Jan 29 2008

Justin: Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer! The following hour of programming deals with subject matter that is appropriate for audiences of all ages. You do not need to consult the doctor before listening. People with an open mind are advised to use double the recommended dose.

Should you find yourself with a thought lasting more than 24 hours, as a result of listening, it’s okay. It’s not a disorder syndrome or an illness; it’s just your brain on science. While the University of California Davis, KDVS and its sponsors have asked me to remind you that the views and opinions on the show are not their own, they have not offered to tell ME what their views and opinions are and therefore offer nothing to our conversation.

So I will continue. It’s okay to listen while operating heavy machinery. It’s okay to listen heavily before driving. It’s okay to eat nothing or a lot during, before and after each show.

The only thing not okay is tuning out because it’s time once again for – This Week in Science, coming up next.
Good morning Kirsten.
Kirsten: Good morning Justin. How’s it going?
Justin: It’s good.
Kirsten: [Laughs] It’s good? I was in the process of keeping your microphone down because I was expecting one of your big – “yah” mornings!
Justin: No, I’ll be quiet today.
Kirsten: It’s a quiet day? Today’s quiet time?
Justin: Yes. I’m trying a new voice today. I don’t know.
Kirsten: [Laughs] You lose your voice or something?
Justin: No, I’m just trying to come up with a voice I can, you know, make an angel spread her wings – kind of a thing.
Kirsten: Ah yes, whatever. [Laughs]
Justin: You know, like a nice new voice.
Kirsten: Yes, strange one.
Justin: I am feeling very strange today. I have no paper in front of me again. Another computer reading off of day.
Kirsten: That’s right. Using the computer!
Justin: It’s experimental. I don’t really like it. It’s not the same.
Kirsten: Well today we have lots of great news as usual. I’ve got stories about a giant electron accelerator in the sky! Yes, larger than a CERN. Who needs the CERN – the large Hydron Collider when we’ve got two million mile barge ones.
Justin: Sounds like such a disco trucker physicist song?
Kirsten: Oh yes. [Unintelligible]
Justin: The Great Collider in the sky [singing].
Kirsten: I love it! [Laughs]. Somebody make it happen. Yes this is This Week in Science. You are listening to me, Kirsten and Justin over there with the angel voice. [Laughs]
Justin: The voice of the angels [unintelligible]
Kirsten: We’re bringing you science like nobody’s business. Michael Stebbins will be joining us this morning. In about half an hour we’ll be talking with him all about the ins and outs of the weird going on in Washington these days.
Justin: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!
Justin: And there’s a lot of it. Oh, and in news – we’ve got microbes. I’ve got squid, girl news. Stem cell news. Australian transplant news.
Justin: Wow, wow!
Kirsten: Yes.
Justin: I got some tips from Paris [unintelligible]
Kirsten: And I’ve also got a story from last week that I didn’t get to that I’m going to have to get to it some point today because…
Justin: Start it! Start it up!
Kirsten: Okay, okay, okay. Wait, wait, wait.
Justin: Bring it! Before we forget it again!
Kirsten: Wait. I don’t know. Wait.
Justin: Kirsten again if it didn’t make it into a whole episode before, well it’s not worth starting off the show with. I don’t know.
Kirsten: No, it is worth it!
Justin: Oh really? Okay.
Kirsten: It’s really, really worth it! I promise. If I can find it. So let me see, right now, going through all of my stories from last week… yes
Justin: Is this real? Okay, this guy sent in from TWIS-minion Ander Sherman.
Kirsten: Ah, I found it!
Justin: Researchers from University of Tokyo are teaming up with members of Japan Origami Airplane Association.
Kirsten: Oh that’s right.
Justin: They think they can take a paper airplane, launch it from the International Space Station, and have it reenter. Like a paper airplane, right?
Kirsten: I think that’s great.
Justin: Like everything burns up. But they say it has like a slow enough angle…?
Kirsten: Right. That if it’s not going that fast, if it’s not entering at a speed that would create the friction and heat as it enters the atmosphere – then it should be fine. Just glide gently to earth.
Justin: Yes.
Kirsten: Paper should make it where the shuttle has trouble.
Justin: No launch date has been set for the paper space plane. But they’re hoping that the space station probably will be able to write a message on it. And the message of peace of course.
Kirsten: Oh! It always has to be a message of peace. It can’t be like your mom…
Justin: Send pizza.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: No snarky jokes. Like Help! I’m trapped in a national space station! [Laughs].
Kirsten: Yes. When I went in… Help me! [Laughs]
Justin: They’re making me write “Space Fortune Cookies”.
Kirsten: Oh my gosh! When I went to go look up that story, I thought it was really interesting. I forgot which was – Pink Tentacle is the website that it was posted on originally?
Justin: [unintelligible]
Kirsten: People leave comments in the comments section of blogs. And so this was entered as a news item on this blog. And I saw it was so interesting – the various comments that people come up with. Some people are just upset in general that people on the planet are wanting to spend money to make paper airplanes that we can throw from space.

I personally love the joy of it that just… Hey! I mean, what kid doesn’t love to throw – you know, make paper airplanes. Throw them. I mean, this is taking that childish glee to a space level! I mean it’s just, to me, a very fun exciting thing.

And yes while there are problems on this planet that yes, money could help solve, so could… We could spend the rest of our lives worrying about problems and never having any fun and never doing anything fantastical. I love it!
Justin: I’m never bringing my stories on computer again. This should be such a good story to turn into a paper airplane while you’re talking about that.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: And then throw across… There’s nothing. I can’t do that on my laptop.
