Transcript:TWIS.ORG Nov 18, 2008

Synopsis: Climate Change Denial, Microbes in the Sea fixing nitrogen, Microbes in your Gut need pro biotics to replenish, The Weird From Washington, TV Sadness, Bleach Works, Wide-Hipped Women, Anti-Matter Xplosion, and Rocky CO2.

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

What can be said that has not been said before? Quite a bit, actually. From dark matter, global warming, microbiology to neurons, nanotech and sociological peculiarities – a newly learned landscape adds a new lingo to the literate lexicon that has yet to be made fully lucid by poet pens or baby naming trends. The list of things to say that have not been said before is growing at a pace only comparable to the expansion of time and space itself.

And while this conversation condenses briefly into the following hour of our programming, it does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors. Rather, it represent in some small way how little we have known in the past, how much we know at present and hints to us through many tantalizing examples the vast buried treasure of what still remains unknown.

So, what can be said that has not been said before? Just about everything you’re about to hear on This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! Little slam dancing in the corner there. Yeah. Our opening song today, “The Four Eyes” from Sacramento, local Sacramento band and this off of the 1906 TWIS Compilation Album.

Justin: 1906. Yeah, it was really been known at that long, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Yeah, the 2006 Compilation CD which is long gone but it’s, you know, it lives on in perpetuity.

Justin: I’ve got another story about the talkies today, still going on about it.

Kirsten: Yeah. Everyone, this is This Week in Science. And we’ve got a great show of science ahead for you because, you know, there’s so much science. It’s always happening, every week, science, science, science. And we try and pick the best stories and bring them to you. But there’s so much out there, it’s so exciting.

On today’s show, we do have the Weird from Washington. But we’re going to let Dr…

Justin: Sadly.

Kirsten: It’s a sad, sad announcement that will be made. But we will let the good Dr. Stebbins make that announcement. And, you know, maybe give him a bit of ribbing as it goes.

Justin: What if we double his pay?

Kirsten: Yeah. We will give you double of nothing.

Justin: We’re not paying him?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Well, let’s triple it.

Kirsten: All right, triple. We’ll triple your pay. Stay with us. Stay with us. Yes. We’ll let the Dr. Stebbins tell you all what’s going on in his life around the 9 o’clock hour. And until then, we’re going to talk all about science news.

I have stories about how bleach keeps things clean…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …little tiny microbes in the ocean that scientist did not know were there.

Justin: They did not know it existed.

Kirsten: They did not know it existed and wide-hipped women.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, great.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I have forgotten what I have. What do I have?

Kirsten: But I have it here on my little handy-dandy computer screen. You’ve got television induced depression, robot legs, climatia in question and anti-matter maker making some news.

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: We have a phone call. Wow! Who’s calling right off the bat?

Justin: It’s on the wild card line. Let’s find out who’s here, okay. Here he comes.

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

Kirsten: Oh no, you’re not.

Justin: Oh no, you are not. See, it’s the wild card line. You never know what you’re going to get.

Kirsten: You never know what you’re going to get when people dial the wild card. All right, so let’s get on with the show. I had an email from – oops, I don’t have much.

Justin: From oops? All right, now oops.

Kirsten: I don’t have my email open.

Justin: Oops has been a regular contributor to the show. Apparently, only emails Kirsten. It’s a lot of conversations going on with Oops.

Kirsten: I have a lot of emails from Oops.

Justin: She has a lot of stories about Oops too. Oops comes up quite a bit. Are you still looking? How long must I stall?

Kirsten: Just making me laugh, making me laugh, that’s all. That’s all. Anyway, I got a bunch of emails from people who were, you know, just saying, “Thanks a lot.” for their 2008 Compilation CDs.

I did the first mailing from the ordering. Sorry, it took so long for me to get them out to you. I’m going to work on getting CDs out to the rest of those you all who have tried to order them.

And there’s one email from someone named (Danny Verboon). And he sent me an article from the Telegraph and saying that for the sake of balance, I should mention the article and it’s in regards to global warming which by the way he thinks you are going completely over boards on.

Justin: I actually – I’m not the cause. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not me.

Kirsten: Stop it, Justin. Stop it.

Justin: It’s just not my fault.

Kirsten: Stop global warming now. Anyway, you know, for true scientific and media balance, he thinks that I should mention this particular article. So, I will mention the particular article from that Telegraph.

Justin: But it’s not (unintelligible).

Kirsten: But not in the way…

Justin: No.

Kirsten: Yeah. The article is actually an opinion piece. It’s not a scientific report. It is not from a scientist. There are many things about this particular article from the Telegraph that do not make it a credible piece of writing, of journalistic writing that we should be using as something to support or even debate climate change.

Justin: It’s been disclaimer now. What are they saying?

Kirsten: Okay. Well, they are talking about some data basically saying that there was a report put out by NASA stating that October was the warmest month on record. And the reality is there are these guys who – they are the people who challenged the “hockey stick” model. And I can’t remember their names off hand.

But this climate change denialists who – they keep a close eye on all these stuff. And you know what? It’s really good that they are keeping a close eye on the data because they picked up some irregularities in the data that NASA hadn’t caught.

And so, as a result, you know, they saw Russia, “Hey look, Russia’s warmer than it should be.” They looked at the data and they are like, “Whoa! Somebody just basically copied this column of data from September over to October…

Justin: Uh-oh.

Kirsten: …or from August to October, whatever. Anyway…

Justin: August to October is even bigger though.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, there was some data that was just kind of carried over and that’s a glaring error in NASA’s data collection. And so, they told NASA, “Hey, you got a problem.” And NASA fixed it. And it turned out, it brought down the temperature of October to more reasonable — but still fifth warmest on record. Not first but fifth warmest October on record.

