Synopsis: Science and Celebrities pronuncements, Predictions for 2009, Mars Alive with carbon deposits, Bacteria Support Groups that form biofilms, Bird Songsters sing out competition for breeding, Favoring Orangutans due to token trading, and TWIS Question of the Month about geological activity that releases sequestered carbon!
Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
This TWIS-mas, I was visited by three ghosts! Whisking me through time and space the ghost of TWIS-mas past, showed me beyond any doubt what humble beginnings science began with. What great heights it has soared to since and how heavily our modern civilization rests on the shoulder of giants, giants not only of intellectual prowess but giants of dedication, courage and sacrifice as well.
What we enjoy today are not the fruits of the modern era at all but the combined harvest of all of human history. The bounty of culture and intellectual pursuit that has been going on since the first great conversation took place outside of some cave and some now long forgotten language lost to time.
I was then visited by a second ghost who wanted to remind me that while all of human history had a hand in our high tech harvest it, like the following hour of our programming at present does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.
I then found the third ghost haunt my TWIS-mas eve. A dark and looming specter this was, I felt the chill run down my spine, unsure for a moment of the phantom’s intention until at least at last the phantom spoke. “Hey, big fan of the show, just want to stop by”, the dark minion said. We high-fived and popped the rock.
“These are the things I’ve seen.” The minion hinted. “Are you ready for the future?” “Ready”, I said. It’s already in the show notes for, This Week in Science coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten!
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! Happy TWIS-mas!
Justin: Merry post TWIS-mas!
Justin: Almost Happy New Year.!
Justin: Yeah. It’s going to come up (through).
Kirsten: I know, two days.
Justin: This is like the period of time each year, that just catches me completely off guard because I’m totally unaware of the fact that the university has like a school schedule?
Justin: So one, is coming on the campus and there are being no people and thinking…
Kirsten: It’s a ghost town around here.
Justin: …thinking I’m here early was it’s, you know, like post-solstice like clock change. Is there one I forgotten about?
Justin: What’s happening is everybody – is there a flu? Is everybody home sitting in front of news? Was there some major catastrophe and nobody’s like not going outside? Am I the only one who didn’t get the word? What’s happening here? Followed by the realization that the coffee shop is not open.
Justin: Is this that one or two punch? One, it’s get my nerves rattled; two, my rattled nerves have no caffeine!
Justin: (How come you don’t have caffeine!)
Justin: Which almost makes me kind of extra amped.
Kirsten: Well, extra amped, anti — well I guess the decaffeinated Justin, good morning, and welcome to This Week in Science. Welcome everybody to this week’s episode. We’ve got a really fun show ahead. This week, we have our predictions for what is ahead scientifically in 2009.
Justin: And a recap of the predictions that we did last year.
Justin: Let me see how those turned out.
Kirsten: Yeah. And we’ve also got science news. I have stories about orangutans and the bird song and Mars. (You have?)
Justin: One of us thought to bring stories. I thought we had a guest and so the thing but I’ll find something. I’ll get something around here…
Kirsten: Yeah. You’ll figure…
Justin: .. that didn’t make from Monday or…
Kirsten: You’ll figure something out. And let’s see, so before we get on to the predictions, I wanted to talk about the things from last week’s show and minion mail.
On last week show, we covered the best of 2008. Our Top Eleven of 2008 and we promised you that we would bring you our predictions this week.
Well, our frequent contributor and loyal minion (Ed Dyer) had a few predictions of his very own and this is what he said, “My predictions for what will be the biggest scientific news for 2009, number one, the Hadron Super Collider will discover evidence of either the Higgs boson or some other elemental particle that will lead to a Grand Unified Theory.
Of course in time, evidence will be found of other forces in nature besides gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak interaction. At least for a time, we will have a G-U-T — it’s Grand Unified Theory — that explains all the forces in our universe that we can observe, infer or imagine.”
Justin: Grand Unification Theory, I think is going to — I think he’s right will come together but…
Kirsten: Do you think it’s going to happen in 2009? I don’t know.
Justin: It can actually. Now, like (he’s) probably a good candidate to do it. Now, but the Grand Unification Theory actually comes down to a small segment of the spectrum that we still haven’t figure out, of particles, of size, of things. So, what it is sort of like we’ve got the rainbow already except for missing purple. And we know purples out there…
Kirsten: But oh, it’s like…
Justin: …but we haven’t actually seen purple yet.
Kirsten: It’s the infrared, the one that’s just past purple, you know.
Justin: Exactly, exactly. And he’s also right that these other things…
Kirsten: I mean ultraviolet. What am I thinking? Not infrared.
Justin: …well they’re all part of the same spectrum…
Kirsten: Oh yeah.
Justin: …you know, ray, X-rays. It’s all part of the same electromagnetic spectrum…
Justin: …vision, their colors. It’s just a narrow very tiny little…
Kirsten: But it’s just as if…
Kirsten: …there is one part we haven’t seen yet.
Kirsten: But it’s all there though.
Justin: But what’s wild is – and he’s right. It’s all the dark energy, the dark matter or the things that they were calling dark, basically, are not on the spectrum apparently.
Justin: They’re basically might have their own — I mean they might have their own rainbow, their own spectrum…
Kirsten: Oh! A different kind of rainbow.
Justin: …their own colors. For instance the color (gerplue), burnt (phumh), you mix those two together? (billy organash), that’s what you get? It’s going to be a crazy future once we start seeing what these new spectrums are all about out there.
Kirsten: That’s right. All right. (Ed’s) number two. “Medical research will identify the exact way cancer replicates itself and spreads through our bodies. Most types of cancer will be curable within three to five years.”
That’s pretty big. But I mean we’ve all we — here on This Week in Science we’ve been saying — I think ten years ago — we said cancer will be cured in ten years. So, maybe this is the year, it’s our tenth anniversary. Who knows?
Justin: This is — I think we actually are getting to the point where cancer cures will be a reality but we’ve been hearing this for and thinking this and saying this…
Justin: …and people have been in general for 50 years.
