PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 05: Flirting with Disaster

In this episode of the PLoS Biology podcast, Senior Editor Liza Gross interviews Georgina Mace, professor of conservation science and director of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology.

This week, world leaders re-examine their commitment to “green” economic growth at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro. Although governments agreed to factor environmental and social impacts into development plans 20 years ago at the last Earth Summit, we’ve since ushered in the sixth great extinction, pushed the climate toward a tipping point, decimated wetlands, and even set a few rivers on fire.

In the podcast, Professor Mace discusses the challenges ahead through the lens of three articles published this week in PLoS Biology that revisit an old debate on the limits to growth: Must we drastically reduce our exploitation of Earth’s resources or can technological innovation allow continued development?

In “The Macroecology of Sustainability” Joseph Burger and colleagues argue that sustainability science fails to account for the ecological and physical constraints that govern life. In response, “The Shifting Boundaries of Sustainability Science: Are We Doomed Yet?” John Matthews and Frederick Boltz of Conservation International argue that human ingenuity will forestall disaster long enough to overcome resource limits and allow continued economic growth. In an accompanying editorial, Professor Mace argues that nothing in sustainability science makes sense except in light of ecology–and evolution, equitable development, natural resource management, and individual rights and responsibilities. “It’s a complicated set of problems,” she acknowledges.

Gross and Professor Mace will discuss the sustainability crisis, the philosophical tension between ecological pessimism and technological optimism, the prospects for finding a path to true sustainability, and much more.

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button, or to subscribe to the RSS feed and download, you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below.)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 05 by Public Library of Science

Episode 05 Transcript
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Category: Ecology, Environment, Evolution, Podcast | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 04: The Search for New Life Forms

Gerald JoyceIn this month’s episode of the PLoS Biology Podcast, PLoS Biology Editor Megan Hall interviews Gerald Joyce, who is Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.

In the latest issue of PLoS Biology, Dr. Joyce has published an article entitled “Bit by Bit: The Darwinian Basis of Life”, where he discusses our search for new forms of life, and how we would know whether a new life form is truly alien or not.

In this podcast, we’ll discuss these topics with Dr. Joyce, and learn more about the probability of finding new life forms. We’ll also discuss the definition of life at the molecular level, and whether the emerging field of synthetic biology can actually lead to new definitions of life.

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button, or to subscribe to the RSS feed and download, you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 04: The Search for New Life Forms by Public Library of Science

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PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 03: Social Immunization in Ants

Sylvia CremerIn this months episode of the PLoS Biology Podcast, PLoS Biology Editor Ruchir Shah interviews Sylvia Cremer, who is an evolutionary biologist at the Institute of Science and Technology in Austria. Her research team has published a new paper in PLoS Biology called “Social Transfer of Pathogenic Fungus promotes Active Immunization in Ant Colonies”.

Sylvia has been interested in how social behaviors of insects can actually help provide immunity against various diseases, in a process called social immunization. In this podcast, we’ll hear about how they were able to study this process in ant colonies, and what evolutionary advantages this behavior might have. We’ll also hear some interesting stories about “group-level immunity” in other insect colonies, like leaf-cutter ants and bumblebees.

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button, or to subscribe to the RSS feed and download, you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 03 – Social Immunization in Ants by Public Library of Science

Category: Ants, Ecology, Evolution, Immunology, Social Insects, Uncategorized | Comments Off

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 02: Decoding speech from the human brain

Brian PasleyIn this edition of the PLoS Podcast, PLoS Biology Editor Ruchir Shah interviews Brian Pasley and Robert (Bob) Knight from UC Berkeley.  Brian is a postdoc in Bob’s lab, and Bob is the Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Center at Berkeley.  Along with their collaborators at UCSF, their research team has published a new article in PLoS Biology called:

Reconstructing speech from human auditory cortex”.

Bob KnightEssentially, they were able to decode activity in the human auditory system in order to guess the words that people were actually listening to.  This technique, called “stimulus reconstruction”, has received a lot of media attention, particularly due to sensational claims of mind-reading.  But in reality, there are some important practical applications of this type of research for neural prosthetics.  For patients that can’t speak, for example, being able to reconstruct words that they imagine would allow them to communicate through a new interface.

In this podcast, Brian and Bob discuss how they were able to reconstruct words using activity in a specific region of the human brain called the superior temporal gyrus, or STG.  They then discuss the implications for neural prosthetics, and also the potential ethical implications for “mind-reading”.

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button,  or to subscribe to the RSS feed and download,  you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 2: Decoding speech from the human brain by Public Library of Science

Category: Neuroscience, Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 01 : Ramachandran, synesthesia, and phantom limbs

Welcome to the PLoS Podcast.  For the first episode,  PLoS Biology Editor Ruchir Shah interviews VS Ramachandran, who is the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California San Diego.  Dr.  Ramachandran has written a number of books, including “Phantoms in the Brain” and “The Tell-Tale Brain”,  about many of the neurological conditions his lab has been studying,  which include phantom limbs and synesthesia.

Along with his graduate student David Brang,  Dr.  Ramachandran has written a new article for PLoS Biology called “Survival of the Synesthesia Gene: Why do people hear colors and taste words“.

During the interview,  Dr.  Ramachandran (or “Rama”) and David Brang discuss the potential neural basis of some common and rare forms of synesthesia,  and why this strange condition might have survived evolution.  They then discuss their exploration of some other (rather bizarre) neurological conditions,  and they finish by contemplating how their research into synesthesia might fit into the larger context of the history of science.  Enjoy!

(You can listen here by clicking the Play button,  or to download,  you can visit the Soundcloud page by clicking the link below)

PLoS Biology Podcast Episode 01 – VS Ramachandran by Public Library of Science

Category: Neuroscience, Podcast | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments