Current Event January 7, 2020
Extra food thrown into landfills produces harmful methane gas as it rots, contributing to global warming. Farmers in Massachusetts are combating the problem by converting gas from food waste into something useful: electricity. The results have helped to power thousands of homes. Listen to hear a farmer describe how he makes electricity from discarded food and why he calls the process a “home run.”
Current Event November 8, 2019
DNA is the molecular code that controls cells, instructing them to do everything from producing hormones to fighting an infection. For years, scientists have been making synthetic DNA and inserting it into cells in order to produce helpful chemicals for new medicines, food products, and more. But the genes in DNA can also be combined to make dangerous viruses like Ebola, and some people are questioning whether the system of safeguarding synthetic DNA works well enough to protect against dangerous misuse. Listen to hear what could happen if DNA falls into the wrong hands, and then debate: Should synthetic DNA production be regulated?
Current Event January 23, 2019
Photosynthesis is the process that is foundationational for all life, in which plants use sunlight to change water and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen. Scientists have now genetically modified plants to perform that process more efficiently, thereby increasing agricultural productivity. Listen to this story to learn how researchers “hacked photosynthesis” and why it matters.
Current Event December 7, 2018
A Chinese scientist claims to have created genetically edited human babies, igniting a major ethical controversy. The scientist says he used a new genetic engineering technique to modify genes in human embryos to resist HIV infection and then created twin girls from those embryos. His claim has yet to be verified. The scientific community has responded with strong ethical concerns about the risks of this type of human experimentation. Listen to this story to learn more and then debate: Should humans be genetically modified?
We live in an age when genetic engineering has the capacity to affect the course of human evolution. Scientists can edit human DNA, which could have profound benefits for society, but this ability also comes with dangers. Editing human DNA can allow for the treatment and prevention of disease, but this modified DNA can also become a permanent part of human genes, passed down from generation to generation. The scientific community met to discuss these issues. While experts agreed that creating a baby with edited DNA is unsafe, the support continued research to see what is possible. Listen to hear more about this issue and what scientists have concluded.
Current Event May 5, 2017
Scientists say that in the future they will be able to make modifications to human DNA that can be passed down to subsequent generations. These same scientists say that such genetic modifications should only occur in cases of serious disease or disability and must be tightly regulated. However, there is fear around the idea of scientists altering the course of evolution and creating “genetically superior” humans. Listen to learn more about developments in genetic modification and debate: Should we make changes to human DNA?
Current Event March 8, 2017
In today’s world, there are more new disease outbreaks than ever before. Over the past century, the number of new infectious diseases appearing each year has quadrupled. Now, scientists are trapping and testing animals in rainforests around the world in an effort to find new viruses before they reach the human population. Listen to learn more about how infectious diseases pass from rainforest ecosystems to human populations and what scientists are doing to stop this growing trend.
Current Event January 17, 2017
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is under control now, according the the World Health Organization. During the outbreak in 2014, 11,000 people in Africa died of Ebola. Now scientists have discovered a vaccine against Ebola. The vaccination is different from other vaccines, which are typically given to healthy people before they are exposed to a virus. This new vaccine is given to someone after they are exposed to Ebola and can protect them. Listen to this story to learn more about this important discovery.
Current Event January 12, 2017
Scientists are experimenting with genetically modifying mosquitoes to wipe out some diseases like malaria. Every year malaria kills a million people. This new technique uses genetic engineering to alter mosquitoes genes. It’s a practice called “gene drive” and it’s controversial because it can be use to eradicate disease but could also be used as a weapon. This audio story explores the science behind gene drives and the controversy surrounding the technique.
Current Event December 1, 2016
Scientific discoveries are rarely the result of a “eureka!” moment. A recent discovery in biotech, called CRISPR, is an example of a discovery made by many people in labs all over the world. In the CRISPR discovery, there are issues of identifying exactly what that discovery is: a way to cut and paste DNA, how to control that process, or how to make it into a tool. In science, the question of who should get the credit often depends on who gets a paper published first, and not who discovered it first. Listen to hear about the process of discovery.
Current Event April 1, 2016
Scientists all over the world are racing to stop the Zika virus epidemic. One solution being tested in Brazil is to release hundreds of thousands of male mosquitoes every day that have been engineered with a “self-destruct” gene. Female mosquitoes are the only ones who bite, so if they mate with these genetically engineered males, all offspring dies before they can spread Zika. This is projected to cut the number of disease-spreading mosquitoes by 70-80 percent. But not everyone agrees that this is the best solution. Engineering the mosquito population may allow other diseases to spread. Other solutions include sterilizing the mosquitoes or using bacteria. Listen and debate what your students think are the best ways to fight the Zika epidemic.
Current Event October 21, 2015
We all spill microorganisms from our bodies onto things we touch and come into contact with. Each person’s microbes are different and identifiable. A recent discovery that analyzed DNA from bacteria in the air shows that along with leaving these microbes on things, we also release them into the air. This allows scientists to know, for example, if someone has been in a room in the last few hours. In people who work and live together, their microbiomes can start to become similar. Listen to learn what interesting things scientists are learning about what our microbe cloud says about us.
Current Event September 24, 2015
New technology is revolutionizing underwater science. A brand new field is using DNA testing to study and track species diversity in various ecosystems and environments. Biologists can study one liter of seawater and identify the fish that swam through that water. This allows them to study fish and whales without having seen them and without the expense of divers and equipment. But, there are a few issues with some of the data, such as finding the DNA of food that was eaten miles away. Listen to how data from genetic testing can be used to protect marine life, and how it is changing the research process.
While humans need food and water to survive, plants are able to get their energy from the sun through a process known as photosynthesis. Engineers are now trying to replicate this process of converting sunshine to power through artificial photosynthesis. They are trying to create an artificial leaf. Listen to learn how these problem solvers are approaching the challenge step by step.