Kirsten: But in truth though, I was just looking at an article in Scientific American, they got a — their issue this month is on evolution and it’s their — it’s a special issue. It’s really cool. And one of the articles has to do with cancer. And it says that 90% of cancers are treatable if they’re caught early.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And the cancers that are caught late are usually — it’s about 10% percent are not treatable or not curable.
Justin: Yeah. So early can (unintelligible)
Kirsten: So it’s — we’re kind of getting there, I mean it’s a blunt instrument that we’re using — I mean, you know, chemotherapy and, you know, people will get sick as a result of the treatments. But at the same time, you know, we — even though it’s a blunt, you know, leeches forward approach. Let’s blade them. Make sure it works.
Justin: And it’s almost — the only problem — I mean eventually the cancer does die but the problem is so does the patients.
Kirsten: Well, I’m a fatalist. Everyone dies…
Justin: That’s great.
Kirsten: ..eventually at all. But, you know, we’re getting to the point where we’re understanding in a lot more the treatments are working a lot of the time. It’s unfortunate that there are still, you know, we should get to a point where it works at all the time though.
Kirsten: No matter what it works. And so, hopefully we will get there soon.
“Number three, a hookerbot will be created probably by the Japanese that will feel, look and act close enough to a human. That sales of it and related products will spur an economic recovery within the year and of course, lead to robots controlling human reproduction and World Robot Domination.
Justin: I think this might be one of the greatest proposals for a short term recovery I’ve heard of. I don’t think it leads to Robot World Domination though.
Justin: And here’s why.
Justin: The people inventing robots, as soon as they get — I think it’s maybe like a destination point in technology versus a stepping stone. And here’s one of those things, once that hookerbot is created, even those most intimately involved in creating such a robot will find themselves in the laboratory less, tinkering less, spending less time thinking up new robots. Maybe it –(will let alone) leaving the house.
Kirsten: Right. I think you might have a point there.
Number four and his final prediction, “TWIS will be picked up for a National TV Show and Dr. Kiki and Justin will become national icons or at least models for the next line of hookerbots. Hope you enjoyed the holiday season and have a great New Year.”
Kirsten: I know.
Justin: I don’t know about…
Kirsten: I don’t know about that last part.
Justin: I would — I’d dedicate my body to hookerbot then. I think the only with the TV prediction though is that it would require me to have some form of hypnotherapy before each and every episode. So that I could go…
Kirsten: So you could actually go in camera.
Justin: …get over my fear.
Kirsten: Yeah. I know.
Justin: I don’t know where it comes from but I could actually…
Kirsten: That’s a reason you’re great on radio.
Justin: No. I could give — I could literally give an unprepared speech in front of a very large audience in person wearing nothing but my underwear. Just make it up all the way through and have a great time would be completely confident at the (unintelligible).
Kirsten: But the minute there’s a camera there?
Justin: The minute some goof ball jumps on stage with a steady cam and is following me around with this big and blinking electronic eye it’s — I don’t know what happens. I get stage fright from that little lens or something. I don’t know…
Kirsten: Because it’s permanent? I don’t know.
Justin: No, no. It’s — I’m not thinking that far ahead of it.
Kirsten: The psychology of this is very fascinating, Justin.
Justin: It’s like being stared down by a robot. It makes me uncomfortable.
Kirsten: Mm hmm. Maybe that’s it. The fear of robot is in you.
Justin: (It can be.)
Kirsten: Okay. Moving on. Thanks for all those predictions (Ed). I’d also like to thank minioness (Ruth O’Hare) for sending in a link to the Sense About Science 2008 Review of Science and Celebrities.
The gaffs that — and good comments that various celebrities and people in the public eye have made over the last year. And there are some really interesting ones in there.
Justin: Yeah. This is pretty strange. We have Demi Moore apparently said that about using bleaches for detoxification treatments. She said, “They have a little enzyme and when they are biting down on you it gets released in your blood and generally you bleed for quite a bit and your health is optimized. It detoxifies your blood”. Huh?!
Kirsten: Yeah. The enzyme, it’s called Heparin and it is a blood thinner and doctors use it too. And really it — well let’s say, it’s something — an anti-clotting, an anti-coagulation compound
Justin: Isn’t that kind of localized for them to continue…
Kirsten: It’s localized. Yeah. It’s localized just…
Justin: …to be sucking your blood?
Kirsten: It’s this little enzyme that allows leeches to continue to suck your blood.
Justin: So, it does detoxify your blood in the sense just for the leech…
Kirsten: For the…
Justin: …not for any other purpose.
Kirsten: No. And that blood that goes into a leeches doesn’t necessarily go back in. I don’t know what she’s thinking. Do they like squeezed the leech out like a sponge and then put the blood back in you. No. That’s not happening. So, yeah. Anyone who is confused about that? Leeches not a good…
Justin: Well, if you just spend..
Kirsten: Not good for detox.
Justin: …if you just spend $800 for the afternoon, getting yourself leeched in a modern era, maybe you’d like to believe…
Kirsten: Maybe you got to believe it?
Justin: …that there’s more to it then.
Kirsten: Yeah. Oh dear. Sarah Palin, this is a great one on fruit fly research. Sometimes these little dollars go to the projects, go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
Justin: Yeah. And the actual further irony was the specific research that she was talking about…
Justin: …was targeting autism as which is the same disease that her child suffers from.
Kirsten: Is that what it was?
Kirsten: I don’t know. Well there…
Justin: The one in Paris, France was doing something autism-related.
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s pretty — it’s interesting. Whatever…
Justin: Huh! What’s that?
Kirsten: Whatever it was related to, fruit flies share about 50% of their genome with humans.
Justin: Intensely useful.
Kirsten: And they have been very useful for understanding much of the way that genetics work. I mean they are, you know, we’ve used them so often for figuring out what curliness of wings and what genetic — what pieces of the genome make eye color change and…
Justin: And aging?
Kirsten: And aging and mating and behavior and…
Justin: And neurons.
Kirsten: Oh, fruit flies are very important and — yeah. Okay. You might want to be a little bit more informed before you go off the handle on the research.
