Science On Top
The Australian Podcast putting Science on Top of the agenda

Some of our best science stories from 2014. Comet landings, Ebola outbreaks, retracted stem cell studies, faecal transplant capsules and more!

Climate Change and Australian science policy
Microbiology
Retracted STAP study
Comet landing
Viruses
Other
Direct download: SoT_0173.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:24pm AEDT

Rosetta has analysed the water found on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and found significant differences compared to water on Earth. This may weaken the theory that comets brought water to an early Earth.
One of the most common minerals on our planet finally has a name. We've known Brigmanite exists for a long time, but it was a surprising source that gave scientists the opportunity to study it up close.
The New Horizons spacecraft has just been successfully woken up, and is on track to giving us our first up-close look at Dwarf Planet Pluto next year.
And the Dawn space probe has just taken its first low quality photo of minor planet Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. Dawn is expected to arrive at Ceres in early 2015.
Traditional forensic DNA tests can't tell the difference between identical twins, but a new test may change that. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for early next year to determine whether evidence from the test is admissible in US Courts.
A three-year-old child died and several young children fell ill in Victoria, Australia after drinking raw milk. We discuss why unpasteurised milk is legally sold in Australia as 'bath milk' and why some people choose to drink it.

Direct download: SoT_0172.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:04pm AEDT

Is HIV evolving in to a milder, less deadly virus? A new study suggests it's taking longer for HIV infections to cause AIDS and that this is the result of mutations in the virus.
NASA's test launch and flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle was a success. This was an important step in an ambitious plan to send astronauts to an asteroid and then perhaps send astronauts to Mars.
Biologists at Santa Fe College in Florida have found that our desire to drink alcohol, and our ability to break down the ethanol, dates back about 10 million years.
Blood plasma from Ebola survivors contains antibodies that might trigger an immune system response in patients, a bit like a vaccine. This week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that early next year it plans to begin clinical trials in Guinea to test if such blood transfusions are effective.
Researchers from North Dakota State University have used Fructose to make a new type of plastic that breaks down completely after just three hours of UV light exposure. It can then be fully recycled.

Direct download: SoT_0171.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:37pm AEDT

Professor Rob Morrison and Dr Deane Hutton are Australian science communication heroes. Together they hosted the children's science TV show Curiosity Show, which ran for 18 consecutive years from 1972 to 1990. Ed and Lucas caught up with them at TEDxCanberra to talk about the show and its recent new episode, what they've done since then, and their views on science communication and education.

 

Rob mentions Duck Quacks Don't Echo (UK) as an example of good current science television.

Direct download: SoT_Special_015_-_Curiosity_Show.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:51am AEDT

More details on Philae's rough landings, and the future of the first probe to land on a cometProfessor Monica Grady's reaction to the landing, the sound of the landing, and the comet 'sings'.
When a pair of scientists found their experiment contaminated from the DNA Isolation kits they were using, they set out to see if other experiments were similarly contaminated.
Researchers at Australia's James Cook University have discovered tiny zircon crystals on Vanuatu. But surprisingly, they seem to have originally come from Australia.
Scientists have descended into one of the three mysterious craters that have formed this year in Siberia, onto a frozen lake. The most likely explanation for the craters is a "catastrophic destabilization of Arctic methane stores due to human-caused warming".

Direct download: SoT_0170.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:07pm AEDT

Shayne and Ed are joined by Dr. George Aranda, curator of the Science Book A Day blog and co-host of the Big Ideas Book Club in Melbourne. George is running a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to investigate the use of 3D Printers in school education.
Scientists from University of Bern in Switzerland have developed a new approach to the treatment of severe bacterial infections without the use of antibiotics.
The prestigious Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books has been awarded to Mark Miodownik, author of Stuff Matters. The book is an enthralling account of Mark's love of material science, and the extraordinary properties of the materials in our everyday lives.
Cornell University’s Ruth Ley and her colleagues have identified one bacterial taxon, the family Christensenellaceae, as the most highly heritable group of microbes in the human gut.
And for the first time ever, humans have landed a probe on a comet moving at 50,000kph.

Direct download: SoT_0169.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:04pm AEDT

A team of bioengineers is trying to make artificial milk in a lab and without animals. They call it "Muufri".
In order to study penguins up close, without disturbing them, researchers from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique used small baby-penguin sized rovers. The rover - cleverly disguised as a penguin - was able to monitor penguins and even quick-tempered elephant seals without alarming the animals.
A man who had brain surgery for a serious medical condition unexpectedly found his arachnophobia cured.
It was a bad week for commercial spaceflight, after Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket exploded seconds after launch and then Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight.