Kirsten: And you can’t do it. You can’t do it. Do you want a piece of paper?
Justin: [unintelligible]
Kirsten: I’ve got lots of paper in front of me.
Justin: [whistles] Okay, you continue on. Fold [unintelligible]
Kirsten: [Laughs] Okay. So my story from last week was…
Justin: [Grunts] I can’t do paper airplanes apparently.
Kirsten: [Laughs] You’re really good at…
Justin: I’m staying with the computer.
Kirsten: Taking the paper balls to throw across the room. That’s good.

Company called Stemagen Corp., in La Jolla, California, has created, or claims to have created cloned humans from which they’ve made stem cells! [Singing]
So this is the same – well not the same technique, but the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep back in 1996. They did not go as far as actually plating out these cells to see if they actually would turn into any number of tissues.
But this private corporation has taken human eggs from IVF facilities (left over eggs) and created clones of two men. So they took skin cells from two guys. Injected them through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.
It’s basically, they took the nucleus out of the egg, and then replaced it with the nucleus from the cells they got from these guys. And then they allowed the egg, the new cell, to grow into a Blastocyst.

And as far as they are claiming, it was successful. A bunch of people looked at it and they say it looks to be successful. However…
Justin: Let’s go people!
Kirsten: Yes. Hwang Woo Suk from Korea, he…
Justin: What did you say to me?
Kirsten: The name of the Korean researcher.
Justin: Oh yes!
Kirsten: Yes. He was found to have faked part of his research that… when he was developing cloning technology back in 2004. So, let’s try not to do this again says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology. Another company that’s trying to make human embryonic stem cells.

I don’t know. It’s a very… an interesting, amazing advancement and it could help us a lot in terms of research for developing organs, for transplantation and…
Justin: Cloning armies of TWIS minions. [Laughs]
Kirsten: Yes, I don’t really see that happening anytime soon. The whole clone army thing is just scare tactics Justin! [unintelligible] scare tactics.
Justin: Yes. We already have the “dido” people who want to go to war. Why not the clone… I mean, we’re already doing it. We don’t need genetics for that research. We don’t need modern science for that. We’ve got good old fashion propaganda.
Kirsten: There’s another real cool story that was sent to me by a bunch of different listeners. So in the name of transplantation, you know, it wasn’t…
Justin: [Singing]
Kirsten: Is everything a song today? [Laughs]
Justin: Everything! I’m just goof balled up today. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m tongue tied and mentally twisted.
Kirsten: You are. Demi Lee Brannon, aged nine, fell ill with liver failure – received a transplant. She’s now 15 years old and she’s never had to use transplantation anti-rejection drugs because her body took on the blood type of the donor liver.
Justin: Wow!
Kirsten: It’s the first time in recorded medical history, doctors have seen anything like this happen.
Justin: That’s pretty darn wild.
Kirsten: A study… A single girl… It’s been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. What they think is that it was a very special series of events that happened to allow this girl – this Australian girl, to switch her blood type from her own natural blood type to that of the donor liver.

They think that she had a special type of liver failure that maybe… I don’t understand that at all. You’d have to read the article to understand that a little bit better. But she also came down with an infection right after having the transplant.

They think that the infection and the type of liver failure that she had weakened her immune system enough so that the immune system could not kill the blood cells of the donor. The donor blood cells got in to the bone marrow and then became bone-blood stem cells and actually started creating blood for the girl. So it’s a…
Justin: Pretty wild.
Kirsten: Yes! I mean, the whole series of events is just almost improbable that…
Justin: And probably now duplicate-able in some [unintelligible]
Kirsten: Mm, yes. So now they have seen this happen and maybe – it would be very difficult to create that perfect storm over again because you can’t ever know everything.
Justin: Well they are not going to let them do it… They’re not going to let them try with people right away. Yes.
Kirsten: Mice and stuff like that. Yes. But it’s something that people can work towards being able to learn how to possibly switch blood types or work around the immune system to allow people to actually accept the transplant organs that they get.
Justin: Absolutely [unintelligible]
Kirsten: It’s really a fascinating case. Thanks everyone for sending that in.
Justin: Me and my girl… We’ve been uh… We’re going to celebrate our fifth year together. We’re going to go down and get matching blood types. Yes. We are taking the plunge.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: Well, you know. What are people going to do with that? Everything becomes recreational at some point. Even medical science.
Kirsten: [Laughs] You’re hilarious. Recreational medical science.
Justin: So hey! I have a story in here somewhere. [whistles] Where did it go?
Kirsten: Looking into the black box – of science.
Justin: Looking into the… This is a… They’ve done some more research on the… I can’t… where did it… [unintelligible] where did it go? Oh!
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: The earth is… Yes. They did some 3D seismic sketching. And I still don’t know how to pronounce this right – Chicxuluba, the big crater?
Kirsten: Yes, the big crater. Chicxuclub.
Justin: It kind of a… Chicxuclub
Kirsten: I honestly…
Justin: It’s kind of weird. We’ll call it the Chic crater. Chic crater revealing ground zero images of an asteroid impact that packed more of a punch than previously pondered. The submerged crater site, off the coast of Mexico, is thought to be the landing place of the asteroid that played a major role in the K-T extinction event. The end of the reign of the dinosaurs and nearly destroyed all life on earth.
Kirsten: Big badaboom.
Justin: Seventy percent of all life on Earth was wiped out by that one asteroid which over the end of the events, ensuing, close enough call for some – for such as a seemingly unprecedented thing is life I think, having almost all of it wiped out in a one place that it is. [Laughs] Yikes!
