Big Picture Science – DNA: Nature’s Hard Drive

by Gary Niederhoff on September 17, 2018

Big Picture Science – DNA: Nature’s Hard Drive

The biotech tool CRISPR lets us do more than shuffle genes. Researchers have embedded an animated GIF into a living organism’s DNA, proving that the molecule is a great repository for information. This has encouraged speculation that DNA could be used by aliens to send messages.

Meanwhile, nature has seized on this powerful storage system in surprising ways. Scientists have learned that the 98% of our genome – once dismissed as “junk” – contains valuable genetic treasure. Find out what project ENCODE is learning about the “dark genome.”

Plus, how viruses became the original stealth coders, inserting their DNA into ancient bacteria and eventually leading to the development of CRISPR technology. Discover the potential of this powerful tool, from curing disease to making pig organs transplant-friendly, and the possible dark side of quick-and-easy gene editing.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Paul Davies / Genetic Messages
Part 2: Yin Shen / Dark Genome
Part 3: Sam Sternberg / Using CRISPR
Part 4: Hank Greely / Unintended Consequences


Big Picture Science – Angles of a Hack

by Gary Niederhoff on September 10, 2018

Big Picture Science – Angles of a Hack

Changed your computer password recently? We all try to stay one step ahead of the hackers, but the fear factor is increasing. The risks can range from stolen social security numbers to sabotaging a national power grid.

Sixty years ago, when hacking meant nosing around the telephone network, it seemed innocent enough. And not all modern hacking has criminal intent. Today, there are biohackers who experiment with implanted electronic devices to improve themselves, and geoengineers who propose to hack the climate. But in our efforts to cool an overheated planet, might we be going down a dangerous path?

In this second of two episodes on hacking, the modern variations of “hacking,” and their consequences. Plus: when does hacking a system improve it?

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: John Carlin / Cyber Threats
Part 2: Kara Platoni / Hack Thyself
Part 3: Oliver Morton / Changing Climate Change


Big Picture Science – Plan of a Hack

September 3, 2018

Big Picture Science – Plan of a Hack Long before cyber criminals were stealing ATM passwords, phone phreaks were tapping into the telephone system. Their motivation was not monetary, but the thrill of defeating a complex, invisible network. Today “hacking” can apply to cyberwarfare, biological tinkering, or even geoengineering. Often it has negative connotations, but […]

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Big Picture Science – New Water Worlds

August 27, 2018

Big Picture Science – New Water Worlds The seas are rising. It’s no longer a rarity to see kayakers paddling through downtown Miami. By century’s end, the oceans could be anywhere from 2 to 6 feet higher, threatening millions of people and property. But humans once knew how to adapt to rising waters. As high […]

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Big Picture Science – Too Big To Prove

August 20, 2018

Big Picture Science – Too Big To Prove Celebrations are in order for the physicists who won the 2017 Nobel Prize, for the detection of gravitational waves. But the road to Stockholm was not easy. Unfolding over a century, it went from doubtful theory to daring experiments and even disrepute. 100 years is a major […]

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BiPiSci – It’s Habitable Forming

August 13, 2018

Big Picture Science – It’s Habitable Forming There’s evidence for a subsurface lake on Mars, and scientists are excitedly using the “h” word. Could the Red Planet be habitable, not billions of years ago, but today? While we wait – impatiently – for a confirmation of this result, we review the recipe for habitable alien […]

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BiPiSci – Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

August 6, 2018

Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Brain Gain Looking to boost your brainpower? Luckily, there are products promising to help. Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance. But it’s uncertain whether these products really work. Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training […]

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Big Picture Science – It’s In Material

July 30, 2018

Big Picture Science: It’s In Material Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits? NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space. Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example. Find out what innovative materials might be used […]

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BiPiSci – Identity Crisis

July 23, 2018

Big Picture Science – Identity Crisis DNA is the gold standard of identification. Except when it’s not. In rare cases when a person has two complete sets of DNA, that person’s identity may be up in the air. Meanwhile, DNA ancestry tests are proving frustratingly vague: dishing up generalities about where you came from rather […]

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Big Picture Science – On Thin Ice

July 16, 2018

Big Picture Science – On Thin Ice Water is essential for life – that we know. But the honeycomb lattice that forms when you chill it to zero degrees Celsius is also inexorably intertwined with life. Ice is more than a repository for water that would otherwise raise sea levels. It’s part of Earth’s cooling […]

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