Oct 16, 2007

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer! The following hour of programming is intentionally grounded in reality. If you are tuning in hopes of escaping reality, you have tuned in to the wrong frequency, downloaded the wrong podcast, or worse, you are actually a host of this show.

While many fear to seek truth, let alone face it, the next hour of time spent here is dedicated to exploring and dissecting that, which is truth from that, which is not, peeling away layers of presumption, intuition and supernatural inklings until the onion of the unknown is no more.

If you feel yourself tearing up now, it is an intellectual anticipation of This Week in Science, coming up next.


Justin: Good morning Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning Justin. Here I am like slowly inching up the sliders, waiting for the big introduction.

Justin: No coffee today.

Kirsten: No coffee so.

Justin: The coffee house is on fire.

Kirsten: Everything. That’s right. I’m sorry, fire.

Justin: There’s this big gate coming down. It like this big metal gate was coming down, like this fire gate was coming down as I was approaching the coffee house here on campus. And I had the urge to do the Indiana Jones like go diving under.

Kirsten: Slide under.

Justin: And then I realized that’s going in with the door closing, you can’t get out again. And…

Kirsten: And then you’d be locked in.

Justin: …I would brave the fire for the coffee.

Kirsten: Plenty of coffee but no radio.

Justin: I’ll brave the fire. I’m less fearful of fire than I am of myself with no coffee. But that was not to be.

Kirsten: Not today.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Not today. So, let’s see, instead of being all excited, Justin might be a bit sedated today. Well see.

Justin: Let’s see how long that lasts?

Kirsten: Yeah. About five seconds. You are listening to This Week in Science. We are going to be here on the radio, in your ears for the next 55 minutes. At 9 o’clock we will be interviewing Ian Ayres, author of Supper Crunchers. He is an economist and lawyer or as they like to call him in the book business, an econometrician, which I’d just going to ask him what it – mathematician, economist, magician. I don’t know. Just put it all together. Tell me what this means and why is it different from just economist?

Justin: I don’t know.

Kirsten: These people with the words, they stick together. He should be not the super cruncher but word cruncher, word smasher.

Justin: Well actually, they used number crunching to come up with the name of the book, Number Crunching.

Kirsten: Yes, that’s true.

Justin: They number crunched a lot of different names.

Kirsten: And we will talk with Ian at 9 o’clock about all the different number crunching that’s going on and how it might be affecting the world that we live in. Statistics is the root of our world at this point in time and it’s growing.

Justin: It’s affecting my computer browser. It’s really annoying. Now that I’ve noticed and know what’s going on, it’s totally annoying.

Kirsten: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Justin: You know?

Kirsten: That’s how Google gives you what you want.

Justin: No, that’s the other one. It’s the Yahoo! It keeps changing the first page it shows me over and over again, trying to see which one I’ll select the most often. And so, I just have to keep hitting the refresh browser until another first page shows up. It’s very subtle differences but they’re very annoying.

Kirsten: Interesting. How to game the gamers?

Justin: You know?

Kirsten: That’s the question here today. In addition, we’ve got all sorts of stories for the next 20 or so minutes. I’ve got a great story on chocolate and metabolism, a story on longevity and cancer and the flavonoids and then, you know, others that I love.

Justin: I’ve got dinosaurs and sex with robots.

Kirsten: Oh, the sex with robots. How about marriage to robots?

Justin: Yeah, like why would you marry a robot if you could just have sex with a robot and not ever get pressured? Like…

Kirsten: I don’t know. The whole question of marrying a robot in the first place, why don’t you lead off with that story? That would be fine. Does it – oh, you brought your book again.

Justin: It’s somewhere. I got to find it first. You go first. I’ve lost all my stories again.

Kirsten: Well, here’s an interesting short little story for those of you out there interested in nutrition and who might be afraid of arsenic poisoning.

In Bangladesh, water levels of arsenic are among some of the highest in the world. And what these researchers found by looking at a small group that included 20 fully deficient participants is that folate, which is also known as folic acid or Vitamin A, can actually reduce the levels of arsenic in the blood.

Researchers gave people in the study 400 micrograms a day of folic acid for 12 weeks or they’re going to receive a placebo. They collected blood and urine samples at the beginning and end of the study and then found what they think happens is that folic acid increases methylation or the addition of these methyl groups on to arsenic in the body and in the blood.

And that increases the ability of the body to then be able to grab on to it and excrete it whereas normally, it would end up being stored away and would end up being toxic.

Arsenic can also have long-term effects. So if you are poisoned or if you ingest arsenic at some point in your life, it will say in your body for a long term and it can actually have effects down the road that aren’t apparent at the beginning.

They also found that it might have effects after the period of being to – to help remove arsenic from the blood, in the body and help against those long-term effects.

Justin: Bring it.

Kirsten: So, it’s wonderful in countries that don’t have the kind of water management systems that we are lucky enough to have here in the United States and other places around the world. But to be able to know, you know, something as simple as supplementation with folic acid can help out.

And I said vitamin A, did I? Folate is B vitamin.

Justin: B complicated.

Kirsten: Yeah. And it’s found in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and whole grains. So, if you too are afraid of arsenic poisoning, drink folate.

Justin: I don’t think about it too much nor do I think about lead in my pipes.

Kirsten: It’s either you know arsenic poisoning or you know, neural tube defects. I don’t know. Maybe it works. Folate, folic acid. It’s important. Vitamins are good.

Justin: It is. It makes you smarter.

Kirsten: Makes you smarter.

Justin: It does. It somehow protects your brain longer. And there was some study. So, look here, I’m stumbling. And (hummening hummening).

