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cover art for Nature Extra: Futures September 2016

Nature Podcast

Nature Extra: Futures September 2016

Futures is Nature's weekly science fiction slot. Miranda Keeling reads you our favourite from September, ’Try Catch Throw’ by Andrew Neil Gray.

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  • Lizard-inspired building design could save lives

    31:27
    In this episode:00:45 A recyclable 3D printing resin from an unusual sourceMany 3D printers create objects using liquid resins that turn into robust solids when exposed to light. But many of these are derived from petrochemicals that are difficult to recycle. To overcome this a team has developed a new type of resin, which they’ve made using a bodybuilding supplement called lipoic acid. Their resin can be printed, recycled and reused multiple times, which they hope could in future contribute to reducing waste associated with 3D printing.Research Article: Machado et al10:05 Research HighlightsHow housing shortages can drive a tiny parrot resort to kill, and the genes that gave cauliflower its curls.Research Highlight: These parrots go on killing sprees over real-estate shortagesResearch Highlight: How the cauliflower got its curlicues12:27 To learn how to make safe structures researchers... destroyed a buildingMany buildings are designed to prevent collapse by redistributing weight following an initial failure. However this relies on extensive structural connectedness that can result in an entire building being pulled down. To prevent this, researchers took a new approach inspired by the ability of some lizards to shed their tails. They used this to develop a modular system, which they tested by building — and destroying — a two storey structure. Their method stopped an initial failure from spreading, preventing a total collapse. The team hope this finding will help prevent catastrophic collapses, reducing loss of life in aid rescue efforts.Research Article: Makoond et al.Nature video: Controlled failure: The building designed to limit catastrophe23:20: Briefing ChatAn AI algorithm discovers 27,500 new asteroids, and an exquisitely-accurate map of a human brain section reveals cells with previously undiscovered features.New York Times: Killer Asteroid Hunters Spot 27,500 Overlooked Space RocksNature News: Cubic millimetre of brain mapped in spectacular detailSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.Subscribe to Nature Briefing: AI and robotics
  • Alphafold 3.0: the AI protein predictor gets an upgrade

    21:33
    In this episode:00:45 A nuclear timekeeper that could transform fundamental-physics research.Nuclear clocks — based on tiny shifts in energy in an atomic nucleus — could be even more accurate and stable than other advanced timekeeping systems, but have been difficult to make. Now, a team of researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of these clocks, identifying the correct frequency of laser light required to make this energy transition happen. Ultimately it’s hoped that physicists could use nuclear clocks to probe the fundamental forces that hold atoms together.News: Laser breakthrough paves the way for ultra precise ‘nuclear clock’10:34 Research HighlightsWhy life on other planets may come in purple, brown or orange, and a magnetic fluid that could change shape inside the body.Research Highlight: Never mind little green men: life on other planets might be purpleResearch Highlight: A magnetic liquid makes for an injectable sensor in living tissue13:48 AlphaFold gets an upgradeDeepmind’s AlphaFold has revolutionised research by making it simple to predict the 3D structures of proteins, but it has lacked the ability to predict situations where a protein is bound to another molecule. Now, the AI has been upgraded to AlphaFold 3 and can accurately predict protein-molecule complexes containing DNA, RNA and more. Whilst the new version is restricted to non-commercial use, researchers are excited by its greater range of predictive abilities and the prospect of speedier drug discovery.News: Major AlphaFold upgrade offers huge boost for drug discoveryResearch Article: Abramson et al.Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • Talking about sex and gender doesn't need to be toxic

