Science Friday

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


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Friday, May 8, 2015 Permalink

Science Friday: The Oldest Bird, a Distant Galaxy, and the Beard Microbiome

The Oldest Bird, a Distant Galaxy, and the Beard Microbiome

In this week's news roundup, Rachel Feltman of The Washington Post tells us about the oldest-known specimen in the modern bird lineage, a seagull-like creature called Archaeornithura meemannae that lived some 130 million years ago in what is today northeastern China. Plus, the most distant galaxyknown to astronomers. And a critical look at a fearmongering study on the beard microbiome.

After the news roundup, it’s “Good Thing, Bad Thing.” You’ve heard the term “filter bubble”—the idea that website algorithms customize the online experience to weed out viewpoints we disagree with. But just how “filtered” is your Facebook news feed? science editor Andrew Freedman weighs in on a new study that attempts to answer that question.

Tales From ‘Big Pig’

Barry Estabrook's latest book began with a pork chop—a cut so "transcendent, red in color, and well marbled with strands of delicious fat" that it made him wonder how modern pigs end up on our tables. The result is Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat, a journey through the good, the bad, and the ugly of hog farming, from industrial factory farms—part of the "Big Pig" industry, where a sow is “nothing more than a piglet machine”—to small operations that raise the pigs behind those transcendent chops. Read an excerpt from the book here

The Science Club Looks Into the Heart of the Sun

Science Friday’s Science Club is back with a new challenge. Your mission is to teach us about what THE SUN does, is, or how it affects your life—using text, photos, video, or song. Science Club founding members Ariel Zych and Charles Bergquist describe the project, and how you can participate at home or in your classroom. And keep tabs on the buzz using the hashtag #ExplainTheSun.

Flash of the Disco Clam

Flaunting frilly tentacles and a curious ability to reflect light, these tiny aquatic anomalies are reminiscent of the flashy disco balls and shag carpets of the '70s. Biologist Lindsey Dougherty of UC Berkeley investigates the aptly dubbed "disco clam," revealing the molecular foundation for how the mollusks get so groovy.

MicroRNA and Cancer Therapeutics

MicroRNA are short non-coding RNA segments discovered in the last two decades. These short nucleotides play an important role in the regulation of gene expression and have been investigated as promising cancer therapeutics. Reporting in Cell Research, scientists investigated whether genetically modified plants could potentially deliver therapeutic microRNAs. Molecular biologists Kendal Hirschi, lead author on the study, and Ken Witwer discuss the possibility of these treatments.

Eugenia Cheng: How to Bake Pi

How can whipping up a hollandaise sauce help you understand number theory? Mathematician Eugenia Cheng says that “math, like recipes, has both ingredients and method.” In her new book, How to Bake Pi, Cheng cooks up digestible math lessons on everything from number theory to topology to category theory. Read an excerpt from the book here, and find out how to eat π pies here

Charting Music’s Big Revolutions

To learn how and when species evolved, evolutionary biologists turn to the fossil record. To learn how popular music evolved, evolutionary biologist Armand Leroi and his team peered into pop’s own “fossil record”: the last 50 years of Billboard Hot 100 charts. From a starting point of 50 years’ worth of audio data, the team crunched the numbers to yield some surprising insights. Among them: Hip-hop was by far the biggest musical revolution of the last half-century.

Animal Moms: From Lion to Mouse

Animal mothers come in all shapes and sizes. One could be a 60-pound octopus dutifully guarding her eggs for hundreds of days on end in Seattle’s Puget Sound. Another could be a tiny mouse mom learning the meanings of her pups’ vocalizations to better ensure their survival. Several scientists share stories of their favorite animal kingdom matriarchs with Science Friday, just in time for Mother’s Day.