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BigBiology

 
 
 
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Is there a constant battle between our immune system and pathogens? Does the fighting ever end? Does the immune system do more than just provide defense against pathogens?

Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk to Fred Tauber, a professor emeritus of medicine and philosophy at Boston University, about how the immune system does more than just protect our bodies from pathogens. 

Fred has published a number of books on immunity and philosophy. Including his most recent book, "Immunity: the Evolution of an Idea," where he explores the ideas he discusses here in greater detail. 

 

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What is the connection between an organism's genes and its environment? Can the environment alter an organism's characteristics without altering its genetics? Can an organism alter its environment and change the course of its own evolution?

Tune into this podcast to hear Marty and Art talk to Massimo Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at CUNY-City College in New York, about how the environment can alter an organism's physical characteristics without altering its genetics, and how our ability to alter our physical environment may have altered the course of human evolution. 

Massimo began his career as an evolutionary biologist, and has published numerous scientific and philosophical journal articles and over 10 different books.  

 

 

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How do mantis shrimp punch as fast as a bullet… underwater? How do they break open one of the toughest materials on earth?

Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk to Sheila Patek about how mantis shrimp pack such a powerful punch and why we should care. For example, mantis shrimp hammers can be used hundreds of thousands of times to break open the tough shells of snails and clams, and this research may help inspire lightweight, heavy duty military armor.

Sheila studies the mechanics of ultrafast movements at Duke University. You may have seen her work featured recently by Science News (and numerous others) about the rules of animal fight clubs. But we can't talk about those.

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How do diseases spread from animals to humans? Is it possible to forecast where disease outbreaks will occur and when they will blow up into major health crises?

Tune into this podcast to hear Marty and Art talk to Barbara Han about how we track infectious diseases and whether we'll ever be able to predict outbreaks. Han studies the conditions leading to disease outbreaks in humans at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. Who knows, her research on forecasting disease outbreaks may even help predict and stop a zombie pandemic (think World War Z type scenario) from ever starting.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @bahanbug

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Is there a role for basic research in our society? Do scientists studying animals waste tax-payer money? How does learning about evolutionary biology benefit humans?

Tune in to this episode to hear Art and Marty talk to Carl Zimmer about the importance of basic research and the future of biology. Zimmer is an award-winning journalist for the New York Times, where he writes the weekly column, “Matter.” He has been a big proponent for furthering the public’s understanding of basic research, especially the importance of evolutionary biology. He is such a big deal that he even has a lovely species of tapeworm named after him (Acanthobothrium zimmeri)!

Follow Carl on twitter: @carlzimmer

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Is there a limit to animal size? Could Godzilla actually exist?

Tune into this episode to hear Art and Marty talk to Jon Harrison and Jim Brown

Jon Harrison (Arizona State University) studies the physical limits to insect body size and furthered our understanding of the giant insects that once roamed our planet. Luckily for us, his research indicates that Mothra may never exist.  

Jim Brown (University of New Mexico) famously put forth the universal quarter-power scaling law, which predicts how many ecological and evolutionary variables (including metabolism, life span, reproduction) of plants and animals change with body size. For example, his theory was able to explain the fact that all mammals average the same number of heartbeats (~ 1 billion) over their life time, regardless of how large they are (mice to elephants) or how long they live (3 years or 70 years)! Elephants hearts just beat really slow.  

 

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What is the role of random, stochastic events in biology? How does our body react to such events? Does the presence of random events in our brains give us the illusion of freewill? 

Tune into this episode to hear Marty and Art talk to Denis Noble, an Emertis Professor at Oxford. Noble has written over 500 scientific articles and 11 books but may be most well known for developing the first mathematical model of heart cells in 1960. Recently, Noble published the book: “Dance to the Tune of Life,” where he notably discusses the necessity and importance of random events that occur within and between our genes, cells, tissues, and organs.    

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Why do we drink alcohol? Are we just primates looking for a fix?

Tune in to this episode to hear Art and Marty talk to Robert Dudley (not to be confused with the First Earl of Leicester of the same name). He is a renown expert in animal flight at UC Berkeley, but has recently begun studying drunken monkeys to understand our attraction to alcohol.  

 

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