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 Gene Hack, Man

ENCORE Computers and DNA have a few things in common. Both use digital codes and are prone to viruses. And, it seems, both can be hacked. From restoring the flavor of tomatoes to hacking into the president’s DNA, discover the promise and peril of gene tinkering.

Plus, computer hacking. Just how easy is it to break into your neighbor’s email account? What about the CIA’s?

Also, one man’s concern that radio telescopes might pick up an alien computer virus.

Guests:

  • George Weinstock – Microbiologist, geneticist, associate director at the Washington University Genome Institute, St. Louis
  • Jim Giovannoni – Plant molecular biologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University campus
  • Andrew Hessel – Faculty member, Singularity University, research scientist at Autodesk, and co-author of “Hacking the President’s DNA” in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic
  • Dan Kaminsky – Chief scientist of security firm DHK
  • Dick Carrigan – Scientist emeritus at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois

Descripción en español

First released December 10, 2012

02/10/14



 
 Stranded

Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.

A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.

Plus, the Plan B that keeps astronauts from floating away forever … how animals and plants hitch rides on open sea to populate new lands … and the rise of the mapping technology that has made hiding a thing of the past.

Guests:

Descripción en español

02/03/14



 
 The Pest of Us

Picture a cockroach skittering across your kitchen. Eeww! Now imagine it served as an entrée at your local restaurant. There’s good reason these diminutive arthropods give us the willies – but they may also be the key to protein-rich meals of the future. Get ready for cricket casserole, as our relationship to bugs is about to change.

Also, share in one man’s panic attack when he is swarmed by grasshoppers. And the evolutionary reason insects revolt us, but also why the cicada’s buzz and the beetle’s click may have inspired humans to make music.

Plus, the history of urban pests: why roaches love to hide out between your floorboards. And Molly adopts a boxful of mealworms.

Guests:

Descripción en español

01/27/14



 
 Forget to Remember

You must not remember this. Indeed, it may be key to having a healthy brain. Our gray matter evolved to forget things; otherwise we’d have the images of every face we saw on the subway rattling around our head all day long. Yet we’re building computers with the capacity to remember everything. Everything! And we might one day hook these devices to our brains.

Find out what’s it’s like – and whether it’s desirable – to live in a world of total recall. Plus, the quest for cognitive computers, and how to shake that catchy – but annoying – jingle that plays in your head over and over and over and …

Guests:

  • Ramamoorthy Ramesh – Materials physicist, deputy director of science and technology, Oakridge National Lab
  • Michael Anderson – Neuroscientist, Memory Control Lab, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
  • Ira Hyman – Psychologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington
  • James McGaugh – Neurobiologist, University of California, Irvine
  • Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego; director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2)

Descripción en español

01/20/14



 
 Skeptic Check: Zombies Aren't Real

ENCORE Zombies are making a killing in popular culture. But where did the idea behind these mythical, cerebrum-supping nasties come from? Discover why they may be a hard-wired inheritance from our Pleistocene past.

Also, how a whimsical mathematical model of a Zombie apocalypse can help us withstand earthquakes and disease outbreaks, and how the rabies virus contributed to zombie mythology.

Plus, new ideas for how doctors should respond when humans are in a limbo state between life and death: no pulse, but their brains continue to hum.

Meet the songwriter who has zombies on the brain …. and we chase spaced-out animated corpses in the annual Run-For-Your-Lives foot race.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released November 12, 2012

01/13/14



 
 Can We Talk?

ENCORE You can get your point across in many ways: email, texts, or even face-to-face conversation (does anyone do that anymore?). But ants use chemical messages when organizing their ant buddies for an attack on your kitchen. Meanwhile, your human brain sends messages to other brains without you uttering a word.

Hear these communication stories … how language evolved in the first place… why our brains love a good tale …and how Facebook is keeping native languages from going extinct.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released June 11, 2012

01/06/14



 
 Animal Instinct

ENCORE Mooooove over, make way for the cows, the chickens … and other animals! Humans can learn a lot from our hairy, feathered, four-legged friends. We may wear suits and play Sudoku, but Homo sapiens are primates just the same. We’ve met the animal, and it is us.

Discover the surprising similarity between our diseases and those that afflict other animals, including pigs that develop eating disorders. Plus, what the octopus can teach us about national security … how monkeying around evolved into human speech … and the origins of moral behavior in humans.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released July 9, 2012

12/30/13



 
 Group Think

ENCORE If two is company and three a crowd, what’s the ideal number to write a play or invent a new operating system? Some say you need groups to be creative. Others disagree: breakthroughs come only in solitude.

Hear both sides, and find out why you always have company even when alone: meet the “parliament of selves” that drive your brain’s decision-making.

Plus, how ideas of societies lead them to thrive or fall, and why educated conservatives have lost trust in science.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released April 30, 2012.

12/23/13



 
 Some Like It Cold

We all may prefer the goldilocks zone – not too hot, not too cold. But most of the universe is bitterly cold. We can learn a lot about it if we’re willing to brave a temperature drop.

A chilly Arctic island is the closest thing to Mars-on-Earth for scientists who want to go to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, the ice sheet at the South Pole is ideal for catching neutrinos – ghostly particles that may reveal secrets about the nature of the universe.

Comet ISON is comet ice-off after its passage close to the Sun, but it’s still giving us the word on solar system’s earliest years.

Also, scientists discover the coldest spot on Earth. A champion chill, but positively balmy compared to absolute zero. Why reaching a temperature of absolute zero is impossible, although we’ve gotten very, very close.

Guests:

  • Francis Halzen – Physicist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, principal investigator of The IceCube Neutrino Observatory
  • Ted Scambos – Glaciologist, lead scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado
  • Pascal Lee – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute, director, NASA Haughton-Mars Project, and co-founder of the Mars Society. His new book is Mission: Mars
  • Andrew Fraknoi – Chair, astronomy department, Foothill College
  • Vladan Vuletić – Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
12/16/13



 
 Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup

Monsters don’t exist. Except when they do. And extinction is forever, except when it isn’t. So, which animals are mythical and which are in hiding?

Bigfoot sightings are plentiful, but real evidence for the hirsute creature is a big zilch. Yet, the coelacanth, a predatory fish thought extinct, actually lives. Today, its genome is offering clues as to how and when our fishy ancestors first flopped onto land.

Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker assumes mythic status as it flutters between existence and extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.

Guests:

Descripción en español

12/09/13


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