Kirsten: Yes. Hi, there’s life – target – boom!
Justin: Boom! Ah, we missed some. Nah, they’ll never matter to anything, those little scurrying, furry little things, what can they ever do?
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: New data is now revealing that the asteroid may have landed in much deeper water than originally thought. So, this would mean the amount of vapors released would have been six and a half times more than the current models have used. Now this impact of having more moisture in the air actually creates conditions of acid rain.
Kirsten: Oh right.
Justin: This is really weird. Because there’s a couple things. Like first of all, actually, the actual impact when it hits the water creates a lot of those sort of acid rain ingredients by the meteor contacting water. It’s like the [unintelligible] called the heat and the steam and the thing…
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: What do they call it? What are those… when you use – aerosols – that’s what it is. Lots of aerosols and the rest of it…
Kirsten: Right. Well heat is probably going to get into the water and cause yes, vaporization of water and other molecules within it.
Justin: It’s vaporization of the water but it’s also the ingredients of the asteroid.
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: Like a lot of the Sulfates and stuff in the at….
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: So anyway. They’re looking at that creating just an awful, nasty acid rain condition across the planet and creating an acidity that would have been very prevalent in the surface of the oceans worldwide – which kind of make sense because it links up to a lot of sea life that was not as sensitive to the PH of the ocean – that survived. And those that were more sensitive actually disappeared.
Kirsten: Disappeared at that point in time. Well that’s interesting.
Justin: They’re still trying to figure out the trajectory. That’s one thing that’s kind of… They’re trying to figure out the actually trajectory of [unintelligible]
Kirsten: Where did it come from?
Justin: Oh yes! It’s sort of like, not so much where it came from, but when after it hit, how you know, in what direction was there sort of this really hot sort of expansive asteroid material- how it decimated the actual landscape that way?
Because there would have been all kinds of fires and stuff – I mean this is huge. I think it created the Gulf of Mexico.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: I mean – that’s a big sucker.
Kirsten: Yes. We’ll it would have had it if it was that big. It probably would have had liquefaction events when it landed. So actually liquefying – hitting the crust of the earth and actually liquefying it and causing that kind of molten crust to spread out in waves and actually have almost like an earth tidal wave. [Laughs]
Justin: Yes. That would be intense.
Kirsten: I would imagine. [Laughs] That would be intense. I would not want to be there. Let’s hope that Mars can block any asteroids from hitting us in the future.
Oh, what was the other neat thing happening in outer space this last week? Researchers have discovered a giant particle accelerator!
Justin: In the sky!
Kirsten: Yes, as mentioned earlier in the show. Researchers have been checking out the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster? I have…Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. Yes.
Justin: [humming]
Kirsten: It’s one of the brightest in the sky – in the x-ray spectrum. And researchers are trying to figure out – they’ve been trying to figure out how such high energy x-rays are coming from a very, you know, just nice little hot gas inside the cluster. That’s a lot of hot gas.
So, they’re thinking that there might be big magnetic shock waves rippling through the gas. And actually those shock waves have probably turned the cluster itself into a particle accelerator. So that electrons within the cluster are getting sped up as their being pulled around by the magnetic fields within the cluster and then shot out at super high energies.
They have a couple of different options as to what exactly is going on. So x-rays can be produced in two ways. They could either be caught in the magnetic field, like I just said, or they can be the result of collisions that are actually taking place when two clusters collide.
And so the energy at which the x-rays are leaving the cluster will tell them how long ago. So they think there was this collision that took place between two clusters. And what they are going to try and figure out by power of the x-rayed electrons coming out is – exactly when that collision might have taken place? The amount of energy that comes out will determine how long ago that collision could have taken place.
Justin: Hmm.
Kirsten: Yes. It just…
Justin: [unintelligible]…collide.
Kirsten: Yes. They say that this galaxy cluster is perhaps 20 times more powerful than large Hydron Collider but the cluster is also 2 million miles across.
Justin: They started to perform the experiments when it’s at…
Kirsten: As opposed to 27 km. [Laughs] Two million, I’m sorry, two million light years across. Not just 2 million months, 2 million light years across. Yes.
So they’re going to be checking it out with the High Energy Stereoscopic System, HESS in Namibia. And they’re going to be looking for the flashes of light that come from gamma rays colliding with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. They’re going to be looking at those – checking to see whether they’re coming from this Ophiuchus cluster. And then that will help them determine which scenario is correct.
Kind of exciting.
Justin: Very exciting.
Kirsten: Synchrotron in the sky [singing].
Justin: I feel like I should just pepper the song with little song ideas for the rest of the show. [Unintelligible] do background music.
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: Now I’ve got to bring it. I got to bring it!
Kirsten: Song ideas, song ideas, song ideas. Everybody out there. If you have song ideas send them our way. We are in the process of starting to collect music for this year’s science music compilation CD. So if you’re interested, send me an email:
Justin: Well, we’re just passed the millennium turn and Antarctic ice loss is speeding up – about to catch Greenlandic ice loss. I have to say Kirsten, both ice caps have really got their glaciers slowing out there today. In fact, barring any unforeseen meltdown by either cap, I’m predicting a global dead heat heading down the stretch with both caps erasing themselves to be the first to reach the “End of the World”!
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75% in the last ten years due to the speed up in the flow of its glaciers.
Kirsten: Hmm.
Justin: And it’s now nearly as great a loss as that observed in Greenland.
Kirsten: Wow. So it’s rapidly starting to disappear.
Justin: Yes. Back in the – a while ago when they started doing this checking, they are seeing… let’s see about 1996. They found that enough ice was being loss to raise the sea level by .01 inches. Not very much for a year. Now by 2006, it’s .02 inches. So it’s kind of doubled the yearly rate.