So, anyway, the opinion piece just goes into the fact that, “Oh, NASA’s not doing a good job.” And, you know, this starts attacking and uses a bunch of isolated weather incidents to make the statement, “Oh, it was cold in London” or “It snowed in Paris in October,” you know, whatever.

All this isolated weather incidents to make the claim that, you know, global warming is not happening. How can the planet be getting warmer when these places have snow? And again, I would like to reiterate that isolated weather is not global climate.

Justin: It isn’t. And actually, there are – the other thing it’s going to add to the confusion of when – you know, as this thing progresses is areas like Paris and London are likely to get more snow. At a certain point of the ice melt and the changes the – because if you look at that, how…

Kirsten: If the weather pattern has change.

Justin: …northerly latitude they are, they are Alaska. They’re at that bearing straight…

Kirsten: You are.

Justin: …where you see crab fishermen freeze in their, you know, what’s off on.

Kirsten: The (patodies).

Justin: Yeah. They’re getting cold (patodies). And once you start changing the way the atmosphere pushes heat and cold around in the oceans and the things and the stuff and it could actually be – it could be colder, longer, you know, winter times in parts of Northern Europe, absolutely.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, I just want to, you know, finish up this little bit of the conversation by saying that, you know, it’s good that, you know, people get upset at denialists and people who take an opposing point of view and say, “Oh,” but there is consensus.

Well, you know, the thing is it’s a consensus. It is not fact yet. And data collection is a very, very important part of the process to determining what is exactly happening on this planet to making our models better, to having better estimates and predictions of what is going to happen in the future given different scenarios.

And I just want to say that it’s important that we had those guys who, you know, aren’t – who are against the whole global warming idea checking the data because they found a mistake.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: And it’s really, really good that that kind of stuff happens. You know, because both sides kind of working together will end up, you know, creating a middle ground and getting to a place that, you know, we would not have been able to get to originally.

So, I think, I think, it’s all very, very good.

Justin: I don’t know about the middle ground argument quite. But I agree with someone who said that.

Kirsten: And so, I want to say thanks to (Danny) for bringing this to my attention because it is important to look at all sides of the picture because, you know, it’s a far cry from being completely determined at this point.

Justin: Well, except for now they’ve determined the impact of water vapor which is going to add another amplification effect…

Kirsten: Oh, yeah. That’s going to be great.

Justin: …which is, you know…

Kirsten: Now, tell me a story here.

Justin: Well, this is just sort of – I’m just going to breeze through this one here. But it’s basically that they’ve been looking at the climate change models based on the carbons in the atmosphere and the increases there and the releases there is still coming from the ocean.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And what has been sort of doing – wild card floating out there that they haven’t really been able to get too much data on is whether or not water vapor, what impact that already has and it has a pretty good impact currently in the warming scenario.

But yeah, it will now looks like there’s going to be pretty decent amplification as we loose more ice shelf. We give more water moisture in the air and that’s another contributor to the global warming and it’s going to be a pretty major factor.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, the clymidia which of course is my term for the global warming climate change because global warming sounds like it’s going to be a hot summer. Climate change sounds like you’re just adjusting thermostat. So, clymidia, right now on the website, you can vote. I think I’ve got like six different potential spellings.

Kirsten: Is this in the forum.

Justin: On the forum on the www…

Kirsten: …

Justin: And it’s a – yeah because I’ve seen it’s spelled like written to be (unintelligible) (Kalidasa) finally ask me like, “How do you spell this word you made up?”

Kirsten: Let’s vote on it.

Justin: So, I put up a bunch of versions. I have a favorite but you can go to the website and vote on yours. We’ve got another caller on the wild card line.

Kirsten: Wild card.

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

Man: Hey!

Kirsten: Hello! How are you?

Man: Fine. How are you?

Justin: Doing good.

Man: I guess – I’m listening online and I guess – there’s a little bit of delay. Are you still talking about global warming?

Justin: Absolutely.

Kirsten: We are.

Man: Yeah. You know, I mean, I’ve been a firm believer in man made global warming until like this last year. I’ve been reading about these new theories about cosmic rays versus solar activity.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Man: And that actually – I’ve heard that and I’ve read that they got that the time – the climate actually or the heat actually maxed out in 2005 and that it’s actually kind of leveled off. And there’s this theory that sun spot activity – when you have a lot of sun spots, it keeps the cosmic rays from hitting the Earth to a large degree which and cosmic rays…

Kirsten: I don’t know.

Man: …according to this theory help to form clouds.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’ve heard about the cosmic ray cloud formation theory. I don’t know how well supported that is to date. I’m not sure about that data myself. I mean, it is kind of interesting.

Justin: (That kind) also kind of a tricky one because there is cloud cover…

Kirsten: Yeah/ High cloud cover versus low clouds.

Justin: …that’s usually invisible. Most of the cloud covers really – I mean water moisture in the atmosphere is invisible. You won’t see it in the form of clouds. And that has been increasing.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So, you know, there are a lot of theories.

Man: (Unintelligible).

Justin: I’ve heard the sun spot theories before. It is possible. I mean, it’s completely…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …reasonable to say, maybe we’re in a time in which there is more heat arriving to the planet.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Sure.

Man: And that seems to be possibly done for now. I mean, if you even consider this theory because right now there is a very – a major slow down in sun spot activity…

Justin: Right.