Direct download: SoT_0168.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:20am AEDT

Virologist Dr. Grant Hill-Cawthorne joins us to discuss Ebola. Everything you need to know about the current outbreak.
Researchers in Florida have noticed than in just fifteen years a particular species of lizard has grown larger, stickier feet as an evolutionary response to an invading Cuban lizard.
In the lead up to the attempted landing of Philae on a comet in a few weeks, the Rosetta probe has taken some readings. And now we know what a comet smells like, and it's not pretty.
A man with a completely severed spinal cord can now walk again, thanks to a revolutionary surgery using stem cells taken from his nose.

Direct download: SoT_0167.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:33pm AEDT

Defence giant Lockheed Martin has announced it wants to build a truck-sized nuclear fusion power-plant in the next ten years. They just don't appear to have a plan.
The microbes in our guts have their own body clocks, and they too get messed up when we get jetlagged.
The giant kangaroos that used to roam the Australian continent were three times the size of their modern descendants. And new research shows they used to walk, rather than hop.
NASA's Messenger spacecraft has provided the first optical images of ice on the planet Mercury.
Mimas, one of the smaller moons of Saturn, may have an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface, after pictures taken by Cassini show an extra wobble in its rotation.

Direct download: SoT_0166-01.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:55pm AEDT

More artifacts have been recovered from the Antikythera wreck, the 1st century BC shipwreck discovered in 1900 off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera. None of the newly found artifacts, however, appear to be related to the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism, widely known as the first analog computer.

It had long been thought that volcanic activity on the moon stopped around a billion years ago. Now high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) suggest there was activity as geologically recently as 50 million years ago.

The next stage in fecal transplants could be a simple oral pill. Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital have managed to put frozen fecal matter into capsules that can be taken orally. These capsules have a similar 90% success rate against Clostridium difficile infection.

In order to study energy trade-offs in voles, scientists had to shave 120 rodents before re-releasing the furry mammals back into the wild. And then they had to recapture them!

There's a symbiotic relationship that's developed over millions of years between brewer's yeast and fruit flies. Understanding this relationship could give brewers more techniques for making distinctive beers.

Direct download: SoT_0165.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:39am AEDT

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014 was awarded with one half to John O'Keefe and the other half jointly to May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser "for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain".
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2014 was awarded jointly to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura "for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources".
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014 was awarded jointly to Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy".
A team of scientists took soil samples at 596 sites across New York’s Central Park. They analysed the soil samples an discovered 167,000 different kinds of microbes, the vast majority of which were unknown to science.
The characteristics of a previous mate can affect the attributes of a fruit fly's offspring. Even if the previous mate is not the genetic father of the offspring.
Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina are developing artificial penises developed from a patient's own cells. The team is hoping to receive approval from the US FDA to begin human testing the lab-grown penises within five years.

Direct download: SoT_0164.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:39pm AEDT

The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make us laugh, then make us think. We take a look at this year’s winners: from banana peels to people dressed as polar bears!

PHYSICS PRIZE
A team from Japan for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that's on the floor.
Banana peel slipperiness wins IgNobel prize in physics

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE
Scientists from China and Canada for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
University Of Toronto Researchers Find ‘Seeing Jesus In Toast’ Phenomenon Perfectly Normal

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE
A team from Australia, the UK and the US for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.
THE DARK TRIAD: People Who Love The Night Have Psychopathic Traits

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE
A number of scientists from the Czech Republic, Japan, the USA and India for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat. Turns out it can be, if you get infected with our old friend Toxoplasma Gondii.
Parasite makes men dumb, women sexy

BIOLOGY PRIZE
A team from the Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines.
Dogs align their bodies along a North-South axis when they poop
Do Dogs Line Themselves Up With the Earth’s Magnetic Field to Poop?

