March 3, 2009

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

While the following hour of our programming is not intended to be offensive, if you feel yourself in any way provoked, you should be provoked into thinking not to anger.

The content is for mature audiences. Though, by mature audiences, we mean to include five-year olds with the love and interest in science. The show itself well about science and employing scientific means to get science-y news to your ears, does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

And though the world is strange enough as it is, each week here we seem to discover that it can stranger still. “What can be stranger than ants raised by butterflies or see-through frogs?” One might ask. The answers await us in This Week in Science, coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Oh, great morning.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Do you know what today is?

Justin: Tuesday, right?

Kirsten: Besides that, what’s the date today?

Justin: No idea.

Kirsten: Today is the third month – the third day of the third month of the ninth year of 2000, whatever.

Justin: What? You’re – now what?

Kirsten: And I’m rambling. No I’m not. Today is Square Root Day.

Justin: Oh yeah, 03-03-09, yeah.

Kirsten: If you take 9, what’s the square root of 9?

Justin: Square, you know, 3 x 3 is 9.

Kirsten: 3 x 3 is 9.

Justin: That’s kind of interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah. And the Square Root Day only occurs a few times every century. Not that often. Really true, they’re not that often.

So, you know, I would like to find out what the next Square Root Day will be so we can be ready for it. And I will send whoever is the first caller to call in and tell us what the next Square Root Day is.

Justin: I’ve already got it. I can tell you when it is.

Kirsten: You, not allowed. Okay. I’ll send you a This Week in Science World Robot Domination T-shirt.

Justin: Men, that’s a great shrug. I really can’t?

Kirsten: No, nope, nope. Not you, Justin. First caller, the phone number here is 530-752-2777. What is the next Square Root Day? When will it be? 752-2777, if you want to call in.

Justin: Oh, wow! The lines have lit up.

Kirsten: Oh, someone was fast on that. Wow.

Justin: There’s a call. Hang on.

Kirsten: Okay, let’s see. Ready? And answer.

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

Man: Good morning. The next Square Root Day is going to be April 4th of 2016.

Kirsten: Very nice.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Very good job. What’s your name?

Fred: My name Fred Stevenson.

Kirsten: Hi Fred! Where are you calling from?

Fred: I’m talking to you illegally right now. I’m on (hardened) way.

Kirsten: Oh no, get a headset.

Justin: Well, you know?

Fred: Yeah, but there will be even no problem with that because it’s a matter of multi-tasking and attention rather than having a piece of metal up to your ear.

Justin: Yeah, exactly.

Fred: That’s no problem with me.

Justin: It makes no difference.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It makes no difference.

Fred: There’s a good reason for that. So far, it seems safe. The street is pretty much deserted.

Kirsten: That’s good. Good, good, good. Everyone’s either late going to work or they’re staying home because of the rain.

Fred: I’m early.

Justin: You know what the next wave of phones is going to be? The next wave of phones is going to be phones that look like a banana or like sandwich, like a fake sandwich phone.

Kirsten: I’m just – just eaten.

Justin: I’m just eating. Eating and driving and that’s still legal.

Fred: Well, after that it won’t even be a phone. It will just be sort of a (relieve) that goes along with you and just think the call and there you go. You’re in touch

Kirsten: That’s right. It will be a radio frequency that causes vibrations in your jaw bone.

Justin: Yeah. Can you imagine while leaving the phone on at night and like sleep dialing people?

Fred: You know, I think yeah.

Justin: Dream dialing.

Kirsten: Dream dialing. Oh my goodness.

Fred: Yeah.

Kirsten: Okay, Fred. Well, if you can – let’s see. How can we do this? We can…

Justin: Send Kirsten an email.

Kirsten: Yes.

Fred: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Send me an email and let me know your address and…

Justin: Just because of that, we just realized we have no screeners. We have no way to take you off the air and get information.

Fred: Right. Yes.

Kirsten: You can – actually I can turn Justin off and you can take it off.

Fred: Yeah, it’s a short-coming of the technology but don’t worry you get around it.

Kirsten: I know. Don’t – yeah. If you could send me an email, I will send you your T-shirt.

Fred: I will do.

Kirsten: Thank you for calling.

Fred: Thank you for having the contest.

Kirsten: You’re welcome.

Fred: Well, imagine my relief. Now I can drive. (Unintelligible), now here we go.

Kirsten: Get back to driving.

Justin: Be safe. Be safe.

Fred: Thank you. Bye-bye.

Kirsten: That’s right. Okay, so we have to wait.

Justin: Awesome. Best phone lines like lit up like in three rooms here. And you’re like over capacitated the studio phone.

Kirsten: I know. But the first caller had it right.

Justin: Had it right.

Kirsten: Right off the bat.

Justin: And you know what’s great?

Kirsten: And I think the next one after that is 2025. It’s 5-5-2025. Yeah.

Justin: Yeah. That’s where I was – I missed one. I would have been wrong anyway.

Kirsten: Nope, nope.

Justin: I wouldn’t have gotten my shirt even if I could have played.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think 2025 is the next one after that. I don’t – yeah. It’s great, really, really cool. Okay, 2016 we’ll wait for you. The next Square Root Day. Mathematicians unite!

Justin: Wait, isn’t that one every – just going be one every year.

Kirsten: Every year? No.

Justin: Every so many years.

Kirsten: Every so many years?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: There’s only like eight or nine a century.

Justin: Twenty-four. That’s a bunch.

Kirsten: Yeah, nine a century.

Justin: I think you said three a century.

Kirsten: No, nine.

Justin: Yeah, it’s like a bunch. It’s not every year – every decade.

Kirsten: It’s not every year.

Justin: It’s not every year, thanks a lot.

Kirsten: Okay, moving on to the science news. I brought stories about stem cells, big stem cell stories – big, big stem cell stuff going on this month, dirty bombs and old bottles and this week in dead people.

