About Science Friday
Brain fun for curious people.
Stop Flushing Your Health Data Down The Toilet You could be flushing important information about your health right down the toilet—quite literally. Pee and poop can tell you a lot about your health, so what if your waste…didn’t go to waste? What if, instead, it could tell you more about your health? Like number one, it can catch a condition like diabetes early. Or number two, check out what’s going on in your gut microbiome. That’s the goal of the smart toilet—a device that gets all up in your business to tell you more about your health. Ira talks with the inventor of the PH Smart Toilet, Dr. Seung-min Park, instructor of urology at Stanford’s School of Medicine in California, about how the toilet works, how it can be used to catch diseases early on, and the ethical implications of such a device. 50 Years Later, Reflecting On The Treaty That Controls Wildlife Trade 50 years ago this month, a collection of nations met in Washington and reached agreement on a way to regulate international trade in certain wildlife species—from orchids to gorillas. That agreement came to be known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The treaty has come to cover over 30,000 different plants and animals. Some, listed in Appendix 1 of the treaty, are under a complete ban on commercial use, while other species have their trade tightly regulated via a system of permits. Dr. Susan Lieberman, the vice president for international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, has attended the last 13 meetings of the CITES signatories. She joins Ira to talk about the convention, and what it has meant for conservation over the last 50 years. This Skin-like Robot Can Heal Itself Think of a robot, and the image that may come to mind is a big, hulking body building cars or working in factories. They battle each other in the movies. But a growing field called softbotics focuses on thin, flexible materials—closer to human skin than to a Transformer. There’s been a breakthrough in this field out of Pittsburgh: softbotics that can not only conduct electricity, but can heal itself from damage. This replicates the healing abilities of organic materials, like skin, but can happen in seconds. Dr. Carmel Majidi, mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, joins Ira to break down possible futures for this material, including a new generation of prosthetics. Naked Mole-Rats Are Eternally Fertile There may be no stranger—or more impressive—critter than the naked mole-rat. They may look unassuming, but they can defy aging, have an astonishingly high pain tolerance, and are resistant to cancer. And their list of superpowers doesn’t stop there. Scientists recently discovered yet another way these rodents reject the mammalian status quo: by producing egg cells, and staying fertile, until the day they die. This makes them unlike humans, whose ovaries eventually stop producing eggs. So what can we learn about fertility from these strange critters? Ira talks with the lead researcher of this study, Dr. Miguel Brieño-Enriquez, assistant professor at the Magee-Womens Research Institute and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
At Long Last, More Regulations For Forever Chemicals This week, the EPA proposed the first national standards for drinking water that would set limits on the amount of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals that would be allowed in water systems. There are thousands of different PFAS chemicals, which are often used industrially for properties such as heat, water and stain resistance—from fire-fighting foams to coatings on clothing and paper plates. They have come to be known as “forever chemicals” as they are extremely slow to break down in the environment. The chemicals have been linked to health problems, including cancer. Katherine Wu, staff writer for The Atlantic, joins Ira to talk about the proposed regulations and how such a sweeping rule might be implemented nationwide. Wu also discusses her latest article on COVID-19 origins, and genetic analysis that could tie the pandemic back to raccoon dogs in the Wuhan market. They also talk about other news from the week in science, including research hinting at active volcanoes on Venus, a study of the effects of COVID-19 on maternal health during pregnancy, and research into curing HIV with stem cells from cord blood. Plus an explosion of seaweed, and the unveiling of a new space suit design. How AI Is Changing The Drug Development Pipeline Researching and developing new drugs is a notoriously long and expensive process, filled with a lot of trial and error. Before a new drug gets approved scientists must come up with something they think might work in the lab, test it in animals, and then if it passes those hurdles, clinical trials in humans. In an effort to smooth out some of the bumps along the road, a growing number of pharma companies are turning to new artificial intelligence tools in the hopes of making the process cheaper and faster. Ira talks with Will Douglas Heaven, senior editor for AI at MIT Technology Review about his reporting on the topic. An Ambitious Plan To Build Back Louisiana’s Coast Louisiana will receive more than $2 billion to pay for an ambitious, first-of-its-kind plan to reconnect the Mississippi River to the degraded marshes on Plaquemines Parish’s west bank. A collective of federal and state agencies—the Louisiana Trustees Implementation Group—signed off on the multibillion-dollar Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on Wednesday. The funding will come out of settlement dollars resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Once constructed, the two-mile-long sediment diversion is expected to build up to 27 square miles of new land by 2050. In the next 50 years, as Louisiana’s coast continues to sink and global sea levels rise, the diversion is also projected to sustain one-fifth of the remaining land. “The Trustees believe that a sediment diversion is the only way to achieve a self-sustaining marsh ecosystem in the Barataria Basin,” wrote the implementation group in its decision. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. Balancing The Good And Bad Of Phosphorus Phosphorus is critical to life as we know it. In fact, every cell in the human body contains this important element. It’s also a key component in fertilizer. But not all of that fertilizer stays on crops—much of that phosphorus flows into waterways. Therein lies the rub: the runoff fertilizes the plant life growing in the water, creating toxic algal blooms. To top it all off, the phosphorus reserves in the United States are on track to disappear in just a few decades, according to some estimates. Ira talks about the past, present, and future of phosphorus with Dan Egan, journalist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, and author of the new book, The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and A World out of Balance. Want to read The Devil’s Element with us? Join the SciFri Book Club and read along! Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Tips And Tricks To Grow Your Garden In A Changing Climate For many of us, spring is right around the corner—or already here—which means it’s time to start thinking about what is going into your garden this year. But largely thanks to climate change, our seasons are getting wonkier every year. Gardens are feeling the heat as climate change affects the timing of the seasons, temperature extremes, the amount of rainfall, the intensity of droughts, and more. So it’s more important than ever to plant a garden that can be more resilient to these changes. In this live show, Ira talks with a panel of guests about planting a climate-resilient garden, and how to set your plants up for success. He’s joined by Laura Erickson, a birder and author of “100 Plants to Feed the Birds: Turn Your Home Garden Into a Healthy Bird Habitat,” Dr. Lucy Bradley, a horticulturist and extension specialist at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Tiffany Carter, research soil scientist at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Despite Superconductor Breakthrough, Some Scientists Remain Skeptical This week, researchers unveiled a new superconductor which they say works at room temperature. Scientists have been working on identifying new superconductors for decades—materials that can transmit electricity without friction-like resistance. However, previously discovered superconductors only work at super cold temperatures, and under incredibly high pressures. The newly discovered superconductor, lutetium, could be much more useful in applications, like strong magnets used in MRIs, magnetically floating trains, and even nuclear fusion, than those which must be kept super-cold. But there’s a bit of a wrinkle. The research team which published their results in the journal Nature this week, had their previous study on another superconductor retracted in 2020. As a result, many scientists in the field have concerns about the quality of this new research Ira talks with Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, to make sense of this superconductor saga and other big science news of the week including bumblebee culture, extreme ways to save mountain glaciers, and identifying the worms in Mezcal. Can Utah’s Great Salt Lake Be Saved Before It’s Too Late? Utah’s Great Salt Lake is one of the state’s treasures and is vital to the local ecosystem and economy. But since the 1980s, it’s been drying up—and now the lake’s water level is at a record low. The lake is fed by three rivers, which are fed by Utah’s snowpack. It’s also a terminal lake, meaning that there’s no outlet for water to exit. And as the population of Utah has increased, more water has been diverted from those rivers to agriculture, industry, and local residents. As more of the lakebed has become exposed, wind has picked up dust plumes and blown them into local communities. Dr. Kevin Perry, a professor of atmospheric science sciences at the University of Utah, discovered that those lakebed dust plumes contain heavy metals, including arsenic. But despite these challenges, Perry and local politicians are confident that if the right water usage reductions are put in place, the lake will have a chance to bounce back. Science Friday digital producer Emma Gometz visited Perry at the Great Salt Lake in January, who describes how we got here and what the future holds. Exploring A New Theory About Dark Energy’s Origins Black holes remain one of the great mysteries of the universe. Another enigma? Dark energy. Little is known about this concept, aside from the belief that dark energy accelerates the expansion of the universe. These are two of the most mind-bending concepts in physics. There’s a new theory that brings together black holes and dark energy into one mind-bending solution: research led by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa posits that dark energy could actually come from supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. If true, this would be a massive breakthrough in what we know about astrophysics. But many experts in the field have reservations about this idea. Two of those experts join Ira to talk about this theory, and other recent black hole breakthroughs: Janna Levin, PhD, author of “Black Hole Blues” and “Black Hole Survival Guide,” and a physics and astronomy professor at Barnard College in New York City, and Feryal Özel, a professor and chair of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, Georgia. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Insulin Maker Eli Lilly Finally Caps The Drug’s Cost In 1923, drug manufacturer Eli Lilly became the first company to commercialize insulin. Since then, its cost has skyrocketed. But this week, the company announced that it is capping the cost of insulin at $35. This comes as a huge relief to many Americans, since insulin has become the face of pharmaceutical price gouging. Over the last 20 years, the price of insulin has grown by six times, making this essential, life-saving drug unaffordable to many who need it. Purbita Saha, deputy editor at Popular Science, joins Ira to talk about this announcement and other science news of the week. They chat about a new at-home test for COVID-19 and the flu, how the bird flu outbreak is faring, what we learned from NASA’s DART mission, and why scientists are growing a mushroom computer. It’s Spacetime And Science Season At The Oscars The Academy Awards are almost upon us, airing March 12. Movie buffs may have already seen many of the nominated films. But for science geeks, there’s another form of criteria for what films go on the top of their watchlist: Do these movies include science? This year, a whole bunch of Oscar nominees are driven by science as part of the plot. The Best Picture category has three: the multiverses in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the water-based society in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and the gravity-defying aerial stunts in “Top Gun: Maverick.” The Documentary Feature Film category is also ripe for science analysis: “Fire of Love” follows the love story between two French volcanologists, “All That Breathes” follows brothers who run a bird hospital in Delhi, and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” spotlights Nan Goldin’s advocacy against the opioid-creating Sackler family. Ira is joined by Sonia Epstein, curator of science and technology at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, to discuss these films and more—including science-oriented films that were snubbed from this years’ awards. The Lasting Allure Of Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ There are few stories about heroic survival equal to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic rescue of his crew, which turned disaster into triumph. In August of 1914, 28 men set sail from England to the South Pole. Led by Shackleton himself, the group hoped to be the first to cross Antarctica by foot. However, their ship, the Endurance, became stuck in ice. It sank to the bottom of the frigid Antarctic waters, leaving most of the men stranded on a cold, desolate ice floe. Shackleton, with five of his crew, set out in a small boat to bring help from hundreds of miles away. Finally, after many months of fighting the cold, frostbite and angry seas, Shackleton was able to rescue all his men with no loss of life. Over the years, there have been many attempts to find the Endurance shipwreck. None were successful until a year ago, when the wreck was located for the first time since it sank back in 1915. Ira is joined by Mensun Bound, maritime archeologist and the director of exploration on the mission that found the Endurance. His new book, The Ship Beneath the Ice, is out now. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Inside The ‘Chaos Machine’ Of Social Media Despite social media’s early promises to build a more just and democratic society, over the past several years, we’ve seen its propensity to easily spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation. Online platforms have even played a role in organizing violent acts in the real world, like genocide against the Rohinga people in Myanmar, and the violent attempt to overturn the election at the United States capitol. But how did we get here? Has social media fundamentally changed how we interact with the world? And how did big tech companies accumulate so much unchecked power along the way? Read an excerpt of The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World here. Taking On Renewables’ AC/DC Disconnect In the push to transition society to more renewable energy sources, there are several logistical challenges. One central question involves the best way to connect solar panels and battery storage—which both produce direct current, into an energy grid that primarily provides alternating current at the local level. Dr. Suman Debnath leads a project called the Multiport Autonomous Reconfigurable Solar power plant (MARS) at Oak Ridge National Lab. He and his colleagues have designed a system of advanced power electronics that allow large, utility-scale solar facilities and battery storage projects to feed either AC or DC power, as needed. The approach, Debnath says, will both allow for better integration of those electric resources into the grid, and make it more possible to transport power long distances using more efficient DC transmission lines. Debnath talks with Ira about the MARS project, and ways to modernize the country’s power distribution system for greater reliability and efficiency. Are These Ancient Galaxies Too Big For Their Age? We’ve all been wowed by the amazing images from the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. But sometimes, the important data isn’t in those amazing galactic swirls or wispy nebula images, but in the images of tiny smudges from far, far away. Astronomers recently described some of those smudges, tiny red dots thought possibly to be ancient, distant galaxies, in the journal Nature. However, if the red dots do in fact represent galaxies, they appear to be too large to fit predictions for how fast galaxies form. The possible galaxies may be about 13 billion years old, forming just 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang, but appear to contain as many stars as much more mature galaxies. Dr Erica Nelson, an assistant professor of Astrophysics at the University of Colorado, Boulder and one of the authors of that paper, joins Ira to talk about the observation and what could explain the confusing finding. How These Russian Wasps Could Help Save Ash Trees How do you find an insect the size of your fingertip in a densely packed forest? For Jian Duan, the answer is simple: Follow the dead ash trees. On a rainy day in eastern Connecticut, Duan, a federal research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, walked to a dying ash covered with holes. Peeling back the bark with a drawknife, he revealed a mess of serpentine tunnels. Curled up inside was one of his targets: a larva of emerald ash borer. “Let’s collect it,” Duan said, gesturing as his assistant handed him a pair of tweezers tied to a brightly-colored ribbon. (In case you’re wondering, the ribbon makes the tweezers easy to spot when they’re dropped on the leaf-covered ground.) But today Duan isn’t just collecting emerald ash borers. He’s also looking for their predator, one released here on purpose in 2019 and 2020: a wasp known as Spathius galinae (pronounced spay-see-us glee-nuh). “It’s from the Russian Far East,” Duan said, smiling. “Unfortunately, there are no common names for these parasitic wasps.” To read the rest, visit sciencefriday.com. Vocal Fry Serves Up Treats For Toothed Whales Toothed whales—species like orcas, bottlenose whales, and dolphins—use echolocation to zero in on prey about a mile deep into the ocean. Until now, scientists couldn’t quite figure out how the whales were making these clicking sounds in the deep ocean, where there’s little oxygen. A new study published in the journal Science, finds the key to underwater echolocation is vocal fry. Although in whales it might not sound like the creaky voice that some people love to hate, the two sounds are generated in a similar way in the vocal folds. Ira talks with the study’s co-author, Dr. Coen Elemans, professor of bioacoustics and animal behavior at the University of Southern Denmark based in Odense, Denmark. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
A Medication Abortion Drug Faces Potential Nationwide Restriction A federal court case underway in Texas this week could have big implications for medication based abortion care across the U.S. The case involves the FDA’s approval of the drug mifepristone, which is used as part of a two-drug combination in most medication abortions. The plaintiffs in the case are arguing that the FDA went against its own guidelines regarding drug safety when it approved the medication in 2000, though the overwhelming evidence has shown the drug to be safe and effective. A ruling against the FDA could result in mifepristone prescriptions being banned nationwide. Maggie Koerth, senior science writer at FiveThirtyEight, joins John Dankosky to talk about the case and its implications. They also tackle other stories from the week in science, including investigations of the Earth’s inner core, a timeline for astronauts on board the ISS, and efforts to understand what “burnout” actually is. A New Twist On Sowing Seeds Imagine sowing a handful of seeds on the ground—but instead of needing planting help from a rake or hoe, the seeds can determine for themselves when the ground is fresh from the rain and ready for planting, and burrow their own way into the damp soil. Some seeds, including varieties of Erodium species, can actually do that. They use their self-burying ability to adapt to arid climates. But in a recent study in the journal Nature, researchers describe a package, or wrapper that can give other kinds of seeds self-burying powers as well. The design adapts some of the shapes and techniques used by Erodium into a biodegradable corkscrew made of engineered wood, that can respond to moisture and uncoil to slowly drill a seed into receptive soil. Dr. Lining Yao, co-author of that report and director of the Morphing Matter Lab in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, joins guest host Regina Barber to describe the seed delivery system, and what remains to be solved before it can be used in the wild. A Long History Shadows New Fight Over California’s Shasta Dam A few years ago, I stumbled onto the story of the Winnemem Wintu people, an indigenous people of Northern California. Theirs is an epic tale and it grabbed hold of me. For several years, I tagged along with them whenever I could. I was around so much, they started teasing me. The large fuzzy windscreens of my recording setup earned me a nickname. The Winnemem Wintu and their close friends call me and my microphone Gray Squirrel. Nickname aside, I never took it lightly that the Winnemem Wintu let me into their space. For good reasons, many Native people are suspicious of outsiders. I understood their openness was special and rare. My greatest hope is that you will hear their story of struggle and resilience, of betrayal and a willingness to still believe in the good things to come – and that it will change you as it did me. Behind the Chief we see the top of Shasta Dam’s immense concrete spillway set against a background of dry, rolling hills. Shasta Dam stands 602 feet high. It’s the country’s 8th tallest. It turned California into the giant, agricultural engine that it is today. It also left a legacy of harm when it flooded the Winnemem and other Wintu people off their land. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. Rapper And Scholar Sammus Confronts AI In Hip-Hop Over the last six months, there’s been a lot of movement and discussion about the effects that generative AI will have on visual art and writing. But what about its effects on music—in particular, hip-hop? A few years ago, a deep fake of Kanye West rapping a verse from “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen went viral. It was created with just a few clicks using the program Uberduck, which can output AI-generated raps from text of the users’ choice. And it turns out that the rhythmic qualities that make hip-hop performers’ verses so spellbinding is exactly what makes them easier to mimic in deep fakes, as opposed to other genres of music. Guest host Regina Barber talks with rapper and music, science, and technology scholar Dr. Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, also known as Sammus, about the unexpected crossovers between hip-hop and the growing field of generative AI. She is also an assistant professor of music at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
