Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
The following hour of programming may contain language that is too formidable for some of its hosts to pronounce correctly. The contents may also delve into the subjects that listeners find objectionable over, at least, sciencey or unnervingly odd.
Such oddities may have a tendency to do loopy loops in the mind causing unmitigated loss of concentration and could lead to non-secretive learning of nagging trivia that offers little opportunity to be used in the context of light conversation.
And while nagging oddities like the following hour of programming do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California, Davis, KDVS or its sponsors, listeners should listen assured that no matter how firmly the odd bit of sciencey trivia gets stuck in your head, the architects of the show have found a unique method for removing them by dislodging them with an even odder bit of knowledge in the following week.
Thus, the habit forming formula for the show’s success is assured with it’s only antidote being more This Week In Science, coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten. Welcome back to the USA. Woohoo!
Kirsten: Yey! I’m so excited to be back.
Justin: Live and in person with a very long scarf.
Kirsten: It is a very long scarf.
Justin: Especially like a 12 foot long scarf you’ve got right there.
Kirsten: Yes, it’s wrapped around my neck several times. But I’m back.
Kirsten: And it’s great to be back. And I honestly – one of the best things was walking into an airport – Atlanta, Georgia and having English everywhere and suddenly realizing that all the science were in English. People are speaking English and I was very, very happy. Too long, too long in a place where I didn’t understand anything.
Justin: Always makes me sleepy. If I’m in a room full of people who are speaking a foreign language, it does something sort of hypnotic I think to my inner ear where I just start yawning. Like…
Kirsten: It’s difficult. You have to concentrate a lot. There’s a lot of concentration, a lot of thinking, it makes you tired.
Justin: My brain just shuts down at that point, yes. Just like, whoa! Work. Nope, I’m out.
Kirsten: I don’t think I shut down but it was – oh, gosh, Russia is just awesome. Russia is really, really an amazing place but I am so glad to be home.
Justin: America’s better. What are you going to do?
Kirsten: Yes, I know. Home is home. And, when you’re home and this is it. And, I drove down from San Francisco. I drove over from San Francisco this morning and I was like, “Oh, I love Davis.”
Kirsten: I’m glad to be back. The mornings in Davis in the summer time are just so perfect.
Justin: You haven’t been here for a while.
Kirsten: I haven’t.
Justin: It’s been like 100% in the morning even. It’s been disgusting here. This is like the most…
Kirsten: It’s beautiful.
Justin: …horrible place on earth right now. But this morning is beautiful.
Kirsten: This morning is gorgeous.
Justin: It’s nice and cool. There’s even a couple of clouds.
Kirsten: Yes, I know. Oh, and we’ve got all sorts of science news. Yet again, there’s science. I like being back on this microphone. It sounds better. The sound is better.
Justin: Yes, you’re in a tin can for a while.
Kirsten: Yes, I was in a can. Anyway, science news, we got Michael Stebbins at the half hour. We have – you’ve got a rant that you’ve been going on about.
Justin: No, no, no, no.
Kirsten: You’ve been ranting about your rant.
Justin: (Unintelligible) you can’t hype it. No, no, no, it’s a let down. I’m not doing it now.
Kirsten: No? Just forget about it.
Justin: For nearly half a century now, people have been using the catch phrase, right? They can put a man on the moon but they can’t make a fill in the blank that works, right? Well, over the years, we have filled in many a blank that made working things that far outreach our ability to put people on the moon. We’ve gotten…
Kirsten: Like Madlibs.
Kirsten: Madlibs. You could do all sorts of crazy stuff in Madlibs.
Justin: You’ve been traveling with Madlibs again, haven’t you?
Kirsten: That’s right.
Justin: Okay. So now, we have a new generation. And we need a new maybe perhaps somewhat more sarcastic version of the phrase to take over. For instance, they can put a robot on Mars but they still can’t make an ice cream scooper that doesn’t stick to the ice cream.
But ironically, or perhaps just chronosyncratically, the lever operated quick release ice cream scooper was invented long before we landed on the moon, let alone Mars. It was invented in 1878, okay.
So right now, the Phoenix Lander is having an issue. It took a scoop of the icy soil from the tundra of Mars underneath.
Justin: It lifted it up. Put it over the oven and it got stuck in the scooper.
Kirsten: Right. They tried to jiggle the scooper to get the dirt off and just Mars soil is stuck.
Justin: Which is kind of daunting task because there’s like an eight minute delay between when you tell something to do something and it actually happens on Mars. So they’re trying to do this shake with this eight minute delay which the first time they tried to do this, crossed the short somewhere in the system because it was moving too violently.
So, yes, they basically, they’ve picked up the scoop. The scoop itself is a three cubic centimeters in material. They’ve lifted it over the opening to the oven, which I’m not kidding is the size basically of an ice cream cone.
Justin: That’s about the dimensions of it.
Justin: Inside of the actual oven is the diameter of like the ink cartridge from a ballpoint pen. It’s really tiny but it’s got sort of this larger door contraption on top of it to catch.
So the Thermal Evolved Gas Analyzer did not detect enough of material that – coming inside the over in the door so the doors did not close. So it’s – it basically it’s stuck there.
Justin: And they transmitted some images on Saturday morning showing the icy soil stuck in the scoop. The answer from NASA is, “We believe that the material that was intended for the targeted cell is the material that adhered to the back of the scoop.” That was from Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Okay. Stick with me for a moment with the ice cream scoop analogy. Picture a 50 year old NASA scientist standing behind the counter of an ice cream parlor. Big bowl of mint chocolate chip stuck in the scooper. Trying to explain to his customer and to his 17 year old manager why he’s having difficulty performing a job he’s obviously over-educated for.
So then here’s the quote that you adhere, this is the translated quote explained to these people. “I believe the ice cream that was intended for the targeted cone is the ice cream that is stuck to the scooper.” That’s amazing what he said.
So added to that intent by the scientist behind the counter to shake the scoop free but only trying like once every eight minutes.
