Science Friday

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion with host Ira Flatow.

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Friday, January 9, 2015 Permalink

Science Friday: Can Exercise Change Your Genes?

CES 2015: Smart Mirrors, Autonomous Cars, and Safer Home Security

This week tech enthusiasts and journalists congregated in Las Vegas (some of them arriving in self-driving cars) for the International Consumer Electronics Show. Re/code reviewer Lauren Goode was there, and wrote of a home security system with facial-recognition technology, a self-driving Mercedes that runs on hydrogen, and a “smart mirror” that lets you try out a mustache or a new make-up regimen.


Can Diet and Exercise Affect Your Genes?

DNA has been called the building blocks of life, the blueprint that we’re born with that maps out the on/off switches for genes that are hardwired into our cells. The field of epigenetics looks at how exercise, diet, and other environmental factors can affect how those genes are expressed. Andy Feinberg, Director of the Epigenetics Center at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, and Carl Johan Sunderberg, a molecular exercise physiologist, discuss the latest in epigenetics research and how it might lead to new treatments.


Sifting Soils for New Approaches to Antibiotics

Many of today’s commercial antibiotic compounds were first discovered in soil-dwelling microorganisms. In a biological arms race, pathogens have developed resistance to those common antibiotics, leaving fewer options for doctors and patients. Microbiologist Kim Lewis and colleagues report this week in the journal Nature that they’ve been able to grow colonies of previously uncultured microorganisms from the soil, and have harvested from them a new type of antibiotic they call teixobactin—a compound that they say has both broad activity against a variety of gram-positive pathogens and the potential to remain an effective treatment for years to come.


A Broadway Hit, With an Autistic Math Whiz at Its Center

Christopher Boone, the protagonist of the hit play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, might be one of the most singular heroes to light up Broadway. He’s a 15-year-old math whiz obsessed with spaceflight and black holes, who’s dead-set on solving a neighborhood murder. And while it’s never stated explicitly, Christopher is on the autism spectrum. Actor Alex Sharp discusses how he brought Christopher to life while avoiding clichés about Autism Spectrum Disorder. And Autism Speaks’ Michael Rosen joins to talk about how “autism-friendly” performances can help those on the spectrum enjoy a night at the theater.


Diet Pill Mimics the Effects of Eating

When we eat, a series of chemical switches turns on, releasing bile, lowering blood sugar, and ramping up blood flow to the intestines. Fat stores are activated too, burning old calories to prep for the new ones in your meal. But now researchers have figured out how to hijack that process with a pill—no calories needed. Ronald Evans describes the finding this week in the journal Nature Medicine. So far, he and his colleagues have shown that the “imaginary meal” pill works in mice, helping them to shed extra weight. Can it do the same in humans?

 


The Cold Virus Seeks Safety in the Nose

Bundle up if you don’t want to catch a cold, goes the saying. Immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki and her colleagues probed that notion in a mouse study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Iwasaki describes how colder temperatures affect the immune system, which might allow the cold virus to thrive in the safety of a frosty nose.

 


Mapping White-Nose Syndrome’s Lethal Course in Bats

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that white-nose syndrome has killed 5.7 to 6.7 million bats in North America since it was first documented in 2006. Reporting in BMC Physiology, microbiologist David Blehert mapped out how the disease runs its course. He describes how the disease physically affects the bats and leads to death, and how this insight can provide more clues to stopping the outbreak.

 


Bill Nye on the Origins of Evolution

In February 2014, Bill Nye traveled to Kentucky to debate evolution with Ken Ham, a prominent creationist. Following the event, he set out to continue the conversation in what’s become his new book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. Drawing on the wonderment that spurred his own interest in science as a child, Nye approaches evolution as the bedrock to scientific knowledge and education. He also shares his concern that failure to accept evolution will prevent the U.S. from keeping pace with the technological advancements of other countries. Read an excerpt from Nye's book here