Justin: Wow. I got – what do I have here? X-ray veggies. I’ve got – okay, cats. You know, everybody knows how I feel about cats. I’m going to put dogs on this list today too. Well, let’s find out.

Kirsten: Oh no.

Justin: Yes, dogs are going on the list too.

Kirsten: No, I want a puppy.

Justin: I’ve got new drugs. I’ve got I think all kinds of interesting stuff going on today.

Kirsten: All right. Well, let’s get on with it. We’ve got all sorts of great news on this Mathematical Day. In stem cell news, we have a very big report in the journal Development by a team that you – did you say they were from…?

Justin: There maybe two stem cell developments that popped up this week. There’s one from Mt. Sinai.

Kirsten: Mt. Sinai. Anyway, the one that I’m thinking of is a group that had been – there’s a group in Japan and there’s other group that have been endeavoring to create induced pluripotent stem cells without the use of viral vectors to create the stem cells.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Okay. So, let me explain myself.

Justin: Yeah, please.

Kirsten: A little bit of history, okay. Let’s go back – way back in the way back time machine — nice sound effects — to 2007 in – actually 2006. Okay. In 2006, some Japanese researchers used viruses to infect cells with DNA that turned back their aging clock and turned them into stem cells. And the type of the stem cells, pluripotent being the type of stem cells that can turn into any kind of tissue.

So there are two different kinds of stem cells. There are those that are completely pluripotent that can become any tissue. As long as you have the right instructions you can turn it into anything. There are those that are slightly more developed that have started to differentiate induced a skin cells or brain cells or muscle cells.

Justin: So they have less option to what you can actually build out of them.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And that’s okay because there are stem cells in our skin, in our epidermis that our skin renews itself constantly, right?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And so, the cells that are responsible for that are the stem cells. Stem cells keep dividing and creating new cells to become new fresh skin. It’s great because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to heal from injuries. We have to have this ability to be able to create new cells otherwise we would die at much younger ages.

Justin: We’d be old leather couches by the age seven.

Kirsten: Eew! That’s imagining that world.

Justin: Well, that’s…

Kirsten: So, you can take different kinds of stem cells. But what the adult – what they were taking were adult cells – adult stem cells that have already gone down that differentiation path.

They took them and pulled them back to a much more- like the much younger embryonic stage, the blast that’s similar to the stage of the embryonic stem cells.

This was really great. People were like, “Wow, we don’t have to take cells from embryos.” This is, you know – a lot of people are saying this is great because we don’t have to use embryos to be able to create stem cells. And for some – kind of gets past the controversy that’s involved in the use of stem cells.

Now, the problem though is that the virus used is – they don’t know what will happen with. I mean, it’s a virus. The virus…

Justin: It stays.

Kirsten: It stays. Its’ DNA…

Justin: And it becomes part of the package.

Kirsten: Right. It’s a retrovirus kind of like HIV. It inserts itself and whatever DNA it’s carrying into your genome – into the cells genome. And the result is that many of the cells that were created – the stem cells went on to create tumorous tissues.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so, they keep growing, and keep growing. And so, they start out nice but then develop tumors and it’s not very good especially for the little mice they were working with, little tumors mice, not so good.

Justin: Champions of Science.

Kirsten: Yeah. In 2007, the first human cells were used to create pluripotent stem cells, so not just mice now but actually human cells. And that was really exciting. Everyone’s like, “Yes! We can do it with people too. This is perfect.”

Okay, still using viruses. Last year, late in the year, we had -well September of 2008 — a team actually used an adenovirus instead of a retrovirus to insert DNA. And the benefit of that is that the adenovirus doesn’t necessarily insert itself into the genome. So, that’s starting to get pass the problem.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: The Japanese team in – I think it was in October, they were able to use a plasmid, which is a different kind of vector that’s used in transferring DNA from one little cell type to the DNA of the cell that they’re trying to infect.

So, both of these are very good because they do not like actually insert foreign DNA. The only DNA that’s getting inserted is the kind that the scientists want to have in there.

They’re still working on mice and..

Justin: Champions success.

Kirsten: And this is still virally based even though it’s not necessarily getting into the DNA. In 2008, skin cells from primates were induced to become pluripotent stem cells. And then, just two weeks ago, researchers turned human skin cells into stem cells using the viral techniques.

So, we’re starting to really go down the path of using these techniques reliably in different labs and getting these results to work regularly, which is great.

Now, this last week, this most recent study uses a piece of DNA that’s called – it’s called a transposon. And this is something that is used by our own genetic make-up to move genes around. And so, transposons are an integral part of lots of organisms. And they can be specie specific and they – it’s not going to take, you know, any foreign DNA. It’s not virally based. It’s basically using the genetic machinery to just add DNA back in.

Justin: Interesting. And we already come with that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s already with us.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s so awesome. I’m going to get all speculative on at everything. But I’m wondering, is this something that they could find in amphibians and things that can regrow entire limbs because we have this ability already, this has been talked about that there’s probably some latent ability in humans to do this.

Kirsten: That’s been turned off.

Justin: That’s been turned off, right?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So – I mean, this could be turning into something even bigger.

Kirsten: I was thinking about it too. As I was actually reading some of the stories about this stem cell study, they’re using mouse-derived epidermal stem cells to do this. And they have yet to go down the road of using human cells or – I think – what was the other? And that’s something else that they need to do.

Yeah, they have to be able to repeat this in primates and humans. And then wait and see if all the cells that they’re creating in humans actually are pluripotent and able to become every cell type.

What they’ve seen so far is that these mouse-derived epidermal cells are induced into stem cells and actually do go on to create, you know, if they let them grow in an – if they implant them into a mouse and let them grow.

Justin: Champion of science.

