Toward Sustainable Agriculture

Corn fields in Illinois

Corn fields in Illinois

Sustainable Agriculture (starts 3:06): We couldn’t feed the planet without nitrogen, a vital nutrient for crops. But most soils don’t produce enough of it to feed anywhere near our 7 billion-plus humans on the planet. So, for nearly a century we’ve been applying synthetic fertilizer—mainly nitrogen and phosphorus — to grow crops for animals and people. But we have overindulged, creating vast amounts of waste, in the form of nitrogen pollution of waterways and the atmosphere. State and federal regulations have pressured growers to dramatically reduce fertilizer runoff from their fields. But it’s not been enough. Another approach – call it the carrot versus the stick – is also taking hold. Major food retailers, wholesalers, and producers, such as Walmart, United Suppliers and Unilever are transforming their whole supply chains, making food production less carbon- and nitrogen-intensive. Suzy Friedman, a sustainable agriculture expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, discusses with host Susan Moran how programs such as SUSTAIN help large food companies shrink their environmental footprint.

Hosts: Natalia Bayona, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Tim Russo
Executive Producer: Susan Moran

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Pollinators Matter // Denver BioLabs

Butterfly girl

Photo credit: Butterfly Pavilion

Pollinators Matter (starts at 4:43): Now that backyard gardens are in full bloom it’s a good time to think about pollinators. Honeybees, butterflies, beetles and other pollinators depend on many flowering plants for nectar. And we depend on these pollinators for many foods we love in our diet, from almonds to apples to blueberries. Some of these pollinators, especially honeybees and monarch butterflies, are facing severe threats, here in Colorado as well as globally. Among the culprits are habitat destruction and insecticides called neonicotinoids.  The Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster is not only a popular destination for kids and adults who want to walk among butterflies, and tough tarantulas. It is also conducting research on pollinators and their habitat. Mary Ann Colley, vice president of science and conservation at the Pavilion, discusses with host Susan Moran some pollinator-focused research and educational campaigns. Info on Butterfly Pavilion’s citizen science efforts–Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network and Urban Prairies Project–are on the Pavilion’s website. Related citizen science projects: The Bees’ Needs and Xerces Society. For more info on pollinators go to the National Wildlife Federation and USDA Agriculture Research Service.

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Denver Biolabs Co-founder RJ Duran shows how synthetic biology is used to make bacteria glow. Photo credit: Denver Biolabs

The New Biology (starts at 16:48): Denver Biolabs is the first community do-it-yourself bio-lab in Colorado. It focuses on making synthetic biology–where biology meets engineering–accessible to everyone. Biolabs is a community resource, giving students, researchers, entrepreneurs and others access to a community lab space. It also offers training in building bio-tools, learning lab fundamentals and experimenting with molecular gastronomy. Biolabs also develops technologies related to bioinformatics, biomimicry, bio-hacking and bio-printing. Dr. Heather Underwood is the co-founder and executive director of Denver Biolabs, which she discusses with host Leslie Dodson. For info on similar labs that have inspired Denver Biolabs, go to: Berkeley Biolabs, BioCurious, and Counter Culture Labs.

Hosts: Leslie Dodson, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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Our Microbes, Ourselves: Soil Bacteria Treat Stress Disorders

Photo credit: Susan Moran

Photo credit: Susan Moran

Microbes and Stress Resilience (starts 5:13) If you’re worried that some dirt still clings to your skin under your fingernails after planting or weeding in the garden, fear not. In fact, the more you feel and even breathe its fumes, the better, research suggests. As part of our series called “Our Microbes, Ourselves,” we explore today a newly published study that adds to a growing body of research into the benefits of certain soil and gut microbes on our mental and physical health. Dr. Christopher Lowry, an associate professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, discusses with host Susan Moran the study, which he led. It shows that a common soil bacterium called M. vaccae can boost the immune system to help fight stress and inflammation. The research, published last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted on mice, but the health implications for humans are far-reaching.

Hosts: Joel Parker, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Shelley Schlender

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The Science of Mind Over Body

Cure-US-coverMind+Body Science (start time: 4:52): If you’ve ever struggled  to decide whether to see a Western conventional doctor or an  “alternative” medical practitioner for ailments ranging from a compromised immune system to irritable bowel syndrome, you are aware of a deep divide between the two camps. Dr. Jo Marchant, a British geneticist and science writer, has delved into the science and politics of mind-body connections in her new book. It’s called Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body. She discusses this journey with host Susan Moran. (We played snippets from the interview during the recent  pledge-drive show. Thanks to you, listener-members, for your support! And thanks, Crown Publishers, for allowing KGNU to give copies of Cure to those who pledged during the show.

Headlines (0:56 – 4:30) 1) Analyzing the molecular signature from our body’s microbial communities might be used in the future to link suspects to crimes definitively. 2) New research explores whether molecules behave like predatory animals when it comes to foraging for food.

