May 12, 2009

KDVS, NASA, animals, australia bashing, biology, cancer, chemistry, clinical trials, ecology, emergent behavior, end of the world, engineering, global warming, infectious diseases, insects, medicine, microbiology, molecular biology, mollusks, physics, planets, podcast, reptiles, science, science and politics, space, technology, therapies

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

The time has come to see planet Earth for what it really is, a space craft with an elaborate life support system.

Most people seems satisfied to play the role of passenger on spaceship Earth, scientists though have been working hard to be it’s faithful diligent crew.

The passengers of spaceship Earth expect a certain level of comfort and entertainment to be safe and healthy and would like the ship’s life support system to continue to function.

What should cease to amaze the crew by now is how little effort most of the passengers are willing to put into making that a reality.

When things do not meet their expectations, passengers are satisfied with complaint rather than action.

And while attempting to convey proper ship conduct, much like the following hour of our programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

It is understandable that the passengers behave this way. Look at the brochures of 50 years ago and you’ll see the crews of yesteryear promised a life of sedentary ease, from flying cars and endless buffets of robot-prepared meals and modern appliance-filled cabins. Not enough of their minds will be changeable in time to meet the challenges of today.

Scientists of the world, crew members of planet Earth, listen up and listen tight. The fate of the ship is in your hands, you alone can save us.

Rise to the challenge of your predecessors, exceed the optimistic over promising predictions of the past and set the course boldly towards prosperity, today. You are the scientists of tomorrow. You are that next generation the world has been waiting for. You are here, now in the moment which you can do is now.

As for myself, I’ll be over the starboard bar one with the window overlooking the life rafts. I’ll be there drowning a sorrow or two, singing sea shanties back to the sirens and listening to This Week in Science, coming up next.

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! You know what today is?

Justin: I have no idea.

Kirsten: (I mean), it’s Tuesday.

Justin: It’s Tuesday. Oh, yeah.

Kirsten: It’s Tuesday. Yeah, I’m very excited actually because today, you know, the Hubble shuttle Atlantis mission that go up and fix Hubble, they got off the ground yesterday. They’re out there in outer space.

Justin: This is actually perhaps the most dangerous part of their mission.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Because the altitude at which they’re flying is going to be one of those junkier altitudes of space with more little bits of debris.

Kirsten: That’s what I keep hearing.

Justin: We normally are afraid of the entry or the exiting and the entering like the big, like finger crossed, we got every fingers crossed the whole time for this one.

Kirsten: But now, it just the, “Hey, hanging out here is not so safe. But one in 200 and something possibility of having at something hit something.

Justin: High. Is that per particle that’s floating out there? Because there’s thousands of particles in one in 200 chance, we know that can’t be right.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s kind of nice thing.

Justin: Yeah, they’re going to make a Hubble 90 times more powerful.

Kirsten: Which is going to be – I mean, the pretty pictures are just going to be prettier and more amazing.

Justin: What if it don’t make a difference?

Kirsten: And what we’re going to learn – I think it will. I think so. But if anyone is interested, if you did not know already, They have live television coming from the shuttle, coming from, you know, showing pictures of what they’re doing out there. So, you can actually watch the repair mission…

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: …as it is unfolding tomorrow.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten:, very, very exciting. And we have so much, I mean, every week, so much good news. I have to choose stories and kick stories out. And this week, I ended up with stories about, yeah, the end of the world because it’s one of my favorite topics and hobbitsists.

Justin: Hobbitsists.

Kirsten: There’s more hobbitsists in the news…

Justin: I think…

Kirsten: …and little changes taking place in the animal world.

Justin: Did we make a bet on the hobbit or no? I’m going to figure back and review old shows.

Kirsten: I believe there was a bet on the hobbit at some point.

Justin: Because I was saying species just because I really wanted it to be one.

Kirsten: Right. I don’t remember.

Justin: I think I’m winning now.

Kirsten: We’re going to talk about that.

Justin: I’m going to (unintelligible).

Kirsten: Yeah. We’re going to discuss it. Yeah. And we’re also going to be reading a little bit of listener Mailbag, coming up.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I’ve got cancer…

Kirsten: You – no.

Justin: …stories…

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: …and pseudoscience. Science has a cancer. I’ve also got a blinking bright idea…

Kirsten: Blink, blink, blink, blink.

Justin: …good news for smokers, microbes, malaria and maybe some parasitical portions of the show.

Kirsten: Oh, we love the parasitical portions of the show.

Justin: Yeah, I do.

Kirsten: And on with the news. I guess, at this hour we don’t have an interview. We’re just talking to each other the whole hour. So, if you would like to call in about anything, 530-75-2277. That’s the phone number here in the studio.

Okay, hey, it is the end of the world after all.

Justin: Again?

Kirsten: Again. Yeah. So, a couple of studies out this week, just not such good news. So, reported in Discovery on the discovery website, There is a report from a researcher David Rutledge of the CalTech.

He’s looked at the coal production patterns of five different regions around the world. And he’s found out that they’re all producing less than their peak levels, less than a tenth of their peak levels.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yeah. So, they’re not producing a lot of coal. There’s not a lot of coal coming out of these coal regions.

Justin: Isn’t it…

Kirsten: And so, he took a look at the regions and then so, he was looking at Pennsylvania, France, Germany and the United Kingdom and Japan. And then, he took data from all over the world and applied the patterns that he found.

