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October 18 2018

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

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 research investigator 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 to the skin to limit pesticide-related toxicity and mortality. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image:Navid Folpour/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

October 11 2018

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

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 talk about 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: Jeffrey Cook]

October 04 2018

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

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 could lead 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 State University in Corvallis, explains how humidity and community size shape the way influenza spreads. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Stuart Rankin/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

September 27 2018

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

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 the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St. Andrews University in the United Kingdom, talks with host Sarah Crespi about her group’s work measuring PCB levels in different killer whale populations and calculating the effect of PCBs on those populations 100 years from now. In this month’s book segment, Jen Golbeck interviews Damon Centola about his book How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions. You can listen to more books segment and read more reviews on our books blog, Books et al.  This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts About the Science Podcast [Image: Public domain; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

September 20 2018

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

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 Sarah Crespi 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 for some hoary old scientific home truths. See whether you can guess who originally made these claims and how right or wrong they were: Do scientists make great contributions after age 30? How important is it to stand on the shoulders of giants? Does the truth win, or do its opponents just eventually die out? Read the rest of the package on science under scrutiny here. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Davide Bonazzi/@SalzmanArt; Show music: Jeffrey Cook; additional music: Nguyen Khoi Nguyen]

September 13 2018

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

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 highlights the risks and rewards of human challenge experiments. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Public domain; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

September 06 2018

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

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 the soot inception process in the related commentary article. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Darren Bertram/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

August 30 2018

Science and Nature get their social science studies replicated—or not, the mechanisms behind human-induced earthquakes, and the taboo of claiming causality in science

A new project out of the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia, found that of all the experimental social science papers published in Science and Nature from 2010–15, 62% successfully replicated, even when larger sample sizes were used. What does this say about peer review? Host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Kelly Servick about how this project stacks up against similar replication efforts, and whether we can achieve similar results by merely asking people to guess whether a study can be replicated. Podcast producer Meagan Cantwell interviews Emily Brodsky of the University of California, Santa Cruz, about her research report examining why earthquakes occur as far as 10 kilometers from wastewater injection and fracking sites. Emily discusses why the well-established mechanism for human-induced earthquakes doesn’t explain this distance, and how these findings may influence where we place injection wells in the future. In this month’s book podcast, Jen Golbeck interviews Judea Pearl and Dana McKenzie, authors of The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. They propose that researchers have for too long shied away from claiming causality and provide a road map for bringing cause and effect back into science. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Jens Lambert, Shutterstock; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

August 23 2018

Sending flocks of tiny satellites out past Earth orbit and solving the irrigation efficiency paradox

Small satellites—about the size of a briefcase—have been hitching rides on rockets to lower Earth orbit for decades. Now, because of their low cost and ease of launching, governments and private companies are looking to expand the range of these “sate-lites” deeper into space. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Deputy News Editor Eric Hand about the mods and missions in store for so-called CubeSats. And our newest podcast producer Meagan Cantwell interviews Quentin Grafton of Australian National University in Canberra and Brad Udall of Colorado State University in Fort Collins about something called the “irrigation efficiency paradox.” As freshwater supplies dry up around the world, policymakers and farmers have been quick to try to make up the difference by improving irrigation, a notorious water waster. It turns out that both human behavior and the difficulty of water measurement are plaguing water conservation efforts in agriculture. For example, when farms find they are using less water, they tend to plant ever-more-water-intensive crops. Now, researchers are trying to get the message out about the behavioral component of this issue and tackle the measurement problem, using cheap remote-sensing technology, but with water scarcity looming ahead, we have to act soon. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: John A. Kelley, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

August 16 2018

Ancient volcanic eruptions, and peer pressure—from robots

Several thousand years ago the volcano under Santorini in Greece—known as Thera—erupted in a tremendous explosion, dusting the nearby Mediterranean civilizations of Crete and Egypt in a layer of white ash. This geological marker could be used to tie together many ancient historical events, but the estimated date could be off by a century. Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about a new study that used tree rings to calibrate radiocarbon readings—and get closer to pinning down a date. The findings also suggest that scientists may need to change their standard radiocarbon dating calibration curve. Sarah also talks to Tony Belpaeme of Ghent University in Belgium and Plymouth University in the United Kingdom about his Science Robotics paper that explored whether people are susceptible to peer pressure from robots. Using a classic psychological measure of peer influence, the team found that kids from ages 7 to 9 occasionally gave in to social pressure from robot peers, but adults did not. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy, with help from Meagan Cantwell. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Softbank Robotics; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

