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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!

Jun 6, 2019

Summer is here. The pool is finally warm enough, and the barbecue grill is doing its magic. Time for some grillin’ and chillin’!

Plug in your earpods as you flip those shrimp on the barbecue, drink that ice cold beer, and listen to this awesome episode of Blue Streak Science!

On This Week’s Show

  • Lessons learned from the mole rat
  • We’re talking about fungus again
  • Also, some interesting news on the Ebola front
  • A report on eastern European universities…from an eastern European

Science News with Dr. Amrita Sule, and Nevena Hristozova

A type of African mole rat is immune to the pain of wasabi

Amrita Sule

  • Almost all animals including mice, flies, flatworms will try and naturally avoid allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), the compound responsible for wasabi’s pungent taste.
  • Study published in Science last week reported that a species of mole rat, the highveld mole rat, a native of South Africa were completely insensitive to AITC.
  • Numerous species have evolved from the naked mole rat species in various parts of Africa. The environment around them could possibly have given them theses qualities
  • With a goal of finding out the differences in sensitivity to pain among the species, the research team used 8 kinds of mole rats and two other rodent species to assess their sensitivity towards acid, capsaicin and AITC.
  • When the substance was injected in the animals paw, the animal sensitive to the substance would flinch or lick the paw. The naked mole rats including most of the others in the group did not react well to AITC.
  • However, the Highveld mole rat did not even flinch. Even after being administered a range of dose from 0.75% to 100%, these rats were just simply impervious to AITC.
  • Dr. Lewin and colleagues found that the neurons in Highveld rats had anl ion channel NALCN, whose activity was 6 times higher compared to other species.This ion channel acts like a short circuit that leaks currents and prevents neurons from firing even when they receive a pain signal.When you block this ion a channel or the short circuit with drugs, the Highveld rats DID respond to AITC.

New Scientist New York TimesScientific American


GM fungus rapidly kills 99% of malaria mosquitoes, study suggests

Nevena Hristozova

  • We’ve been fighting malaria for really long time and with only moderate success.
  • One of the most efficient barriers to infection yet is an insecticide covered bed nets deployed first in Burkina Faso in the 80s.
  • Problem is, as with every type of chemical for disease prevention, the pests develop resistance sooner or later and in most cases – sooner rather than later.
  • Now scientists have returned to Burkina Faso to conduct another controlled trial to eradicate the origin of the disease by using GMO fungi.
  • The work of collaborators from the USA and Burkina Faso is published in the journal Science
  • Many attempts have been made before to breed a fungal species which would be specifically active against malaria carrying mosquitoes, but none proved good enough.
  • So scientists decided to engineer one by giving it a gene from a venomous spider which gets activated only when the fungus gets in contact with the mosquito equivalent of blood – it’s hemolymph.
  • The lab experiments with those showed the new super-fungus to be very efficient in killing malaria mosquitoes
  • Researchers together with the local authorities have created a testing ground in Burkina Faso for antimalarial products called the MosquitoSphere – it’s a huge area of the countryside, covered with mosquito nets so population-wide experiments on the mosquitoes can be done without releasing anything that hasn’t been shown safe to the outside environment.
  • In the experiment described in the paper by Brian Lovett and collaborators, the super-fungus eradicated 99% of all mosquitoes compared to the control insecticide groups.
  • Burkina Faso has adopted “approval on proof of safety” legislation for genetically modified organisms.

BBC HealthScience NewsScience


An experimental cure may also protect against Nipah virus

Amrita Sule

  • Nipah virus emerged in around 1999 and is primarily found in Bangladesh and India. The virus can cause severe respiratory distress as wells neurological diseases leading to pneumonia and encephalitis.
  • It is lethal in about 70% of cases. The World Health Organization has listed Nipah as an emerging pathogen, which has a potential to cause major epidemics or even Pandemics.
  • It is transmitted to humans via bats. Fruit bats are natural hosts of the virus and pigs are intermediate host. The virus can also be transmitted from person to person.
  • The recent Nipah outbreak in Kerala, India resulted in 23 cases and 21 deaths. Resurfaced this week – 1 case reported so far.
  • An experimental monoclonal antibody is the only current treatment, which was tested during the outbreak in India last year.
  • In a new study an experimental drug, which was mainly studied to treat Ebola, might be effective against Nipah virus too.
  • This antiviral drug- Remdesivir is currently underway to the Democratic Republic of Congo to treat Ebola.
  • This drug has completely protected African green monkeys against infection with a lethal dose of Nipah virus as reported by a collaborative study published by CDC and NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
  • For this trial, eight green African monkeys were infected with Lethal dose of Nipah Virus. Half of them received intravenous Remdesivir 24 hour post infection and then a daily intravenous dose for a total of 12 consecutive days. The four that did not, died within eight days.
  • The NIAD team observed the animal for 92 days and studies clinical samples intermittently during this time. Two monkeys developed respiratory illness- which was resolved in 2 week but the other two showed no signs of the illness
  • The drug has shown effectiveness against two other diseases with potential pandemic threat- Lassa Fever and MERS. These are preliminary studies in cells and mice.
  • Also, the viruses which cause  these have a very different outer shell, however, the DNA or gene copying enzyme known as polymerase share similar characteristics. Remdesivir targets this enzyme making effective against a more than once infectious disease.

