National Perspective on Municipalization//Science of Fall Colors

Tom McKinnon and Peter Asmus of Pike Research discuss electrical utility municipalization from a national perspective.  Peter adds an interesting statistic — the photovoltaic industry already has created more jobs than coal mining even though at present it produces much less power.

Shelley Schlender interviews Bill Hoch of Montana State University about why leaves turn colors in the fall.  Bill punches some holes in the conventional wisdom on the topic and notes that the color change is a critical step in the trees retaining important nutrients.

Hosts: Tom McKinnon & Ted Burnham
Producer: Tom McKinnon
Engineeer: Ted Burnham
Headlines: Beth Bartel
Executive Producer: Tom McKinnon

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Music producer Tom Wasinger comments on HOE theme song entries

 

Tom Wasinger in his Boulder studio

Grammy Award-winning music producer Tom Wasinger comments on the entries to the How on Earth theme song contest.  Give us comments on your favorite theme song here.  The winner will be announced on August 12, 2011.

Co-hosts:  Ted Burnham and Tom McKinnon
Engineer: Tom McKinnon
Executive Producer: Susan Moran
Producer: Tom McKinnon

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Green Tech Author // NCAR Climate Scientist

energy comics, courtesy greentechhistory.com

This week’s How On Earth offers two features:
Co-host Susan Moran interviews Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor for The Atlantic magazine and author of the new book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. Madrigal spins tales of the bicycle boom in the 1800s and how it paved the way for cars, ironically; of a time when gasoline emerged as a waste product of kerosene for lighting; and when crude oil was what you might call the environmentally sound alternative to oil from whales, which were nearly hunted to extinction.  Madrigal also pays tribute to Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Lab and its deep history of spawning renewable energy and surviving budget cuts. And he honors green-tech (and fossil fuel) inventors and beacons of yesteryear, as he looks forward to what a greener future could be.

In the second feature, Shelley Schlender interviews Warren Washington, a ground-breaking climate scientist at the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder. He’s a world leader in using computers to model climate.  Last year he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama. Dr. Washington’s autobiography is  Odyssey in Climate Modeling, Global Warming, and Advising Five Presidents.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Ted Burnham
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Shelley Schlender

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Cell Phone Safety

The World Health Organization has officially listed cells phones as a possible carcinogen. One expert who’s not surprised at the designation is University of Colorado, distinguished professor Frank Barnes. For decades, Barnes has cobbled together hard-to-find research dollars to study the biological effects of magnetic fields and radiation, including cell phone radiation. In 2008, he chaired a National Research Council report that called for more research into the health effects of all kinds of wireless technologies, including laptop computers, wireless phones, and cell phones. In today’s show, Frank Barnes talks with How on Earth’s Shelley Schlender about cell phone safety.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Tom McKinnon
Producer: Joel Parker
Engineer: Tom McKinnon

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Gold Lab Symposium & Fat for Stronger Muscles

We learn about new research that indicates that the combination of exercise plus eating high cholesterol foods may help build lean body mass, even in older adults.

What’s more, eating high cholesterol foods such as cheese, beef fat and eggs, when combined with exercise, also seems more heart safe than most people think, according to new research published by Steve Riechman, in the Journal of Gerontology.

And we talk with Larry Gold, founder of the  Gold Lab Symposium.  The 2011 symposium features scientists, researchers and policy makers discussing how health and science can intersect with healthcare policy, and how to make each one  better.

The 2011 GoldLab Symposium was held at CU-Boulder’s Muenzinger Auditorium May 13 – 14th.  For audio recordings of the sessions, go here.  For videos and powerpoint presentations from the sessions, go to GoldLabColorado.com

Producer: Shelley Schlender
Co-hosts: Joel Parker, Ted Burnham
Engineer: Shelley Schlender

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Theme Song Contest // Science of Music

Image courtesy of Flickr user davdenic

Today we announce a contest to find new theme music for How On Earth! Our current theme has served us well for more than 20 years, but we feel it’s time to change our tune. We’re looking to local musicians for that new “How On Earth” sound. Check out our Contest Page for more information, and to listen to and comment on submitted music.

Joining us in the studio today is Tom Wasinger, the Grammy-winning producer of our long-standing theme. We talk with him about the history and creation of that theme, and about his hopes for this new theme music contest. We also hear from Anjali Bhatara, of the Laboratory of the Psychology of Perception in Paris. She studies the way music affects the brain, the mind, and the emotions (hear an extended version of this interview). And we’ll get some advice on selecting a memorable new theme from music expert Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect and founder of the Institute for Music, Health, and Education here in Boulder.

Hosts: Ted Burnham and Tom Yulsman

Engineer: Shelley Schlender

Producer: Ted Burnham

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Moonwalking with Einstein // Pledge Drive Show

In this Spring Pledge Drive Show, we share an update on the crisis in Japan from Kathleen Tierney of CU-Boulder’s Natural Hazards  Center, and then Joel Parker interviews Joshua Foer, author of the runaway bestseller, Moonwalking with Einstein:  The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. (the full interview can be found here)

Hosts: Joel Parker, Ted Burnham, Breanna Draxler, Tom McKinnon, Shelley Schlender

Show Producer:  Joel Parker & Shelley Schlender

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CU Medical Professor Shares Love of Science


CU Medical Professor John Cohen. Image courtesy of John Cohen.