And he has found that – so the IPCC estimates that extractable coal, the coal that can be extracted from the Earth is 3,400 billion tons. He calculated 666 billion tons.

So, you know, an order less of coal is available to be extracted than was estimated…

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: …based on his calculations. So, that suggests – I mean, the idea that’s coming out of this story is that we are basing our energy plans on estimates that may not be accurate and that we may end up coming up against not just peak oil but peak coal.

Justin: Right. And actually there was a danish study that I didn’t bring that I think was talking about that we may also be along those same lines overestimating the oil reserve because…

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Yeah. There maybe a lot more oil that’s in and around these reserves but it’s inaccessible. Because it goes into the (forest) rocks and the surrounding area and…

Kirsten: Yeah. And we’re seeing like the oil shale and the sand, the oil that’s trapped in sand, it’s kind of a – it’s a different form of oil that makes it harder to get out and extract from the dirt basically.

And they’re finding up in Canada, they’ve been looking at different methods and also over in Europe, they’ve been checking out these methods of using steam and water to be able to use pressure…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …to force it out. But the energy that goes in to getting the oil out of these locations is so high that it makes it really prohibitively expensive. And then, the technology…

Justin: And they can also collapse…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …the understructure there. So that it all becomes inaccessible.

Kirsten: Right. And another side of it is also the water availability that now we’re looking at not just it being expensive because you’re using this technology and, okay, well maybe, the cost of oil was going up enough to make it, you know, almost break-even if we use this pressure steam technology. But now, we’re looking at water reserves also being limited and so, we’re – the

Justin: Oh, yeah. Water is going to be the next oil.

Kirsten: Right. The question is…

Justin: Because it’s going to be done with oil and so it’s all going to be about water.

Kirsten: …do we want to use the water to extract the oil if we can’t, you know, where are we going to get more water?

Justin: I think…

Kirsten: So, it’s all an interesting, interesting conundrum.

Justin: I think it’s good news. I think it’s good news. The sooner we’re out of coal and oil…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …the quicker we know that we have to move on and we will.

Kirsten: Get to work, people!

Justin: And the other thing is, you know, once we get the new alternative energy source that’s really powering things, we maybe able even get to the point where desalinization is economic.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Right now, it’s actually not very economic to turn salt water into fresh water.

Kirsten: Right. But the membrane technologies that are being developed to be able to actually filter salinated and also just dirty water…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …polluted water, the membrane technologists are really where it’s at.

Justin: So, that ramps up – is it all ramps up? I think, we’re going to be fine. The planet should have depopulated from overpopulation several times over by now.

Kirsten: It should have but our technology has advanced enough to keep it going.

Justin: We keep keeping up.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I’m talking about this – this was mentioned on the forum about mankind not having any predator. And it’s sort of like, yeah, we’re runaway species. We’re in this growth pattern and we’re going to continue at it. And the only reason we haven’t died off is because of technology, because of science.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Because of these things that have shown up…

Kirsten: I mean, we wouldn’t not died off but just that our numbers would be more limited without technology.

Justin: Because – yeah, I don’t know. The population as it stands today would be in massive starvation if we had the technology of a hundred years ago. Even 50 years ago, I think we’d be in trouble.

Kirsten: Yeah, possibly.

Justin: Because we’re doubling like every 25 years. The population of the planet doubles. It’s (woohoo).

Kirsten: If what?

Justin: It’s like every 25 years now. Yeah.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Are we ready at that kind of – no.

Justin: It’s been that way since like the 40’s.

Kirsten: Not doubling.

Justin: Doubling every 25 years, yeah.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Doubling?

Justin: We’re like 8 billion or something, climbing.

Kirsten: Yeah, okay.

Justin: Climbing.

Kirsten: Yeah. Anyway, if that weren’t bad enough, we’ve also got issues with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And people have been trying to come up with solutions. So okay, how can we limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

An iron seeding in the oceans has been one of the ideas that people came up with. So, that maybe we can put iron in iron-depleted or iron – not iron-rich areas of the ocean. And that would…

Justin: Why would we do that?

Kirsten: We would that because it would supplement the phytoplankton.

Justin: The phytoplankton.

Kirsten: Phytoplankton. And the phytoplankton would take it up and it would allow them to be able to incorporate more carbon dioxide as they metabolize.

Justin: Yeah. Because they’re…

Kirsten: And then the ideas that the phytoplankton would die and then fall to the bottom of the ocean…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …and then the iron and the carbon dioxide (plop) on the bottom of the ocean.

Justin: Yeah. It’s a good plan.

Kirsten: It’s a great plan but maybe not. Some oceanographers from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory took a look at carbon particles that came from plankton blooms in the Southern Ocean.

And the Southern Ocean being larger than the Northern Ocean is going to be a big area of interest in this iron hypothesis in this and the potential for this becoming a real usable idea.

And so, they took these things. They’re deep-diving Carbon Explorer floats. And there are these explorers basically, they go up and down in the ocean, the water columns. So, they can be up at the top and then, they go down all the way to the bottom.

They take all sorts of information about the water, how much carbon is in it, you know, they can take all sorts of different measurements and be able to send the data back to the scientist.

So, they looked at these Carbon Explorer floats that were collecting all the time, going up and down, up and down in the Southern Ocean. They found that most of the carbon from the plankton blooms never actually reaches the deeps of the ocean.