Kirsten: Not working.
Justin: He’s sort of standing there.
Kirsten: Not working.
Justin: That’s what overqualified looks like, like when you backtrack it to things we’re used to in the day to day. I’m sure they’ve consulted with every type of specialist dedicated to different aspects of the mission. They’ve got the robotic engineers, chemists, biologists, geologists, a whole institution full of rocket scientists. But they failed to ask the kid at the local Ben & Jerry’s or 31 Flavors.
Kirsten: Who runs across this problem on a regular basis.
Justin: Who works with this everyday…
Justin: …what his secret is for the seamless scoop delivery. So this is like mainly the best example that NASA needs to hire, not necessarily uneducated slackers like me. But maybe, just a couple pessimists who just look at everything that was like, “Nah, don’t work. Won’t work. Here’s why.” Those people, people who just sit there and of course you’d have…
Kirsten: The naysayers.
Justin: …you’d have to keep them separated at lunch because then they’d be all like, you know. “Oh, Kirsten, you’re going to – you’re really going to eat that tuna sandwich huh? Wow! Phew. Any idea how much mercury is in that?” you’d have to keep the pessimists separate from the rest of the crew so that he didn’t just totally make everybody miserable.
Anyway, that was my NASA making fun of. Yes, they went all the way to Mars. Everything they did was incredible. They do amazing…
Kirsten: It is incredible.
Justin: …incredible work.
Justin: But I think really, 1878, they invented the scooper. It’s just – it’s got a little lever, little piece of metal on the back that dislodges the scoop. Really simple.
You’re looking at – you’re giving me this blank stare. It’s the same stare, by the way, I get the 17 year old manager and the little kid waiting for his mint…
Kirsten: That’s exactly.
Justin: …chocolate chip. That’s the look they’ve giving the NASA scientist who’s standing there…
Kirsten: It’s brilliant.
Justin: …every eight minutes tries again to shake and then…
Kirsten: It’s brilliant.
Justin: …stands there.
Kirsten: Absolutely brilliant. Oh, is life coming here from outer space?
Kirsten: Maybe Venus.
Kirsten: Maybe life…
Kirsten: Maybe life is…
Kirsten: …being blown here from Venus…
Kirsten: …by the solar winds.
Justin: I hear they’re hot in Venus.
Kirsten: Yes, it’s hot stuff in Venus. Venus is approximately 108,200,000 kilometers from the sun. And it has a year length of 224.7 earth days. Atmosphere, 96% carbon dioxide and 3% nitrogen.
And it’s possible that high in the Venus atmosphere, not down towards the surface of the planet where the pressure is much greater and would crush anything. But high out in the atmosphere, in the outer atmosphere, it’s a little cooler, the pressure is a little bit less.
And maybe there’s microbial life brewing…
Justin: Floating in the air.
Kirsten: …and floating in the Venusian atmosphere.
Kirsten: And maybe, just maybe the solar winds, as they blow past Venus, are wicking off of that outer atmosphere pulling out some of those microbes and brining them to earth.
Justin: Wow. Sail boarding across the solar system.
Kirsten: Yes. So says the data analysis from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express Probe that was launched in 2005, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and Janaki Wickramasinghe, that’s what they claim that there are chemicals in Venus’s outer atmosphere in the clouds…
Justin: Could be.
Kirsten: …that could be very, very habitable for microorganisms. What do you think? What do you think?
Justin: I think from everything that microorganisms have been telling me lately, totally believe it. I think they can do anything.
Kirsten: They could do…
Justin: They could live anywhere, do anything, eat anything.
Kirsten: The microbes can eat anything. And this has been published in Astrophysics and Space Science Journal. Professor Wickramasinghe said Venus and Earth have often been referred to as sisters because of their geological similarities. Our research proposes that the two sisters maybe biologically interconnected as well.
It’s very fancy. So maybe, just maybe life could have come from Venus. Maybe it came from the outer planetary system. Who knows where it came from? Where did it start first?
Justin: I think it’s going to be a combination, you know.
Kirsten: We came from somewhere. And then – oh, in another story that space…
Justin: It takes two to tango.
Kirsten: …another space news story. Mars doesn’t have much of an atmosphere anymore. At some point in time, the geological activity beneath the surface, the core of the planet stopped spinning. And so, the magnetic activity of the planet was lessened and so, the atmosphere was just dissipated overtime.
How did this happen? Why did this happen? There are researchers who believe that they have modeled the idea – they’ve modeled one potential scenario which is that a giant asteroid at one point was maybe a satellite of Mars and then orbit around Mars.
And then maybe it just spiraled inward and crashed into Mars causing such a collision that it stopped the core of Mars from spinning.
Justin: When moons attack. Yikes.
Kirsten: That’s right. When moons attack.
Justin: I hope our moon doesn’t ever decide to turn on us.
Kirsten: Yes. So this is a one idea, potential idea as to what could have happened. What could have happened to Mars? And I’m trying to find where it’s published and got – oh no, that’s the Phoenix story.
Justin: It’s on the internet.
Kirsten: Asteroid crash may have demagnetized Mars. I found it on Discovery News. And it was — it’s out of this team of researchers out of University of Toronto. That’s where it’s from. And it was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Justin: Here’s something that was published somewhere or is going to be at some point. Okay. Another thing people have asked about for decades is, “Where are the flying cars of the future that I was supposed to be flying around in?”
Kirsten: Yes, huh?
Justin: Where are they?
Kirsten: Where are they, dudes?
Justin: Well, I’ve always been totally dead-set against that as a really bad idea anyway so I don’t care that they’re not here. But I have had a flying car of my own, per se, that I’ve been waiting for. And at home technology that any neurotic hypochondriac wouldn’t be able to start the day without, and it looks like that day is nearly here.
Thanks to Lab on a Chip, a new generation of instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxins to be coming to a medicine cabinet or even kitchen counter near you soon.
Today, these important testing tools are often stuck in health and research labs. But the University of Michigan engineers are seeking to change that. They have a 16 piece lab on a chip kit that brings microfluidic devices to the masses.