Kirsten: Right. Right. And if the yearly rate continues to double, that could be trouble.
Justin: It’s one of those things like if, you know… here’s a penny and pay me a penny tomorrow. And if you don’t, then you owe me two pennies the next day. And then you owe me, you know, just keeps doubling every day.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: Well it only sounds like you’re talking about pennies at first and then when they add up, and then you’ve realized that you owe a guy, who you made a bet within the 3rd grade, some 45 million dollars now. I don’t know if I’m really supposed to pay that? Because technically, I was a minor when I made that contract. And technically so is he. So does that mean the contract is still good?
Kirsten: Is it still good? Or is it null and void? [Laughs]
Justin: I don’t know. But he keeps calling. He keeps demanding that…
Yes. Wow! This is not good. See, there’s also… This kind of the… The other thing that’s compounding all this – the global sea temperature is rising. Right?
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: So when the sea temperature rises and the sea temperature around the glaciers is rising, then you have warmer waters interacting with these giant ice shelves. And it just speeds up the process even more.
So, we’re going to have to do an entire show dedicated to fighting global warming. Like not just reporting on it. But something that’s like we can pretend for one shining moment that we have a fighting chance in all this. Just that – you know what I mean?
Kirsten: I think it’s a great idea!
Justin: Yes! Just to complete like… this is what we’re going to do to…
Kirsten: Yes, I think that’s a really good idea because there is so much doom and gloom. I mean we joke about this week and the end of the world. And you know.
Justin: You’re joking.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Justin: You’re joking. I’ve written all my farewells already. I’ve called up old friends. I told them, hey buddy! You know, we haven’t talked in 40 years but… oh I don’t know you… it doesn’t matter.
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: I’m making friends and making amends with everybody. The time has come Kirsten.
Kirsten: The time. The time is coming. But there are things that we can do. And so I think it would be a good idea to focus on…
Justin: I’m really busy though.
Kirsten: The things that people can do.
Justin: You know what? I’m kind of have a full plate this week.
Kirsten: What things are people doing?
Yes, other news in this week in the end of the world. The squid are coming to California.
Justin: Really? That might be a good thing.
Kirsten: Yes. Jumbo squid. Jumbo squid are invading the coast of California coming into areas that they, historically, have not really inhabited. The Monterey Bay area is one such area. And a Stanford biologist believes that it has to do with a growing mid-depth ocean layer of oxygen poor water.
The squid are probably following that layer because they are following these – one of their main food groups – lantern fish. These lantern fish aren’t really… they’re a staple of the jumbo squid diet however they’re not fished by human fisheries.
So their population are still rather large. And they inhabit these low oxygen domains. However “The low oxygen domain has grown a lot” says researcher William Gilly in the Gulf of California over the last 50 years.
And that layer is shoaling or becoming shallower in the California current. So it’s getting closer in to shore. There’s a much larger area of it off Monterey. This article here says that the oxygen minimum zone begins at about 500 meters depth and extends to about 1,000 meters.
And those levels have dropped about 10% to 20% since 1984. The bulk of the Monterey jumbo squid population spend their day time hours at about 500 meters, the top of the oxygen minimum layer, foraging for their food. So…
Justin: For those not familiar in meters, 500 meters is approximately equivalent to half a kilometer.
Kirsten: Yes. [Laughs] Yes it is approximately. Thanks for the clarification Justin. Yes. And this story coincides interestingly with another story that came out this week. I can’t remember where it was published. But a story that’s basically showing that the oceans’ so called desert regions, or the areas that have less life, less oxygen, are nutrient poor – are expanding throughout the oceans around the world.

So this is not… this could be something that is indicative. The squid population movement might be indicative of permanent changes, or you know, in terms of human life span – permanent changes that are taking place in the oceans. And they’ve actually found for some of the first times ever – female squid with male squid egg sacs. And they’ve also found squid egg sacs.

But they have not yet found little hatch lings. So they’re checking to see if they can find hatchlings within the Monterey Bay area which would be unheard of.
Justin: Yes. What’s [unintelligible]
Kirsten: And that would show that the squid are completely changing their breeding ground – they’re changing their habitat completely.
Justin: Well, they’re filling in. They’re taking over a larger territory. You know, so we lose some of the fish that we eat. Squids are kind of cool.
Kirsten: Yes.
Justin: I imagine actually… I think they probably got the best shot of the next wave of civilization.
Kirsten: [Laughs] I know.
Justin: After we do ourselves in.
Kirsten: Jumbo squid. [Singing]
Justin: I think it’s going to be all about the squid.
Kirsten: I love jumbo squid.
Justin: This is a great story of parental involvement – proves potential solution for children solving problems. Research at Vanderbilt University reels that children learn the solution to a problem best when they explain the problem first to a parent.
We knew that children learn well with their moms or with their peer. “But we did not know if that was because they were getting feedback and direct help” says Bethany Riddle Johnson – the studies’ lead author, Asst. Professor for Psychology at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. In this study, we just had the children’s mothers listen, without providing any assistance.
Kirsten: Huh.
Justin: And we found out that simply by listening, the mother helps a child learn.
Kirsten: Well, did they have children explain things to other children… and?
Justin: Yes. And they also had them just repeat it to themselves. They have them repeat the problem to themselves and explain it to a peer – another kid. And what they found was that – let’s see where is it… [Singing]
Basically the idea is that it’s really effective to try to get kids to explain things themselves, instead of just telling them the answer. So…
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: But it was the active explaining the question to the parent that somehow, by involving the parent, knowing the parent was paying attention or listening, or was aware that the child is going to be attempting to solve the problem – the child performed better.