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Well this might excite me. This might perk me it.

Kirsten: Chocolate.

Justin: Sex with robots.

Kirsten: And chocolate.

Justin: And chocolate. You see, I’m not a chocolate fan. That’s the thing. There’s this whole thing now they’re figuring out there’s a biological reason why some reason love chocolates.

Kirsten: That’s what I was going to talk about, yeah.

Justin: Go for that because I’m the one that has no desire for chocolate, whatsoever. It’s a texture to me that I don’t even like when I’m eating it.

Kirsten: Yeah. So more on the nutrition front, it might be that what you eat is what your body is programmed to eat or that your metabolism likes eat it that you can break down really well or not.

So, these researchers, Swiss and British researchers published in the Journal of Prodium Research a study in which they got 11 volunteers who classified themselves as chocolate lovers and 11 who could…

Justin: Indifferent. We don’t care.

Kirsten: Indifferent, care one way or the other. And all of them were men because women there could have been confounding factors of the…

Justin: All women like chocolate.

Kirsten: I don’t know if that’s necessarily true but…

Justin: It’s a substitute for love.

Kirsten: Maybe, who knows? I need my chocolate. So they gave them chocolate or a placebo – I don’t know what a chocolate placebo would be.

Justin: You don’t want to ask.

Kirsten: I know, over a five-day period. And then again, as in the last study, blood and urine samples were analyzed. Interestingly, chocolate lovers had a metabolic profile that included the good cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and low levels of the bad cholesterol.

And they also had slightly elevated levels of a protein called albumin which is supposed to be beneficial to you. The chocolate lovers have this profile before, during and after the study. No matter what, they had this low levels of bad cholesterol and this particular protein that was elevated.

And the indifferent chocolaters, they had no change. Their metabolic profile was totally different. So it could be that, you know, there’s some link between what you eat and your cholesterol levels. It could also be that what your body already has in it determines what you like to it to maintain that.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: And so, the study is just one of many in the new realm of nutrition science where they’re looking to actually determine maybe people do have particular metabolic profiles that, you know, allow them to eat diets of steak and eggs and whatever…

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Kirsten: …while somebody else has to eat vegetables. You know, it’s not just that you like it but your body really responds well to it.

Justin: Or somebody who I recently met who eats constantly, a constant eater. And I don’t mean nibbler, I mean mealer.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Like all day mealer.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: And I’m like – and not, you know, not an obese person, you know, fit. I think they work out or something. But still, I’ve never seen somebody consume large quantities of food constantly throughout a day. And it’s just sort of amazing because that’s their metabolism I guess. They have no choice.

Kirsten: Yeah. And if they don’t eat all the time then their head will explode.

Justin: Something bad will happen to them. I don’t know what, but like what they eat during a day is probably what I go through in a week. And size – compared to them, they’re not like seven times larger than me. I bet they do spend seven times as much time…

Kirsten: Eating?

Justin: Well, yeah.

Kirsten: But…

Justin: Because they have to. It has to go somewhere, right?

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It can’t just incinerate.

Kirsten: I just think it’s really fast. It’s just really fascinating. Just the differences in body types and metabolisms and they’re, you know, it’s the rules of…

Justin: And we’re all beautiful.

Kirsten: We are all beautiful. Yeah. Go ahead with sex with robots because obviously…

Justin: Because robots could be made to be more beautiful.

Kirsten: Exactly. Obviously, as humans aren’t happy with what we’ve got and we have to have something else. Oh, my goodness.

Justin: This is a great story. I think this came from a TWIS minion, (Neil). It’s a Charles choice story. He always finds the good angles on stuff.

Kirsten: Yeah. I received it from (Bill Shirley), I think.

Justin: Oh, that’s who it was. Yeah, not (Neil). (Neil) doesn’t exist.

Kirsten: There’s a (Neil) out there I’m sure.

Justin: I don’t think there are any. So, this is a – I’m just going to sort of broaching the subject for the minions to ponder.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: But they’re talking about the possibilities of having very realistic sex with robots in the next six years or so, maybe five years according to this article, five years – sex with robots. And then, further down the road…

Kirsten: I mean that in itself is not surprising to me. You know, people’s sexual habits are all across the board from, you know, no to everything.

Justin: I’m surprised it’s not already happening.

Kirsten: None to all.

Justin: Kind of assumed.

Kirsten: Yeah. But the second question – go ahead with what you’re getting at but I mean the whole research into relationships with robots and marriage to a robot…

Justin: All right.

Kirsten: …I mean that’s the psychological shift that it takes to actually have a relationship with something that’s an animated object but…

Justin: It’s animated. It could become intelligent. See, I mean we’re talking about artificial intelligence versus real intelligence.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: At some point, is artificial intelligence more interactive than say a dog? So as a pet already…

Kirsten: But you don’t marry your dog.

Justin: No, no. I’m not saying I’m marrying but as far as a pet, as far as having a relationship…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …a bond, something like that. I can see computers, artificial intelligence, robots overcoming man’s kinship to, you know, dog or cat pretty easily as a pet.

Kirsten: Oh, yeah. It doesn’t shed, you don’t have to worry about feeding it.

Justin: You throw in, you know, you throw in it has our same oh (receptaclelizations) of (sexualation) nation and pretty lady robot. Well, you know, then you can start having sex with a robot. Suddenly, that changes the dynamic of what’s going to on.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: You can make the robot very hot and whatever your hotness is.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: It can say things to you that you like to have said to you at certain times. It can be somewhat programmable or not. And then, yeah, this goes along to say then, what if somebody wanted to marry a robot?

