21 July, 2021 – Episode 834 – Fly Me to the Moon, Mr. Bezos!


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This Week: You Will Assimilate, Viruses On Ice, Twisty Shark Intestines, AI Protein Puzzler, Not Spider Silk, COVID Update, Poo-Eating Pikas, Fish Friends, Butterfly Blues, Oceans Are Full, Song Rules, Rat Empathy, And Much More…

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The final frontier.
A place where one day mankind will watch
As billionaires build resorts on the moon,
And overtime regulation free factories on Mars.
The undiscovered country, from whose borders
No travelers tax returns are ever seen.

And while tax dodging billionaires live out childhood dreams
Of wearing space suits and launching their rockets
into suborbital altitudes and then
fizzing all over themselves with champagne upon completion,

Let us not forget that this is a great achievement for the commercialization of space.
And a rather modest admission that as a Nation, America will play no role in it.
When Nasa landed on the moon we did so as a nation…
And the words Niel Armstrong used, dedicated the event to all mankind.
Jeff Bezos made no such statement…
Well, he did thank Amazon employees for paying for it.
I suppose through starvation wages, unsafe working conditions, unrealistic time quotas, lack of job security, lack of health security, and an all around lack of respect for basic human dignity.
Never mind the unregulated outsourced manor in which most of the products the company sells are manufactured…
Somehow, those starvation wages equate to “Job well done”
You did it, you put one billionaire space cowboy into sub-orbital space.

Look around at the growing homelessness problem in “fill in the blank” city or town.
The housing epidemic, the lack of mental health programs, the growing expense of healthcare, the cost of educating the next generation, the stagnant spending on science research and all the rest and tell yourself…
At least we are all paying for billionaires to take publicity fueled joy rides instead of collecting taxes from them.
Job well done everyone.
Who needs public funding for society when you have that?
The limited public funding of science is however the only reason we can even bring you
This Week in Science
Coming up next…

Let’s start with some quick science news

You Will Assimilate
UC Berkeley researchers think they have discovered a new kind of extracellular genetic element that methane-munching Archaea swap like Lego-bricks. They’ve named them ‘Borgs’ for their ability to assimilate genetic elements. But, the big question is whether they are actually real.

Viruses On Ice
Thawing ice is releasing ancient viruses into the world.

Shark intestines: so all out it’s totally in.
Their amazing, unique spiral guts keep sharks full and happy.

Protein Structure
The Baker Lab out of the Institute of Protein Design at the University of Washington has developed an open-source AI for determining protein structure that takes only 10-minutes running on a gaming computer to find solutions to protein puzzles that are almost on par with results from Alpha-Fold, Google’s DeepMind Ai.

A word from a materials scientist about how to fight global warming
We need to start with what we’ve got.

Not Spider Silk
Chemical Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have used engineered microbes to create a synthetic spider silk that is tougher than the real thing.


Want a COVID Update?

Vaccine Approval
The FDA might take until January 2022 to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, but a report suggests ir might be as soon as early this fall. Additionally, we could see an EUA for kids under 12 in time for school, although several factors could keep us waiting for a pediatric vaccine until winter.

2nd Dose
Different from the 1st… Booster shots of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine stimulate the immune system to produce neutralizing antibodies, engage T-cells, and prime the immune system to ward off SARS-CoV2 significantly more than the 1st dose.

Infection Antibodies
The longer we live this virus the more we learn about our immune responses to it. A paper out in Nature Communications found that people naturally infected with SARS-CoV2 produce antibodies against the virus for up to 9 months following primary infection. They also found some individual had increases in antibody production that could be the result of re-infection.

Kid Immunity
Children who presented with mild or even asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 had robust antibody responses months later suggesting some amount of protection against future infection with the virus.

Orphan Epidemic
COVID-19 is leaving orphans around the world. An analysis estimates that a child loses a caregiver to the disease once every 12 seconds.


It’s time for Blair’s Animal Corner?

Pika-poop, I choose you!
Pikas survive the harsh winter like any of us might, eating yak poop. No?

Fish friends prevent you becoming food
Fish are able to more accurately respond to and recognize threats when in the company of comrades. Friendship can literally be life or death.

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What science news does Justin have?

There is no room for new life on the ocean floor
Bacteria have filled it up!

New species of Butterfly discovered in San Francisco
But, this isn’t the feel-good story you were hoping for.


Let’s finish strong with brain science from Dr. Kiki!

Song Rules
The mockingbird uses song production rules similar to those used by humans.

Help Your Own
Rats help other rats they know, and it turns out their brains are activated similarly to humans in the process. The results of the study highlight the need to find common ground between people in order to manage our ancient tendencies.

This Week in Science Questions!

The team behind the Blue Origin New Shepherd launch this week should be commended for the incredible work they have done to successfully launch people to the edge of space… safely! However, there is a huge conversation that needs to be had as private companies propel us toward space and other planets. What about Earth? Is space tourism for the very-rich really a goal that our planet needs as over-population, income inequality, & climate change grow ever worse? We’d love to hear your thoughts as we share ours every week on the show…

Do you have questions that you want us to answer? Send us your questions! We will do our best to have answers!

Leave us a message on our Facebook page, OR email Dr. Kiki!

How can you keep from looking like an idiot in public? Listen to the disclaimer from this episode of TWIS from last July. Justin doles out some fantastic advice. We also covered one of my favorite stories from 2021 that described how if you break the Earth down into tiny pieces, it’s really made of tiny cubes. Don’t believe me? Listen to the show!

This one from 2011 was full of incredible science. Can you believe we were discussing NASA’s Dawn mission 10 years ago? It had just rendezvoused with asteroid Vesta and was headed to dwarf planet Ceres to discover among other things that organics & water are present on these distant space rocks; leading to so many more questions about the formation of the solar system.

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