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Big Biology

Big Biology

By Art Woods and Marty Martin
Big Biology is a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology.
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Currently playing episode

Butterfl-eyes: The evolution and function of insect vision (Ep 69)

Big Biology

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Stability and change: Lessons from the Serengeti (Ep 72)
Why is the Serengeti such a special ecosystem? Why does it support so many different species, and what ecological processes regulate the enormous population sizes of its dominant large-bodied herbivores? On this episode, we talk with Tony Sinclair, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of British Columbia, about his new book “A Place Like No Other: Discovering the Secrets of Serengeti”. Since the 1960s, Tony has studied the bottom-up and top-down processes that regulate wildlife populations in the Serengeti. We talk about how he discovered the major rules of regulation, the unique geography and climate of the Serengeti, the major forces driving wildebeests on epic annual migrations, and the roles that elephants play in stabilizing ecosystems into alternative stable states. We also talk with Tony about the controversial topic of rewilding degraded ecosystems. Tony argues that effective strategies for rewilding emerge only from understanding the fundamental processes that shape ecosystems in the first place. Cover art: Keating Shahmehri
01:18:59
November 11, 2021
Please don't kill the bats! (Ep 5 Re-release)
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? In one of the earliest episodes of Big Biology, Marty and Art talk to Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, about her research on zoonotic disease, how we track the spread of infectious diseases and whether we'll ever be able to predict outbreaks.
51:55
October 28, 2021
A tattoo on the brain: The neurobiology of Alzheimer's disease (Ep 71)
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? Why are some people more at risk than others? What are the prospects for a cure and the best options for slowing the onset of symptoms? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Daniel Gibbs, a retired neurologist, about his new book: “A Tattoo on My Brain: A Neurologist’s Personal Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease”. A few years back, Dan discovered his genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which motivated him to chronicle his journey from treating patients with dementia to his own experience with AD. Over 50 million people worldwide are diagnosed with AD, yet we still know surprisingly little about how this disease arises at the cellular and molecular levels, and much less about why such a devastating condition persists in spite of what should be strong natural selection against it. In the episode, we discuss these enduring mysteries about Alzheimer’s, what it means to be an APOE4 homozygote, and what precautions individuals with AD can take to slow and best manage their symptoms. Cover art: Keating Shahmehri
01:05:03
October 14, 2021
The virus and the vegan: How the brain gains inference (Ep 70)
What is the free energy principle? How do our brains use active inference to manage uncertainty and stress? On this episode, we talk with Karl Friston, world-renowned neuroscientist at University College London, about his free energy principle. In order for the human brain or any other self-evidencing system (be it Earthly or alien) to exist, they must be able to make inferences about their environments, and adjust their internal models of the world to resist entropy. In the show, we discuss how Karl’s previous work as a psychiatrist led him to this theory, then take a deep dive into the free energy principle, discussing how it can help us understand stress, agency, DNA, and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Cover art: Keating Shahmehri
01:58:56
September 30, 2021
Butterfl-eyes: The evolution and function of insect vision (Ep 69)
What does the world look like through insect eyes? What biological mechanisms make their vision different from our own? And how might those differences influence their evolution? On this episode, we talk with UC Irvine evolutionary biologist Adriana Briscoe (@AdrianaBriscoe) about color vision in insects, particularly Heliconius butterflies. We discuss how their perception of the world has led to such massive diversification and how variation in the structure of the light-sensitive opsin proteins that detect light enable species to perceive the world differently. We also discuss how visual perception differences within species might shape behaviors such as pollination, and what ecological factors could drive visual system evolution across the tree of life. Cover art: Keating Shahmehri
01:06:19
September 16, 2021
Performance anxiety: How coastal invertebrates cope with changing climate extremes (Ep 68)
What do we mean by ‘extreme ecological events’? What’s more important to a population, more frequent extremes or changes to average conditions? How should we link the performance of individuals to the success or failure of entire populations? On this episode, we talk with Mark Denny, Stanford University professor of marine science and former director of the Hopkins Marine Station. In his 2019 paper, “Performance in a variable world,” Mark reviewed how organisms perform in highly variable environments -- a problem that has taken on new urgency as climates change. We also talk about extreme ecological events -- what they are, why they occur, and how they affect organisms. Often, extreme conditions arise from unusual combinations of otherwise normal patterns of variation in multiple underlying factors. Predicting the effects of climate extremes therefore requires holistic approaches to monitoring environments coupled with an integrative understanding of animal physiology and behavior. This episode of Big Biology is sponsored by the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Founded in 1892, Hopkins Marine Station is the oldest marine laboratory on America’s west coast conducting research that addresses fundamental questions at every level of marine biology, from genes to ecosystems. Cover art: Keating Shahmehri
01:11:15
September 2, 2021
Season 4 Preview (and more)
Season 4 of Big Biology will kick off at the end of August. Before then, Art and Marty have a few updates to share: We're looking for new interns to join our team and help produce the show! Also, we're hiring an executive producer to help with management and episode production. The application is available on the USF career page for a limited time - please consider applying! Please send us an email at info@bigbiology.org with any questions.
05:55
July 27, 2021
Foiling the flashy: How artificial light dims insect behavior (Ep 67)
Is artificial light at night partly responsible for insect declines? How does it affect nocturnal insects, especially fireflies and other species that need darkness to thrive? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Avalon Owens (@avalonceleste), a PhD candidate at Tufts University whose research aims to better understand the effects of artificial light at night (or ALAN) on insects. We discuss what light at night is doing to insect populations, why some insects are attracted to light, and how lights might be compromising the pollination services and disease risks mediated by some insects. We also discuss the fascinating light-centered behavior of the fireflies, specifically how man-made light disrupts their ability to find mates. We close with ideas about what you can do to help reduce the effects of artificial light on wildlife broadly. Spoiler alert: turn ‘em off or buy some damn curtains! This episode is sponsored by the Zoological Lighting Institute. Recognizing that natural light is a central aspect of animal health and ecological function, The Zoological Lighting Institute promotes scientific research to improve understanding of what artificial changes in light mean for animals and the human communities that depend on them. Through education on light pollution, ZLI hopes that proper and sustainable approaches to care and development of light sources can be taken by communities around the globe. Photo: Lupines and Fireflies No. 3 by Mike Lewinski (CC BY 2.0)
55:13
July 1, 2021
Old vaccines for new pandemics (Ep 66)
What has COVID-19 taught us about preparing for future epidemics? Can we trigger innate immune responses – our first lines of defense - to mitigate novel infections? Can we use live-attenuated vaccines (LAV) meant for other infections to protect us while we develop specific vaccines for new pathogens? On this episode, we talk to virologists Konstantin Chumakov and Robert Gallo about their recent paper entitled “Old vaccines for new infections”. They and their colleagues argue that we can fight novel pathogens, like SARS-COV2, by stimulating our innate immune systems with live-attenuated vaccines developed for other pathogens (e.g., measles, rubella, polio). Such an approach might buy us time, particularly for front-line health workers or the most vulnerable among us, while pathogen-specific vaccines are developed. Many LAVs are cheap, easy to distribute, and already available where SARS-COV2 is common but its vaccine is not. We talked with Chumakov and Gallo about the prospects of using the LAV approach for future pandemics, why we didn’t use them to control COVID, and the possible mechanisms by which these old vaccines wield their surprising power. Image: Number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of June 16, 2021 (collated by Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus). Total number of people who received all doses prescribed by the vaccination protocol. This data is only available for countries which report the breakdown of doses administered by first and second doses.