August 09 2018

Doubts about the drought that kicked off our latest geological age, and a faceoff between stink bugs with samurai wasps

We now live in the Meghalayan age—the last age of the Holocene epoch. Did you get the memo? A July decision by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which is responsible for naming geological time periods, divided the Holocene into three ages: the Greenlandian, the Northgrippian, and the Meghalayan. The one we live in—the Meghalayan age (pronounced “megalion”)—is pegged to a global drought thought to have happened some 4200 years ago. But many critics question the timing of this latest age and the global expanse of the drought. Staff writer Paul Voosen talks with host Sarah Crespi about the evidence for and against the global drought—and what it means if it’s wrong. Sarah also talks to staff writer Kelly Servick about her feature story on what happens when biocontrol goes out of control. Here’s the setup: U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers wanted to know whether brown marmorated stink bugs that have invaded the United States could be controlled—aka killed—by importing their natural predators, samurai wasps, from Asia. But before they could find out, the wasps showed up anyway. Kelly discusses how using one species to combat another can go wrong—or right—and what happens when the situation outruns regulators. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Melissa McMasters/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

August 02 2018

How our brains may have evolved for language, and clues to what makes us leaders—or followers

Yes, humans are the only species with language, but how did we acquire it? New research suggests our linguistic prowess might arise from the same process that brought domesticated dogs big eyes and bonobos the power to read others’ intent. Online News Editor Catherine Matacic joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about how humans might have self-domesticated themselves, leading to physical and behavioral changes that gave us a “language-ready” brain. Sarah also talks with Micah Edelson of the University of Zurich in Switzerland about his group’s research into the role that “responsibility aversion”—the reluctance to make decisions for a group—might play when people decide to lead or defer in a group setting. In their experiments, the team found that some people adjusted how much risk they would take on, depending on whether they were deciding for themselves alone or for the entire group. The ones who didn’t—those who stuck to the same plan whether others were involved or not—tended to score higher on standardized tests of leadership and have held higher military rank. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Scaly breasted munia/Ravi Vaidyanathan; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

July 26 2018

Liquid water on Mars, athletic performance in transgender women, and the lost colony of Roanoke

Billions of years ago, Mars probably hosted many water features: streams, rivers, gullies, etc. But until recently, water detected on the Red Planet was either locked up in ice or flitting about as a gas in the atmosphere. Now, researchers analyzing radar data from the Mars Express mission have found evidence for an enormous salty lake under the southern polar ice cap of Mars. Daniel Clery joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss how the water was found and how it can still be liquid—despite temperatures and pressures typically inhospitable to water in its liquid form. Read the research. Sarah also talks with science journalist Katherine Kornei about her story on changing athletic performance after gender transition. The feature profiles researcher Joanna Harper on the work she has done to understand the impacts of hormone replacement therapy and testosterone levels in transgender women involved in running and other sports. It turns out within a year of beginning hormone replacement therapy, transgender women plateau at their new performance level and stay in a similar rank with respect to the top performers in the sport. Her work has influenced sports oversight bodies like the International Olympic Committee. In this month’s book segment, Jen Golbeck interviews Andrew Lawler about his book The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Next month’s book will be The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie. Write us at sciencepodcast@aaas.org or tweet to us @sciencemagazine with your questions for the authors. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Henry Howe; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

July 19 2018

Why the platypus gave up suckling, and how gravity waves clear clouds

Suckling mothers milk is a pretty basic feature of being a mammal. Humans do it. Possums do it. But monotremes such as the platypus and echidna—although still mammals—gave up suckling long ago. Instead, they lap at milky patches on their mothers’ skin to get early sustenance. Science News Writer Gretchen Vogel talks with host Sarah Crespi about the newest suckling science—it turns out monotremes probably had suckling ancestors, but gave it up for the ability to grind up tasty, hard-shelled, river-dwelling creatures. Sarah also talks with Sandra Yuter of North Carolina State University in Raleigh about her work on fast-clearing clouds off the southwest coast of Africa. These immense marine layers appear to be exiting the coastal regions under the influence of gravity waves (not to be confused with gravitational waves). This finding can help scientists better model cloud behavior, particularly with respect to their influence on global temperatures. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: North Carolina State University]    

July 12 2018

The South Pole’s IceCube detector catches a ghostly particle from deep space, and how rice knows to grow when submerged