Justin: This is the, let’s see – this is a Barack Obama quote on MMR vaccines and Autism saying that, “Some are suspicious that it is connected to the vaccines. This person included. Science right now as inconclusive but we have to research it.” Wow!
McCain on his take on vaccines and autism, “There is a strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines” which would be the mercury. Is that…
Justin: …what they have to think.
Justin: And he adds – there’s another quote actually here from a radio host Justin Jackson. Yeah, he claims that “Mercury in vaccines has actually been preventing autism as correlated by the rate of autism going up since it’s been removed.” So he is concerned apparently, that there’s not enough mercury in the — we’re going to start…
Justin: …putting it in the vitamins.
Kirsten: More, more mercury.
Justin: We’ll have to put in a vitamins now. Make sure that each child gets a healthy daily dose of mercury.
Kirsten: Or if we just sprinkle mercury on all of our fields, you know, then we’ll just be like mercury in the spinach.
Justin: How do they do that? But (we’re) good.
Kirsten: Yeah. So it’s interesting even, you know, people on the campaign, trial politicians who, you know, have a healthy respect for science even they get things wrong because they don’t their homework. Or just because it’s hard to get all the information that’s necessary to make a very good decision.
But I have to thank Amanda Peet for, you know, fighting against the MMR and autism link. She actually went out and talked to scientist and the quote from her is, “Fourteen studies have been conducted both here in the U.S. and abroad and these tests are reproducible; no matter where they are administered or who is funding them, the conclusion is the same: there is no association between autism and vaccines.”
Thank you Amanda Peet I didn’t have – I don’t know, I don’t think very highly of Amanda Peet for a long time and (maybe) a little bit. (I kind of) respect her a little more now
Justin: I still don’t think she’s going far enough. I think we need to look at how the lack of mercury is correlated with an increase in autism.
Justin: Because we might, you know, we might be able to put it back in the vaccines.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Bring back the industry. Is it me? Why are you pointing at me?
Kirsten: Yeah. We got to keep moving.
Justin: Oh. Okay. What’s that — Mariah Carey.
Mariah Carey on the use of Einstein’s E=mc2 quotation to the title of her album “Emancipation Equals Mariah Carey Times Two”. I missed that one. I don’t even know…
Justin: Who’s Mariah Carey. Is she still singing?
Justin: Like didn’t she…
Kirsten: It’s very — it’s just funny, you know. The E=mc and you have a little 2 above the C, you know, it’s…
Justin: It’s square but not times two.
Kirsten: Super positioned above the C, it’s squared.
Kirsten: Not times two.
Justin: Oh, got you. Yeah.
Kirsten: So that would be, Mariah Carey Carey in — it just doesn’t work really.
Justin: Well, it make sense if it was Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey. It’s like a fashion line.
Kirsten: But that would be (mc) and then 2, because you’d have Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey times, you know. But that’s not the way it works. Sorry honey, you got your Math wrong.
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s doesn’t really work. I’d like to put out a call to all minions to keep an eye on celebrity misrepresentation of science in 2009 or even the positive representation of science.
Justin: I got a great show, but it’s too late.
Kirsten: Let us know whenever you hear someone say something that’s crazy, silly, good, whatever. And maybe together we can get celebrities to think a little bit before they speak. That would be nice, right?
Justin: Yeah. Can I come back? I got a joke — it’s too late.
Kirsten: It’s too late.
Justin: It took me that — the half second to (long), all right (come on).
Kirsten: Maybe you can put your joke on the forums.
Justin: No, it doesn’t matter. So, we got a quick recap of some of last year’s predictions.
Kirsten: You are listening to This Week in Science.
Justin: This Week in Science stand here at KDVS, 90.3 FM on your dial. Last year, we made a couple of predictions for what would happen in the year 2008 which is we’re now about to be exiting.
One of the predictions, global warming, that it would continue to make news. I predicted that it would be found to be much worse than previously predicted. And Kirsten, you predicted that there would be many more counter measures.
Kirsten: I don’t know why we’re talking about what we said last year.
Justin: You got to recap. You got to see how we did.
Kirsten: I know, I know we have to see how we did. I’m like, what did I say? It’s so awful to have your voice recorded so you can go back.
Justin: Oh, yeah. Oh, no.
Kirsten: Takes talk.
Justin: Oh okay. She’s pretending she doesn’t remember because there’s a big one that’s coming out of it. Kirsten, predicted a major disease will be beaten by a stem cell research, I think you said Parkinson’s.
Kirsten: And that’s actually — there has been some really good research using stem cells. And it’s been shown to be one of the more helpful techniques actually this year.
Kirsten: I believe…
Justin: Very Good.
Kirsten: ..that’s why the Parkinson’s. And maybe even not stem cell research but the genetic test for Parkinson’s disease is very good if you have the indicator — the genetic marker, then you have a very high likelihood. And it’s good for people to know whether or not they’re going to get it or not.
Kirsten: It’s really cool stuff.
Justin: I predicted that algae fuel would be taking over the biodiesel and pushing out corn. Corn would just be a (fruit again). The algae has quite taken off to that point yet.
Kirsten: But it’s getting there.
Justin: Yeah. It’s getting there and they haven’t sort of banking off the, you know, using food as fuel because of, you know, realizing that if you’re borrowing from Peter to pay Paul on that one.
Justin: Let’s see, I said, I predicted — this is a big one, I predicted there will be no more graviton and no Higgs boson found at the LHC. The Large Hadron Collider would not discover this.
Kirsten: And it did not.
Justin: And it did not! Kirsten, you predicted that it would find it and we put a friendly wager on it.
Kirsten: We did not.
Justin: Whoever was incorrect was going to have to shave their head.
Justin: Yes! It’s good — that’s recorded.
Kirsten: No, you wanted to have the wager…
Justin: We did it recorded.
Kirsten: …and I did not agree to it.
Justin: You didn’t disagree to it?
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.
Justin: I see.
Kirsten: It was a very one sided wager.
Justin: I did say however that LHC would be useful for other things. And I think science-y awareness should count for that prediction.
Kirsten: That’s pretty good. Yeah.
