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MTS45 - James Collins - Engineering Life: The Past and Future of Synthetic Biology

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In this podcast, I talk to James Collins, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor at Boston University.

Ten years ago Collins helped launch a new kind of science called synthetic biology. I talked to Collins about the achievements of synthetic biology over the past decade, such as engineering E. coli that can count, and about the future of synthetic biology--from using bacteria to make fuel to reprogramming the bacteria in our guts to improve our health.

Download: mp3 (37.5 min | 34 megs)

MTS44 Michael Worobey - In Search of the Origin of HIV and H1N1's Hidden History

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In this episode, I talk to Michael Worobey, an associate professor at the University of Arizona.

Worobey is virus detective, gathering clues about how some of the world's deadliest pathogens have emerged and spread across the globe. Worobey and I talked about the harrowing journeys he has made in search of the origin of HIV, as well as the round-the-clock data-processing he and his colleagues used to discover the hidden history of the new H1N1 flu strain.

Download: mp3 (42.5 min | 19.5 megs)
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Photos taken in January 2000 in the forest about 60km south of Kisangani DRC during an expedition to collect samples from wild chimpanzee.

MTS43 - Rob Knight - The Microbes That Inhabit Us

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In this episode, I speak to Rob Knight, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Knight studies our inner ecology: the 100 trillion microbes that grow in and on our bodies. Knight explained how hundreds of species can coexist on the palm of your hand, how bacteria manipulate your immune system and maybe even your brain, and how obesity and other health problems may come down to the wrong balance of microbes.

Read more: MTS43 - Rob Knight - The Microbes That Inhabit Us

MTS42 - Julian Davies - The Mysteries of Medicine's Silver Bullet

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In this episode I speak to Julian Davies, professor emeritus in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Davies is one of the world's experts on antibiotics. I talked to Davies about how the discovery of antibiotics changed the course of modern medicine, and how we now face a growing threat from the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We also talked about some enduring mysteries about antibiotics.

Most of us think of antibiotics as a way to kill microbes. But the fact is that microbes make antibiotics naturally, and for them, these molecules may not be lethal weapons. They may actually be a way to talk to other microbes.

Download: mp3 (28.5 min | 21 megs)

MTS41 - Sallie Chisholm - Harvesting the Sun

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In this episode I speak to Sallie "Penny" Chisholm, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at MIT. Dr. Chisholm studies photosynthesis—the way life harnesses the energy of the sun. Plants carry out photosynthesis, but so do microbes in the ocean. Dr. Chisholm studies the most abundant of these photosynthetic microbes, a species of bacteria called Prochlorococcus.  There are a trillion trillion Prochlrococcus on Earth. Dr. Chisholm researches these microbial lungs of the biosphere, and how they produce oxygen on which we depend.

Along with her scientific research, Dr. Chisholm is also the author of a new children's book, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life.

Download: mp3 (21 min | 16 megs)

MTS40 - John Wooley - Exploring the Protein Universe

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John Wooley is Associate Vice Chancellor of Research and Professor of Chemistry-Biochemistry and of Pharmacology at the University of California San Diego. Wooley is a leader in the young field of metagenomics: the science of gathering vast numbers of genes from the oceans, soils, air, and the human body.

A generation ago biologist knew the sequences of a few thousand genes. Since then that figure has jumped to several million genes and it's only going to continue to leap higher in years to come. This wealth of data is allowing scientists to get answers to fundamental questions they rarely even asked a generation ago.

They're starting to understand how thousands of species of microbes coexist in our bodies. They're investigating how hundreds of genes work together inside a single cell and they're starting to get a vision of the full diversity of the billions of proteins that life produces, what scientists sometimes call the protein universe.

John Wooley has been at the center of this revolution, investigating some of these new questions and leading pioneering projects such as CAMERA, the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis, to organize the unprecedented amount of data that scientists have at their disposal so that they can master that data rather than drown in it.

In this episode I spoke to Wooley about how metagenomics has revolutionized research on everything from marine ecology to human health, and how he and his colleagues cope with an influx of data on millions of new genes.

Download: mp3 (32.44 min | 22.7 megs)

photo for show art (right) provided by calit2

MTS39 - Paul Turner- Pandemic in a Petri Dish

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In this episode I talk with Paul Turner, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University.

2009 saw the emergence of a new strain of H1N1 flu. Scientists soon determined that the virus had leaped from pigs to humans and then spread to millions of people.

When viruses make this kind of leap it's a reason to worry. In 1918 when a strain of flu leapt from birds to humans, 50 million people died in a matter of months. So far the new H1N1 flu strain is behaving like a relatively ordinary flu. Still even ordinary flu is a matter of serious concern. Over 4,000 people in the US alone have died from the new H1N1 flu strain and scientists can't say for sure what it would take to turn this new strain into a global killer.

It's a sobering reminder of how mysterious virus evolution remains. Over the past century a number of viruses have made the leap from animal host to humans including SARS and HIV and scientists worry that the next great plague may be a virus that we don't even know about yet.

Paul Turner is learning how new viruses emerge by watching them evolve in his lab. Fortunately the viruses he studies don't make you sick. Instead they attack E-coli and other single celled hosts. But these viruses are teaching Turner and his colleagues about some of the fundamental rules that govern how viruses evolve to attack new hosts. Turner hopes that what he and his colleagues learn about those rules may help future generations of scientists fight against the next generation of viruses that can make us sick.

MTS38 - Jonathan Eisen - An Embarrassment of Genomes

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Jonathan Eisen is a professor at the University of California, Davis Genome Center. Over the course of his career, he has pioneered new ways of sequencing microbial genomes and analyzing them.

I talked to Eisen about some of the weirdest creatures he's studied, such as bacteria that only live on the bellies of worms at the bottom of the ocean, and how we may be able to exploit their genomes for our own benefit. We also discussed the new movement for open access to scientific literature, a subject that's a particular passion of Eisen, who is academic editor in chief at the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download: MTS38 (.mp3 | 36 megs | 53 min.)

MTS37 - Hazel Barton - Cave Dwellers

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Hazel Barton is the Ashland Professor of Integrative Science at Northern Kentucky. She explores some of the world's most remote caves to study the remarkable diversity of microbes that thrive in their dark recesses. I spoke to Barton about how she first became captivated by these bizarre organisms, what it's like to do delicate microbiology when you're hip-deep in mud, and why she wants to explore caves on Mars in search of Martians.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS37 (.mp3 | 22 megs | 24 min.)

MTS36 - Dennis Bray - Living Computers

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Dennis Bray is an active professor emeritus in both the Department of Physiology and Department of Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. He studies the behavior of microbes--how they "decide" where to swim, when to divide, and how best to manage the millions of chemical reactions taking place inside their membranes. For Bray, microbes are tiny, living computers, with genes and proteins serving the roles of microprocessors.

In this interview, I talked with Bray about his provocative new book, Wetware: A Living Computer Inside Every Cell.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS36 (.mp3 | 27 megs | 37:29)

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