The Polarstern research vessel will spend 1 year locked in an Arctic ice floe. Aboard the ship and on the nearby ice, researchers will take measurements of the ice, air, water, and more in an effort to understand this pristine place. Science journalist Shannon Hall joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about her time aboard the Polarstern and how difficult these measurements are, when the researchers’ temporary Arctic home is the noisiest, smokiest, brightest thing around.
After that icy start, Sarah talks also with Tanmoy Samanta, a postdoctoral researcher at Peking University in Beijing, about the source of the extreme temperature of the Sun’s corona, which can be up to 1 million K hotter than the surface of the Sun. His team’s careful measurements of spicules—small, plentiful, short-lived spikes of plasma that constantly ruffle the Sun’s surface—and the magnetic networks that seem to generate these spikes, suggest a solution to the long-standing problem of how spicules arise and, at the same time, their likely role in the heating of the corona.
Most historical accounts of slavery were written by colonists and planters. Researchers are now using the tools of archaeology to learn more about the day-to-day lives of enslaved Africans—how they survived the conditions of slavery, how they participated in local economies, and how they maintained their own agency. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade about a Caribbean archaeology project based on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and launched by the founders of the Society for Black Archaeologists that aims to unearth these details. Watch a related video here.
Sarah also talks with Jonathan Schulz, a professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, about a role for the medieval Roman Catholic Church in so-called WEIRD psychology—western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. The bulk of psychology experiments have used participants that could be described as WEIRD, and according to many psychological measures, WEIRD subjects tend to have some extreme traits, like a stronger tendency toward individuality and more friendliness with strangers. Schulz and colleagues used historical maps and measures of kinship structure to tie these traits to strict marriage rules enforced by the medieval Catholic Church in Western Europe. Read related commentary.
There was a massive shift in Roman residents’ ancestry, the researchers found, but that ancestry came primarily from the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East, possibly because of denser populations there relative to the Roman Empire’s western reaches in Europe and Africa.
The next several centuries were full of turmoil: the empire split in two, diseases decimated Rome’s population and a series of invasions befell the city. Those events left a mark on the city’s population, which shifted toward western European ancestry. Later, the rise and reign of the Holy Roman Empire brought an influx of central and northern European ancestry.
Scholars have been studying Rome for hundreds of years, but it still holds some secrets—for instance, relatively little is known about the ancestral origins of the city’s denizens. Now, an international team led by researchers from Stanford University, the University of Vienna and Sapienza University of Rome is filling in the gaps with a genetic history that shows just how much the Eternal City’s populace mirrored its sometimes tumultuous history.
Measles is a dangerous infection that can kill. As many as 100,000 people die from the disease each year. For those who survive infection, the virus leaves a lasting mark—it appears to wipe out the immune system’s memory. News Intern Eva Fredrick joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about a pair of studies that looked at how this happens in children’s immune systems.
In our second segment this week, Sarah talks with Todd Thompson, of Ohio State University in Columbus, about his effort to find a small black hole in a binary pair with a red giant star. Usually black holes are detected because they are accruing matter and as the matter interacts with the black hole, x-rays are released. Without this flashy signal, black hole detection gets much harder. Astronomers must look for the gravitational influence of the black holes on nearby stars—which is easier to spot when the black hole is massive. Thompson talks with Sarah about a new approach to finding small, noninteracting black holes.
This week in Science, Helen Philips, a postdoctoral fellow at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Institute of Biology at Leipzig University, and colleagues published the results of their worldwide earthworm study, composed of data sets from many worm researchers around the globe.
We don’t know where consciousness comes from. And we don’t know whether animals have it, or whether we can detect it in patients in comas. Do neuroscientists even know where to look? A new competition aims to narrow down the bewildering number of theories of consciousness and get closer to finding its biological signs by pitting different theories against each other in experimental settings. Freelance journalist Sara Reardon talks with host Sarah Crespi about how the competition will work.
In our second segment, we talk about how we think about children. For thousands of years, adults have complained about their lack of respect, intelligence, and tendency to distraction, compared with previous generations. A new study out this week in Science Advances suggests our own biased childhood memories might be at fault. Sarah Crespi talks with John Protzko of the University of California, Santa Barbara, about how terrible people thought kids were in 3800 B.C.E. and whether understanding those biases might change how people view Generation Z today.
Antibiotic use diminished the gut microbiome composition and impaired the ability of the immune system to generate antibodies. Treatment with antibiotics also disturbed bile acid metabolism and caused inflammatory responses.
From the original findings the Journal “Cell.com”:
Emerging evidence indicates a central role for the microbiome in immunity. However, causal evidence in humans is sparse. Here, we administered broad-spectrum antibiotics to healthy adults prior and subsequent to seasonal influenza vaccination. Despite a 10,000-fold reduction in gut bacterial load and long-lasting diminution in bacterial diversity, antibody responses were not significantly affected. However, in a second trial of subjects with low pre-existing antibody titers, there was significant impairment in H1N1-specific neutralization and binding IgG1 and IgA responses.
In addition, in both studies antibiotics treatment resulted in (1) enhanced inflammatory signatures (including AP-1/NR4A expression), observed previously in the elderly, and increased dendritic cell activation; (2) divergent metabolic trajectories, with a 1,000-fold reduction in serum secondary bile acids, which was highly correlated with AP-1/NR4A signaling and inflammasome activation. Multi-omics integration revealed significant associations between bacterial species and metabolic phenotypes, highlighting a key role for the microbiome in modulating human immunity.