36:18
June 17, 2021
Mouse on a hill: The structure and function of agency (Ep 65)
What is agency? How does it evolve? Do non-living things have agency? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Tufts University professor Michael Levin about his recent article in Aeon magazine called ‘Cognition all the way down’. In it, Mike and Dan Dennett discuss the phenomenon of agency and what it means for biology, basic to medical. We discuss with Mike what it means to be an agent - whether you’re a metabolite, a cell, or a human - and how agency affects and is affected by evolution. We discuss how agents at different levels of organization influence each other, how agency research could change our thinking about the ethics of artificial intelligence, and how the internet has expanded collective human agency by broadening our cognitive horizons. If you missed our first chat with Mike on the role of bioelectric fields in development, tissue regeneration, and evolution, check that out here. Photo: Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman
01:08:13
June 3, 2021
The stall protocol: Diapause in the annual killifish (Ep 64)
How do organisms cope with long periods of tough conditions where regular life is impossible?  How do some animals turn down their metabolism to levels so low that they can appear dead?  How do animals emerge from such deep, low activity states? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Jason Podrabsky, a professor of biology at Portland State University, about diapause – a remarkable physiological state in which organisms turn down their metabolic rates to a bare minimum. Diapause is a way of living through harsh conditions while spending as little energy as possible. We talk with Jason about how organisms enter diapause, what happens inside them during diapause (more than you would think!), and how they reboot their systems to emerge from diapause. We focus on Jason’s work with the amazing annual killifish. In some species in this group, embryos can go into diapause and survive for months in the dry mud of ephemeral ponds, waiting for the next rain to arrive. Photo: Claire Riggs and Jason Podrabsky
01:09:53
May 20, 2021
Survival of the systems: The power of persistence (Ep 63)
Can selection act on ecosystems, societies, or planets such that some persist and others disappear? Must such systems reproduce to evolve? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute (@GSI_Exeter) and a Professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science at the University of Exeter. In his 2021 Trends in Ecology & Evolution paper “Survival of the Systems,” Tim outlined his idea that large, complex systems--such as grasslands, coral reefs, and even human economies--are subject to a kind of natural selection based on their ability to persist.  Tim argues that systems better able to extract and recycle resources will spread across landscapes and outcompete other such systems. This episode is produced in collaboration with Trends in Ecology & Evolution (@Trends_Ecol_Evo). TREE, published by Cell Press, is a monthly review journal that contains polished, concise and readable Reviews and Opinions in all areas of ecology and evolutionary science. It aims to keep scientists informed of new developments and ideas across the full range of ecology and evolutionary biology--from the pure to the applied, and from the molecular to the global. Visit: http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution.
01:08:42
May 6, 2021
Situated Darwinism: Organism-centered evolution (Ep 62)
Are genes the prime movers in evolution, or is causality distributed across multiple levels of organization?  What role do organisms play in evolution?  Could organismal agency, the propensity to respond actively to selective forces, affect standard evolutionary theory? On this episode, we talk with Denis Walsh, a professor and philosopher of biology at the University of Toronto, about his book Organisms, Agency, and Evolution. The Modern Synthesis, which combines Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendel’s theory of genetic inheritance, was a giant leap forward in our understanding of the evolution of populations. Denis argues, however, that the extreme abstraction required by the synthesis derails our understanding of evolution. What’s needed instead, he suggests, is renewed focus on organisms. Because organisms have agency, they in effect construct the environments they experience, which in turn affects how selection acts on them. This view reestablishes organisms – not genes – as the central unit of evolution, just as Darwin’s ‘struggle for existence’ emphasized. Photo credit: Blue Dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) by Saspotato (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
01:15:41
April 22, 2021
Decoding CRISPR: Jennifer Doudna and the future of gene editing (Ep 61)
What is CRISPR? Who are the key players behind its discovery? And what does it mean for science both now and in the future? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to renowned author Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson) about his new book, Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. We break down the rich history of the gene editing CRISPR-Cas9 system--from its initial discovery in bacteria to the current ethical considerations for using it in humans. We also talk about the life of Nobel Prize winning scientist Jennifer Doudna, who, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, initially proposed CRISPR as a way to edit DNA and modify traits to fight disease. We then close with a discussion of what CRISPR-Cas9 means for the future of gene editing and just how far it could, or rather should, go.
57:32
April 8, 2021
Human-assisted evolution: Conserving coral diversity (Ep 60)
Why are some corals more resilient to bleaching than others? How should we leverage genetic and epigenetic information to conserve coral diversity? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Hollie Putnam (@HolliePutnam), a professor at the University of Rhode Island, about threats to coral reefs and the steps she and her colleagues are taking to preserve coral diversity. Warming oceans disrupt the relationships between corals and their symbiotic algae, which can lead to coral bleaching. Warming also alters the composition and function of the entire coral holobiont, the diverse community of other organisms that live together with corals and their algae. Hollie’s lab studies the causes of coral bleaching and the physiology of coral holobionts, both to understand the basic biology of corals and to selectively breed corals that can better tolerate future ocean conditions.      This episode is sponsored by Journal of Experimental Biology. The journal is published by the Company of Biologists, a not-for-profit that has been supporting and inspiring the biological community since 1925. JEB is at the forefront of comparative physiology and biomechanics.