    58:39
    Ever since scientific enquiry began, people have focused mainly on men, or if studies involve animals, on male mice, male rats or whatever it may be. And this has led to gaps in scientists’ understanding of how diseases, and responses to treatment, and many other things might vary between people of different sexes and genders.These days, mainly thanks to big funders like the NIH introducing new guidelines and mandates, a lot more scientists are thinking about sex and, where appropriate, gender. And this has led to a whole host of discoveries.But all this research is going on within a sociopolitical climate that’s becoming increasingly hostile and polarized, particularly in relation to gender identity. And in some cases, science is being weaponized to push agendas, creating confusion and fear.It is clear that sex and gender exist beyond a simple binary. This is widely accepted by scientists and it is not something we will be debating in this podcast. But this whole area is full of complexity, and there are many discussions which need to be had around funding, inclusivity or research practices.To try to lessen fear, and encourage clearer, less divisive thinking, we have asked three contributors to a special series of opinion pieces on sex and gender to come together and thrash out how exactly scientists can fill in years of neglected research – and move forward with exploring the differences between individuals in a way that is responsible, inclusive and beneficial to as many people as possible.Read the full collection: Sex and gender in science
  • Dad's microbiome can affect offsprings' health — in mice

    25:14
    In this episode:00:46 Using genomics to explain geographic differences in cancer riskThe risk of developing cancer can vary hugely depending on geographic region, but it’s not exactly clear why. To get a better idea, a team has compared the genomes of kidney cancers taken from people around the globe. They reveal a link between geographical locations and specific genetic mutations, suggesting that there are as-yet unknown environmental or chemical exposures in different locations. They hope this work will inform public health efforts to identify and reduce potential causes of cancer.Research Article: Senkin et al.News and Views: Genomics reveal unknown mutation-promoting agents at global sites07:46 Research HighlightsResearch reveals that the extinct ‘sabre-toothed salmon’ actually had tusks, and a common fungus that can clean up both heavy-metal and organic pollutants.Research Highlight: This giant extinct salmon had tusks like a warthogResearch Highlight: Garden-variety fungus is an expert at environmental clean-ups09:55 How disrupting a male mouse’s microbiome affects its offspringDisruption of the gut microbiota has been linked to issues with multiple organs. Now a team show disruption can even affect offspring. Male mice given antibiotics targeting gut microbes showed changes to their testes and sperm, which lead to their offspring having a higher probability of severe growth issues and premature death. Although it’s unknown whether a similar effect would be seen in humans, it suggests that factors other than genetics play a role in intergenerational disease susceptibility.Research article: Argaw-Denboba et al.News and Views: Dad’s gut microbes matter for pregnancy health and baby’s growth17:23 Briefing ChatAn updated atlas of the Moon that was a decade in the making, and using AI to design new gene-editing systems.Nature News: China's Moon atlas is the most detailed ever madeNature News: ‘ChatGPT for CRISPR’ creates new gene-editing toolsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • Audio long read: Why loneliness is bad for your health

    14:58
    Many people around the world feel lonely. Chronic loneliness is known to have far-reaching health effects and has been linked to multiple conditions and even early death. But the mechanisms through which feeling alone can lead to poor health is a puzzle. Now, researchers are looking at neurons in the hopes that they may help explain why health issues arise when social needs go unmet.This is an audio version of our Feature Why loneliness is bad for your health
  • How gliding marsupials got their 'wings'

    28:36
    In this episode:00:46 Optical clocks at seaOptical atomic clocks are the most precise timekeeping devices on the planet, but these devices are huge and difficult to work with, limiting their use outside of the lab. Now, researchers have developed a portable optical clock and demonstrated its robustness by sending it on a perilous sea journey. The team hope that this work will pave the way to more practical uses of optical clocks, such as on satellites where they could help improve the accuracy of GPS technologies.Research Article: Roslund et al.News and Views: Robust optical clocks promise stable timing in a portable package09:34 Research HighlightsEvidence of ritual burning of the remains of a Maya royal family, and the first solid detection of an astrophysical tau-neutrino.Research Highlight: Burnt remains of Maya royalty mark a dramatic power shiftResearch Highlight: Detectors deep in South Pole ice pin down elusive tau neutrino11:52 How marsupial gliding membranes evolvedSeveral marsupial species have evolved a membrane called a patagium that allows them to glide gracefully from tree to tree. Experiments show that mutations in areas of DNA around the gene Emx2 were key to the evolution of this ability, which has appeared independently in multiple marsupial species.Research article: Moreno et al.News and Views: Marsupial genomes reveal how a skin membrane for gliding evolved19:22 Briefing ChatHow overtraining AIs can help them discover novel solutions, and researchers manage to make one-atom thick sheets of ‘goldene’.Quanta Magazine: How Do Machines ‘Grok’ Data?Nature news: Meet ‘goldene’: this gilded cousin of graphene is also one atom thickSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.Subscribe to Nature Briefing: AI and robotics
  • Living on Mars would probably suck — here's why

