86 episodes

Big Biology is a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology.

Big Biology Art Woods and Marty Martin

    • Science
    • 4.6 • 83 Ratings

Big Biology is a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology.

    Old vaccines for new pandemics (Ep 66)

    Old vaccines for new pandemics (Ep 66)

    What has COVID-19 taught us about preparing for future epidemics? Can we trigger innate immune responses – our first lines of defense - to mitigate novel infections? Can we use live-attenuated vaccines (LAV) meant for other infections to protect us while we develop specific vaccines for new pathogens?

    On this episode, we talk to virologists Konstantin Chumakov and Robert Gallo about their recent paper entitled “Old vaccines for new infections”. They and their colleagues argue that we can fight novel pathogens, like SARS-COV2, by stimulating our innate immune systems with live-attenuated vaccines developed for other pathogens (e.g., measles, rubella, polio). Such an approach might buy us time, particularly for front-line health workers or the most vulnerable among us, while pathogen-specific vaccines are developed. Many LAVs are cheap, easy to distribute, and already available where SARS-COV2 is common but its vaccine is not. We talked with Chumakov and Gallo about the prospects of using the LAV approach for future pandemics, why we didn’t use them to control COVID, and the possible mechanisms by which these old vaccines wield their surprising power.



    Image: Number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of June 16, 2021 (collated by Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus). Total number of people who received all doses prescribed by the vaccination protocol. This data is only available for countries which report the breakdown of doses administered by first and second doses.


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 36 min
    Mouse on a hill: The structure and function of agency (Ep 65)

    Mouse on a hill: The structure and function of agency (Ep 65)

    What is agency? How does it evolve? Do non-living things have agency?

    On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Tufts University professor Michael Levin about his recent article in Aeon magazine called ‘Cognition all the way down’. In it, Mike and Dan Dennett discuss the phenomenon of agency and what it means for biology, basic to medical. We discuss with Mike what it means to be an agent - whether you’re a metabolite, a cell, or a human - and how agency affects and is affected by evolution. We discuss how agents at different levels of organization influence each other, how agency research could change our thinking about the ethics of artificial intelligence, and how the internet has expanded collective human agency by broadening our cognitive horizons.

    If you missed our first chat with Mike on the role of bioelectric fields in development, tissue regeneration, and evolution, check that out here.



    Photo: Douglas Blackiston and Sam Kriegman


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 1 hr 8 min
    The stall protocol: Diapause in the annual killifish (Ep 64)

    The stall protocol: Diapause in the annual killifish (Ep 64)

    How do organisms cope with long periods of tough conditions where regular life is impossible?  How do some animals turn down their metabolism to levels so low that they can appear dead?  How do animals emerge from such deep, low activity states?

    In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Jason Podrabsky, a professor of biology at Portland State University, about diapause – a remarkable physiological state in which organisms turn down their metabolic rates to a bare minimum. Diapause is a way of living through harsh conditions while spending as little energy as possible. We talk with Jason about how organisms enter diapause, what happens inside them during diapause (more than you would think!), and how they reboot their systems to emerge from diapause. We focus on Jason’s work with the amazing annual killifish. In some species in this group, embryos can go into diapause and survive for months in the dry mud of ephemeral ponds, waiting for the next rain to arrive.

    Photo: Claire Riggs and Jason Podrabsky


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 1 hr 9 min
    Survival of the systems: The power of persistence (Ep 63)

    Survival of the systems: The power of persistence (Ep 63)

    Can selection act on ecosystems, societies, or planets such that some persist and others disappear? Must such systems reproduce to evolve?

    On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute (@GSI_Exeter) and a Professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science at the University of Exeter. In his 2021 Trends in Ecology & Evolution paper “Survival of the Systems,” Tim outlined his idea that large, complex systems--such as grasslands, coral reefs, and even human economies--are subject to a kind of natural selection based on their ability to persist.  Tim argues that systems better able to extract and recycle resources will spread across landscapes and outcompete other such systems.

    This episode is produced in collaboration with Trends in Ecology & Evolution (@Trends_Ecol_Evo). TREE, published by Cell Press, is a monthly review journal that contains polished, concise and readable Reviews and Opinions in all areas of ecology and evolutionary science. It aims to keep scientists informed of new developments and ideas across the full range of ecology and evolutionary biology--from the pure to the applied, and from the molecular to the global. Visit: http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution.


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 1 hr 8 min
    Situated Darwinism: Organism-centered evolution (Ep 62)

    Situated Darwinism: Organism-centered evolution (Ep 62)

    Are genes the prime movers in evolution, or is causality distributed across multiple levels of organization?  What role do organisms play in evolution?  Could organismal agency, the propensity to respond actively to selective forces, affect standard evolutionary theory?

    On this episode, we talk with Denis Walsh, a professor and philosopher of biology at the University of Toronto, about his book Organisms, Agency, and Evolution. The Modern Synthesis, which combines Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendel’s theory of genetic inheritance, was a giant leap forward in our understanding of the evolution of populations. Denis argues, however, that the extreme abstraction required by the synthesis derails our understanding of evolution. What’s needed instead, he suggests, is renewed focus on organisms. Because organisms have agency, they in effect construct the environments they experience, which in turn affects how selection acts on them. This view reestablishes organisms – not genes – as the central unit of evolution, just as Darwin’s ‘struggle for existence’ emphasized.

    Photo credit: Blue Dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) by Saspotato (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 1 hr 15 min
    Decoding CRISPR: Jennifer Doudna and the future of gene editing (Ep 61)

    Decoding CRISPR: Jennifer Doudna and the future of gene editing (Ep 61)

    What is CRISPR? Who are the key players behind its discovery? And what does it mean for science both now and in the future?

    On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to renowned author Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson) about his new book, Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. We break down the rich history of the gene editing CRISPR-Cas9 system--from its initial discovery in bacteria to the current ethical considerations for using it in humans. We also talk about the life of Nobel Prize winning scientist Jennifer Doudna, who, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, initially proposed CRISPR as a way to edit DNA and modify traits to fight disease. We then close with a discussion of what CRISPR-Cas9 means for the future of gene editing and just how far it could, or rather should, go.


    ---

    Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bigbiology/message

    • 57 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
83 Ratings

83 Ratings

Idardy ,

Great! Origin of life, Developmental Biology, ...

Great podcast. I got hooked on the multiple origin of life episodes - they were excellent! Also plenty of great developmental biology content. They bring in excellent guest researchers. Also, I do love Art and Marty’s curiosity and genuineness.

kaemae77 ,

I am learning so much!

I never went to college, I never took a biology class, I just look stuff up online and watch a ton of documentaries. I get almost all of what they are talking about. I overlooked this podcast for a long time because I thought I wouldn’t understand it. I am so glad I tried it out.

reviewer264858 ,

Best Bio-Based Podcast

Each podcast is scientific enough to teach me things and basic enough that I can understand the minute details of concepts they discuss. They keep the podcast to the point, but it always feels natural and like the guests are comfortable. Their excitement for biology is easy to hear and makes the podcast absolutely lovely to listen to. Can’t stop recommending it!

Top Podcasts In Science

Listeners Also Subscribed To