01:03:07
March 25, 2021
Feel the burn: The limits of human energy expenditure and endurance (Ep 59)
What can modern hunter-gatherer societies teach us about human energy budgets? What misconceptions do we have about weight loss and weight management? Are there limits to human endurance? On this episode, we talk with Herman Pontzer (@HermanPontzer) of Duke University. We discuss his new book Burn, in which he examines -- and in some cases overturns -- received wisdom about human energy budgets and human metabolism. Much of the book is framed around Herman’s amazing long-term studies with the Hadza, a group of modern-day hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. That work reveals insights into human energy expenditure, helping reframe our Western dogmas about diet. He argues that because our metabolism evolved to cope with starvation, weight management is likely to be much more successful if we limit what we put into our bodies rather than how many calories we burn during exercise.  His evolutionary perspective also alters how we understand and treat metabolic disease, and the energetic limits to endurance among elite athletes. Those fitbits we love might not be as helpful as we’d like!
01:03:22
March 11, 2021
Finding our voice: The neurobiology of vocal learning (Ep 58)
How did vocal learning evolve? What is special about human language? What brain structures are associated with speech and the many components of spoken language? On this episode, we talk with Erich Jarvis (@erichjarvis), a professor at Rockefeller University, about the neurobiology of vocal communication. Erich’s ideas draw on the amazing breadth of auditory and vocal capacities among mammals and birds - from learning simple sounds to imitating sounds to producing complex, flexible vocalizations. We also discuss the unique “circuit within a circuit” neural networks of parrots that allow them to create such a rich repertoire of sounds. At the end, we talk about human speech and about what sign language, singing, and our “inner voice” tells us about its evolution.
01:00:45
February 25, 2021
Georgia O'Keeffe and the Red Queen: Ecosystem services via coevolution (Ep 57)
What is coevolution? How has coevolution between insects and plants shaped human history and culture? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Rob Raguso, a professor at Cornell University, who studies insect-plant interactions. Rob discusses his work on diffuse coevolution between night blooming flowers and their long-tongued hawk moth pollinators, and how his and others’ ideas leading to geographic mosaic theory has helped us understand the evolution of novel traits. Rob says that plant-pollinator coevolution has had a huge and varied impact on human life and culture, well beyond its obvious effects on our agriculture. Coevolution between plants and their pollinators shaped our trade, our religious practices, and even the contents of our liquor cabinets. Photo: Robert Raguso
01:09:11
February 11, 2021
Bee kind: The buzz on global insect declines (Ep 56)
Why are bee populations declining? How can we reliably monitor insect populations when many are so cryptic? And what steps can we take to ensure that populations remain viable? In this episode, we talk with Dave Goulson (@DaveGoulson), a professor of biology at the University of Sussex. Dave studies the ecology and conservation of insects, particularly bumblebees, and he is the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Bumblebees and wild bees provide pollination services for over 50% of the food we consume—so ensuring their long-term viability is critical to our food security. Dave says that bees and other insects face many challenges, especially from neonicotinoid insecticides and from protozoan diseases and ectoparasites. We talk with Dave about the effects of anthropogenic stressors and the rapid action needed from individuals, farmers, policymakers, and governments to help maintain healthy bee populations. Photo: Pieter Haringsma
58:31
January 28, 2021
New content on Patreon, social media and our website.
We are jumping into the podcast feed with a few quick updates. We’re revamping our Patreon tier system to give you more Big Biology content. We also created a Facebook group where you can discuss Big Biology episodes with other fans and we're starting to upload transcripts for select episodes on BigBiology.org. Become a Patron: https://www.patreon.com/bigbio Join the Facebook Group Read the transcripts
02:23
January 19, 2021
Hot wings: How birds stay cool under the Australian sun (Ep 55)
On this episode of Big Biology we talk to Christine Cooper (@CECooperEcophys), a vertebrate ecophysiologist and professor at Curtin University, Australia. Christine’s research focuses on the thermal, metabolic, and water physiology of Australian mammals and birds. Her recent research, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (a sponsor of this episode), details how one small and common bird, the zebra finch, responds to prolonged and intense Australian heat waves. We also discussed the evolution of vertebrate endothermy and how various other animals have evolved to cope with changes in temperature. This episode is sponsored by Journal of Experimental Biology. The journal is published by the Company of Biologists, a not-for-profit that has been supporting and inspiring the biological community since 1925. JEB is at the forefront of comparative physiology and biomechanics. Photo: Christine Cooper
46:18
January 14, 2021
And the Oskar goes to: Germ-soma differentiation in insects (Ep 54)
What is a germ cell and why do animals separate germ and soma (body) cells at all? What molecules determine whether cells become germ or soma, and are some such mechanisms products of horizontal gene transfer? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Cassandra Extavour, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Harvard who studies the how's and why's of germ cell differentiation in insects. Recently, Cassandra's lab has been working on oskar, a novel and highly conserved gene that is indispensable for giving insect cells the ability to become sperm or eggs. She and others have found that Oskar effectively acts like a magnet in developing insect cells, keeping together molecules critical to transformation of undifferentiated cells into functional germ cells. Bizarrely, this really important gene is thought to have evolved partly through horizontal gene transfer between insects and particular bacteria. Since then, oskar has also come to have many other functions, including for nerve cell development, even though much of its history was in species without nervous systems. Cassandra thinks that genes like these with complex histories and pleiotropic effects might be very common in living systems, much more than longstanding one gene-one phenotype thinking would lead us to expect. Photo: Hannah Davis
01:02:51
December 17, 2020
Turn down the lights: The ecological effects of bright nights (Ep 53)
How has the amount of artificial light changed over the last 150 years? In what ways does artificial light affect human health and wildlife? And how can new lighting technologies ameliorate the effects of light pollution? On this episode of Big Biology we talk to Kevin Gaston (@KevinJGaston), a professor of Biodiversity & Conservation at the University of Exeter. Kevin is an expert on the ecological impacts of artificial light and in particular “sky glow”--the combined glow of all lights coming from cities and towns. In our chat, we discussed how light production has grown over the past several decades and the growing impacts that it's having on our planet. Further, we discuss some of the psychology behind the human desire for bright spaces and what we as individuals can do to reduce the impacts of light pollution on ourselves and the organisms around us. This episode is sponsored by the Zoological Lighting Institute. Recognizing that natural light is a central aspect of animal health and ecological function, The Zoological Lighting Institute promotes scientific research to improve understanding of what artificial changes in light mean for animals and the human communities that depend on them. Through education on light pollution, ZLI hopes that proper and sustainable approaches to care and development of light sources can be taken by communities around the globe.
