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Science Magazine Weekly Show Archive:

A big increase in monkey research and an overhaul for the metric system

Thursday 8th November 2018

A new report suggests a big increase in the use of monkeys in laboratory experiments in the United States in 2017. Online News Editor David Grimm joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss which areas of research are experiencing this rise and the possible reasons behind it.Also this week, host Meagan Cantwell talks with staff writer Adrian Cho about a final push to affix the metric system’s measures to physical constants instead of physical objects. That means the perfectly formed 1-kilogram cylinder known as Le Grand K is no more; it also means that the meter, the ampere, and other units of measure are now derived using complex calculations and experiments.  This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

How the appendix could hold the keys to Parkinson’s disease, and materials scientists mimic nature

Thursday 1st November 2018

For a long time, Parkinson’s disease was thought to be merely a disorder of the nervous system. But in the past decade researchers have started to look elsewhere in the body for clues to this debilitating disease—particularly in the gut. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with Viviane Labrie of the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about new research suggesting people without their appendixes have a reduced risk of Parkinson’s. Labrie also describes the possible mechanism behind this connection. And host Sarah Crespi talks with Peter Fratzl of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam,Germany, about what materials scientists can learn from nature. The natural world might not produce innovations like carbon nanotubes, but evolution has forged innumerable materials from very limited resources—mostly sugars, proteins, and minerals. Fratzl discusses how plants make time-release seedpods that are triggered by nothing but fire and rain, the amazing...

Children sue the U.S. government over climate change, and how mice inherit their gut microbes

Thursday 25th October 2018

A group of children is suing the U.S. government—claiming their rights to life, liberty, and property are under threat from climate change thanks to government policies that have encouraged the use and extraction of fossil fuels. Host Meagan Cantwell interviews news writer Julia Rosen on the ins and outs of the suit and what it could mean if the kids win the day.    Also this week, host Sarah Crespi talks with Andrew Moeller of Cornell University about his work tracing the gut microbes inherited through 10 generations of mice. It turns out the fidelity is quite high—you can still tell mice lineages apartby their gut microbes after 10 generations. And horizontally transmitted microbes, those that jump from one mouse line to another through exposure to common spaces or handlers, were more likely than inherited bacteria to be pathogenic and were often linked to illnesses in people. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen...

Mutant cells in the esophagus, and protecting farmers from dangerous pesticide exposure

Thursday 18th October 2018

As you age, your cells divide over and over again, leading to minute changes in their genomes. New research reveals that in the lining of the esophagus, mutant cells run rampant, fighting for dominance over normal cells. But they do this without causing any detectable damage or cancer. Host Sarah Crespi talks to Phil Jones, a professor of cancer development at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, about what these genome changes can tell us about aging and cancer, and how some of the mutations might be good for you.Most Western farmers apply their pesticides using drones and machinery, but in less developed countries, organophosphate pesticides are applied by hand, resulting in myriad health issues from direct exposure to these neurotoxic chemicals. Host Meagan Cantwell speaks with Praveen Vemula, a researchinvestigator at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bengaluru, India, about his latest solution—a cost-effective gel that can be applied...

What we can learn from a cluster of people with an inherited intellectual disability, and questioning how sustainable green lawns are in dry places

Thursday 11th October 2018

A small isolated town in Colombia is home to a large cluster of people with fragile X syndrome—a genetic disorder that leads to intellectual disability, physical abnormalities, and sometimes autism. Spectrum staff reporter Hannah Furfaro joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss the history of fragile X in the town of Ricaurte and the future of the people who live there. Also this week, we talkabout greening up grass. Lawns of green grass pervade urban areas all around the world, regardless of climate, but the cost of maintaining them may outweigh their benefits. Host Meagan Cantwell talks with Maria Ignatieva of The University of Western Australia in Perth and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala about how lawns can be transformed to contribute to a more sustainable future.This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Adam Kerfoot-Roberts/Flickr; Music:...