And I don’t know really if that’s the kind of relationship the robots will have because they also have an alternate one in here which I think is more realistic, which is the, you know, honey, I’ve got a headache. Why don’t you go visit your robot friend?

Kirsten: Oh, my goodness. Yeah.

Justin: You know, sort of like in an out like, I’m, you know, sorry babe. I’m in here. I’m really working on this bookshelf. How about the roboman? Can you go visit with roboman? Would that do it?

Kirsten: Yeah. I think it’s fascinating though that, you know, in Western culture this is something that people don’t really talk about or think about or it’s not, I mean this is pretty new on the cultural front as in terms of an idea that people are starting to talk about.

And you know, this is something that people are probably – I’m imagining that politicians are going to at some point in the next few years, oh, we need to make a law that makes this illegal or whatever.

Justin: Marriage is only between a man and a woman or a woman and a woman or a man and a man but not any of those in a robot.

Kirsten: In a robot. Exactly. But it’s been touched on in like Japanese anime and manga. There are like several series that actually go into the idea of, you know, robots with artificial intelligence being produced in the future and being escorts. Or, you know, you could buy one and it’s your partner.

And I can’t remember the name of one particular anime that I’ve seen. And it just goes into this really interesting questions of like this boy falling in love with this robot. But she’s a special robot because somehow she has a soul, you know?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And so, then it really gets into the question of what…

Justin: Guilt-free slavery. It’s about work.

Kirsten: And what point does artificial intelligence move beyond just intelligence into…

Justin: Demand roborights.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: You know, artificial intelligence needing to defend itself from the horrible oppressor of mankind.

Kirsten: And will they have taken over the world before then? Or that’s the question.

Justin: Maybe that’s how they will take over. Because once they’re in our beds hearing our pillow talk, our night whispers and know all of our secrets, because you kind of open up a little bit, you know, during intercourse, you tell a robot anything. It’s kind of like a bartender except you don’t have sex with the bartender. He just gets you drunk. You go have sex somewhere else and then you tell all your secrets there.

This one will get all of your secrets. And yeah, they can amass that, share that knowledge with other robots and create a centralized intelligence that will just absolutely dominate our planet.

We have a caller.

Kirsten: They do.

Justin: Some blinky lights going up.

Kirsten: Maybe it’s a (robothesist).

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

Caller: I know. We better be careful. You saw what happened on the Star Trek first contact with that borg lady and how they got that data to almost take over the ship.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Exactly.

Caller: And will they still be able to get you a beer or can you program in that borg (lust) there in their eyes when you’re having fun with them too?

Justin: Oh, yeah. Now, I think that’s going to be a given.

Caller: That’s a (unintelligible).

Justin: No. You see, people are going to be able to do all kinds of great and awful things with robots. It’s going to be worse and better than any other thing we’ve been able to do with real people.

Caller: Yeah. Will you still (go great) the next morning and if they don’t appreciate you?

Justin: You can program them in, “You were great, Justin.”

Caller: Thank you.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Thanks.

Kirsten: Thanks for calling. Thanks for checking in, minion. Oh, my goodness.

Justin: What was the other thing? Yeah, here’s the other thing. What if they can get hacked?

Kirsten: So many questions.

Justin: What if they can get hacked and their visual receptors could be uploaded? So here you go…

Kirsten: Right. Of course they are a robot they would, I mean everything is going Wi-Fi.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: You know, they’re going have to be – they’re on the net.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: They’re uploading.

Justin: They’re connected somewhere, somehow.

Kirsten: They’re connected. Yeah, yeah.

Justin: Because actually, they’re also monitoring while they’re in the bedroom, they’re also monitoring the dinner and the kitchen while it’s cooking through a remote camera because they’re also having to be in-charge of that at the same time.

Kirsten: And they’re also your interface into second life.

Justin: Exactly. There you go. So, yeah. So, what if your neighbor just got a little hack job going on there can actually tap in and see everything that goes on…

Kirsten: In your house.

Justin: …see everything that goes in that bedroom and YouTube it.

Kirsten: Tal about. Yeah there’s a…

Justin: I’m in big – some people might have issues.

Kirsten: Yeah. Talk about life streaming seriously.

Justin: Wow! And it works fine for the government or for not the government, for anybody. It’s just scary.

Kirsten: I think that we might be dealing with national security issues…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …to not allow this to happen, right? To be careful about the impending possibility.

Justin: I don’t know. It’s kind of like the fire but I want my coffee scenario from this morning.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: You know, sex with robot if it’s good, you know, you might risk it all, risk it all.

Kirsten: Have you ever wondered exactly what it is that, you know, every once in a while a new i-something comes out, a new media player…

Justin: E-thing, I-thing.

Kirsten: …whatever, an e-thing, i-thing. And it’s got a better – it lasts longer. You know, this cell phone lasts longer, has a longer battery life than this one.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: This media player has more memory storage than this one.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: What is it that allows that stuff to happen? Well, two researchers recently got the Nobel Prize in physics. Albert Fert of the University of Paris-Sud of France and Peter Grunberg of – oh dear, Germany…

Justin: That’s right.

Kirsten: …in Germany for their work on giant magnetoresistance.

Justin: That sounds like a giant robot onto itself.

Kirsten: It’s very exciting stuff. The way it works actually is they studied the quantum properties of materials. They’re looking at basically electrons and how electrons react to magnetic fields.

And so, the way that magnetoresistance works is it puts together magnetism and electricity or electrical resistance is the key. And so, you have a disk of a magnetic material. And little pieces of that disk can be lifted up by something that has a magnetic field and then read by the way that they change the electrical resistance in that little magnetic head.