56:55
December 3, 2020
Coronavirus III: Town Hall (Ep 52)
How can local and state governments repair the damage done by COVID-19? Is there a vaccine on its way to a pharmacy near you? And what should you expect about lockdowns, facemasks, and new COVID-19 therapies in the coming months? On this episode of Big Biology, a panel of experts discusses the virus’s trajectory and impact, and our options going forward. This conversation was recorded live at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, in partnership with the University of South Florida College of Public Health and Morsani College of Medicine and the City of Tampa. The panel consisted of Jane Castor, the mayor of Tampa, Kami Kim, a physician and professor who specializes in infectious diseases, Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist focused on the population ecology of disease transmission, and Michael Teng, an immunologist with expertise in vaccine development. We moderate as the experts look ahead, and discuss what we can expect long-term. Photo: Allison Long
01:11:01
November 19, 2020
A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and Contingency (Ep 51)
What is the role of chance in explaining variation in biology? How has it shaped the history of life on Earth? And how do scientists incorporate chance into their performing experiments? In this episode of BigBiology, we talk to Sean Caroll, an award-winning scientist, author, educator and, film-producer about his latest book, A Series of Fortunate Events, in which he writes about how chance has shaped life on Earth. In Sean’s view, chance is the creative process and contingency is the aftermath of chance. Consider the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs and paved the way for the rise of mammals and ultimately humans. It could have missed our planet altogether. Or it could have hit 30 minutes earlier, or later, landing in the ocean and having effects that were much less severe. Sean argues that chance is not limited to biology but plays a big role society including the entertainment industry. The common theme between thinkers and comedians is that they tell the truth, but in a very different way. How do comedians get away with bold statements while scientists run into a controversy for the same ideas? Do scientists have something to learn from comedians?
57:57
November 5, 2020
Big Blue: How whales evolved to become ocean titans (Ep 50)
Are whales the biggest animals to have ever lived? Why have they evolved to become so gigantic? What key adaptations support their immense size? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to Jeremy Goldbogen (@GoldbogenLab), a scientist at the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University. For the past few years he has been tracking blue whales, aiming to understand how their physiology sustains their massive size, and how food and environment play a role in whale gigantism. We talk about the evolution of extreme size, whether modern whales are bigger than the largest dinosaurs, how whale hearts are adapted for deep sea diving, and the fascinating innovations that both toothed and baleen whales have evolved to get the most out of a meal. This episode of Big Biology is sponsored by Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. Founded in 1892, Hopkins Marine Station is the oldest marine laboratory on America’s west coast conducting research that addresses fundamental questions at every level of marine biology, from genes to ecosystems.
52:12
October 22, 2020
The Vital Question: The Chemistry of Early Life (Ep 49)
How did life originate on Earth? Why is it that eukaryotes but not bacteria or archaea evolved large size and complicated body forms? How likely is that life has arisen independently elsewhere in the universe? On this episode, we talk with Nick Lane, a biochemist and professor at University College London, about his 2015 book The Vital Question. Nick argues that protolife arose in alkaline hydrothermal vents deep in the early Earth’s oceans. The key early event was the evolution of metabolism powered by proton gradients. In other words, metabolism came first, and all of the rest of traits we think of as universal to life -- DNA, RNA, proteins, transcription, and translation -- came later. He also invokes an energetic perspective on the origin of eukaryotes, arguing that the acquisition of mitochondria distributed energy production through the cell volume, provided vastly more energy per gene, and allowed the dramatic expansion of eukaryotic genomes that in turn support the astonishing diversity of eukaryotic forms we see today. Photo: Cryo-TEM shots of ‘protocells’ from Nick Lane
01:02:02
October 8, 2020
An 8-legged Bite: The Evolution of Venom in Spiders and Beyond (Ep 48)
How did the Brown Recluse get its powerful bite? How widespread is venom across the tree of life? How do spiders use their venoms?  On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with spider venom expert Greta Binford (@gretabinford), a Biology Professor and Biology Department Chair at Lewis & Clark University. Her lab explores the vast chemical richness of spider venom and how those venoms have evolved. We talked with Greta about the function of venom, how it’s evolved throughout the tree of life, and the surprising role horizontal gene transfer--the idea that genes can jump sideways from one species into another--may have played in the origins of spider venom. Also, we get her candid thoughts on some cult spider horror flicks. We also cover her 2018 paper on venom protein evolution, which you can find here Podcast art: Rosa Pineda
46:25
September 24, 2020
The Origin of Us: Human evolution (Ep 47)
Where, when, and how did Homo sapiens appear? What do we know about the complex set of ancestral hominins that preceded us? How recently did other hominin lineages live and what happened to them? In this episode we talk with Kate Wong, a senior editor at Scientific American, about her latest article, The Origin of Us. Our understanding of hominin evolution over the past several million years has been transformed by exciting new fossil finds and new DNA sequence data. We talk with Kate about the biggest news, the luxuriant evolutionary bush from which our ancestors emerged in Africa, and her favorite fossil species. Episode art: Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History via Wikimedia Commons. hairymuseummatt (original photo), DrMikeBaxter (derivative work) (CC BY-SA 2.0)"
58:59
September 10, 2020
Smarthropods: Cognition in Insects (Ep 46)
Which animals are conscious, and how can we tell? Does it matter? Although many people think of insects as simple organisms that react in preprogrammed ways to their environments, scientists know increasingly that insect have subtle and complex forms of behavior and learning. But are they conscious? On this episode, we talk with Lars Chittka, a biologist at Queen Mary University of London who studies the evolution of sensory systems and cognition in insects. Lars studies how bumblebees and other insects solve complex problems, and his results show unequivocally that they are incredibly flexible and creative. They clearly are not organic robots. In Lars’s experiments, bees learn how to roll balls onto targets by watching other bees, they secure rewards by using tools, and they even plan for the future and store representations of objects in their minds. This last trait many scientists thought was restricted just to vertebrates.