Kirsten: What I get from that immediately is that through the logic of having to put together proper sentence structure – proper idea flow to be able to be coherent to an adult – probably allows the working out of a problem as the child is thinking about how to explain it.
Justin: Interesting. That makes a heck of a lot of sense.
Kirsten: I mean, just the whole act of – I find myself, if I explain things to other people – I understand them better which is the whole reason why I do this show. [Laughs] If I can explain things to other people, then I can understand it a little bit better myself.
Justin: It makes a lot of sense because… Yes, if you see the way a kid probably talks to themselves versus the way they talk to another kid, versus the way trying to break it into, oh gosh, I’m going to use big people logic here for me to start to communicate with a parent…
Kirsten: Right – to talk to a parent. Right.
Justin: Interesting. What also was interesting is that – they found that this – they were doing this study with foreign five year olds. Previous studies all had to do with like eight year old and up. So this is the youngest group that they’ve seen has a benefit, not just from the saying out loud. Because they did a little bit better just repeating it, than they did by not saying anything.
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: But this is the first time they’ve that marked improvement in 4-5 year olds and the explanation portion as well. [Unintelligible]
Kirsten: That’s interesting. That’s very interesting. So get your kids to talk to you. [Laughs]
Justin: Yes. Get them to like…
Kirsten: Get them… Ask them questions.
Justin: How was school?
Kirsten: Get them to explain things to you. Yes. Tell me about it.
Justin: I don’t get math but, tell me that problem again?
Kirsten: Tell me about… Yes. Tell me about it. Researchers looking at DNA have found that DNA has a small…
Justin: Very small. Very, very small.
Kirsten: That’s very small. But it has the power of telepathy.
Justin: Yes, sort of. It’s a mystery.
Kirsten: Well, yes and no. [Unintelligible]. It’s a mystery. Published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B, researchers found that when they put small strands of DNA all by themselves, with no other proteins, no RNA, anything like that in water…
Justin: [humming]
Kirsten: Like found like. So DNA strands that were very similar ended up grouping together more often than those that were dissimilar. So yes. They had fluorescently tagged DNA strands placed in water and they just looked to see where the DNA strands went and somehow there are forces that can act across more than one nanometer of separation to bring DNA together.
Justin: DNA of a feather…
Kirsten: …flocks together. Yes. So it’s a mystery. These researchers are wondering how DNA without any other instructions that we can see, can find itself. So I’m wondering…
Justin: And actually the longer the chain, the longer the sections, the more likely they’ll be pulled together too.
Kirsten: Yes. I wonder if it has something to do with like electrostatic forces, or polarity. So more positive and more negative sections cause somehow – kind of coming together. But you wouldn’t think that that would work over, you know, relatively greater distances.
Justin: Yes. It’s a kind of strange, strange, strange world in there.
Kirsten: It’s interesting. It’s a very strange…
Justin: And it’s all very small. It all happens… You have to really strain your eyes to see what’s going on in there.
Kirsten: You do. And, oh my, I don’t have any CD’s queued up at all. What am I…?
Justin: I could just sing a song.
Kirsten: Oh, I just didn’t press… You’re going to sing a song to me Justin?
Justin: Ah, let’s see.
Kirsten: [Singing] Sing, sing a song…
Justin: Which one are you going to play? I’ll sing along with it.
Justin: Sing for my dinner tonight.
Kirsten: We’re going to… Yes. Anyway, This Week in Science is going to be back in a few moments – as soon as I can get these CD players to play. We’re going to break. And when we come back, Michael Stebbins will be with us with the “Weird from Washington”. Stay tuned.
Justin: And we’re back.
Kirsten: We are back. This is This Week in Science in case you forgot what you’re listening to. Or in case you just tuned in. We are on the phone now with Michael Stebbins from Washington bringing “The Weird” -without further ado. [Laughs]
Justin: What is that?
Dr Mike Stebbins: Good morning.
Kirsten: Good morning. I cued the wrong song!
Dr Mike Stebbins: Oh no.
Kirsten: Oh no! Today!
Justin: Production [unintelligible]. Today is a day of just sloppy radio work. Today…
Kirsten: That’s right. [Laughs]
Justin: Mostly on my part.
Dr Mike Stebbins: It could have been… you know… I’m a tinny little milk maid. Or something like that.
Kirsten: It could have been something like that. Thank goodness.
Justin: Wow. How did you?
Kirsten: Instead it was like – whoa! Yes. Hello. Good morning. Welcome to the show.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Thank you. So, I’ll jump right in. I’m sure everyone was glued to their televisions last night watching the “State of the Union”.
Justin: Was that a repeat?
Kirsten: Mm. [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: [Laughs] Unfortunately it wasn’t. You know how I know?
Justin: No.
Kirsten: You’ve watched…
Dr Mike Stebbins: He actually used the word “Carbon” and “Emissions” for the first time in any State of the Union.
Kirsten: Oh that’s interesting.
Justin: Oh wow.
Dr Mike Stebbins: He also said the word “Stem Cell” which he had never said before either.
Kirsten: Ah wait. He said that before didn’t he?
Dr Mike Stebbins: No. No he did not.
Kirsten: No? Well not in the State of the Union. Wow.
Dr Mike Stebbins: I thought it was the first he ever said in the State of the Union at least. I’m sure he has used it in his personal life. Stem Cell, Carbon and Emissions were the three words. Yes.
Kirsten: Hmm.
