading, I got the name of the book wrong last week. I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing.

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel Everett. It’s a really interesting read about life and language in the Amazonian jungles.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s a very, very fascinating story. I’m part way into it already and I’m quite enjoying it.

Also, if you want to listen to TWIS on your Droid phone device.

Justin: Yeah, we’re an app there now.

Kirsten: We have an app, thanks to Tim Beauchamp. Thank you very much for creating our app.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It is free. If you go into the Droid marketplace, TWIS for Droid. TWIS for Droid, you can look for TWIS and you should be able to find it.

And we will be back next week.

Justin: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. TWIS is available as a podcast, go to our website, Click on subscribe to the TWIS science podcast or just search for us in the iTunes directory under This Week in Science.

Kirsten: That’s right. And for any more information on anything you’ve heard here today, I’m going to get show notes up on our website,

Justin: Org.

Kirsten: Org. And we want to hear from you. So, email us at or

Justin: Or hit us up on the Twitter – jacksonfly, doctorkiki…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …or, you know, there’s Facebook, which Kirsten apparently doesn’t use but I check it out.

Kirsten: I check it out occasionally.

Justin: We love your feedback. If there’s a topic you would like us to cover or address, a suggestion for an interview, please let us know.

Kirsten: And we will be back next Tuesday at 8:30 AM, Pacific time. And hope that you will join us again for more great science news on KDVS.

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

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.