‘All That Breathes:’ A Story Of Two Brothers Saving New Delhi’s Raptors The Oscars are right around the corner, and one of the nominees in the documentary category is called “All That Breathes.” It tells the story of two brothers—Nadeem and Saud—who dedicate their lives to rescuing black kites, a type of raptor that dominates the skies of New Delhi. Since they were children, the brothers have rescued more than 25,000 of these birds, who are quite literally falling out of the thick, polluted, hazy sky. Their conservation efforts have triumphed over limited resources and periods of religious violence in New Delhi. Guest host John Dankosky speaks with Shaunak Sen, director of “All That Breathes,” about the making of the film, and how it’s a story of urban ecology, politics, and hope. Why Won’t Museums Return Native American Human Remains? In 1990, the United States passed a groundbreaking human rights policy called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—known as NAGPRA. It was designed to spur museums, universities, and federal agencies to return Native American human remains and cultural items back to the tribes they were stolen from. NAGPRA held a lot of promise, but now—33 years later—more than 110,000 Native American, Hawaiian, and Alaskan human remains are held up in research institutions. So why, decades later, have so many institutions failed to return remains? That’s the focus of a new report from ProPublica. ProPublica reporter Mary Hudetz joins guest host John Dankosky to discuss why NAGPRA fell short, and where to go from here. Appreciating The Brilliance Of Benjamin Banneker Benjamin Banneker was a free Black man born in 1731, over a century before slavery was abolished in his home state of Maryland. Today, Banneker is perhaps best known for his role in drawing the original borders of Washington, DC. But he was also an accomplished naturalist and polymath. He was among the first to document the cicada’s 17-year life cycle. Banneker also taught himself astronomy and math, and published one of the country’s first almanacs. Guest host Regina Barber talks with Dr. Janet Barber, an independent researcher, writer, and social scientist (with no relation to Regina), and Dr. Asamoah Nkwanta department chair and professor of mathematics at Morgan State University, based in Baltimore, Maryland, about Benjamin Banneker’s life and scientific legacy. The Supernatural Side Of Astronomical Events Throughout history, there have been events in the sky that have made people uneasy: Think supernovas, comets, and eclipses. It’s easy to understand why. Even when astronomical knowledge was limited, the skies were readily observable. So when things changed, it sometimes led people to see these events as omens. In ancient China, eclipses were thought to occur when a celestial dragon attacked and ate the sun. And in Incan culture, eclipses were seen as the sun god expressing displeasure, which sometimes led to human sacrifice. And in 1456, Halley’s Comet was excommunicated by the pope for being an instrument of the devil. There are scientific explanations for these events, of course. Co-host Regina Barber speaks with Dr. Samaiyah Farid, solar physicist and project scientist at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, about what’s behind these astrological omens. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Eyes In The Sky: The Science Behind Modern Balloons This month, the news cycle has been dominated by updates about suspicious objects being detected in the stratosphere. This bonanza started with a balloon from China, and escalated as four more objects—not all confirmed as balloons—have been shot down from the sky. Although this might sound like a new problem, there are probably thousands of balloons floating above us—some for spying, others for exploring near space, or studying weather patterns. Dr. David Stupples, professor of electronic and radio engineering and director of electronic warfare research at City University of London, joins Ira to talk about the science behind modern balloons: how they work, what they do, and just how common they are. Low Income Patients Hit Hardest By Cancer Treatment Costs Being told you have cancer is not only terrifying, it’s expensive. In the year following a diagnosis, the average cost of cancer treatment is about $42,000, according to the National Cancer Institute. Some of the newer cutting-edge treatments may cost $1 million or more. While insurance may cover some or all of that cost, many people are uninsured or under-insured. And the bills add up. A quarter of patients with medical debt have declared bankruptcy or lost their home, according to an analysis conducted by KHN and NPR. While there’s been remarkable progress in treating cancers in the past several decades, less attention has been paid to just how astronomical the price tags can be. Researchers at Augusta University wanted to track the results of the financial burden after patients’ treatment was complete. They found that poorer patients were hit harder financially—which not only resulted in more bills, but also worse health outcomes. Ira talks with Dr. Jorge Cortes, co-author of this study and director of the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University, about the importance of making cost part of the discussion in developing new cancer therapies. The Unseen World Of Seaweeds Chances are you don’t give much thought to seaweed unless you’re at the beach, or perhaps when you’re considering a dinner menu. But the thousands of seaweed species around the world are a key part of our coastal ecosystems. Seaweeds photosynthesize, provide food and shelter for marine animals, stabilize the coastlines, and even contribute to making your ice cream creamier (through an ingredient called carrageenans, extracted from red seaweeds in the Rhodophyceae family). Increasingly, they’re also being investigated as a source of biofuels and as biological factories, due to their fast-growing nature. Dr. John Bothwell, a phycologist at Durham University in the UK, has written a book in praise of seaweeds. In Seaweeds of the World: A Guide To Every Order, he highlights beautiful, unusual, and important species from each of the three seaweed lineages—green, red, and brown. In this segment, he talks with SciFri’s Charles Bergquist about some of his favorite species, where the seaweeds fit into the web of life, and the importance of seaweeds to the global ecosystem. Why It Feels So Good To Eat Chocolate When you eat a piece of good chocolate, chances are you don’t just bite down and chew away. There’s a good chance you hold the chocolate in your mouth for a moment, feeling the silkiness as it softens, melting into a molten mass and mixing with your saliva. That gradual phase change process—as fats in the chocolate melt from solid to liquid—is a big part of the chocolate mouthfeel experience. Researchers at Leeds University in the UK have constructed an artificial tongue that doesn’t focus on the taste of a food, but rather its texture, and how that texture changes over time. Using the artificial tongue, they explored the textures of materials that can change phase in the mouth, such as chocolate, butter, and ice cream. They reported their findings recently in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. The researchers found that in dark chocolate, the sensation in the mouth is governed largely by the fat content, as the surface of the chocolate begins to soften. A few moments later, as the chocolate melts completely and mixes with saliva, the fat content of the treat is less important to the mouthfeel experience. Dr. Anwesha Sarkar, an author of the report, joins Ira to talk about the research, the challenge of designing a lower-fat chocolate that might exploit these findings, and the importance of learning about textures to determine why people like—and don’t like—certain foods. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
