Dr. Kiki is on the Loose

June 28th, 2012

I’ve been waiting to write this. I don’t know why exactly, but it felt like the right thing to do.

Last week, I posted on twis.org that our show will no longer be netcast by the TWiT.tv network. Since that announcement people have asked me about my other TWiT.tv program, Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, but I kept quiet.

I am very sorry to say that Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour (DKSH) will no longer be a part of the TWiT.tv lineup. Although the show has many loyal fans, it just isn’t enough to contend against the belt-strap tightening currently underway at TWiT. I’ve additionally been informed that the network is trying to focus its content to give the audience more of what they want.

DKSH isn’t alone in this. There will no longer be any science shows on the TWiT network. This saddens me, but business is business. I hope that the many changes at TWiT will allow them to move forward to become even stronger, and that one day they will bring science back into their lineup.

Regardless of these actions by TWiT, I will continue to endeavor to communicate science. TWIS will continue; exactly how is uncertain, but I will not let it disappear. And, now that DKSH is done, I find myself with a bunch of extra time on my hands.

If you have ideas about how I should spend that time, please let me know. I have over a decade of experience in science communications and media, and would love to work with content creators and science educators to make science even more appealing to the world at large.

I guess it’s time to go clean up my resume…

Bay Area Science Festival Coverage

November 1st, 2011

This week, the first of (hopefully) many Bay Area science festivals is taking place. There are events happening all around the Bay, and I will be covering some of them live via Justin.tv. Also, I’m lucky to be joined in the action by the wonderful Indre Viskontas.

Here is my estimated broadcast schedule (times are still subject to change):

Tuesday 7-8pm PT
Porchlight: Epic Fail
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Wednesday 11am-12pm PT
Retrain your brain
Hosts: Kirsten

Wednesday 6:30-7pm and 9-9:30pm PT
Will We ever understand the brain
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Friday 11:30am-12:30pm PT
Gut Check
Hosts: Kirsten

Friday 7-8pm PT    CANCELLED
RadioLab
Hosts: Kirsten

Saturday 1-2pm PT  CANCELLED
Artificial Intelligence
Hosts: Indre, Kirsten

Sunday
Discovery Days, ATT Park
Hosts: Kirsten


Watch live video from drkiki on www.justin.tv

Thinking About Epigenetics

March 1st, 2011

This morning, I was totally taken by the focus on epigenetics in this month’s issue of The Scientist magazine. It’s a fascinating area of study that looks at mechanisms of inheritance and development that fall outside the usual genetic mechanisms.

For years, researchers investigating inheritance focused solely on DNA and RNA as the blueprints for what makes us who we are. However, over the past 80 years research has amassed suggesting that there is much more to the picture. Namely, expression of genes can be controlled through one process termed imprinting or another called X-chromosome inactivation, and chemical modifications by structures, called histones, that wrap DNA into little bundles, and a process called methylation.

The various modifications to DNA or RNA affect the ways that genes get expressed (like if they get turned on or off, or are expressed more or less), but not the genes themselves. Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics are still major forces acting on the genes themselves (so, don’t go off half cocked crying about Lamarckian ideas overturning over 100 years of evidence for the theory of evolution), but now we have a new tool to add to the toolbox to help us understand the very nuanced processes of adaptation and development.

From an article in The Scientist:

Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that behavioral researchers “are moving to a far broader definition of epigenetics which simply refers to any lasting change in gene expression mediated by an alteration in chromosomal structure.” ”

What I find fascinating, is the idea that these modifications can arise during an individuals lifetime. It’s a mechanism that has the potential to explain how experience during someone’s lifetime can 1) effect changes in their behavior and 2) effect changes in the behavior of subsequent generations.

Epigenetics is no longer like genetics, which can look at individuals, but preferentially looks at changes to populations on a generational timescale. Rather, epigenetics diverges from genetics because it can explore changes within and between individuals on multiple timescales: second to second, minute to minute, year to year, or generation to generation.

