Jul 6, 2019
On This Week’s Show
- A weird star just rapidly dimmed and we don't know why
- Trump administration doubles down on anti-science
- Study of marathon runners reveals a ‘hard limit’ to human
Science News with Chris MacAlister, and JD
- Little green men were being given the credit for some brief and
irregular dips in luminosity of a star in the Cygnus constellation:
the fetchingly named KIC 8462852. Maybe I should call it Kate for
- Whilst we don’t know for sure what caused these dips, the
leading theory is that some interstellar dust may have been the
culprit. Which is slightly more probable than extraterrestrial
- But it seems that Kate hasn’t finished bamboozling astronomers
just yet. Anecdotal accounts of this star dimming between 1890 and
1989 lead Josh Simon and Ben Montet of Carnegie and Caltech to
perform a review of data from this star using a series of Kepler
calibration images that had not previously been used for scientific
- What they found was that over the first three years of the
Kepler mission, Kate dimmed by about 1%. Over the next 6 months it
dimmed 2% and remained there for the remaining 6 months of the
mission. Doesn’t that seem odd?
- It may “seem” odd, but that’s not how we do things in science.
So Simon and Montet compared this data with another 500 stars, to
see just how odd it really is. Turns out this is quite odd. A
handful of stars also dimmed over time, but none did to quite the
same extent as Kate.
- So how do we explain something like this? A collision or
breakup of a planet or comet in the star's system could explain the
rapid 2% dimming, but explanations are thin on what is causing the
longer term trend. Especially if it has been going on as long as
the rumours suggest.
Trump administration halts fetal-tissue research by government
- From the journal Science by Meredith Wadman on the 5th of
- United States President Donald Trump has ordered the
elimination of federally funded research that depends on fetal
tissue from elective abortions
- Will also be tightening regulations on non-fetal stem cell
- The result is that the Department of Health and Human Services
will no longer allow government scientists working for the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct studies that use fetal
- On top of that HHS also
said university scientists who want NIH funding
for such studies must now have each proposal examined by a
government advisory board.
- At least one theologian must be on that government advisory
- The Trump government is also killing a roughly $2 million
annual contract between NIH and the University of California, San
- UCSF has been a leader in stem cell research for
- Why did this happen?
- Special interest and lobbying groups encouraged Donald Trump to
make this move, and are delighted about the elimination of fetal
stem cell research.
- This new policy also means that any university researchers who
submit applications that pass scientific review and score high
enough to be funded by the NIH will have yet another barrier to
clear, a wall against science..which will be that government
- The Secretary of HHS can overrule the advisory board if he/she
- According to HHS, the new ban on fetal tissue research by NIH
scientists will put an end to three active projects.
- Including the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton,
- This project used fetal tissue to create mice with human-like
immune systems, and was examining whether an antibody might prevent
HIV from establishing reservoirs in the human body.
- There are currently clinical trials using fetal stem cells to
treat diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s, and even spinal cord
- And research using fetal stem cells is giving us a window into
understanding globally important diseases like the Zika and Nipah
viruses, HIV, and cancer.
York Times, Science
Study of marathon runners reveals a ‘hard limit’ on human
- A new study in Science Advances quantifies a “ceiling” for
endurance activities such as long-distance running and biking.
- When exercising for up to a few hours, it’s well established
the mammals max out at about five times their resting, or basal,
metabolic rate. But what about over longer periods?
- Study on the Race Across the USA in 2015. Runners covered 4957
kilometers over the course of 20 weeks in a series of marathons
stretching from Los Angeles, California, to Washington, D.C.
- Put on by Bryce Carlson, an endurance athlete and former
anthropologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette,
- Calories use was examined using, what I like to call,
wonky-water. Where the traditional H2O is replaced with harmless,
uncommon isotopes—deuterium and oxygen-18. This allowed the team to
trace how these isotopes flush out in urine, sweat, and exhaled
breath, scientists can calculate how much carbon dioxide an athlete
produces. CO2 production directly relates to calorie burn.
- They found that no matter the event, energy expenditure sharply
leveled off after about 20 days, eventually plateauing at about 2.5
times an athlete’s BMR.
- At that point, the body is burning calories more quickly than
it can absorb food and convert it into energy, representing a
biologically determined ceiling on human performance. After an
athlete hits this ceiling, their body must dip into fat reserves
- It also finds that pregnancy’s metabolic toll resembles that of
- It’s hypothesized that humans evolved their remarkable
endurance in order to hunt down large rewarding prey animals,
because human endurance really is impressive among mammals. It’s
also thought that this led to our species losing so much body hair
in relation to other primates. Now, those same metabolic
adaptations appear to allow human mothers to birth larger babies
with bigger brains we are now presented with another chicken and
In Other Science News this Week
- A “pumping” heart patch containing millions of living,
beating stem cells could help repair the damage caused by a heart
attack, according to researchers
- Sewn on to the heart, the 3cm by 2cm patches, grown in a lab
from a sample of the patient's own cells, then turns itself into
healthy working muscle.
- It also releases chemicals that repair and regenerate existing
- Patient trials should start in the next two years, according to
the British Cardiovascular Society.
- New DNA research shows that ancient Siberians may have
set the stage for the first Americans
- Northeastern Siberia hosted migrations of three consecutive
ancient populations that created a genetic framework for Siberians
and Native Americans today, scientists say.
- As each new population surged into Siberia they replaced those
already living there, but not without some genetic
- Teeth from two children unearthed at Russia’s 31,600-year-old
Yana Rhinoceros Horn site yielded DNA representing a previously
unknown population that the team calls Ancient North Siberians.
Those people migrated from western Eurasia to Siberia around 38,000
- Tiny plastic debris is accumulating far beneath the
- We recently heard that plastic bags and candy wrappers have
been spotted as deep as the Mariana Trench.
- Now, a survey of microplastics at various depths off the coast
of California suggests that this debris is most common several
hundred meters below the surface, scientists report online
in Scientific Reports.
- The researchers sampled microplastics in Monterey Bay at depths
from five to 1,000 meters.
- The team also measured pollutants in the guts of 24 pelagic red
crabs and eight mucus filters from giant larvaceans — both of which
eat organic particles about the same size as microplastics.
- Special protections are planned for minke whales and
basking sharks in their feeding grounds around Scotland
- A consultation has been launched on creating four new Marine
Protected Areas (MPAs) covering about 13,000 square kilometers of
- These proposals would also protect Risso's dolphins and a wide
range other life.
- The proposed sites are at the southern trench in the outer
Moray Firth, north east Lewis, the Sea of the Hebrides and Shiant
That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science
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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team
Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, and me.
I’m JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us.
And remember…follow the science!