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Space Junk, Chronobiology, Mistletoe. Dec 20, 2019, Part 2 from Science Friday

From Science Friday - As more commercial companies are getting into the satellite launching game, space is becoming a crowded place and all of these objects are creating space debris. Right now, there are approximately 2,000 satellites floating in low-Earth orbit. Space agencies have estimated that are over 100 million small particles floating in low-Earth orbit, but there are no large scale projects to clean up these pieces of space trash.  Aerospace engineer Moriba Jah and space archeologist Alice Gorman talk about framing the idea of space as another ecosystem of Earth and what environmental, cultural and political issues come along with cleaning up our space junkyard.  Saturday's Winter Solstice, which marks not just the arbitrary beginning of a season, but also the slow return of daylight to the Northern hemisphere. Or the coming decade, as many reflect back on everything that's happened since 2010, and prepare to mark the beginning of 2020—a completely human invention. But there's also an invisible timekeeper inside our cells, telling us when to sleep and when to wake. These are the clock genes, such as the period gene, which generates a protein known as PER that accumulates at night, and slowly disappears over the day, approximating a 24-hour cycle that drives other cellular machinery. This insight won its discoverers the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.  These clock genes don't just say when you snooze: from the variability of our heart rates to the ebbs and flows of the immune system, we are ruled by circadian rhythms. Erik Herzog, who studies the growing field of chronobiology at Washington University in St. Louis, explains how circadian rhythms are increasingly linked to more than our holiday jet lag or winter blues, but also asthma, prenatal health, and beyond. And he explains why the growing movement to end Daylight Savings Time isn't just about convenience, but also saving lives. This time of year, it's not uncommon to see a little sprig of greenery hanging in someone's doorway. It's probably mistletoe, the holiday decoration that inspires paramours standing beneath it to kiss. But as it turns out, we may have miscast mistletoe as the most romantic plant of the Christmas season. In reality, the plant that prompts your lover's kiss is actually a parasite. Ira talks with evolutionary biologist Josh Der about the myth and tradition behind the parasitic plant, and what it may be up to the other 11 months of the year. 


Science Friday
Covering everything about science and technology -- from the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies -- Science Friday is your source for entertaining and educational stories and activities. Each week, host Ira Flatow interviews scientists and inventors like Sylvia Earle, Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and more.

Space Junk, Chronobiology, Mistletoe. Dec 20, 2019, Part 2
2019-12-20 13:38:18
As more commercial companies are getting into the satellite launching game, space is becoming a crowded place and all of these objects are creating space debris. Right now, there are approximately 2,000 satellites floating in low-Earth orbit. Space agencies have estimated that are over 100 million small particles floating in low-Earth orbit, but there are no large scale projects to clean up these pieces of space trash.  Aerospace engineer Moriba Jah and space archeologist Alice Gorman talk about framing the idea of space as another ecosystem of Earth and what environmental, cultural and political issues come along with cleaning up our space junkyard.  Saturday's Winter Solstice, which marks not just the arbitrary beginning of a season, but also the slow return of daylight to the Northern hemisphere. Or the coming decade, as many reflect back on everything that's happened since 2010, and prepare to mark the beginning of 2020—a completely human invention. But there's also an invisible timekeeper inside our cells, telling us when to sleep and when to wake. These are the clock genes, such as the period gene, which generates a protein known as PER that accumulates at night, and slowly disappears over the day, approximating a 24-hour cycle that drives other cellular machinery. This insight won its discoverers the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.  These clock genes don't just say when you snooze: from the variability of our heart rates to the ebbs and flows of the immune system, we are ruled by circadian rhythms. Erik Herzog, who studies the growing field of chronobiology at Washington University in St. Louis, explains how circadian rhythms are increasingly linked to more than our holiday jet lag or winter blues, but also asthma, prenatal health, and beyond. And he explains why the growing movement to end Daylight Savings Time isn't just about convenience, but also saving lives. This time of year, it's not uncommon to see a little sprig of greenery hanging in someone's doorway. It's probably mistletoe, the holiday decoration that inspires paramours standing beneath it to kiss. But as it turns out, we may have miscast mistletoe as the most romantic plant of the Christmas season. In reality, the plant that prompts your lover's kiss is actually a parasite. Ira talks with evolutionary biologist Josh Der about the myth and tradition behind the parasitic plant, and what it may be up to the other 11 months of the year. 
46 minutes, 5


Squid Lighting, Tongue Microbiome, Invasive Herbivores. March 27, 2020, Part 2
2020-03-27 10:21:15
How Humboldt Squid Talk To Each Other In The Dark Cephalopods are masters of changing their bodies in response to their environments–from camouflaging to sending warning signals to predators. The art of their visual deception lies deep within their skin. They can change their skin to different colors, textures, and patterns to communicate with other animals and each other. But how does this play out in the darkness of the deep ocean? That's the question a team of scientists studied in the deep diving Humboldt squid that lives over 2,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface. Their results were published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Biologist Benjamin Burford, who is an author on that study, explains how Humboldt squid use a combination of skin color patterns and bioluminescence to send each other signals and what this might teach us about communication in the deep ocean. See a video and more photos of Humboldt squid communicating with each other from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.  Mapping The Microbiome Of Your Tongue Your mouth is home to billions of bacteria–some prefer to live on the inside of the cheeks, while others prefer the teeth, some the gums, or the surface of the tongue. Writing this week in the journal Cell Reports, researchers describe their efforts to map out the various communities of bacteria that inhabit the tongue.  In the average mouth, around two dozen different types of bacteria form tiny "microbial skyscrapers" on your tongue's surface, clustered around a central core made up of individual human skin cells. The researchers are mapping out the locations of the tiny bacterial colonies within those skyscrapers, to try to get a better understanding of the relationships and interdependencies between each colony.  Jessica Mark Welch, one of the authors of the report and an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, talks about what we know about the microbiome of the human mouth, and what researchers would still like to learn. Rethinking Invasive Species With Pablo Escobar's Hippos Colombia is home to an estimated 80 to 100 hippos where they're an invasive species–hippos are native to Africa. But notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar brought four to the country as part of his private zoo. After his death in 1993, the hippos escaped to the wild where they thrived.  Some locals consider them pests, the government has mulled over getting rid of them, and recent studies have shown that their large amounts of waste is changing the aquatic ecology of Colombia. But new research has taken a different view, showing that even though hippos are invasive, they might be filling an ecological hole left by large herbivores killed off by humans thousands of years ago. Erick Lundgren, the study's lead author and a Ph.D. student at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, talks about why we should stop thinking of the phrase "invasive species" as inherently bad, and what may be in store for the future of these hippos. 