And in all these devices that we’ve got, the reason they got the Nobel Prize in physics is because they basically laid the groundwork for understanding how we can encode information into magnetic material, in electrons, in bits by the way that they flip up or down.

Justin: Stunning.

Kirsten: Maybe, you know, if you take two magnets and hold them next to each other in one way and they repel each other?

Justin: That’s the broken ones.

Kirsten: And if you hold them the other way and then you turn one around and then they go together?

Justin: (And you just turn them around?)

Kirsten: So, it’s true.

Justin: Oh, I always threw those ones out. Oh my God. I’m like, “This one’s broken, another bad one.”

Kirsten: So when you think of, when they’re pushing apart, if you have a magnet in your left hand and a magnet in your right hand and you push them together and they push apart, say that’s a zero, okay? And then if you turn the one in your right hand over and you try to push them together and they stick together, then that can be called a one.

And so, you have a bit way of recording information, either information is either in a zero or one. These electrons or these pieces of material are either in a zero or a one state and they get placed that way by the process of recording information.

And then you have a little magnetic head that is made up of layers of different materials and that they are tiny, tiny, little reader heads. And you could imagine it kind of like on a turntable, the little diamond head that goes and…

Justin: Nobody knows what a turntable is anymore, Kirsten.

Kirsten: We’ve got three of them in here.

Justin: Yeah, I know we know. I don’t know about the kids.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Table? They use the whole table to play their music.

Kirsten: Turntablists? You know, the one that [makes sounds]. Yeah. Anyway, it’s the same kind of thing where it sits on the surface, can go near a surface and the magnetic field either repels or grabs on to things. And so, in that way, it changes the electrical resistance of the materials in the readable head so that electricity flows from the head in a different way than it did when it was just at neutral.

And so, in that way, these machines, these little devices can pick up information that’s been encoded into a disk or onto a disk in your hard drive.

And the research that these guys did on giant magnetoresistance is actually allowing us to get smaller and smaller little heads for reading, smaller disks that put more information on them, to be able to learn how to use these magnetism and electrical resistance in combination to make these devices smaller and smaller and longer and longer lasting.

So every time you pick up your media player or your cellphone or whatever these portable devices that use memory, you’re taking into action – when you turn it on and you go listen to a song, you are…

Justin: Little magnetoresisting.

Kirsten: Yeah. You are putting into practice giant magnetoresistance.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yeah. And so, it was in the 1990s that these guys actually came up with these discoveries. And thanks to them, our little things have 20 gigabytes instead of 4 gigabytes of, you know, whatever…

Justin: This is wild (in extensive of)…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …how quickly – and that’s like one of those things that I wouldn’t have figured out tinkering in my garage too by the way.

Kirsten: I know. You would not have figured that out.

Justin: It would have taken me forever and I still wouldn’t have done it.

Kirsten: Read me a story. You got a story? Otherwise, I’m going to keep going.

Justin: Oh, I don’t have anything here. I got dinosaur, giant, giant dinosaur found…

Kirsten: Yeah. I love the dinosaur.

Justin: …found in the far off nation of Argentina and Brazil is where the scientists were from. The Patagonia dinosaur appears to represent a previously unknown species of titanosaur.

Kirsten: That means big.

Justin: Very big. They named it, all right, Futalongneckosaurus but I think it was bigger than that. I believe the neck alone probably was about 56 ft. long.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Tail was about 49 ft. long. Do the math, put a little body in there and the dinosaur reached – it was probably pretty long.

Kirsten: Over 100 ft. most likely.

Justin: Yeah. And that’s actually a small body, this one is like around 115 ft. to 131 ft. long and an herbivore. Wow! And maybe that kind of explains that guy I was talking about that eats constantly but maintains – no, but this one kept growing.

Back in the day when dinosaurs kept growing, there was no limit. I think it’s awesome that they could find these.

Kirsten: Yeah. And one of the great ways that, you know, 105 ft. I was reading through the story earlier and I was like, oh 105 ft. And then, I got to thinking as I was, you know, driving in my car, destroying the

environment, looking at…

Justin: Burning its bones.

Kirsten: Yeah. Burning its bones, exactly. Looking up, you know, a three-story tall apartment building. I looked at the building and I was like that building is probably about 35 maybe 40 ft. tall. That’s a pretty tall building. And then think of, you know, two more buildings or, you know, one and a half more buildings on top of that one and that would be about as tall as that dinosaur was. Could you imagine coming across something walking, you know, and living? You just don’t put the size of things into perspective often enough when you just look at a number, I think.

Justin: Yeah. It would have been very hard to like maintain a neighborhood or a garden or something. Kirsten: It’s like a 100 meter dash is how, you know, about how tall that dinosaur was. Justin: Wait. No, no, no, no, no. Not 100 meter dash because that would be…

Kirsten: No, that’s wrong. That would be 300 ft.

Justin: That would be three dinosaurs…

Kirsten: That would be three dinosaurs tall.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Which is still quite a – wait, what if we can ride it to?

Kirsten: It’s quite a feet. Anyway, I just go a story that (Ed Dyer) sent me. I love (Ed Dyer). He said he wished he could have volunteered for it. Researchers publishing an evolution in human behavior collected data from 5,300 lap dances of 18 lap dancers at some local clubs from around University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. They found that, they compared the women on their menstrual phase, in their high fertility estrus phase or in the luteal phase of their cycle versus women who were on the pill and not really cycling at all. Of the 11 women with normal menstrual cycles, those in the estrus phase pulled in about 70 bucks an hour compared with $50 for those in the luteal phase and only $35 an hour for those menstruating. So, of the women on birth controls, they earn less across the board than any of the women who were cycling normally.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yeah. So, what this research suggests is that somehow either through motion or pheromones or some kind of signal, men know when women are more fertile. And in this particular situation of the lap dancers, they reward the women more during the most fertile phase of their cycle. Fascinating.