Man: …right now.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But the problem with that is, those cycles of sun spot activity, about every 11 years. And the trend in this heat is now over, you know, I think they have tracked to back 50 plus years that we’ve been having this spike up.

So, it doesn’t really correlate too well. And even you had increased heat arriving to the planet, the planet can regulate pretty well, the fact that we are in a situation where we’re actually trapping more of that heat. The heat that’s in here now, based on the carbons is going into the oceans.

What we’re experiencing now is the global warming effect from about 50 years ago. It takes about that long for really to get out into the atmosphere. So, what we’re really tracking isn’t even a today thing.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Today is the – well, the tip of the iceberg which will be all that’s left when we see the results 50 years from now. It’s really – we have to think longer term on – even it sorts of bothers you when it’s the fifth or the fourth or the third because none of this is really going to matter in five or ten years when we’re back again doing the third, the fourth, the fifth, the first warmest and whatever.

It’s a beginning of a trend. Hey, if all of a sudden it falls off and disappears a couple of years from now and of massive consensus of climatologists, geologists, you know, are all wrong, I’ll be totally happy.

Man: It’s not a consensus as far as from what I know.

Kirsten: It is fairly well.

Man: And, you know, I used to think that anybody who was denying global warming, man made global warming was probably being paid by the oil companies and everything. But now, I’m not really sure. I have some doubts.

Justin: And it’s healthy. That’s healthy to have doubt.

Kirsten: And it’s healthy to have doubt, exactly. It’s good to be skeptic. And, you know, the hardest thing is that this is a very – climate change – our global climate – is a very complicated multi-layered system that scientists are still working to understand.

You know, our models are still subpar. They’re not taking every aspect into account yet. It’s almost impossible. But we will get there. And it’s just a slow collection. And, you know, this is the best guess at this point.

You know, I think that there is – still a majority consensus within the scientific community as to anthropogenic climate change – carbon dioxide induced climate change.

You know, it’s just that there are many other factors that feed into the way that that occurs. Water vapor, solar flares, possibly cosmic rays, I mean there’s so many different aspects that you can’t just pin it on one.

Man: Right.

Kirsten: It’s going to have multiple answers. And so, we might be one part of this giant puzzle, but a big part of it. So, I mean it’s also very odd to me that we would consider the fact that with the all the effects that we have on the planet and everything that we do to the planet that we would have no effect.

Man: No, absolutely.

Kirsten: You know.

Man: In fact, it is the International Geological Society has said that we’re out of the last epoch and we’re now – they said, now we’re in the Anthropocene era.

Kirsten: Yeah. I like that.

Man: Yeah. Because, you know, we affect the climate and will we infect the planet in so many different ways, you know.

Kirsten: Yup.

Man: And that, you know, I definitely – no matter what the answer is to global warming, I definitely believe that we need to get off of carbon fuels…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Man: …because they have a lot of other effects on human health…

Kirsten: Right.

Man: …and the health of the planet that are even, you know, as far reaching as climate change.

Kirsten: And I totally agree with that.

Justin: And as doomy and gloomy as I tend to be in talking about this issue because I read too much about it and that they can have that effect on you. There’s also, if you go back 50 years and look at the projections of population on the planet that they were talking about back in those days, which were pretty correct. They were pretty in line.

They were predicting mass starvation. Because at the time, they can only produce so much food and only have the technology, the farming technology to do so much in terms of crop.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: To feed the population that we have now, they couldn’t have done it…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …50 years ago.

Kirsten: And we still do have starvation issues in various areas of the world.

Justin: But that’s because of politics not because of production.

Kirsten: Yeah, right.

Justin: I mean, we can actually feed that, really.

Man: And there was plenty of food.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: So, my true hope in all of this is that science does, you know, take those next couple of steps with some serious urgency and with some serious funding and does find us several layers of silver bullet throughout the system…

Kirsten: Exactly.

Justin: …which can make this, you know. And it’s going to try and forward still. We’re still going to have the heat. But we can – we’ll survive. We’re pretty tough.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, thanks for calling.

Man: Thank you guys.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Wait, wait. By the way, where are you calling from?

Man: Sacramento.

Justin: Sacramento.

Kirsten: Sacramento.

Justin: Thank you for dialing in.

Kirsten: Yeah. Thanks for calling.

Man: You’re welcome.

Kirsten: It was a great conversation.

Man: Bye.

Kirsten: Bye.

Yeah. The climate change is a very big issue. And yeah, there are both sides of the issue. And I will repeat the point that’s it’s very complicated and anybody who is not a climate scientist who says they think they understand every aspect of what’s going on, I mean, even climate scientists don’t understand everything yet.

So it’s, you know, there are still many answers that need to be made. And anyone who’s jumping to conclusions says, “I understand everything.” That’s (meeh)!

Justin: Well, it’s not that I – I mean – were you talking about me?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: Oh, never mind then.

Kirsten: All right, moving on. There is so many things that we still don’t know but we’re learning them. We are learning them on This Week in Science. Very tiny, little tiny creature was found in the ocean and there’s a study published in Science Magazine about this little tiny creature that – they haven’t found the creature actually, this little microorganism.

They haven’t found it. They’ve only found its DNA. They’ve only found its genes. By sampling water, they have found the components of its genetic makeup. It’s a unicellular organism that doesn’t do photosynthesis. It lives inside the oceans – in the oceans.

It does not have what’s called photosystem II which is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen to create oxygen which is part of what cyanobacteria do to help create lots of ocean for – lots of oxygen for us and plants. And photosystem II is a very important component of photosynthesis.