ART PRIZE
Three scientists from Italy, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.
ITALY: Beautiful art eases pain

ECONOMICS PRIZE
ISTAT — the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.
In Italy, prostitutes and illegal drugs could shrink the deficit

MEDICINE PRIZE
A team from the USA and India for treating "uncontrollable" nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.
The Bacon Tampon: Doctors Find Salt Pork Stops Nosebleeds

ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE
Scientists from Norway, Germany, USA and Canada for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.
Svalbard Reindeer: Thriving Again on the Tundra

NUTRITION PRIZE
Scientists in Spain for their study titled "Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages."
Pooperoni? Baby-Poop Bacteria Help Make Healthy Sausages

Direct download: SoT_0163.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:24pm AEDT

Professor Stephen Hawking has written a preface to a book, and his comments have gotten a little misinterpreted. Katie explains why the Higgs boson is absolutely not in any danger of destroying the world.
A study of Spinosaurus bones has determined the sail-backed dinosaur had adaptations to make it better suited to swimming than running. This study suggests that Spinosaurus may have been the only known swimming dinosaur. And plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs were technically not dinosaurs. Neither were pterodactyls. In fact Everything You Were Taught As a Child About Dinosaurs Is Wrong.
A very small number of people who get the flu vaccine still get the flu. And while there are a number of factors that could be responsible for this, a team of immunologists suggests one important factor could be the gut microbiome.
The standard medical advice for patients with back pain wanting to have sex is to try spooning. But the first ever scientific experiment on the matter has shown that advice could be very wrong.

Direct download: SoT_0162.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:34am AEDT

The Common Octopus, or Octopus Vulgaris, is the most studied of all octopus species. But all that studying has found so many differences between some, which could mean the Common Octopus is possibly as many as ten different species.
Why coffee has caffeine: An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of Coffea canephora, one of the main sources of coffee beans. By analysing its genes, they were able to reconstruct how coffee evolved to make caffeine.
The availability of camera-phones and an increased mainstream interest in photography has led to the discovery of new insect species and behaviours. And the metadata stored with digital photographs provides a wealth of information for modern naturalists.
Engineers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have created a fabric knitted with electronic circuits that can be worn, washed, stretched, and even shot!

Direct download: SoT_0161.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:34pm AEDT

Sean Elliott joins us to talk about the origins of life and his upcoming Melbourne Fringe show, Rough Science: Life.
Cobi Smith joins us from CERN to talk about her Melbourne Fringe show, Delusions of Slander.
The mystery of the ‘Wandering Stones’ of Death Valley may no longer be a mystery. Researchers have used video cameras, GPS units and a weather station to document and track how these large rocks move along the dry lake bed.
Researchers at the University of Ottawa have done a really cool experiment with bichirs – a kind of fish that has gills and lungs. Bichirs have been known on occasion to walk on land – although somewhat awkwardly. But these researcherswere looking into the evolution of walking limbs. Essentially how our ancestors first crawled out of the ocean and became land-dwellers
Russia’s infamous ‘space sex geckos’ did not survive their microgravity mating experiment. It is believed the heating equipment failed and the lizards froze to death.

Direct download: SoT_0160.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:27pm AEDT

About ten years ago an entomologist at the University of Colorado found 250 forgotten boxes in a storage cupboard. Inside were 13,000 grasshopper specimens collected more than 40 years ago, which provide a fascinating insight into climate and other environmental changes in that time.

A chance observation has led to the discovery that the blood of certain abalone has antiviral properties, which could lead to better treatments for the herpes simplex virus.

The vitamin K injection at birth helps prevent newborn babies from severe intestinal or cerebral bleeding. A small but growing number of parents are declining the shot, and the anti-vaccination movement seems largely to blame.

Drilling through 800m of ice has enabled scientists to find the first solid evidence on life in a subglacial lake. Yes, there’s bacteria there too.

Giant panda Ai Hin has possibly demonstrated a learned behaviour - she pretended to be pregnant in order to get special treatment!

Direct download: SoT_0159.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:11pm AEDT

Mother turtles and their newly hatched babies talk to each other underwater, and scientists in Brazil have managed to record them.

Taking antibiotics to kill ‘bad’ bacteria can be a good idea, but such disruptions to the gut microbiome can have long-term consequences for our health, and could even be making us fat.

The widely held belief that magpies steal shiny objects seems to be myth-busted. Instead, they seem to avoid new objects regardless of shininess.

Analysis of bones from King Richard the Third reveal that the last King of England to die in battle lived the good life. The samples indicate the King drank up to a bottle of wine each day.

Direct download: SoT_0158.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:40pm AEDT

The Rosetta space probe has finally arrived and is currently in orbit around the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko! Rosetta is now officially the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.
previously unknown tribe of humans has emerged from the rainforest in Brazil and made contact with a settled indigenous community. They are believed to have fled illegal loggers and drug traffickers, but some have already contracted influenza.
Newly discovered crAssphage could be the most common virus in your body. Nobody has ever seen it, and we didn’t even know about it until just recently.
Grizzly bears will eat an extraordinary amount of food before going into hibernation. In humans, this would be a recipe for diabetes but it isn’t for the bears. Turns out there’s a protein called PTEN that’s responsible – and the trick is reducing its expression only in fat cells.
What do you get when two scientists sequence their gut microbiome for a whole year? An amazingly detailed dataset that documents the changes our bodies go through during illness, travel and dietary changes.
Being strangled during sex might be unfortunate, but being eaten by your mate afterwards would also be weird. Another reason to be glad you’re not an octopus.