COVID Near You Citizen Science, Fact-Check Your Feed. March 27, 2020, Part 1
2020-03-27 10:19:34
These days, our newsfeeds are overloaded with stories of the coronavirus. This week, Science Friday continues to dig into the facts behind the speculation–the peer-reviewed studies and reports published by scientists investigating the virus. But what we know–and don't know–about the new virus is changing daily, making it hard to keep up. Everyone, for example, wants to know more about possible therapies for treating COVID-19 patients. After President Trump publicly speculated about the tried and true antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, his endorsement sent governors, doctors, and the worried public scrambling to get their hands on the drug. But is there any science to back-up this claim? And what about remdesivir, the antiviral drug that has been used to treat a handful of patients, and is now the subject of several new drug trials? Angela Rasmussen, associate research scientist and virologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health joins Science Friday once again to break down the science behind the stories. As suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 skyrocket in the United States, testing availability remains limited, leaving people wondering if their cough is something to worry about. But testing isn't just a balm for anxiety–public health officials need data about how far the new virus has spread to make decisions about how to best protect people, and where to send critical resources, like masks and gowns. Accurate information is the frontline of defense, but scientists still have pressing questions about the novel disease. For instance, how many people who are infected actually have symptoms? If you do have symptoms, how likely are you to get severely sick? Until we are able to test both healthy and symptomatic people at scale, citizen science can help fill the gaps in tracking who has COVID-19. And the public health team that launched Flu Near You to track seasonal flu symptoms is now doing just that: soliciting your symptoms in the Covid Near You project. Covid Near You co-founder John Brownstein of Boston Children's Hospital explains what questions the project may help answer, and what trends Covid Near You will track–including why this data is so valuable to public health efforts. Sign up at www.covidnearyou.org to report how you're feeling–whether you're healthy or have symptoms.


SciFri Extra: Science Diction On The Word 'Dinosaur'
2020-03-24 09:00:00
At the turn of the 19th century, Britons would stroll along the Yorkshire Coast, stumbling across unfathomably big bones. These mysterious fossils were all but tumbling out of the cliffside, but people had no idea what to call them. There wasn't a name for this new class of creatures.  Until Richard Owen came along. Owen was an exceptionally talented naturalist, with over 600 scientific books and papers. But perhaps his most lasting claim to fame is that he gave these fossils a name: the dinosaurs. And then he went ahead and sabotaged his own good name by picking a fight with one of the world's most revered scientists. Want more Science Diction? Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter. Woodcut of the famous dinner inside of an Iguanodon shell at the Crystal Palace in 1854. Artist unknown. (Wikimedia Commons) Footnotes And Further Reading:  Special thanks to Sean B. Carroll and the staff of the Natural History Museum in London. Read an article by Howard Markel on this same topic. Credits:  Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, with story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. This episode also featured music from Setuniman and The Greek Slave songs, used with permission from the open-source digital art history journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris, and mixing help from Kaitlyn Schwalje. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.


Coronavirus Fact-Check, Poetry of Science, Social Bats. March 20, 2020, Part 2
2020-03-20 19:46:04
As new cases of coronavirus pop up across the United States, and as millions of people must self-isolate from family and friends at home, one place many are turning to for comfort and information is their news feed. But our regular media diet of politics, sports, and entertainment has been replaced by 24/7 coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Nearly every outlet is covering the pandemic in some way–celebrities live streaming their self-quarantine, restaurants rolling out new health practices and food delivery options, educators and parents finding ways to teach kids at home. There's an overwhelming number of ways the media has covered the virus. But on top of that, there's also blatant misinformation about the virus distracting us from the useful facts. It's all appearing in one big blur on Facebook or Twitter feeds. And it doesn't help that nearly every few hours we're getting important, and often urgent, updates to the evolving story. This week, guest host John Dankosky speaks with two scientists who can help fact-check your news feed. Angela Rasmussen, assistant research scientist and virologist at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology at the Yale University School of Medicine give us a clearer picture of the coronavirus news this week. Poet Jane Hirshfield calls these "unaccountable" times. Crises in the biosphere–climate change, extinctions–collide with crises in human life. And in her new book Ledger she says she has tried to do the accounting of where we, human beings, are as a result. As a poet whose work touches on the Hubble telescope, the proteins of itch, and the silencing of climate researchers, Hirshfield talks with John Dankosky about the particular observational capacity of language, and why scientists and poets can share similar awe. Hirshfield is also the founder of Poets for Science, which continues a project to create a global community poem started after 2017's March for Science. "When we introduced them in isolated pairs they formed relationships much faster, like college students in a dorm room," Carter said to Science Friday earlier this week. "And when we introduced a bat into a group of three, that was faster than when we just put two larger groups together." Carter has also studied how illness changes social relationships within a vampire bat roost. He found that if a baby bat gets sick, for instance, the mom won't stop grooming or sharing food with their offspring. But that same bat will stop participating in some social behavior with a close roost-mate that isn't family. Carter joins Science Friday guest host John Dankosky to talk about researching vampire bats, and what their response to illness tells us about our own time social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. See more photos and video of social bat behavior below.


Jane Goodall, Coronavirus Update, Science Diction. March 20, 2020, Part 1
2020-03-20 19:38:20
60 years ago this year, a young Jane Goodall entered the Gombe in Tanzania to begin observations of the chimpanzees living there. During her time there, Goodall observed wild chimpanzees in the Gombe making and using tools–a finding that changed our thinking about chimps, primates, and even humans. Now, Goodall travels the world as a conservationist, advocate for animals, and United Nations Messenger of Peace.  She joins guest host John Dankosky to reflect on her years of experience in the field, the scientific efforts she is involved with today, and the need for hope and cooperation in an increasingly connected but chaotic world.  Science has given us more than data. It's also brought us words for everyday things or ideas–meme, cobalt, dinosaur. And there's often a good story about how those words got into our common use. Take the word "vaccine," the distant, but hoped-for solution to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It turns out the word originates from vaccinae, relating to cows, because the smallpox vaccine was derived from cowpox, a related virus.  Science Friday word nerd Johanna Mayer joins John Dankosky to talk about the origins of the word "vaccine," and how she sleuths the fascinating histories that she tells in her new podcast Science Diction. The first season of Science Diction is now available! Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts!  


SciFri Extra: Science Diction On The Word 'Vaccine'
2020-03-17 08:09:05
For centuries, smallpox seemed unbeatable. People had tried nearly everything to knock it out–from herbal remedies to tossing back 12 bottles of beer a day (yep, that was a real recommendation from a 17th century doctor), to intentionally infecting themselves with smallpox and hoping they didn't get sick, all to no avail. And then, in the 18th century, an English doctor heard a rumor about a possible solution. It wasn't a cure, but if it worked, it would stop smallpox before it started. So one spring day, with the help of a milkmaid, an eight-year-old boy, and a cow named Blossom, the English doctor decided to run an experiment. Thanks to that ethically questionable but ultimately world-altering experiment (and Blossom the cow) we got the word vaccine. Want more Science Diction? Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter. "The cow-pock - or - the wonderful effects of the new inoculation" by James Gillray in 1802, featured at the beginning of this episode. (Library of Congress) Footnotes And Further Reading:  Special thanks to Elena Conis, Gareth Williams, and the Edward Jenner Museum. Read an article by Howard Markel on this same topic. We found many of the facts in this episode in "Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination" from Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. Credits:  Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, with story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris, and mixing help from Kaitlyn Schwalje. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.


Farmers' Stress, Tiny Dino-Bird Discovery. March 13, 2020, Part 2
2020-03-13 13:47:16
The Farm Crisis of the 1980s was a dark time for people working in food and agriculture. U.S. agricultural policies led to an oversupply of crops, price drops, and farms closures. At the same time, the rate of farmer suicide skyrocketed. The industry struggled, until organizations like Farm Aid and others popped up to give voice to the crisis. But farm advocates agree that farmers are in the middle of another period of hardship, one brought on by the same factors that caused the Farm Crisis in the 1980s. Farmers today are experiencing low crop prices, uncertain markets, and high farm debt. And this time around, there's a greater awareness and stress about the impacts of climate change. So what will our response be to this latest crisis? How will farmers get the support they need–both economically and emotionally? State and regional organizations for farmers have been quick to restart the conversation around the importance of rural mental health, but funding has been slow to follow. In an unexpected twist, the Trump administration's recent decision to move the U.S. Department of Agriculture from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City has been the source of some of this funding bottleneck. All the while, studies are reporting increasing rates of farmer suicides–mirroring the 1980s. Ira speaks with Katie Wedell, author of a recent article in USA Today on the latest farm crisis, as well as Roy Atkinson from the American Farm Bureau Federation about a recent poll looking at perceptions of rural mental health. They're joined by Jennifer Fahy from Farm Aid, Brittney Schrick, assistant professor at University of Arkansas, and Jim Goodman, retired dairy farmer and farm advocate, to discuss the scope of the crisis and response. Today, the Isle of Sky in the west coast of Scotland is a lush island with towering sea cliffs and tourists taking in the picturesque landscape. But during the late Jurassic period 170 million years ago, there were diverse groups of dinosaurs roaming the land. In two different areas on the island, paleontologists were able to find footprints of three different types of dinosaurs. These tracks include the stegosaurus, which had not been previously found in this region. Their results were published in the journal PLOS ONE. Paleontologists Steve Brusatte and Paige Depolo, who are both authors on the study, describe why fossils and tracks from this period are difficult to find and what these footprints can tell us about the habitats of middle Jurassic dinosaurs and shed light on the evolution of the stegosaurus.  


Coronavirus: Washing and Sanitizing, Science Diction, New HIV PrEP Drugs. March 13, 2020, Part 1
2020-03-13 13:42:23
The number of people in the U.S. confirmed to be infected with the pandemic-level respiratory coronavirus continues to rise, even as testing and diagnosis capacity continues to lag behind other nations. In the meantime, epidemiologists are urging people all over the country to take actions that help "flatten the curve," to slow the rate of infection so the number of cases don't overwhelm the healthcare system and make the virus even more dangerous for those who get it. And the best methods to flatten that curve? Social distancing, which means limiting your exposure to other people, including large gatherings. And, when you can't avoid other people, it means washing your hands diligently, disinfecting door knobs, and otherwise killing virus particles–which may survive up to three days on inanimate objects, depending on conditions. There are words we use every day for common things or ideas–meme, vaccine, dinosaur–but where did those words come from? Sometimes, there's a scientific backstory. Take the word quarantine, now in the news due to widespread infection control measures. Did you know that it comes from quarantino, a 40-day isolation period for arriving ships–which originally was a trentino, a 30-day period, established in what is now Croatia in the plague-stricken 1340's? Science Friday's word nerd Johanna Mayer joins Ira to talk about the origins of the word quarantine, and how she flips through science history and culture to tell us these stories in her new podcast Science Diction. The first season of Science Diction is now available! Listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. In 2012, the FDA approved the drug Truvada, the brand-name HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that HIV negative people can take to prevent contracting the virus. The patent for Truvada is due to expire, which would allow for more generic versions of the drug. But Gilead, the manufacturer of Truvada, is releasing a second brand name PrEP called Descovy.   Physician Rochelle Walensky, who is chief of the infectious disease division at Massachusetts General Hospital, is an author on a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that weighed the financial and accessibility impact that this new drug will have for patients. 