This week we’ll feature CU Medical School Immunologist John Cohen, who has just received the American Association for the Advancement of Science top award for promoting public understanding of Science.  In addition to teaching at the Medical School, Cohen is the founder of Mini Med and the lead “disorganizer” of the Denver Cafe Sci.  We’ll also talk with Emory University researcher Zixu Mao about a new link between Parkinson’s disease and the health of the mitochondria within a cell, and we’ll hear from BBC Science in Action about some top choices in Europe for new Astronomy pursuits.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Susan Moran

Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Mitochondrial Health Influences Risk of Parkinson’s Disease – Scientist Zixu Mao

. . . Short Feature from this week’s How on Earth:

Parkinson’s and Mitochondria (6 minutes)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The written version below includes further clarifications from Emory scientist Zixu Mao:


We all know about how our blood can give clues about our health, and disease.  But it turns out levels of some health markers aren’t always evident just by looking in the blood.  Inside a cell, some substances can be higher, or lower.  That’s true, for instance, for calcium.  For sugar.  And even for something such as uric acid.  So scientists have been figuring out better ways to check the amounts of these substances not just in our blood, but INSIDE our cells.  The need to look closely doesn’t stop there–it can extend to the organelles within the cells.  And researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have just made a breakthrough about why to look inside these tiny components of a cell.  Their discovery involves a disease made famous by Michael J. Fox.   It’s Parkinson’s, also known as, “The Shaking Disease.”  And the thing inside a cell — which needs to be monitored — is mitochondria.   Mitochondria are often called the miniature power plants within our cells.  But they do much more, according to Zixu Mao, a researcher at Emory University School of Medicine who’s been studying mitochondria and Parkinson’s.  Mao says if mitochondria are sick, the entire cell can be sick.

Emory Research Scientist Zixu Mao

MAO
If mitochondria disfunction, it sends out signals to the rest of the cell and may even execute cell death.  In addition to that if mitochondria is disrupted, it produces toxic signals to cells that stress cells.  That’s oxidative stress.  So it does multiple things.

In other words, if enough mitochondria are sick, not only does the cell lack energy . . . the mitochondria can generate signals that range from stressing the cell to directing the cell to kill itself.

One protein that helps cells deal with stress is called MEF2-D.  MEF2-D is important, because it helps protect a cell’s DNA from damage when oxidative stress starts going high.  Many researchers have believed that inside our cells, healthy levels of MEF2-D, and healthy mitochondria, both play a role in reducing the chance of Parkinson’s disease.  But there’s been a puzzle, because sometimes, people have Parkinson’s even when they have adequate levels of MEF2-D inside their cells.

That’s where Mao’s team has made a breakthrough, and their breakthrough came from a basic understanding of those tiny cellular power-stations, the mitochondria.  You see, mitochondria are actually tiny cells themselves that, billions of years ago, took up residence inside our cells.  It’s a great team – our cells give mitochondria food and a safe place to live, and in return, the mitochondria generate easy-to-use energy for the cell.  There’s plenty that’s interesting about a mitochondria.

A key thing that interested Mao’s team is that mitochondria have their own DNA that’s distinct from the larger cell’s nuclear DNA.  Because MEF2-D affects the health of the larger cell’s DNA, the Emory researchers wondered whether MEF2-D might play a role in the mitochondria’s DNA.  This was a new idea, because scientists have generally assumed that MEF2-D is only important for the nuclear DNA.

It took meticulous lab work to figure out, but Mao’s team did discover that MEF2-D is, indeed, inside the mitochondria.  What’s more, levels in the mitochondria can be deficient — even when MEF2-D is abundant in other areas of the cell.  As further evidence of a link to disease, Mao’s team documented that certain pesticides and illegal drugs known to increase the risk of Parkinson’s also reduce the level of MEF2-D inside the mitochondria . . . even when the level of MEF2-D is normal in the rest of the cell.  So it’s looking like MEF2-D, in the mitochondria, may be a strong signal about Parkinson’s.

Mao says that right now, it’s too early to use this new-found knowledge for diagnostic purposes.  But he says it does have potential, and someday, instead of requiring complicated work in a science lab, it might even be possible to check the mitochondrial MEF-2D levels by going to a clinic and giving a tube of blood.

MAO
We did some unpublished work and we showed that we could take a patient’s blood and isolate the white blood cells from patients, then isolate the mitochondria from white blood cells and take the MEF2-D in that prep.
There’s more to work out, involving the network of problems that may link levels of MEF2-D in the mitochondria to the shaking disease known as Parkinson’s.  As for when this surprising new signal about cell health might lead to a blood test for disease, Mao says this:

MAO
I have no idea!  But we are working very hard at it.  We know it’s there.  We can detect it.  The hurdle next is to link its change to specific pathological situations.  And that’s a much harder task, I think.

It’s a harder task to do, but if Mao and his team succeed, they might unlock clues about  mitochondrial disorders observed in other neuro-degenerative diseases, plus heart disease, and how these might be linked to MEF2D.  The Emory research about Parkinson’s and mitochondria is published online this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Earthquakes & corruption / Astrology shake-up

A collapsed building in Haiti following the Jan. 2010 earthquake.

Government corruption may have lead to poor building practices in Haiti prior to the Jan. 2010 earthquake. Image courtesy of AIDG.

This week on How On Earth, University of Colorado earth scientist Roger Bilham joins us in the studio to talk about his latest study, which shows a correlation between the prevalence of corruption in a country and the likelihood of civilian deaths during an earthquake. And Shelley Schlender talks to HOE contributor and astrophysicist Joel Parker about how the science of astronomy can have an impact on the pseudoscientific world of astrology.

Hosts: Tom Yulsman, Ted Burnham

Producer: Tom Yulsman

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