Biology

The Science of GMOs: Possibilities And Limitations

Apr 23, 2015
James Jerome, Flickr/CC

Genetically modified organisms are a favorite villain of the modern food debate, with claims they threaten human health and the environment. But while many of these concerns have been debunked, media hype around this topic often distracts from the facts. We’re digging into that, and the possibilities and limitations of genetic engineering.

Wikimedia Commons

We’ve seen this dance before: presidential hopefuls stumping in New Hampshire. On today’s show, we’ll talk to the official candidate from the Transhumanist Party who says we need a new political party and new tactics for the issues of our time.

Then, Jackie Robinson’s major league debut was an obvious, watershed moment in America’s troubled racial history. But we’ll look at a lesser known moment for American civil rights: breaking NASA’s color barrier and the story of the first African Americans in the space program.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Writers On A New England Stage: E.O. Wilson

Nov 6, 2014
David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with biologist, ecologist and two-time Pulitzer prize-winning author E.O. Wilson. Wilson has spent decades researching some of the biggest scientific riddles of our time - from the origins of human social behavior to saving disappearing species of plants and animals. He’s out with a bold new book that takes on nothing less than The Meaning Of Human Existence. He’ll discuss his ideas on where we came from, what we are and where we’re going.

Marko Kivelä via flickr Creative Commons

 

While hiking on Mount Monadnock this summer, I witnessed an odd phenomenon: nearly-motionless hovering insects with orange-yellow stripes over a dark body suggesting wasps or bees. The tight aerial formation of insects hovered at eye level in a shaft of sunlight over the trail.

The “Hover Flies” - sometimes called “Flower Flies” - belong to a LARGE group in the Order “Diptera” (the true flies). Those in the Family “Syrphidae” have only one pair of wings. All wasps and bees have two pairs of wings.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

One of the state’s biggest environmental organizations is finishing the fundraising for a 1,300 acre conservation deal in North Conway. Once it’s finished, the land will be added to the 4,000 existing acres of the Nature Conservancy’s Green Hills Preserve, where it will provide recreation for people, and habitat for plants and animals.

But before the conservancy closes the deal it wants to know what it’s getting, and to figure that out it assembled plant and wildlife experts from all over the state for a sort of naturalist marathon.

Famous Germaphobes

Mar 24, 2014
anyjazz65 via flickr Creative Commons

We wash. We sanitize. We might wash again, just to make sure. But in the end, we will probably allow ourselves to believe that it (whatever it is – a hand, a dish, a children’s toy that the dog confused for its own) is clean enough. We carry on.

At least, some of us do.

This is the time that all the germaphobes out there reading this raise their sanitized hands and say “Me! Me! That toy is not clean. For the love of Clorox – it is not clean!” Was this your reaction? You may be suffering from mysophobia, the fancy term for “fear of germs.”

Keep calm; you’re in good company.

Penn State, Kat Masback & Ricky Brigante via flickr Creative Commons and Josh Ritter

Today on Word of Mouth we're exploring the macro influences of the micro world. Then 99 Percent Invisible brings us a story about a menacing courthouse. (Perhaps a phantom menacing courthouse?) Finally, a conversation with Josh Ritter, whose album The Beast in its Tracks was recently released.

Listen to the whole show and click Read more for individual segments.

Mark-Spokes.com via flickr Creative Commons

If Valentine's Day alone were not a slippery slope, consider this question: Muskrat Love?

Science long taught its practitioners--biologists in particular--to avoid ascribing human emotions or attributes to animals. But are we not animals ourselves? For the past century, animals were afforded no emotions despite exhibitions of behaviors humans recognize as emotional: anger, revenge, fear, and love.

Taylor Quimby

While working on an upcoming story, producer Taylor Quimby got this audio of his dog, Angel-Rose, begging for attention.  He thinks she sounds like a tent zipper.  What do you think?

Vermario vis flickr Creative Commons

Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals. Neuroscientists point to the development of our social brain as key to the survival of our species; early humans survived by cooperating with each other in the rearing of children, by hunting in bands, by organizing night watches. A battery of research reveals that people still need people.

via wikimedia commons

Turbo is a big budget, animated, kid’s comedy about a snail’s dream to win the Indy 500, though the movie didn’t do as well as studios had hoped, one ecologist thinks it failed on a different level – accuracy. Fictional talking snail aside, Marlene Zuk argues that Turbo was another example in a long line of movies that misrepresent the biology of the animal kingdom. Marlene Zuk is an evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist and currently teaches at the University of Minnesota. Her recent opinion piece in the L.A. Times: “Animals to Hollywood: Get it Right” discusses the egregious errors filmmakers make when it comes to animals.