SciFri Extra: Science Diction On The Word 'Meme'
2020-03-10 09:00:00
Remember that summer when the internet was one Distracted Boyfriend after another–that flannel-shirted dude rubbernecking at a passing woman, while his girlfriend glares at him? Everyone had their own take–the Boyfriend was you, staring directly at a solar eclipse, ignoring science. The Boyfriend was youth, seduced by socialism, spurning capitalism. The Boyfriend could be anyone you wanted him to be.    We think of memes as a uniquely internet phenomenon. But the word meme originally had nothing to do with the internet. It came from an evolutionary biologist who noticed that genes weren't the only thing that spread, mutated, and evolved. Sign up for our newsletter, and stay up to speed with Science Diction.  Guest:  Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist. For some fun, check out her book, Because Internet, and her podcast Lingthusiasm. She's also appeared on Science Friday. Footnotes And Further Reading: For an academic take on memes, read Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman. Read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.    Check out the first time the word meme appeared in an internet context, in Mike Godwin's 1994 Wired article called "Meme, Counter-meme." Credits:  Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, and we had story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.


Astronaut Training, Marsquakes, Whale Migration. March 6, 2020, Part 2
2020-03-06 13:34:09
Do You Have The 'Right Stuff' To Be An Astronaut? If you've ever considered being an astronaut, this might be your chance to land that dream job. This week, NASA opened applications for a new class of astronaut candidates. It's a full-time position based in Houston, Texas, paying over $104,000 per year. Job duties would include "conducting operations in space, including on the International Space Station (ISS) and in the development and testing of future spacecraft" and "performing extravehicular activities (EVA) and robotics operations using the remote manipulator system." Please note that "substantial travel" is required.  How do you know if you have the 'right stuff' to apply?  Frank Rubio, a NASA astronaut who completed the most recent previous selection program in 2017, joins Ira to talk about what other qualities are valuable in an astronaut applicant–and the training program for those accepted.   Could A "Marsquake" Knock Down Your House? On April 6, 2019, NASA's InSight Mars lander recorded a sound researchers had been waiting to hear for months. To the untrained listener, it may sound like someone had turned up the volume on the hum of Martian wind. But NASA researchers could hear the likely first-ever "marsquake" recorded by the mission. NASA's InSight carries a suite of instruments to help study what's happening deep within the Martian surface, including an ultra-sensitive seismometer (SEIS) for detecting suspected quakes on Mars. Now closing in on the end of it's two-year primary mission, NASA scientists are studying the seismic data they've collected so far, comparing it to the well-known tectonic activity of Earth, and mapping out what to explore from here. Deputy principal investigator Suzanne Smrekar joins Ira to answer our pressing marsquake questions. New Insight Into Whales On The Go  Like the seasonal migrations of birds, whales are roamers. Every year, they travel thousands of miles, from the warm waters of the equatorial regions for breeding to the colder polar waters for feeding. But how do they find their way so consistently and precisely every year?  New research in Current Biology this month adds more weight to one idea of how whales stay on course: Similar to birds, whales may detect the Earth's magnetic field lines. Duke University graduate student Jesse Granger explains why a strong connection between gray whale strandings and solar activity could boost the magnetoreception theory. Other research in Marine Mammal Science explores why whales leave the food-rich waters of the Arctic and Antarctic at all. Marine ecologist Robert Pitman of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Center explains why this annual movement may not be about breeding–but rather, allowing their skin to molt and remain healthy. 


Coronavirus Genetics, Prosthetic Hands. March 6, 2020, Part 1
2020-03-06 12:58:04
A New Trick For Dexterity In Prosthetic Hands Researchers working on the next generation of prosthetic limbs have a few fundamental engineering problems to overcome. For starters, how can people using prosthetic limbs effectively signal what motions they want to perform?  A team of researchers may have a solution: A surgical technique that uses muscle tissue to amplify the nerve signals. Participants fitted with prosthetic hands after this surgery, described in Science Translational Medicine this week, reported being able to manipulate objects with a degree of control and dexterity not previously seen. Electrical engineer Cynthia Chestek at the University of Michigan explains why this muscle graft seems to be solving the engineering problem of reading nerve signals and what the next generation of prosthetic hands could be capable of.  Looking To The Genome To Track And Treat The New Coronavirus As of Thursday, March 5, Washington state has reported over 30 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. To better understand the pathogen and the disease, scientists have sequenced the genome of the virus from two of the patients. Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research who uses genomics to track the spread of diseases, discusses how the genetic information from these patients can help determine the spread of the virus globally. Plus, Ralph Baric, a coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, talks about developing vaccine and drug candidates for COVID-19 and how the genomic sequences from this outbreak can be used to help create treatments. Can You Name That Call? Test Your Animal Sound Trivia Can you differentiate the cry of an Antarctic Weddell seal from the song of an emperor penguin? How about the bellows of a howler monkey from a warthog's rumbling roar? The animal kingdom is filled with diverse calls and sounds, and for World Wildlife Day earlier this week on Tuesday, we curated them–in a quiz. SciFri's digital producer Daniel Peterschmidt teamed up with Google Earth to create an interactive quiz that hops you around the world and highlights the many (sometimes surprising) sounds that species make. Daniel challenges Ira to an animal sound showdown.  Test your knowledge with the Science Friday Google Earth Animal Sound Quiz! What You Don't Know About Well Water Could Hurt You Residents in Kansas who use private wells face uncertainty about what's in their water. Environment and energy reporter Brian Grimmett for KMUW in Wichita tells us the State of Science.  A Human Trial For CRISPR Gene Therapy This week, researchers announced that they have started a clinical trial of a treatment that uses the CRISPR gene-editing technique on live cells inside a human eye. Plus a satellite rescue mission, parrot probability, and more in this week's News Roundup.