Justin: Interesting. I would ponder further into the peering of how that study was done because here’s the thing, having heard about these places before, I know that there’s a smell…

Kirsten: No, they didn’t…

Justin: …a very strong, powerful smell. If it’s a pheromone can cut through that sort of anti-bacterial funk…

Kirsten: It would. The beer and the grossness.

Justin: It’s not alcohol. There’s a severe funk and it’s not DNA funk. I think it’s some sort of anti-bacterial powder or anti-fungal spray that goes everywhere…

Kirsten: Probably.

Justin: …that’s so strong that it lingers in your clothes when you leave a place like that. That I would think that perhaps there’s a hormonal difference in the aggressiveness of the women.

Kirsten: Possibly. Justin: I would guess.

Kirsten: What the researcher who – there’s an evolutionary psychologist who commented on the study and he thinks that estrogen actually modulates the way the women moves. So, it could be their aggressiveness. It could be the way they act. There could be behavioral effects on how they dance. Yeah, interesting. It’s 9 o’clock, we need to take a break so we can call Dr. Ayres.

Justin: Ian Ayres. Kirsten: Ian Ayres.

Justin: “Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way To Be Smart,” coming up next. Kirsten: He’s not a doctor. I call everybody a doctor, I don’t know, never. Maybe he is.

Justin: He’s not a doctor? How can except for me? How come I never get Dr. Justin? Why does that… Kirsten: Because you’re not a doctor.

Justin: Okay. All right.

 Kirsten: Just one minute. We’ll be back. Justin: Technicalities.


Kirsten: We want the money. Yup, This Week in Science is looking for sponsors and advertisers. If you’re trying to reach a new audience, sell a product or support a good cause, contact me, Kirsten, at for information. {Music}

Justin: I don’t know. It seems some kind of odd a mathematician didn’t know how to use a calendar or a watch but – are we on the air?

Kirsten: Yeah, we’re on the air. Justin: Okay. Okay.

Kirsten: You are listening to This Week in Science. We are back and we’ll be with you for at least the next ten minutes, five minutes, 6.2 minutes.

Justin: Half an hour, aren’t we? What are you talking about? Kirsten: It’s not quite half an hour.

Justin: We got like two hours left.

 Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. We’re just staying…

Justin: There’s a fire ups.

Kirsten: We’ll just stay on the radio forever.

Justin: I’ve been telling you the entire campus is engulfed in flames by now. After that fire alarm that prevented me from having coffee this morning, I better see charred remains of half a campus up there because…

Kirsten: That’s right because….

Justin: If it was somebody trying to get out of like a quiz…

Kirsten: No coffee. Justin: …or they didn’t do their homework so they pulled the thing to try to get (out) I’m going to be pissed. I hope I catch that guy or girl.

Kirsten: No coffee makes Justin a cranky boy.

Justin: Well, not just that but then we’ve got this, you know.

Kirsten: Yeah. We tried to get a hold of Mr. Ayres and it’s not working out this morning so maybe some other time. But thank goodness, this is actually a blessing in disguise because I…

 Justin: And you have all these stories.

Kirsten: …I have all sorts of stories I wanted to talk about. So, this will actually be great. Great surprise for you guys that you get more science from us. Researchers have found a new way to battle cancer. There’s always something new coming up on the cancer front but this I think is exciting and that the whole mechanism is really like battling cancer.

Justin: Which cancer? Kirsten: Well, I don’t know exactly which cancer but it’s…

Justin: About cancer. Kirsten: …tumor cells in a dish that they’re basically doing in the…

 Justin: Okay. Kirsten: …laboratory so. It doesn’t necessarily – I don’t know. Tumor cells that have receptors for folic acid. So, back to folic acid…

Justin: Our hero. Our hero, folic acid. Kirsten: …are returning. Our hero for the show. Many kinds of tumor cells tend to crave folic acid, B vitamins. And tumor cells often have a large number of receptors for vitamin B, just because they’re like it give it to me. And they want the most possible chances that they can catch and grab and pull it. Justin: I’m guessing, we shouldn’t give them any folic acid. Kirsten: We don’t want to. Justin: But they want it. (Unintelligible) of that.

Kirsten: But what these researchers have done and published in the journal Advanced Materials, they took tumor cells, put them in a dish in a lab and they gave them folic acid. They gave them lots of folic acid. Justin: Gave them too much didn’t they?

Kirsten: But… Justin: They got them folic acid drunk.

Kirsten: But they gave them folic acid that they had bound to these little, tiny nanorods of gold. So they combined folic acid and these little gold particles. And then they said, “Here, have all the folic acids you want.” And the tumor cells went, “I love folic acid.” And they grabbed on to it, not really realizing what this other gold bit was for because that’s not what they were concerned with.

They just wanted the folic acid. The researchers then took a near-infrared laser beam and shone it – yes, let’s talk to grammar girl. I need help here – they shined it onto the dish of cells. It heated up the gold particles enough so it was basically like the gold particles were so superheated they ionized ions, molecules near them on the membrane of the tumor cells, turning it to plasma and blasting a hole through the membrane of the tumor cells.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: These holes that were then just, you know, boomed into the cells, the holes ripped open, calcium was able to then flood into the interior of the cell and caused downstream molecular effects, chemical effects that led to the death of the tumor cells. Justin: Yehey!