Again, from The Scientist:

Szyf… speculates that behavioral epigenetics might end up showing that adult learning is simply development, continued. Perhaps, he says, “it’s all development, starting from preconception to death.” ”

If the articles from The Scientist aren’t enough for you, we did a review of epigenetic research on TWIS last year, and interviewed one of the leading epigenetic researchers, Dr. Andrew Feinberg, back in 2007. In both cases, the coverage starts in the second half of the program, so you will need to fast forward a little bit to get to the pertinent info.

Synthesizing Our World

May 26th, 2010

Most of the media, yours truly included, was abuzz this past week about the news from the J. Craig Venter Institute that they had created a bacteria with a fully synthetic genome. Now, how far the proclamation was taken was a matter of sensationalist bent; was it “artificial life” or something less sci-fi?

In my personal opinion, which I tried to discuss a few places, it is a landmark report if only for the sheer technological know-how. The Venter Institute has proof-of-concept of various techniques working together for the first time. The bacterium they created are copies of an existing bacterium, but the copy genome was produced base by base in a dish rather than inside a living organism. Also, the copy genome was inserted into another species of bacteria whose genome had been removed (it was a shell of its previous self), and successfully took over the management of the bacterial body.

Now, the Venter Institute has generations of little baby bacteria that are the product of successful asexual bacterial reproduction (i.e. cell division) from that first synthetic generation. If they are dividing and multiplying like regular bacteria, I have to say it is a job well done. But, if they truly want to create artificial life, they are going to have to figure out how to create the bacterial body that goes with the DNA.

I’m sure scientists are already working on that problem, but in the meantime, the Venter Institute will be working with the DNA to determine what genes are necessary for life, what the minimum size limit is for a genome to run a microbe, and which genes can be added successfully to bacteria to make them do our bidding.

In addition to this very visible bacteria story, another equally interesting and potentially sci-fi scientific development hit the journal Nature this last week. Robots… little tiny robots that crawl around inside your cells to fix things are a bit closer to reality.

According to Bethany Halford of Chemical &Engineering News:

“Using DNA as the key construction material, one group of researchers created a nanoscale robot that can autonomously walk across a track, and a different group prepared a nanofactory in which DNA robots can carry and deposit nanoparticle cargo.”

The track in question will eventually be your cytoskeleton, the tiny fibers that give your cells their shape, and act as the transportation routes for cellular delivery systems. If the groups involved in these two studies can put their work together, we will have tiny machines that can carry payloads from place to place within your cells - a goal of researchers wanting very specific intracellular chemical delivery.

Also from the article:

“A goal of our field is to refashion and reimagine all the complex biochemical machinery of cells to suit our own purposes—to have synthetic molecules that can move around and carry cargo as protein motors do in cells, to have molecules that act as chemical factories, which make a particular product based on a particular chemical input, and above all to make these processes modular, to make them engineerable,” notes Paul W. K. Rothemund, the Caltech scientist who invented DNA origami.”

So, someday in the possibly not-so-distant future we may have synthetic bacteria that do our bidding in the environment, AND synthetic machines that help us live healthier lives.

TWIS on TWIT

April 1st, 2010

Dear TWIS Minions,

This Week in Science is making a few changes.

After 10 years of broadcasting live just about every Tuesday morning from KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA, TWIS is making a move.

As of 8:00 pm PT on Monday, April 12th, 2010, TWIS will broadcast live on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech Network.

It only seems natural that the TWI’s join forces as many people have been confused by the separate worlds of TWIS and TWIT for years anyway.

So, from April 12th onward TWIS will be live in video format on TWIT every Monday night at 8pm PT.

TWIS will continue to exist on KDVS, but as a pre-recorded show only.

You will also be able to continue to subscribe to and download TWIS as an audio rss feed without making any changes. We are keeping the feed address the same.

We think that the new format and platform will work together to make TWIS better than ever, and we’ll keep bringing you quality science infotainment.

Thanks for listening. We look forward to seeing you at live.twit.tv on Monday nights.

It’s all in your head,
–kirsten and Justin