So, it doesn’t actually get to the bottom of the ocean where we hope it’s going to go. The researcher Jim Bishop says, “Just adding iron to the ocean hasn’t been demonstrated as a good plan for storing atmospheric carbon. What counts is the carbon that reaches the deep sea and a lot of the carbon tied up in plankton blooms appears not to sink very fast or very far.”

So, there are a bunch of complex things that go into this.

Justin: Maybe they just need more fiber in their diet.

Kirsten: Yeah. Fiber, yeah. What else does Bishop say? He also says, “We would never have made these surprising observations if autonomous Carbon Explorer floats hadn’t been recording data 24 hours a day, seven days a week at depths down to 800 meters and more, for over a year after the experiment’s original iron signature had disappeared.”

He says also that, assumptions about the biological pump, the way ocean life circulates carbon are mostly based on averaging measurements that have been made from ships at intervals widely separated in time. Cost, not to mention the environment would have made the continuous ship-based observations impossible in this case.

Luckily one Carbon Explorer float costs only about as much as a single day of ship time. So, with these floats, this technology has allowed to really make many, to catch many more data points.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, they’re not having to average, I mean, there’s still an averaging taking place but it’s not as much of an averaging.

Justin: I think, it’s in there. The researcher who initially came up with this idea. It may have been back in the 60’s.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: He said, “Give me a tanker full of iron and I’ll bring them on an ice age.”

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: It was such a great like…

Kirsten: I love that.

Justin: Like mad scientists coming. “All I need is a tanker of iron, I can bring on the Ice Age.”

Kirsten: I will bring it on. Yeah. “Well, maybe not,” say these researchers. It’s a little more complicated. It’s always a little more complicated.

Justin: You need several hundred of tanker of iron.

Kirsten: Yeah. You can find this article – where is it, at Global Biogeochemical Cycles, that’s the name of the journal. And I’ll also put a link to the press release on our website,

Justin: According to a new study, as we often to say around here, from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, where researchers looked at 1,534 cancer research studies that were published in the prominent journals, 29% of cancer research published in those journals disclosed a conflict of interest.

Kirsten: That’s a lot.

Justin: Twenty-nine percent.

Kirsten: More than a quarter.

Justin: More than a quarter, almost the third. Still much more than I would expect in, you know, and the most frequent type of conflict was industry funding of the study which was seen in 17% of papers. Which actually doesn’t, you know, we were talking about this before. That’s should be pretty common, actually.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Because a lot of funding does come from the research departments.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It is, I mean, it is common, 17%. Twelve percent of papers had an author who was actually an industry employee. That’s a little tough, that 12% there. That’s actually not a scientist who’s project has been funded by an industry that’s interested on what they’re working on. But somebody who’s an actual employee of that industry is authoring the papers. That’s a little tougher.

Kirsten: Yeah. I mean, at the same time, you also have collaboration, I mean, it’s not just that they’re an employee, they’re scientists. You know, they’re not just some random person. You know, I mean, they could be just be a random person who’s out to author the papers. But at most of the time, you’re dealing with scientists who work for these pharmaceutical companies or whatever.

Justin: Right. But when you work for the pharmaceutical company and they want you to work on a paper, usually what they’ve done is they’ve written the paper and said, “Would you like to it over and edit it before we submit in your name?” That happens.

Kirsten: It does happen. But I don’t know if that’s a majority of the time.

Justin: Or you’re considered a contributor or…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Or, yeah, you get your name…

Kirsten: It depends. There is also a standard way of ordering the authors in the papers so you have first author, second author, third author, fourth author. First author is usually the author who’s actually done the most – the majority of the research and written the most of the paper. The last author is usually the author who has provided the laboratory and/or funding.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: So, where the person is located in the list does have some kind of bearing as to what kind of a role they played.

Justin: But also the ghostwriting.

Kirsten: Right. And then, there’s also ghostwriting which is crazy.

Justin: You know, ghostwriting is much more likely to come from the industry employee than it is from the researcher who’s independent in getting funded. Anyway, right?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Okay. They randomized the trials and they looked at everything again and they found that the ones with the report the conflicts of interests were more likely to have positive findings about it. Oh, no kidding. Who the (thunk).

So, this is – I’m going to read this. Who is this? Reshma Jagsi, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the U-M Medical School involved in the study, “Given the frequency we observed from conflicts of interests and the fact that conflicts were associated with study outcomes, I would suggest that merely disclosing conflicts is probably not enough. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to look more at how we can disentangle cancer research from industry ties.

A serious concern is individuals with conflicts of interests were either consciously or even unconsciously be biased in their analysis. As researchers, we have an obligation to treat the data objectively and in unbiased fashion. There maybe some relationships that compromise a researcher’s ability to do that.”

That’s an amazingly cool comment.

Kirsten: It’s really interesting to find out which relationships are, you know, the most detrimental to a researcher’s ability to be completely unbiased.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, we we’re talking about this earlier. And, you know, something that I think is also, the level of involvement with the companies. So, sometimes you’ll go give a talk…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …some place and get an honorarium from — that happens to come from a pharmaceutical or some other industry. You know, it’s a small honorarium, you know, whatever, $500, $600, maybe, you know, a little more.

But, you know, suddenly because you’ve taken that money or if you take the money suddenly, you’re linked. And if you’re linked in a financial way, suddenly you are perceived as potentially biased.

So, does $500 make a difference? It does, you know, does it go on a lecture tour and being paid for that? You know.