Odd new particles may be tunneling through the planet, and how the flu operates differently in big and small towns

Thursday 4th October 2018

Hoping to spot subatomic particles called neutrinos smashing into Earth, the balloon-borne Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) detector has circled the South Pole four times. ANITA has yet to detect those particles, but it has twice seen oddball radio signals that could be evidence of something even weirder: some heavier particle unknown to physicists’ standard model, burrowing up through Earth. Science writer Adrian Cho joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss the possibility that this reading couldlead to a big change in physics. Next, host Meagan Cantwell asks researcher Ben Dalziel what makes a bad—or good—flu year. Traditionally, research has focused on two factors: climate, which impacts how long the virus stays active after a sneeze or cough, and changes in the virus itself, which can influence its infectiousness. But these factors don’t explain every pattern. Dalziel, a population biologist in the Departments of Integrative Biology and Mathematics at Oregon...

The future of PCB-laden orca whales, and doing genomics work with Indigenous people

Thursday 27th September 2018

Science has often treated Indigenous people as resources for research—especially when it comes to genomics. Now, Indigenous people are exploring how this type of study can be conducted in a way that respects their people and traditions. Meagan Cantwell talks with contributing correspondent Lizzie Wade about a summer workshop for Indigenous scientists that aims to start a new chapter in genomics. We’ve known for decades that PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—are toxic and carcinogenic. In the 1970s and 1980s, these compounds were phased out of use in industrial and electronic applications, worldwide. But they are still in the environment—in soil and air—and in animal tissues, particularly those of killer whales. These toxic compounds start out at minute levels in tiny organisms, but as the small are eaten by the slightly larger, the PCB concentration increases—from plankton, to fish, to seals—until you are at killer whales with PCB-packed blubber. Ailsa Hall, director of...

Metaresearchers take on meta-analyses, and hoary old myths about science

Thursday 20th September 2018

Meta-analyses—structured analyses of many studies on the same topic—were once seen as objective and definitive projects that helped sort out conflicts amongst smaller studies. These days, thousands of meta-analyses are published every year—many either redundant or contrary to earlier metaworks. Host SarahCrespi talks to freelance science journalist Jop de Vrieze about ongoing meta-analysis wars in which opposing research teams churn out conflicting metastudies around important public health questions such as links between violent video games and school shootings and the effects of antidepressants. They also talk about what clues to look for when trying to evaluate the quality of a meta-analysis. Sarah also talked with three other contributors to our “Research on Research” special issue. Pierre Azoulay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Ben Jones of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and MIT’s Heidi Williams discuss the evidence...

The youngest sex chromosomes on the block, and how to test a Zika vaccine without Zika cases

Thursday 13th September 2018

Strawberries had both male and female parts, like most plants, until several million years ago. This may seem like a long time ago, but it actually means strawberries have some of the youngest sex chromosomes around. What are the advantages of splitting a species into two sexes? Host Sarah Crespi interviews freelance journalist Carol Cruzan Morton about her story on scientists’ journey to understanding the strawberry’s sexual awakening. In 2016, experimental Zika vaccines were swiftly developed in response to the emergence of serious birth defects in the babies of infected woman. Two years after the height of Zika cases, there’s so little spread of the virus in the Americas that it has stymied vaccine trials. Researchers hope to overcome this hurdle with “human challenge experiments”—vaccinating people, then intentionally infecting them with Zika to see whether they’re protected from the virus. Meagan Cantwell talks with staff writer Jon Cohen about his news story that...

Should we prioritize which endangered species to save, and why were chemists baffled by soot for so long?

Thursday 6th September 2018

We are in the middle of what some scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction and not all at-risk species can be saved. That’s causing some conservationists to say we need to start thinking about “species triage.” Meagan Cantwell interviews freelance journalist Warren Cornwall about his story on weighing the costs of saving Canada’s endangered caribou and the debate among conservationists on new approaches to conservation. And host Sarah Crespi interviews Hope Michelsen, a staff scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, about mysterious origins of soot. The black dust has been around since fire itself, but researchers never knew how the high-energy environment of a flame can produce it—until now. Michelsen walks Sarah through the radical chemistry of soot formation—including its formation of free radicals—and discusses soot’s many roles in industry, the environment, and even interstellar space. Check out this useful graphic describing...