Direct download: SoT_0157.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:52pm AEDT

At our 150th episode celebration earlier this year, we were fortunate to have Dr. Krystal Evans address the audience to talk about science in Australia. Dr. Evans is a medical researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute where she is working on Malaria treatment and developing a vaccine. She is a leading advocate for science and technology, and was a founding member and Chair of the Australian Academy of Science’s Early and Mid Career Researcher Forum. In this talk she looks at how Australia stacks up against the rest of the world - both in scientific accomplishments and in investment. She talks about ways to motivate scientists to engage with the public, and also how to encourage the public to take an interest in science. And she answers that burning question: just how much is Australian politics like going on a date with a homeopath?

Direct download: SoT_Special__014.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:29pm AEDT

Steve Nerlich from the Cheap Astronomy podcast gives us an update on the roller-coaster life of the ISEE-3 space probe. It was alive, then it died, then it was resurrected then it seemed dead but now it may be still alive again!

Paleontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of one of the world's first known predators that lived in the sea around 520 million years ago. The fossils were detailed enough to show some of the brain structures.

Researchers at UCLA have found eight types of electric bacteria - bacteria that eat and excrete electrons.

The Rosetta spacecraft is approaching its target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and its latest photos reveal the comet to be, well, rubber-duckie shaped. The comet could be two bodies joined together, and this could make the planned deployment of a lander a bit complicated.

A well-preserved, complete fossil skeleton of the largest known microraptorine - a flying non-avian dinosaur - has been found in China. Called Changyuraptor yangi, the dinosaur was about 1.3 metres long and weighed 4kg. And it had four wings!

Scientists at Dartmouth College are looking at a parasite commonly found in cat poo, Toxoplasma gondii, in an attempt to develop a cancer vaccine. When infected by 'Toxo', the human body produces cytotoxic T cells that cancer would normally shut down.

And what happens when you put snakes in microgravity? In the ultimate Snakes On A Plane experiment, scientists found snakes either attack themselves or tie themselves in knots.

Direct download: SoT_0156.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:46pm AEDT

Twenty-seven months ago the "Mississippi Baby" stopped HIV treatment and was believed to be free of the virus. Unfortunately, that changed this month when test showed the virus is back. It had gone into hiding and the now four-year-old girl will face years, possibly her whole life, on antiretroviral therapy.

A scientist at a CDC research centre found a cardboard box containing six vials of the smallpox virus in a storage room. The vials are believed to have been left there since the 1950s, and there is always a possibility that there are other long-forgotten samples of the virus elsewhere.

A study of mice that attempted to replicate the Dutch Winter Hunger have found that stresses on a mother can have epigenetic effects, altering gene expressions across multiple generations.

When experimental stem cell therapies go wrong: an 18 year old paraplegic had stem cells from her nose placed in her spine as part of a trial. Eight years later, the cells had grown into a mass of nasal tissue containing a thick, mucous-like substance.

Neonicotinoids are a controversial class of insecticides widely used in agriculture, that have been linked to declining bee populations. A new study reveals that they may be doing more widespread harm than just bees, and insect-eating birds could be affected by the disruption in the food-chain.

Giant pandas, while technically belonging to the order Carnivora, almost exclusively eat bamboo. Bamboo is so nutritionally poor that researchers wondered how they survive. Turns out, they move around to different areas and eat bamboo in different stages of development.

Direct download: SoT_0155.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:12pm AEDT

We’re not comfortable being bored, according to a study published in the journal Science. The paper suggestedpeople would rather give themselves electric shocks than be left alone with their thoughts.

Where humans detect colours via three receptors in our eyes, the mantis shrimp have twelve. And a new study indicates six of those detect five different wavelengths of ultraviolet light. The mantis shrimp has adapted “nature’s sunscreens’ – mycosporine-like amino acids – and turned them into ultraviolet detectors.

Despite not having ears, plants can ‘hear’ the chomp of nearby caterpillars. Two researchers from University of Missouri noticed plants produced a pesticide chemical when they heard the sound of hungry, hungry caterpillars.