37:43
August 27, 2020
CROSSOVER: On Coronavirus, Crisis, and Creative Opportunity with David Krakauer (Complexity podcast from the Santa Fe Institute)
This podcast was originally broadcast by Complexity, a podcast from the Santa Fe Institute on April, 20 2020. Big Biology has featured several scientists connected to the Santa Fe Institute, and now SFI has its own podcast called Complexity. You can listen to all of their episodes here: https://complexity.simplecast.com/ This episode, as well as show notes, are available here: https://complexity.simplecast.com/episodes/29 Complexity features wide-ranging conversations with the Santa Fe Institute’s scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and artists who are trying to understand the deepest mysteries of the universe. The show covers a huge range of topics, delving into social science or economics as often as biology. We really encourage you to check it out On this podcast, host Michael Garfield and SFI President David Krakauer discuss a series of essays by SFI scientists that try to makes sense of what the world will look like after the coronavirus pandemic.  You can read those essays here: https://www.santafe.edu/research/projects/transmission-sfi-insights-covid-19
44:14
August 26, 2020
Season 3 Preview
The first episode of season three is coming out later this week. Here's a taste of what's coming up. Right now, we're looking for a few interns to join our team. If you love Big Biology and you're interested in science communication send us an application at www.bigbiology.org/jobs
02:39
August 24, 2020
RE-RUN: Tangling the Tree of Life
Today we’re replaying of our discussion with science writer David Quammen. We talked with him in 2018 about his most recent book, the Tangled Tree, which explores the influence of horizontal gene transfer on the evolution of life on Earth. But right now, it’s one of his previous books that is essential reading. In 2012, he published a book called Spillover that described the risk of new diseases jumping from wildlife to humans. Now, we’re seeing that scenario play out in a big way with the coronavirus pandemic. In May, he wrote an article in the New Yorker arguing that the U.S. has one of the worse coronavirus outbreaks in the world because it failed to learn from previous pandemics. You should definitely check out both books, and his recent article.  Photo: Ronan Donovan
01:15:56
August 6, 2020
RE-RUN: Information, Aliens and the Origin of Life
This episode was originally published in 2018. It's one of our most popular episodes of all time, so we decided to run it again while we're in between seasons. Look for new Big Bio episodes in August.  What is life? How did life arise from non-life? What did life look like at its origin? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Sara Walker, an expert in astrobiology and theoretical physics at Arizona State University. They discuss how life might have arisen on Earth and why biologists and physicists should work together to find a theory of life. Her ideas could help decide what to do about artificial intelligence (SPOILER: The robots will take over, but it’s going to be OK). They might also help us find life on other planets.
01:04:04
July 23, 2020
Ep 45: Student Spotlight
How are early stage scientists pushing biology forward?  What’s it like to be a graduate student during a global pandemic? Over the last several months, we’ve been collecting short audio clips from biology students describing their research. Associate Producer Michael Levin spearheaded the project, which we called the Student Spotlight. On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with four students who submitted the best audio clips for that project. We talked about their science, and also asked them about the most important areas for future research, advice for future biology students and what it’s like to be a young scientist when a global pandemic is making the future uncertain. The episode features Andrew Burchill at Arizona State; Ruth Demree, who recently graduated from Vassar; and Jason Hagani and Laura Plimpton, both at Columbia
01:07:39
June 25, 2020
Ep 44: The Science of Slime
What’s the slimiest fish on Earth? Why are they so slimy? And can we leverage our understanding of slime to make better bioengineered materials? In this episode we talk with Doug Fudge, an Associate Professor at Chapman University, about his research on hagfish slime. Over the past 20 years, Doug and his lab and collaborators have figured out how and why hagfish produce slime, how the slime’s remarkable properties emerge from its underlying chemistry, and whether the protein threads in slime can be used to make bio-inspired fabrics that are greener, better, and longer lasting. A significant portion of Doug’s work has been published in Journal of Experimental Biology, including this 2005 paper on the composition and structure of hagfish slime and this 2006 paper testing a key hypothesis about how hagfish use slime to defend themselves from predators. Fudge’s lab published recent papers on how slime glands refill after they eject their slimy contents and how they chemically stabilize coiled threads inside the glands before they are ejected. Papers in other journals explore how slime threads can be used to make bio-inspired fabrics and how slime threads are constructed and mature inside slime glands.
59:52
June 12, 2020
Ep 43: Project ICARUS
What can we learn from animals by constantly tracking their movements with transmitters? How can we use information from collectives of animals to study and predict disease spread, earthquakes, and outbreaks of pests? How do you transform a massive, international scientific idea into a reality? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Martin Wikelski, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior. Martin leads Project ICARUS, an international collaboration aiming to track thousands of tagged animals at once from space. We talked with him about the long road to getting the project off the ground and what will ultimately learn from this new and powerful tool. Photo: © MPIAB Jacob Stierle
01:08:34
May 28, 2020
Ep 42: Fatal Fungus
Why are amphibians across the world dying from a fungal infection? Where did the fungus come from? How does it kill and are populations adapting? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Craig Franklin, a biologist at the University of Queensland and the director of research for the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, about the history and distribution of the fungus, how it’s killing so many species, and what we can do to save them. Cover photo by Brian Gratwicke.
42:05
May 15, 2020
Ep 41: Coronavirus II
Where did the new coronavirus come from? How can we be on the lookout for new diseases emerging from animals? Now that the coronavirus has infected humans, what’s the best path forward? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Andy Dobson, a disease ecologist at Princeton University who studies epidemics like the current COVID-19 outbreak. We talked with him about the possible animal origins of the virus, the best way to control its spread and strategies to avoid the next pandemic. Andy emphasizes that we shouldn’t blame wildlife for the coronavirus outbreak. It’s human behavior that led to this problem, and it’s human behavior that’s going to have to change to avoid the next ones. This episode is dedicated to Robert May,
45:54
April 30, 2020
We need your help to make season three!
We’re getting ready for season three next fall. We already have a bunch of great guests lined up to talk about the evolution of venom, insect intelligence and human evolution. But we need your financial support to make that happen. Our goal is to raise at least $1,500 from listeners. If we aren’t able to accomplish that, we’ll need to drastically scale back production for season three. We know this is a tough time to ask for your help, but if you’re able, we would really appreciate your financial support. We know our listeners love Big Biology. If you want it to continue in its current format then go to our Patreon page Patreon.com/bigbio and make a recurring donation. You can also make a one time donation at our website: bigbiology.org. This is a make or break moment for the podcast and we need our listeners to support us. You can make a donation at Patreon.com/bigbio and BigBiology.org. Thanks so much for listening. We hope all of you are staying safe!
01:50
April 21, 2020
Ep 40: Songbird Scents
How do hormones like testosterone coordinate important activities in an animal’s life, and how might those activities tradeoff with one another? How do the microbial communities living on birds affect the scents they give off, and how do those scents influence the birds’ choices of mates? In this episode, we talk with Ellen Ketterson, an evolutionary biologist at Indiana University, Bloomington, about her work on juncos in North America. We discuss Ellen’s early research on how testosterone modulates life history characteristics of male juncos. We also discuss her more recent work on bird microbiomes and their roles in bird olfaction and mating, and the physiological underpinnings of migratory behaviors. Finally, we talk about some big ideas about the philosophy of doing biology -- including the value of building scientific efforts around model versus natural systems, paths to integration in biology, and how to mentor students effectively.