Thanks to Mark Burns, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering, who developed the device with a graduate student Minsoung Rhee.
Kirsten: Thank you.
Justin: Very cool. Burns compares the simplicity of using the testing equipment to playing with Lego building blocks. Lab on a Chip integrates multiple laboratory functions into just a chip that’s just millimeters or centimeters in size. It’s usually made of a nano-scale pumps, chambers, channels etched into glass or metal.
These microfluidic devices operate with just a few drops of liquid. Oh, not even a few drops like about the size of a period at the end of the sentence. So it doesn’t – it requires…
Kirsten: Super small amount.
Justin: Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny. They can conduct, therefore, quick efficient experiments. They’re engineered to mimic the human body more closely than the Petri dish. And they’ve been used – it’s been used successfully to make E.coli already.
So he believes that the microfluids will follow the path of other technology – this kit will follow the path of other technology getting smaller, more personal and user-friendly as time goes on its (Peter pace).
Kirsten: And eventually being sold to seven year olds.
Justin: Totally. Well, here’s what he’s envisioning though. This is totally cool.
Kirsten: It’s so great.
Justin: You can check your chicken. You can test it for salmonella like on the kitchen counter…
Kirsten: I love that.
Justin: …like before – and then, everyday, you can be like, “You can’t see it? Tell me, magic Lego.” Or if they have – actually some of them are stamped. The connectors of this are apparently imprinted with the letter M from Michigan where it was developed. So Megos? Huh?
Justin: Megos? Huh? Huh?
Kirsten: The northern lights have seen great sites but ever a sight did see – oh, how does it go?
Justin: You’re asking the wrong person.
Kirsten: Anyway, there’s a poem. There’s a poem that I’m not remembering correctly. But there’s actually a story out these days from NASA, The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms’ spacecraft, otherwise known as Five Themis.
These spacecrafts have been checking out the Aurora Borealis and the magnetic interactions with the solar wind and our own magnetic field to see what exactly is going on and what can explain the vibrant colors and the changes in the patterns in the sky; the northern and southern poles during certain times of year, times of day, all the time.
Justin: Amazing light show goes on in that.
Kirsten: Amazing, amazing light show.
Justin: It’s not even in the upper atmosphere. I think it’s even like beyond the atmosphere.
Kirsten: It’s beyond.
Justin: It’s way, it’s like…
Kirsten: And that’s the…
Justin: …halfway to the moon or something.
Kirsten: …a third of the way to the moon…
Kirsten: …actually. And that’s the story. These satellites have been – these five satellites have been flying around the earth collecting data. And they observed one particular huge storm. And in the process, they found – what’s occurring is we have the earth’s magnetic field.
And it’s been known for a while that the solar wind is an extension of the sun’s magnetic field. And as the solar wind comes out past our planet, it interacts with our magnetic field.
And so, we get the energizing of electrons…
Kirsten: …in our upper atmosphere that creates this amazing light show. But how exactly does it happen? What exactly is going on? What happens is the solar wind grabs our magnetic field and pulls it way out. And so, it ends up getting stretched like a rubber band.
And at some point, it just snaps pop and it goes flying back to our own planet and we have the shower of amazing electromagnetization in this area around our planet and so we see these amazing lights.
And this is occurring up to a third of the distance from the earth to the moon. So this is like the magnetic field and the interactions that are going on are not just super close within our own atmosphere. It’s not necessarily an atmospheric phenomenon. It’s much greater.
Justin: Much more amazing than that story, the hand gestures that you had going a while like – Kirsten’s hands are like scratching the upper – (hands) were flaring all over the – that was awesome.
Kirsten: Did you like it? It’s good.
Justin: That was great. That’s why we need some video.
Justin: Those hand gestures could have told the whole story without any words. That’s right. Brilliant.
Kirsten: But that would make for boring radio.
Justin: Yes, yes. If we just did finger puppets, the whole time through, it would be a different show altogether.
Bruce Lipshutz, if Bruce Lipshutz has his way, Lipshutz may soon be a household name. Why not?
Kirsten: Okay. Why not?
Justin: UC Santa Barbara, Professor of Chemistry has devised a way to make coenzyme COQ10 water soluble. Water soluble.
Kirsten: And this is important. A lot of people are taking the coenzyme Q10 because it’s like an antioxidant or something and helps in the aging, cellular, metabolism process.
Justin: He’s comparing it very much to Vitamin C…
Justin: …making a point that one point our body is used to manufacture Vitamin C. And evolutionarily, they decided – the bodies decided to stop, kick out that process because it could acquire it from the outside. But it’s always made COQ10 because it can’t get enough of it.
And here’s the thing. He makes a point that – so he sort of like – it’s sort of comparison between Vitamin C that he goes on making but it’s also sort of making a comparative linkage to the importance of it. I don’t know.
It seems a little bit arbitrary. There’s lots of parts of the body that if we didn’t have, we would die. But still he says that if you had no Vitamin C, complete lack of Vitamin C, you’d be dead within 60 days. Whereas if you had no COQ10, you wouldn’t last 30 minutes.
Justin: I haven’t taken any. Is there COQ10 in coffee?
Kirsten: No. You probably get it from your diet somewhere.
Justin: No. It’s actually not in the diet mostly. You know where it is? The body synthesizes it. It’s a compound that our body makes that’s vital to our survival but it’s one that the production decreases with age. And it’s such a vital part. It’s like in all of our (thingamadealers) in our cells, in our mitochondria…
Kirsten: Our (thingamadealers)? Very specific.
Justin: Most of it’s in our mitochondria and it’s the thingamajig. It’s the same – people know what I meant, right?
Kirsten: Yes. Yes.
Justin: You knew what that meant. It’s absolutely an essential element for cellular respiration…
Kirsten: Yes, that’s right.
Justin: …an those Adenosine Triphosphate production. Triptos – Triphosphate. Anyway…
Justin: Yes, that’s the one. And so anyway, China – used to be incredibly expensive to produce.