A common lichen in South America turns out to actually be 126 distinct species – and maybe more than 400. This highlights the difficulties involved in classifying and categorizing life, and the advances that modern gene technologies are bringing to taxonomy.

After a comprehensive study of the world’s oceans, oceanographers “can’t account for 99 percent of the plastic that we have in the ocean“. There are a few hypotheses to explain the missing plastic, but none are very conclusive. Also Illinois has now banned the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads, which are too small to be filtered from waste-water and end up released into oceans and other large bodies of water.

Plucky Ukrainian astronomers have ‘adopted’ a star and given it a name that’s, well, somewhat insulting to Vladimir Putin.

Direct download: SoT_0154.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:59pm AEDT

The announcement earlier this year that the BICEP2 team had discovered gravitational waves is now mired in controversy. Dr. Alan Duffy joins us to explain why 'the biggest announcement' is now probably meaningless.

In 2012, Facebook manipulated the newsfeed of 689,003 users as part of a psychological experiment. The company claims it was able to alter the moods of some users, but the study's methodology and ethical concerns have drawn widespread criticism.

The electric eel - described by one researchers as "a 6-inch fish attached to a 5-1/2-foot cattle prod" - can deliver a powerful electric shock. Now, a study of its genome reveals this ability has evolved six separate times, in a remarkable example of convergent evolution.

According to the World Health Organisation, the current outbreak of Ebola virus has killed 467, making it the most severe in recorded history.

Italy is about to send its first female astronaut to the International Space Station, and she'll be taking a special zero-gravity coffee machine with her.

Direct download: SoT_0153.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:59am AEDT

Koalas will cuddle specific tree types during summer heatwaves to cool down. Hugging the right tree can reduce a koala's body temperature by almost 70 per cent.

Researchers have sequenced the genome of Eucalyptus grandis, a common type of gum tree. And this genetic blueprint, according to the researchers, could help design more powerful and efficient jet fuels. The project took five years and involved 80 scientists from 18 countries.

A 36 year-old space probe, mothballed by NASA, has just been resurrected by a crowdfunded group of volunteers calling themselves the ISEE-3 Reboot Project. The team raised $159,502 on Kickstarter to cover the costs of writing the software to communicate with the probe, searching through the NASA archives for the information needed to control the spacecraft, and buying time on the dish antennas.

60 years after the suicide of one of the greatest mathematicians, Alan Turing, the test he gave his name to has allegedly been passed. The Turing Test is where a computer program tries to fool a human into thinking they're conversing with real human being.  A Russian chatbot sort of did that, by pretending it was a 13 year old Ukrainian boy who likes Eminem. But it's not the breakthrough that some people have claimed.

A study on Bangladeshi children has found that the gut microbiome of malnourished children is less developed than that of healthy children. This suggests that food alone might not be enough to combat malnutrition, as the gut bacteria may need a boost as well.

The National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC) is giant collection of yeast cultures, holding over 4000 strains collected over 65 years. While a lot of its cultures are stored for medical research purposes, it also acts as a kind of insurance agency for many pubs around the UK in case their unique strain of brewer's yeast is lost.

Direct download: SoT_0152.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:43pm AEDT

A study suggests hurricanes with 'female' names have killed more people than 'male' names. But it's MUCH more complicated than that.

Men are more likely than women to report severe pain after major surgery. But Women are more likely to complain after minor surgery. Because reasons.

A tiny tick trapped in a droplet of amber more than 15 million years ago appears to have been infected with a bacteria similar to the one that causes Lyme disease in humans.

The oldest known pair of trousers has been found in China, and their low-crotch design may have been for horseriding.

A new study of marmosets gives some clues as to what causes stillbirth. It's not always the mother's fault, so lay off on the guilt-tripping, ok?

The lead author of the controversial STAP papers, Dr. Haruko Obokata, has agreed to retract one (Update: now both) of the disputed papers.

Direct download: SoT_0151.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:37am AEDT

Greenland is more vulnerable to melting than we thought, and the West Antarctic ice shelf is melting much faster and is now 'unstoppable'.

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is shrinking and changing shape.

The top 10 new species of 2013 have been announced. Some of them are cute.

The first farm to supply insects for human consumption has opened, but faces regulatory, engineering and cultural hurdles.

Jupiter's moon Ganymede has layers of ice and water beneath its surface. NASA calls it a 'moonwich' but nobody else does.

An elaborate experiment shows that fruit flies need to stop and think before making decisions. Also, fruit flies have decisions to make.

