Feb. 12, 2021
The saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” But for fish, the eyes are the window to the stomach.
As one California biologist recently learned, the eyes of Chinook salmon are like a tiny diet journal of everything it ate. But to read that journal, you have to peel back the layers of the eye, like it’s the world’s tiniest onion.
Miranda Tilcock, assistant research specialist at the Center for Watershed Science at the University of California, Davis talks to Ira about why she goes to such gooey lengths to understand what these salmon eat.
In February 2001, the international group of scientists striving to sequence the human genome in its entirety hit a milestone: a draft of the complete sequence was published in the journals Nature and Science.
The project took 13 years to complete: In that time, genome sequencing became faster and cheaper, and computational biology ascended as a discipline. It laid the groundwork for the greater cooperation and open data practices that have made rapid vaccine development possible during the pandemic. In the decades since, researchers have been trying to better understand how genetics impact health. We’re still working toward the dream of personalized treatments based on a person’s specific genetic risks.
Ira looks back at the successes and challenges of the Human Genome Project with Shirley Tilghman, a molecular biologist who helped plan the project, and served on its advisory committee.
Then, with bioinformatician Dana Zielinski and Indigenous geneticist-bioethicist Krystal Tsosie, he looks to the contemporary hurdles for genetic research, including privacy, commercialization, and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples over their own genetic data.
In the 18th century, a man named Franz Anton Mesmer came to Paris with a plan: to practice a controversial form of medicine involving magnets and gravity. Mesmer claimed his treatments cured everything from toothaches to deafness. His critics, however, weren’t so sure about that. Mesmer made enemies in high places, labeling him a con, and calling his type of practice “mesmerism.”
Joining Ira to talk about the story behind “mesmerize,” and what else is coming this season is Science Diction host, Johanna Mayer.