Justin: Or does being asked to speak affect your opinion about things because if you were being negative about the potential…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …of the drug, maybe you’re not being invited to all of the public speaking announcements.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Maybe, you know, maybe you get a kick out of being in front of the audience and talking about your research.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, keeping that in mind, keeping in mind these, you know, premised with already and 29% conflict of interests and prominent journals, we move on this – this is the scientific publishing giant, we’ve been trying to figure out how to say this – Elsevier, I’m going to with.

Kirsten: Elsevier, Elsevier.

Justin: Elsevier.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Publishes thousands – something like 2,500 different scientific journals.

Kirsten: They’re big.

Justin: Yeah. They’re very specific. They’re very detail. They’re publishing research. And it’s one of those pay things where universities pay hundreds of dollars per journal.

Kirsten: I think I have a paper published in Elsevier journal.

Justin: Good for you.

Kirsten: Thinking about it.

Justin: Good for you.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Well, they have admitted that it put out six publications between 2000 and 2005 that were completely sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that were not peer reviewed, did not disclosed the sponsorship anywhere in there that they were sponsored – were made – the publications were made to look like peer reviewed medical journals. And they even charged hundreds of dollars for them.

These were published under its Excerpta Medica brand. You should go look at the Excerpta Medica website. It’s amazing. Their website touts that it is an Elsevier company.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And under the section of the site titled, Medical Education like, you know, this is one the things they want to do is help, you know, be involved in medical education.

It lists like a couple of columns. One is Tactics and the other is Strategic Services. Does that sound like medical education? Tactics and strategic services? They include key elements like product positioning, strategic communications plans and key opinion leader development.

Kirsten: Opinion leader development.

Justin: Opinion leader development. Does that sound like we’ll get a scientist to say your stuff is the bomb or what? Right?

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So, and then, I’m going to go on a little bit of their site. “Our big asset in medical communications is our people who constantly demonstrate their value to our clients by being – that they have a firm understanding of both business and scientific issues.

They take time to understand to find your market objectives. Our medical and market experts work as a client team to devise creative solutions. We work together with Elsevier’s Office of Continuing Medical Education….”, blah, blah, blah, (shamboozle), sell drugs, maybe kill people.

“As part of Elsevier, we can leverage,” – as part of Elsevier or whatever it is. “We can leverage the resources of the world’s largest medical scientific publisher.”

On their website, this is not hidden. This is ON their website.

Kirsten: We can leverage the resources of the world’s largest scientific publisher.

Justin: Right. This is a marketing company that was built for the reason of being able to streamline revenue from pharmaceutical companies and medical product companies into scientific journals, getting what they wanted out there in the scientific journals, how they wanted it…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …as a marketing program. So, the fact that only 29% – maybe we’re better off than I thought. So anyway, these titles one of which – one of the fake journals was sponsored by Merck. And this is only came out because there’s lawsuits in Australia.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: There are six of them that are known to be completely industry sponsored by an industry that only really said good things about their products…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …nothing negative. Just, they got to choose what went in, right?

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Right. They choose the papers that go in. There’s nothing placed in any other journal anywhere that says, this is an advertisement.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And then you have to pay for it.

Justin: Because that adds a level of legitimacy. Because they aren’t – they do sometimes publish sponsored works.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Where it says it’s a sponsored work and it’s free because they’re trying to give you information.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: These they actually charge and misleadingly made them look like a peer reviewed scientific journal. So, this is being considered an issue that went on for five years back then. But I think, it’s probably a bigger issue.

I think there’s going to be some serious legal investigations into this. I think it’s amazing that this is going on. More than a conflict of interests to me, it actually sounds criminal.

Kirsten: Yeah. And then, on top of it, there is a study that came out this last week suggesting that doctors are much more influenced by the marketing materials, that pharmaceutical companies give them so, free samples, et cetera.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: They’re much more likely to prescribe those items.

Justin: And if you’re weary, if you’re weary of that relying on the medical journals and you’re finding your medical journals are being tainted with those same commercials, well gosh, you know what? It’s the same thing in the medical journal that said in their advertising pamphlet that they handed me. I guess, it must be true.

Kirsten: It must be true.

Justin: It must be true.

Kirsten: Or even if you’re…

Justin: It doesn’t matter if it’s the same source that wrote both.

Kirsten: Or even if you’re not just thinking critically about it. It’s just the information that’s coming in suddenly, you put things together unconsciously.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And oh, yeah. It’s fine. I’m sure it’s fine. I don’t think I’ve heard anything negative. It’s fine.

Justin: Big (props) to librarians, by the way.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: It was librarians – the first one that came out during a court proceeding and then, the five additional ones that have shown up so far were discovered by librarians.

Kirsten: Gatekeepers of information.

Justin: Yeah. Important people of government society.

Kirsten: Very important people to have and – yeah, thank you very much for catching this one, big, big, big.

On the hobbitsists – it’s almost the end of our first half hour. We have some big news there. The hobbitisists, a new study out in Nature this last week suggests that the hobbitsist might be a different species or even maybe subspecies.

Anyway, a hominid separate from humans but living at the same time.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: What was the information that has come out, that is suggesting this giant switch in what people are thinking? Well, feet.

Justin: The feet.

Kirsten: The feet. And with the nickname hobbits, we should have been looking at the feet the whole time.

Justin: Big hairy feet.

Kirsten: Big hairy feet. Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History have taken a look at the feet of these hobbits from the Liang Bua Cave on the island of Flores that were discovered and described first in 2004.

The foot has no opposable big toes. So, that is similar to people. It’s not opposable. So, like…

Justin: Minus – I can rate with my feet.