    38:11
    Humans setting up home in outer space has long been the preserve of science fiction. Now, thanks to advances in technology and the backing of billionaires, this dream could actually be realised. But is it more likely to be a nightmare?Kelly and Zach Weinersmith join us to discuss their new book A City on Mars and some of the medical, environmental and legal roadblocks that may prevent humanity from ultimately settling in space.A City on Mars: Can We Settle Space, Should We Settle Space, and Have We Really Thought This Through? Kelly and Zach Weinersmith Particular Books (2023)
  • Keys, wallet, phone: the neuroscience behind working memory

    34:10
    In this episode:00:46 Mysterious methane emission from a cool brown dwarfThe James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is revealing the makeup of brown dwarfs — strange space objects that blur the line between a planet and a star. And it appears that methane in the atmosphere of one of these objects, named W1935, is emitting infrared radiation. Where the energy comes from is a mystery however, researchers hypothesise that the glow could be caused by an aurora in the object’s atmosphere, perhaps driven by an as-yet unseen moon.Research Article: Faherty et al.10:44 Research HighlightsThe discovery that bitter taste receptors may date back 450 million years, and the first planet outside the Solar System to boast a rainbow-like phenomenon called a ‘glory’.Research Highlight: Bitter taste receptors are even older than scientists thoughtResearch Highlight: An exoplanet is wrapped in glory13:07 How working memory worksWorking memory is a fundamental process that allows us to temporarily store important information, such as the name of a person we’ve just met. However distractions can easily interrupt this process, leading to these memories vanishing. By looking at the brain activity of people doing working-memory tasks, a team have now confirmed that working memory requires two brain regions: one to hold a memory as long as you focus on it; and another to control its maintenance by helping you to not get distracted.Research article: Daume et al.News and Views: Coupled neural activity controls working memory in humans22:31 Briefing ChatThe bleaching event hitting coral around the world, and the first evidence of a nitrogen-fixing eukaryote.New York Times: The Widest-Ever Global Coral Crisis Will Hit Within Weeks, Scientists SayNature News: Scientists discover first algae that can fix nitrogen — thanks to a tiny cell structureNature video: AI and robotics demystify the workings of a fly's wingVote for us in the Webbys: https://go.nature.com/3TVYHmP
  • The 'ghost roads' driving tropical deforestation

    23:01
    In this episode:00:46 Mapping ‘ghost roads’ in tropical forestsAcross the world, huge numbers of illegal roads have been cut into forests. However, due to their illicit nature, the exact numbers of these roads and their impacts on ecosystems is poorly understood. To address this, researchers have undertaken a huge mapping exercise across the tropical Asia-Pacific region. Their findings reveal over a million kilometers of roads that don’t appear on official maps, and that their construction is a key driver for deforestation.Research Article: Engert et al.10:44 Research HighlightsHow climate change fuelled a record-breaking hailstorm in Spain, and an unusual technique helps researchers detect a tiny starquake.Research Highlight: Baseball-sized hail in Spain began with a heatwave at seaResearch Highlight: Smallest known starquakes are detected with a subtle shift of colour13:02 Briefing ChatA clinical trial to test whether ‘mini livers’ can grow in a person’s lymph node, and the proteins that may determine left-handedness.Nature News: ‘Mini liver’ will grow in person’s own lymph node in bold new trialNature News: Right- or left-handed? Protein in embryo cells might help decideNature video: How would a starfish wear trousers? Science has an answerVote for us in the Webbys: https://go.nature.com/3TVYHmPSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.