Justin: Let’s see. I predicted a large meteor would be discovered heading towards Earth and that we will then find another bigger more destructive meteor. And after that, choose to stop looking for fear of more bad news. This was a hit. This was a big hit.
Kirsten: There were a couple of big meteors that were — or asteroids.
Justin: Yeah. There’s the one that’s going to zipped by us in 2012.
Kirsten: Mm hmm. Right. There’s one later.
Justin: And they kept looking. And it turns out it’s going to nail us in like 2023 or something like that.
Kirsten: It’s not going to nail us.
Justin: Yeah. It’s…
Kirsten: They think it’s going to get very close though. They don’t think it’s going to nail us.
Justin: …between the earth and the moon. And it’s like a mile wide.
Justin: It’s going to be — no. And, and…
Kirsten: It’s going to be close.
Justin: The researchers did want to study it and funding was denied. So it’s like, you know, if it’s going to (unintelligible). Why do we need to see it coming? And let’s see, new bird disease, everyone gets but nobody cares because nobody dies from it.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: And maybe we all have it.
Kirsten: Maybe — yeah, right. You could be right there.
Justin: We predicted, regime changed in the U.S. government.
Justin: Kirsten, you predicted to be more science friendly. Very well done.
Kirsten: I got one. I got one right!
Justin: And (unintelligible), I predicted that not only would it be science friendly but it would be named Barack Obama.
Kirsten: Yeah. All year long, you stayed on that, stayed on that wagon.
Justin: And of course, there was the — oh actually the mercury prediction was also from last year, that mercury would be found to limit autism. (They haven’t discovered that year.
Kirsten: But that’s not what’s been found.
Justin: They haven’t found that quite yet. No.
Kirsten: So, let’s get on to our predictions?
Justin: Predicting the future.
Kirsten: Predicting the future, yeah. So, I came up with a bunch of ideas for what I’m predicting for 2009. I am predicting — well, I know — well, I don’t know but they’re planning to test fire a laser — a giant laser beam — out of the Boeing 747.
Justin: (You’re back to evil on.)
Kirsten: I know. Out of a 747 at a ballistic missile as part of the missile or the defense system. Save the world!
Justin: Star wars?
Kirsten: Star wars. But it’s not really star wars. It is a giant jumbo jet that flies around with a laser in it to shoot things in the air. So, I think they’re going to test fire it, which they’re planning on doing.
They’re going to test fire it and they’re not going to miss their target. They’re going to hit the ballistic missile but the resulting explosion is going to wipe out an endangered flock of migratory warblers.
Kirsten: I’m not going to missed, they’ll get it. They’ll hit it.
Justin: Well, I say that they hit it but that nothing happens to the missile.
Kirsten: Nothing happens?
Justin: It just heats it up on the…
Kirsten: Hits it up.
Justin: Hits it up makes it a little patch on it, kind of warm. Yeah, (unintelligible).
Kirsten: Yeah. It will be interesting to see what’s going to happen with that…
Justin: And even more powerful laser.
Kirsten: Yeah. You know, laser it’s hard. Environmental conditions, if there’s fog or if there’s anything, you know, things can get in the way of laser beams if the air is not perfect.
Kirsten: (Can think), you know, there’s a lot of stuff they can go, go wrong. So, it will be interesting to see what happens with that.
The second prediction, the Large Hadron Collider is going to power up again, only to experience another set back before the year’s end. And I don’t think we’re going to see the Higgs boson in 2009.
Justin: Backing off a little bit.
Kirsten: I have backed off. I have backed off of my go, go, go LHC predictions from 2008. I’m going backwards.
Justin: Yeah. I’m with you there. Still no Higgs boson, no gravitons, no black holes either. Nope.
Kirsten: No black holes.
Kirsten: Yeah. Or maybe little tiny baby ones but nothing big.
Justin: But I do think it will discover something that will — I think I’m going to go with (Ed Dyre) on this. I’m going call Grand Unification thing right there, you know, new form of gravity discovered. I’m going to find — I’m going to say it comes up with something just enormous but not those.
Kirsten: That would be pretty cool.
Justin: And I also – I’m going to throw in with big detectors. I’m going to put in LIGO, the what is the…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …will continue not to find gravity waves. They’ll even extend that up to the new and approved advanced LIGO…
Kirsten: To not find them.
Justin: …that they’re building because they’re re-improving the system, they come much more sensitive and say that that one too, will not discover the gravity wave.
Kirsten: In 2009.
Justin: Two thousand thirteen.
Kirsten: Two thousand – you’re predicting all the way up in 2013 when it comes on line?
Justin: I’m only predicting LIGO. I’m going on the record as being no gravity waves.
Kirsten: Well, according to theories there should be gravity waves. So…
Justin: And they’ve been looking. And I don’t, I don’t – I don’t buy it.
Kirsten: Without the right detectors, maybe the right detector.
Justin: I don’t buy it.
Kirsten: Researchers analyzing data from the satellite known as Pamela will finally publish their results confirming their dark matter detection in quieting the minds of physicists around the globe.
Justin: Will that quite the minds, Kirsten? Will you quite the minds of scientists by discovering one of the biggest discoverable discoveries left? No!
Justin: You will louden the minds of scientists around the world.
Kirsten: Much more…
Justin: That’s my prediction. The minds will be more loudened.
Kirsten: …scientists clamoring, clamoring, clamoring. Japanese researcher is going to give up on the invisibility cloak in favor of the invisibility necktie.
Justin: Wearing mine right now.
Kirsten: Right. Suffering from the effects of the global economic melt down and food shortages, starving Norwegians will raid the global seed bank. That’s (I’m going to make) funny predictions.
Justin: And not to plant anything either, just…
Kirsten: Not just to eat the seeds. Maybe they can roast them over in open fire, toasted seeds.
Justin: Poor Norwegians.
Kirsten: Let’s see. Research is going to suggest that in most cases, cellphone use does not cause cancer but in some it might, leading most people to continue to use their cellphones.
Justin: Mm hmm. I’m (this) mostly upset if you can’t text and drive anymore after the end of this year.
Kirsten: I know.
Justin: That’s going to be rough.