Kirsten: So, as oppose to our opposable thumbs, you know, several primates have opposable toes as well which allow them to grab things with their hands and their feet. But these hobbits did have no opposable big toes similar to humans which puts them in the hominid grouping.

However, it’s very long and proportion to the lower limb. The foot is very long and more than half the length of the thigh bone, this is coming from a press release that was published on the

The modern human feet are relatively shorter about half of the femur’s length. Stubby, big toe is another very primitive trait.

The very big clue comes from a bone called the navicular bone. It’s a tarsal bone. So, a bone of the foot, tarsal bone that helps form the arch in the human foot. The hobbit navicular bone is more similar to a great ape navicular bone.

So, not having an arch. These hobbits did not have an arch in their foot, were more flat-footed and probably not very good runners.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah. Because the arch actually gives us more support that’s part of the foot structure that allows us to be such great long distance runners.

Justin: But maybe they don’t need it because they’re smaller?

Kirsten: Possibly. Who knows? Yeah. But anyway, this is all just one more piece of evidence.

Justin: Because they’re little.

Kirsten: And this is not something that you would expect if it were like – if these were a dwarf human…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …or a human that has a pathological pituitary disease. This kind of a foot structure is not what you would expect to find.

Justin: And there was previously – there was a restructure that was more apish.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, it looks…

Justin: A lot of little, you know, little of this, little of that over there. It sounds like a pretty good genetic separation.

Kirsten: Yup. Sounds like it. So, a Chairman of the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University Medical Center, William Jungers says, “The fossil record continues to surprise us,” fancy that.

“Each floresiensis is either an island-dwarf descendant of Homo erectus that not only underwent body-size reduction but also extensive evolutionary reversals or, as our analysis suggests, it represents a new species full of primitive retentions from an ancestor that dispersed out of Africa much earlier than anyone would have predicted. Either way, the implications for human evolution are profound.”

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: Yes. So says, William Jungers. Well, thank you very much.

Justin: Well, it seems weird that we’ll be the only species that’s the only species.

Kirsten: Right, that lasted that long – that was alive…

Justin: Like ever.

Kirsten: We are the only ones.

Justin: All right.

Kirsten: We win again.

Justin: You know, except for the Neanderthals but we don’t count then because for whatever reason. And then, yeah, this maybe of the third, maybe there’s going to be four, five, maybe there’s a lot of stuff going on, I don’t know. We don’t know. I’ve never been there.

Kirsten: We don’t know. That’s the cool (part).

Justin: We’re at the end of the first of the half of the show.

Kirsten: We are. And we’re going to take a break. And when we come back, we’ve got lots more of science news. Stay tuned.


Justin: And we’re back.

Kirsten: We’re back. This is This Week in Science. The music you’re hearing on the show today is from the 2009 Science Music Compilation’s last song was the 2009 new findings version of, “Our 1st Assumptions Were Correct” by Jake Mann with Max Hart.

Justin: Local legends.

Kirsten: Local legends, that’s right. Before the break was “A Trace” by The Amygdaloids. And we started out the show with new TWIS theme by Unbalanced Wheel. Now, I’ve gotten a couple of comments from people about a missing track. Track five seems to be missing.

Justin: It’s not missing.

Kirsten: It’s not missing. It’s in there.

Justin: It’s at the end of track four which means all your other tracks, if you’re looking at the CD and pushing the number past that, don’t match up. There was a little…

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: …something happened at the lab.

Kirsten: Something – there was an accident in the lab. Yeah. So, it’s in there, “Skeptic” by George Hrab is not…

Justin: It’s the hidden track.

Kirsten: It’s the hidden track on the 2009 CD. So, you just got to listen. Just listen to the whole thing. Don’t go by the numbers. What did I just say?

Justin: Don’t go by the numbers, just listen to me. Forget about facts. I will guide you.

Kirsten: That’s right. What’s going on, Justin? Give me some news.

Justin: Scientists have been frustrated. In other news, scientists had shed some light on a way to produce dramatically less expensive, more versatile lasers, brighter LED lighting and biological markers that can track how drugs interact with a cell level never before possible.

Many molecules can absorb light. So, they can absorb and radiate a photon. A photon goes in, they can shoot it out back again. But they also experienced random periods were they absorb a photon but instead of (pew) the photon, turns into heat.

Kirsten: Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle.

Justin: So, the energy somehow gets transform to heat just occasionally, sort of randomly. The dark periods alternate with periods when a molecule can radiate normally tend and it creates the appearance of them turning on and off again. So, it’s a blinking effect. It’s called blinking.

Kirsten: That’s snapping.

Justin: Yeah. That’s snapping. Somehow, they mentally associated. Scientists at the University of Rochester uncovered the basic Physics behind the phenomenon and along with researchers that Eastman Kodak Company have created a nanocrystal that constantly emits light.

Apparently though, I don’t know, if they knew that they were doing this right away. What they were looking at, it was Todd Krauss, Associate Professor of Chemistry of Rochester and Keith Kahen, Senior Principal of Scientists of Eastman Kodak who’s an expert in optoelectronic materials, they were explaining new types of low-cost lighting, something that’s like an organic light-emitting diode but that does not have the short life span.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, longer lasting small little diodes of light. They synthesized the nanocrystals of various compositions that were experimented.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It’s what the researchers do. One of the new nanocrystals showed no sign of the expected blinking. So, they stared at it for four hours…

Kirsten: I hoped they blinked.