They think it has photosystem I but it could – which is another part of the photosynthesis photosystem. They think it has this photosystem I but it could also be contamination from other cyanobacteria, other DNA from other organisms.

So, they’re checking out this organism. The cool thing about it is that it has the ability or it has the genes responsible and the protein’s responsible for what’s called nitrogen fixation.

The majority of our atmosphere contains nitrogen. We have a very little tiny bit. It’s like tiny amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide compared to the amount of nitrogen that’s in our atmosphere.

And the thing is, its organisms – organic organisms have a really hard time using that nitrogen unless it is attached to other compounds. And so, there are organisms – like in plants, the Rhizome of a plant is a place where symbiotic relationship takes place between a bacteria or a fungus of some kind and the plant to allow plants to fix nitrogen and get nitrogen into their systems and be able to make use of that nutrient.

And so, they found this little tiny creature, the DNA of this little tiny creature in the ocean that they can’t get to grow in a Petri dish in the lab yet.

Justin: That’s interesting.

Kirsten: It has what could potentially redefine part of the nitrogen cycle in the oceans.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Because if this microorganism has a dominant place or a place in the oceans, it’s a new chapter to how nitrogen is taken up out of the atmosphere or out of water and made available to other organisms for use.

So – and this is really important part of the overall nutrient cycling of our planet.

Justin: Interesting too.

Kirsten: It’s huge.

Justin: Because it sounds very much like some of those underground, you know, oxygen free organisms that we hear. But this one is…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Then, those ones are usually anaerobic or what do you call when they can’t be – turn around oxygen, they die.

Kirsten: Yeah, anaerobic. Mm hmm.

Justin: Right. So, this one looks like it can survive, you know, in the oxygen world…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …and still be a nitrogen (feeder). That’s pretty neat. It might a need to bacterial or microorganism (matic), what do you call it, missing link.

Kirsten: Missing link or…

Justin: Or an evolutionary…

Kirsten: It’s just taking up the different part…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …of the entire world environment. It’s fascinating. They’re going to be doing a whole bunch of new studies to figure out more about this little microbe and figure out where it exist in the oceans, how many of them there are to figure out what kind of an influence it actually has on the cycling.

Justin: I think I’ve been talking about bacteria on just about every show for I don’t know how long.

Kirsten: Because bacteria are really cool.

Justin: I know. And I was going totally pass on it this week and find just other interesting stuff that was non-bacterial news.

Kirsten: But I did it. I did it.

Justin: You did it. And then I also found along came this micro flora study in a red dress. And I just couldn’t resist. I had to (unintelligible).

Kirsten: Oh really? Micro flora study in a red dress.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Sexy.

Justin: Studied by Les Dethlefsen…

Kirsten: I can’t help you.

Justin: I know. You can’t see it from here. Anyway, published online, the Open Access Journal PLoS Biology looks at the changes that happen in the human gut when it is expose to in antibiotic.

The antibiotic they used is ciprofloxacin and was previously believed to cause only modest harm to our very abundant beneficial bacteria that we have in human body. So, the idea was this would kill the bad stuff and leave all the good stuff.

So, what they did is – because most of the bacteria present in human gut actually has a purpose for being there. It’s got a responsibility for some aspect of our nutrition – our ability to breakdown nutrients…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …from the food that we’re eating, and our metabolism has affects on our immune system. They have responses that the bacteria take over and not our body specifically. It’s just – they’re in there working for us. They’re supposed to be there.

The study found that patients undergoing treatment had approximately 30% of the species and strains significantly affected. Okay, which was a lot more than they were expecting because they’re suppose to be very minimally invasive.

And the effects that vary great were between individuals. Some people, it was much higher than 30%. Once it’s been halted – the treatment had been halted with the antibiotics, it took let’s say about four weeks for most of the strains have got bacteria to return to their pre-treatment state.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Which is actually encouraging. I mean it’s four weeks but it’s still…

Kirsten: It’s a long time.

Justin: It’s a long time. But that’s still, you know, they’re doing it. But six months later, some types of bacteria still had not managed to return.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It probably depends on what you’re eating or who knows, maybe it’s more endemic.

Justin: Yeah. And it maybe that a lot of this, you know, aren’t common outside of the body.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And that’s part of the problem is that they are not coming from the outside and joining us.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: They’ve been there, very rare and then, once they are there, then they can take, you know, take their place in the system. But it’s really hard to replace.

So, there could be – you know, we could be talking again in the future of, you know, once you’ve finished your antibiotic treatment, you take a probiotic pill that has…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …all the replenishments. So, what they’re doing is actually identifying a lot of these. They have a new DNA analysis technique. They massively parallel pyrosequencing, (inaudible) and it’s actually allowed them to track very carefully the changes to specific bacterial…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …organisms in the human body which is different than they’ve been able to do before. And then the side thing to this is that previous to this, they’re not – before using the massively parallel pyrosequencing DNA analysis technique, the previous known number of variations in the human colon was around 500 something of specifically – I mean, not number of bacteria in there. It’s like…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …trillions or something. All right. But the known specific species…

Kirsten: Differences.

Justin: …differences, variations…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …is about 500. Under this new look, 5600. It went up ten times, ten folds.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: Yeah. So, there is quite a bit more diversity in there than previously thought. And long term health effects, who knows? Because they don’t know exactly what the role of each of this is. And there’s…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …you know, there’s certain nutrients that the human body depends on to survive that our bodies can not actually physically breakdown and utilize.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: They rely on bacteria.