A detection of a single neutrino at the 1-square-kilometer IceCube detector in Antarctica may signal the beginning of “neutrino astronomy.” The neutral, almost massless particle left its trail of debris in the ice last September, and its source was picked out of the sky by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope soon thereafter. Science News Writer Daniel Clery joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss the blazar fingered as the source and how neutrinos from this gigantic matter-gobbling black hole could help astronomers learn more about mysterious high-energy cosmic rays that occasionally shriek toward Earth. Read the research. Sarah also talks with Cornell University’s Susan McCouch about her team’s work on deep-water rice. Rice can survive flooding by fast internodal growth—basically a quick growth spurt that raises its leaves above water. But this growth only occurs in prolonged, deep flooding. How do these plants know they are submerged and how much to grow? Sarah and Susan discuss the mechanisms involved and where they originated. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

July 05 2018

A polio outbreak threatens global eradication plans, and what happened to America’s first dogs

Wild polio has been hunted to near extinction in a decades-old global eradication program. Now, a vaccine-derived outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is threatening to seriously extend the polio eradication endgame. Deputy News Editor Leslie Roberts joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about the tough choices experts face in the fight against this disease in the DRC. Sarah also talks with Online News Editor David Grimm about when dogs first came to the Americas. New DNA and archaeological evidence suggest these pups did not arise from North American wolves but came over thousands of years after the first people did. Now that we know where they came from, the question is: Where did they go? Read the research. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Download a transcript of this episode (PDF) Listen to previous podcasts. About the Science Podcast [Image: Polio virus/David Goodsell/RCSB PDB; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

June 28 2018

Increasing transparency in animal research to sway public opinion, and a reaching a plateau in human mortality

Public opinion on the morality of animal research is on the downswing in the United States. But some researchers think letting the public know more about how animals are used in experiments might turn things around. Online News Editor David Grimm joins Sarah Crespi to talk about these efforts. Sarah also talks Ken Wachter of the University of California, Berkeley about his group’s careful analysis of data from all living Italians born 105 or more years before the study. It turns out the risk of dying does not continue to accelerate with age, but actually plateaus around the age of 105. What does this mean for attempts to increase human lifespan? In this month’s book segment, Jen Golbeck talks with Simon Winchester about his book The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. Read more book reviews at our books blog, Books et al. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Chris Jones/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

June 21 2018

New evidence in Cuba’s ‘sonic attacks,’ and finding an extinct gibbon—in a royal Chinese tomb

Since the 2016 reports of a mysterious assault on U.S. embassy staff in Cuba, researchers have struggled to find evidence of injury or weapon. Now, new research has discovered inner-ear damage in some of the personnel complaining of symptoms. Former International News Editor Rich Stone talks to host Sarah Crespi about the case, including new reports of a similar incident in China, and what kind of weapon—if any—might have been involved. Sarah also talks with Staff Writer Gretchen Vogel about the bones of an extinct gibbon found in a 2200- to 2300-year-old tomb in China. Although gibbons were often featured in historical poetry and paintings, these bones confirm their presence and the fact that they were distinct from today’s species.   Read the research. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Pedro Szekely; Music: Jeffrey Cook] 

June 14 2018

The places where HIV shows no sign of ending, and the parts of the human brain that are bigger—in bigger brains

Nigeria, Russia, and Florida seem like an odd set, but they all have one thing in common: growing caseloads of HIV. Science Staff Writer Jon Cohen joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about this week’s big read on how the fight against HIV/AIDS is evolving in these diverse locations. Sarah also talks with Armin Raznahan of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, about his group’s work measuring which parts of the human brain are bigger in bigger brains. Adult human brains can vary as much as two times in size—and until now this expansion was thought to be evenly distributed. However, the team found that highly integrative regions are overrepresented in bigger brains, whereas regions related to processing incoming sensory information such as sight and sound tend to be underrepresented.  This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: Misha Friedman; Music: Jeffrey Cook]

June 07 2018

Science books for summer, and a blood test for predicting preterm birth

What book are you taking to the beach or the field this summer? Science’s books editor Valerie Thompson and host Sarah Crespi discuss a selection of science books that will have you catching comets and swimming with the fishes. Sarah also talks with Mira Moufarrej of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, about her team’s work on a new blood test that analyzes RNA from maternal blood to determine the gestational age of a fetus. This new approach may also help predict the risk of preterm birth. This week’s episode was edited by Podigy. Listen to previous podcasts. [Image: William Warby/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook]
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