01:11:47
April 16, 2020
Ep 39: Bioelectric Computation
How do animals construct tissues, organs, and limbs in the right places during development? How do some animals manage to regenerate missing body parts? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University who studies how electric fields inside animals guide cells during development and regeneration. His work shows that electric fields play fundamental roles in structuring body plans and, in some species, can even be inherited across generations.
01:09:23
April 2, 2020
Ep 38: Coronavirus
How is COVID-19 transmitted and how broad will the pandemic become? What can mathematical models of infectious disease tell us? What are steps we can take now to slow the spread? On this episode of Big Biology, we speak with John Drake, the Director of the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases at the University of Georgia, who has been working with the CDC to understand the dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak and to identify strategies for slowing its spread.
33:59
March 17, 2020
Ep 37: Loading the Dice
What forms of consciousness exist in the natural world? What roles did associative learning and episodic like memory play in its origins?  Does consciousness have a function, and is it an adaptation? On this episode of Big Biology, we speak with Eva Jablonka from the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv, and Moncy Ginsburg, a neurobiologist formerly from the Open University of Israel, about their book called "The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul." We discuss how Universal Associative Learning led to the evolution of consciousness. Cover art by Anna Zeligowski.
01:08:12
March 13, 2020
Ep 36: Intentional Evolution
Is there a role for agency in evolution? Do organismal efforts to maintain homeostasis represent a form of biological intentionality? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Scott Turner, a physiologist and emeritus professor of Biology from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Scott’s book, Purpose and Desire, discusses how holes in standard evolutionary theory might be productively filled by the concept of homeostasis. Scott argues that by attempting to maintain metabolism and exporting entropy to the environment, organisms manifest a form of agency that can affect the evolution of their lineages. His book and ideas have met with some criticism, and in the show, we confront him about whether his position is subtle intelligent design theory.
01:38:48
February 27, 2020
Ep 35: PruittData
What led to a recent series of research paper retractions in behavioral ecology? How do scientists trust the data their collaborators share? Earlier this year, several journals retracted papers using data collected by the biologist, Jonathan Pruitt, data that upon inspection were found to have several problems. On this episode, we talk with Dan Bolnick, Editor-in-Chief of The American Naturalist, one of the journals involved in the retractions. We talked with Dan about how he and others discovered the problems, the current status of the investigation, and the consequences of the flawed data for other authors on the retracted papers and the field as a whole. Check out our website, bigbiology.org, for more resources on this topic. Episode art: Bernard Dupont (CC BY-SA 2.0)
35:28
February 17, 2020
Ep 34: Matrix Matters
What is sensory drive, and how has it affected the evolution of communication? How do surf perch and other animals sense and signal in noisy environments? On this episode of Big Biology, in front of a live audience at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, we talk with Molly Cummings, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. We discuss the balance animals must strike between standing out and blending in to the places they live.
53:49
February 13, 2020
Ep 33: Magic Puzzle Box
What is Maxwell's demon, and what is its role in biology? How do molecular demons underpin life? Does life really defy entropy? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and the Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. His recent book, "The Demon in the Machine," tackles Schrodinger's big question "What is life?," arguing that information is the key that distinguishes living from non-living things. You can learn more about Paul’s book as well as his other work on the role of information in biology via our website: bigbiology.org.
01:02:46
January 30, 2020
Ep 32: Diluting Disease
How is declining biodiversity affecting the occurrence and spread of Lyme disease? Is there a way to reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases using ecological approaches? On this episode of Big Biology we talk with Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld, two disease ecologists working at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Felicia is a professor at Bard College, and Rick is a staff scientist at the Cary Institute. They study the ecology of tick-borne illnesses including a remarkable phenomenon called the dilution effect. In front of a live audience, we discussed the dilution effect, a term Felicia and Rick coined 20 years ago that is based on their study of ticks, mice and the causative agent of Lyme disease, a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. White-footed mice, which are common in the forests of the eastern and central U.S., are especially good at carrying Borrelia and are often responsible for passing it on to ticks. Felicia and Rick observed that biodiverse ecosystems tend to have fewer infected ticks and hence lower rates of Lyme infection. In other words, high host diversity dilutes the risk of disease.
50:14
January 16, 2020
Ep 31: Methusalicious
If natural selection is constantly ridding lineages of detrimental traits, why do all organisms wear down with age? Why does restricting the diet slow down the aging process? On this episode of Big Biology we talk with Jenny Regan and Dan Nussey, scientists at the University of Edinburgh who study why some organisms age at different rates and what phenotypic plasticity might have to do with this with variation. We discuss how aging happens, why species vary, and some of the major theories scientists use to explain it. We also discuss a paper that Jenny and Dan recently published in Functional Ecology, which proposes an evolutionary explanation for the life-extending effects of diet restriction. Their idea is that mechanisms that evolved to coordinate phenotypically plastic responses ultimately underpin aging. Read Jenny and Dan’s recently published Functional Ecology paper that describes why diet restriction has anti-aging effects.
01:07:44
December 30, 2019
Happy Holidays!
Make a donation to Big Biology through Patreon at Patreon.com/bigbio or at bigbiology.org
06:59
December 14, 2019
Ep 30: Know Your 'Ome
What can direct-to-consumer genetic companies tell us about our health and ancestry? How do scientists figure out which genes affect particular traits? Is Art related to a Nigerian prince? Is Marty a Neanderthal? On this episode of Big Biology we talk with Samantha Esselmann and Ruth Tennen, product scientists at 23andMe, about how the company uses its massive trove of data to help people learn about the genetics of their ancestry and health. We talk about the accuracy of results and what the numbers in their reports say about us. Samantha and Ruth work closely with 23andMe’s population geneticists and content writers to develop engaging scientific content for 23andMe's health reports and educational initiatives. Samantha has a PhD in Neuroscience from UCSF. Ruth got her PhD in Cancer Biology from Stanford and served as a science policy fellow at the State Department.
50:56
December 6, 2019
Ep 29: Lick Your Kids
How important are pathways other than DNA for transmitting traits from one generation to the next? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to neuroscientist Frances Champagne from the University of Texas at Austin. Using rodents, Frances studies how early-life experiences affect epigenetic marks and how those marks are passed from one generation to the next. We asked her how those marks influence rat behaviors, why this mechanism alters modern evolutionary theory, and whether the growing interest in epigenetics is vindicating Lamarck’s old ideas about the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
54:43
November 22, 2019
Ep 28: Evolution Now
How do new species form? How long does it take for evolution to happen? What can hybrids tell us about the process of speciation? On this episode we talk with Peter and Rosemary Grant, two Princeton biologists who spent decades studying finches on the Galapagos Islands. Their work on bird beaks provides some of the strongest evidence for how fast natural selection can occur and more recently the genes involved. Their newest work on hybridization could fundamentally change how we think about speciation in animals.