Justin: Like $16,000 a kilo or something like that. China, the government China decided here’s like a marketing thing we can totally corner for the world and become the supplier of this nutrient. They mass produced it and got it down to like $400 a kilo.
He’s done these experiments because…
Kirsten: Yes. But it’s like made out of lead.
Justin: No, gosh. It’s only things directed at children…
Kirsten: Oh, okay.
Justin: …or pets I think.
Kirsten: Okay, not older people.
Justin: No. Well, maybe.
Justin: Yes. Oh, gosh. Poor China. Poor China. Poor reppressive communist system China – wait. What did I say?
Kirsten: Yes, but they get to have the Olympics. They get to have the Olympics.
Justin: Yes. But here’s one thing I do agree with. Everybody should have the Olympics just like all point of it (unintelligible).
Kirsten: Okay. Anyway, finish the story.
Justin: Okay. So right now, you can actually get it at stores as a supplement but Lipshutz is noting that you only absorb 10% to 15% even in the soft gel form.
The amazing thing that he’s done here, actually, so we’re almost missing the story is that he figured through an odd bit of nano-technology that uses a tiny sphere of basically little tiny bit of Vitamin E and exploits the hydrophilic sort of aspects of the molecule. He’s managed to hide the COQ10 inside of that.
Justin: And what it does is it makes it soluble in water at room temperature very easily absorbed. So then, whatever the expense is initially, you cut it if you’re…
Kirsten: And it doesn’t get broken down in your gut and you actually absorb it?
Justin: It goes into the bloodstream.
Kirsten: It goes into your bloodstream.
Justin: Yes. Much easier. So – and then if you look at it like, okay, if it’s only 10% now that you’re absorbing through a soft gel, well if you’re getting even 80%, you’ve just cut the cost of this thing by 800%.
Justin: It’s just an amazing. And it’s also going to be isn’t – I think it’s also, they’re looking at for drug deliveries of different types. I mean being able to make compounds that otherwise aren’t water soluble.
Justin: Solubles to this technique, huge advantage.
Kirsten: It’s a huge application, yes.
Justin: So Lipshutz, Lipshutz is going to be a household name. Maybe nobel prize, I don’t know. I don’t know how these things work.
Kirsten: Oh, I don’t know. I think there is some researchers in Wales that maybe they deserve the nobel prize for their most recent research.
Justin: Wales researchers?
Kirsten: Yes, no. Welsh scientists, this is reported on Gizmodo. Thanks to (Ted Chivales) for sending this story. And Welsh researchers have camped out and watched drunks staggering along city streets to create computer models that might actually help city planner design their streets so that they’re safer for those late night partiers.
Yes, they created animations to demonstrate so says Gizmodo, what happens when various percentages of crowd are drunk?
Justin: Oh, my goodness.
Kirsten: And it’s pretty cool. So you look at the pictures and when everybody is sober, there’s what they call laminar flow. People kind of keep track of people in front of them and walk in a straight line and they’re able to move between each other easily. So people flow between and in the empty channels between people very easily. It works just fine.
But then as more and more people are drunk within the crowd, it makes the entire flow bad. And so, so says the lead researcher Simon Moore, “Drunks become irritants because they slow people’s progress towards their goal.”
Yes. And this means they may then become targets of violence.
Justin: What? Wait, the…
Kirsten: Yes. The drunks because they bump in to people might cause other drunks or other sober people to become irritated and annoyed and throw a punch and all of a sudden, you’ve got aggression on the streets.
Kirsten: And so city planners maybe need to keep…
Justin: Calm down, everybody. Chill.
Kirsten: …these drunk people in mind when they’re creating their city streets for the late night planning.
Justin: Sounds to me like those sober people who are getting violent, they might need a drink.
Kirsten: I’m just curious about whether or not these researchers got grant funding to hang out late at night in the streets of Cardiff.
Justin: Yes, they did. This is Britain after all. That’s…
Kirsten: Yes. Another story out of South Korea. Korean scientists say that they have lit up their tokamak reactor and ignited plasma made of supercharged form of plasma that last 249 milliseconds. And that’s 2.5 times longer than they expected.
Kirsten: So this is really great. Fusion research is one important area of research on the road towards energy. Energy production trying to get…
Justin: Free energy.
Kirsten: Free energy.
Justin: Free-er energy, free the energy. Last week on the show reported how a tenth of the world’s biomass is archaebacteria living below the ocean floors of the world.
Kirsten: Yes. Yes, yes, we like it.
Justin: This is a new study that we saw here that caught my biomass fixated eye, the study of parasites living in three different estuaries along the pacific coast of California, Baja, California, researchers determined that the biomass of parasites in these estuaries exceeds that of the top predators in some cases by more than 20 times.
Justin: Yes. Their findings could have a significant ecological and biomedical implications. They appear this week’s issue of the Journal of Nature cell. Biomass is the amount of living matter that exists in a given habitat.
Justin: Usually expressed as weight. Sometimes organisms per unit area, blah, blah, blah. But what’s kind of interesting here is this is the thing that has (unintelligible). They were thought to be too small and microscopic to have comprised very much biomass in the past.
But when you consider a habitat like that where by far dominant living creature or these parasites…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …it makes you rethink how you’re designing on what’s going on there because usually, you just see like, okay, there’s birds there and you count the number of birds in the area and that’s how the estuary is doing.
So there’s a whole another – it’s another thing they can do to test what’s going on in the ecological perspective and monitor the health of the ecosystem there. Very cool. Such a planet dominated by things that which we do not see.
Kirsten: Yes. What’s also interesting, one of the things I remember learning, I don’t know if this is still the standard. But one of the things I remember learning back in…
Justin: Do you have to say “remember learning”? Because if you learned it, you learned it. And that’s how come you remember it. What’s the difference between remembering and learning? I’m sorry, never mind.