UFOs? Balloons? Spy Cams? Here’s What’s Going On This week, the saga over UFOs, balloons, and spyware continues. The drama all started with a Chinese surveillance balloon, and then—one by one—governments kept finding others in the U.S. and Canada. Earlier this week, President Biden announced, “We don’t know yet exactly what these three objects were. But nothing right now suggests they are related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.” So what do we know about these balloons? And why is this such a big deal all of a sudden? Casey Crownhart, climate reporter at the MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to discuss the hullabaloo surrounding these flying objects and other science news of the week. They also talk about the outbreak of Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea, Tesla agreeing to open some charging stations to other EV drivers, the startups trying to remove methane from the air, what a pencil-shaped robot taught scientists about the “Doomsday Glacier,” and why researchers modeled a new camera after cuttlefish eyes. How The Western U.S. Could Rebuild Its Water Infrastructure In early January, California was inundated with record-breaking rainfall. The state was battered by back-to-back storms, which caused severe flooding and power outages. But could there be a silver lining in those storm clouds? Given the historic drought conditions plaguing the western U.S., a way to collect or divert rainwater to use when the dry season hits is especially appealing. However, potential solutions are not within easy reach. Ira talks about the limitations and opportunities of storing and diverting rainwater with Dr. Andrew Fisher, hydrogeologist and professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Later, Ira is joined by Dr. Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona’s Resources Research Center, to talk about the drivers of the water crisis and some of the policy solutions being floated to solve the problem. Ohio Residents Want Answers About Risks Of Train Derailment Hundreds of people packed the high school gymnasium in East Palestine, Ohio, Wednesday evening, trying to get some answers about whether they were safe in their homes after an explosion and the release of numerous toxic chemicals following the train derailment two weeks ago. What started as an open house with tables set up around the floor for the US EPA, the Ohio EPA, the state Division of Wildlife, and the county health department to answer individual questions morphed into a town hall meeting. Residents sat in bleachers and yelled their questions to the officials. Many were angry, largely because Norfolk Southern, the rail operator, did not show up to the meeting. East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway, surrounded by the media, said the company feared for the safety of its employees because there was so much anger against them. Conaway said people keep blaming him for this horrible incident, and it’s not his fault. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Improve Memory, Study Finds For centuries, the lion’s mane mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, including strengthening memory. A recent study from the Queensland Brain Institute confirms what herbalists have long said: There are properties of this mushroom that build brain cells. In mice, these properties promoted neuron growth when diluted in water, resulting in better hippocampal memory. This result is a very good sign that the properties in lion’s mane mushrooms can protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s, the researchers behind the study say. Using the isolated components of the mushroom could be a step forward in the treatment of these devastating brain conditions. Joining Ira to talk about this study is the study’s co-author, Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol, research fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute, based in Brisbane, Australia. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Rethinking The Future Of Dementia Care Scientists estimate that the number of people living with dementia will triple within the next 30 years, but healthcare systems, policies, and public health measures in the US aren’t prepared to accommodate this growing population. This week, we’re digging into dementia care, and taking listener calls live. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia. Ira talks with Dr. Suman Jayadev, a neurogeneticist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, about the biology of Alzheimer’s, and where we stand with treatments. Then, the conversation turns to the future of dementia care: What are we doing right? What needs to change? And how can we rethink the future of dementia care? Ira speaks with Dr. Tia Powell, the director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the author of the book Dementia Reimagined, as well as Dr. Nathaniel Chin, a geriatrician and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin. To learn more about dementia and access resources, visit sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
How Scientists Predict Where Earthquakes Will Strike Next The pair of earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria this week left the region grappling with death and destruction. Despite the region being seismically active, this particular area hadn’t seen an earthquake of this size for decades. There are ways of knowing where the next big earthquakes will happen—but not when. Scientists use knowledge of fault lines and historical data to make their predictions, but saving areas from mass casualties often relies on infrastructure policies. Building codes that prioritize strong buildings can save lives, but older structures remain vulnerable. Across the globe, in California, the health impacts of electric vehicles are beginning to be seen. A study published this month finds that for every 20 EVs in a zip code, asthma-related visits to the emergency room drop by 3.2%. This is a striking number for a technology that’s just now becoming more commonplace. Joining Ira to talk about these stories and more is Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, based in Washington, D.C. ChatGPT And Beyond: What’s Behind The AI Boom? The past few months have seen a flurry of new, easy-to-use tools driven by artificial intelligence. It’s getting harder to tell what’s been created by a human: Programs like ChatGPT can construct believable written text, apps like Lensa can generate stylized avatars, while other developments can make pretty believable audio and video deep fakes. Just this week, Google unveiled a new AI-driven chatbot called Bard, and Microsoft announced plans to incorporate ChatGPT within their search engine Bing. What is this new generation of AI good at, and where does it fall short? Ira talks about the state of generative AI and takes listener calls with Dr. Melanie Mitchell, professor at the Santa Fe Institute and author of the book, Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans. They are joined by Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, founder and CEO of Parity Consulting and responsible AI fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
