Mar 8, 2019
But first we’re going to start off with a story that’s a great example of what I love most about doing this podcast. That’s discovering something is not as I thought it was, at having my assumptions turned over.
I had always thought there was just one kind of giant sunfish in the ocean, the ocean sunfish, or Mola mola.
They look like a giant fish head without the body, and their unlikely fins propel them in an unlikely way. They get huge, like over a metric ton huge. Some even as much as two tons!
They eat small fish, crustaceans, and jellyfish.
But I always thought it was just one species, until this story came up.
Last week, at the unfortunately named Coal Oil Point Reserve in southern California an intern happened upon a huge 2 meter long fish that had washed ashore. She alerted her colleague Jessica Nielsen, a conservation specialist at the University of California Santa Barbara.
At first they thought it was a Mola mola, the awesome, but not uncommon fish I just mentioned, the ocean sunfish.
Nielsen posted some pics of this sunfish on Facebook. Another researcher took more pics and then posted them on iNaturalist.
Then a sunfish expert from Australia called Marianne Nyegaard saw the photos and to her astonishment realized it was a hoodwinker sunfish.
Hoodwinkers are pretty much only known from the Southern Hemisphere, and in fact, were only described as a species in 2014, and here’s one washing up on the beach near Santa Barbara, California.
How did it get there? A mystery. Perhaps they wander further than previously known, or maybe there’s an as yet discovered population of this fish in the northern hemisphere.
It’s time for the latest installment from the continuing adventures of Elon Musk; the case study on what happens if you give an epic fanboy an even more epic budget. Bowie’s Starman now has a real physical presence, cruising in the first ever interplanetary roadster. The millenium falcon may not be the fastest hunk of junk in this galaxy but it has inspired the names of SpaceX’s Falcon rockets. The next tribute is to Alien with a dummy named Ripley.
At the time of recording, Ripley is docked at the ISS, with a live camera feed. The sole passenger on the first ever commercial crew vehicle to dock there, Crew Dragon.
Crew Dragon is a modified version of the Dragon Cargo capsule which has already been used to supply the ISS for some time. NASA are funding this work in an attempt to bring crew launching back to the United States for the first time since the space shuttle programme ended back in 2011.
Clearly, there is a slight different between transporting supplies and humans, so Ripley’s mission is to test that the set-up is safe. This means that she’s not just a dummy, she’s a humanoid laboratory of sensors; providing all kinds of data about what real human passengers will experience.
But Ripley isn’t completely alone up there. Despite all of the hi-tech equipment in the capsule, there is also the most lo-tech gravity detector available; a plush Earth toy. How does it work? If it floats, it’s weightless, if it doesn’t then it’s not.
But if all goes well on the mission, the plan is to start using the Crew Dragon for real crew transport as soon as this summer.
This story is comes to us from the journal Nature, and is a true account about a man who once had HIV, but now seems to be completely free of the virus.
So about 12 years ago Timothy Brown, an American man who was treated in Germany and became known as the “Berlin Patient” became the first patient to be effectively cured of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Both of these patients underwent after a stem cell transplant for blood cancers.
These transplants are really dangerous. They involve the complete eradication of the patients bone marrow and then replacement with new stem cells.
Stem cell transplants typically are harsh procedures which start with radiation or chemotherapy to damage the body's existing immune system and make room for a new one.
It works sometimes, but the treatments can also fail, and with dire results.
Using this solely as a treatment for HIV is impractical.
However, the apparent success with the London patient shows that Timothy Brown’s case wasn’t a one-off, and could be repeated.
The London patient, whose identity remains anonymous, was diagnosed with HIV in 2003.
He didn’t start taking drugs to control it until 2012, but he developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
He underwent the stem cell transplant in 2016.
But why did this result in a possible cure for this patient?
His doctors screened potential donors, not only for compatibility in treating the lymphoma, but they also searched for a donor with a gene mutation that could confer a resistance to HIV.
They found a donor who had this gene. That was incredibly lucky because less than 1% of people of northern European have this mutation.
This mutation is rare, but it does provide resistant to most forms of HIV.
After the treatment the patient agreed to stop taking his HIV drugs to see if the virus would come back. It didn’t.
Can you imagine how frightening that would be?
And after 18 months there’s still no sign of HIV in the patient.