Coronavirus Preparedness, Facebook's History. Feb 28, 2020, Part 2
2020-02-28 13:32:54
This week, the world's attention has turned to the spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that was first detected in Wuhan, China, late in 2019. More countries are finding cases, and in the United States, a California patient has become the first known case of possible "community spread"–where the patient had not traveled to affected areas or had known exposure to someone who had been infected. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control said Americans should prepare for "significant disruption" and "inevitable" spread of the virus in the U.S. And on Wednesday, President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would head the country's coronavirus response. But what does preparation actually look like for healthcare systems that will be on the frontlines of detecting and responding to any new cases? Ira talks to infection prevention epidemiologist Saskia Popescu and public health expert Jennifer Nuzzo about the practical steps of preparing for a new pathogen, including expanding testing and making sure healthcare workers have necessary protective equipment. Plus, they address why childcare, telecommuting, and community planning may be more important than face masks for individuals who are worried about what they can do. Facebook is a household name globally with nearly 2 billion users. Mark Zuckerberg's goal was to connect the entire world online when he founded the company in 2006. But 14 years later, Facebook has evolved into more than a social media platform. The company has been involved in debates and scandals around user privacy, outside interference in elections, and the spread of fake news. Last summer, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for "repeatedly used deceptive disclosures and settings to undermine users' privacy preferences in violation of its 2012 FTC order." Journalist Steven Levy has been following Zuckerberg and the company since the beginning. In his new book Facebook: The Inside Story he chronicles Zuckerberg's growth and data-driven approach and how that influenced the tactics the company applied to the problems that resulted from the platform.


Degrees of Change: Building Materials. Feb 28, 2020, Part 1
2020-02-28 13:32:16
In order to slow a warming planet on track to increase by 2 degrees celsius, nearly every industry will be forced to adapt: airlines, fashion, and even the unglamorous and often overlooked building materials sector.  Just like the farm to table movement, consumers are increasingly thinking about where the raw materials for their homes and cities come from, and how they impact climate change. And in response to this concern, the materials sector is serving up an unusual menu option: wood. "Mass timber" is the buzzword these days in the world of sustainable building materials. Architects are crazy for it, engineers praise its excellent structural properties, and even forestry managers are in support of its use.  Of course cutting down trees to curb carbon emissions seems counterintuitive at first. And there are skeptics who doubt whether wood is strong enough to build future city skyscrapers.  Frank Lowenstein, Chief Conservation Officer with the New England Forestry Foundation and Casey Malmquist, Founder and CEO of timber company SmartLam North America, join Ira to explain why the hype over mass timber's potential to mitigate climate change is the real deal.  And as the popularity of sustainable mass timber rises, big carbon-emitting industries like steel and concrete are facing pressure to address their role in the climate crisis. One steel company out of Sweden is aiming to make it's product carbon-neutral by 2026 by replacing coal with hydrogen in the steel-making process. And other researchers are hoping to make concrete more sustainable by using ingredients that would actually trap carbon inside the material.  We hear from Martin Pei, Chief Technology Officer of European steel company SSAB, and Jeremy Gregory, Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, about how the traditional building materials sector is going green.  Plus, architect and structural engineer Kate Simonen of the University of Washington talks about the need for more sustainable building materials to construct homes for an estimated 2.3 billion more people by the year 2050.


Coronavirus Update, Genuine Fakes, Neanderthal News. Feb. 21, 2020, Part 2
2020-02-21 13:36:56
What Is Real And Fake? There are two ways to grow a diamond. You can dig one up from the Earth–a product of billions of years of pressure and heat placed on carbon. Or you can make one in a lab–by applying lots of that same heat and pressure to tiny starter crystals–and get it made much faster.  Put these two objects under a microscope and they look exactly the same. But is the lab-grown diamond real or fake? The answer lies somewhere in between. The same goes for many other things, like artificial flavors or our favorite nature documentaries that put a sensational spin on an otherwise unvarnished look at wildlife.  Writer and historian Lydia Pyne would call them "genuine fakes" and she explores some of them in her latest book Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff. She joins Ira to talk about the vast gray area between real and fake when it comes to science.  How Are COVID-19 Numbers Counted? This week, the death toll attributed to the new coronavirus outbreak passed 2,000 people. And while that number is solid, many of the other numbers involved with this disease, including the total number infected and the degree of transmissibility of the virus, change from day to day. Those shifting numbers are in part due to changes in how countries, such as China, are diagnosing patients and defining who is "infected."   It can be difficult to know what information deserves attention, especially when information on possible transmission routes and timelines for vaccine development shift constantly. Helen Branswell, senior reporter on infection diseases at STAT, joins Ira for an update on COVID-19 and a conversation about evaluating medical information in the midst of a developing story. An Ancient Burial In A Famous Cave Recently, modern archaeologists returned to Shanidar Cave, located in what is now Kurdistan, and found more Neanderthal remains, including a partial "articulated" skeleton that appears to have been deliberately positioned in a trench near the earlier discoveries.  Emma Pomeroy, a lecturer in the department of archeology at Cambridge University, was the osteologist on the recent archeological team. She says the new find could provide insights into how Neanderthals viewed their dead, their sense of self, and more.  


