This Week in Science Community Brainstorm

July 14th, 2009

This Week in Science has been a labor of my love for ten years. I have enjoyed every one of them, and expect to enjoy many more.

The show has enabled me to meet so many people, and created a community of science minded folks who I hope to count as friends (even though we call them minions).

However, the community could be better. The show and our website are still run based on the old media ways of pushing content out when they should be created with a mind for the community who want to pull the information in. So, we are thinking about how to change our ways, to make even better science content that can contend with what the major publishers are pushing out, and how to foster the growth of a truly awesome science-y community.

It’s actually been a dream of mine for a long time to create a community-driven science media channel based on TWIS. We started to develop the idea with our TWIS-tributions; asking minions to record TWIS-y news stories for the show. But, it didn’t get the response I was hoping for, and so fell by the wayside.

Naomi Most (nthmost on Twitter) brought me back to the idea today (seriously, I think she is data mining my brain), and specifically peaked my re-contemplation with a couple of her comments:

Ah, but w/ TWIStributions, the show always goes on regardless whether of ppl contribute… If you set up a system of continuous expectation of involvement w/ appropriate reward, superfans emerge.” 

And, this is a crucial point. The community needs ownership and investment for the entire endeavor to thrive. And, so far that is limited.

So, this is where I am. I want to create what Naomi termed an incubator for science reporting through TWIS. I want to rebuild the TWIS website to reflect the community and its many interests, and allow the growth of parallel scientific content in the form of blogs, audio, and video programming. I want to find the science reporting superstars among the minions, and have them call TWIS their home.

Is that too much to ask?

Interested in sponsoring the endeavor?

Have any ideas?

A Brief History of Stem Cells

March 2nd, 2009

A recent scientific report marks a landmark in stem cell research. Scientists writing in the journal Development described their successful creation of induced pluripotent stem cells from skin cells. The mouse-derived skin cells Epi-stem cells (as in epidermal) have the ability to continually divide, but are specialized to create only skin.

This in itself is not new, but the researchers were able to complete their experiments without the use of viruses. Until now, viral vectors have been the only method  capable of inserting the necessary pluripotency inducing genes into animal cells. Because the viruses are made up of foreign DNA, their use adds a level of uncertainty to the potential therapeutic use of induced stem cells.

Nobody wants to see potentially deadly effects occur as the result of the foreign DNA — being foreign it is uncertain what kind of things could happen. So, getting rid of the viruses is essential if we are going to see induced stem cells move beyond the realm of the theoretical and into application.

This is a big step. Next we will have to see the methodology repeated in primates and then in humans. And, from there we will have to wait and see if the virus-free induced human stem cells of the future are really capable of becoming any type of tissue. There is a lot of work still to be done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see the required evidence appearing in the news within the next year.

It was just 2006 when Japanese researchers used viruses to induce the first pluripotent stem cells from mouse cells. It took another year for them to reduce the errors present in the methodology, and get induced stem cells that could produce viable chimeras.

In November of 2007,  the first human induced pluripotent stem cells were created. The teams working on the problem felt that the use of viruses was still too dangerous as the viral DNA often led to the development of tumors.

Late in 2008, the news broke that induced pluripotent stem cells had been created with an adenovirus instead of a retrovirus, and later with the use of a plasmid. Neither of these new vectors are known to integrate foreign DNA into the target genome.

In December of 2008, skin cells from primates were induced to become pluripotent stem cells capable of becoming a number of different cell types. And, just two weeks ago researchers reported inducing human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells.

The most recent study uses a piece of DNA called a transposon to insert the critical DNA for creating pluripotent stem cells into target regions of the genome. This is an exciting development since the transposon used can be species specific, and take us far away from the use of foreign viral bits.

I’m excited to see where the future of this research will take us.

11_Science Word 08_08_16

August 22nd, 2008

Persistent Free Radicals – Chemists have discovered a new class of air pollutant, persistent free-radicals, which form and last on fine airborne particles indefinitely, and might contribute substantially to cardio-pulmonary diseases.

Flesh-eating Bacteria’s Weapon Figured Out – Flesh-eating bacteria release a special compound called Strep pyogenes cell envelope protease or SpyCEP for short, which inactivates white blood cells and blocks the body from defending itself against the necrotizing infection.

Memory of a Robot Brain – Scientists are figuring out how the brain works by using rat brain cells to control a robot.

How to Stop Addiction – Researchers kept mice from becoming addicted to cocaine by blocking glutamate receptors on dopamine producing brain cells.

Eyes Do More than See - Mice were switched from night to daytime activity by messing with the amount of light in the room and the sensitivity of their eyes to light suggesting that they eyes play a major role in setting the body’s internal clock.

Depression is Bad for Driving – A study of 60 individuals found that people who were depressed and taking anti-depressant medication performed worse on simulated driving tests than both medicated and unmedicated individuals who weren’t depressed. So, don’t be depressed and drive.

Humans Like Pretty People - Analysis of contestant behavior on a Dutch game show called Shafted supports the idea that humans have a bias for beautiful people.

Beer Goggles - Beer goggles are for real! Drunk students rated pictures of people of both sexes more attractive.

A Reason For Sexual Preference? - Homosexual and bisexual men had female relatives with more children than heterosexual men. So, whatever makes women like men and have more children might make men like men as well.

Smell What You Like? –If you’re a woman on the contraceptive pill, you could be with the wrong partner. Women preferred different body odors before and after beginning to take the pill. It’s thought that women use smell to choose an immunologically compatible partner.

09_Science Word_08_08_12

August 21st, 2008

Science news headlines from the week of 08/12/08 with Dr. Kiki Sanford. Distributed by Tubemogul.

Formats available:Quicktime (.mov), Flash Video (.flv)

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Show Notes:

Arsenic-eating bacteria found - Arsenic isn’t usually thought of as delicious and nutritious, but a new species of bacteria found in hot pools at Mono Lake in California thrives on the stuff, using it instead of water in the process of photosynthesis.

Cassini Takes Pictures
- The space probe Cassini imaged giant cracks in the surface of Enceladus to investigate the source of giant geysers of liquid water that shoot from the moon’s surface.

Where For Art Thou Meteorite? – Meteorites that landed here on earth are more like the space rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter than like low metal content LL chondrite asteroids found closer to the earth.

Something Like a Comet – Researchers using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey reported finding a comet-like object in a 22,500 year orbit around the sun. It doesn’t have a comet tail because it never gets close enough to the sun.

How to Get There - Theoretical physicists have come up with a new idea for space travel. They suggest manipulating dark energy through another dimension of space, shrinking space in front of a ship and expanding it behind. The trouble is that it requires a quantity of energy equal to converting something like the planet Jupiter into pure energy.

Entangled particles really are “spooky” - Nothing travels faster than light, but two entangled particles separated by 18 kilometers and located in two different Swiss towns were able to communicate with instantaneous precision, thereby validating quantum mechanics and spooky action at a distance.

10_Science Word 08_08_14

August 21st, 2008

Science news headlines from the week of 08/12/08 with Dr. Kiki Sanford. Distributed by Tubemogul.

Formats available:Quicktime (.mov), Flash Video (.flv)

Tags: , , , ,

 

Show Notes:

Best Thing About a Big Laser - The Advanced Tactical Laser will give the United States plausible deniability, says the chief engineer of the Directed Energy Directorate in describing its benefits.

Nanotubes Are Strong - Experiments at Northwestern University proved that carbon nanotubes really are as strong as calculations predicted, and that radiation makes them even stronger. I’m still waiting for that space elevator.

A Limit to Tall -  Physics imposes a limit on the height of trees. The maximum height to which Douglas Firs should be able to transport water is between 131 to 145 meters. That’s also the limit of their height.

Nature is the Best Teacher - Scientists mimicked photosynthesis in the lab, and were able to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the power of light.

Asphalt into Energy – Hot asphalt roads and parking lots may produce energy one day. Scientists are experimenting with the idea of adding a heat exchanger that would convert the heat absorbed by asphalt into energy.

Planet Friendly Paper Coating - A replacement for the waterproof wax coating that’s used on paper products like drink boxes has been created from the lignin of sugarcane, which unlike wax leaves the paper it coats completely recyclable.

The Effect of Climate change – A recent study found that 9 out of 10 tree species measured in the Santa Rosa mountains of California have increased the elevation of their habitat by 213 feet. The change in growing range was linked to changes in local climate.

Antarctica is not Alone – Ice cores revealed that West Antarctica is highly affected by atmospheric and oceanic changes in the tropics of the Pacific Ocean.

Dead Zones of the World - The number of oxygen poor dead zones in the world’s oceans has doubled to 400 in just the past two years. These dead zones are linked to algae blooms fed by fertilizer run-off, sewage, and the burning of fossil fuels.

This Week’s Science Word Videos Are Out!

August 14th, 2008

I’ve published another set of Science Word videos… the science headlines in brief. Here’s the first of the set of four:

Hubble Space Telescope - What’s up in space, travels 5 miles per second, and has offered us an unparalleled view of our universe? The Hubble Space telescope, which just passed 100,000 times around the planet.

Size Doesn’t Matter - In nanotech, it’s apparently not the size of the particle that determines cell penetration, but the shape. Rods do much better than spheres.

Invisibility? - Harry Potter might have worn invisibility chain mail instead of a cloak if J.K Rowling had been paying attention to science. Researchers have created a new metal material that bends light backwards through electromagnetic interactions with the light istelf.

Large Hadron Collider - The Large Hadron Collider will officially begin operations on September 10th, but won’t get to full strength until sometime next spring.

Bicycle Saddles and the Police - The results are in… bike seats without noses keep bike cops frisky. Cops testing the special saddles had less genital numbing and better penile sensation.

Is Infertility Treatment Worth It? - Intrauterine insemination was only 6% more effective in producing a live birth than no treatment at all in a group of 580 women experiencing unexplained infertility. However, women who had insemination felt more reassured during the process.

Females Are The Same - Sexual harassment doesn’t just bother human females. It also bugs female guppies who tend to prefer the risk of being eaten to hanging out around pushy males.

Complete Neanderthal Mitochondrial Genome
- The most complete and accurate Neanderthal mitochondrial genome to date was produced from a 38,000 year old fossil. Whether or not humans and Neanderthals ever got jiggy wid it is still in question.

A Pill For Alcoholics - Researchers in Oregon are testing a drug called CRF 154,526, which blocks all of the good, but none of the bad effects of alcohol– none of the euphoria, and the hangover’s still waiting. They say CRF is meant for treating hedonistic dysregulation.

Gene Link to Smoking Addiction -
People who say they got hooked on the first puff of a cigarette are likely to have a gene variant called CHRNA5.
You can find this video all these places:

YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe, Google, DailyMotion, Blip.tv and Viddler

The Science Word - Episode #3

August 8th, 2008

First Star in Universe Grew Fast - Computer simulations suggest the first stars started small, but grew 100 times larger than our sun in just 10,000 years.

Duck-Billed Dinos Outgrew Predators - Best predator defense? Grow fast and make babies. That’s what the duck-billed hadrosaur did as it grew up to 4.4 tons in 2-3 years. Gives a new meaning to “eat my dust.”

Moss, Insect Fossils Evince Once-Living Antarctica - Researchers found freeze-dried moss, crustaceans, insects, and pollen trapped in the glacial ice. 14 million years ago Antarctica was much warmer.

Hostile-to-Life Substance Found in Martian Soil - NASA thought they could grow vegetables on Mars, but then discovered perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, in one of their tests. They have decided to perform more tests.


Dark Energy’s Fingerprint Found in Distant Galaxies
- Researchers have made one of the most statistically probable measurements of dark energy to date, but they still don’t know what it is.


X-rays reveal Van Gogh portrait
- A particle accelerator was used to blast a Van Gogh painting with high intensity x-rays. A second painting was discovered beneath the outer surface of paint.


‘Laser jumbo’ testing moves ahead
- The US Air Force has begun fuel tests of their Airborne Laser system, which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles from the inside of a 747 aircraft.

The Science Word

August 8th, 2008

I’m trying out something new, and hoping that it will compliment what we do on This Week in Science. Check it out!

If you’re interested in any of the stories referred to in The Science Word, here are the links:

The Cassini space probe confirmed that a lake on Saturn’s moon, Titan, is filled with pleasantly chilled liquid ethane and methane hydrocarbons, molecules thought to be building blocks for life.

NASA got past a sticky dirt problem, and identified water in the Martian soil.

After 30 years, the guitarist for Queen finished and published his doctoral thesis.

According to Australian research, playing outdoors might be good for a child’s developing eyes.

A US CDC study found that national annual HIV/AIDS rates are underestimated by 40%. Regardless of this new data, the director of the WHO, Kevin De Cock, still thinks current global estimates are good. Yes, he does.

A study doubled population estimates of the Western Lowland Gorilla, an endangered species. A report recently warned that human activity puts almost half of the world’s primate species at risk for extinction.

People weigh less in neighborhoods with sidewalks.

Opposites might attract, but Germans stay married if they are similarly agreeable and conscientious.

Blue sharks taste bad, but people are developing a taste for them because other fish are in short supply.

Hot, black smokers were found venting supercritical seawater on the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.

Unlike freshwater turtles, the epaulette shark goes blind when oxygen levels go down.