51:07
November 8, 2019
Ep 27: Flight of the Ur-Sect
Why did conventional thinking in aerodynamics fail to explain how insects fly? What can robots teach us about how insects do it? How do insect brains direct their incredible aerial feats and get around in the world? Michael Dickinson is a biologist at Caltech who uses robots to study how insects fly. More recently, he has focused on insect neurobiology and behavior. On this episode, Art and Marty talk with Michael about the mysteries of tiny insect flight, and how the presumably simple brains of such animals enable them to navigate sometimes vast distances.
01:05:41
October 24, 2019
Ep 26: The Long Road to Mexico
How does a tiny insect migrate thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico each year? What does the decline of monarch butterflies tell us about the ecological health of our continent? How are scientists using gene editing to understand how insects have evolved to tolerate poisonous plants? Anurag Agrawal is a biologist at Cornell University who studies plant-insect interactions, including monarch butterflies. He is the author of a new book called "Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution.” On this episode, Art and Marty talk with Anurag about the incredible migration of the monarch butterfly, the recent decline in population and a fascinating study where scientists edited the genomes of fruit flies to make them resistant to a poisonous plant that monarchs eat.
01:09:26
October 10, 2019
Ep 25: Dopamine Unto Others
What does neuroscience have to say about morality, politics, and cross-cultural communication? How are neurobiology and philosophy connected? Pat Churchland is a neurobiologist and philosopher at UC San Diego, where she has spent years studying connections between mind and brain. Tune into this episode to hear Marty and Art discuss these questions as well as Pat's new book "Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition."
01:11:09
September 26, 2019
Ep 24: Mental Smoke Detectors
Why hasn’t natural selection eliminated human diseases? Are bad feelings like anxiety and depression adaptive? Can we use evolutionary biology to improve medicine? Randy Nesse is a doctor and a scientist at Arizona State University who uses evolutionary biology to inform the practice of medicine. In his latest book, “Good Reasons for Bad Feelings,” he discusses how natural and sexual selection may have shaped our psychological and emotional lives. On this episode Art and Marty talk to Randy about evolutionary psychiatry.
01:12:58
September 13, 2019
Ep 23: Beauty of the Beasts
Why are animals loud and conspicuous when that increases their risk from predators? How does noise pollution affect mating behaviors? How can robots help biologists study complex topics such as sexual selection and mate choice? Gail Patricelli is a behavioral ecologist at UC Davis, where she studies how individual variation in animal signaling and communication affects mate choice and reproductive success. Gail uses robots to investigate the process of sexual selection in sage-grouse and other species with elaborate mating displays. Tune into this episode to hear Marty and Art talk to Gail about these topics and more!
01:02:44
August 29, 2019
Season 2 Preview
Season two of Big Biology starts on August 29. On this preview, Art and Marty talk about some of the guests they’ll be interviewing and some of the topics they’re most excited to discuss. This season we’ll be featuring scientists who study talking plants, consciousness and epigenetics, and much more! Hold on to your pipettes folks, Big Biology is back!
13:54
August 15, 2019
Ep 22: Whale Aware
Is intelligence similar in humans and dolphins? Do dolphins and whales have their own culture and language? How do they perceive the world around them? Janet Mann is a biologist at Georgetown University, where she studies how dolphins form social groups, use tools, and communicate with one another. Tune into this episode to hear Marty and Art talk to Janet about these topics and Janet’s book, Deep Thinkers: Inside the minds of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
01:04:54
May 30, 2019
Ep 21: Replaying the MP3 of Life
Why do some rove beetles look like ants? Why do living things evolve similar solutions to common problems? Is there predictability within the evolutionary process? On this episode, Art and Marty talk with Joe Parker, an entomologist at Caltech. Joe has been collecting beetles since the age of 16, when he first became amazed by their incredible diversity. He now focuses on rove beetles and studies their evolutionary relationship with ants to understand how different species converge upon similar traits.
55:06
May 9, 2019
Ep 20: Ask Us Anything
In this episode, we've taken a break from our regular format to answer some of your questions such as what's the chance of human-like intelligence on another planet and if we had the technology, what organism would we want to bring back, Jurassic Park style? Tune in to this episode to hear Marty and Art answer questions like these and what goes into making our podcast! Have a question you want answered? Reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter!
01:00:35
April 19, 2019
Ep 19: Microbial Garden of Eden
How does our indoor, modern lifestyle affect our microbiome? How does this novel microbiome affect our health? On this episode, Marty and Art talk with Rob Dunn, an applied ecologist at North Carolina State University. Rob studies the organisms that we come into contact with every day, from the microbes in our bodies to the insects in our homes. Tune into this episode to hear Marty and Art talk to Rob about the crazy diversity of microbes on our skin and its importance in our health and our food. Many of the ideas we discuss are from Rob’s most recent book, Never Home Alone.
44:39
April 4, 2019
Ep 18: Bug in the system
How can cicadas eat nothing but tree sap for 17 years? How do endosymbiotic relationships evolve? What do bacteria-insect symbioses teach us about the evolution of mitochondria and chloroplasts? On this episode, Art and Marty talk with John McCutcheon, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Montana. John studies symbioses between bacteria and cicadas—exploring what each partner provides for the other, how cicadas transmit bacteria to their offspring, and what the consequences are for the evolution of bacterial genomes (hint: they are extreme!). This research raises basic questions about what an individual even is.
47:19
March 21, 2019
Ep 17: 1000 ways to make a baby
How did sex evolve? Why are there sexes at all? what are the evolutionary costs and benefits of sex? On this episode, Art and Marty talk with Hanna Kokko, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Zurich. Hanna studies the evolution of sex and the vast panoply of strategies that organisms use to reproduce. Check out this nice graphical illustration of her work on her website!
01:00:06
March 7, 2019
Ep 16: Rules of Life
What role does one part of the federal government, the National Science Foundation, play in biological research in the US? How will their new funding initiative help us discover Rules of Life? On this episode, Art and Marty talk with two NSF directors, Joanne Tornow. the head of the Biological Sciences directorate, and Arthur “Skip” Lupia, the head of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Science directorate. They talked with them about one of NSF’s Big Ideas. One Idea, called Rules of Life, challenges scientists to study some of the same ‘big’ questions that we’ve addressed on this podcast, including how genotypes become phenotypes. They also asked how an agency dedicated to advancing science operates within an executive branch that has publicly criticized some major scientific conclusions.
36:26
February 21, 2019
Ep 15: Climate change: should they stay or should they go?