Kirsten: They’ll become a little mouse.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: You know, they can inject them and they’ll create a chimera. They are functional. They work.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: And so, this also get – I mean, if you think about it down the road, going back to create a pluripotent stem cell that can create every tissue type and divide. It will divide and create a blastocyst will continue on to become — if in a right environment — to become a fetus and to become a full organism if given that opportunity.

Justin: People in the tube.

Kirsten: From a cheek swab.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: You know, can you just imagine just take it down that road if we…

Justin: The road I just took it to? The road I just took it to, Kirsten, inter-stellar or not inter-stellar but interplanetary colonization. You know? It takes a lot of energy. Get a lot of people up there. Pregnancy in space can be tough. What do we do? We take a bunch of cheek swabs. We put them in, you know, put them in a freezer. Send them to Mars. And we just grow people on Mars.

Kirsten: And then by the time…

Justin: You don’t have to ship them.

Kirsten: That’s right. Good. Good idea. This is a good story, I think, all you Science fiction writers out there.

Justin: This is why you tune in, for the big ideas.

Kirsten: This is why. That’s right. But, you know, it’s big news. And I think that this kind of research has a long way to go. It’s not there yet. It’s not solving any problems yet. This is not — some people are asking and saying, “Hey, you need to get rid of all embryonic stem cell research now that this looks to be working.” And that’s not the case. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket until you really know that it’s going to do what you hope it will.

So, we’re going to keep going along both tracks of research. And, you know, one of them – it’s just like Betamax and VHS. One of them will survive.

Justin: You know it’s wild though. I’m looking at – I’ve got this story in here somewhere of a new part of the critical immune response has been discovered, some new chemically-based instant immunity that’s being developed by Scripps. The story you have last week, basically, we can cure the common colds probably just a couple of years away including bird flu and everything else.

Kirsten: Yeah, getting there. Vaccines.

Justin: I mean we’re going to get universal healthcare the same time they get rid of all disease. It’s going to be like, “Okay, the good news is…” Like, “Hey, what’s this for?”

Kirsten: Maybe that’s why they’re holding off, yeah.

Justin: Yeah, just like, “Yeah, we got a couple more years surrounding this.” And then everybody will just be able to get them a shot. Now, they’re healthy. Wow.

Kirsten: Oh, that will be the end of the health industry.

Justin: Isn’t that amazing?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Yeah, they’re going down anyway one way or the other.

Kirsten: Yeah. There is – I was going to bring that up later. The HIV vaccine might have run into a hiccup with its research. They did a population – (lab) at population level study and found that HIV mutates to accommodate the resistant genetic mutations of the people it’s attempting to infect.

And so, within population, certain regions have different HIV strains because there are certain genetic mutations that are more common within populations and HIV adapts to that.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, yeah. The possibility of having a one size fits all HIV vaccine may not be something that’s going to work.

Justin: Well, or maybe because I think…

Kirsten: Well, maybe. But I mean this is just down the line of answering the questions of how does HIV work and how can we get rid of it.

Justin: Yeah. I’m going to switch topics though.

Kirsten: Do it. Let’s get pass.

Justin: Because I’ve got a runt going on here.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: Dear people with dogs, listen up!

Kirsten: Oh no.

Justin: According to new research published in the March 2009 issue of Otola-something to something Head and Neck Surgery, they have evaluated 84 cases of dog bites in children over an eight-year period. The authors found that most injuries were caused by family pets, 27%. That’s about the same rate of injury as firearms in a household with children. Okay. Just so you know. That’s what you’re dealing with.

If you’re like, “Oh, I never have a gun in the house. I got the kids.” “Oh, what are they doing?” “Oh, they’re playing with the dogs.” It’s the same chance of injury. Okay?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: High frequency of injuries for some reason. They haven’t really figured out why occur during the summer months. They have…

Kirsten: Oh, playing outside.

Justin: Yeah. It could be the kids are outside playing with the dogs more or could be the heat that causes stress to the animal. They haven’t figured out which one is the reason for this.

So, 64% of the wounds were suffered in more than one location. So, there are like multi dog bites. Not just one bite, but a couple of bites. Average size of the wound is 7 cm. Wow, that’s pretty. Pitbulls – sorry, pitbull owners were the breed most commonly cited as the cause of an attack.

Kirsten: Yeah. Don’t tell me it’s black Labs, people.

Justin: It’s estimated that 1% of all emergency room visits can be attributed to dog bites, 1%. That’s a lot. That’s quite a few trips to that.

So this leads into my personal grievance I have as a parent. I have this grievance with all of you dog owners who take your pets to the park and let them run around off the leash.

Enough already! Regardless of how well you know your dog, respect the fact that nobody else does. Further respect the fact that even if your dogs is good around kids, your kids, they can cause a great deal of fear, stress to other children who don’t know them.

Kirsten: And might react strangely to the animal. And remember your dog is an animal.

Justin: They might react differently to different set of people. Yes, absolutely.

Kirsten: Animals, they’re all animals.

Justin: They are animals.

Kirsten: Pets are animals.

Justin: And also, put yourself in the size of like a 3, 4, 5, 6-year or 7-year old compare to the size of your dog. That’s like…

Kirsten: Scary.

Justin: That’s giant, something giant running at you, right? Like if there was a dog that big around you, you would just out of sheer instinct be intimated.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Justin: Okay. So, yeah and, you know, I’ve seen it enough times where dogs run up and sniff children. And you’re just like, “Oh yeah, they love kids.” No, no. They can still be triggered to bite.

Here’s my analogy. I’ve got the analogy and I’ll show right here. Strangers at the park where you and your dog are playing, they have with them a riffle. All right, firearm! Let’s make it small gauge 22 caliber.