Kirsten: Down with the text driving — drive texting.
Justin: And I wondered too — like if they’ve got rid of like if truckers can no longer be talking on CBs. Because what’s the differences? They’ve been doing it for years, right? I don’t know.
Kirsten: Yeah. The Kepler Space Telescope will find — will find evidence of many more earth-like planets in habitable zones around distant stars. I think that the Kepler Space Telescope is going to do some great work this year.
Justin: Absolutely. You know, yeah. You know, what year we first discovered a planet orbiting around a sun other than our own? Nineteen ninety-five.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: All these hundreds of planetaries, objects they found out there. This planet – what do they call them? Extra…
Kirsten: Extrasolar planets.
Justin: Extrasolar planets.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: It’s all been like the last 13 years.
Kirsten: Right. Very good.
Justin: That’s amazing.
Kirsten: I mean, before then it was zero…
Justin: Zero. There was no proof.
Kirsten: …and they were just predicted. They we’re predicted…
Kirsten: …but there was no proof and really the majority the…
Justin: Where they could be billions and billions and billions of very very very wise (unintelligible).
Kirsten: Yes. That’s right. And — but the majority of discoveries have taken place in the last couple of years. But last year, 200.
Justin: Two hundred, last year alone.
Kirsten: Over 200 is really amazing.
Kirsten: So with the Kepler Space Telescope out there being able to do, you know, really good monitoring of a particular area of space. And this is going to — they’re only going to be using it to look at one little sliver of space and really delve into the stars around there. It’s going to be great. We’re going to find out all sorts of earth-like planets.
Let’s see, stem cells will get more research juice in 2009. I think, more research funding will be sent to stem cells after Obama lifts the ban on federal stem cell research. And researchers will discover how to reprogram adult stem cells without the use of viruses.
Justin: Yeah. I’ve got — that’s one of my — it’s a good prediction there. I’m totally (down with it) — I think we’ll find the — I don’t want to know if we want to see another chronic disease that get taking down the first year kind of the thing. But I think, the press surrounding stem cells is going to be a lot less about the controversy of a blastocyst versus embryo, human life stuff.
And it’s going to be more about what stem cells has done for you lately. And I think that’s going to be the big turning point with stem cells, when we actually are allowed to fully fund and let the research flow…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …and see what comes of it. I think people are going to be very excited about the power of the stem cell.
Kirsten: Yeah. We shouldn’t limit it so much. Let’s see, nanotechnology and nanoparticles are in for a fight as regulatory agencies review data on Nano health and Safety. I think it’s going to be a tough year for nanotechnology.
Justin: Mm hmm. Or maybe they’ll just get the proper lab.
Justin: Because I think part of problem is that, it could be taken cared of and like — like, you know, a level four or five bio lab kind of a thing where there are all of these precautions. The problem is they are not in those lab now and they may need to move there.
Kirsten: The thing is they don’t know whether or not they need to be in those facilities, that’s the problem. That not enough research has been done into the Health and Safety surrounding nanoparticles.
And maybe there should be more precautions taken maybe not. And that what’s needs to be tested and looked into. And this is a really unregulated area of research. And that’s what’s going to happen this year I think, is a lot of regulations.
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s an international moon race as the U.S. launches the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in the search for a future moon mission landing site that’s going to go very well I think. I think that’s going to happen nicely.
And the LCROSS mission which is going to be shooting things at the moon to impact and get ejecta to spit off…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: …the surface of the moon so that we can look for water and see what’s in the soil on the surface of the moon. I think the LCROSS mission is going to shoot the man on the moon in the eye.
Justin: Actually — this is like, now we that know that there’s water on Mars, it’s known. There’s ice there.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: We have one of the trickiest bits.
Kirsten: I know, you keep saying “Why go to the moon? Why go to the moon?”
Justin: Marsifest Destiny baby. I’m not going anywhere. I think, you know, if I’m going to go to a hotel, the moon it’s going to have a nice view here. That’s going to be pretty awesome. It’ll be like back on planet Earth from the moon, wow! Other than that as you know, there’s not a lot to do.
Kirsten: Hopefully, I think that there’s — hopefully going to be a really big Russian Mars Mission when they’re sending a return mission, a sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. They are going to get there. They’re going to grab something and they’re going to bring it back.
Justin: Wow! Brilliant plan.
Kirsten: And I have fingers crossed, I don’t know. I think that’s going to go really well. The Russians, you know, spit in duct tape and they do whatever, you know.
Kirsten: They make amazing things happen. Let’s see, the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change attendees are going to talk a lot about climate science and disagree a lot.
Justin: I’m going to say that this time that they’re looking around for disagreement and finding none. I think nobody disagrees anymore. I think 2009 will be the year climate change is no longer an issue of bantering. Well, how do, you know, it’s because we did it. I think that ends this year.
Kirsten: All right. That’s a good prediction. Let’s see, being Darwin’s 200th Birthday this year in February, I predict that evolution is going to see a huge PR effort. And that creationists will see that they’re just being silly and they’re going to stop pushing to get creationism into schools. Well, that’s actually wishful thinking on my part.
And probably in all likelihood it’s going to be a bumper year for creationists efforts so get your school boards ready.
Kirsten: That’s what I’m predicting. Get — ready your school boards for the on slot.
Justin: I’m still trying to figure out how Pope John Paul II who is of the popes, he’s my favorite one — came out and basically said that, you know, there’s nothing in evolution that’s contrary to the teachings of the church.
That should be enough to for — I mean, when the Vatican — because they still wear the crazy old robes, you know, we watched the midnight mass in Christmas…
Kirsten: But that’s the different…
Justin: …there’s a lot of old tradition involved.
Kirsten: Right. But that’s the different religion. Catholicism is not the same as Revivalist Christianity. They are different!
Justin: No, no, no. Not at all. But I mean it’s when…
Kirsten: There are so many different religions out there.
Justin: …you have some of the big fundamentals though. It’s one of the big fundamental player holding on to the old versions of everything. I thinks it’s going to come down to — pretty soon yeah, the — I think the fight is going to be given up. I think again, I think that — I’m predicting less heated arguments…
Justin: …about these kinds of stuff in the future.