Direct download: SoT_0150.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:12pm AEDT

The Australian researcher who provided the best evidence for non-celiac gluten sensitivity has now done more extensive research. He now believes gluten may not be the culprit after all.

Polar bears, the largest land predators alive, have many genetic tricks they have developed to help them survive on an extremely high-fat diet.

Ratites - flightless birds like emus, ostriches and rheas - have long been thought to have evolved from a single flightless ancestor. But now new research made with the largest genetic dataset of ratites suggests that they each lost the ability to fly independently.

Paleontologists in Argentina may have unearthed many fossils of a new species of Titanosaur, which could be the largest animal ever to walk the Earth. However, its size is an estimate based on one bone, and similar estimates in the past have turned out to be wildly inaccurate.

Direct download: SoT_0149.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:44pm AEDT

Man-made electromagnetic noise is affecting migratory birds. But it's not wi-fi, microwaves or any of the usual culprits - just good old fashioned AM radio.

US scientists have developed artificial DNA - X and Y base pairs - which then replicated with the normal G, A, T and C molecules when the cell divides. This could pave the way for new methods of developing drugs and other chemicals. Or Godzilla.

A study with mice involving exercise, electric shocks and drugs have given new insights into how memories are formed, and why you can't remember being a baby.

When bacteria can't sense other bacteria around them, they begin to mutate faster. If we could trick them into thinking they're not alone, we could slow down the development of antibacterial resistance.

Four months after India was declared polio-free, the World Health Organisation has declared the resurgence of polio a "public health emergency of international concern."

Direct download: SoT_0148.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:53pm AEDT

Microbes from lakes in the French Pyrenees thrive on the fungus that has been linked to a dramatic decline in amphibian populations.

A new spider species has been found in the Namibian desert, and it does cartwheels to escape predators.

Rats and mice show increased stress levels when handled by male researchers rather than women, potentially skewing study results.

The average height of British soldiers fighting in the First World War was 168cm. Today the average height for men of the same age is 178cm. A new study suggests that height change was not because of diet, but rather urbanisation.

Sea turtle hatchlings, trying to find their way to the ocean have been confused by well-lit resorts and apartment buildings. A new project, funded in part by fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, aims to fix this problem with new LED lights.

After being first discovered in 2010 by a team in Russia, super-heavy element 117 (Ununseptium) was found again by researchers in Germany. The confirmation means Ununseptium could shortly find its way onto the periodic table as the heaviest element ever made.

Direct download: SoT_0147.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:46pm AEDT

Evolutionary biologist and author of Sex, Genes & Rock 'n' Roll Professor Rob Brooks joins us to talk beards, monogamy and evolution.

Beards seem to be popular now, but we may be approaching 'peak beard', where beards are so common they lose their novelty appeal.

Do babies cry at night to stop their parents having more babies? Evolutionary biologist David Haig thinks they may be unintentionally sabotaging their parents' sex lives.

A ten year, worldwide project has finally sequenced the Tsetse fly genome. The findings from this massive effort could help in the fight against sleeping sickness, which kills nearly 10,000 people a year.

Some dolphins use sea spongers as tools to help forage for food, and it appears to be affecting their diet.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a new test for human papillomavirus, but while it could one day replace a pap smear, it still requires a cervical sample.

Direct download: SoT_0146.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:58pm AEDT

The world's longest continuously running lab experiment, The Pitch Drop, finally drops for the ninth time.

Cephalotes ants can glide to nearby trees when they find themselves skydiving. Also they use their heads as shields.

The most Earth-like exoplanet yet has been discovered, just 10% bigger than our planet.

We all know malaria is spread by mosquitoes, but in 1995 in Taiwan there was an outbreak that spread throughout a hospital without any mosquito assistance.

Direct download: SoT_0145.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:22pm AEDT

Continental drift could have been started by a massive meteorite impact 3 billion years ago.

Fossilised daddy longlegs reveal the arachnids had an extra pair of eyes 305 million years ago. And weren't cute then, either.

A new study suggests that even if there was liquid water on the surface of Mars billions of years ago, there wasn't enough atmospheric pressure to keep it liquid for long.

The UK Government has stockpiled over £500m worth of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. A study now finds that the drug would have little to know effect on the spread of influenza or the duration of flu symptoms. According to medical journalist Ben Goldacre, this finding is symbolic of substantial transparency issues within the pharmaceutical industry.

Ten world-class violinists tested expensive 'Old Italians' - Stradivarius and del Gesu violins - against modern, much cheaper instruments. The modern instruments were overwhelmingly preferred.