So, it’s not the most intimidating type of firearm but it’s still a firearm at the park. And they are pointing that riffle at you and your dog. You begin to get concerned. “Oh don’t worry,” the stranger laughs. “It’s not loaded.” Would this be a reassurance to you? Would you trust this stranger with a riffle? No. No, you would not.

Do not keep your dogs on the leash. Keep them away from children. And you know what? When you go into a crowded park like in an event, like we have the farmer’s market down here.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Sorry dog owners with the farmer’s market thing. There’s no place for your dogs in a very crowded park with people walking everywhere, running this way, going that way. No. Leave the dog at home. They don’t need to socialize with large crowds of people. It’s just not necessary. That’s my rant for the day.

Kirsten: Nice runt of the day. As for giant threats that are hidden – oh, I’m trying to find a segue here because it’s not working.

Justin: You’re going good. It’s going good.

Kirsten: Scientists looking in Antarctica have found jagged mountains the size of the Alps.

Justin: What? How do we miss those?

Kirsten: Hidden under the ice.

Justin: Oh, they’re hiding.

Kirsten: Under the ice sheets in Antarctica. They detected…

Justin: Get your real estate. Get your – stake your claim now.

Kirsten: I know. Using – they used a radar and gravity sensors to make detailed maps of this Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains. And they were originally detected about 50 years ago by Russians. But this is the first time that they’ve been able to make a really detailed map of what the mountains look like.

And the mountain range is the size of the Alps. It looks similar to the Alps, super high peaks, low valleys. And this also tells us something about the way that the Antarctic ice sheet was formed…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …that if the ice sheet had formed slowly, erosion over time would have ground the mountains down. So, it implies that the ice sheet formed very rapidly so that – I mean or – I mean I don’t know how rapidly.

Justin: The land mass underneath, yeah.

Kirsten: Nor the land mass underneath was so huge that a lot of erosions could have taken place. But I don’t know if that’s possible.

Now, another thing to think about with this is that the Alps themselves, you know, these mountains formed by tectonic collisions.

Justin: Collision.

Kirsten: And the Alps formed about 50 to 60 million years ago. Thinking about how long ago the ice ended up on top of Antarctica and how long it would have been since the last giant tectonic collisions makes those mountains about 500 million years old.

Justin: Whoa! Oh my goodness. We have to get down there and dig. No, we got to go in there and see what’s in there.

Kirsten: What is there?

Justin: Yeah. Oh, that is a…

Kirsten: It’s going to be a treasure.

Justin: What do you call it? Time machine, yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. Time machine treasure trove…

Justin: Whoa!

Kirsten: …held under ice in the…

Justin: Oh, that’s brilliant.

Kirsten: Absolutely, absolutely amazing. So, what could possibly be under there if we don’t know and it’s…

Justin: How deep is it? Oh we got to get some ice picks, some drills. We got to get down there. Oh my goodness. That’s really an awesome find.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean…

Justin: First, I got to tell you Kirsten, I was going in a little bit like, “Okay, so this is big mountain under the ice. Yeah.”

Kirsten: Yeah, big deal.

Justin: Oh no, but preserved that long, we have now – because the surface of the Earth changes like skin.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: I mean erosion and changes takes place constantly on the surface. So, it’s really…

Kirsten: And to have a surface that that’s old that hasn’t been subjected to…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …subduction or, you know, uplift pressures.

Justin: It hasn’t been turned into diamonds and lava again.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Or hasn’t, you know, yeah. We can really learn. We can get a view of the early, early Earth there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Or not even the early, early but…

Kirsten: One of the downsides though, you know, of getting into it. You feel the ice melts, you know, or raised sea levels by about 57 meters or 100 meters (unintelligible).

Justin: I think we do better with subs than we do with ice spellunking that deep. However deep it might be. Now we have a bright side for global warming. Yeah, we’re going to see how life used to be.

Kirsten: Yehey!

Justin: Okay. Where do we go? What will I do? Oh, new product on the way for people who drink heavily and smoke.

Kirsten: And if you just tuned in you’re listening to This Week in Science.

Justin: That’s what the new product is.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: If you drink heavily and smoke This Week in Science – no, no, no. Don’t just rely on us. Rely on drugs. Yes, that’s your next step.

Kirsten: Excuse me?

Justin: Yes, at least one drug. Yale School of Medicine conducted a study which found that heavy-drinking smokers — most likely their own faculty members — any laboratory setting were much less likely to drink after taking the drug varenicline, (Sally said).

Kirsten: Yeah, that sounds great.

Justin: Yeah, well. Subjects have reported having fewer cravings, feeling less intoxicated. They are also much more likely to abstain entirely than another group given a placebo. So, 80% of these people receiving the varenicline did not take a drink at all compared to 30% of the placebo group.

The drug I can’t pronounce is already being used as a stop-smoking under the street name Chantix.

Kirsten: Chantix.

Justin: Chantix.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So additionally, there are no adverse side effects associated with combining this with the alcohol. This part of what was studied, which is always a problem with any length. So even any stop smoking or stop, you know. You’re targeting this largely at people who drink.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: People who smoke just of a high proportion of them drink, right? So, you stop smoking medicine that makes you go crazy when you drink, this is going to be a hard for them to stay on, knowing from experience.

When combined with low doses of alcohol do not change blood pressure or heart rate nor did it cause nausea or dizziness. So they anticipate that this – the result of this preliminary study will turn into a clinical trial and see if this can become a treatment for alcohol disorders.

That’s pretty – says Sherry McKee, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine who is the lead author of the study. Taking a pill to keep you from drinking, you know, it makes sense at this point. I think everybody is – I think I’ve heard tale of people trying just about everything else to curb alcohol.

Kirsten: Yeah. But, yeah, I don’t know. Take a pill to substitute one drug for another.

Justin: Well, but one that, you know, I think the one that makes you NOT intoxicated might be the drug that people need to be on. That’s…

Kirsten: Maybe. On, I guess, the last story before we go to the break. I wanted to bring up a quick story from Archive, which is a physics – online physics journal, a researcher to a look at the risks of a dirty bomb.

So, you know, we hear a lot – there’s a lot of terrorist stuff these days and the threat of a dirty bomb because nuclear material is fairly widespread around the world and chances of people getting their hands on some kind of material or another is fairly high.

Justin: Is it? Now I’m nervous. I was fine a minute ago.

Kirsten: You’re fine a minute ago. So – but what is the actual threat to human health? And so, a Theodore Liolios from the Hellenic Arms Control Center in Thessaloniki in Greece took a look at the figures.

He said that the material most likely to be used in attack is Cesium-137 because it’s used as a source for medical therapies. And so, as a result it’s not as highly controlled as other materials. However, it’s still radioactive.

So, a recent accident occurred in Guiana in Brazil when an abandoned hospital was broken into and its Cesium-137 was distributed around surrounding neighborhoods. And people didn’t know exactly that they were infected – that they have been affected by the radioactivity.

Justin: Oh geez.

Kirsten: It left 200 people contaminated and four of them died. A dirty bomb though wouldn’t be even that lethal. Want to know why?

Justin: Why?

Kirsten: Okay. So, if you have a bomb, Liolios calculated that anybody within a 300 meter range of the bomb would increase their lifetime risk of cancer mortality by 1.5%. And then, only if they were not able to take shelter somewhere. And if they were just out in the open air and were just exposed to radioactive particles flying by on the breeze.

You know, the bomb itself would probably be the most destructive in the local area. But in terms of the radioactivity and what people would end up be – how they would end up being affected, the overall mortality is relatively slim.

Justin: Yeah, and most of the dirty bomb scenarios, it’s not an actual nuclear explosion of any sort.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: It’s a conventional explosion with radioactive material to disperse, right?

Kirsten: Yeah, to disperse. Exactly! That’s a good clarification. And so, if such a terror device were brought into a city, you know, the entire cancer mortality risk for the city would not be increased by any significant amount.

However, the effects of the terror plot itself would be huge. The evacuation would end up being some seven – around 78 square…

Justin: Oh wait, wait, wait. Let’s not give any (unintelligible) ideas in there. Hang on.

Kirsten: …kilometers around the ground zero.

Justin: Oh geez.

Kirsten: This would affect based on average city population density, about 78,000 people costing $7.8 million per day to evacuate and another $78 million to decontaminate the area. That’s conservative and that doesn’t even take into account people panicking. So if people panic as the result of such a plot what could happen could be much worse.

Justin: I think that’s a scenario where you’re either panicking or not reacting.

Kirsten: So, what ends up happening is that the effect of the psychological and financial effect is higher. Yeah. Oh, and then a really old bottle of nuclear waste was found under -a discarded- at a waste site. Well, it wasn’t just any waste site. It was Hanford Nuclear Waste Site – nuclear facility’s waste site.

And researchers published in a journal Analytical Chemistry their study of nuclear archeology. They have been cleaning up different waste sites. And these researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used forensic techniques to date the sample and find out where it came from.

They found the bottle and it was in (a trench in) Hanford and…

Justin: Manhattan project, right?

Kirsten: It was part – Hanford was established a part of the Manhattan project. The sample dates to 1944 and is a relic from the first baby steps of our nuclear program.

Justin: In a bottle Nuka-Cola. There you go.

Kirsten: Nuka-Cola, yeah. The oldest sample of bomb grade plutonium found in a bottle.

Justin: Whoa!

Kirsten: Wee! And that’s about it for us.

Justin: Give yourself that extra pep today with Nuka-Cola.

Kirsten: We’ll be back in just a few moments. This is This Week in Science.


Justin: We’re back, space kittens. You’re listening to This Week in Science.

Kirsten: That’s right. This is This Week in Science.

Justin: Top of the hour, bottom of the second half of the show.

Kirsten: And I’d like to say that I played the “Robot” song in it’s entirety by Chris Taylor for Renalyn and her friends in the Philippines…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …as they transcribe away.

Justin: Okay, parents of the world listen up and listen tight. Concern your little ones aren’t getting enough healthy foods in their diet? Help is on the way. New Nuka-Cola. Well, something like that. Science and Nature and a bit of back engineered marketing have teamed up to make eating healthy fun again. This is so silly. But it’s true.

Introducing “X-ray Vision Carrots”, “Superhero Banana Bites”, “Space Tomatoes”, “Dyno-Eggs” and “Power Peas”. “That’s not broccoli. Those are tiny trees from the land of the little people. They cut them down for you to eat.”

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: How can 186 four-year olds given carrots called, “X-ray Vision Carrots” ate nearly twice as much as they did on the lunch days when they were just simply labeled “carrots”.

And more interesting, they continue to eat about 50% more carrots even on days when the “X-ray Vision Carrots” were no longer available just a regular carrots again.

Kirsten: Because they were remembering…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …hey, “X-ray Vision”.

Justin: So, this is a great thing. I don’t know if they – it was a good study to do – to test. But yeah, absolutely, that’s a brilliant idea. I mean, marketing does the story children all the time, right? I mean, everything is labeled as some sort of crazy, wacky version of yogurt even. Yogurt has to be some sort of – marketed yogurt.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: “Special Extra Yogurt”, “Space Yogurt”.

Kirsten: “Go-gurts” or whatever.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I’m not giving name names. I don’t want to get sued. But, you know – so, this is a great idea for parents just to try this at their home. You know, start to rename all your regular vegetables, the good stuff you want your kids to eat, come up with some fun names for and see how they react, see if they do treat them differently.