Kirsten: Yehey! Yeah. So it’s really just fascinating the way that they went about this methodology. So, it’s the kind of thing where they can hopefully in the future be able to specifically make the folate and the gold go where it’s supposed to go. It could be in injected local to a tumor and be taken up by the tumor cells.

And then the near-infrared laser won’t damage other tissues but it will just damage because it will heat up those metal particles, the gold particles. It will just damage the tumor cells. Justin: Wow! Kirsten: And so, the hope is that they’ll be able to be developing this for clinical use but at this point it’s still unknown how long it’s going to take. But I got a new word out of this study, blebbing.

Justin: Blebbing? Kirsten: Bleb. So the holes that get punched in the membranes of the cells, then in the calcium influx and then the death of the cells, it kind of destroys the internal structure of the cells that holds the cells together into their shape. And so, it’s kind of like breaking the scaffolding that’s holding the cell together. And so, the outer membrane of the cells then just kind of blebs away…

Justin: Blebs. Kirsten: …from the internal part of the cell. And so, they’re like these big blisters on the cells that they call blebs.

Justin: Wow! Kirsten: Blebbing.

Justin: It’s kind of funny.

Kirsten: It’s a scientific term, who knew? I love that stuff. Battle of the blebs. Justin: Oh, I can’t wait to bleb out of here today. No, I’m having fun. Kirsten: Get some coffee. Come on, dude… Justin: I need coffee though. It’s not fair. Oh, my goodness.

Kirsten: Bring it. Justin: German-American research team – biologists and geochemists – has discovered hitherto unknown anaerobic bacteria in marine sediments which need only propane or butane for growth, propane or butane as their nutrition system.

Kirsten: The natural gas. Justin: That’s so…

Kirsten: That’s what we use for natural gas or, you know, butane. It’s in your lighters.

 Justin: Yeah. The hydrocarbons, ethane, propane and butane as well as the main component, methane are the major constituents of natural gas. Biological processes may lead to the degradation of these hydrocarbons in underground reservoirs – I said I can’t even talk, can’t even pronounce it today. So addicted.

Kirsten: Okay, next week I’m going to like bring a coffee machine and plug it into your vein.

Justin: It better be on fire upstairs. I’m going to be – hey, oh, he’s from the outside world. Hey, is it burning out? Is the building on fire next door? Oh, no fire. No fire!

Kirsten: And no coffee for you. Justin: Some nutty monkey. All right, which is not a monkey, which is another thing. I got some point, we got to write a letter to PBS.

Kirsten: Go back to the story, go.

Justin: I will but it was one thing like in the 50s some illustrator wrote, you know, a chimpanzee and called it monkey for a couple of stories, you know, Curious George.

Kirsten: All right. Justin: That was fine. Now, it’s on PBS, okay? Now, it’s on the cartoons for, you know, that are right between like Sesame Street and some reading show.

Kirsten: You mean instead of calling them chimps?

Justin: Yeah, or ape. Kirsten: Ape, yeah.

Justin: They keep calling him a monkey which is just, you know, it’s just wrong. It’s like if you had a story about a whale and it was your main character and you kept calling it fish. Oh, what a great fish, that whale is.

Kirsten: It’s not quite the same. Justin: It is the same. It’s the same.

 Kirsten: No, not quite. The analogy doesn’t quite work.

 Justin: Fish, mammal versus ape and monkey. You don’t think…

Kirsten: No. It’s outside of the same family entirely.

 Justin: So it’s okay? You’re down with calling apes monkeys?

 Kirsten: I’m not down with it but it isn’t…

Justin: Teaching it to our children? Teaching our children the wrong thing intentionally over and over again until like they don’t trust reality because well, they were taught by TV and a cute little ape.

Kirsten: Yeah, Justin. That’s all I’m about.

 Justin: I’m just testing. I’m not saying, I’m testing to…

Kirsten: Okay. Back to the story, come on. I’ve been…

Justin: So, I think that was the story, how it’s cool that bacteria can live on propane and the rest of it becomes boring. It starts to go in this, you know, showing how that bacteria employing an unprecedented biochemical mechanism for transforming what are essentially unreactive hydrocarbons into reactive metabolites which are then further oxidized to carbon dioxide. It’s interesting but it’s really that something could live on…

 Kirsten: So basically these microbes can break down these natural gas components, these hydrocarbons…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …to carbon dioxides. So, if we look at that and figure out where they are, they might actually be contributing to the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere significantly…

Justin: Oh, somewhat.

Kirsten: …taking it to another level. New hearing mechanism is discovered. We all know about, you know, got your ears, right?

Justin: Yeah.

 Kirsten: And the cochlea inside your ears, cochlea.

Justin: That little hairy thing?

Kirsten: Those are the hair cells inside that. So you have the cochlea and there is a membrane called the basilar membrane that kind of…

 Justin: Drum.

Kirsten: It’s like the eardrum, yup. And it’s this membrane that reacts to sound waves by transferring them into up and down waves. So, it vibrates at – but it’s shaped like kind of a triangle. And different parts of the basilar membrane react to different frequencies of sound by vibrating. And so those different sections vibrating then stimulates particular hair cells and thus, you hear a range of frequencies. What these researchers have found is – where did they published it? I don’t know where they published it.

Let me see where. I wrote this down. They published it in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just last week. They found that there’s this thin jelly-like membrane that’s called the tectorial membrane. And until now, people have really just kind of been like, “That just doesn’t do anything. What could that do? It’s just, you know, not really that important blah, blah, blah.” It’s also very small so it makes it very difficult to study, difficult to isolate. It’s 97% water. So, it’s very similar to…

 Justin: Balance. Is it balance?

