151 episodes

The biggest biology podcast for the biggest science and biology fans. Featuring in-depth discussions with scientists tackling the biggest questions in evolution, genetics, ecology, climate, neuroscience, diseases, the origins of life, psychology and more. If it's biological, groundbreaking, philosophical or mysterious you'll find it here. Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

Big Biology Art Woods, Cam Ghalambor, and Marty Martin

    • Science
    • 4.7 • 121 Ratings

The biggest biology podcast for the biggest science and biology fans. Featuring in-depth discussions with scientists tackling the biggest questions in evolution, genetics, ecology, climate, neuroscience, diseases, the origins of life, psychology and more. If it's biological, groundbreaking, philosophical or mysterious you'll find it here. Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    Rewilding Biology (Ep 116)

    Rewilding Biology (Ep 116)

    How do biologists strike a productive balance between descriptive natural history and manipulative experiments in the lab or field? Should we bring back species to areas where they’ve gone extinct and what values do we use to make these decisions? What is wildness and how do we cultivate it?

    On this episode, we talk with Harry Greene, a herpetologist and adjunct professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, whose distinguished career has spanned decades. Harry is an E.O. Wilson Award recipient and also received the PEN Literary award for his book, Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. In the episode, we talk with Harry about the importance of natural history to biology. We also tackle the topic of rewilding, a type of biological restoration that involves translocating species where they still occur to regions where they no longer are found, in order to restore ecosystem function. Harry talks about how his views on rewilding have changed over time, including how rewilding ourselves could improve our health and happiness

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri. Find a transcript of this episode on our website.


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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 1 hr 7 min
    Does a porpoise have a purpose? Agency and goals in evolution (Ep 115)

    Does a porpoise have a purpose? Agency and goals in evolution (Ep 115)

    What is an agent, and does an organism have to be conscious to be one? How does organismal agency affect evolution?

    In this episode, we talk with Samir Okasha, a Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Bristol. Samir studies fundamental philosophical questions in evolutionary biology, most notably how selection acts on various levels of biological organization. Our discussion focuses on his book “Agents and Goals in Evolution,” in which he unpacks various definitions of agency and outlines their evolutionary implications. We talk about whether genes and groups of individuals can be agents, whether agency is heritable, where variation in agency comes from, and the relationship between agency and adaptation.

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri. Find a transcript of this episode on our website.


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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 1 hr 9 min
    Follow the data: the search for COVID’s origin (Ep 105)

    Follow the data: the search for COVID’s origin (Ep 105)

    On this episode, we talk with Alina Chan, postdoc at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and co-author with Matt Ridley of Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 could have plausibly jumped into humans in Wuhan via one of two paths. The first is zoonotic transfer from wild bats to humans, possibly via an intermediate animal host. The second is some kind of lab accident: researchers working on a SARS-CoV-2-like virus accidentally became infected with it and then transmitted it to others in Wuhan. Although early discussions among virologists reached the consensus that the origin was almost surely zoonotic, more recent discussions have started to take the lab-leak theory seriously. Unfortunately, we still lack conclusive evidence in support of either hypothesis. And, as public leaders have co-opted the investigation for nonscientific reasons, the subject of COVID’s origin has become practically taboo.

    Alina’s approach is to “follow the data,” leaving no stone unturned, and we believe that it is our responsibility as scientists to do the same. We talk to Alina about her book, as well as the many new things that have been revealed about COVID’s origins since its 2021 publication. Towards the end of the chat, we discuss the implications of what we’ve learned about SARS-CoV-2 for how we should prepare for and deal with future pandemics.

    We hope that this episode inspires you to seek the best possible explanation of COVID origins. Please write to info@bigbiology.org and tell us what you think, and share with friends and family. 

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri


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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 1 hr 25 min
    Cooperation versus conflict and the path to multicellularity (Ep 107)

    Cooperation versus conflict and the path to multicellularity (Ep 107)

    How can we reconcile the evolutionary problem of cooperation? What can social amoebae tell us about the origins of multicellularity?

    In this episode, we talk to Joan Strassmann and David Queller, professors at Washington University in St. Louis, about the evolution of cooperation and conflict. From social insects to humans, we can find instances of individuals seemingly sacrificing fitness for the good of the group. But, truly altruistic behavior poses a problem for evolutionary biologists because it challenges the assumption that natural selection favors individuals over groups. We talk with Joan and David about their work with the social amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum. This species is known for its remarkable developmental cycle: when there is no more to eat, the starving amoebae aggregate into a slug-like organism, which then forms a fruiting body that releases spores in hopes of dispersing to a better place. The problem, evolutionarily, is that only a fraction of the cells in the fruiting body get to live on through offspring. This facultative lifestyle and the ability to combine genetically different cells makes D. discoideum a prime study species for understanding how relatedness impacts cooperation and conflict and the possible origins of multicellular organisms.

    Towards the end of the episode, we also talk about Joan’s new book Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard.

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri. Find a transcript of this episode on ⁠our website⁠.


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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 1 hr 11 min
    How power explains the history of life (Ep 114)

    How power explains the history of life (Ep 114)

    If the tape of life were replayed, how recognizable would today’s species and ecosystems be? How and why does power increase over evolutionary time? How have humans unleashed so much power, and what are the consequences of that power for life on Earth? 

    In this episode, we talk with Geerat Vermeij, a paleoecologist and evolutionary biologist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Davis. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and has published over 200 papers and five books. Our conversation focuses on his most recent book: “The Evolution of Power: A New Understanding of the History of Life.” In it, he asserts that power, the amount of energy an organism can take up or expend per unit time, has increased steadily during the history of life on Earth. On the episode, we discuss the idea of power, how species evolve more power, and how humans have unleashed more power than any other species (and whether we need to work on curbing this power). 

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri. Find a transcript of this episode on our website.


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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 57 min
    Cephalopods: aliens among us (Ep 113)

    Cephalopods: aliens among us (Ep 113)

    How are cephalopods like us, but also completely alien? How can they become so intelligent when they have such short lives? How do they coordinate a distributed set of brains?

    In this episode, we talk with Danna Staaf, a science communicator and marine biologist with a lifelong love of cephalopods. Danna earned a PhD from Stanford University studying baby squid, and she has written several cephalopod-themed books. Our conversation focuses on Danna’s most recent, The Lives of Octopuses and Their Relatives: A Natural History of Cephalopods, a beautiful exploration of the diversity of these wacky, wonderful creatures. We discuss cephalopod evolution, morphology, and reproduction, focusing on several fun facts that you can pull out at your next dinner party.

    Cover art: Keating Shahmehri. Find a transcript of this episode on our website.




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    Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/bigbiology/support

    • 1 hr 9 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
121 Ratings

121 Ratings

blueback ,

we need this right now

with so much changing and so much at stake, we need scientists who care about the future of our global community. this podcast is essential listening for those who want to better understand where we came from, where we are in this chaotic moment, and how to affect transformative change in the future. these guys care and, frankly, entertaining. that matters. we need complicated information presented in a consumable, actionable way. congratulations. a must listen.

MKULTRA83 ,

Keep it up

Great work, keep it up

btlarkin ,

My go-to podcast

Always fascinating, with a broad range of topics, engaging guests, and polished, consistent, no-frills production. Art and Marty ask the right questions and keep a perfect pace so that I can keep up but not have my mind wander.

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