Kirsten: I know my cousins – my cousin with his children, they called broccoli “trees”.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Broccoli is a great example because it’s…

Kirsten: There was always tree.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: “I’m eating trees.” And the kids went…

Justin: “I’m a (jerk) giant.”

Kirsten: Yeah, the kids loved it.

Justin: Let’s see. Similar results have been found with adults. So, this doesn’t go away. Right? A researcher – didn’t work with the “X-ray Carrots” maybe but a restaurant study show that when the “Seafood Fillet” was replaced by the “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet”, sales increased by 28%.

Kirsten: You’ve got to make it fancy.

Justin: The after rating…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: The after rating of the food increased by 12%.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: So, eating the same fish, one called “Seafood Fillet”, the other called “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” increased the taste of the food by 12%. I love it. We are such – we’re so subjective. Anybody who thinks that humans aren’t completely subjective creatures, that’s pretty much all we are. That’s why I love science. It’s the one place we can go and stop being subjective. We can be speculative.

Kirsten: Speculative but not subjective.

Justin: Not subjective.

Kirsten: Unless you’re doing like a social science or something.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I didn’t say that. I didn’t make anybody up.

Justin: Oh, dissing.

Kirsten: Oh, not dissing.

Justin: Dissing other…

Kirsten: Anyway, this week in…

Justin: Wait. And I just did a social study – that was a social study – oh, wait a second. Oh, man!

Kirsten: This Week in Dead People. I know. This is all about – and I’m not talking about zombies here people, not zombies.

Justin: I’m just…

Kirsten: I’m talking about archeology and paleontology that is tracking human’s trace through history. The earliest footprints showing evidence of modern human feet were found in Kenya.

Justin: Modern human. Modern human?

Kirsten: Like ours.

Justin: Homo erectus.

Kirsten: Yeah, showing an erect posture…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …and the modern gait.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: The way that we walk.

Justin: Which is something they hadn’t found before.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It was the gait.

Kirsten: And the thing I find amazing is they can just find footprints, finding footprints in sediments. It’s just such an odd thing to me but you look at the picture and that’s a footprint. Sure as heck is a footprint and 1.5 million years old.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Which is really old.

Justin: And what’s also wild about this spot is like, okay yeah, first of all, you’re finding footprints which is just a thin layer of this, you know, of walking through some mud and having it get covered over with sand or whatever. And then it hardens over time.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And gets covered up again and again and again. So, first of all finding, that’s pretty interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: They also found footprints in a layer right above that that were, you know, thousand years later.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I mean that’s…

Kirsten: That were more recent.

Justin: So, it was…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s an area in which the – I’m picturing some sort of like a creek bed that, you know, that’s always muddy that you have walk across.

Kirsten: Some kind of a path, some kind of path that people are walking.

Justin: Between places and animals are going back and forth so there’s fresh water around. But at some area in which also gets covered up often enough because they also have all those – all the other forestry creatures or whatever creatures were around at that time being represented there.

Kirsten: Yeah. And so, and it also gives us an idea of what was there, when they were there. And it also gives more evidence to the evolution of our walking style and who was possibly using it when.

And so, the footprints are thought to belong to Homo erectus. So, it’s earlier than us. But that isn’t the oldest footprint. The oldest footprint belongs to Australopithecus afarensis in Tanzania which is found in 1978 and was 3.7 million years old.

Justin: Wow! That’s really old.

Kirsten: Really old. And finding hands and feet, the thing that another interesting point to the story, what’s very fascinating is that fossilized bone of many animals or humans of Homo species – hands and feet don’t exist because the carnivores when they take down an animal – they like to eat…

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: .gnaw on the bones of the hands and the feet. They’re chewy. So, the fossil record is…

Justin: Is weak.

Kirsten: …very week in terms of the actual bone structure and how it developed over time.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Which I think is really interesting. So, you know, I think that’s fascinating. Another archaeological find that suggest modern humans may have evolved more than 80,000 years earlier than thought where they found sophisticated stone tools in Ethiopia. The tools were found in 1970 in an area called Gademotta in the Ethiopian Rift Valley.

It was the use of new dating techniques that allowed them to more accurately date these tools and to potentially push back the date of the human technological development.

So, Homo sapien, the oldest – Homo sapien bones are around 195,000 years old. And this pushes it back – these tools are 276,000 years old. So, the question is whether or not these tools or the ability to make them pre-date Homo sapien.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: Did the cognitive abilities that allow this kind of sophisticated, not just kind of gross tool morphology did it allow them to develop in an earlier species.

Justin: Yeah. Monkeys can use rocks to break nuts.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: We have to do better to call ourselves technologist then.

Kirsten: Yeah. And this is a fun story. (John Carabec) sent this in. It was National Geographic that covered it. Researchers discovered rock-hard hyena dung near some caves in South Africa. Looking at this hyena dung, this coprolites, which is the name for fossilized poop. Looking at them, they found glass-like shards, very thin shards, hair.

Justin: Oh.

Kirsten: They took a look at the hair and what they looked like microscopically, they think it was human hair.

Justin: Oh, geez.

Kirsten: So, the oldest known human hair previously was from a 9,000 year old Chilean mummy. These coprolites were found in sediments between 195,000 to 257,000 years ago.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Really old human hair…

Justin: Amazing.

Kirsten: …in fossilized hyena poop. However, hyenas are not known to attack. They’re more often scavengers.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: So, it’s possible that’s an individual died and then the hyenas scavenge the remains. But this is just fascinating and it might inspire a whole generation of paleontologists to take a closer look at the coprolites they find.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It might give us some more information about who was, where and when.

Justin: That is wild. Where are we at? What’s going on? Oh, great news for pregnant vegans, vegetarians.

Kirsten: This isn’t still part of This Week in Dead People?

Justin: Oh, you got more dead people?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: I was just wondering.

Justin: This is – I’m going to go the other way. I’m going “This Week in New Births”.