Dr Mike Stebbins: He actually said emissions twice. In one of them, it was emissions free nuclear power. Yes. Indeed.
Kirsten: Interesting. So what does this tell us?
Dr Mike Stebbins: Absolutely nothing. [Laughs]
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Sorry kids. [Laughs]
Kirsten: [unintelligible]
Dr Mike Stebins: Thank you. I’ll be here all week.
Kirsten: Don’t I ever like this comedian. [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: So there’s a whole… He talked about a couple of different things in the State of the Union in reference to science. First of all, the doubling of federal support for basic science research in the Physical Sciences. In other words, the NSF. And Congress last year passed a bill that allowed them to double the funding of Physical Sciences, the NSF. And of course did fund it in this last round of appropriations bills or the giant omnibus one.

In fact, actually, people don’t realize this. The President’s proposed budget was actually better on science funding than the omnibus bill that was actually passed…
Kirsten: Interesting.
Dr Mike Stebbins: By the liberal democrat, you know congress.
Kirsten: Right.
Justin: Damn liberals!
Dr Mike Stebbins: You know that people complain about. As it turns out, they actually have their back up against the wall. The President had threatened to veto anything that went above spending for his bill. So in fact, what they were looking to do – what the administration was looking to do is get Congress to cut social programs to actually increase science funding. And of course, refused to do that.
Kirsten: Right, they didn’t. Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: We’re not going to cut children’s health insurance for example in order to fund Physical Sciences.
Justin: Damn liberals!
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes, I know. So he then launched into his Embryonic Stem Cell talk where it was the first time he actually mentioned Embryonic Stem Cells. And of course did not change any of his tactics, except perhaps saying that of course – that the land mark achievement of scientist reprogramming adult skin cells means that the debate on embryonic stem cells will probably go away – which of course shows a total lack of understanding on science.
Kirsten: [unintelligible] and other. The debate still rages.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes not really. It’s like, not so much guy. And he called on congress to pass a ban on the unethical practices of buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life -which really is going to ruin my weekend.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: So, I was going to patent a friend of mine but, it’s not going to turn out that way.
Kirsten: No, not anymore.
Dr Mike Stebbins: No. So, in fact there have been no instances where people will even propose buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life. We’re talking of course about reproductive cloning where one would make a mini-me for example. And which I would love to have.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Except I hate the crap all over the place. Anyhow, so that caused absolutely nothing new either. There have been a bunch of bills that have been thrown around the House and the Senate – trying to ban human cloning and all sorts of other things.
And as it turns out, there is not a lot of support for it because it would ban therapeutic cloning which of course would not be very popular. Because this is in fact the point of doing a lot of the stem cell research that were talking about – is the ability to create stem cells from the actual donor – for treatment of the donor.
Kirsten: Right. I wonder how this would affect private cloning for therapeutic purposes. Because there was a report last week, I just was talking about it – Stemagen I think is the company in La Jolla, who they just recently said that they claimed to have successfully cloned human eggs that were obtained from IVF facilities.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes.
Kirsten: And so, I mean, would that affect the private industry completely or is this all just government level? That these…
Dr Mike Stebbins: If they banned it. If they in fact did pass the bills that I’ve seen or actually completely ban it outright, that would make it against the law. So yes. They would actually, in that case, if the bills that have been thrown around pass, that practice would be completely illegal.
Kirsten: Interesting.
Dr Mike Stebbins: And so, that one is being kind of a problem.
Kirsten: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. Not so good for business.
Kirsten: [Laughs] Not so good.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Not so much. Yes. It’s like, “we’d love to help you but that would be against law”. So…
Kirsten: [unintelligible]
Dr Mike Stebbins: But they have not passed. And don’t have very much support either. So this is a good thing.
Then he launched an of course, you know, an amazing discussion on energy. Where he didn’t use the word warming, of course, or global climate change, or anything like that. But did talk about emissions which was a real change.
But one of the really interesting things that he said was – “let us create a new International Clean Technology Fund which will help developing nations like India, China make greater use of clean energy sources”. And here it is – “and let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases”.
Kirsten: Hmm. [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: We kind of passed up on a bunch of those though. [Unintelligible] as November.
Kirsten: Yes, haven’t we just bowed out of everything.
Dr Mike Stebbins: So if [unintelligible]. Kyoto. No, no good. And of course, you know, last November, you know, we had an opportunity again to sign on and didn’t even show up to the party. So …
Justin: My favorite was the whole – “yes, we’re going to have cars that drive 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020”. Like we did that a long time ago.
Dr Mike Stebbins: I’ve got one of those in my apartment.
Kirsten: Yes.
Justin: Yes. Thinking that’s not that far.
Dr Mike Stebbins: It’s a ’91 Toyota Corolla.
Justin: Yes, exactly.
Kirsten: [Laughs] Yes, good job.
Justin: Really? You are driving a ’91 Corolla?
Dr Mike Stebbins: Oh yes.
Justin: [unintelligible] You’ve got to talk to me.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: I love my crappy car. It terrible but I really do. [Laughs] It’s falling apart. But anyhow, I don’t drive much. But that’s really where we are.
And most of the discussion last night focused on Iraq of course. There were really no announcements of anything progressive at all in the science area except for a lot of empty promises. None of which had any specific calls for action by Congress.
Simply, let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions free nuclear power is sort of empty. It doesn’t actually say – I want to specifically do X, Y, Z which is really what the State of the Union is – as it has been used for traditionally.