Travis S. via flickr Creative Commons

Fifteen-thousand years ago, nearly 100 species of large animals known as ‘megafauna’ roamed the amazon forest before going extinct. A team of researchers from oxford and Princeton University studying the ‘megafauna’s’ effects on the ecosystem discovered that they were crucial in maintaining soil fertility.  Chris Doughty is currently a lecturer in ecosystem ecology within the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, and lead author of a recent study: “The Legacy of the Pleistocene Megafauna Extinctions on Nutrient Availability in Amazonia.”

Kurt:S via Flickr Creative Commons

It seems like we’ve been hearing for years about a male birth control pill is in development that will  soon be available… so, what’s taking so long? Jalees Rehman is a cell biologist and physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He wrote an article for Aeon Magazine discussing what he calls “society’s failure to produce male contraceptive options beyond the condom or the vasectomy,” and spoke with us about the future of the male pill.

Tara Johnson

“Leaves of three, let it be”…even kids and city slickers know the rhyme for identifying poison ivy… how about poison sumac…or oak?  Even experienced hikers can have a tough time separating poisonous plants from harmless vegetation when deep in the woods…Tara Johnson is a field biologist and founder of the e-learning company Naturedigger.  Their new app “Rash Plants” provides a comprehensive pocket guide to identifying and dealing with outdoor irritants.

Wikimedia Commons

The twinkling fireflies of a summer night bring a little magic. If we think beyond the twinkling, we probably realize it is courtship in progress: the signals of males and females.

There are a couple dozen firefly species in New England, each with a unique series of flashes, from males in flight to females perched below. Beyond the magic, very few people have knowledge of the medical benefits as well: the use of a firefly's light-producing chemicals in bioluminescent imaging.

Texas A&M AgriLife

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How far along are we at developing algae-based and other higher yield sources of biofuels?                                                                                             -- Jason McCabe, Tullahoma, TN

mark i geo via flickr Creative Commons

You’ve likely heard about the seventeen-year cicada, last seen when the Macarena was popular. Long before the insects began to poke out of the ground along the east coast, the species was making headlines for its wacky life cycle. Nature has plenty of examples of biological oddities… science journalist Brandon Keim compiled a list of nature’s strangest life-cycles for Wired magazine.

Josh Mogerman, courtesy Flickr

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What exactly are Asian carp and why are they such a big problem lately?

                                                                                                            -- Lori Roudebush, Portland, OR

Hover Flies

Aug 30, 2012
Hope Abrams, via Flickr Creative Commons

While hiking on Mount Monadnock this summer, I witnessed an odd phenomenon: nearly-motionless hovering insects with orange-yellow stripes over a dark body suggesting wasps or bees. The tight aerial formation of insects hovered at eye level in a shaft of sunlight over the trail.

The “Hover Flies” - sometimes called “Flower Flies” - belong to a LARGE group in the Order “Diptera” (the true flies). Those in the Family “Syrphidae” have only one pair of wings. All wasps and bees have two pairs of wings.

Natural Design

Jul 20, 2012

We continue to evolve and learn from Nature itself. The Missoula Montana-based "Biomimicry Institute" promotes the study and integration of natural design principles and serves as a resource for students and researchers through workshops and curricula.

Bio-mimicry adapts natural systems which have evolved over 3.8 billion years of evolution to create more sustainable human technologies. Elegant and functional designs found in Nature have been used to create structures, complex machines, electronics and even transportation and communication networks.

We've all seen wildlife documentaries showing young animals—lion cubs, perhaps—wrestling, chasing, pouncing on their siblings. Observe household puppies and kittens and you'll see the same behavior: young animals at play.

Play is defined as spontaneous, energetic behavior with no apparent purpose or goal. But whenever there's considerable expenditure of energy, a closer look is warranted. There may not be apparent goals, but the true benefits of play are being recognized by a growing number of disciplines.