Ask A Dentist. Feb. 21, 2020, Part 1
2020-02-21 13:36:23
Brushing Up On Tooth Science Most of us spend our time at the dentist holding our mouths open, saying "ahhh," and occasionally sticking out our tongues. But if you could ask a dentist anything, what would you want to know? Ira asks University of Utah researcher Rena D'Souza and UPenn's Mark Wolff about cavity formation, the oral microbiome, gum disease, and the future of stem cells in teeth restoration. Plus, NYU researcher Rodrigo Lacruz explains new research on how excessive fluoride can disrupt tooth cell functions and why you should still keep drinking that fluoridated tap water.  East Africans Battle A Plague Of Locusts Brought On By Climate Change A swarm of locusts the size of a city may sound biblical, but it's the reality right now in East Africa. The pest is devouring the food supply of tens of millions of people, wreaking havoc on crops and pasturelands. Local residents are doing all they can to keep the swarms at bay, but the locusts may be here to stay for a while, as experts suggest their presence may be due to climate change.  Sarah Zhang, reporter at The Atlantic, tells us about the locust issue along with other science news from the week. Why Coal Country May Be Going Solar A new bill passing through the West Virginia state legislature would increase the state's solar capacity by 2,500%. Environment reporter Brittany Patterson at West Virginia Public Broadcasting tells us the State of Science.  


Building A Ghost Heart, The Effect Of Big Tech. Feb 14, 2020, Part 2
2020-02-14 13:31:08
The human heart is one of the most complicated organs in our body. The heart is, in a way, like a machine–the muscular organ pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood in an adult human every day. But can we construct a heart in the lab? Some scientists are turning to engineering to find ways to preserve that constant lub dub when a heart stops working. One team of researchers created a biohybrid heart, which combines a pig heart and mechanical parts. The team could control the beating motion of the heart to test pacemakers and other devices. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances in January. Mechanical engineering student Clara Park, an author on that study, talks about what it takes to engineer a biohybrid heart and how this model could be used in the future to develop implantable hearts and understand heart failure. At the Texas Heart Institute, Doris Taylor is developing a regenerative method for heart construction. She pioneered the creation of "ghost hearts"–animals hearts that are stripped of their original cells and injected with stem cells to create a personalized heart. So far, Taylor has only developed the technique with animal hearts, but in the future these ghost hearts could be used as scaffolds to grow transplant hearts for patients. Taylor talks about how much we know about the heart and why it continues to fascinate us. Last month Microsoft announced it is opening an office to represent itself to the United Nations. But what's a tech company have to do with the U.N.? Meet the "Net State." In her book The Information Trade: How Big Tech Conquers Countries, Challenges Our Rights, and Transforms Our World, Alexis Wichowski writes about how big tech companies are becoming much more than technology providers, and what it means for world citizens when powerful government-like entities–the "Net States"–transcend physical borders and laws.


Great Lakes Book Club Wrap-Up, California Groundwater. Feb 14, 2020, Part 1
2020-02-14 13:29:53
The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's surface drinking water, with Lake Superior holding half of that alone. The lakes stretch from New York to Minnesota, and cover a surface area of nearly 100,000 square miles–large enough to cover the entire state of Colorado. And they're teeming with life. Fish, phytoplankton, birds, even butterflies call the lakes home for some portion of their lives. But not all is calm in the waters. In The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, journalist Dan Egan tells the story of the changes that have unbalanced these ecosystems since the St. Lawrence Seaway was first made navigable for cargo ships and, with them, invasive species, like sea lampreys, alewives, quagga mussels and, perhaps soon, Asian carp. The Science Friday Book Club has spent a month swimming in Great Lakes science. We've pondered the value of native fish to ecosystem resiliency, the threats facing people's access to clean drinking water, and the influence of invasive species. SciFri producer and Book Club captain Christie Taylor, Wayne State University ecologist Donna Kashian, and Wisconsin-based journalist Peter Annin discuss potential paths to a healthy future, from ongoing restoration efforts to protective policies and new research. Dennis Hutson's rows of alfalfa, melons, okra and black-eyed peas are an oasis of green in the dry terrain of Allensworth, an unincorporated community in rural Tulare County. Hutson, currently cultivating on 60 acres, has a vision for many more fields bustling with jobs. "This community will forever be impoverished and viewed by the county as a hamlet," he says, "unless something happens that can create an economic base. That's what I'm trying to do." While he scours his field for slender pods of ripe okra, three workers, community members he calls "helpers," mind the irrigation station: 500-gallon water tanks and gurgling ponds at the head of each row, all fed by a 720-foot-deep groundwater well. Just like for any grower, managing water is a daily task for Hutson and his helpers. That's why he's concerned about what could happen under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the state's overhaul of groundwater regulations. Among other goals, the law sets out to eliminate the estimated 1.8 million acre-feet in annual deficit the state racks up each year by pumping more water out of underground aquifers than it can replenish. Hutson worries small farmers may not have the resources to adapt to the potentially strict water allocations and cutbacks that might be coming. Their livelihoods and identities may be at stake. "You grow things a certain way, and then all of a sudden you don't have access to as much water as you would like in order to grow what you grow," he says, "and now you're kind of out of sorts." Read the rest on sciencefriday.com.


SciFri Extra: The Marshall Islands Stare Down Rising Seas
2020-02-13 09:44:34
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a country of 58,000 people spread across 29 coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean. And in a world where seas are both rising and acidifying, the Marshall Islands are exceptionally vulnerable: Those atolls rise a mere two meters above the original ocean height on average, and rely on the health and continued growth of their coral foundations to exist. A 2018 study projects that by 2050, the Marshall Islands could be mostly uninhabitable due to salt-contaminated groundwater and inundation of large swaths of their small land masses during both storm events and more regular high tides. But the people of the Marshall Islands–who are already facing increasingly high king tides and more frequent droughts–are planning to adapt, not leave. They've already built sea walls and water catchments, while in February 2019, then-Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine announced an ambitious, expensive additional plan to raise the islands higher above the ocean. Science Friday producer Christie Taylor spoke to Heine in October, after her remarks to the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science in Honolulu, Hawaii. They discussed the islands' adaptation plans, why leaving is the last option the Marshallese want to consider, and the role traditional knowledge has played in planning for the future. Plus, why major carbon emitters like the United States have a responsibility to help countries like the Marshall Islands adapt. 