How is climate change affecting the distribution of animals? How will these changes in species distribution affect us? Tune in to hear Marty and Art talk with physiological ecologist Jenn Sunday about how climate change is affecting the distribution of life on Earth. Jenn is a professor at McGill University who attempts to answer these questions at a global scale.
01:11:45
February 1, 2019
Ep 14: Plasticity? Sounds fishy.
Does plasticity always help organisms adapt? What happens if it doesn't? Could it speed up evolution Tune in to hear Art and Marty talk with evolutionary ecologist Cameron Ghalambor about the role of non-adaptive plasticity in evolution. Cam is a professor at Colorado State University who tackles these questions by studying guppies. We interviewed Cam at a bar in Tampa, FL during a conference for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
01:17:34
January 17, 2019
Ep 13: Unraveling Genetic Knots
Do single genes cause variation in traits or are gene effects more complex than that? How do genes interact with one another, and how do those interactions alter the pace and direction of evolution? Do those interactions constrain or facilitate evolution? Tune in to hear Art and Marty talk with Mihaela Pavlicev about these questions and more! Mihaela is a geneticist at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where she studies big new ideas about links between genes and traits.
37:37
December 20, 2018
Ep 12: Containing Cancer with Squirrel Ecology
Will cancer ever become just another chronic but manageable disease? What can a squirrel biologist teach us about treating cancer? In this episode, Marty and Art talk with Joel Brown about how to contain cancer using basic ideas from ecology and evolution. To Joel, cells in tumors are like organisms in ecosystems, and fighting cancer means using what we know about species in nature to tilt the playing field against the worst kinds of cancer cells. He and his team at the Moffit Cancer Research Center in Tampa, Florida, are starting to have some remarkable success treating different kinds of cancer. We interviewed Joel in front of a live audience at Circa 1949 in Tampa, FL—our first live event! We had a great time interacting with the audience and plan to do more events like this in the next few months. If you’d like to host a Big Biology event, please email us at info@bigbiology.org!
55:46
December 6, 2018
Ep 11: The Vagina Research Institute (Full Conversation)
Why do some animals have weird genitalia? Why is there conflict between males and females when it comes to producing offspring? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Patty Brennan about how sex in the animal kingdom is not always about love and cooperation; often it's also about conflict. And, this conflict can lead to some pretty crazy genitalia. Patty is an evolutionary biologist at Mount Holyoke College. Her research shows that the birds and the bees aren't so simple for the birds (or, as it turns out, for most other animals). Follow Patty on Twitter: @sexinnature
01:17:28
November 15, 2018
Ep 11: The Vagina Research Institute
Why do some animals have weird genitalia? Why is there conflict between males and females when it comes to producing offspring? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Patty Brennan about how sex in the animal kingdom is not always about love and cooperation; often it's also about conflict. And, this conflict can lead to some pretty crazy genitalia. Patty is an evolutionary biologist at Mount Holyoke College. Her research shows that the birds and the bees aren't so simple for the birds (or, as it turns out, for most other animals). Follow Patty on Twitter: @sexinnature
20:57
November 15, 2018
Ep 10: Tangling the Tree of Life
How has the Tree of Life changed since Darwin? How do genes jump from one species to another? Why do we have viral genes in our DNA? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with David Quammen about his new book “The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life.” In this podcast, they discuss how recent advances in genetics has changed our way of thinking about evolution and the relatedness of plants, animals, and microbes. They also discuss David's methods to his madness as he chooses the topics for each of his books. David is an award winning science writer and journalist. He has published over 15 books and written numerous articles for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Book Review.
01:15:22
October 18, 2018
Ep 9: Information, Aliens, and the Origin of Life (Full Conversation)
What is life? How did life arise from non-life? What did life look like at its origin? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Sara Walker, an expert in astrobiology and theoretical physics at Arizona State University. They discuss how life might have arisen on Earth and why biologists and physicists should work together to find a theory of life. Her ideas could help decide what to do about artificial intelligence (SPOILER: The robots will take over, but it’s going to be OK). They might also help us find life on other planets.
01:02:59
September 22, 2018
Ep 9: Information, Aliens, and the Origin of Life
What is life? How did life arise from non-life? What did life look like at its origin? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Sara Walker, an expert in astrobiology and theoretical physics at Arizona State University. They discuss how life might have arisen on Earth and why biologists and physicists should work together to find a theory of life. Her ideas could help decide what to do about artificial intelligence (SPOILER: The robots will take over, but it’s going to be OK). They might also help us find life on other planets.
16:12
September 22, 2018
Ep 8: Immune System: Make Love not War (Full Conversation)
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.
59:43
August 19, 2018
Ep 8: Immune System: Make Love not War
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.
14:15
August 19, 2018
Ep 7: Genes Don't Do Crap (Full Conversation)
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.
43:23
July 20, 2018
Ep 7: Genes Don't Do Crap
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.
16:19
July 20, 2018
Ep 6: Shrimp Fight Clubs and Basic Science (Extra)
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.
06:55
June 29, 2018
Ep 6: Shrimp Fight Clubs and Basic Science (Full Conversation)
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.
01:03:27
May 17, 2018
Ep 6: Shrimp Fight Clubs and Basic Science
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.
14:59
May 17, 2018
Ep 5: Please Don't Kill the Bats (Full Conversation)
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.
51:55
March 28, 2018
Ep 5: Please Don't Kill the Bats
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.
14:54
March 28, 2018
Ep 4: The Science and Politics of Basic Biology (Full Conversation)
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 science journalist and writer Carl Zimmer talk about the importance of basic research and the future of biology.
47:35
February 14, 2018
Ep 4: The Science and Politics of Basic Biology
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 science journalist and writer Carl Zimmer talk about the importance of basic research and the future of biology.
15:38
February 14, 2018
Ep 3: Animal Size and Godzilla's Breakfast (Full Conversation)
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.
52:38
January 5, 2018
Ep 3: Animal Size and Godzilla's Breakfast
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.
16:01
January 3, 2018
Ep 2: Harnessing Randomness (Full Conversation)
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.
52:35
December 7, 2017
Ep 2: Harnessing Randomness
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.
09:13
December 7, 2017
Ep 1: The Drunken Monkey (Full Conversation)
Why do we drink alcohol? Are we just primates looking for a fix? Tune in to this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk to Robert Dudley about the evolutionary origins of drinking alcohol.
26:22
December 6, 2017
Ep 1: The Drunken Monkey
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.
06:21
December 6, 2017
What is Big Biology?
Big Biology is a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology.
02:09
December 6, 2017