Kirsten: Yeah. And there maybe other – like you said, other processes that the bacteria are, you know, are there to take care of. And the question to me, you know, is if we were to start tailoring probiotic treatments for people who have taken antibiotics or, you know, are experiencing, maybe they’ve have some kind of, you know, a problem in their gut and you have to help them through it, you know, to figure out exactly like what is their natural bacterial flora.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: What is the population? And do you just give them something that’s a one-size fits all and then the human body works it out? Like – and the bacteria fight it out and work it out inside or do we have to tailor it to the exact amounts of each kind of bacteria? You know, do we have to have the exact bacteria like for each person?

I think it’s a going to be a very, very interesting question to see how it turns out because that’s not something that we know at all right now.

Justin: No. That’s a big unknown.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And that’s a huge area to jump into…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …if you’re a microbiologist, my goodness.

Kirsten: (Unintelligible). And like right now…

Justin: These are right.

Kirsten: …people take probiotics and it’s basically – I’m taking a pill that’s full of 26 different bacteria…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …species and okay, great. Who knows how it’s going to help. Will it help? Will it not? It’s 9 o’clock.

Justin: Oh, my goodness.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: I’ve got more stories. But we’ve got more show.

Kirsten: We do have more show. We will be back. We will be back after the break with more This Week in Science.

Justin: Clymidia.

Kirsten: Pathology for ecology, it’s clymidia.

Justin: For ecology, it’s Clymidia.

Kirsten: That’s right. It’s clymidia. Vote for your favorite spelling of the word on the forum.

Justin: Hint on my favorite? It doesn’t look like it’s pronounced.

Kirsten: On the phone we have our very special guest, Dr. Mike Stebbins.

Justin: The last Weird from Washington, with Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: I think my eardrums are blown out.

Michael: Good morning. Wow.

Kirsten: Good morning. How is it going over there in Washington?

Michael: Oh, it’s the same. So, there’s been – it’s freezing though.

Kirsten: Oh, no.

Michael: So – hello.

Kirsten: Hello.

Justin: Hey, we’re here. Kirsten, where are you? What’s going on?

Kirsten: Loud all of a sudden?

Michael: Okay.

Justin: I don’t know.

Kirsten: Stop yelling.

Michael: So, the bad news is – I’ll just come out and say it. I’m going to have to stop doing the show for a while at least but maybe permanently because of some changes in my job.

And so, unfortunately, I’m not in the position to talk about. But I just wanted to come on the show last time and thank both of you and your fans. Your fans are absolutely amazing for the last year or so.

It’s been an incredible experience coming on the show every other week. And so, I just truly wanted to thank both of you for everything that you’ve done.

Kirsten: Well, you’re welcome. And thank you for joining us.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I mean, it’s been – the feelings are mutual. It’s been great to have you on the show. And yeah, you’ve brought, you know, a very important aspect of our world to our listener’s attention which I think has been very important intersection between science and politics. It’s something that we can no longer ignore. So, it’s something that’s very – so, thank you very much.

Michael: Excellent. Well – I mean, one of the things I’ve noticed over the last year is that your listeners are actually very responsive. And so, it’s actually been extraordinary because if I screw up on the show, like a little bit off, like I see (your back) immediately from one of your fans.

Kirsten: Great.

Michael: It’s incredible. And so, it’s been great. It only happen a couple of times but I think and…

Kirsten: Not every time.

Michael: But it was like wow, you know, a very polite but firm corrections with these things.

Justin: Yeah. I would take…

Michael: It’s been absolutely wonderful. And I’m truly grateful for everything that you guys have done. And I also hope sincerely that you guys continue to talk about science and science policy in particular as we move forward because it’s going to be an exciting couple of times in the coming year for sure.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Michael: And as soon as I’m in a position to let everyone know what I’m up to, I can – I will definitely tell you guys so you can (unintelligible) if you’re interested.

Justin: Because you can’t tell us one way or the other anything what’s going on. But I have five potential reasons that may explain the disappearance of Dr. Michael Stebbins from TWIS.

And while the real reason will remain a mystery, one may often learn from denial what one can not get from confirmation. So, I know you can’t say it. But I’m going to ask you a series of questions.

Michael: Mm hmm.

Justin: Is it possible that you have finally agreed to participate in a college roommates often talked about, multi-month, full sensory deprivation experiment in which you will be floating in the information-less of state and hopes of unlocking the other 98% of your brain? Can you confirm or deny that?

Michael: At least most of the people that know me would say that I generally walk around in that kind of state. So…

Justin: So, you can’t deny that this is going – okay.

Kirsten: Okay. Number four.

Justin: Now, you must now dedicate a 110% of your energy to mastering the tango from an upcoming television plot or pilot, “Dancing with the Scientist”? Can you deny this?

Michael: I can actually confirm that I do tango.

Justin: Aha!

Michael: But no, absolutely I don’t have like that. No, I don’t do that.

Justin: Little hint, little hint, little hint, one piece of the data gets locked in there.

Michael: Of course not.

Justin: Okay, number three.

Michael: No tango.

Justin: You lost a bet with a drinking buddy, your drinking buddy over the LHC’s Fully Operational Date. Now, you must pay up by shaving your head going through an intensive silent meditation training course high in the mountains. Is this true? Can you deny this?

Michael: Then, you have no idea what I look like. My head is already shaved.

Justin: Aha! Again, we have one point of the data. See, see.

Michael: That’s my only confirmation, yeah.

Justin: See? See how this works? We’re getting close to it. We’re narrowing it down. Four or should we say…

Kirsten: Two.

Justin: …D.C. Is it two?