Tech And Empathy, The Ball Method. Feb 7, 2020, Part 2
2020-02-07 13:30:47
How Tech Can Make Us More–And Less–Empathetic Much of technology was built on the promise of connecting people across the world, fostering a sense of community. But as much as technology gives us, it also may be taking away one of the things that makes us most human–empathy. Meet Alice Ball, Unsung Pioneer In Leprosy Treatment In 1915, an infection with leprosy (also called Hansen's disease) often meant a death sentence. Patients were commonly sent into mandatory quarantine in "leper colonies," never to return. Before the development of the drug Promin in the 1940s, one of the few somewhat-effective treatments for leprosy was use of an oil extracted from the chaulmoogra tree. However, that oil was not readily water soluble, making it difficult for the human body to absorb. A new short film, The Ball Method, tells the story of Alice Ball, a young African-American chemist. Ball was able to discover a method for extracting compounds from the oil and modifying them to become more soluble–a modification that led to the development of an injectable treatment for leprosy. Dagmawi Abebe, director of the film, joins Ira to tell the story of Alice Ball.


Degrees Of Change: How Native American Communities Are Addressing Climate Change. Feb 7, 2020, Part 1
2020-02-07 12:34:00
How Native American Communities Are Addressing Climate Change Indigenous peoples are one of the most vulnerable communities when it comes to the effects of climate change. This is due to a mix of cultural, economic, policy and historical factors. Some Native American tribal governments and councils have put together their own climate risk assessment plans. Native American communities are very diverse–and the challenges and adaptations are just as varied. Professor Kyle Whyte, a tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, says that many of the species and food resources that are affected by climate change are also important cultural pieces, which are integral to the identity and cohesion of tribes. Ryan Reed, a tribal member of the Karuk and Yurok Tribe and a sophomore undergrad student in Environmental Science at the University of Oregon, and James Rattling Leaf, tribal member of the Rosebud Sioux, and Tribal Engagement Leader for the Great Plains Water Alliance, join Ira for this segment. "One Trillion Trees"... But Where to Plant Them? In this week's State of the Union address, President Trump didn't utter the words "climate change"–but he did say this: "To protect the environment, days ago I announced the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together government and private sector to plant new trees in America and all around the world." Planting trees to suck up carbon is an increasingly popular Republican alternative to limiting fossil fuel emissions–but how practical is it? In this segment, E&E News White House reporter Scott Waldman discusses the strategy.


Breast Cancer Cultural History, Butterfly Wings. Jan 31, 2020, Part 2
2020-01-31 13:33:48
'Radical' Explores The Hidden History Of Breast Cancer  Nearly 270,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, along with a couple thousand men. But the disease manifests in many different ways, meaning few patients have the same story to tell.  Journalist Kate Pickert collects many of those stories in her book Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America. And one of those stories is her own. As she writes about her own journey with breast cancer, Pickert delves into the history of breast cancer treatment–first devised by a Scottish medical student studying sheep in the 1800s–and chronicles the huge clinical trials for blockbuster drugs in the 80s and 90s–one of which required armies of people to harvest timber from the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest.  She joins Ira Flatow to tell her story, and the surprising cultural history of breast cancer.  With Butterfly Wings, There's More Than Meets The Eye  Scientists are learning that butterfly wings are more than just a pretty adornment. Once thought to be made up of non-living cells, new research suggests that portions of a butterfly wing are actually alive–and serve a very useful purpose.  In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Naomi Pierce, curator of Lepidoptera at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, found that nano-structures within the wing help regulate the wing's temperature, an important function that keeps the thin membrane from overheating in the sun. They also discovered a "wing heart" that beats a few dozen times per minute to facilitate the directional flow of insect blood or hemolymph.  Pierce joins Ira to talk about her work and the hidden structures of butterfly wings. Plus, Nipam Patel, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, talks about how butterfly wing structure is an important component of the dazzling color on some butterfly wings.


Coronavirus Update, Invasive Species. Jan 31, 2020, Part 1
2020-01-31 13:33:15
Tracking The Spread Of The Coronavirus Outbreak This week, the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak–which began in Wuhan, China–is a public health emergency of international concern. Nearly 8,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide. Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of the virus from some of the patients who were infected early on in the outbreak. Virologist Kristian Andersen discusses how the genetics of the virus can provide clues to how it is transmitted and may be used for diagnostic tests and vaccines. Plus, infectious disease specialist Michael Osterholm talks about the effectiveness of quarantines and what types of measures could be put in place to halt the spread of the pathogen. Putting Invasive Species On Trial When species that have existed in one place for a long time are transported to new ecosystems, there are a few possible outcomes. First, nothing could happen. That flower, fish, or flying insect could find the new environment too hostile. In other cases, the new arrival may succeed and multiply just enough to establish itself in the food chain alongside the native species. But a small fraction of wayward species can go on to dominate. They out-compete an established species so well that they may take over their new home, and change the way a food web functions. Think garlic mustard, jumping worms, and emerald ash borer beetles. And in The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, this winter's Science Friday Book Club pick, journalist Dan Egan recounts how exposing lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Superior, and Erie to new species had devastating effects on the ecosystems of each lake–first, blood-sucking sea lampreys decimated native lake trout, then tiny alewives exploded in population. Ship-transported round gobies, quagga and zebra mussels, spiny waterfleas, and more have since come on the scene. It's no surprise that ecologists have had close eyes on the lakes for decades. And now, with species of potentially invasive Asian carp poised to enter from the Mississippi River basin, many wonder what's next for the Great Lakes' flora and fauna.  Conservation biologist David Lodge, who helped pioneer the eDNA method for tracking Asian carp, joins University of Michigan ecologist Karen Alofs to talk about how new species become invasive and how biologists decide what to prevent, what to protect, and, sometimes, what changes to accept. When A Correction May Not Be Helpful New work relating to messages about the Zika virus and yellow fever published this week in the journal Science Advances indicates that delivering accurate messaging may be harder than you think. Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College and one of the authors of the report, joins Ira to talk about the study and what lessons it might hold for educating people about other public health risks. A Close Call Collision In Near-Earth Orbit On Wednesday night, skywatchers near Pittsburgh looked up, watching, just in case there was a collision in space. Two satellites, an old U.S. Air Force satellite and a nonfunctioning orbital telescope, narrowly avoided collision, passing as close as 40 feet from each other. One estimate ranked the odds of collision at 1 in 20. Amy Nordrum, news editor at IEEE Spectrum, joins Ira to talk about the problem of orbital debris and other stories from the week in science.


