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


Ed Yong, author of ‘I Contain Multitudes’

There are billions of microbes both in and on our bodies. These invisible organisms form complex ecosystems, which are passed on to us as infants through breast milk, help digest food in our guts, and may even be correlated with a growing list of health conditions like obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autism. It’s no exaggeration to say that human life would not be possible without the microbiome. Science writer Ed Yong has been reporting on the microbiome for over a decade, and has just published his first book, ‘I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.’ In this conversation with producer Mike Osborne, he reveals the evolutionary roots of the microbiome, what we know – and don’t know – about microbiomes across the human population, and how we as humans both create an imprint and are imprinted upon by the microbes in the environment all around us.

The Ecosystem Within

The microbiome is the term doctors use to describe the countless organisms each one of us carries in and on our bodies. In the last few years there’s been an explosion of research around how the gut microbiome is linked with our health. As Microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg tells producer Anna Lee, our microbiomes are like the control center of our bodies, affecting cognition, digestion, mood, and overall wellbeing. It turns out that that much of the current research into our gut microbiomes is best examined through the prism of environmental sciences. The challenges we face in the Anthropocene are the same challenges faced by the ecosystems we carry within.

Image by Nicola Fawcett
Licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International


Google Autofill: Are Climate Scientists…?

by Miles Traer

Over the course of our show, we’ve recorded quite a few interviews covering climate change, from abrupt climate shifts, to sea level rise, to the link between climate and human conflict, to how food systems are responding to warmer temperatures, to climate change on other planets… the list goes on.  But one thing we haven’t done?  We haven’t tackled the most queried questions on Google about climate scientists themselves.  Yep, that’s right. It’s time for another installation of Miles attempts to answer Google Autofill’s questions.  Using Google, I typed “are climate scientists” followed by every letter of the alphabet and tried to answer the resulting auto-completed question.  This time around, I had a little help from some amazing climate scientists (and contributors to our show) Katharine Hayhoe and Kaustubh Thirumalai: Continue reading