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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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“It immediately looked right.”

It’s been 60 years since the double helix structure of DNA, the key to life itself, was first revealed to the world. The BBC’s “Science in Action” walks the listener along the journey of this discovery with some of the scientific giants of the time. The delight is still there in those voices. So wonderful.

Also clears up some of the debate over the credit of Crick and Watson. Their approaches to modeling and sense of beauty moved the idea forward… through actual base pairing cut-outs!

(h/t Krista Tippett)

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It seems like the viability-of-life-on-Mars story resurfaces every few years with renewed enthusiasm. And how can it not be stimulating to think about foreign biological possibilities existing in other pockets of the universe?
From Discovery News:

Life Possible On ‘Large Regions’ of Mars
With higher pressures and warmer temperatures beneath the Martian surface, Earth-like microorganisms could thrive.
read more

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

It seems like the viability-of-life-on-Mars story resurfaces every few years with renewed enthusiasm. And how can it not be stimulating to think about foreign biological possibilities existing in other pockets of the universe?

From Discovery News:

Life Possible On ‘Large Regions’ of Mars

With higher pressures and warmer temperatures beneath the Martian surface, Earth-like microorganisms could thrive.

read more

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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The Inner Life of the Cell (video)

This animated video is quite serene and gives you an idea of the tremendous activity taking place. I only wish I knew what the heck was going on. PopTech gives a helpful overview of the task at hand:

"Harvard University’s BioVisions project, which is on a continuing quest for new and more powerful ways to communicate ideas in biology, creates precise, yet otherworldly animated visualizations of the molecular processes of cells. Powering the Cell: Mitochondria is one of a handful of animations they’ve created.”

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Life in Doris Taylor’s Lab
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

After watching Krista’s interview with Doris Taylor, it was hard not to want to see her lab in person. Krista referenced Laurie Zoloth’s phrase “fiction science” during her conversation with Taylor and many of the the mental images that resulted — decellularized “ghost hearts,” cells beating in a dish, rows of pumping regenerated rat hearts — seemed to fit into that category.

So, I was excited to see how those images would hold up when we made a trip Taylor’s lab several months after the interview. While we didn’t didn’t see rows and rows of beating hearts, in the video above, we did see a singular regenerated rat heart beat in an apparatus Taylor called a bioreactor, and a moment later we also heard the story of the man with an incurable heart disease who told her that she was “building hope.”

And, in this video, we also saw the magnified image of beating heart cells as Taylor explained why “cells alone don’t make a heart” and Krista handling animal organs with their cells removed as she discussed the “surprising beauty” of the heart with Taylor (see video below).

And while the fiction science elements of her lab were fascinating, it was most engaging to see Taylor’s energy and passion come out while she was clearly in her element. Her perspective helped keep what might sound like a Mary Shelley-inspired experience focused on the aspect of her work she seems to be most interested in — life.

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My Oxytocin Moment

Colleen Scheck, Producer

Our immersion into the world of neuroscience for this week’s program with Paul Zak has given me a label for one of the uplifting parts of my weekdays — my “oxytocin moment.” It’s the moment I exit work to pick up my 7-month-old son. Walking to the car, a rush of energy, excitement, and warmth comes over me as I eagerly anticipate how his smile widens when he recognizes me, and the giggle that bubbles up when I hug him and tickle him under the chin. I can’t get to him fast enough, and I’m certain one day a fender-bender will be the result of my mad dash to exit work and pick him up.

So now I interpret that rush to be a surge of oxytocin in my brain. The hormone has long been known for its role in childbirth and the mother/child bonding process that I acutely experience these days. But as Zak’s research is showing, it has other profound influences on broader social behavior, including our ability to trust. Since my brain fails to fire the neurons needed to comprehend neuroscience, I went looking for easily digestible descriptions of his work, and found a few helpful things.

His article, "The Neurobiology of Trust," in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American is a helpful overview, with simple visuals, of how he became interested in oxytocin’s relation to trust, how his experiment — the “Trust Game” — was conducted and its findings, and some of the implications of his research. Besides its impact on the field of economics, I’ll be curious to see if future insights emerge about oxytocin’s relationship to neurological disorders like schizophrenia or maladies such as social anxiety.

Also helpful, and fun, was a 2005 television segment from the Australian Broadcasting Company science program Catalyst. The reporter participates in Zak’s trust game as well as a related experiment using MRI imaging of his brain. He talks to Zak and other scientists about the biology of trust, from primates to humans.

And, given my current life status as a new mom, I enjoyed stumbling upon Hug the Monkey, a blog about the latest research and issues around oxytocin’s best-known function by science and technical writer Susan Kuchinskas.

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Repossessing Virtue: Esther Sternberg on the Economic Crisis in Biological Terms
» download (mp3, 12:28)
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Esther Sternberg is a scientist’s scientist. And that, I believe, is what appeals to so many of us who listen to "Stress and the Balance Within." But, it’s not the only thing. She has a way of taking objective data, verifying and analyzing it, and rendering her report. And then what makes her such a special and effective voice is her incredible ability to relate these scientific points on a personal level, often by looking inward and exposing the frailty of her own humanity.

Take, for instance, Kate’s interview with her on the economic crisis. Kate’s first question: “Do you consider this a moral or spiritual crisis?” Almost immediately, she says that she doesn’t see it in either term because she doesn’t know enough about the causes of the crises (i.e., she doesn’t have the data to make judgments, pronouncements). Rather she sees the crises in biological terms.

She could have left it at that and then talked at length about empirical data and scientific evidence. But, she rarely does. She references people and its impact on others — and then she relates by remembering her father, a Holocaust survivor who would read Psalm 23, her own anxieties about the downturn, the need for public service.

We’re releasing all of these mp3s for download in our podcast. And, check back here at SOF Observed for future conversations with wise thinkers, including Greg Epstein, Pankaj Mishra, and Shane Claiborne.

Also, we’re looking to our readers and listeners for fresh thinking and language about how to talk about the current economic crisis. How has this changed you, your family, your community? And not just financially, but in terms of personal conscience and values? We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your first person story about your experiences.

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Synthesizing Life Rob McGinley Myers, Associate ProducerInteresting article in the New York Times about biologist J. Craig Venter synthesizing the genome of a species of bacteria; the first time this has been done. Some of us on staff have been talking about doing a show that addresses the ethics of biotechnology, but we’re not sure who would make the best voice. One of the more interesting takes on the subject I’ve read was an essay in the New York Review of Books by one of our previous guests Freeman Dyson. He has a surprisingly optimistic point of view about messing with creation, something that science fiction authors have been warning us against at least since Mary Shelley:  "Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture."Sometimes my wife and I try to imagine what in the world our kids will do to freak us out in the future, considering how open-minded we think we are. Genetically designing a new pet may just do the trick.

Synthesizing Life
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

Interesting article in the New York Times about biologist J. Craig Venter synthesizing the genome of a species of bacteria; the first time this has been done. Some of us on staff have been talking about doing a show that addresses the ethics of biotechnology, but we’re not sure who would make the best voice. One of the more interesting takes on the subject I’ve read was an essay in the New York Review of Books by one of our previous guests Freeman Dyson. He has a surprisingly optimistic point of view about messing with creation, something that science fiction authors have been warning us against at least since Mary Shelley:

"Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture."

Sometimes my wife and I try to imagine what in the world our kids will do to freak us out in the future, considering how open-minded we think we are. Genetically designing a new pet may just do the trick.

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