Justin: …and after tears streaming their eyes and screams of pain, they finally gave in. The new nano-crystal did not once blink. And that’s very unusual because usually you would see the blink within either milliseconds or the (outer) minutes could go by, perhaps…

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: …before blinking. But this was four hours without any blinking.

Kirsten: So, this is a constant emitting of light…

Justin: Photon in, photon out.

Kirsten: …without the…

Justin: No heat.

Kirsten: …the heat production.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: So, what they did is after a good investigation, they found that normally nanocrystals have a sort of a core of a semi-conductor material that’s wrapped in a protective shell of another one. And there’s like a dividing area between them. It’s one and it’s the other.

What they found here is that they’ve actually created a continuous gradient from the core of cadmium and selenium to a shell of zinc and selenium. And a gradient seems to be illuminating the heat built up process or the heat trapping process. And the result is a stream of emitted photons, steady as the stream of absorbed photons. Very cool!

Kirsten: Four hours.

Justin: Well, no. I mean, continuously…

Kirsten: Continuous.

Justin: …they were staring at it for four hours…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …before they were like…

Kirsten: It’s really doing.

Justin: It’s not – I blinked, maybe it blinked when I blinked. And then, blink-free nanocrystals, Krauss believes lasers and lightning could be made incredibly cheap, easy to fabricate and that you could create a wall that lights a room in any desired color or computer displays thin as paper.

Although on the computer display, you’d have to shake it for five minutes before you could see anything because there was the early – nobody knows Eastman Kodak. Does anybody know what film is?

Kirsten: Has anyone remember?

Justin: Has anybody remember the old days when you had to…

Kirsten: Such an old man, Justin. What’s going on in the animal world? In the animal world, we have garden snails evolving to be slower.

Justin: Slower still?

Kirsten: Slower, if you didn’t think snails could get any slower, they are. They’re getting slower.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Researchers of the Southern University of Chile and Valdivia, they looked at snails in this little pens that they built for snails to keep them from escaping.

Justin: Before race day.

Kirsten: They measured – we have racing snails. They measured the size of the snails and they measured the amount of respiration that went on. So, how much carbon dioxide was given off, respired by these snails? They found their standard metabolic rate.

And they measure that so, they’re calling a, “Standard metabolic rate is the energy required for maintenance. Having less maintenance permits to you have more energy for other activity such as growth and reproduction that’s why less metabolism represents higher fitness,” says one of the researchers, Nespolo.

So then, they captured these snails, measured their rates and their size and then they set them free for seven months in their little pens. Seven months later, they recaptured the snails by picking them up. I’m just imagining snail tracking, tracking snails. They didn’t go very far in seven months.

They found that size had nothing to do with which of the snails survived the seventh month period. It was their metabolic rate. And the snails with a lower, 20% lower metabolic rate lived longer than the other snails that didn’t survive.

And so, what they’re concluding is that nature is selecting for snails that are more energy efficient, which means that the metabolic rate of the snails is getting slower and slower. And this metabolic rate has to do with how fast they move also because…

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: …if they’re metabolizing much more slowly, they’re going to be putting out a lot less energy and movement uses a lot of energy. So, snails are possibly getting slower.

Justin: Which makes sense because if it turned out that their metabolic rates were getting faster, that would mean that throughout history they’ve been even slower than they are today. So, the fact that they are slow as they are means, they’ve probably been heading that way for a good million years and plus.

Kirsten: Well, that’s right. In other news, is it cicadas are…

Justin: You say, cicada. I say cicada.

Kirsten: They are emerging early. There is a four-years early. They’re emerging right now. And it appears that it is a result of changes in the environment. So, warmer temperature, shorter winters are changing the growth rates of these cicadas.

The researchers at the College of Mount St. Joseph have been taking a look digging up cicadas. And they found that they’re growing, that many cicadas are growing faster than expected.

And so, there was an early emergence – they predicted an early emergence in 2000 and they found it. And they’re actually finding more and more acceleration of the emergence of these wonderful strange insects. And so, they’re time keeping, it could be that they’re being affected by changes in the environment.

And if you are interested in reporting the cicadas that you’re seeing, so if you’re watching and keeping an eye out for cicadas, you can actually report where you’re seeing them on a mapping website that the researchers have put together. It’s

And so you can actually take a look. Something that’s not changing? Geckos have better eyes than you do.

Justin: They do?

Kirsten: Yeah. There’s one species nocturnal geckos have better eyes than you do. These nocturnal helmet geckos, they have their special design in their eyes, concentric zones that have different refractive powers, so, the way that light is transferred through the cones in the eye. And they actually are able to have color night vision.

Justin: Oh, that’s (wow).

Kirsten: We don’t have color night vision.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: No, we have terrible night vision. These, what they’re calling a multifocal optical system, it has very large cones. And it also has very distinct (wings), regions that have different size cones that the light travel through them differently.

And so, they’re taking a look at these eyes. They calculate them to be 350 times more sensitive than human cone vision at the human color vision threshold, 350 times more sensitive.

Justin: Does that mean though that during the day, they just have day blindness?

Kirsten: Maybe.

Justin: Because it’s too bright to see anything.

Kirsten: I’m blind. That’s why they’re nocturnal.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, we’re not really nocturnal creatures. That’s why, you know, we sleep at night, get out of way from those night time predators. There comes the (night).