Kirsten: All right. We are opposite on that one.
Kirsten: Okay. And finally, I think Craig Venter will achieve the pinnacle of genetic success this year with the completely synthetic organism. However, I’m going to contain to be satisfied with just supporting the life that’s growing in the back of my refrigerator, which is feeding off with something that I think used to be spaghetti.
Justin: Weird. You need to clean up that refrigerator.
Kirsten: Yeah. I think though that Craig Venter, you know, this last year he did it. He pushed forward creating the first synthetic genome. I think he’s really this year the first artificial bacteria, the first synthetic organism will be produced.
Justin: And I think they should take a sample of it and send it to Mars and see what happens.
Kirsten: See what happens.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. Tune back in a couple million years and see what just became of that. I’ve also got a prediction for Michael Stebbins.
Kirsten: Oh, yeah.
Justin: The former intern on this show who has now been selected by the president-elect to help choose scientific policy makers who will forge our nature’s future. He was the TWIS Person of the Year…
Kirsten: That’s right.
Justin: …for this past year. And the last person who won Person of the Year went on after that to win the Nobel Prize.
Kirsten: That’s right. So…
Justin: So, good things in the future for Dr. Stebbins. I’m predicting that — I mean good things going on now even but I’m predicting even more and the better things to come.
Kirsten: All right. And that’s it for this first half which was a long first half of This Week in Science. We’ll be back after this short break.
Justin: Wasn’t it tedious? My goodness!
Kirsten: It was so tedious. Oh my Gosh! Yeah. We’ll be back. Stay tuned for more of This Week in Science, coming up next.
Kirsten: That’s right. Unbalanced Wheel, “Perpetual Motion Machine” from the 2008 Music Compilation which we’re going to be doing a 2009 Compilation. So, those of you who are musicians out there, know musicians, start thinking about it because…
Justin: We don’t want the NO musicians to send us anything.
Kirsten: Yeah. You should maybe be a musician if you’re going to send us.
Kirsten: But anyway, if you’d like to try your hand at getting a song on our Compilation CD and getting played on our show regularly next year, give it a thought.
Kirsten: Give it a thought. We’re going to be doing that again. Science music rules, dudes! Yeah.
Justin: This will be the third compilation? Fourth? How many have we done now?
Kirsten: This will be the fourth compilation.
Justin: Fourth, fun!
Kirsten: Yey! I’m super excited about it.
Justin: You should do a compilation of the compilations.
Kirsten: I think I’d need more compilations.
Justin: You think you need more compilations to do a best of compilation?
Kirsten: Yeah. We’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out eventually. Anyway, this is This Week in Science. We’re here for the next few minutes at least, talking about science news at the end of the year.
Mars has been huge in the news this last year. And yet another study from observations made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that there are small patches, little tiny areas on the surface of Mars that contain carbonates or at least have evidence of carbonates.
Now, the interesting carbonates, is that carbonates do not exist in really harsh acidic environments. Acid and carbonate equals alka-seltzer equals dissolving and buffer…
Justin: Into the — yeah.
Kirsten: Yeah. So, you know, the whole idea as we got more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more carbon dioxide goes into the oceans forming more acid and that’s where our coral reefs which are built on this carbonates. So they’re all going to…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: Yeah, bye bye. So anyway, carbonates don’t do so well in highly acidic environments. And highly acidic environments aside from extremophiles, the real crazy microbes out there, most life does not thrive in harsh acidic environments.
Kirsten: So, by looking for more mild environments maybe, where carbonates were able to prosper and be built up, maybe those are places where life would have been more prevalent.
Justin: A life like us.
Justin: Because we still have this life ship on our shoulder.
Kirsten: Wait, wait, wait. Exactly, we do — you’re right. Yeah.
Justin: Calling extremophiles crazy, I’m not the one that said it. Don’t look at me like we’re in this together. Somebody…
Kirsten: I love Extremophiles!
Justin: You know, they maybe the norm in the universe at large. We’ve only just started…
Justin: …discovering these planets. Whatever it turns out there’s a total life out there. We’re just like the odd ball…
Kirsten: Maybe we’re the odd ball…
Justin: …with those squishy surface dwelling acid-fearing life form in the universe.
Kirsten: Whereas like everybody else in the universe like “Oh, acid bath, yeah”
Justin: Love it. Yeah.
Kirsten: “Throw a little soap in there. Yeah, it’s good.”
Justin: Yeah. How do you even get cleaner without NASA bath?
Kirsten: “Turn up the temperature a little bit.” Yeah.
Justin: Oxygen breather.
Kirsten: Well anyway — yeah, in our search for life like us, we are looking for this carbonate deposits and the thing that they’re finding so far is the majority of all the areas where water might have been on Mars so far is pretty acidic. The evidence is that, the all of these watery areas were very acidic.
But we found now, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars has found some very small little areas – Nili Fossae on the edge of the Isidis impact basin, some sides of eroded mesas, a Jezero crater and Terra Tyrrhena and Libya Montes.
So anyway, these — but really small areas and mostly on the surface and most likely, these are erosion areas or places where water is bubbling up on the surface maybe running over volcanic rock…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: …allowing fresh water to come out and be filtered and then be on the surface and build up these carbonates a little bit. So, the idea is that maybe it’s not giant lakes of fresh water but, you know, that really kind of niche small areas that were possibly habitable at one point in time for life like us. How many like different things can…
Kirsten: Different qualifiers. No.
Justin: …catching the terms, disclaimers.
Kirsten: Yeah. But I love Mars, I do.
Justin: I can’t wait — I still think that there’s plenty here on Earth. I’m so stoked to be on this planet — I’ve got it right the first time.
Justin: We got it right the first time, people. We found the right planet.
Kirsten: That’s right.
Justin: Keep looking.
Kirsten: You got a story?
Justin: No, no. Hang on, hang on.
Kirsten: Are you ready? You’re ready? You’re ready?
Justin: This is one that I kind of mentioned — I think is part of the best of stuff that happened in 2008. It was part of the bacteria super story.