I hope that you realise, dear listener, that science is your friend. And do you know how you can tell? Because it doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear; it tells you what you need to hear. And what you need to hear now is that those lazy, sleep-in weekend mornings are doing you no good whatsoever!
Sleep is one of those things that we are all so familiar with, yet we know so little about it. But ask any parent with young kids and they'll tell you just how important it is! Isn’t that right, Tom?
One reason why the direct benefit of sleep is so hard to track down is because there appears to be many of them. For example, did you know that if you aren't getting at least 7 hours of sleep then you are more likely to snack after dinner and put on extra weight?
This effect had just been used to gauge how effective a weekend lie-in is at making up the sleep that you have lost during the week, and the results don't look promising.
Whist the snack attacks can be put off at the start of the following week, once the lack of sleep kicks in again, the snacking returns with a vengeance, so much so that you would have been better off not catching up on your sleep in the first place!
But here comes the warnings. This study was only run over a cycle of a week and a half so we don't know the longer term implications. Also, we've already said that benefits of sleep are multifaceted. Whist this particular aspect may not benefit, that doesn’t mean that is the same story across the board. The main reason that people sleep in when they can is because it feels good and usually things feel good for a reason; because it is doing us some good.
Welcome to another “fun” time in the lounge. I put bunny quotes on fun because well, I often talk about crazy things like NO CLOUDS*. I put a star over that statement because of necessary scientific caveats. You get the point. I’m not fun at parties.
But today’s story is not going to be about some crazy new research, or the latest dumb thing said by some climate denying celebrity or politician. Instead, I want to send my thanks to one of the greats in the world of climate science who passed away a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Wallace Broecker (pronounced Broker).
Now, I’m not one to venerate any person. We’re all human and treating any of us like a god is a quick way of putting yourself in an awkward position should that human show one of the many human foibles that we damn well know exist. I, instead of deifying people better than me, like to get insanely jealous of their talents, in a positive way. And I was damn jealous of Wally Broecker’s brain and creative thinking.
Who was Wally? He was world renowned geologist and climate scientist. Who spent most of his career, 67 years to be exact, at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. There he studied well the Earth and everything related to it. It’s climate, it’s oceans, it’s ice. It’s everything. Broecker had an amazing way with words coining many incredibly well known phrases still used today. Sometimes even against his wishes.
In 1975, he published a landmark study called Climatic Change: Are we on the Brink of Pronounced Global Warming”, which vaulted the phrase global warming into scientific lexicon and forever cemented him as the grandfather of global warming. In that paper he predicted that global temperatures would rise due to an increase in CO2. Not bad. In 1984, he testified in the first congressional hearings on climate change led by??? Any guesses? Al Gore. He’s even had a children’s song written about him called Uncle Wally’s Tale by Tom Chapin a popular kids artist
But he was a throwback to a different time, he never typed or used a computer instead writing his manuscripts by hand. And he was sometimes a curmudgeon an opinionated, often arguing hard for his ideas but always let science lead the way.
He also coined the phrase global conveyor belt to describe the way that ocean water cycles from the surface to the ocean depths. I’ve talked about this in the past whenever I discussed the AMOC or Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. It was Dr. Broecker who led that charge. As noted in his NY Times obituary “He pioneered techniques using carbon isotopes and other tracer elements to map the world’s ocean currents” These techniques made their way into many other fields including archeology.
It was this research about how radical climate swings could happen if the Gulf Stream and AMOC slows down bringing warmth to Europe that was butchered when Hollywood made the Day After Tomorrow about a sudden catastrophic cooling.
He did a lot. And importantly he wasn’t afraid to talk about it all, continually ringing the bell about climate change. In his final message to scientists he actually pushed for geoengineering solutions as the price of continued inaction could be “many more surprises in the greenhouse known as earth. He wasn’t pushing for it to be done, per se, but for us to get to know more about the potential need.
Dr. Wallace Broecker died on February 18 at the age of 87. And I will leave you with one of his most famous phrases on our climate, and one of mine too.
“The climate system is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks”
Here’s to you Dr. Broecker!
The latest science news in quiz form. Can you beat the Blue Streak team?
That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.
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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.
Our hosts today were Tom Di Liberto, and Chris MacAlister.
I’m JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us.
And remember...follow the science!