Justin: Scientists at the University of Louisville, I believed it’s in Kentucky somewhere have discovered why smokers maybe more prone to chronic gum disease, periodontitis.

The study published recently in the Society for Applied Microbiology journal, Environmental Microbiology showed that the bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis undergoes changes to its DNA and its membrane proteins in response to cigarette smokers.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Wow! That’s quite an adaptation there. Several genes of P. Gingivalis associated with its virulence, its detoxification, its oxidative stress mechanisms and DNA repair are all altered by exposure to cigarette smoke.

As a result, the expression of a number of proteins in the cell membrane is changed. This affects the important characteristics of the bacterial cells themselves, how the immune system, our immune system recognizes this as a pathogen or not.

So, this could explain why smokers are more likely to be resistant to treatment to Periodontitis and are more susceptible to oral disease caused by infection with Gingivalis.

Finding an effective treatment for smokers though will now be easier with that they figured out that the bacterium are changing and adapting within their mouth, evolving within the smoker mouth. And it may make so that, you know, they can start knocking us out.

Even still though, it won’t make smokers anymore kissable or their teeth any less yellow or their cancer any less cancerous. This means that they will likely keep those yellow teeth a little longer.

Kirsten: Nice.

Justin: But then, like that’s best argument for never kissing a smoker, if you’re not one.

Kirsten: You got mutated bacteria. Dude.

Justin: Yeah. Because those can jump ship, right? I mean, if you don’t have those, you don’t smoke, never mind the fact that somebody who taste like an ashtray but they could actually have — be sending you this gum disease that can’t be treated.

Kirsten: Gum disease bacteria…

Justin: Yikes!

Kirsten: …in your mouth. Bacteria.

What else is going on in science news. There was some huge stories. Mercury was really big this last week. (Paula Thomson) sent me a bunch of stories. Messenger found a giant impact crater on Mercury. It’s really amazing. There’s magnesium in the atmosphere. And they also found that Mercury is more geologically active than thought.

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: There’s a lot of interesting stuff. Mercury is very interesting and Messenger. The Messenger mission is giving us some really interesting, interesting – I have no other words. I’ve lost my vocabulary.

Justin: It’s interesting.

Kirsten: All I can say is interesting.

Justin: Fascinating.

Kirsten: Fascinating, yes.

Justin: Illuminating.

Kirsten: I think we should jump into the listener Mailbag, what do you think?

Justin: Okay.

Kirsten: Great. We’re ready. So, a couple of weeks ago, I talked a bit about – I teased the story actually of talking about the 2012 supposed Apocalypse, you know, the End of the World in 2012.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And how science might be suggesting it actually is true. And then, I’ll never got to the story. And minion (Heather Cruz) called me on it. She wrote in to say, “Hey, love the show so much. Listened to it on my iPhone while I work in a biotech lab performing tissue transfers.

On the April 28 broadcast, you guys said you would talk about the science of the Mayan Prophecies. Maybe my power of spacing out is tremendous. Who needs time machine when you got the imagination of a scientist. But I never heard your commentary. Did you forget to cover the piece? I would love to hear what you guys have uncovered.

I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson on a podcast discredit the whole hype saying that every year on the winter solstice, the galaxy aligns. Either way, I think it could be cool for you to break down pseudoscience more often. I know for me, it keeps the wheel turning in my head. Thanks for your awesomeness and Justin’s wackiness. He’s definitely a gift to all womankind.”

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: “I can teach him a few tricks if need be. You make a great team. I wish there are more young, hip scientists like you guys.” You know, there are lots of young, hip scientists out there. Maybe they all just need to do podcast but maybe, not.

Justin: We don’t need a competition.

Kirsten: We don’t need the competition. So, the story about the 2012 Apocalypse. There are a couple of people out there who are taking an extra special look at our power grid in relation to what possibly could come in 2012.

It turns out that the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012. And recent research has shown that occasionally, electromagnetic conduits open up between the Earth and the sun so that they are like…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …you know, there’s a lot more energy transferred through these conduits that normally. And at the same time that that happens, there are holes that open up basically in our magnetosphere that could allow a significant amount of solar energy to be transferred through our atmosphere — potentially shorting out our electric grid. Is it end of civilization. 2012 giant solar activity, burst of energy…

Justin: No more Facebook.

Kirsten: …hole opens in the magnetosphere.

Justin: Oh, no!

Kirsten: End of civilization. Well, they’re suggesting, there’s actually a report, NASA assembled researchers reported in severe space weather events understanding societal and economic impacts, talks about what could happen if solar flares were to disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field.

And it could cost the United States $1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year. A full recovery could take four to ten years. And that would just be a minor portion of what would be happening all over the globe.

Why is it such a high possibility? What — one of the — Lawrence Joseph – let’s see, who is Lawrence Joseph, he’s the author of Apocalypse 2012, A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization’s End.

He suggests that the ultrahigh voltage transformers are getting to be much more finicky as energy demands are greater. So, they’re designed for high amounts of current and he says a little extra current coming in at odd times could slip them over the edge and cause them to blow or short circuit.

There is another researcher – what’s his name, John Kappenman, he’s actually CEO of an electromagnetic damage consulting company called Meta Tech that is developing little add-ons to transformers that could keep them from shorting out.

And so, he’s actually looking at it and going, “Well, you know, maybe, it’s not going to be…” They’re also saying, “Maybe, it’s not going to be this huge solar thing. But there is a potential for this ultra high capacitors as they get more and more current flowing through them and as their demands put on the grid in different ways, maybe we need to have some kind of stop gaps for short circuits taking place and short circuits on a major scale.”