Kirsten: What? Justin: I’m trying to jump to the conclusion. Is it balance?

 Kirsten: Balance? Justin: No. Never mind.

 Kirsten: No. It’s not balance. It’s not balance. But it’s another way – so, they found by basically projecting sound waves at different frequencies at the tectorial membranes that they removed or that they isolated that this little tectorial membrane does respond to sound waves. And it creates waves that move along its length. So that instead of just vibrating in one place like the basilar membrane, the wave actually travels. It’s like a traveling wave from one end of the membrane to another. And they’re not really sure exactly how this affects how we hear but they think that it might add in to the way that we hear, allowing us to hear things like whispers and a very subtle – a nuance range of frequencies as opposed to just like [makes sounds].

Justin: [Makes sounds]

Kirsten: That’s the way. That’s the way, yeah. So anyway, they were measuring at nanometer-scale displacements up to 1 million cycles a second. It’s pretty sensitive…

Justin: Yeah. Kirsten: …measuring equipment these researchers were using as well. So, it’s pretty interesting that something that until now people thought was next to nothing and not important all of a sudden turned out to be this – that might be a fairly important part of the way that we hear. Yeah. And let’s see, in terms of balance, I’m totally blanking on the name of the organ but it’s in your inner ear. And there are basically – oh, my gosh, I’m completely blanking on it.

 Justin: You don’t have coffee either.

Kirsten: I don’t have coffee either. I had a cup of tea and I’m not remembering it. This is like, “I taught this stuff.” Oh, well. Darn it. I’m totally – anyway, that’s all you get from me this morning. Go on, Justin.

 Justin: All right. Chemistry is going to make carbon monoxide healthy for you if you need it to be.

Kirsten: I need it.

 Justin: I think I’m paraphrasing. So, I should probably read the actual story because maybe I’m wrong. Oh yes, carbon monoxide is a deadly gas still. So, don’t go and inhale it now.

Kirsten: Oh, yeah.

 Justin: But one thing about is they’re finding that it can have a potential medical use actually. Because the effect of, you know, death is a bad part, but on the very smaller scale, if you have less of an exposure it actually widens blood vessels, reduces inflammation and increases blood flow and prevents unwanted blood clotting, even suppresses the activity of cells and macrophages which attack transplanted organs. So, researchers are now developing an innovative way, water-soluble molecules which, when shallowed or injected, safely release the right amount of CO inside the human body. So this is something, yeah.

 I’m looking that maybe if you had an organ transplant, maybe if you’re having some like – it seems like it will be good for heart attack too if it’s widening arteries and increasing blood flow if you’re having some sort of heart issues. You know, that’s a pretty – see, you know, you don’t just discount of things. Bacteria we found out just over the last few years is our best friend on the planet. Now, even the carbon monoxide might be saving lives.

Kirsten: Possibly. It’s pretty interesting though to be able to – I love being able – it’s the very little, tiny things that we’re learning about how to use things beneficially. I like that. Researchers at UCSF, University of California, San Francisco, looking at the little worms used by researchers called C. elegans have been looking at the genes related to worm longevity and tumor growth. They’ve found many years ago a gene called daf-2 doubles the worms’ lifespan. So, if they have it, they live longer. If they don’t, they die early.

Justin: Still waiting for that in open market.

Kirsten: Right. Justin: I can’t believe they’re suppressing that one this long.

 Kirsten: Right. There’s another gene called daf-16 that’s also involved in regulating lifespan. And over the years, these researchers at UCSF have started to establish a model of tumor growth in the worms also. Daf-2 and codes for receptor for insulin that promotes growth.

Daf-16 makes a transcription factor that turns on hundreds of other genes. What these researchers recently wanted to do is figure out what genes were regulated by daf-16. And then – so it’s basically like a flow system, daf-16 gets turned on and it goes and turns on other genes.

And the other genes may increase longevity or they may increase tumor growth. And so, the researchers wanted to know if we turn on daf-16, what other genes get turned on and then what do they do. They looked around between 730 and 740 genes that they knew to be targets of daf-16.

They identified 29 that either promote or suppress tumor cell growth. And they used RNA interference which is a method kind of interfering with the production of proteins to stop them from being turned on so they could look at only one gene at a time. Of the ones they looked at, half of them stimulated tumor growth and half suppressed it. And then, looking at the whole model in combination downstream, they also found that the ones that stimulated tumor growth accelerated aging in the worms.

And the ones that suppressed tumor growth went to a longer lifespan. Yeah. So it’s pretty cool that these genes are all interrelated. And that this is something that researchers have kind of been considering for a while that cancer genes may be involved with aging and longevity…

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Kirsten: …because there is definitely something to do with the lifespan of the cell and like how long, you know, how much they divide. And you know, tumors, they have a much faster division rate. There’s like, “Go, go, go.” They have super high metabolisms and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s have it, yeah.” And the rest of the cells are like, “Well, you know, let’s take it easy now. Don’t you want to last longer?”

 Justin: Maybe we should just switch over to all-tumor material.

Kirsten: Yeah. But it’s just interesting that, you know, maybe through looking at all these genes, not necessarily worms, these are genes that we have as well.

Justin: Yeah. Kirsten: And they’re preserved across… Justin: I would, you know…

Kirsten: …many, many, many species. So, they may have similar functions (unintelligible). Justin: I’ll volunteer except this is where the one where like all the worms, you know, the worms all live twice as long. I’ll volunteer for the study. I’ll just see what happens. Kirsten: I’ll do it. I want to be worm.