Kirsten: Okay, all right.

Justin: I’m going to bring it back around to the living here.

Kirsten: All right.

Justin: Experts agree, finally, about time, that pregnant women can thrive on vegan diets. This is one of those things that, you know, America, they’ve been recommending women to eat meat and dairy during pregnancy. It’s been part of the regular rigmaroles of the official government position on diet.

So, the American Dietetic Association, nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals states that a well-planned vegan and certain vegetarian diets as well are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.

There is no point, according to them, at which you should have to introduce meat, if you do not choose to.

Kirsten: But you have to follow a well-balanced diet.

Justin: Correct.

Kirsten: You can’t just be – you can’t be a college vegan.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: I don’t know. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are – who looked malnourished, who have no energy, who are vegan and they do it very poorly. And that’s fine for you as an individual but if you’re going to get pregnant, I have to say you need to take very, very close monitoring of your diet. And make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients that your child needs.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: But that’s just not fair. Do it right if you’re going to do it.

Justin: The vitamin B12 is the one thing that…

Kirsten: It’s not the one thing.

Justin: Yeah, it’s a pretty much it. You know, if you’re eating fruits and vegetables, you’re getting a selection, vitamin B12, you know, you can take it in a pill. You can take a vitamin. I mean, there’s not a whole lot that’s really missing from the diet. Vegetarian diets offer — what are they saying here — lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, higher levels of fiber folate and cancer fighting anti-oxidants…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …and photochemical. One of the things that they were looking at too is lactation. And it turns out that their analysis of breast milk from vegetarians showed that the women are actually avoiding unhealthy hormones and environmental toxins…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …that are normally found…

Kirsten: There’ll be growth hormones that are used in the cattle industry…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …or the milk industry…

Justin: And fish even.

Kirsten: …and fish. Yeah.

Justin: Right. They have lower levels of environmental contaminants…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …in their breast milk than the non-vegetarians.

Kirsten: Yup. Fish is a big one. I mean, there’s mercury contamination, all sorts of other toxic compounds…

Justin: Dairy too, we have the…

Kirsten: …pharmaceutical compounds.

Justin: …chemical that was basically a byproduct of rocket fuel that was showing up in milk.

Kirsten: Right. Yup.

Justin: Oh, my goodness. So yeah, well-planned diets, healthy choices, and they said, in general, they also noticed a trend for vegetarian in vegans to be much healthier than their counterparts who also eat meat because of the fact that they’re probably nutrition and diet-focused to begin with.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So there’s – yeah, you’re right. There’s one thing when you’re just trying to eliminate something from your diet just by itself.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Like, “I’m not going to eat these things” and don’t…

Kirsten: And you don’t replace it.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Yeah. It has…

Justin: I mean, I think if you’re being a vegan especially, vegetarian and you’re saying, “I’m going to do this. And these are all the things I’m going to include in my diet. That’s a much proactive.

Kirsten: Yeah, proactive and a healthier approach it. I agree. You’re listening to This Week in Science.

Some headlines for you, according to images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, water may have run on Mars’ surface fairly recently.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Like 1.25 million years ago, recently.

Justin: Oh. That’s not as recent as I wanted to hear.

Kirsten: Right. A vaccine for HIV, I said this earlier, might become harder to come by than previously thought because the tricksy virus because mutates to accommodate resistant humans.

People drink too much bottled water, in terms of energy demand to meet global consumption needs. Imagine each bottle of water you drink is filled up to one quarter full of oil.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yummy. Yeah. Yummy! Is that necessary? Do we need to drink that much water – bottled water? I mean water, yes but bottled water?

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: The amount of energy each bottle for the global demand.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Just imagine that each bottle you drink is a quarter full of oil, petroleum.

Justin: Oh, my goodness. That is…

Kirsten: I’m not talking vegetable oil either.

Justin: No, that’s bizarre. I have no idea.

Kirsten: Yup. A Chinese crashed their lunar probe into the surface of the moon on purpose. They said it was on purpose anyway.

Justin: “Oh we meant to do that? It’s part of ongoing research. We were going to mention it later. It’s not – it didn’t show up in any of the (unintelligible). No, we were just…” What?

Duke University has a scathing, scathing report that they’d put out on biofuel, on corn for ethanol.

Kirsten: Oh, good.

Justin: Scathing.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: It’s brilliant.

Kirsten: It’s about time.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: People have been talking about this for a little while.

Justin: So I am going to speed-read through this. To avoid creating greenhouse gases, it makes more sense using today’s technology to leave land unfarmed in conservation reserves than plowed up for corn to make biofuel.

According to the comprehensive Duke University-led study, “Converting set-asides to corn-ethanol production is an inefficient, expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy and should not be encouraged until ethanol-production technology has vastly improved.”

Basically, the 70% of – yeah, corn-ethanol has about 70% of gasoline’s energy. But what’s actually happening is once you factor in CO2, if that’s the reason you’re doing this is for CO2 to prevent it, to lower greenhouse gases by turning soil, you end up creating more. You end up creating…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And the idea too has been that when you grow a crop, you’re actually – it actually pulls out CO2 from the environment. And so when it burns off in the vehicle, well, you know, it’s the same amount perhaps or close to the amount that’s being consumed by the plant in the first place. But actually, if you hadn’t tilled that soil and just left it, you’d actually still be doing better, even better.

You know, they’re saying we maybe 50 years away from having biofuel that’s really – corn-ethanol that’s really going to meet the standards. Thirty to fifty percent of carbon can be stored in soil that’s untilled.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Yeah. So, the whole ratio for biofuel plus we’ve already talked about the economic issues, the food versus fuel issues, the third world issues.

Kirsten: And just the energy involved in growing, the water involved in growing those plants and…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Water is a huge issue these days.