SciFri Extra: Revisiting Unique Science Stories Of 2019
2020-01-27 18:33:24
2020 has just begun, but we're still celebrating all the amazing work done by science journalists in 2019. Thanks to them, we've been informed on stories like the new illnesses linked to vaping, the first image of a black hole, and the increase in youth-led climate change protests. At our year in review event at Caveat in NYC on December 18, 2019, three science storytellers–Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Sarah Zhang, and Ariel Zych–took the stage with a notable story they reported in 2019, including the untold and surprising facts that may not have made it to their final draft.


Coronavirus, Great Lakes Drinking Water. Jan 24, 2020, Part 1
2020-01-24 13:31:32
A novel coronavirus–the type of virus that causes SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and common cold symptoms–has killed 18 people, and sickened more than 600. In response, Chinese officials have quarantined several huge cities, where some 20 million people live. In this segment, Ira talks with epidemiologists Saskia Popescu and Ian Lipkin about what we know about the virus, how it appears to spread, and whether efforts to contain it are effective–or ethical.  Do you know where your drinking water comes from? For more than 40 million people in the Great Lakes Basin, the answer is the abundant waters of Lake Michigan, Ontario, Erie, Huron, or Superior. This winter, the Science Friday Book Club has been reading Dan Egan's The Death And Life of the Great Lakes, and unpacking the drastic ecological changes facing these bodies of water in the last century and beyond. But what about the changes to the water that might affect people who drink it? And does everyone who lives on the lakes actually have equal access? Great Lakes Now reporter Gary Wilson unpacks some of the threats to clean drinking water faced by the region's residents, from Flint's lead pipes to Lake Erie's algae blooms to shutoffs for those who can't afford to pay. And Kristi Pullen Fedinick of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains a recent report that connected disproportionate levels of drinking water contamination to communities that are poorer or dominated by people of color–all over the country. Finally, Science Diction host Johanna Mayer explains the origins of the word "mercury," another pollutant that has plagued the Great Lakes. This week business leaders, celebrities, and government officials from around the world met in Davos, Switzerland–and one of the topics was trees. The Trillion Tree campaign, a collaboration between several of the world's largest environmental organizations, wants to combat global deforestation around the world But at the same time, work published in the journal Global Change Biology indicates that tree planting can lead to unintended consequences. The researchers found that increased levels of forest can reduce the available water in nearby rivers dramatically, cutting river flow by as much as 23% after five years and 38% after 25 years. The effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than wetter ones. The type of soil conditions also have an effect–trees planted on healthy grassland have a larger impact on river flow than forests on former degraded agricultural land. David Coomes, Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and one of the authors of the paper, joins Ira to talk about the pros and cons of reforestation.  


Feathered Dino, Clinical Trials, Coffee Extraction. Jan 24, 2020, Part 2
2020-01-24 13:30:52
Before any new drug comes to market, it goes through a time-consuming process. Researchers have to recruit human subjects for a clinical trial, collect all the data, and analyze the results. All of that can take years to complete, but the end result could be worth it: a drug that treats a rare disease or improves patients lives with fewer side effects.  Or the opposite could happen: The drug doesn't have any effect or makes patients worse. So the question is, how is the public informed of the outcome? One answer is ClinicalTrials.gov, a public-facing website where researchers are required by law to register all currently ongoing clinical trials and report their results. That way, the public is kept informed. However, two recent investigations of ClinicalTrials.gov reporting practices show that many researchers aren't posting their results online. In fact, up to 25% of studies never seem to have their results reported anywhere. And government agencies aren't enforcing the rule in ways they've promised–with heavy fines and threats to withhold funding from institutions that don't comply. In a delicate piece of shale from coastal China, paleontologists have identified a new species of feathered dinosaur: Wulong bohaiensis, Chinese for "Dancing Dragon." The house cat-sized dino has fierce talons, feathered wings, and a long, whip-like tail with feathered plumes at the end. Ashley Poust, who published a description of the dinosaur in The Anatomical Record, says it's "hard to imagine" the wings being used for flying. But he says the wings could have been used to arrest leaps or falls, or to hold down prey while killing it, as modern-day birds sometimes do. In this conversation with Ira, Poust talks more about the dino's possible lifestyle, and how it fits in with other feathered reptiles. A cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a ritual–from grinding the beans to boiling the water and brewing your cup. But following those steps won't always get you a consistent pour. Researchers developed a mathematical model to determine how the size of grind affects water flow and the amount of coffee that gets into the final liquid. Their results were published in the journal Matter. Computational chemist Christopher Hendon, who was an author on that study, talks about how understanding atomic vibration, particle size distribution, and water chemistry can help you brew the perfect cup of coffee.


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