How Grief Rewires The Brain Being a human can be a wonderful thing. We’re social creatures, craving strong bonds with family and friends. Those relationships can be the most rewarding parts of life. But having strong relationships also means the possibility of experiencing loss. Grief is one of the hardest things people go through in life. Those who have lost a loved one know the feeling of overwhelming sadness and heartache that seems to well up from the very depths of the body. To understand why we feel the way we do when we grieve, the logical place to turn is to the source of our emotions: the brain. A new book explores the neuroscience behind this profound human experience. Ira speaks to Mary-Frances O’Connor, author of The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss, a neuroscientist, about adjusting to life after loss. Midwest Aims To Add Large Indoor Animal Farms, Despite Concerns Legislation and programs in states like Missouri and Nebraska are paving the way to welcome large livestock operations by limiting local control over the facilities. Some rural residents worry about the potential pollution and decreased quality of life that will bring. In Cooper County, Missouri, CAFOs are a controversial topic. Susan Williams asked to meet in a small local library to talk about it, hoping that there wouldn’t be anyone around. Even in this quiet atmosphere, she’s nervous about people overhearing the conversation. “I just don’t want the whole town to hear me,” she said. Concentrated animal feed operations, commonly called CAFOs, are large animal facilities that hold thousands of head of livestock. Iowa leads the Midwest in the number of CAFOs with about 4,000 of them. However, in recent years, laws and programs have paved the way for CAFOs to operate in other Midwestern states, including Missouri and Nebraska. That’s worrying residents like Williams, a retired elementary school principal and a farmland owner from Clarksburg, Missouri. Back in 2018, a large hog operation called Tipton East planned on moving in less than a mile away from her house. The size of the operation, about 8,000 hogs, concerned her, especially since she grew up with a small hog farm. “Just the smell and the waste that you had was tremendous with that,” she said. “And I couldn’t imagine what it would be like with that many hogs.” Read the rest on sciencefriday.com Blending The Sounds Of Climate Change With Appalachian Music Daniel Bachman is an acclaimed musician, known for his unique blend of Appalachian-inspired folk music and meditative drones. But, for his latest album, titled Almanac Behind, he wanted to try something a little different. Bachman lives in central Virginia, which has recently experienced multiple extreme weather events influenced by climate change. Unusually heavy snow in January 2022 caused power outages and trapped drivers in their cars on highways. Later in the year, intense rainfall led to downed power lines and flooding. And wildfires are becoming increasingly common in the Appalachian region. “I had the idea to document everything that we experienced through the end of this recording process,” he said. With the help of family and friends, Bachman gathered field recordings of these sounds of climate change, and weaved them together with the banjo and guitar. “It did feel like I was working collaboratively with non-human partners,” he said. “It makes me feel better to work with these forces, instead of trying to constantly push them away.” Bachman also talks about his work as an independent scholar, and how the traditions of Appalachian folklore influenced his view of the album as a climatological historical document. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Wind And Solar Were Europe’s Top Energy Sources In 2022 The European Union reached a major renewable energy milestone in 2022. For the first time, wind and solar generated more energy in the European Union than any other power source. Ira talks with science writer Roxanne Khamsi about Europe’s energy future and other top science stories of the week, including deer harboring old COVID strains, an endangered marsupial who’s losing a lot of sleep in search of sex, and why mammals live longer in groups. U.S. Approves First Small Nuclear Reactor Design Late last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave final approval to the first small-modular nuclear reactor design, known in the industry as SMR. It’s not the kind of power plant you might picture when you think of nuclear—gone is the massive cooling tower and tall, domed containment building, in favor of a 15-foot-diameter steel cylinder equipped with passive cooling. And instead of being bespoke designs built to order on site, these reactors can be manufactured in a factory and hooked together in the field—an approach that can shave years off the construction time for a new nuclear facility. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. ’The Last Of Us’ Hands Fungi The Spotlight The Last of Us, a new TV show from HBO, has had audiences hooked from the very first episode. The sci-fi show and the video game it’s based on tells the story of people trying to survive a mass fungal outbreak: one that turns ordinary people into murderous, mind-controlled monsters. The fungus in the story, Cordyceps, is a real one. It’s known to take over the minds of insects like ants, moths, and beetles and control them to advance its own survival, but that doesn’t happen with humans. Dr. Patty Kaishian, mycologist and visiting professor of biology at Bard College, joins Ira to talk about the science behind The Last of Us. They dig into what’s real, what’s fiction, and how fungi shape our lives. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Meet The Blind Birder Reimagining Accessibility In The Outdoors For many blind and low vision people, accessing outdoor spaces like parks can be challenging. Trails are often unsafe or difficult to navigate, signs don’t usually have Braille, guides generally aren’t trained to help disabled visitors, and so on. But nature recordist Juan Pablo Culasso, based in Bogata, Colombia, is changing that. He’s designed a system of fully accessible trails in the cloud forests of southwest Colombia that are specifically tailored to help visually disabled people connect with nature. The trails are the first of their kind in the Americas, and Culasso drew on his own experiences as a blind person and a professional birder to design the system. He talks with Maddie Sofia about how he designed the trail system and takes listeners on an adventure through the cloud forest he works in. How Many Glasses Of Water A Day Do You Actually Need? If you follow health or fitness influencers, at some point you’ve probably heard something about people needing six to eight ounces glasses of water a day to be healthy. The question of the right amount of water needed for health and happiness is still an open one, and varies from person to person. But a recent study in the journal Science looked at just how much water people actually do consume each day. The study didn’t just ask people how many sips they had taken. Instead, it tracked the amount of water that flowed through the bodies of over 5,000 people around the world, using labeled isotopes to get data on “water turnover”—how much water was consumed and excreted. The researchers found a large range of water use, driven in part by differences in body size and socioeconomic status. A small, not very active woman might drink less than two liters per day, while a large, very active woman might gulp almost eight liters a day, a four-fold difference. Dr. Dale Schoeller, a professor emeritus in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Biotechnology Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, joins SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to talk about the study, the importance of water consumption, and how people can do better at estimating the amount of water they need. Road Salt Is Washing Into The Mississippi River…And It’s Not Washing Out This winter has already brought significant snowfall to much of the U.S. Historically, more snow has meant more road salt. It’s an effective way to clear roads — but also brings cascading environmental impacts as it washes into rivers and streams. But amid one powerful winter storm that walloped the Midwest in December, employees from the La Crosse County Facilities Department did something a little different. As usual, they clocked into work well before dawn to plow the county’s downtown parking lots. They were followed by facilities director Ryan Westphal, who walked each of the lots, checking for slick spots. Finding none, he didn’t lay any salt down on top. That’s a major departure from how he would have handled the situation a few years ago – before their department made the decision to dramatically cut back on salt use to prevent it from flowing into waters like the nearby Mississippi River, which new data show has been growing saltier for decades. Under the previous protocol, in Westphal’s words, his crew would have “salted the crap” out of the lots after a snowfall like this, without giving deference to whether they actually needed it. Today, there’s a careful calculation after each time it snows to ensure they’re using just the right amount of salt. To read the rest, visit www.sciencefriday.com. In ‘The Terraformers,’ Science Fiction Reveals Real-World Challenges In her novel The Terraformers, author Annalee Newitz takes readers thousands of years into the future to a far-away planet that’s under construction. It’s in the process of being terraformed, or transformed into a more Earth-like world that can support human life. The main character Destry, a ranger for the Environmental Rescue Team, and her partner, Whistle the flying moose, are working on the corporate-owned planet when they encounter an underground society. The Terraformers explores themes of resilience, colonization, conservation, equity, and capitalism through a sci-fi lens as Newitz invites readers to reimagine a new future. Guest host Maddie Sofia talks Newitz about the inspiration behind the book and how real-world problems made their way into sci-fi. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
What’s Behind The Strange Slowing Of The Earth’s Core? Even though some days feel more chaotic than others, the rotation of the surface of the planet proceeds at a pretty constant rate—about one full rotation every 24 hours. But the rotational speed of the inner core is less stable, and has been known to shift over time. Now, researchers are reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience that according to seismic data, the Earth’s inner core may have recently paused its rotation, and could even go on to reverse direction relative to the rest of the planet. Tim Revell, deputy United States editor of New Scientist, joins SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to talk about the shift in rotation and other stories from the week in science, including shared language characteristics between humans and wild apes, and a wolf population that has started to enjoy snacking on sea otters. They’ll also talk about an ancient Egyptian mummy with a heart of gold, research into why some mushrooms glow in the dark, and a tiny robot with morphing liquid metal capabilities straight out of Hollywood. Here’s What We Know About Long COVID, Three Years Later Just a few months into the pandemic, it became clear that in some people, the SARS-CoV-2 virus caused a cascade of symptoms for months after their initial infections. These lingering effects are now commonly referred to as Long COVID. And as long as the pandemic barrels on, the population of Long COVID patients will continue to grow. Over the past three years, researchers have closely studied these symptoms, seeking to better understand its underlying causes and improve treatment. Guest host Maddie Sofia talks with Hannah Davis, co-founder of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative and co-author of a recently published comprehensive review on the state of Long COVID research, and Dr. Bhupesh Prusty, principal investigator at the Institute for Virology and Immmunobiology at the University of Würzburg in Germany. Meet The Art Sleuths Using Science To Find Frauds At the end of last year, a big case was decided in the world of art crime. Qatari Sheikh Hamad al Thani won a case against his former art dealer, after nearly $5 million dollars worth of purchased ancient artifacts were all determined to be fake. Among the artifacts was a Hari Hara sandstone statue purported to be from 7th century Vietnam. In reality, the piece was made in 2013. Art experts say forged antiquities are extremely common in museums and private art collections: Former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Thomas Hoving estimated 40% of artworks for sale at any given time were fake. The task of determining what art is real and what art is fake falls to scientists, who use tools like X-rays and carbon dating to get accurate readings of time and place of origin for artifacts. Joining guest host Kathleen Davis to talk about this are Erin Thompson, art crime professor at the City University of New York, and Patrick Degryse, professor of archeometry at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Why Are Gas Stoves Under Fire? If you were online at all last week, you probably encountered conversations about gas stoves. The sudden stove discourse was sparked by a comment made by a commissioner on the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to a Bloomberg reporter, in which the commissioner discussed plans to regulate gas stoves. Those comments morphed via repetition into inaccurate rumors of an impending ban on stoves fueled by ‘natural gas,’ or methane, currently used in around 38% of US homes. The CPSC later clarified that the agency was “researching gas emissions in stoves and exploring new ways to address health risks,” but was not looking to ban gas stove use. That said, studies have found that gas stoves are a major source of indoor air pollution, and can emit nitrogen oxides that have been found to exacerbate asthma symptoms. Last summer, the American Medical Association adopted a resolution informing physicians of the stoves’ link to asthma. A report published in December estimates that over 12% of childhood asthma cases may be attributable to gas stove emissions. The stove debate flares beyond asthma, however. Some municipalities, including New York City, are moving to phase out the use of natural gas in new construction for reasons related to climate change. And Washington state has put in place rules mandating the use of electric heat (with fossil fuel-derived heating allowed as a backup option) in new construction this year. Rebecca Leber, senior reporter covering climate at Vox, joins Ira to explain the heated words over gas stove use, and how they fit into a larger battle over fossil fuel usage and climate change. What Will The Next Generation Of COVID-19 Vaccines Look Like? The first COVID-19 vaccine was approved just over two years ago. Since then, the virus continues to mutate. With each new variant, the virus seems to evade our current vaccines more effectively, faster than we can make effective new mRNA boosters. Coronaviruses frequently spill over from animals to humans, like the original SARS and MERS viruses, which are both types of coronaviruses. Researchers are working on the next generation of coronavirus vaccines that aim to protect us against multiple emerging variants—and even prevent future pandemics. Ira talks with