Direct download: SoT_0144.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:16pm AEDT

We have six basic facial expressions, but computer software has shown we combine them to display hybrid emotions, like 'happily surprised' or 'angrily surprised'.

Scientists have long suspected that Saturn's sixth largest moon, Enceladus, held large amounts of water beneath its icy surface. But now gravity measurements have found a large ocean below the southern polar region.

Genetic modification could allow us to grow plants that are more easily broken down to make biofuels and paper.

Contrary to a lot of media reporting, rats might not be completely off the hook when it comes to spreading the Black Death.

On April 21st, NASA plans to crash a recent lunar probe, LADEE, into the moon.

Direct download: SoT_0143.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:53pm AEDT

A woman with a bone disorder has had her cranium replaced with a 3D printed one, and shows no sign of rejection.

Skeletons unearthed last year from a burial ground in London may suggest that the Black Death plague was spread via the air, not tick bites from rats.

The rubber hand illusion is an old trick where your brain is fooled into thinking a rubber hand is your own. Psychologists in Italy have now made people believe the hands were made of marble. Because Italy.

Could the Permian extinction, the largest mass-extinction on Earth, have been caused by the farts of single-celled microbes?

Obakata, lead researcher in the STAP papers, found guilty of fabricating data. And an acupuncture trial gets undue media attention.

Direct download: SoT_0142.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:27pm AEDT

Giant pythons in Florida's everglades can navigate vast distances, and we're not sure how.

For the first time ever, an asteroid in our solar system has been discovered with a ring system.

Dark chocolate is good for you, but it's the bacteria in your gut that make it so.

Astronomers have discovered an icy body with an orbit so big it never gets closer than 12 billion kilometers from the Sun!

Direct download: SoT_0141.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:18pm AEDT

The most comprehensive infrared search of our skies has found no trace of "Planet X", the mythical giant planet on the edge of our solar system.

The troublesome Western Corn Rootworm is developing a resistance to the genetically modified corn designed to thwart it.

British archaeologists have found what they say is the world's oldest complete example of a human being with metastatic cancer.

Tracing human migration across the pacific 3,000 years ago is tricky, but tracing the chickens they brought with them might be a better method.

Climate For Change is a exciting grass-roots activism movement starting up in Melbourne, Australia. Katerina Gaita joins us to explain what they're doing and how you can be part of it.

Direct download: SoT_0140.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:49am AEDT

Last Monday, astronomers announced what has been described as "the biggest thing since dark energy" - detection of gravitational waves from the afterglow of the big bang. We got astronomer Dr. Alan Duffy from Swinburne University on to tell us what that means, and what it says about the very early stages of our Universe.

Direct download: SoT_Special_013.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:46pm AEDT

More controversy over stress-induced stem cells, as co-authors call for the retractions of the papers.

An aluminium suit could enable divers to travel to depths of 305 meters, move around and collect samples.

A giant virus has been discovered in 30,000 year old Siberian permafrost. It's big and it eats amoebas.

An Australian team is working on a project to clear space junk with a powerful ground-based laser.

A study of how men and women perceive each other's mathematics skills suggests that both men and women unconsciously - and wrongly - believe women are 'bad' at maths.

Direct download: SoT_0139.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:57pm AEDT

More studies finding no evidence of 'wind turbine syndrome', plus a discussion on dealing with climate change deniers.

Could enough wind turbines reduce the force of hurricanes? Maybe, but it would need A LOT of turbines.

In 2011 a 6 - 9 million year old whale graveyard was discovered at Cerro Ballena (Whale Hill) in Chile. But with time running out, researchers turned to a digital method of preserving the environmental context in 3D.

A thin, stretchy, electric membrane moulded to a patient's heart could be the next stage in health monitoring.

Direct download: SoT_0138.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:29am AEDT

Vaccines might not need to be kept cold to the extent previously thought. This could make vaccinations in third world countries cheaper and easier.

The oldest crystal on Earth has been dated and found to be 4.4 billion years old. This means the Earth had developed a crust very early on, perhaps only a few hundred million years after formation.

What's the best way to count whale populations? It could be from space.

To learn about how humans and dogs process sounds and emotions, researchers had to train dogs to lie still in an fMRI machine. Which is amazingly cute.

The fourth new species of an Australian marsupial with bizarre sexual behaviour has been discovered. These rodent-like animals actually disintegrate during their marathon sex-fests.