Kirsten: I learned in ecology classes in college that it’s a 10% transfer of energy from one level of the ecosystem up to the next. So there’s a reason that there’s a larger portion of any ecosystem made up in microbes and photosynthetic bacteria plant matter that kind of stuff.
And then as you get to the top of the pyramid, the amount of the number of organisms are going to get smaller.
Kirsten: Because the energy needed to support them is (unintelligible).
Justin: Because we’re highly inefficient.
Kirsten: Highly inefficient, yes. Energy loss at every level.
Wild orangutans have been seen by primatologist Helen Morrogh-Bernard of the University of Cambridge who’s studying Bornean orangutans, Pongo Pygmaeus and…
Kirsten: No, Bornean. Bornean orangutans.
Kirsten: No, no. But these orangutans were seen using anti-inflammatory drugs that are regularly used by the tribal people in the area. She spotted these orangutans…
Kirsten: …pulling the leaves off plants, chewing them up with a little saliva and then rubbing them on one arm only. And these plants, these leaves are known to be used by local tribal people to use it as balms for like kind of pain and swelling of muscles.
Justin: That is – that’s a whole…
Kirsten: Yes, so…
Justin: That’s – I mean never mind tool use. That is a whole another level of what – looking into our past, when we see this sort of behavior when we see human starting to use plants for medicinal purposes. That’s when we’re like aha! That’s civilization. That’s the higher brain function at work.
Kirsten: Right. And so, the question is that she doesn’t know whether not the tribal people learned this from the orangutans or how the behavior of using this particular plant came about.
The leaves belong to a plant genus called camelina. And it’s not part of the orangutan’s normal diet. So it’s not something they normally eat. And so seeing them chew on these leaves would not be expected. And it’s usually ground into a balm and treats pains.
Justin: Wow. That’s amazing.
Kirsten: This is published in the International Journal of Primatology. It’s really an interesting, interesting observation.
Justin: I would – yes, I’m sure the gorilla – that they learned it from the gorilla, the locals.
Kirsten: Yes, the orangutan.
Justin: I mean you see that happen over and over again, people learning from nature. Whoever designed the car alarms that we’ve been…
Kirsten: That’s come from the mocking birds.
Justin: Yes, they copied the mocking bird like identically. It’s amazing. It’s such a good job.
Kirsten: And our last story here, stories from nature. Maybe the reason that we like to get drunk is that we inherited it from our boozy ancestors, our taste for alcohol…
Kirsten: …might be “an evolutionary hangover” from our fruitopean ancestors. Researcher Frank Wiens of the University of Bayreuth in Germany carried out a study that looked at pen-tailed three shrews and the floral nectar that they tend to drink, they take in this – they eat flowers from this plant called the stemless bertam palm that’s found in Malaysia.
And they eat the flowers. The flowers have a large quantity of sugar that ends up fermenting into an alcohol that’s up to about 3.8% alcohol like a low alcohol beer. Mean concentration, about .6%. So most of the flowers don’t contain that much alcohol.
However, the tree shrews don’t get drunk. And so, he was wondering why don’t the tree shrews get drunk. Well, what happens is they have a metabolic byproduct called Ethyl Glucuronide, ETG and they convert the alcohol that they consume into ETG metabolically. And then that ETG gets excreted into their fur. So it goes out of their body through their fur.
And the compound ETG is seen at levels – this is from The New Scientist article, Jeff Hecht wrote seen at levels normally found in alcoholic people, although we only normally convert very little alcohol to ETG.
So it’s this difference between the species. These tree shrews really convert alcohol into this compound. We convert a little bit of alcohol into the compound but not as much. And so, maybe this is part of the reason why we have such awful hangovers because our body doesn’t metabolize alcohol as readily as these tree shrews do.
So maybe we need to figure out these tree shrews go about with their alcohol metabolization.
Justin: Yes, that way we can spend more time as alcoholics so that hang…
Justin: I think the hangover is an important lesson.
Kirsten: Hangover is a great part of being human.
Kirsten: Teaches you don’t get quite…
Kirsten: …so drunk. Yes.
Justin: It teaches you that today guy does need to keep tomorrow guy in mind. Because this is what happens when today guy or at least yesterday guy doesn’t pay attention to this morning guy…
Justin: …is all heck breaks loose.
Kirsten: All heck.
Kirsten: We’re at 9 o’clock.
Justin: Nine o’clock. Oh, science is imitating nature again. They’re making new body armor out of fish scales.
Justin: Off the designs of fish scales. They discovered that one particular heavy armored fish has an amazing scale that is – it’s designed to deflects pressure through its layering.
Kirsten: It has four layers, right?
Justin: It deflects pressure – the four layers deflect pressures and that cracks don’t form or travel very far because it’s designed to force the cracks through in the circle or on the penetration site rather than spreading.
Kirsten: That’s cool.
Justin: It’s very light weight. Many of the design principles are things that we’re looking for in the next round of body armor.
Kirsten: That’s cool.
Justin: So, yes. Like learning from nature again and again and again and again.
Kirsten: Again. That just seems to be a pattern.
Justin: Super cool.
Kirsten: Nature knows a little bit better than we do so we should pay attention.
Justin: That was being done by MIT researchers by the way. Very cool. Yes, we’re at the break. Let’s go to break. Let’s get Michael Stebbins on. I haven’t talked to him in weeks.
Kirsten: I know, two weeks. We’ll be right back. This is This Week In Science.
Justin: Okay. Okay, okay, okay. So a caller just called in and said that in the last segment, Kirsten instead of saying tree shrew, repeatedly said shree trew.
Kirsten: Shree trew.
Justin: Now, I don’t – we have no way of going back and checking. Do you think you – I didn’t hear at the time. I didn’t notice it because I’m zone out.
Kirsten: I very well may have.
Justin: Do you think, do you think you did? Well, two sides, one of us will be right because later, we’ll be able to get back and listen.
Kirsten: I believe the listener. I believe.
Justin: You believe the listener? Then I just, by default, I believe you (truly as) listener but by default, I’m taking the opposite and saying no. Maybe it happen once but not more than one.