Hosts: Beth Bennett, Susan Moran
Producer: Beth Bennett
Engineer: Beth Bennett
Headline Contributor: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Pledge Drive: Mind-Body Science

Image credit: Target Health Global

Image credit: Target Health Global

In today’s spring pledge-drive show we play clips from an interview with  Jo Marchant, author of the new book Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body. (Stay tuned for the extended interview on next Tuesday’s show.) And we highlight another book, Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection with Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep, by Marah Hardt. Call KGNU (303-449-4885) or pledge online (www.kgnu.org) and you will have the chance to make either of these books yours.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional contributions: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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STEM Research // Sex in the Sea

REMGROUP2-this

High school researchers in CU Boulder program observing photo-origami model. Photo credit: Stacey Forsyth

Today’s show offers two features:
High School STEM Stars (start time: 5:00): Developing polymers to reduce waste from biodiesel production. Using 3D printing to design ocean textures, such as fish gills and waves, that blind students can use in textbooks to better understand nature. These are the kind of vexing challenges of seasoned scientists. Well, a select group of high school students here on the Front Range are also diving into this research, through the University of Colorado’s Photo-Origami Research Project. It’s part of the Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) program. Our guests–Lindsey Welch, a sophomore at Centaurus High; and Tyco Mera Evans, a senior at Northglenn High– will give poster presentations at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM, in Washington, D.C.  this week. Joining them in the studio is Kathryn Penzkover, who directs high school programs through CU Science Discovery.

book cover-Sex (this)Sex & Evolution Beneath the Waves (start time: 14:45) Ever wonder about the sex lives of gender-bending fish, desperately virgin elephant seals, and other creatures of the sea? Marine ecologist Marah Hardt has made a career out of it. She speaks with host Susan Moran about her newly published book, Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connections with Sex-changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep. Dr. Hardt, who works with the nonprofit Future of Fish, illuminates how sex in the sea is at the heart of healthy and sustainable oceans. The oceans, along with their inhabitants, are under many threats, including overfishing and climate change. She will speak tonight about her book at the Boulder Book Store. For more information on ocean conservation issues, and to get involved here in land-locked Colorado, check out the nonprofit Colorado Ocean Coalition. And listen to previous related interviews, in our series “The Ocean Is Us.”

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Joel Parker
Additional contributors: Beth Bennett
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Winter Stars // Pollinators and Insecticides

Sky_MilkyWay_BearLake_300x300Winter Stars (starts at 5:30).  We talk with Dave Sutherland, an interpretive naturalist with Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, about winter star-gazing.  This program is tied to an upcoming concert performance by the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra on February 12, 2016.  More information about the Boulder night hikes and other programs can be found at:  www.naturehikes.org and to find out more about for the starry concert and to purchase tickets, check out http://boulderphil.org/site/concerts/spheres-of-influence

Monarch larvae Photo credit: Jonathan Lundgren

Monarch larvae
Photo credit: Jonathan Lundgren

Pollinators and Insecticides (starts at 10:06).  Although they may be hidden in the chill of winter, crickets, bees and thousands of other insects play a critical role year-round in how we grow the food we eat. Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, a South Dakota-based entomologist, talks with host Susan Moran about how predator insects serve as biological pest controls. Dr. Lundgren’s research on adverse effects of a controversial class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids, on pollinators such as honeybees and monarch butterflies,  has made him the target of political pressure from his employer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A watchdog group has filed a whistleblower complaint on Lundgren’s behalf against the USDA. Dr. Lundgren recently started a research and education farm, called Blue Dasher Farm, which promotes regenerative agriculture.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer & Engineer: Joel Parker
Executive Producer: Joel Parker

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Hubble Space Telescope

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Today’s show of How on Earth starts with headlines about dark matter, genetic mysteries, jealous monkeys, and polar bears.  We then present a short feature of BBC’s Science in Action about the Hubble Space Telescope.

This is shorter than our usual How on Earth show due to technical difficulties with the phone system for our feature interview with entomologist Jonathan Lundgren; that feature will appear in a future show.

Hosts: Susan Moran, Joel Parker
Producer: Susan Moran
Executive Producer and Engineer: Joel Parker
Headline Contributions: Susan Moran, Beth Bennett, Joel Parker

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Our Microbes, Ourselves — Special Call-in Show

human gut microbes

human gut microbes

Our Microbes, Ourselves, Dec. 31, 2015: Roughly one hundred trillion bacteria are living, and gorging, in our gut–all the more so during the indulgent holidays. Microbes influence our health and well-being, by affecting our gut directly, as well as the crops we eat and the soils in which we grow crops. These microbial communities  – called the gut microbiome — have been linked to many disorders, including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, and even mental illness. We are just at the dawn of a new era of microbial treatments for many illnesses. After a recent How On Earth show generated so much interest, we decided to bring our guest, Amy Sheflin, back for an hour-long call-in show on A Public Affair on KGNU. Amy is a doctoral student at Colorado State University in food science and human nutrition. She studies how the food we eat alters the microbial communities in our gut, and how those microbes in our bodies influence our overall health. For more info on the gut microbiome, check out Amy’s favorite books on the topic: The Good Gut, by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg; and The Inside Tract, by Gerard Mullins. Also check out the American Gut Project.

Host: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran

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Beyond Cop21Paris: Climate Science & Policy

Today, Dec. 8, we offer the following feature:

Waleed Abdalati

Waleed Abdalati, photo credit David Oonk/CIRES

Changing Climate, Changing Policy (start time: 7:06): As political leaders are still hammering out an accord at the UN Climate Summit, or COP21, in Paris, to rein in global warming, today we discuss the underlying scientific facts about climate change, and the policy promises and challenges for our future. Hosts Susan Moran and Daniel Glick interview two Colorado scientists at the intersection of science and policy. Dr. Waleed Abdalati is a geoscientist and director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), a partnership between the University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lisa Dilling with CIRES at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Lisa Dilling, photo credit Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

Dr. Lisa Dilling is an associate professor of environmental studies, also at CIRES, who brings expertise in science policy related to climate issues. She directs The Western Water Assessment, a NOAA program that provides information for policy makers throughout the Intermountain West about the region’s vulnerabilities to climate change impacts. Contributing host Daniel Glick was an editor of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, and his team has produced videos on the immediate and human impacts of climate change.

Hosts: Daniel Glick, Susan Moran
Producer: Susan Moran
Engineer: Maeve Conran
Executive Producer: Beth Bennett
Additional contributions: Joel Parker, Shelley Schlender

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