New York TimesThe WireScience


Eastern European universities score highly in university gender ranking

Nevena Hristozova

  • Nowadays, when everything is metrics (whether that’s good or bad is a whole different story), universities set their development goals also by following internationally accredited rankings based on specific metrics.
  • Until recently, such metrics were overall or average impact factor of the published articles, number of students, number of collaborations, rate of open access publishing.
  • Naturally, some of the biggest institute’s names were always on top of those rankings – MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Johns Hopkins etc. So said rankings were kind of boring after the fifth time you’d see them.
  • Now though, a new factor has been included which made things suddenly much more interesting, but may be for the wrong reasons – gender balance.
  • The Leiden Ranking – out of the univ of Leiden in the Netherlands, created an algorithm to assess the ratios of female vs male authors of publications coming from respective universities and research institutes.
  • Out of nowhere really, the big names in global research were ranking much much lower than some much less known organisations.
  • The first American University ranked by this factor is the univ of San Diego on 42nd place!!!!!
  • Before that, almost without exceptions, universities are from Eastern Europe, South America and Thailand.

Nature


The Climate Lounge

Don’t you, forget about me…the corporate polluter

Tom Di Liberto

Ok folks, it’s time to stop being polite and start getting REAL. For American listeners of a certain age, that reference was just KILLER! For everyone else…sorry. It was a reference to the show Real World on MTV, which ostensibly started as a show where young people from diverse backgrounds were put into a house together to see how they interacted and hopefully grew. But eventually it just became a show that put a bunch of hot people from diverse backgrounds in a house to fight drink and have sex. Basically it started reality TV.

Today in the Lounge I want to touch on a more provocative topic that riles people up. In reality it’s not that provocative, but nuanced. However, in today’s world nuance is dead. And that topic is well…let me read you the title of the op-ed, ”You can’t save the climate by going vegan. Corporate polluters must be held accountable” by Dr. Michael Mann and Jonathan Brockopp in USA Today

Yes, let’s discuss individual action versus collective action on climate change. This is often treated as a battle between the two. Folks on one side asking “How can we convince people that climate change is a problem if we don’t advocate changes in how ourselves live?” Folks on the other side saying, “Focusing on the individual is a distraction from the things doing the ACTUAL pollution, the fossil fuel industry and corporations”. The answer of course is that BOTH ARE RIGHT. Everyone hear that before I get hate mail. BOTH ARE RIGHT. WE NEED BOTH. I’M YELLING.

The problem this op-ed is talking about, and one in which I agree, is when our efforts swing to one side too much. The op-ed starts off with a famous example of marketing in the United states, that of the crying Native American that first ran on Earth Day 1971. The advertisement was clear who was the cause of the littering problem, the major corporations that massively increased their plastic use damaging our environment, our pollution generating corporate practices… just kidding. It was us, not the corporations. A subtle difference that shifted the blame. And was it solved. No, of course not! Those corporate practices continued, and it wasn’t their fault. It was OUR fault. Looking back, it’s not that the whole ad campaign was a disaster. However, the Native American actor they used in that ad wasn’t even Native American! He was an Italian American…sigh. And now the authors of the op-ed are afraid this is happening again.

Of course, the authors are not saying that personal actions to reduce climate impact are bad. On the contrary, they say they are worth taking. They are just saying that if folks think the only way to combat climate change is to go vegan, or stop flying or move into a cave and berate anyone who isn’t doing what you’re doing, well, we’re screwed. If we make a purity bar for those who want to enter into the conversation on dealing with climate change, we exclude a lot of people and make us all look bad.

Not everyone CAN take personal actions that others can. If you’re poor, live in a food dessert, have medical issues etc, you can’t simply go vegan. So why exclude. On the flip side, and I want to re-emphasize this, if you CAN take personal actions, you should! BUT you should also be holding the fossil fuel industry, politicians and the whole damn system accountable too.  We need MASSIVE changes to fix climate change. MASSIVE changes to our energy grid, food production, transportation uses. And it’s not going to get fixed by debating whether we should all go vegan. (But I mean we should eat less meat).

It’s not an “either/or”, people. IT’S BOTH. LET’S DO ALL OF THESE THINGS! And let’s not forget who is the real problem here, not us but the fossil fuel industry, corporate practices and a political reality that makes it impossible to live as carbon-free as we like. So listen to THIS crying Italian American, and let’s get to work, talk with your family and friends about climate change, call your politicians, and oh yeah, don’t drive or fly if you don’t have to. We can do it all and we’ll need to because we’re all in this together.

Op-Ed


In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

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

Our hosts today were Amrita Sule, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember…follow the science!