Justin: It’s no plan. It’s almost like… he could have prefaced the whole thing with… “You know if I was president”… and then gone on from there.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. Like [unintelligible]
Justin: Just kind of a list of “What Ifs”.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. And what I really wanted to hear was, you know, him saying, “You know a couple of years ago when I said that whole thing like – we should send manned space missions to Mars…like that was a joke”. [Laughs]
Kirsten: “Yes. I was just kidding about that. This time…”
Dr Mike Stebbins: “A total joke – and we’re not actually going to do it”
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. Anyhow. So on another front… Here’s a question for you guys: Why did FEMA try to control the outcome of a health guidance report on formaldehyde in trailers used to house victims of hurricane Katrina?
Justin: Ah, not for liability reasons.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: No, because they can’t be sued for it. But that’s actually is a question that the House Science Committee is now asking. As it turns out…
Kirsten: Finally.
Dr Mike Stebbins: FEMA explicitly sought to ensure that no long term exposure considerations, that include cancer risks, would be included in the health consultations – despite obvious fact that families living in the trailers are subjected to long term exposure.
Kirsten: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: So. Yes.
Kirsten: And formaldehyde is mutagenic and carcinogenic.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Absolutely is.
Kirsten: It absolutely is. I worked with it in the laboratory and the MSDS, the Material Safety and Data Sheets in the laboratory – they’re all like – watch out!
Dr Mike Stebins: Yes. Don’t get it on you.
Kirsten: So, don’t get it on you. How about – don’t live in a trailer that contains this material. Oh my goodness.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. It’s really funny. So the chairman of the Investigations Oversight Committee – Miller – said “The evidence that FEMA ignored, hid and manipulated government research on the potential impact of long term exposure for formaldehyde on Katrina victims, now living in trailers, is hard to ignore.”
“Honest scientific studies don’t start with the conclusion and then work backwards from there.” And that’s exactly what happened. In fact that they started off with – “this is all safe, don’t worry about it”.
Kirsten: Mm hmm. I’m glad that the question is finally being asked. Because this is something that people have been talking about for months.
Dr Mike Stebbins: They’re actually, you know… For those people who did purchase these trailers – because of the adverse side effects, FEMA actually is allowing them to do what’s essentially a defective product recall and get their money back for them.
But yes, here’s the interesting thing – FEMA’s original position on this in 2006 when it first came up, was that there are no possible adverse health effect that can’t be cured by opening the windows.
Kirsten: Right. Well didn’t they do the testing? The testing of these trailers was actually done after they have had their doors and windows open for like a week and have been completely aired out so that, you know… That’s when they did their testing on it.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes.
Kirsten: Not when they first got them.
Dr Mike Stebbins: And of course occupants are complaining about formaldehyde fumes. Then, they have to be in the trailer, can go move in to an apartment. So that’s the take on that.
Kirsten: Hmm.
Justin: I have this sense that five years from now, we’re going to be talking about the rash of like, FEMA cancers. You know, “oh did you get the FEMA cancer too?” Yes. Oh you’re in it? Yes. Oh. [Unintelligible]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Now this as it turns out is coming from the counters that they installed in there. From the wood. And what they could simply do is actually [unintelligible]
Justin: From a mortuary? Where did they get wood soaked in formaldehyde?
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. It’s part of the treatment in making this particle board.
Justin: Wow.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes. So, anyhow. It turns out that could have been prevented if they had actually sprayed the surfaces with a sealant. So it would have slowed the release. So it would have been at safe levels over a longer period of time. But they didn’t do that.
Kirsten: And you know all of this was probably done to save money. You know, someone was cutting corners somewhere. It just, you know, well we can go with this cheaper wood. We’ll do this. We’ll do that. And in the end, it’s costing more money than… Yes. More trouble, more money. It always does this.
Justin: It’s not costing more money; it’s just costing a few lives. Kirsten.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: You guys remember why I brought up the whole issue with the polar bears not being put on the endangered species list?
Kirsten: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: I couldn’t figure out why, because it was really obvious? We finally figured out why.
Justin: If they’re all dead, they can’t be endangered anymore.
Dr Mike Stebbins: In fact the United States is blocking the release of a six year study on the danger of ice melting in the Artic. The reason why is that, they have agreed to sell off 30 million acres in the Chukotsk. I can’t even say that. The sea that separates Alaska and Russia.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: On February 6, they’re actually going to auction off these acres to oil and gas companies.
Kirsten: [Sighs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: And they’re rushing it through before Congress can complete efforts to protect the polar bear and do an endangered species act. And so all of these delays – delay the report, delay the listing on the endangered species act is simply so that they can actually auction off 30 million acres to oil and gas companies.
There was a hearing on this last week – on the timing of all of these. And so, there’s the answer that we were looking for.
Justin: And by auction off of course we mean symbolic token of monetary transaction for a giveaway or theft.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: [Laughs]
Justin: It’s not like there…
Kirsten: I like your interpretation, Justin.
Justin: Well it’s not like somebody is actually saying, “Yes, we’re going to make the government some money by, you know, selling off these 30 million acres. We’re going to make a ton of money. We’re going to help the budget”. No! It’s not that.
Geez. Let’s see how we can just basically give this to the oil companies making it look like they did something to earn it. Right? No.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Now the agencies approving the sell admits that there’s a 40% chance of an oil spill in that region [unintelligible].
Justin: [Laughs out loud]
Kirsten: Forty percent!
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes.
Justin: And then they don’t care.
Dr Mike Stebbins: And the contact with spilled oil is almost certainly fatal to polar bears.
Justin: They live in the mid-west. They don’t think they’re connected to the planet.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Because you don’t just come in to contact with the little bit of it, I mean after swimming through it, they wind up getting covered in it and it kill them.