Direct download: SoT_0137.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:22am AEDT

A thorough investigation of the 'jelly doughnut shaped rock', known by NASA as Pinnacle Island, confirms it isn't an alien fungus, it isn't a meteorite fragment, it's just a chipped bit of rock.

Doubts have emerged about the radical stem cell breakthrough that suggested acid or other stress could turn mature cells into stem cells. The jury's still out on this.

Scientists have developed a detailed model of curly hair, which could give insights into the behaviours of all curved rods. Most importantly, headphone cables.

An artificial hand wired directly into the nerves of an amputee gives the sensation of touch. The recipient could tell if objects were hard or soft, and even their shapes.

A trace fossil gives clues how dinosaurs peed. We don't know which dinosaur, but we do know it was a lot of pee.

The Burgess Shale is famous for its large collection of varied soft-tissue fossils, and another similar site has been found nearby.

A 248 million year old fossil of a dinosaur giving birth has been found and raises questions about whether ancient sea monsters gave birth on land.

Direct download: SoT_0136.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:44pm AEDT

Stephen Hawking has some new thoughts on black holes, but he's not saying they don't exist.

For a few weeks, weather uncovered the footprints of five prehistoric humans. And then washed them away again.

There's a leech that can survive being submerged in liquid nitrogen for 24 hours.

Astronomers have discovered what could be one of the oldest stars, formed from the exploded remains of one of the first stars.

The crippled Kepler Space Telescope has been resurrected, with an ingenious solution that restores part of its function.

Direct download: SoT_0135.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:50am AEDT

A new method of turning adult cells into pluripotent stem cells is discovered. According to the paper, simply bathing cells in acid could be cause mature cells to revert to stem cells that could become any cell in the body.

Heart researchers in the UK have managed to turn stem cells into heart cells, that actually beat in petri dishes.

NASA plans to create the coldest spot in the universe on board the International Space Station. They're talking 100 pico-Kelvin, which is one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

Antioxidants may worsen lung cancer. Swedish scientists have determined why two antioxidants speed up the development of tumours.

By training wallabies to 'play the pokies', an Australian team has discovered that wallabies see colours more like dogs than fellow marsupials.

Direct download: SoT_0134.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:07pm AEDT

Jelly donut shaped rock surprises NASA, then gets them sued.

Tracking dogs by GPS may give clues to pack structure, but probably not.

West Australia's shark cull begins, the same week that a report finds 1/4 of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.

Men supposedly forget more than women do, but the study has big issues.

Direct download: SoT_0133.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:36pm AEDT

After nearly 11 years, the Rosetta comet-chasing spacecraft has awoken and is preparing for an ambitious mission.

A new hypothesis for 'lactose persistence' - why most humans can still drink milk into adulthood.

Why do sloths climb down from their trees to poo on the ground? It could be because of moths.

China is getting into genetic modification and cloning on an 'industrial scale'. That's a lot of pigs.

Biotechnology company Illumina has announced a machine that can sequence the human genome for under US$1,000.

Personal genetics company 23andMe has run afoul of the FDA, but are they really that bad?

Direct download: SoT_0132.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:51pm AEDT

2013 was Australia's hottest year on record, and the sixth hottest globally. Plus the 'polar vortex' hitting North America, and one of Australia's "most significant heatwaves". And the effect of "C2O" on jumping sea snails.

Physics professors have searched the internet for evidence of time travel, and didn't find any.

Are dolphins getting high on a toxin secreted by puffer fish? Truth is we really don't know.

A new Staph vaccine shows promise in rabbits, but might not work as well in humans.

A species of sea anemone has been found on the underside of Antarctica's ice sheets. They are the only marine animals known to live embedded in the ice, and no one is sure how they survive.

When seven-year-old Sophie wrote a letter to CSIRO, Australia's peak governmental science organisation, she wanted to know what research was being done on dragons. The CSIRO responded beautifully, first apologising for the lack of dragon-research and then making her a titanium dragon with a 3D printer.

Direct download: SoT_0131.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:47am AEDT

The turn of the millennium has brought a new dimension to the Space Age - one that was undreamed of only a few years ago. Thanks to a combination of visionary entrepreneurs and an ailing Russian spaceflight programme, space tourism is now a reality that is set to take off dramatically in the near future. In this entertaining and fully-illustrated talk, Professor Fred Watson outlines what we might see as space tourism evolves into a mainstream branch of the industry. He argues that the new venture is not merely an expensive diversion for the very rich, but a necessary step in humankind's emergence as a space-faring species.

Direct download: SoT_Special_012_Space_Tourism.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00pm AEDT