Justin: And it’s happened before. But not just in our high-tech day and age.

Kirsten: Right. So, it’s a really interesting idea. It’s fascinating that 2012 turns out, you know, the solar activity is suppose to be greater, whatever coinkydink, I do believe. But it’s, you know, it does a little bit of scientific…

Justin: The Mayans are forecasting the future. And yes, there will be no Facebook in the year 2012 and we will lose contact with our high school friends who have move to different city. Like I don’t…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: No, it’s not enough.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I need the giant death eagle of sword down.

Kirsten: We have a couple of minutes left in the show and we actually have someone calling in.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS minion, you’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: That’s ironic. I was going to ask if the solar flares go off and Aurora Borealis comes along with the big 2012 thing. Am still going to be able to follow you guys on Twitter if the power is out? Yeah.

But there’s a guy up in Nevada City, traveling (unintelligible) doing talk about crop circles and how their correspondence to 2012, I have to email you some links about it.

Justin: Excellent.

Man: (Unintelligible) a couple of weeks talking about it and some crazy stuff. But I guess that power grids, like an pretty old but that’s also an issue with the solar flares and stuff like that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s old and it’s too connected.

Man: Yeah, exactly.

Justin: It’s too connected by too many, like what do you call them, bottleneck points.

Man: Yeah. They should have listened to Tesla and put it all through the air.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: They’re trying. They’re trying.

Man: Yeah. You guys, keep up the great work.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Man: There’s never going to be a better science program.

Kirsten: Thank you so much. Thanks for calling in. That was very sweet.

Justin: Yeah. We need to do a story about the need to upgrade the power grid anyway through all the alternative energy systems.

Kirsten: That is something that is a major concern.

Justin: I’ll find somebody. I think I know we can find someone to talk to.

Kirsten: You think?

Justin: Yeah. I think there’s (unintelligible) talk about it.

Kirsten: Okay, we will do that. Did you have any quick emails or anything that you wanted to get to?

Justin: It’s microbes, mosquito micro-gut, microflora…

Kirsten: A story.

Justin: …immune system mad at malaria. I don’t have to get into the whole thing. But they find this bacteria that when it’s in the gut of a mosquito, it makes the mosquito – it inhibits the infection of the parasite that causes malaria in human and it also shortens the life of a mosquito.

So, they’re trying to figure out now ways to get lots of mosquitoes to have this microflora.

Kirsten: I don’t know. How can we give you the parasite…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …or the bacteria.

Justin: The bacteria that inhibits the parasite. So, even if they bite somebody who’s got malaria, the parasite won’t go into them. And therefore, they will not vectored on to the next person. Really cool.

Kirsten: I’m a big fan of bacteria, I really am.

Justin: And I’m (enjoying) the story. But malaria kills over a million people every year.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It is, you know, mostly children.

Kirsten: And to put that…

Justin: Forget the swine flu…

Kirsten: Yeah, forget the swine flu. (David Ashlin) wrote in, he said, “In anticipation of a long flight, I have saved up my podcasts, so I was listening to the show from the week of 28th of April while traveling on the 8th of May in which the two of you were discussing the over reaction by some of the public to the H1N1.

A few rows behind me, there was a couple wearing surgical masks for the entire five plus hour trip. I don’t know if they have been wearing them in the airport as well. Now, if both are on immunosuppressants, they might be justified in taking this action. However, if this was not the case, it seems that it would only feed the paranoia of other passengers.

The truly telling element was that the gentleman sitting next to me and five of his colleagues throughout the plane were traveling to Seattle to attend a symposium on Immunology and not one of them felt it necessary to wear a masks.

Thank you so much for the wonderful show, content and for introducing me to Stebbins and his Sharp network, all of which were invaluable sources of education and discussion points among my classmates in our Science Policy, Social Aspects of Science and Biotechnology classes.” Great.

Justin: Cool.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, Stebbins, there are people listening to you, if you’re still listening to us, Mr. In Washington.

And that’s it for out show today. Shout outs to so many people, (Logan Waterman), John Karabaic, (Justin), hey, thanks for writing me.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: …(Lewis Elliot), (Allisandro), (Steven) from the list that podcast – did I just get the name wrong of that again. Oh, at podcast, it’s a library science, library science podcast.

Justin: Cool.

Kirsten: (Norm Mercko) from Croatia and Ed Dyer. Thank you very much for writing in this week.

Justin: Yeah. We hope you’ve enjoy the show. We are available of course on the iTunes. You could go look up at This Week in Science in iTunes directory. Or you can go to our website, and figure out how to subscribe there.

Kirsten: That’s right. And we want to hear from you. So, email us at or

Justin: You have to put TWIS somewhere in the subject or you will get spam filtered into oblivion.

Kirsten: Bye-bye. And we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific time. We hope you’ll stay tuned if you’re listening on the radio right now for more great programming. And we also hope that you’ll join us again for more great science news.

Justin: Next week.

Kirsten: Next week, next week.

Justin: Next week, we won’t be here? I won’t be here. Are you going to be here?

Kirsten: I’m not going to be here. But we’ll be here virtually, maybe. We’ll figure out…

Justin: Oh, okay. We’ll send our clones.

Kirsten: Yeah. Our clones, our robot clones are going to be here for us next week.

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

Kirsten: It’s all in your head. It is.

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