Kirsten: Ingesting it and yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes.
Kirsten: [unintelligible]
Dr Mike Stebbins: I left the best for last. This is a real short one. Do you guys know what Narcan is?
Kirsten: I’ve heard it.
Dr Mike Stenbins: This is… It also goes under Naloxone. It basically is a drug that blocks brain receptors…
Kirsten: For Opiates.
Dr Mike Stebbins: In people who are under heroin overdose. So if you give it to someone who is out going through a heroin overdose, it blocks the brain receptors. They can’t get high on it. And it can clear their system.
Justin: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: So new data compiled by NPR, drug consulting firm, shows that the use of these nasal sprays with Narcan on it has – actually 2,600 overdoses have been reversed in 16 programs operating across the country. So it’s pretty huge. Okay, and they save lives.
Kirsten: That’s huge.
Dr Mike Stebbins: So their giving them out in kits to people who are drug addicts. And so what do you think the administration has done? The National Drug Control Policy office basically says that they are against the use of or the distribution of Narcan.
And so Dr. Bertha Madras, the deputy director for the White House office of Drug Control Policy imposes Narcan. And he says first of all, “I don’t agree with giving an Opiate antidote to a non medical professional”. That’s number one. “And I just don’t think it’s good public policy”.
Kirsten: It’s not a good public policy to save lives.
Dr Mike Stebbins: But here’s the quote that I…
Kirsten: It’s not a good public policy to help people become un-addicted.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Here’s the amazing one. A quote from the good doctor. “Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with the healthcare professional is enough to make a person snap in to reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services.”
Kirsten: He’s never been an addict before has he?
Justin: Actually…
Dr Mike Stebbins: It’s okay to be addicted. So this is a view of drug addiction primarily as a moral problem and not a health problem.
Kirsten: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: And of course there is absolutely no data that supports that point of view. But there seems to be plenty of data showing that Narcan can actually save lives.
I mean it’s been used in emergency rooms and in ambulances for quite some time.
Kirsten: Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: So, there’s that. So that was absolutely, you know, baffling!
Kirsten: It is baffling. It’s surprising that – it’s always surprising to me that people in positions of authority in the medical institution – that they can actually have beliefs like this still when there is enough evidence out on the addiction pathway, on the Opiate receptor on, you know, drugs of various types to show that addiction is not something that’s a moral failing but it’s actually- there are pathways. There are things in the brain that make people more or less likely to become addicted, and to stay addicted. And it just [unintelligible]
Dr Mike Stebbins: As a view that the rest of the program does not take away the drug users’ motivation to get into a detoxification and drug treatment program – is completely ridiculous.
Kirsten: Mm hm. Yes.
Dr Mike Stebbins: I mean there’s a rescue program… You can’t actually take this stuff and get high off it.
Kirsten: No.
Dr Mike Stebbins: You can’t overdose on this. So it’s designed to actually to decrease the effects of the drug that you’re on. So it’s a kind of a sad deal.
Kirsten: That is. Well hopefully that view will change.
Justin: Can you get it on the black market? Because I mean…
Kirsten: [Laughs] Actually, you can get anything on the black market.
Justin: If you can get that on the black market… I figure if you can score heroin, maybe you’ve got a shot at scoring the Narcan.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Hey buddy! I got Narcan. Want some?
Kirsten: [Laughs] That’s right.
Justin: Can you imagine like yes, it’s actually, I’m selling the anti-drug.
Kirsten: [Laughs]
Dr Mike Stebbins: Got Narcan. Nasal spray.
Kirsten: Nasal spray.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Yes [Laughs]
Kirsten: Alright. Well thanks for all the good news and all that “weird from Washington” this week.
Dr Mike Stebbins: Thanks guys.
Justin: Yes. Bring it this week.
Kirsten: Dr. Michael Stebbins. Yes. He brought it. Big time. Have a great couple of weeks. We’ll be talking to you in February!
Dr Mike Stebbins: Indeed. Stay well. Bye.
Kirsten: You too. Take care. Bye.
Justin: Don’t let that ’91 Corolla break down on you. Dr. Michael Stebbins!
Kirsten: Yes. That was an interesting “Weird from Washington”. Lots of interesting news there. And we are just about out of time…
Justin: ’91 Corolla? Really? That does not even have…
Kirsten: That’s the one thing that’s like stuck with you the whole time.
Justin: It doesn’t have airbags. It might have one airbag. But if it has an airbag, it’s only for the driver. It doesn’t have a passenger airbag. But I think ’91 might not even have a driver airbag.
Kirsten: I’d like to thank Jonathan Dorothy at Dire Calidasa, Simeon Nevel Nitch. Quiet. I’m going to totally turn your mic off.
Justin: It’s got… [laughs]
Kirsten: Naomi Hendchil. Daniel from Kentucky and Bud Woodward for their story help. Ronald Windsor wrote in to say that the oldest movie from a book that he was aware of was produced in 1902 – “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” or otherwise known as “Voyage to the Moon”. Based on Jules Verne’s short stories “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Around the Moon”.
Alex Endsberger. Felix at Ohio State University. Collin the clerk in London. Tommy and Amigo in Tampa and Salem, New Jersey shout outs to you!
And that’s about it for us today on This Week In Science. Next week…
Justin: Oh, what do we got? What do we got? What do we got? Oh yes.
Kirsten: More science. We’ll have more science.
Justin: I’m bringing paper because I can’t seem to read the computer and talk at the same time.
Kirsten: [Laughs] No.
Justin: I need paper. Anyway, if you learned anything from today’s show, please, please remember…
Kirsten: It’s all in your head.