Kirsten: Tree shrew.
Justin: Tree shrew, shree trew. What is shree trew.
Kirsten: Tree shrew, tree shrew, tree shrew, tree shrew.
Justin: No, I think you did it now.
Kirsten: Three times past, okay.
Justin: I don’t believe you can say that word.
Kirsten: All right, on the line, oh, I don’t have his way – wait, wait.
Justin: Where is it? Yes, you do. Come on!
Kirsten: Okay. Hold on, hold on, hold on. I have to get the special music ready. Come on queue. Come on, come on, all right. On the line, we have Dr. Michael Stebbins.
Justin: Oh, no! No, Kirsten. Why did you push the button? That’s not the right — It’s the wrong button. We hit the…
Kirsten: One moment.
Justin: Wait. We got to – we got to go back and hit the…
Kirsten: The phone’s going to be busy now that I – now that I hang up on him. Hey, you’re live on the radio.
Justin: I think he’s still out there. Yes, hang on.
Justin: Hang on. Hang on.
Kirsten: That’s what I hit.
Justin: There we go.
Kirsten: This was just the comedy of airs to be bring you on the air today.
Michael: Why did you go to Russia for a couple weeks? This is what happened.
Kirsten: I don’t know what happened. I hit the button. I just…
Justin: You hit like four different buttons. One of them is that big red button that says, OFF.
Kirsten: I didn’t hit that one.
Justin: You hit that. You’ve ham-fisted all of the button at once. You just like…
Kirsten: That’s right. Well, welcome.
Michael: Thank you.
Kirsten: Thank you for being on the show. It’s good to hear your voice again. I’ve missed talking to you over the last month.
Michael: Really? That’s sad because you’re on vacation. You shouldn’t be thinking about me on vacation.
Kirsten: I was still doing this show. I had to hang up the phone and be like, “Justin’s going to talk to Mike now. And I’m missing out.”
Justin: To have all the fun.
Kirsten: “Oh no, I’m missing out.” Okay. What have you brought us this week?
Michael: Okay. So, the EPA has a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as it turns out but it has nothing to do with gay people. So…
Michael: Yes. So the EPA is telling it’s pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters or the agency’s Inspector General. Recording…
Michael: Yes. Their own Inspector General. They’re not supposed to talk to him.
Kirsten: Don’t talk to your boss.
Michael: A June 16th message that instructs all eleven managers of EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. This is the branch of the agency that’s charged with making sure that environmental laws are followed that if you are “If you are contacted directly by the Inspector General’s office or the Government Accountability Office requesting information of any kind, please do not respond to the questions or make any statements.”
Kirsten: What would the reasoning be behind that? What is going on?
Michael: Well, the e-mail according to the EPA was a response to a May 2000 audit by the Inspector General’s office that found the agency had not responded to earlier Inspector General reports on problems with water enforcement and other matters.
So in other words, in order to address the problems of the previous Inspector General report…
Justin: They made a policy.
Michael: …don’t speak to the Inspector General.
Justin: Well, no, right because now if it’s policy not to talk to them they can’t be expected to talk to them. Yes, perfect.
Kirsten: But they got in trouble in the first place for not talking to him and then…
Justin: But it wasn’t policy.
Kirsten: And then they did talk to him and now….
Justin: Now, it’s their…
Kirsten: …don’t talk to him?
Justin: Yes, because now, they can take out that little white binder from in the back when there are…
Kirsten: I’m not allowed to talk to you.
Justin: …arguments starting like, “Hey, no. It’s on page 38. See, here it is. That’s in the handbook, I’m not suppose to – it’s our policy.”
Michael: Yup. And yes, and if you talked to them, then you’ll have to put the lotion in the basket. Yes.
Kirsten: Who sends this e-mail? Who is the person? Who is the person that decides that says, “No talking”?
Michael: So, my favorite quote on this entire issue was the EPA has been turned into a “Secretive dangerous ally of polluters instead of a leader in the effort to protect the health and safety of the American people”. Who said that? Your Senator, Barbara Boxer.
Justin: Yey! I love her. She’s awesome.
Michael: Indeed. So this was sent by Robbi Farrell, the division’s Chief-of-Staff. So, it didn’t come from a low level person. It came from high level person.
Kirsten: From high level.
Michael: Don’t talk to them. So, there you go. And basically, they were told that the Inspector General basically said that this was hogwash. So that they in fact has to speak to us. In fact, any staff member is supposed to cooperate with us.
Michael: So, there you go.
Kirsten: That’s what we do. We are the Inspector General’s office who…
Justin: All of this will change…
Kirsten: …have to talk to us.
Justin: …soon enough.
Michael: Did you know that in Montana, Missoula, Montana that a federal judge and this judge should actually get a little bit credit here, Judge Malloy has actually given a stay of execution to the gray wolf.
So in February, the Fish and Wildlife Service effectively sentenced the wolves to death by what they did was they lifted the protections provided by the endangered species act over it.
Now, since then, because of a far weaker state protections in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. So, okay, we’re talking about that part of the United States. More than 100 wolves of the total population of 1,500 were killed. The total population is 1,500. One hundred were killed.
Michael: As a result of that, and so the judge…
Kirsten: Since February?
Michael: The judge put an injunction on it to basically stop this because it’s said that the Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to meet its own criteria for removing the wolf from the endangered species list. Now, before stripping the wolf of Federal protection, the agency was required to show that the wolf subpopulations – so little clusters across the area were actually interbreeding. Okay. So this isn’t necessary for any sort of population sustaining.
Michael: And the judge found that the agency had offered no such evidence for that.
Justin: And with wolves, that’s pretty rare anyway. I mean they’re very – the little pack runs together and stays together. They don’t go out and mingle with other packs right often. That’s a pretty rare occurrence.
