On This Week’s Show

  • A weird star just rapidly dimmed and we don’t know why
  • Trump administration doubles down on anti-science
  • Study of marathon runners reveals a ‘hard limit’ to human endurance

Science News with Chris MacAlister, and JD Goodwin

Crazy Star

Chris MacAlister

  • Little green men were being given the credit for some brief and irregular dips in luminosity of a star in the Cygnus constellation: the fetchingly named KIC 8462852. Maybe I should call it Kate for short. 
  • Whilst we don’t know for sure what caused these dips, the leading theory is that some interstellar dust may have been the culprit. Which is slightly more probable than extraterrestrial spacecraft.
  • But it seems that Kate hasn’t finished bamboozling astronomers just yet. Anecdotal accounts of this star dimming between 1890 and 1989 lead Josh Simon and Ben Montet of Carnegie and Caltech to perform a review of data from this star using a series of Kepler calibration images that had not previously been used for scientific measurements.
  • What they found was that over the first three years of the Kepler mission, Kate dimmed by about 1%. Over the next 6 months it dimmed 2% and remained there for the remaining 6 months of the mission. Doesn’t that seem odd?
  • It may “seem” odd, but that’s not how we do things in science. So Simon and Montet compared this data with another 500 stars, to see just how odd it really is. Turns out this is quite odd. A handful of stars also dimmed over time, but none did to quite the same extent as Kate.
  • So how do we explain something like this? A collision or breakup of a planet or comet in the star’s system could explain the rapid 2% dimming, but explanations are thin on what is causing the longer term trend. Especially if it has been going on as long as the rumours suggest.  

Phys.org


Trump administration halts fetal-tissue research by government scientists

JD Goodwin

  • From the journal Science by Meredith Wadman on the 5th of June
  • United States President Donald Trump has ordered the elimination of federally funded research that depends on fetal tissue from elective abortions
  • Will also be tightening regulations on non-fetal stem cell research
  • The result is that the Department of Health and Human Services will no longer allow government scientists working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct studies that use fetal tissue. 
  • On top of that HHS also said university scientists who want NIH funding for such studies must now have each proposal examined by a government advisory board. 
  • At least one theologian must be on that government advisory board
  • The Trump government is also killing a roughly $2 million annual contract between NIH and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) 
  • UCSF has been a leader in stem cell research for years. 
  • Why did this happen?
  • Special interest and lobbying groups encouraged Donald Trump to make this move, and are delighted about the elimination of fetal stem cell research.
  • This new policy also means that any university researchers who submit applications that pass scientific review and score high enough to be funded by the NIH will have yet another barrier to clear, a wall against science..which will be that government advisory board
  • The Secretary of HHS can overrule the advisory board if he/she decides
  • According to HHS, the new ban on fetal tissue research by NIH scientists will put an end to three active projects. 
  • Including the NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana
  • This project used fetal tissue to create mice with human-like immune systems, and was examining whether an antibody might prevent HIV from establishing reservoirs in the human body.
  • There are currently clinical trials using fetal stem cells to treat diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s, and even spinal cord injuries. 
  • And research using fetal stem cells is giving us a window into understanding globally important diseases like the Zika and Nipah viruses, HIV, and cancer. 

NatureNew York Times, Science


Study of marathon runners reveals a ‘hard limit’ on human endurance

Chris MacAlister

  • A new study in Science Advances quantifies a “ceiling” for endurance activities such as long-distance running and biking.
  • When exercising for up to a few hours, it’s well established the mammals max out at about five times their resting, or basal, metabolic rate. But what about over longer periods?
  • Study on the Race Across the USA in 2015. Runners covered 4957 kilometers over the course of 20 weeks in a series of marathons stretching from Los Angeles, California, to Washington, D.C.
  • Put on by Bryce Carlson, an endurance athlete and former anthropologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
  • Calories use was examined using, what I like to call, wonky-water. Where the traditional H2O is replaced with harmless, uncommon isotopes—deuterium and oxygen-18. This allowed the team to trace how these isotopes flush out in urine, sweat, and exhaled breath, scientists can calculate how much carbon dioxide an athlete produces. CO2 production directly relates to calorie burn.
  • They found that no matter the event, energy expenditure sharply leveled off after about 20 days, eventually plateauing at about 2.5 times an athlete’s BMR. 
  • At that point, the body is burning calories more quickly than it can absorb food and convert it into energy, representing a biologically determined ceiling on human performance. After an athlete hits this ceiling, their body must dip into fat reserves for energy.
  • It also finds that pregnancy’s metabolic toll resembles that of an ultramarathon.
  • It’s hypothesized that humans evolved their remarkable endurance in order to hunt down large rewarding prey animals, because human endurance really is impressive among mammals. It’s also thought that this led to our species losing so much body hair in relation to other primates. Now, those same metabolic adaptations appear to allow human mothers to birth larger babies with bigger brains we are now presented with another chicken and egg situation.

Science


In Other Science News this Week

  • A “pumping” heart patch containing millions of living, beating stem cells could help repair the damage caused by a heart attack, according to researchers
    • Sewn on to the heart, the 3cm by 2cm patches, grown in a lab from a sample of the patient’s own cells, then turns itself into healthy working muscle.
    • It also releases chemicals that repair and regenerate existing heart cells.
    • Patient trials should start in the next two years, according to the British Cardiovascular Society.
    •  BBC Health
  • New DNA research shows that ancient Siberians may have set the stage for the first Americans
    • Northeastern Siberia hosted migrations of three consecutive ancient populations that created a genetic framework for Siberians and Native Americans today, scientists say.
    • As each new population surged into Siberia they replaced those already living there, but not without some genetic mixing. 
    • Teeth from two children unearthed at Russia’s 31,600-year-old Yana Rhinoceros Horn site yielded DNA representing a previously unknown population that the team calls Ancient North Siberians. Those people migrated from western Eurasia to Siberia around 38,000 years ago
    • Science News
  • Tiny plastic debris is accumulating far beneath the ocean surface
    • We recently heard that plastic bags and candy wrappers have been spotted as deep as the Mariana Trench. 
    • Now, a survey of microplastics at various depths off the coast of California suggests that this debris is most common several hundred meters below the surface, scientists report online in Scientific Reports.
    • The researchers sampled microplastics in Monterey Bay at depths from five to 1,000 meters. 
    • The team also measured pollutants in the guts of 24 pelagic red crabs and eight mucus filters from giant larvaceans — both of which eat organic particles about the same size as microplastics.
    • Science News
  • Special protections are planned for minke whales and basking sharks in their feeding grounds around Scotland
    • A consultation has been launched on creating four new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering about 13,000 square kilometers of sea.
    • These proposals would also protect Risso’s dolphins and a wide range other life.
    • The proposed sites are at the southern trench in the outer Moray Firth, north east Lewis, the Sea of the Hebrides and Shiant East Bank.
    • BBC Scotland

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast or any other podcast player of your choice.  

If you have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad you can get the Blue Streak Science app from the App Store. 

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team

Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, and me.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us. 

And remember…follow the science!

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