Dr. Pamela Bjorkman, professor of biology and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology, about her work to develop a vaccine that would protect against several types of coronaviruses. And later, Ira talks with Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale University, about the nasal vaccine she’s researching and the hurdles in bringing it to market. The Sweet Song Of The $7 Violin Stringed instruments can be a joy to the ears and the eyes. They’re handcrafted, made of beautiful wood, and the very best ones are centuries old, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or sometimes even millions. But there’s a new violin in the works—one that’s 3D-printed. It costs just a few bucks to print, making it an affordable and accessible option for young learners and classrooms. Dr. Mary-Elizabeth Brown is a concert violinist and the founder and director of the AVIVA Young Artists Program in Montreal, Quebec, and she’s been tinkering with the design of 3D-printed violins for years. She talks with Ira about the science behind violins, the design process, and how she manages to turn $7 worth of plastic into a beautiful sounding instrument. Learn more about the project, as well as its progress, beta testing, and release date at www.printaviolin.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Why Are Children’s Antibiotics So Hard To Find Right Now? Mary Warlo has been extremely worried lately. Her baby Calieb, who is six months old, has sickle cell disease. In early December he went for a few days without liquid penicillin, a medication that he—and thousands of other children in the U.S.—rely on to prevent potentially life threatening infections. Warlo couldn’t easily find a pharmacy in Indianapolis that had the medicine in stock. She and her husband frantically drove around for hours, stopping at five different pharmacies before they were able to get their prescription filled. “It was extremely stressful and I am worried about what will happen the next time we need to fill his prescription two weeks from now,” she said. Pediatric sickle cell disease specialists say they are alarmed by signs that the stock of liquid penicillin is dwindling in some places. They say children’s lives depend on this medication, and a penicillin shortage could spell disaster. Read the rest at sciencefriday.com. Bats Use Death Metal 'Growls' To Make Social Calls What do death metal vocalists and bats have in common? Both use their ventricle folds, or “false vocal cords,” to extend their vocal ranges to hit a lower register. This gives bats a huge vocal range—seven full octaves. Humans typically tap out at about three to four octaves. Even people with really impressive vocal ranges, like Mariah Carey, just can’t compete with a bat. A study recently published in the academic journal PLOS Biology examines how and why different anatomical structures might help bats achieve such extreme frequency range. Ira talks with one of the study’s authors, Coen Elemans, a professor in bioacoustics and animal behavior at the University of Southern Denmark based in Odense, Denmark. Can Science Answer Life’s Biggest Questions? Dr. Alan Lightman has been around the block a few times. Over the past five decades, he has been a theoretical physicist, professor at MIT, and bestselling author—often at the same time. His most notable novel, Einstein’s Dreams, has been adapted into dozens of plays and musicals since its publication in 1992, becoming one of the most famous examples of mixing art and science. Lightman’s work follows a philosophical way of thinking about life’s biggest questions, like the origins of consciousness. His new venture brings this way of thinking to the silver screen. Searching: Our Quest for Meaning in the Age of Science consults scientists and faith leaders to grapple with some of these theoretical quandaries. And Lightman gives a good argument for why the journey to these answers can be more impactful than the answers themselves. Ira speaks with Alan Lightman about the new program, available to watch now online and on your local public television station.
Technology Trends to Watch in 2023 The start of a new year is often a time to contemplate the future and what might lie ahead on the horizon. This week, the magazine MIT Technology Review unveiled its annual list of 10 technologies to watch—innovations that it thinks are on the verge of rapid adoption or causing significant cultural changes, or already in the process of creating such a shift. This year’s list includes items from the amazing astronomy enabled by JWST, to the ‘inevitable’ electric vehicle, as well as technologies that are further down the road, such as the ability to grow replacement organs to order. Amy Nordrum, an executive editor at MIT Technology Review, joins Ira to talk about some of the innovations and the difficulties of narrowing a universe of possibilities into a list of 10 key technologies to watch. They also discuss some technologies highlighted in the past that went on to make a big difference—cloud computing, anyone?—as well as some projects the magazine highlighted in the past that did not turn out to be as significant as once thought. Are Animal ‘Pests’ Really The Villains We Make Them Out To Be? Join us as we enter the rat’s nest. The snake pit. The mouse trap. What, precisely, is it that untangles an animal friend from foe? This week, we’re taking a close look at pests—critters with a notorious reputation for being destructive, annoying, and even villainous. We’re also going to get a little philosophical and ask: What do those opinions tell us about ourselves? Science journalist Bethany Brookshire is the author of Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She joins Ira to talk about her new book, challenge our perspectives on what makes a pest, and answer listener’s pest-y questions live. To read an excerpt of the book, visit sciencefriday.com. Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
Early Migration To North America Likely Wasn’t A One-Way Road The story of how early humans migrated to North America might not be as simple as we once thought. The prevailing theory was that ancient peoples traveled from Siberia to modern-day Alaska using the Bering strait as a land bridge. But new genomic research, published in Current Biology, reveals movement in the opposite direction, back to Asia, as well. Ira talks with Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, about the new research, and other top science stories of the week, including a new AI voice generator, a green comet visible visit in the night sky for the first time in 50,000 years, and how a specific atmospheric weather pattern caused historic flooding in California. Lab-Grown Meats Are Finally Inching Closer To Commercial The United States is one of the largest consumers of meat in the world, with the average American eating 273 pounds of meat per year That’s not to say that tastes aren’t changing: Nearly a quarter of Americans say they have cut down on meat consumption, and 41% of Americans under 50 have tried plant-based meat. There’s been a wave of companies and academic institutions working on cellular agriculture—a fancy way of saying animal products grown from cells in labs, and not from a meat farm. While lab-grown meat is not available in grocery stores yet, the FDA gave approval to make meat from animal cell culture for the first time in November. Upside Foods, the company making the product, makes chicken from cells grown in tanks. Joining Ira to talk about cell agriculture are Andrew Stout, cellular agriculture biologist based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Aryé Elfenbein, co-founder of Wildtype, based in San Francisco, California, a company working on growing seafood from cells.
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