Michael: Well, apparently, intermingling and interbreeding is actually something that’s important to show. I don’t know a lot about gray wolves. All I know is that…
Kirsten: Well, in terms of population…
Michael: …there’s this terrible fear of them. And…
Kirsten: Yes. Well, it’s and fear. It’s also ranchers.
Justin: It’s livestock. It’s money.
Kirsten: It’s livestock. Yes.
Justin: It’s a money issue too.
Kirsten: They don’t want packs of wolves running around and killing their livestock which they, you know…
Kirsten: …require for survival and…
Michael: Indeed. So now, this of course, well, that’s (unintelligible)…
Kirsten: It’s the ranchers or the wolves, you choose.
Michael: Now, in case, you guys know, that you’re allowed to eat tomatoes again. Okay?
Michael: So investigators at the FDA have basically said that, “Well, we messed up.” So after $250 million to $300 million in loss for tomato growers and related businesses, the EPA – sorry, the FDA not the EPA – has said that, “It’s probably Jalapeno peppers.
Michael: Now, why didn’t they know this earlier? So this is actually what’s coming out now.
Kirsten: So don’t eat the salsa.
Michael: Right. Well…
Justin: If the Jalapenos came from Mexico.
Michael: Well, if the Jalapenos came from Mexico and are raw. You can eat Jalapeno peppers if they have been pickled. So if you’re eating those kind, don’t worry it. It’s not a big deal.
Michael: Yes. But why exactly did it take the EPA so long to figure this out? as it turns out…
Kirsten: The FDA, yes.
Michael: Did I say EPA again? That’s terrible.
Justin: Shree trew. Shree trew.
Kirsten: Shree trew. Shree trew.
Justin: Never mind. What?
Kirsten: Inside joke.
Justin: Hey, you don’t listen to the first half hour. That’s something that I’m starting to pick up on. You don’t get the first half hour jokes.
Michael: No because I’m preparing for my half hour.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Michael: All right. So the FDA proposed that the food industry have to maintain a stricter and more detailed electronic records to easily review where a food has come from during a safety crisis. That proposal however, was diluted by The White House in 2003 and 2004.
Now, the records’ requirements were put part of FDA’s proposal on bioterrorism rules. And they put companies – the food companies argued that the regulations would be too cumbersome and costly, of course.
Now, during the time period that the regulations were under consideration, the Grocery Manufacturers Association spent $2.6 million and the food marketing institute spent $1.7 million on lobbying. And of course, they were lobbying AGAINST these regulations.
Justin: I love how they basically spend a ton of money to hang themselves.
Justin: That’s brilliant.
Michael: Yes. And so, if you do the math here, they spent about $4 million and they lost about $250 million.
Justin: That’s wise investing. if you’re trying to get rid of money. Because, a lot of – I mean these poor companies have way too much money apparently.
Kirsten: If you’re trying to get rid of it, yes.
Justin: If the idea is that you want to keep the money in the American pocketbook, that’s a good way to do it.
Michael: Now, it will be of little surprise if the industry has now says that they would like to have better regulations or better tracking system operated by the government as long as they get to design it.
Kirsten: Lessons learned.
Kirsten: As long as they get to design it on this.
Michael: As long as they get to design it, correct.
Justin: Yes. One more election. That’s all we need.
Kirsten: Yes, I trust them.
Justin: That’s all we need, one more election.
Michael: Indeed. Now, I promised last, well, two weeks ago that I would be talking about some of the presidential candidates and some of the other candidates for congress and specifically about the difference between McCain and Obama. In particular, we’re going to talk about environmental records today.
And so, I started digging in over the last couple weeks I have brought together some information. And it’s a little bit disturbing. And I don’t want it to come off partisan. But it may sound like that for some people.
Justin: It will. It’s okay.
Michael: Yes. Well, except that I actually don’t think that that’s a good way to go, the partisan route. But if you just take a clear look at their records, of course, Obama has less of a record. And so, you know…
Michael: …we don’t have the benefit of being able to go back 20 years…
Michael: …and look at everything that Obama has done on the environment. But we can do that for McCain. So as it turns out, he voted against giving increased funding to solar and renewable energy programs in 1994 and in 99.
And in 2005, he voted against a national renewable electric standard that would have required utilities to get 10% of their electricity from alternative energies. So as recently as 2005, he’s voted against the alternative energies.
And so, now last year, he missed every single vote on renewable electricity and every single vote that the league of conservation voters used to rate him. And plus, I’ve mentioned before that they rate him as zero because of the 15 votes on environment and energy, he missed all of them.
Michael: Every single one.
Michael: Now, this is – no, McCain has said that energy and energy independence has been one of the top three issues for his campaign meaning that…
Kirsten: So what he’s even voting for…
Justin: Must be reading development. Very recent, very recent development.
Kirsten: No, but it’s…
Justin: Last night, it occurred to me. It’s important.
Kirsten: No. What has he been voting for if he hasn’t been voting for the renewables?
Michael: Oh, he’s not voting at all.
Justin: Just skipping.
Kirsten: Yes. Just nothing.
Michael: As it turns out, he’s skipping out on it. Now, he voted against the renewables. Now, he has actually for example, on improving fuel efficiency standards, he has repeatedly voted against raising efficiency standards on fuel economy for cars.
Michael: And his – let’s see, for oil companies, okay. So, he said very clearly on several occasions that he wants to drill off – drill our way…
Kirsten: Yes. I lost that.
Michael: …to energy independence. In other words, we produce more and therefore we’ll use more foreign oil, which of course, doesn’t take into account that we will continue to be using more oil. So he basically doesn’t have a very good record on this as it turns out.
He insists that we should use more nuclear energy as a form of clean energy which most people think is a good idea. However, in terms of storing nuclear waste, he thinks it should be done at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
But when he was asked whether nuclear waste traveling through Arizona to get to Yucca Mountain, he said no he would not support that.
Kirsten: How’s it going to get there?
Michael: So all the others…
Justin: Senator first, president second. He’s still the senator. Yes?
Kirsten: I’m going to make a worm whole to send the nuclear waste to Nevada.
