Menopause and women’s health: why science needs to catch up
In this episode:
00:47 A focus on women’s health
Nature’s Kerri Smith and Heidi Ledford join us to discuss two Features published in Nature looking at topics surrounding women’s health. The first looks at efforts to understand how menopause affects brain health, while the second takes a deep-dive into research funding and shows how conditions affecting women more than men receive less money.
Feature: How menopause reshapes the brain
18:15 Research Highlights
The herb that could be a new source of cannabinoid compounds, and the vibrating crystal that confirms Schrödinger’s cat.
Research Highlight: Old and new cannabis compounds are found in an African herb
Research Highlight: Schrödinger’s cat is verified by a vibrating crystal
20:34 The planet swallowed by a star
Stars have a finite lifespan, and for many their fate is to expand as they reach the end of their lives. It’s long been speculated that these growing stars will consume any planets in their way, but this process has never been seen directly. Now though, a chance observation led to a team catching a dying star in the act of eating a Jupiter-like planet in the distant Milky Way.
Research article: De et al.
30:25 Briefing Chat
We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, a clearer image of the supermassive black hole M87*, and how elephant seals catch some shut-eye while diving.
New York Times: Elephant Seals Take Power Naps During Deep Ocean Dives
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Why does cancer spread to the spine? Newly discovered stem cells might be the key23:42In this episode:00:45 A new insight into cancers' selective spreadCancer cells can spread to bones in the late stages of disease and in many cancers, cells actually preferentially metastasise to the spine. The reason for this has been a puzzle to researchers for years, but now a team has found a new kind of stem cell that may be involved in this process. The stem cell is found in mice and humans and could represent a clinical target in the treatment of cancer.Research article: Sun et al.News and Views: Stem cells provide clues to why vertebrae attract tumour cells09:55 Research HighlightsA preference for certain percussion instruments among palm cockatoos, and modelling where people wait on train platforms.Research Highlight: This parrot taps out beats — and it custom-builds its instrumentsResearch Highlight: The maths of how we wait in crowded places12:29 Briefing ChatThis time, a second trial shows the effectiveness of using MDMA to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and how an upgrade to an X-ray laser will let researchers make ultra-crisp ‘molecular movies’.Nature News: Psychedelic drug MDMA moves closer to US approval following success in PTSD trialNature News: World’s most powerful X-ray laser will ‘film’ chemical reactions in unprecedented detail
A mussel-inspired glue for more sustainable sticking33:42In this episode:00:46 A sustainably-sourced, super-strong adhesiveThe modern world is held together by adhesives, but these fossil-fuel derived materials come at an environmental cost. To overcome this, a team have developed a soya-oil based adhesive, which also takes inspiration from the proteins that marine animals like mussels use to stick firmly to rocks. The researchers say their glue is strong, reversible, and less carbon intensive to produce than existing adhesives.Research article: Westerman et al.07:43 Research HighlightsWhy chemicals derived from wood could be sustainable alternatives to a common plastic building block, and how historical accounts helped researchers estimate the brightness of a 1859 solar flare.Research Highlight: Wood component yields useful plastics — without the health risksResearch Highlight: A historic solar flare’s huge intensity is revealed by new tools10:08 New insights into childhood stunting and wastingAround the world, millions of children are affected by malnutrition, which can result in stunting or wasting, both associated with serious health issues. Despite a widespread recognition of the seriousness of stunting and wasting, there are still questions about their extent, causes and consequences. To answer these, a team have pooled data from previous studies, and show that nutritional interventions targeting the earliest years of life could have the greatest impact.Research article: Benjamin-Chung et al.Research article: Mertens et al.Research article: Mertens et al.Nature Collection: Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals20:29 Briefing ChatThis time, what rejoining the Horizon Europe research-funding programme means for UK research, and the 1.4-million-year-old stone balls that are mystifying scientists.Nature News: Scientists celebrate as UK rejoins Horizon Europe research programmeScience: Were these stone balls made by ancient human relatives trying to perfect the sphere?Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Our ancestors lost nearly 99% of their population, 900,000 years ago13:34In this episode:00:30 Early humans pushed to brink of extinctionAround 900,000 years ago the ancestors of modern humans were pushed to the brink of extinction, according to new research. Genetic studies suggest that the breeding population of our ancestors in Africa dropped to just 1,280 and didn’t expand again for another 117,000 years. This population crash would likely have had an impact on human genetic diversity, and may have driven the evolution of important features of modern humans, such as brain size.Nature News: Human ancestors nearly went extinct 900,000 years ago3:49 The pollution legacy of Antarctica’s research stationsPoor historical waste practices have left high levels of pollution around Antartica’s research facilities. By surveying the seafloor near Australia’s Casey research station, researchers have revealed high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals.This pollution is likely to be widespread, but its impact on the continent is unknown.Nature News: Antarctic research stations have polluted a pristine wilderness07:43 Melting sea-ice causes catastrophic penguin breeding failurePersistently low levels of sea-ice around Antarctica have caused emperor penguins to abandon their breeding colonies early, resulting in the death of large numbers of chicks. Although the affected populations only represent a small number of the total emperor penguins on the continent, it’s unclear how they’ll fare if trends in sea-ice melt continue.Science: Emperor penguins abandon breeding grounds as ice melts around them09:23 The AI trained to describe smellsResearchers have developed an artificial-intelligence that can describe how compounds smell by analysing their molecular structures. The system’s description of scents are often similar to those of trained human sniffers, and may have applications in the food and perfume industries. Currently the AI works on individual molecules, and is unable to identify the smells associated with complex combinations of molecules, something humans noses do with ease.Nature: AI predicts chemicals’ smells from their structuresSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Physicists finally observe strange isotope Oxygen 28 – raising fundamental questions29:05In this episode:00:47 First observation of oxygen 28Oxygen 28 is an isotope of oxygen with 20 neutrons and eight protons. This strange isotope has long been sought after by physicists, as its proposed unusual properties would allow them to put their theories of how atomic nuclei work to the test. Now, after decades of experiments physicists believe they have observed oxygen 28. The observations are at odds with theory predictions, so they imply that there’s a lot more physicists don’t know about the forces that hold atomic nuclei together.Research article: Kondo et al.News and Views: Heaviest oxygen isotope is found to be unbound10:06 Research HighlightsHow venus fly traps can protect themselves from wildfires, and a ball-point pen that can ‘write’ LEDs.Research Highlight: Venus flytraps shut their traps when flames approachResearch Highlight: A rainbow of LEDs adorns objects at the stroke of a pen12:39 An AI for Drone RacingAIs have been beating humans at games for years, but in these cases the AI has always trained in exactly the same conditions in which it competes. In chess for example, the board can be simulated exactly. Now though, researchers have demonstrated an AI that can beat humans in a place where simulation can only take you so far, the real world. The Swift AI system is able to race drones against champion-level humans, and beat them most of the time. The researchers hope this research can help improve the efficiency of drones in general.Research article: Kaufmann et al.News and Views: Drone-racing champions outpaced by AIVideo: AI finally beats humans at a real-life sport - drone racing19:51 Briefing ChatThis time, the Indian Space Research Organization’s successful moon landing, and the low level of support offered to researchers whose first language isn’t English by journals.Nature News: India lands on the Moon! Scientists celebrate as Chandrayaan-3 touches downNature News: Scientists who don’t speak fluent English get little help from journals, study findsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Audio long read: Medicine is plagued by untrustworthy clinical trials. How many studies are faked or flawed?26:28Investigations suggest that, in some fields, at least one-quarter of clinical trials might be problematic or even entirely made up. Faked or unreliable trials are dangerous, as they could end up being included in the reviews that help inform clinical treatments. However, the extent of the problem in unclear, and many researchers urge stronger scrutiny.This is an audio version of our Feature: Medicine is plagued by untrustworthy clinical trials. How many studies are faked or flawed?
