A Tale of Two Grains

Food security may be the most important issue we’ll face in the coming decades. With global population on the rise and a changing climate, the future of food is greatly uncertain. These realities have prompted some scientists to start looking at crops that might be well suited to these global changes, foods that are drought resistant and nutritionally rich. That’s where “superfoods” like quinoa and amaranth come in. In this week’s episode, we explore these two crops and their potential to become staple components of our future diets. We first hear from journalist Lisa Hamilton, author of the 2014 Harper’s article “The Quinoa Quarrel.” Then amaranth expert Rob Myers walks us through the relative benefits of quinoa and amaranth, and the challenges to breeding both on a large scale. To wrap it up, Katherine Lorenz shares the story of a nonprofit she founded that uses amaranth to address malnutrition in rural Oaxaca, Mexico.


Are we alone in the universe?

How did life begin on Earth? Curiously, scientists often search for the answer on other planets or moons in our solar system. After all, if we want to see whether our theories are right, we need to find another example of life somewhere. The search has taken us to some strange places seemingly frozen in time that give us hints to what Earth looked like billions of years ago when life first appeared in the geologic record: places like Mars that show evidence of fossil oceans, and places like Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, that show evidence of liquid water oceans containing organic molecules hidden under an icy crust. NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay has been a member of missions that sent spacecraft to these and other places in search of that elusive other example of life in the universe. He recently sat down with producer Miles Traer to discuss the best current theories for the origin of life on Earth, why Antarctica is a lot like one of Saturn’s moons, the challenges of collecting data from other planets, and the reasons we’re captivated by the question, “Are we alone in the universe?”


Environmental Icon David Suzuki

This week we bring you an intergenerational conversation featuring David Suzuki, who is a Canadian scientist, activist, and media figure. Since the 1970s, Suzuki has hosted both radio and television shows about the natural world and environmental issues. A self-described “elder,” Suzuki shares his views and long-term perspective on environmentalism with our producer Mike Osborne. Their wide-ranging conversation spans climate change, energy, shortfalls of the environmental movement, and the evolving relationship between humans and Earth’s ecosystems.

Evolution of Venom

“In Asia or Africa around 60 million years ago, snakes became more venomous, though scientists aren’t quite sure why then and there.” Sometimes understanding global environmental change requires that we simply know how nature works. And not just the pleasant side of nature, but all of it. When we look back through the wonders of Darwinian evolution, we gain a deeper appreciation for certain aspects of the natural world that seem… uncomfortable: things like snakes, spiders, jellyfish, Komodo Dragons, and tiny caterpillars that can easily kill humans. This week, scientist Christie Wilcox takes us on a journey through the evolution of the chemical cocktails we call “venom,” which she wrote about in her new book called, “Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry.” Travel along from venom’s earliest formation, its evolution into a potent weapon, and its further transformation by doctors today as a potentially revolutionary tool in developing new medicines.

Image by Brent Myers
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic