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Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of science... the thrill of discovery... and the agony of failed experiments... the human drama of scientific advancement... This is the Blue Streak Science Podcast!

Aug 23, 2018

  • We talk with crow researcher Kaeli Swift about a really interesting aspect of crow behavior
  • Science News
  • The Climate Lounge with Tom Di Liberto
  • The Pub Quiz

Science News with Sophie McManus and Chris MacAlister

Cancer drugs may help the liver recover from common painkiller overdoses

Painkiller overdoses can be lethal. In America, these overdoses occur around 100,000 times a year, both accidentally and in suicide attempts. Consequently, such overdoses are the leading cause of acute liver failure.

A study published in Science Translational Medicine raises hope that experimental cancer drugs may alleviate the damage caused by painkiller overdose - and do so better than the current antidote, N-acetylcysteine, which must be administered within four hours to avert death or avoid the need for transplant. The new drugs were still effective 12 hours after overdose had occurred.

The cancer drugs tested appear to work by blocking action of a common molecule, TGFbeta, which in this case is activated by inflammation and can cause liver cells to enter senescence - a pre-death state.  

It’s hoped this strategy might be effective in clinical trials, thereby buying doctors in A&E some extra time with which to deal with OD.

Science News

Earliest galaxies found 'on our cosmic doorstep'

When you think about the oldest known galaxies in the Universe then your thoughts may be drawn to MACS1149-JD. I know that mine is!

This is the most distant galaxy ever observed. Over 13 billion light years away and thanks to the speed of light we know that it’s over 13 billion years old.

So how bizarre would it be to learn that there are galaxies just as old, if not older, right here neighbouring the milky way? This bizarre because that is exactly what is happening! They’ve been discovered by a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics at Cambridge.

Now if you are like me then you will be thinking, how can they tell that these galaxies are so old? Well I’m glad that you asked; it comes down to their luminosity function, which is a measure of the radiation that they generate.

The luminosity of these galaxies has a distinct signature consistent with that theorised to be produced in the cosmic dark ages. This was a unique period of the universe’s history when atoms first formed and the cosmic microwave background, along with all other electromagnetic radiation started to form.

BBC News Science and Environment

Crows Tidy Up Amusement Park in France

Crows have been taught how to tidy! It's a shame more people haven’t. Rooks will be deployed this week at Puy du Fou, a French park that hosts events and re-enactments. The birds were bred in captivity and then trained by Christophe Gaborit, a falconer and project manager with the park's Academy of Falconry.

These birds are highly intelligent and you might see them around sifting through bins to try and find something to eat. Because of this intelligence and ability to sort items, Christophe decided to turn this behaviour to good use. He raised and trained his first pair of trash-collecting rooks in 2000, with a little help from a special cabinet — when the birds deposited rubbish in the drawer, a second compartment would be opened to reward them with a tasty treat. Repeating this action led the rooks to associate rubbish removal with food.

Sometimes they’d try to trick the system by dropping bits of wood in the box instead of rubbish. Gaborit explains all this on his blog.

The logic behind employing rooks instead of humans is interesting - Gaborit hopes that the sight of crows picking up litter will prompt people to be a bit more thoughtful in how they dispose of rubbish. After all, it isn’t hard to drop something in the bin...

Live Science

Interview with Dr. Kaeli Swift about Crow Thanatology

Firstly, congratulations to Dr. Kaeli Swift! Kaeli successfully defended her dissertation and was awarded her Ph.D. between the time we talked last week and the date this episode was released. How awesome is that?

So please have a listen to the podcast as we talk about crow thanatology. What's crow thanatology? Ain't tellin'! You gotta listen!

The Climate Lounge

The Earth Is One Heck Of A Resilient place

Power was finally restored to everyone in Puerto Rico recently but today’s voyage into the Climate Lounge is going to take a different tack on my usual Puerto Rico storyline. Today, I’m going to talk to you about re-birth.

In a beautiful article in the Huffington Post, Kaia Findlay reports on just how resilient ecosystems (both natural and human-influenced) in Puerto Rico have been in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The story also comes with unbelievable videos of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the storm.

El Yunque Rain Forest

[caption id="attachment_1405" align="alignright" width="400"] El Yunque Rain Forest[/caption]

Let’s start with the rainforests. Forests cover 60% of Puerto Rico and are a vital part of what makes Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. And after Maria, an estimated 23 to 31 million trees were killed or damaged. The famed El Yunque rainforest was turned a shocking brown. Just listen to this quote.

“It was a toothpick a bomb hit,” said Grizelle Gonzalez, a soil scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

As someone who adores autumn and the leaves changing color, and who loves a nice winter stroll through a barren forest, that last quote got me.

But, you can’t keep El Yunque down. You can’t keep nature down. Nature has a long history with the weather. And it’s ecosystem is already rebounding because it’s adapted to do so. Plants who love the sun quickly rose up under the brand new open canopy of the rainforest. Eventually they will grow tall enough to offer enough shade for the shade loving plants to flourish. And the rainforest begins anew.

Tabonuco Tree

Take the Tabonuco tree. One of the larger trees in the rainforest, they are found along the higher ridges, in areas more susceptible to high wind speeds during hurricanes. Yet after Maria, there they stood. Leaf-less but alive. How?They have evolved to the risk of storms by having a large interconnected root system which help to anchor them all. And once the storm passes, they can quickly grow back their leaves.

There are more resilient tree species like the Cecropia schreberiana which can rapidly grow 50 feet in the post-Maria landscape. Six months after Maria hit, all of those sun-loving plants had already begun to cover the rainforest floor with trees already poking through the undergrowth. In 10 to 15 years, a visitor won’t be able to tell that anything happened. And in 100, it would take hard scientific research to even know a hurricane came through.

Farmer Prepares for Storm

That’s nature though. But there are farmers in Puerto Rico who have taken this natural adaptation of Puerto Rico’s land and applied it to their farms. Ian Pagán Roig woke the day after Maria to see his farm decimated, trees down, surrounding forest denuded, pools of water everywhere. Yet a month after Maria, there he was producing crops again.

How? Prior to the storm, Pagan took important steps like digging trenches for water drainage, removing the roof of his greenhouse to allow for the wind to blow through. And prior to the hint of any storm, Pagan built permanent infrastructure like ponds and a greenhouse to make returning to normalcy quicker. And most important, his farm equipment ran on grass not fuel. While fellow farmers waited hours and hours on line for gas, his two oxen where out plowing land.  Combining these choices with natural agricultural practices that enhanced his soil vitality had his farm up and running so quick after Maria.

The main thing is that the earth is resilient. And people can be too… if we put the effort in.


Pub Quiz

  1. Using data from NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument, scientists have identified three specific signatures that definitively prove there is what on the surface of the moon?
  2. This week, a consortium of more than 200 scientists from 20 countries published the first fully annotated sequence of the genome for what very important species of plant?
  3. What food was recently found in a 3,200 year old Egyptian tomb?
  4. A 'Fireball' 40 Times Brighter Than the Moon was seen streaking across the sky of what U.S. state?
  5. A purple celestial phenomenon, recently discovered by citizen scientists, has been given a name. What name?

How did YOU do?

In Next Week’s Episode

Hey, you don’t wanna miss next week’s episode. We have science news, the Climate Lounge, Pub Quiz….and...the Blue Streak Science A****** of the Month!

In Closing

Thanks to Dr. Kaeli Swift for joining us today. And best of luck on your future work with Canada Jays. 

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Sophie McManus, Chris MacAlister, and Tom DiLiberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember...follow the science!