Justin: There are going to be better alternatives…

Kirsten: I’m all for the algae.

Justin: I’m a big algae fan.

Kirsten: Go algae. Yeah. So, I want to get to a couple of emails from listeners before we finish the show here. A couple of weeks ago, we talked a bit about teaching science. And (Judy Heights) from San Diego says, “I’m a science curriculum specialist for high schools – for a high school.

My job is to help teachers with content knowledge and instructional strategies to teach the California Science Standards so they can pass the California Standards Test and meet the requirements for No Child Left Behind.”

Before teaching, she was a bench scientist in biotech. “At times my job drives me crazy. Have you looked at the California Science Standards?” I’ll put the link to those on our website if anyone is interested. “They are filled with so much information that no teacher could do a descent job teaching the concepts and facts in a single school year especially since if you look at the sequence in testing, kids very often don’t get true science classes until the 5th grade because that’s when the kids are tested on science knowledge and they’re vague. It’s hard to interpret exactly what they mean.

Plus the CST exam is multiple choice, 50 multiple choice questions on every subject in the standards. And usually those questions asked for facts and not concepts.

So, it’s no wonder our science literacy in our American society is decreasing. Kids today think of science as facts instead of great concepts and ideas of how all Biota are linked.

We need to teach our students the thinking of science along with or even instead of all the facts. I think this is where I as a scientist who teaches, sees the field of teaching science very different from a science teacher.

If we teach the thinking of science, little ideas — little “s” to ideas — the ideas in thinking rather than the facts about science — big “S” to facts — people will be able to understand the reason of science, the philosophy of science and the thought processes that people need to understand how evolution by the process of adaptation, natural selection and differential reproduction lead to biodiversity and why each collection of DNA in each species is equally valuable to the world and should be protected as much as possible.”

Justin: Wow. Oh, well.

Kirsten: (Ben) wrote in and said, “I heard you discussing Physics First teaching. Well, I heartily agree with your logical progression of concepts to arrive at Biology. I would like to expand on the idea that it’s much easier said than done.

It should be pointed out that Calculus was invented for Physics or so we know for Eurocentric history. The biggest problem with teaching Physics First is the amount of Math required for a proper Physics class, Trig, Calculus ideally but not necessary and some heavy Algebra.

My brother teaches Algebra and Algebra II at a high school. From what he describes, a large portion of freshmen have trouble adding fractions and negative numbers. I do not remember a lot from my Chem and Bio classes in high school, but I don’t remember much Math and Biology. I think that’s why it is taught first typically.”

Justin: Do you remember much Math and Biology?

Kirsten: Doesn’t.

Justin: Doesn’t?

Kirsten: Doesn’t remember much Math and Biology. “I also recall not much Trig and Chemistry, thus why it is taught second. On an unrelated note, the lack of understanding and disregard for evolution as a science frightens me.”

Justin: Oh, my goodness, really quick story. A kindergarten Science project thing at the school, I took my kid to it. They have a Vandergraph. So, the kids go up there. They put their hands on the Vandergraph, their hair stands up.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, all these warning going up. If you take your hands off, don’t put your hands back on because you’ll get a shock.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: They have to…

Kirsten: De-Statify.

Justin: Destatify it a little ball. So anyway, he goes up there, sees his hair standing up, looks over at Papa, takes his one hand — one hand, mind you — off the Vandergraph machine.

It’s being run by a sorority girls from here at UC Davis. And they’re like trying to, “No, don’t put your hand back.” As she’s going back, he’s only got one hand on the Vandergraph, just shocks the heck out of one of the attending girls there.

She drops the F-bomb, likely it’s a very loud crowdy place nobody heard. He just electrocuted this girl. And so, he can put his back just fine.

Kirsten: Because he discharged into her.

Justin: He discharged and pulled both hands. It was just – that was really cool.

Kirsten: Oh, she took one for a child.

Justin: Yeah, thank you UC Davis sorority girls and explore it for putting on a great event at Birchlane this last week.

Kirsten: That’s great. Let’s see. So until next week’s show, if you’re looking for a book to read, again, consider joining the TWIS Book Club. We’ll be discussing “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin very soon. I’m setting a date and time.

Justin: Inner fish.

Kirsten: Tell us what you think the answer is to the Question of the Month. There’s a great discussion going on in our forums on that right now. And we will be covering your answers on the show next week. We’ll be talking about the question which related to spiciness and food.

And the deadline for the TWIS Music Compilation has passed. But, you know, if you just happen to miss it because it was over the weekend and you just weren’t thinking about it, it’s a reminder, you know, last chance, send me your songs. I really, really want to hear your science music.

And big thanks to everyone who sent in stories, comments, questions. (Ed Dyer), thank you for the stories, (Kurt Pulosky), (Alessandro), (Neil), (Shirley), (David Eckert), (Steven), (Tom), (Ardiom), (David), (Andrew), all sorts of people, thank you so much. And (Shannon), I believe. There’s a (Shannon) in there.

Justin: Oh and go Google barrel eye fish. You won’t be disappointed.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. You won’t be disappointed by the barrel eyed fish, that’s true. And you don’t have the ultra thingy?

Justin: Oh, yeah absolutely. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show. TWIS is available as a podcast. Go to our website and click on Subscribe to the TWIS Science Podcast for information on how to subscribe or just look us up in the This Week in Science under the iTunes. Go in there, get us. We got all our shows, hundreds of shows.

Kirsten: Hundreds of shows. For more information you’ve heard on anything here today, Show Notes with links, the source articles are available on our website And we want to hear from you so email us at or

Justin: Yes. Put TWIS in the subject or you will be spam-filtered into oblivion. We love getting the emails, comments, stories. We love your feedback. If there is a topic that you would like us to cover or address or suggestion for an interview, let us know.

Kirsten: And we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. pacific time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

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

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.


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