Justin: I’ll sign the waiver. “Don’t use embryos in stem cell research,” pope says. Pope Benedict appealed to scientists on Thursday – no, he didn’t appeal to scientists. He talked to them though, asked them to stop using human embryos in stem cell research saying it violated the dignity of human life. Scientists in retort said, “Okay. We’ll stop using embryos but can we still use blastocysts?” And the pope was like, “Sure.”

 Kirsten: Okay. Justin: It’s not in here.

Kirsten: That’s all we need to do, call them blastocysts.

Justin: Well, it’s what they are, stem cells. It’s not a fetus, people. It’s not even an embryo.

Kirsten: Nope.

Justin: It’s a blastocyst. It’s a collection of stem cells that have the potential to unlock the future without disease.

Kirsten: Yeah. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and Google. Inner ear, balance organs, the semi-circular canals and they are filled with fluid. There are three canals in three planes, X, Y and Z planes, if you think of like the representations.

Justin: Yeah. Like a level. Kirsten: So, there’s horizontal, vertical and diagonal. It’s like a level. And there’s fluid in each of those. And there are little bits of material inside of them that move around the carbonate crystals called otolith. And they affect hair cells and then you know which direction you’re standing or sitting or laying or whatever. So, anyway, that’s the inner ear in detail. Flavonoids…

 Justin: Flavonoids with the (unintelligible).

Kirsten: They are plant pigments. They help to color plants. They are found in things like the foods – you hear about foods that are supposed to be heart healthy or good for you — wine, soy, green tea, all that kind of stuff? Justin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The right stuff has a lot of the good stuff.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, researchers in Germany have found that flavonoids can actually attach to a structural molecule that also affects cellular motion even within the nucleus of cells. It can even…

Justin: Hmm?

Kirsten: Yes. The molecule is called actin. Actin is a primary component of our muscles — myosin and actin allow our muscles to contract. But it’s also a structural component in all of our cells. They found that flavonoids can get into cells and actually attach to actin and change the way that it works, turning it on or turning it off. They looked at two flavonoids — epigallocatechin, which is an activator and an inhibitor called quercetin, which actually comes from the oak, quercus.

 Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Just, you know, a piece of trivia there. And they showed that depending on what kind of flavonoid activating or inhibiting, the molecule of actin can be set to increase or reduce functional activity. Now, we don’t necessarily know what the long-term downstream effects of that are but this is another piece of evidence that what we eat does affect our health. And so, you eat foods that are high in certain flavonoids, those flavonoids can actually, possibly get into your cells and might be having activating or inhibiting effects that are part of what determines their benefit to our health. So, it’s just kind of an interesting study. Interesting thing here.

Justin: I’m out. Kirsten: You’re out?

Justin: I’ve got nothing left. Kirsten: I got…

Justin: I can read from this book because it has interesting article but when this guy didn’t show up for the interview I’m like I’m going to – oh, wait! Wait, the interviewee has just arrived.

Kirsten: He’s late. He’s on the line. We’re finishing our show. Can you tell him I’ll call him. Thank you.

Justin: I’m not going to say anything bad about…

Kirsten: No.

 Justin: …not Dr. Ian Ayres because there’s a chance he’ll be on the show later and then I’ll regret it.

Kirsten: Let’s reschedule. Let’s reschedule. Let’s reschedule. Justin: Yeah. That sounds like a better idea.

Kirsten: One last thingy that I wanted to say. There’s a species of an invasive plant, a common reed. Justin: Oh, yeah. This is a great story.

Kirsten: It’s called phragmites australis. It’s taking over marsh lands everywhere.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And how does it do it?

Justin: It’s killing the competition. Kirsten: It’s killing the competition.

Justin: Got Monsanto beat. Kirsten: It secretes acid from its roots. And it not just a, you know, nice little acid, 3,4,5 trihydroxybenzoic acid also known an gallic acid which is used in tanning leather. Justin: Yeah. It is a tough plant.

Kirsten: The toxin, the acid is released from the roots of these plants that it targets the structural proteins in other plants’ roots.

Justin: Disintegrates them.

Kirsten: And within 20 minutes disintegrates the structural proteins in their competitions’ roots, killing everything around it. Talk about chemical warfare.

Justin: Yeah. That’s a tough weed.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: When a weed starts using like…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …you know, anti-weed stuff on its neighbors, that’s tough.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Well, that’s what people do all the time though, isn’t it?

Kirsten: Exactly.

Justin: And we’re all a bit like that.

Kirsten: It’s published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology, if anyone’s interested in taking a look at that study. We are just about out of time here. We have some very interesting new things available on our website,

Justin: Oh, where’s my shirt?

Kirsten: Yeah. I finally got around. I forgot to bring your shirt.

Justin: You forgot to bring my shirt.

 Kirsten: Yeah. World Robot Domination t-shirts.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: I finally got them. I finally got them.

Justin: And you finally forgot them.

Kirsten: I’d like to thank (Matias Flueger) of He’s an illustrator based in Germany. And he’s a great artist. He’s got a lot of stuff out there. And he made up the design for us. And (Peter Beer), his partner, they’re doing some…

Justin: Very, very cool job.

Kirsten: …great t-shirt stuff out there in the world. And thank you, thank you, thank you very much. I’m very excited to have these t-shirts. And the 2007 CD is also on our website now as well so…

Justin: I think we’re going to bleb out of here.

Kirsten: We’ve got to bleb. Justin: So if you learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.


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