Kirsten: Number two. You’ve invented a never before attempted method of reducing weight, increasing sex drive, erasing wrinkles while simultaneously whitening teeth and lowering income tax liability? You’re afraid that somebody else will fall into the idea before you have collected enough seashells and pumpkin seeds to the corner the market. Can you deny this?

Michael: Yeah.

Justin: Okay.

Michael: What was that?

Justin: That’s one eliminated then.

Michael: Political trial for (extends).

Justin: Okay. Here’s the – now, this is the one…

Kirsten: Oh, dear.

Justin: …that’s going to get – this one’s really close to the bone because this one I’m actually favoring. This is the one…

Michael: Mm hmm.

Justin: …I’m most suspicious of. You are volunteering to serve time in the DC jail to satisfy tens of thousands of dollars of parking tickets that were generated by your non-operating 1985 Toyota Corolla? Can you deny this?

Michael: It was not a 1985 – yes because it was a 1981 Corolla.

Justin: Oh. But there is – okay. Again, we have some information that is correct.

Michael: And yes, I do have outstanding parking ticket on that car.

Justin: Aha! Okay. But we hope you enjoy your stay at the DC County.

Kirsten: Oh, good gracious.

Michael: Thank you very much.

Justin: And as soon as you’re out, you know, you can write letters. You know, write us a letter from…

Michael: Sure.

Justin: If you can pass a note to somebody on the outside, somebody with access, you know, visitation rights just to make you all right.

Michael: Excellent. I will absolutely do that and I would keep everyone apprised – if it’s even possible to come back in the show and you guys would have me come back…

Justin: Totally anytime.

Michael: …I would absolutely do that. It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done over the last couple of years in Washington. It was actually being able to talk to the general public and the scientific community and all the podcast listeners in particular about science policy and really get people to engage in the craziness. So, that is Washington DC.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Michael: So, thank you again.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Michael: I appreciate it.

Kirsten: Thank you so much Dr. Stebbins for bringing us the weird week after week. And yeah, letting everyone engage in the craziness, I love it.

Justin: You will be missed.

Kirsten: You will be missed. Enjoy whatever it is you’re up to.

Michael: Okay.

Kirsten: Thank you so much.

Michael: Bye-bye.

Kirsten: Bye.

Justin: Bye. That was the last Weird from Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: That it was. Yes, he shall be missed. But I do hope that we will be able to keep up with science policy. Maybe not quite as often or as in-depth or, you know, he was pretty embedded in the weirdness.

Justin: My goodness. He knew what was going on.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. But if anyone has any suggestions on how we might remedy his lack…

Justin: Oh, being here in this.

Kirsten: Yeah. Let us know. Anyway, it’s time to move on with more news.

Justin: Without him for policy news. I may start watching television, you know.

Kirsten: Don’t do it. No.

Justin: Yeah. Because I’m kind of depress now. And the sociology study has found that channel surfers suffer more sadness than the more bookish socially active counterparts.

Kirsten: So, is it channels – or is it people that like switch from station to station and you know, go – when there is a commercial, they’d switch channels and go to something else? Is it the person who is continually jumping and surfing?

Justin: It’s like…

Kirsten: …or is it someone who’s actively like, “I like this show. I’m going to watch this.”

Justin: Yeah. It’s more like that. It’s more of the active TV watchers. The people – because here’s what they sort of found. And it’s kind of hard to – well…

Kirsten: I like certain shows. And I wouldn’t think that I’m depressed because I’m watching shows that I think are interesting.

Justin: Of course not. While you’re watching the shows, you’re actual level of happiness goes up.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: But long term, the larger picture is they found that doing a 30-year study…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …people who have rated, soft rated happiness and they’ve sort of plot it out what they do with their time, it turns out that people who watch the most television are 20% more depressed.

Kirsten: Wow! I remember when I was – this is totally anecdotal…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …totally anecdotal. But my mom at one point, she said that – I guess when I was younger, she would watch soap operas because she was a teacher but she was off because she had had me and then my brother and so, she wasn’t working. And she was at home taking care of the kids and she watched soap operas.

And she said, at one point, she had to turn the television off because she – they were making her depressed and angry.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: She was like, “I’m not a happy person because of soap operas.”

Justin: I got to fix this actually.

Kirsten: Did you butcher it?

Justin: I missed the estimate. According to the study’s findings, unhappy people watching estimated 20% more television, not that they’re 20% depress…

Kirsten: Oh, God

Justin: …but that people who’ve overall rated as unhappy watch 20% more television than very happy people. Okay. So yeah, going out, being with friends, reading books, reading newspapers, all of these contributed to overall happiness.

Some of the interesting things – they think – one of the reasons also might be that it takes very little effort to watch television. You don’t have to plan for it. It doesn’t cost anything. You don’t have to organize with friends. So, they think it has a sort of like an easy addictive quality to it.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: You can get this sort of immediate gratification. Although in the long term, you’ve socialize less with your friends, you’ve maybe gotten less sleep and you’ve learned probably nothing.

Kirsten: That happened to me last night.

Justin: Yeah, you did.

Kirsten: Yeah. Because I was on an online video network and I was watching one of my favorite shows and the thing is I haven’t watched it for weeks and weeks so they were like episodes lined-up and I ended up staying up until midnight watching my favorite show. It was so great.

Justin: This is also a 30-year study.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It maybe that the television today…

Kirsten: Lack of sleep.

Justin: Somebody pointed out to me, I think an email or phone call or something recently that perhaps television, it’s not so bad as it used to be because they are like science channels, and history channels and there’s a lot of good quality programming out there. Can I say that?