Brain-reading implants turn thoughts into speech29:28In this episode:00:47 The brain-computer interfaces that help restore communicationPeople with certain neurological conditions can lose the ability to speak as a result of facial paralysis. This week, two teams demonstrate the potential of devices called brain-computer interfaces to help people in these situations communicate. These interfaces work by identifying the brain activity associated with the intent to say words, and converting this activity into speech-related outputs, such as text or audio. Both devices show marked improvements compared with previous interfaces, and show that the technology could represent a way to help restore communication to people with severe paralysis.Research article: Metzger et al.Research article: Willett et al.News and Views: Brain implants that enable speech pass performance milestones11:46 Research HighlightsHow wind-tunnel experiments could help athletes run the fastest marathon ever, and an analysis that could help explain why birds are the colours they are.Research Highlight: Physicists find a way to set a new marathon recordResearch Highlight: Which birds are drab and which dazzle? Predators have a say14:06 How much heat can tropical leaves take?As the climate warms, tropical forests around the world are facing increasing temperatures. But it’s unknown how much the trees can endure before their leaves start to die. A team has combined multiple data sources to try and answer this question, and suggest that a warming of 3.9 °C would lead to many leaves reaching a tipping point at which photosynthesis breaks down. This scenario would likely cause significant damage to these ecosystems’ role in vital carbon storage and as homes to significant biodiversity.Research article: Doughty et al.21:01 Briefing ChatThis time, a reexamination of Ötzi the iceman’s DNA suggests he had a different appearance, and the failure of a Russian mission to the moon.Nature News: Ötzi the Iceman has a new look: balding and dark-skinnedNature News: Russian Moon lander crash — what happened, and what’s next?Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Fruit flies' ability to sense magnetic fields thrown into doubt31:47In this episode:00:49 The search for animals’ magnetic sense sufferers a potential setbackExactly how animals sense Earth’s magnetic field has long eluded researchers. To understand it, many have turned to the fly model Drosophila melanogaster, long thought to be able to detect magnetic fields. However, a recent Nature paper has raised questions about this ability, a finding that could have repercussions for scientists’ efforts to understand the mechanism behind magnetic sensing, one of the biggest questions in sensory biology.Research article: Bassetto et al.News & Views: Replication study casts doubt on magnetic sensing in flies10:53 Research HighlightsThe world’s first filter feeder, and human-caused climate change in the Bronze Age.Research Highlight: This ancient reptile wanted to be a whaleResearch Highlight: Bronze Age deforestation changed Europe’s climate13:03 An iconic observatory shuts downThis week the famed Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico shut down. The facility’s main telescope collapsed in 2020 and the site has since been battered by storms and pandemic-related shutdowns. Now, with funding exhausted and no clear plan in place, scientists are wondering what will become of the site.Nature News: Closing down an icon: will Arecibo Observatory ever do science again?20:28 Briefing ChatThis time, the Standard Model of physics still isn't dead according to new measurements of muons' magnetic moment, and finding the most diverse habitat on Earth under your feet.Nature News: Dreams of new physics fade with latest muon magnetism resultThe Guardian: More than half of Earth’s species live in the soil, study findsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Racism in health: the roots of the US Black maternal mortality crisis44:58A perfect storm of factors has led to huge racial disparities in maternal healthcare. In the USA, as abortion clinics continue to close, this inequity is projected to widen. In this podcast from Nature and ScientificAmerican, we hear from leading academics unpacking the racism at the heart of the system. From the historical links between slavery and gynaecology to the systematic erasure of America’s Black midwives. What is behind the Black maternal mortality crisis, and what needs to change?Read more of Nature's coverage of racism in science.Read full list of sources here
How welcome are refugees in Europe? A giant study has some answers25:56In this episode:00:46 A measure of refugees’ welcome in EuropeWith repeated humanitarian crises displacing millions of people, researchers have been considering how this might affect acceptance of refugees. Will some refugees be more welcome than others? Will continued movements erode support for refugees overall? To answer these questions, a huge study looks at the attitudes of 33,000 people from 15 European countries towards refugees. They find that overall support for refugees has slightly increased, although some characteristics, such as ability to speak the language of the country they’re settling in, are preferred. They hope this research will help policymakers to respond to stresses on the asylum system.Research article: Bansak et al.11:26 Research HighlightsThe unusual feeding grounds of the pygmy right whale, and the JWST spots a possible quasar from the early Universe.Research Highlight: An enigmatic little whale’s habits, from its own mouthResearch Highlight: JWST spots what could be a quasar from the early Universe13:44 Briefing ChatWe discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, how designing shapes to roll down wiggly lines has implications for quantum physics, and a settlement for the family of Henrietta Lacks.Research Article: Sobolev et al.Video: These shapes roll in peculiar ways thanks to new mathematicsNature News: How the ‘groundbreaking’ Henrietta Lacks settlement could change researchSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.Never miss an episode. Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. An RSS feed for the Nature Podcast is available too.