05 February, 2019 – Episode 757 – Life on Earth


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What is in the This Week in Science Podcast?

Global Biodiversity, Plant Life, Homeless Schooled, Grey Seals Clap, Cuttlefish Favorites, Violent Man?, Bee Beats, Coronavirus Numbers Update, Cat Defense or Coincidence?, People Yarn, Red Meat Bad, Super Spider Glue, And Much More…

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As a novel pneumonia inducing virus races around the world
out pacing containment efforts

As governments, media, markets and healthcare workers react
As the number of infected continue to grow
And as scientists work overtime to construct a vaccine…

Something to keep in mind…

It is well within our power to deal with this emergency
as with many other potential threats to human health
Through the ongoing investments we make in education
In research, and our public health systems.

Without the public investment
We would be unprepared to identify that an outbreak was occuring
Without the public investment
We would be unprepared to discover the source of such outbreaks
Without the public investment
We would be unprepared to react quickly, and in an effective manner
Without the public investment
We would be unprepared to survive this and much more lethal events
We are in this together, this world, this life, this experiment called humanity

And in a very direct way, nothing makes that more clear
than a pandemic that can cross all borders we set between us

That, and This Week in Science,
Coming Up Next…

Let’s start with SCIENCE!

Global Biodiversity
Research from and interdisciplinary team published in PLoS One reports the effort to map biodversity on land and sea in relation to influencing factors. The authors hope this is a step in developing predictions of future biodiversity in a changing climate, and plans of action to go along with them.

Plant Life
NASA’s ECOSTRESS instrument is allowing us to see plant life from space!

Homeless Schooled
10% of North Carolina State University students experience homelessness.

Finally, it’s time for Blair’s Animal Corner!

Grey Seals Clap Underwater
…but is it a slow clap, or a genuine one? What’s so impressive down there??

Cuttlefish say, “No Thanks, I’m Saving Room for Dessert”
These cephalopods hold back on food when they know their favorite dish will be served up later. Can they teach me how to do that??

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This Week in What Has Science Done for me Lately?!?

“Greeting TWiSian humans,
I am a greenhouse manager, growing grasses, herbaceous perennials, and bamboo for the wholesale ornamental trade. My undergrad education was in Plant Science and Agroecology, and I’ve become obsessed with plant pathology. I’m studying Bioinformatics at the graduate level while working so that I can once again live in science world, which is my natural habitat.

What science has done for me lately is: biocontrols. Natural enemies of arthropod pests, beneficial fungi and bacteria. I learned about this in my undergraduate work in the Penn State Research Greenhouses, mainly in the form of Encarsia formosa wasps, Aphidius colemani wasps, and Neosiulus cucumeris mites. In my current work as a greenhouse manager, I have moved my company away from the heavily chemical-dependent pest management system towards a much less toxic method of keeping our lovely plant babies healthy and beautiful.

I get to team up with such beautiful and proud organisms as Aphidius (a parasitoid wasp of aphids), Dalotia (a beetle broad-spectrum predator), Stratiolaelaps (a mite that eats fungus gnat larvae), Steinernema (a nematode that kills fungus gnat larvae WITH A BACTERIAL TOXIN PRODUCED FROM BACTERIA INSIDE THE NEMATODES!), and that’s just the macro-mesofaunal creatures! I get to put the Stratiolaelaps mites out onto the newly potted plants using a leaf blower with a funnel full of mites attached to the barrel. 5 year old me is so proud of 34 year old me! I feel like a general deploying troops to protect my citizens.

I also get to team up with wise, tough, and innumerable microbes with beautiful names like Glomus, Trichoderma, Pisolithus, Rhizopogon, Azospirillum, Pseudomonas, Streptomyces, and Paenibacillus. Some of these creatures parasitize pathogenic fungi, others make nutrients more available to the plant, others still competitively exclude the pathogens. It’s dazzlingly complex, and there’s so many unknowns…just the way I like it.

The science involved in this nascent revolution of biological plant protection is amazing, and I am humbled to benefit from countless careers’ worth of careful study. I dream of further biocontrols, such as a nematode that kills slugs. There is one available in Europe that is not allowed into North America because it just might kill all of our native gastropods! There is research into finding a good candidate for a North American equivalent.

This science has allowed me to go home with less pesticide residue on my skin and in my lungs, and more importantly, less damage to the environment and my coworkers. More broadly, my chosen science has given me purpose, and direction in life, and I am told on a near-weekly basis by someone that my obvious passion is inspirational. Purposeful living makes me brave, strong, and patient in my daily life.

Another thing to pass along to listeners who may be disappointed with their work if they’re not using their brain enough for their liking, as was the case for me a while ago: hack you job so that you end up doing what you want to do. I was depressed because I wasn’t a CAPITAL S Scientist, doing grad-school research (because I’m choosing to be a present parent for my teenage daughter) until I just made my job into that of a scientist. I’m addicted to data collection, and so have started managing Vapor Pressure Deficit by logging Temperature and Relative Humidity. I run experiments, which make me excited to go to work and get that data. So within whatever constraints are placed on you, I encourage you to bend and tweak your work until it gives you something rewarding.

I love TWiS because you guys have fabulous contextualization and incisive critical thinking, which allows me to better deploy the eyebrow of doubt when encountering popular science press. I’m low-key trying to break into the science communication world myself, mainly in regards to fungi and plant microbe interactions/phytobiomes, and shows like TWiS, In Defense of Plants, Ologies, TWiM, TWiEvo, Journey to the Microcosmos, Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t, The Brain Scoop, and This Podcast Will Kill You–to name just a few–give me zealous assurance that there is a market and hunger out there for the kind of wonky stuff that few people my personal life want to discuss.

Brodie Burl Pomper, B.S. Plant Science”

Contact us, and we will read it on the show!

Now, let’s continue with SCIENCE NEWS!…

Are men built to be violent?
Does that explain male upper-body strength?

Bee Beats
Counter to assumptions, the heavier a load of nectar, the more efficient bumblebees become in their flight. UC Davis researchers have yet to determine how the bees do it, but it appears they can decide whether to be more efficient or not.

Coronavirus numbers update
Don’t panic! Get your flu shot. Wash your hands.

Cat Defense or Coincidence?
A paper comparing in a protein in slow loris venom to the Fel d1 protein in cat dander suggests that cats might have evolved their allergy-causing protein as a defensive mechanism.


Let’s end with some quick SCIENCE NEWS stories!…

People Yarn
Researchers are applying textile-making methods to components of the extracellular matrix to make yarns for applications in the human body, like sutures for wounds.

Red Meat Bad
Another meta-analysis of meat eating, has found that contrary to a similar and controversial study from the Fall of 2019, eating red meat is bad for your health. The only meat that didn’t seem to increase your chances of death was fish.

Spider Glue Cuts through the Fuzz
This new discovery could put super glue out of business. The question is, how will I get my fingers get unstuck now??

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