Kirsten: I think there is a lot of good quality programming.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: There are interesting fictional programs with interesting scripts and engaging characters. There is a lot of that right now.

Justin: Fictional is emotional. I don’t like the non-fictional. And there is…

Kirsten: And there is…

Justin: … a ton of that out there.

Kirsten: There are the non – and yeah, there are several networks that are creating more non-fictional and actually good interesting programming.

Justin: And I’m saying this for some – and I’m somebody who hasn’t actually even have rabbit ears on a television in like five years. Like, I don’t even own like the television.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But I was, you know, I see what’s out there. And it seems like there’s some really interesting, fascinating stuff out there.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m recently going through an entire paradigm shift, not just to cable shut off. No cable.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, I’m living off of email – or not email – I’m living off of my streaming video on my computer and DVD sent to my house.

Justin: Cool.

Kirsten: It’s great. It’s really great. Except for when there’s like one particular program I was actually on television last week. It was pretty cool.

Justin: You are? You were on TV?

Kirsten: I was on TV last week. It’s very cool but I couldn’t watch it. I actually had to go to a bar and ask the bartender to turn on the television. I was like, “Hey, can you turn that on? I’m on TV.” I couldn’t watch it at home. It was really funny.

Justin: That’s fun.

Kirsten: Kind of fun to watch it in an Irish pub.

Justin: I’ve actually gotten a ton of content online using iTunes. They have this whole segment for lectures.

Kirsten: Yeah. That they – iTunes U actually there are…

Justin: iTunes University.

Kirsten: …a lot of very – there are free university podcast of lecture series of classes.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Like…

Justin: It’s a really…

Kirsten: Amazing.

Justin: …amazing and tons of contents.

Kirsten: Lots of free stuff…

Justin: Tons of – Walter Lewin at MIT, his whole Physics lecture. I mean, I think there’s 90 hours of them or something insane. And they’re all brilliant.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s an…

Justin: They’re absolutely brilliant.

Kirsten: It’s a really amazing resource.

Justin: (Unintelligible) got a show who is explaining the string theories and the things he was up.

Kirsten: My dad got into this stuff just on his own and he called me to tell me about it. I was like, “Oh, dad. Look at you, using the technology. This is pretty awesome.”

Anyway, I’m going to back to talking about science news. Bleach works, right? We all know that it works.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: But how does it work? What the heck does bleach do? How does it kill the little creepy crawlies?

Justin: With the smell? It’s kind of brutal.

Kirsten: Well, scientist just figured it out. There is a team who published in the journal Cell from the University of Michigan. They have found that from studying a heat of protein, it’s called heat shock protein 33.

And it turns on and becomes really active when cells are under stress. They figured it out this heat shock proteins because they would put cells in a heated condition and see what would happen. And this heat shock, they called it heat shock proteins because the cells have been shock by heat. It is part of the cellular stress response.

So, they’re looking at this stress response protein and it was activated by an acid called Hypochlorous acid or Hypochlorite. And bleach has this kind of protein, has a similar acid in it.

So, when bleach is added to cells, it distresses them and this heat shock protein is activated. The heat shock protein tries to protect other proteins and then clumps around them. So, they end up – all the proteins end up clumping up.

And because of the clumping, they think that the cellular chemical reactions that normally take place can’t take place anymore. And so, the cells then die off. They can’t…

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: …form any new cells. They can’t go on generating new and better and they can’t respond anymore because of all the clumping. It’s like tangles and clumps inside the cells. And so, they think this is what is actually going on.

Yes. So, the human immune system also produces – this according to an article from Reuters, human immune system also produces Hypochlorous acid in response to infection. But the substance does not only kill the bacterial invaders, it also kills human cells which is not good.

But they think this is how tissue death during various like chronic inflammation can actually take place where this Hypochlorous acid is being produced. Cells of all kinds are being died. The body are being killed. I can not speak this morning.

Justin: Thing died?

Kirsten: My grammar is like – yeah. Anyway, that’s pretty cool. We’ve taken bleach for granted for years and years and years. It works. We know it works. How does it work? Well, we’re starting to get an idea.

Justin: That’s so cool. I’m glad, you’re figuring out how bleach works. I mean that’s kind of – one of those things that you just sort of assumed that somebody knew already.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: The fact that we don’t know that just opens up a whole bunch of other questions about things that we don’t know.

Kirsten: Yes. Like what?

Justin: Like antimatter. It is a great example.

Kirsten: It is.

Justin: Antimatter is positron which is like – it’s a positively charged electron.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: It’s basically what it is. It’s very – doesn’t last too long in our world, in our immediate universe because as soon as it comes in the contact with a negatively charge electron which is everywhere…

Kirsten: Annihilation.

Justin: …annihilation takes place.

So, this is – it was only even – it was confirmed a while ago that antimatter exists. It was confirmed back in early 30’s. And it was thought that it was for a long time, there’s only something that could really be created by high-energy cosmic rays that would be, you know, reaching Earth.

But since then, they’ve, you know, been working on a process. They have actually been able to produced antimatter in a laboratory setting.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And they’ve been using lasers out to shoot little bits of gold and it produces larger – it’s been produces larger amounts. But ten years ago, it was 100 particles that we knew that we’d created in the laboratory of this antimatter.

Now, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have produced a plethora of positron particles with this new laser antimatter creating systems that they’ve got. It’s 100 billion, 100 billion.

Kirsten: That’s a lot. That’s like a huge jump in the technology.

Justin: It’s amazing. So what they’re looking at – I mean this is a quantum quantum-esk leap and a development of antimatter. So they’re actually at the point where – when the researchers involve says, “We are entering a new era in antimatter research. We’re now somewhere where we can actually create an entire center of antimatter research.”