Discovered that bacterial cells are known to — when they create the biofilms used some single molecules. Let’s see, they all begin with a surfactant — surfactant molecule to stimulate the biofilm development which is something that they hadn’t observe before. What it is that triggers the response on this and the single individuals to start to get together.
They still don’t know really why they differ like — what the evolutionary big picture is behind it? But that’s just – I just love how much of bacteria is becoming known and how complicated their existence is. Because you don’t really think of bacteria as having too complicated of a society…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …or engineering or anything else like this. We’ve discovered the, you know, the affect where they almost seem to be having this altruistic desire to save the group…
Kirsten: The group. Mm hmm.
Justin: …by, you know, in times of starvation, sort of forming these packs where the inner ones get all the nutrients sent to them and outer ones starved…
Justin: …even though their the first to receive the nutrients, you know. It’s just, it’s a pretty fascinating. I wish — I should have been a bio-microbiologist. I think that would have been a brilliant thing to be doing with my life.
Kirsten: You still could. There’s still time.
Justin: Yeah. But it’s all these reading involved. I’m just too mentally lazy at this age.
Kirsten: Old man. He is a cranky old man.
Justin: They’ve discovered this cascade of gene activity that all originates from encountering this one molecule. So, I think they’re going to be able to, you know, first of all stimulate biofilms when they want to which is going to be an interesting new area of research.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Because you have to sort of — the way it has been now is have sort of discover a biofilm in nature in a way to release — to study…
Kirsten: To study at.
Justin: …or set-up a lot of, a lot of place where they could form. Now they actually know how, what sets off the chain of events? They can recreate the biofilms more frequently, which means you can study them more frequently, study them more thoroughly.
Kirsten: And study how to break-up the biofilms which is something serious for, you know, defeating bacteria in hospitals.
Kirsten: Bacteria that cause infections that get on to instruments and various things, the walls even and create this biofilms that are nearly impossible to remove.
Justin: And the other crazy thing that they discovered earlier this year was that, when they’re in a biofilm, they manufacture different chemicals than they do as individuals.
Justin: They’d have sort of group collaborations in a way.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Or different chemicals are being produced by the biofilm that would not have been or different toxins are being produced than would be produced by any individual on their own.
Justin: It’s pretty neat.
Kirsten: It would be pretty neat to see also if we can harness the biofilm power to maybe do things to get bacteria to create good helpful biofilms that maybe would help our skin to regenerate or to find different genetic components or instructions that could actually use for good.
Justin: Some phages.
Kirsten: Some phages.
Kirsten: Yeah. Story out of Cornell University, a professor Sandra Vehrencamp has been studying bird songs in California. She’s been checking out a couple of species, song sparrows in Southern California and banded wrens in Central America.
And she’s been looking to see how the difference in the way that they learn song leads into their ability to be really productive members of the community later.
So, song sparrows are restricted learners which means they have a very short period of time after they come out of the nest in which they are able to learn songs.
And during that period of time, the males and the females, they all learn the songs. Males, they were the ones that usually reproduce the song and actually have their own song.
So, they have — they’re restricted learners and they sing a very specific song. But they have to the learn the songs of their neighbors so that they know who their neighbors are, number one — so they can interact with them throughout the year…
Kirsten: …as they’re coming into breeding. And the males have these sing offs where when they come into territorial disputes as adult birds, one, instead of getting into a fight immediately, you know, how deer size each other up and maybe do a few bellows for — they don’t fight each other and injure themselves unnecessarily.
You know, they’re “Okay. I can size you up based on the sized of your horns” or whatever. Here, the birds size each other up by the size of their songs…
Kirsten: …and their ability to sing off at each other. And so, the stronger males have stronger songs with maybe more complex elements in them. And with the song sparrows, the dominant birds that acquire territories, share more song types with their neighbors and survive better says Vehrencamp.
And she observed that birds with a low degree of song sharing spend more time fighting with their neighbors. So, if they don’t share songs and like aren’t able to song match during the sing-offs, they actually get into fights more often. But because they’re weaker, maybe they get injured or maybe something happen, they don’t show up the next breeding season. So, they’ve…
Justin: So, the video game spore? Have you seen that?
Justin: It’s almost exactly what the — it’s all about either sharing or fighting.
Kirsten: Sharing or fighting.
Justin: But that’s like a — (I was thinking) right there to the — I mean, can you call that intelligence? I mean can you call it an intelligence — the ability to remember the song better or more thorough song. If you can look it as an intelligence, it’s a selection for intelligence in the breeding cycle…
Justin: …I’m surprised that they haven’t evolved further, up down (the line). Because that’s a pretty important (stuff).
Kirsten: Right, and different birds…
Justin: I think they only started to do that — (and even) culture.
Kirsten: Right. And different birds have different ability.
So the banded wrens, they have a lot of the more complex finer details in their songs and they have a longer less restricted learning period. So, they’re able to continue to learn songs of their neighbors. And they can get a really large repertoires so they have a bunch of different neighbors. They are able to learn all their neighbors songs and be able to do really well in these sing offs.
Turns out, Dr. Vehrencamp has taken the elements of different bird songs and created a recording of the wren super male. So it’s all these complex elements and made like the ultimate wren song, and she played it to birds of the wren species female and male, and she found that the males backed off when they heard the song like “I’m not going to come anyway near you. There’s no need to fight you.”
So, there was no — a much less of the aggressive behavior that might be seen with this super song. And females really really approached it. Females really like the super song.
Justin: The super crooner?
Kirsten: Yeah, the super crooner. Then she also looked at females and tested paternity to see who the females were breeding with and normally the females have really good — they’re really, really faithful.
She says that, “In general, these wrens were quite faithful but every once in a while we found evidence of extra pair mating. And the extra pair mates always had better song quality. So, we know females pay attention to find song structure.” So, it’s very interesting.
Kirsten: The females are paying attention! No. They’re watching those fights, they’re listening to the songs that the males are singing and sometimes they go “That boy is just a little bit better.”
Justin: It’s a great — it’s also interesting because perhaps the bird does have the best quality of song may have some other really horrible health gene defect.
Kirsten: And that’s a question also. That ‘s something that researchers have been trying to look at how does song quality match to physical quality in their — whether they’re less physically fit, less well able to fight off infection, you know, all sorts of other things.
Justin: (I think, I mean), yeah. Could be like yeah – ton of different factors that…
Kirsten: Could be a ton of different factors. Exactly. We are getting to the bottom of the hour.
Quick headline that orangutans — the first — it’s a very small study only looking at a couple of orangutans at the University of Saint — researchers from the University of St. Andrew, looking at Bim and Dok who live in the Leipzig Zoo in Germany.
They’re good at helping each other and they learned how to trade tokens, to share these tokens to get bananas for each other. And so there is, one token for a banana for me, one token for a banana for you. And then they learned how to do this trading — favor trading for each other.
Kirsten: At first the male is like, “I’m going to let the female do it.” And then the female was like “I’m not just going to trade these tokens for you. Man you lazy, whatever.”
Kirsten: And so, then the males like “Oh. Well, I guess better start trading”. And now, favor trade o’rama.
Justin: I think the most interesting part of that is they can talk. So, how (did they get up) out of the study? These orangutans are talking. Never mind the token things. Researchers has get very focused on their…
Justin: …little piece of the project.
Kirsten: They didn’t find any evidence of this “calculated reciprocity” in either chimpanzees or gorillas, or banobos, other apes. It’s just orangutan so far.
And final thing of the hour, once a month we’re going to highlight a question from a listener and solicit answers from you.
Justin: The audience.
Justin: Our brainiac minions.
Kirsten: Brainy act minions. And this is the question for January. “Dear Kiki and Justin, A holiday discussion with my brother-in-law this holiday brought up an interesting question in my head.”
Justin: (A place for it?)
Kirsten: Yeah. “We were talking about global warming and he’s somewhat skeptical about mankind’s role in the contribution to it. I brought up that though there may be natural cycles of warmth and cold on geological scale, the record shows that we should be in a period of cooling right now and the fact that we’re warming instead indicates that something is wrong.
And that we’re releasing carbon into the atmosphere that under natural circumstances would be sequestered away in the earth, etcetera etcetera. However, this got me to thinking, carbon is pretty useful stuff, generally speaking to living organisms. It’s relatively plentiful down here on old mother Earth and such. But the various fossil fuels represent a relatively large cache of the stuff.
My question for my fellow listeners is this, are there any natural geological mechanisms that actually release that carbon over geological time? I mean, generally speaking, oil coal, natural gas are comparatively stable over time and most natural phenomena won’t cause combustion.
Over geological time is the carbon usually sequestered in those fuels ever released back into the system? Or would it have been out of the game if we hadn’t found it so useful? And in what time frame, if any, would it take to deplete the free carbon on our biological ecosystem if there were no human unmediated release?” Mediated or unmediated release…
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: …there were no human factors there. So that’s the question. “I’m a mathematician by training and though I have a passing familiarity with Geology, this one is beyond me. Maybe someone in the TWIS audience can answer this questions so I pass it on to you, too.
I hope one of the other Minions can shed some light. Anyway, thanks for the great show and have yourself a happy (Christmahanoholisisticuansika)…”
Justin: Nice (unintelligible)
Kirsten: “And the great festival of human light retrogradely wish of course. Have a great new year. Your fan, (Michael Pinns) Vancouver Washington.”
So that’s out for you this month minions.
Justin: Wait, wait, wait. What was the question?
Kirsten: What geological mechanisms, if any, actually release carbon that has been laid down?
Justin: Is it like sequestered — like…
Kirsten: Yeah, sequestered…
Justin: …what would — how would naturally like oil reserves under the ground.
Justin: How would they would that…
Kirsten: If humans weren’t here.
Justin: …or would that come back into the system?
Kirsten: Right. If humans weren’t here, would stuff that we consider sequestered away? Would it come back out into the system? Or this carbon just get put away? And how long would it take to put it all away if there were no processes?
Justin: (Oh, I see.)
Kirsten: I will post the question in the forums and on our home page so that people can take a look at that. Our website, thisweekinscience.com is where you can — if you’re interested in trying to answer the question, you can’t remember what I said like Justin, you’ll be able to get to it there.
So anyway, on next week show, we will be talking with sci-fi horror author Scott Sigler about his newest scientific scare fest, really (really, truly).
And remember to send us ideas for how TWIS can celebrate our tenth birthday.
Justin: Tenth anniversary.
Kirsten: Tenth anniversary.
Justin: Which I’ve actually are — I’ve talk to the — I don’t know, if I talk to one of the previous hosts.
Justin: I talked to Mr. Dunning about it, he’s totally (down).
Kirsten: I miss him. I have to talk with him. It’s been too long.
Justin: He’s totally — he has new child, new child, two in a row.
Kirsten: He’s got a baby.
Justin: Very, super cute.
Kirsten: Science baby.
Justin: Yeah. Why at tree house Dunning?
Kirsten: Tree house.
Justin: Tree house.
Kirsten: That’s nice.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. (unintelligible)
Kirsten: And that’s it. Shout outs to all you all who wrote in this last week, (JD Townsend), (Eric Foss), (Rutherhair), (Michael Jay Pinns) — (Jay Michael Pinns), (Kalidasa), (Ed Dyer), (Shannon Saunders), (Frank Lights) and (Glenn).
Justin: As always, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show. We’re available via podcast. Go to website www.twis.org. Check — click on the Subscribe to TWIS podcast right there on the website or you can just go look for it on i-Tunes.
Kirsten: Yeah. Thanks for listening so much. For more information on anything you’ve heard here today, show notes will be available on our website twis.org. along with the Question of the Month.
We also want to hear from you so email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin: Put TWIS, T-W-I-S somewhere in the subject or it will end up in the (spam-oblivion).
Kirsten: (Spam-oblivion)! Our podcast, like we said is available through iTunes. But we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am, Pacific Time because we love KDVS so much. And we hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.
Justin: Goodbye from 2008! If you learned anything from today’s show, remember…
Kirsten: It’s all in your head.
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