On This Week’s Show

  • Mini black holes
  • Genetically modified rice
  • The California wildfires

Science News with JD Goodwin and Chris MacAlister

Astronomers Just Found the First Evidence That ‘Mini Black Holes’ Exist

Chris MacAlister

  • This is a story about a fascinating new discovery about a less extreme, extreme of the universe’s extremities.
  • Todd Thompson and his colleagues theorised that there may be smaller black holes existing as a part of binary star systems. Too far away to be sucking in material from the other sun, but still able to give us a clue to its presence.
  • The team have detected a star that moves between positive and negative Doppler shifts and have calculated that it is orbiting a mini black hole some 3.3 times the mass of our sun.
  • There is a chance that it could be a neutron star, however Todd Thompson says “I would actually be even more excited if that were true!” This is because the maximum mass calculated for a neutron star, before it turns into a black hole, is 2.6 times the mass of the Sun.  

Live Science

Block on GM rice “has cost millions of lives and led to child blindness”

Chris MacAlister

  • In parts of Asia impoverished families must live on as little as a few bowls of rice a day. This diet can leave people lacking in vitamin A and it is a killer; a significant one.
  • Vitamin A shortage kills more children than malaria and HIV and tuberculosis combined. Around 2,000 deaths per day.
  • Peter Beyer, professor of cell biology at Freiburg University in Germany, and Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland have developed a new type of rice, known as golden rice. The rice gets its golden colour from beta-carotene (the pigment that makes carrots orange). Aside from making it look pretty, the really important thing is that the body can use beta-carotene to synthesize Vitamin A. By simply changing the crop it could be possible to save thousands of lives each day.
  • Golden rice was developed last century, some 20 years ago; and as yet it has not made its way to the people that it was developed to help.
  • Why? Author Ed Regis has investigated this issue in his book “Golden Rice: The Imperiled Birth of a GMO Superfood” which was published last month.
  • The core issue appears to be the fact that Golden Rice is genetically modified. Regis makes no qualms about placing the blame at the feet of organisations like Greenpeace. Greenpeace claim that Golden Rice is a hoax; a red herring to divert attention from the real issue of the crippling poverty that is creating this issue in the first place.
  • Whilst Greenpeace haven’t helped the situation, they also aren’t the ones responsible for the complete lack of movement. That dubious honour goes to an international treaty known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which came into force in 2003.
  • Principle 15 of this treaty states that if a product of modern biotechnology poses a possible risk to human health or the environment, measures should be taken to restrict or prevent its introduction”.
  • Despite this, there is now finally work being done on trying to get these crops to the people who so badly need them. Steps have been made toward approval in the US, Canada and Australia (so countries that really struggle with malnutrition.

The Guardian

California Fires

JD Goodwin

JD goes on a well-deserved rant about fleeing a wildfire. However, the circumstances and ultimate result were very different this go ‘round.

In Other Science News this Week

  • Origin of modern humans ‘traced to Botswana’
    • A study published in Nature last week utilized mitochondrial DNA to reach the conclusion that modern humans originated in northern Botswana.
    • However, many anthropologists are saying “not so fast”. 
    • Problem is, mDNA is just one line of evidence.
    • Being mDNA also means that it is a small fraction of the human genome
    • They could very well be on to something here, but it’s way to early to draw conclusions.
    • Perhaps we could state it as, “mDNA study suggests origin of modern humans may be northern Botswana”
    • BBC Science and Environment, The Conversation
  •  Electric cars could charge in 10 minutes with a new kind of battery
    • A new type of lithium car battery may be able to power a drive of 320-kilometres with just a 10 minutes charge
    • To accomplish this fast charge the battery temperature must be raised to 60 °C during the recharge. 
    • High-rate charging usually results in one of the batteries electrodes getting coated with lithium blocking the flow of energy and eventually killing the battery. But this pre-heating protocol allows the battery to fast charge will no ill effects. 
    • This could be on our roads in as little as 2 to 3 years. 
    • New Scientist, Nature, The Guardian
  •  There’s No Evidence Cannabis Treats Anxiety or Depression
    • Wayne Hall at the University of Queensland, Australia, and his colleagues evaluated all the published and unpublished research between 1980 and 2018 on the use of cannabinoids to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and psychosis.
    • They found little evidence that medicinal cannabinoids helped to treat either the overall disorders or their individual symptoms. 
    • In one study of 24 people, THC actually made symptoms of psychosis worse.
    • 83 studies, total of 3000 participants
    • Only 40 studies were randomised controlled trials, the gold standard for medical evidence.
    •  The Lancet Psychiatry, Live Science, New Scientist
  • A Man Kept Getting Drunk Without Using Alcohol. How?
    • 46 year old man
    • Became prone to falls, aggressive behavior, and “brain fog”
    • Arrested for driving while intoxicated, but insisted that he didn’t drink at all…that he doesn’t drink
    • People were convinced that he was tipping the bottle in secret
    • Instead, he was experiencing Auto-brewery Syndrome
    • Stool samples revealed abnormally high levels of Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    • Further had the patient eat some carbs and the yeast converted those carbs to alcohol, which was detected in a blood test at 0.05%.
    • Treatment and close monitoring for two months seemed to do the trick, though he did have a relapse when he ate some unauthorized pizza and sugary soda
    • The good news is that his gut flora seem to be back in balance and he can enjoy carbs and all that good stuff.
    • BMJ Open Gastroenterology, Live Science

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

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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