Michael: Yes. Yes and even on votes in the past year to get rid of the subsidies for oil companies that Bush and Cheney had pushed through, he didn’t vote. He just didn’t vote on any of these issues. So, yes. In fact…
Kirsten: So he says it’s a priority but he’s action speak otherwise.
Justin: Again, the priority showed up a couple of weeks ago. And that’s, it’s fine. People can form their opinions on the fly especially if they’re going to lead the largest, nation on planet earth.
Justin: Most – large super power. Yes, make decisions on the fly as they come and go.
Michael: Now, since he has been in congress, McCain also cast ten votes against clean water including against drinking water protection and enforcement control in microbes in water and funding for water pollution control. And in favor of delaying funds for leaking underground storage tanks. Yes.
Michael: So, that’s his…
Kirsten: What about Obama?
Justin: Yes, tell me about the big O. What’s he got?
Michael: Okay. From 2005 to 2007, the League of Conversation Voters actually scored him on 12 key oil related votes, okay? And he voted pro-environment every single time, making it – in fact, he got back to Washington in the middle of his race to – he flew back the day of a vote and on renewal energy to cast his favor of it. McCain was in the building. He didn’t vote for it.
Justin: Now, in all fairness to McCain – he’s an old guy. He may have actually required more energy for him to get from one end of the building together than it took Obama to fly in from the middle of a campaign stop and make the…
I mean it’s the manner of energy output to complete something should really be taken an account in.
Kirsten: Let it rest.
Michael: Yes. I was one of these people that presumed that McCain was actually good on a load of environment issues.
Kirsten: I presumed it as well.
Michael: But when you start digging, it’s like oh my gosh, he stinks on it. And I was like, “God, he’s got to be going some of these issues.” Which in the coming weeks, we will actually go through and find some of those staff that he’s good on, which is, he’s not awful on everything.
Michael: It’s not one of these cases like the current president who really is bad on all energy and environment issues as it turns out.
Now, he’s also set a strong goal setting 25% of our electricity from clean energy by ’25 okay. So we are going to go through their energy plans as well because it really does – it’s not just your history because, we can’t – you can look at 20 years back on McCain but 20 years ago was a very different time.
But I don’t want to be McCain apologist at this time. But it does appear that Obama is much stronger on a lot of these things.
Justin: Here’s the thing. And I know I will come up partisan because when it comes to politics, I’m pretty entrenched, right, already. I have a political point of view just like other people who do.
Michael: Sure. So do I. I just don’t like – I don’t like worrying it off my sleep.
Justin: Right. Well, I’m like an Ayn Randian liberal though, just like I do cross over on a lot of economic issues but I think after eight years of Bush…
Michael: Did you say you’re an Ayn Rand’s liberal?
Kirsten: Ayn Randian.
Justin: Oh no, if you look at the whole principles of producing more than we consume and all that kind of stuff and like when Atlas Shrugged…
Michael: Got it.
Justin: …and the anti-looters of Washington, it all makes sense from the global perspective too.
Michael: Fair enough.
Justin: But after eight years of Bush and Dick and the expectations of the nation being let down over and over and over again, I think America is ready for the big O, right?
Kirsten: Let’s – we’re not…
Justin: If we opt for getting McCain instead, I think it’s a little masochist.
Kirsten: Okay, yes, let’s…
Justin: I know you don’t like the politics…
Kirsten: Justin, yes. Leave it, leave it. No.
Justin: I’m getting kicked.
Kirsten: We’re not, we’re not, we’re not…
Justin: I’m getting kicked in the shins as we speak.
Kirsten: Yes, we’re not pushing anyone. But I appreciate the different viewpoints — the different records looking at the actual records of these different candidates because that’s important.
Michael: That’s what I think is important.
Michael: And I encourage everyone to do to the Scientists and Engineers for America site and the Sharp network that they have there and really look at some of the not just the presidential candidates but their congressional candidates.
And you can ask them. There’s seven questions for president – sorry, congressional candidates on science and environment and health issues. And there’s 14 questions for the presidential candidates.
And right from the site, you can send it right to your congressman. You can look up your congressman based on your zip code and send it right to them and any candidate running for office. And demand that they answer some of these questions. It’s much easier to go through and pick them out for Obama and McCain but it’s very hard for people running for office.
And some of the things that we’re finding are incredible. I mean the number of candidates running for office right now who think that global warming is a farce is ridiculous. I’ll read one of the responses.
Michael: Research shows the polar ice caps are expanding. It is nothing but arrogant to think man can control nature.
Justin: They are expanding into the ocean.
Michael: Yes, that’s true if you look at that one. Yes. Yes.
Kirsten: All right. Dr. Stebbins, we are out of time.
Michael: Thank you very much, kids. See you in a week.
Kirsten: Thank you so much. Have a great couple of weeks. I’ll be talking to you soon.
Justin: Where’s the Altro music? Where’s the Altro music? The Altro music?
Michael: It’s been the Weird from Washington with our guest Dr. Michael Stebbins. He rocks.
Kirsten: That it was. That it was. It was Dr. Michael Stebbins.
Justin: I wish he had a book or something I could buy. I would totally go buy his book if he’s…
Kirsten: He does.
Justin: He does?
Kirsten: Yes. But Scientists and Engineers for America, all that information that he’s been talking about out there. And next week on the fifth, as far as I know we still have to confirm it but we will have a guest, Dr. Leonard Susskind. We’ll be talking about black holes and his fight, his battle with Steven Hawking…
Justin: Over information loss.
Kirsten: …over information loss in black holes. Yes, it’s going to be very exciting.
Justin: Very exciting.
Justin: My shins are – I hope I can make it to the car after the show.
Kirsten: You better watch out. I’m going to kick you some more.
Justin: I’ve got some bruises on here. Well, I guess if you learned anything from today’s show, you should probably keep in your mind…
Kirsten: It is all in your head. Thanks for listening.
Listen to the podcast at: http://www.twis.org/audio/2008/07/29/265/