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Antimatter maybe like the crazy – it was supposed to be too far away but if we can actually get in there and develop it, it could be an energy source beyond anything else that we’re contemplating currently.

Kirsten: That’s a fascinating aspect to this. Yeah. One of the problems to antimatter research is the fact that they don’t get that many particles. They have to have really sensitive detectors to be able to detect the few that are created and being able to create that many more is going to make just a huge, huge difference in our ability to study the stuff.

And this is going to have – I think we’re talking last week, this is going to have influence – it’s going to influence our ability to study dark matter and the cosmic rays and all sorts of other little particles.

Justin: Actually, they use the normal electron detector in this experiment. And they just equipped it to detect particles with opposite polarity as well. It’s they’re – they’re not…

Kirsten: I’m sure it was more complicated than that.

Justin: No. It’s that easy. They just split the switch from – there is a switch on the side…

Kirsten: Negative to positive.

Justin: …that said positive to negative. Somebody flip it and now it does both. So, little middle setting, it can do both now. Yeah, I have no idea how they did it.

Kirsten: Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. So, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been studying carbon dioxide sequestration which is the process of possibly sequestering or hiding carbon dioxide.

Justin: In horses?

Kirsten: No. deep in the ocean not equestrian.

Justin: I thought equestrian meant horses.

Kirsten: Zip.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yes, hiding carbon dioxide deep below the Earth’s crust.

Justin: And it was not helping you at all today.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: I’m trying to throw you off.

Kirsten: No, not at all. So, anyway, scientist Pete McGrail says that they have actually found that when you have super critical carbon dioxide. So, it’s a liquid carbon dioxide that has lot of water in it that is saturated with water, that the carbon dioxide can actually self-seal undetected little cracks in the rock, the basalt that they’re shoving it into.

So, if they take this special super critical mixture of carbon dioxide, they can shove it down there and it reacts differently with the rock and actually forms seals.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: So it will not escape. So, even if there is some kind of a break or some kind of seismic shift under the Earth that possibly or probably it would stay sequestered.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: And that’s one of the big questions. People have been like, “Oh, what do we shovel all this carbon dioxide down there but it doesn’t take. What if it’s just down there…

Justin: It just bubbles up (unintelligible).

Kirsten: …and it bubbles up – right. We’re just putting it down there only to have it come back up again?

Justin: No.

Kirsten: That’s not very good. So, we want it to stay where we put it. And this looks as though, it just gets down there. It might react with minerals that are found in the layers of basalt that are down there and increase the speed with which the carbon dioxide actually turns into a mineral form as opposed to a more a liquid form. It’s a pretty cool research.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. And finally, the new Homo Erectus fossil that was found.

Justin: Oh, the wide-hipped.

Kirsten: A female with very wide hips suggesting that her children were born with an enlarge cranium.

Justin: Gigantic cranium.

Kirsten: Look at the size of its cranium. Do you remember that movie?

Justin: No.

Kirsten: It was a funny movie. Anyway…

Justin: So, but it’s back further than we thought. So this means, we may have had big brain ancestors.

Kirsten: Right, 1.4 million year old female pelvis was found in Northern Ethiopia. It’s found fairly far, far back. But also, it’s just the interesting aspect that, you know, we thought that there is a find called the Turkana boy that was discovered in 1984 in Kenya. And he had a narrow pelvis and a tall thin body…

Justin: He’s a boy.

Kirsten: …suggesting that it was needed to run long distances. This female is much more like short and squat and has wider hips for birthing bigger brained babies.

Justin: (Unintelligible).

Kirsten: And part of the idea is that these Homo Erectus individuals were probably much more similar to chimpanzees than we are in the way that they developed. And so, the young were probably much more advanced earlier.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, they would born with a more fully advanced brain and the ability to have more advance behaviors at a younger age rather than, you know, the way that our human babies have to be cared for a really long period of time.

Justin: Yeah. Although I have tried…

Kirsten: It’s pretty interesting.

Justin: I have tested with my own children to see if there is, you know, something in the instinct that still exists that wants them to get up and move which you just basically take it, you take him, you know, six-month old. And you lay him down on a blanket in a park. And then, you just, you know, you go, “(Ryan)” and you run. And you see…

Kirsten: And see what happens.

Justin: …that they come after you. And it didn’t really – if there was a lion and a six-month old is left on there, they’re pretty useless.

Kirsten: They are pretty useless. That’s about it for our show. And my computer just completely died. My computer needs help. I went and I got help but then it decided that it…

Justin: Well, we hope you have enjoyed the show. We are available as a podcast.

Kirsten: We are.

Justin: Although you won’t hear this part on the podcast because I think it was being recorded on Kirsten computer.

Kirsten: It was.

Justin: So, You can subscribe to the TWIS science podcast. We’re also available on the iTunes. If you look up This Week in Science in iTunes, you can find us there.

Kirsten: And I can’t – I’m sorry everyone who emailed in this week. Thank you very much for sending in stories, comments, questions. Anyone else who wants to email in to either myself or Justin can reach us at or

Justin: But you got to put TWIS somewhere in the subject, otherwise it goes automatically to the spam filter. Hey, we’re going to miss Stebbins.

Kirsten: We are.

Justin: We are.

Kirsten: Very, very much. But I’m sure he’s moving on to bigger and better things.

Justin: Man of mystery and intrigue.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Why didn’t he even tell us?

Kirsten: No. If you learn anything else on today’s show…

Justin: Remember, it’s all in your head.

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