Current Event March 31, 2020
A chunk of chewed birch resin has revealed surprisingly detailed information about a woman who lived 5,700 years ago. Scientists investigated a brownish blob discovered at an archaeological site and were able to extract and analyze a complete strand of DNA that revealed details about the diet, health, and appearance of the Stone Age woman who had chewed it. Listen to learn why ancient people chewed birch pitch and how this very old piece of gum could inspire archaeologists to look in new places for clues to the past.
Current Event March 25, 2020
A famous cat has died. C.C. the cat, sometimes known as Carbon Copy, was the world’s first cloned pet. Texas A&M University scientists cloned C.C. to investigate whether the process could be used by owners to keep their beloved pets alive. C.C. became a celebrity when a photo of her sitting in a lab beaker circulated around the world. Listen to hear the scientist who cloned C.C. explain the cloning process and learn why he does not recommend cloning your cat.
Current Event February 5, 2020
Scientists have developed a new, more accurate way to count a dog’s age in human years. Until now, people have generally believed that one year in a dog’s life equals seven years of human life. But when scientists compared chemical marks on dog and human DNA to see where they matched, they found surprising results about the relationship between dog and human ages. Listen to hear a scientist explain how the new technique works and what the research on canine aging means for dogs and their human friends.
Current Event January 22, 2020
A crunchy new apple has hit supermarket shelves. A cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties, the new Cosmic Crisp apple is the result of years of genetic cross-breeding by plant scientists at Washington State University. Listen to hear the lead scientist describe the mouth-watering qualities of the new variety, and why she hopes it is a hit with consumers.
Current Event December 20, 2019
People who mail their DNA to a genetic testing company typically do not imagine that their data will be viewed by the police. But law enforcement finds genetic databases useful in solving crimes and has asked the courts to give them better access to people’s genetic information. Citizens worry that the data they thought would be kept private will be used without their consent. Listen to hear a legal expert discuss the benefits and risks of sharing information with law enforcement and then debate: should police have access to genetic data?
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 October 17, 2019
Mosquitoes are biting insects that can bother people at summer barbecues, but they have also played an important role in human history. One historian says that mosquitoes have been critical in changing the course of history, primarily by spreading deadly diseases that have killed billions of people. He explains how new genetic tools might be used to eliminate the threat to humans posed by these dangerous insects, which offer no clear ecological benefits. Listen to hear the surprising ways that mosquitoes have influenced history and how mosquito populations could potentially be controlled.
Current Event April 18, 2019
Would you like to eat apples that never turn brown? Scientists hoping to genetically modify plants for crop development think they may have found a solution to a major problem they have been facing. The cell walls of plants make it difficult to insert genetic material into plant cells to change how those plant cells work. The solution–carbon nanotubes–was discovered by accident. Listen to learn about the discovery and implementation of this nanotechnology solution and how it could change the way scientists breed new crop varieties.
Current Event March 22, 2019
A clinic in Kiev, Ukraine is offering a controversial experimental procedure that allows parents experiencing infertility to have babies with three genetic parents. While this type of genetic engineering is allowed in some countries, it has been banned in the U.S., as there are many concerns in the medical community about the procedure’s safety and its ethical implications. Listen to this interview with the mother of one of a handful of three-parent babies that have been born and debate: Should three-parent babies be allowed?
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?
Current Event October 19, 2018
Malaria is a devastating disease transmitted by mosquitoes, affecting millions each year. A team of scientists has been experimenting with genetic engineering that would cause the mosquito population carrying malaria to destroy itself. Listen to hear how the genetic engineering process works and how different groups are responding to the controversial experiment, and then debate: Should mosquitoes be genetically modified to self-destruct?
American doctors rely on clinical trials to determine which drugs to use in treatment. Researchers have found that clinical trials have not been effective in creating drugs for America’s diverse population. When clinical trials are too homogeneous, they can miss important potential discoveries. Patients who are diverse ethnically and racially can respond differently to medications, leading to dire consequences in some cases. Listen to learn how a lack of diversity in clinical trials affects patients and how researchers are trying to fix it.
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 April 5, 2017
Traditionally, medical animal testing has been conducted primarily on male subjects. Several reasons have been cited, such as complications in pregnant animals and difficulties creating controlled experiments for both genders. Now, the National Institutes of Health is requiring the studies it funds to test male and female subjects. This new requirement is a response to inequalities in health outcomes between men and women. Many researchers believe that the higher incidence of negative reactions to medication found in women is a result of the gender bias in the testing phase. Listen to learn more about gender bias in animal testing.
Current Event September 15, 2016
Dolly the sheep became famous two decades ago for being the first mammal to be successfully cloned. Today, four sheep that came from the same cells as Dolly have reached their ninth birthday. This is significant to scientists because it shows that it is possible for cloned mammals to live healthy lives into old age. Listen to hear more about this encouraging milestone for cloned animals.
Current Event August 16, 2016
Scientists have come up with a new technique to modify the genes of plants, insects and animals. This “gene drive” technique may be able to stop the spread of diseases that insects carry, such as Malaria and Zika, but also has some dangers. For example, releasing genetically modified species could lead to an unbalanced ecosystem, destroy other species, or spread other diseases. Listen to the story to hear more about why this technique is controversial.
Woolly mammoths were large, elephant-like creatures that lived tens of thousands of years ago, during the last great ice age. The thick, furry coat is one of several traits that gave woolly mammoths an advantage in a very cold environment. Today, the closest biological relative is the Asian elephant, which prefers warmer climates. Scientists were curious about the genetic variations between the woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant, and what might account for the differences between the two species. In this audio story, we hear from a scientist who studied the DNA from the extinct mammoth and compared it to its contemporary descendant. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered.
Current Event May 6, 2016
A team of scientists has genetically engineered pigs to be resistant to a widespread disease. Science can engineer an animal’s DNA to introduce desirable traits and get rid of negative traits or sickness. These pigs are not being raised on farms yet, but the plan is to have food from these animals available in stores in the next five years.This technology is still new, and the Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines that have to be met before these animals will be available to the public. Listen to hear more about genetically engineered animals and then debate with your class whether you think genetically engineered animals will be safe to eat.
Current Event June 11, 2015
A new scientific tool can edit or change genes. It can target genes that cause problems, like disease, and snip them out of the DNA, sort of like scissors at a molecular level. The potential to change the human genome has some scientists celebrating and others worrying about the ethical implications. Listen to learn more about this technique and the debate it has provoked.