Losing our germs: My last podcast

mtsitunes220On my new podcast, I talk to Martin Blaser of New York University about Helicobacter pylori, best known as the microbe that causes ulcers. It’s also an ancient passenger in our stomachs, and has evolved a delicate balance with its human hosts. In fact, Blaser is worried by the disappearance of H. pylori from the modern world, thanks to antibiotics and hygiene. We may have to pay a price for its extinction, in the form of higher rates of asthma, esophageal cancer, and perhaps even obsesity. Check it out.

With this episode, the American Society for Microbiology is bringing the Meet the Scientist podcast series to a close. In the coming year, they’re going to be focusing their online efforts on some new projects you can look forward to on the Microbe World web site. (And they’ll be keeping all the episodes of Meet the Scientist on the site.) I’ve had a wonderful time over the past year hosting the podcast, and I’d like to thank all the scientists who shared their work with me and all the people at ASM who made this experience possible.

Dengue on the march: My new podcast

mtsitunes220On my latest podcast, I take a look at dengue fever, a viral disease that’s infecting some 50 million people a year and is even turning up in the United States. I talk to Thomas Scott of UC Davis about how this cunning virus takes advantage of human networks to spread its aches, pains, bleeding, and death. Check it out.

New podcast: I for one welcome our digital overlords

mtsitunes220On my latest podcast, I talk to Charles Ofria, a computer scientist who helped build Avida, one of the most intriguing examples of artificial life around. I wrote about Avida when it first hit the news back in 2005 in this cover story for Discover. Five years on, I caught up with Ofria for the podcast. I learned that the Avidians are evolving to be cleverer and cleverer–clever enough, in fact, to control robots. When they show up in my town, I plan on waving the magazine cover so they’ll spare me. Check it out.

My new podcast: The ocean's superorganism

mtsitunes220On my latest podcast, I talk to Forest Rohwer, a San Diego State University scientist, about those rain forests of the sea, coral reefs. Rohwer studies the criss-crossing partnerships that keep corals alive–the animals that build the reefs, the algae that harness sunlight for them, the bacteria that make compounds and recycle waste, the fish that scrape off parasitic algae, and on and on. When you consider the hundreds of microbe species that live in each reef, corals and our own bodies become surprisingly similar. Have a listen.

Podcasts: Microbe Time and Minimal Life

mtsitunes220I’ve got two podcasts at Meet the Scientist to tell you about.

The first is a conversation with Nancy Moran, a Yale biologist who studies microbes that become essential to the survival of their hosts. In some cases, these symbionts lose just about all their DNA except for the genes that they use to be useful to their host–leading to the smallest genomes in nature.

The second is a conversation with Susan Golden of UCSD on the subject of time. We humans have a body clock, of course, but so do some bacteria. Why does a microbe need to know the time of day, when its lifespan can be far shorter? That would be like our body clock running a cycle of 1,000 years. Listen to find out.

Bonnie Bassler on Learning To Speak Microbe

mtsitunes220Princeton biologist Bonnie Bassler studies the chemical conversations bacteria use to work together and (sometimes) to make us sick. She joined me for my latest podcast, bringing her trademark enthusiasm and rare skill at telling a good scientific story. Check it out.

And if you crave more, check out her excellent TED lecture last year.


mtsitunes22036,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is a big number. But that’s actually the number of microbes in the ocean. How on Earth do you comprehend that monstrous menagerie? In my new Meet the Scientist podcast, I talk to pioneering microbiologist Mitch Sogin about a major new project to census the sea’s microbial diversity. Check it out.

The Microscopic Gas Tank

mtsitunes220Could E. coli some day take the place of deep sea oil wells? In my latest podcast I talk to James Liao of UCLA about engineering microbes to churn out high-performance fuel. Check it out.

Old Charles Darwin Had A Farm…

mtsitunes220In my new podcast I take a look at Darwinian agriculture–how farmers can improve their crops by taking advantage of evolutionary history. I talk to Ford Denison of the University of Minnesota, who has done fascinating work plants such as soybeans and the bacteria that live in their roots and supply them with essential nitrogen. It’s a complicated relationship, full of cooperation, conflict, cheating, and punishment. Check it out.

A Hundred Years Without A Malaria Vaccine

mtsitunes220When I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve gotten my share of jabs for hepatitis and other diseases. But for malaria, the best I could hope for was to take malaria-blocking drugs like Lariam, which gave me weird dreams at night and made me feel as if someone was tugging my hair all day.

For people who live in countries with malaria, these prophylactic drugs just aren’t practical. Given that 800,000 people a year die of malaria, why don’t we have a good vaccine for it? It’s not for lack of trying–in fact, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first attempts to make a malaria vaccine.

To understand this epic fail, I talked on my latest podcast with Irwin Sherman, a malaria expert and author of The Elusive Malaria Vaccine: Miracle or Mirage?.

Check it out.

Pneumonia's Happy Ending?

mtsitunes220In my lastest podcast, I talk to Keith Klugman of Emory University about pneumonia–how its devastation worldwide is worse than we once thought, and how vaccines are proving surprisingly effective at keeping it in check. A pneumonia vaccine may even prevent a replay of the 50 million deaths during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Check it out.