"Our World" theme
week on "Our World" ... We'll hear from some winners of this year's
Nobel prizes ...find out why one-fourth of all mammal species face possible
extinction ... and learn why experts are rethinking hospital care of the
SAFRAN: "If you take a healthy, well-nourished
person, and give them a week of bed rest, they lose 4-5 percent of their muscle
strength. We want patients now to wake up and move when they're in the
stories, bringing the ocean's wonders to museum visitors, and more. I'm Art
Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our
year's Nobel Prize winners were named this week.
scientists from Europe win the medicine prize for their discoveries of the viruses
that cause deadly diseases.
Harald zur Hausen linked the human papilloma virus to cervical cancer, paving
the way for a vaccine against the disease.
researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier share the honor for the
discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV — the cause of the AIDS
interview posted on the Nobel website, Montagnier said the battle against
MONTAGNIER: "Even after 20 years we are still
fighting this virus very strongly, and the AIDS epidemic is still spreading in
Africa, and so the fight is not finished, and my message is that we should
continue the research."
the Nobel committee did not include American researcher Robert Gallo. After a
long dispute, Gallo and Montagnier agreed in 1987 that they would share credit
for the discovery of HIV. But many scientists felt the deal was merely a
compromise, and did not necessarily reflect the facts of the discovery.
physics prize went to three Japanese-born researchers. Makoto Kobayashi and
Toshihide Maskawa were cited by the Nobel Committee for work that predicted the
existence of several kinds of quarks.
Yoichiro Nambu, with the University of Chicago, was cited for discovering the
mechanism for spontaneous symmetry-breaking. His work underpins much of the
later work in developing the Standard Model that describes the basic particles
and forces of the universe. Many physicists thought the recognition of Nambu's
work was long overdue, including fellow University of Chicago Nobel laureate
CRONIN: "He was so far ahead of his time that
it maybe wasn't completely realized the importance of his contributions, which
are the cornerstone of the standard model of particle physics, which unites the
strong interactions, the electromagnetic interactions, and the weak
interactions, all in a clear understandable whole."
came to the United States from Japan in 1952, ironically at the invitation of Robert
Oppenheimer. He's the man who led the wartime U.S. project to develop the
atomic bomb, which had been used against two Japanese cities in 1945.
who has long been an American citizen, told reporters at a news conference in
Chicago that early reaction to his work was sometimes skeptical.
NAMBU: "Reaction? I must say, very poor."
to say, the reaction today is a little more positive.
finally, the Nobel prize for chemistry went to three Americans. Japanese-born
Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Tsien were honored for discovering
green fluorescent protein.
as it's known, has become a very useful way to watch biological processes
happening. Tsien, who is a professor at the University of California-San Diego,
explained that it's possible thanks to a glowing protein first observed in a
TSIEN: "We still don't know why the jellyfish
really wants to glow. We can speculate that it wants to glow because of
avoiding predation or maybe it wants sex. We can speculate all we want. We
haven't figured out a way of asking the jellyfish. And we don't know why, if it
really wanted to be glowing, why did it choose green."
president of the American Chemical Society praised the Nobel committee's
choice. I reached Bruce Bursten in Oslo.
BURSTEN: "What the three laureates have done is
really use the tools of chemistry to tremendous advantage in studying biology.
One of the things that I just marvel at is how simple this is in concept, to
basically have proteins that bind to specific metals in living systems, change
shape and therefore change physical properties, and allow monitoring. And I
think it's a wonderful choice. Very, very clever science."
year the Nobel prize is worth about $1.4 million in each category. The science
prizes will be presented at a ceremony in Stockholm in December.
survey of the world's mammals has found that one out of four species is
threatened with extinction.
report on the threatened species was released in Barcelona on Monday at the
World Conservation Congress and published in the journal Science. Jan
Schipper was the lead author of the article.
SCHIPPER: "Well generally, what we're seeing is
observationally a decline in a huge amount of species around the world.
Depending on how you consider various aspects of the data, there's anywhere
between 21 and 36 percent of the species considered to be threatened."
of some 5,500 species of mammals, hundreds are listed as endangered or
critically endangered. They include a bat called the Mauritian flying fox, the
Tasmanian Devil, the Black Crested Gibbon, and many others.
why many species of mammals are at risk of becoming extinct, Schipper says
deforestation is probably the biggest threat, followed closely by hunting.
SCHIPPER: "But it's actually the compounding
effects of when you have both of those acting at the same time in the same
areas where we tend to see the highest rates of decline on a regional scale. So
where you have, especially, historic deforestation, which leaves usually only
remnants of forests, this is where we're starting to see really serious and
really rapid decline, as in Southeast Asia, some parts of Africa and even some
parts of South and Central America now."
multi-year survey was conducted by 1,700 researchers working in 130 countries.
SCHIPPER: "One of the reasons this has taken five
years for us to complete is because of the sheer volume of information that's
out there for mammals. But surprisingly, there's quite a lot of species we
still don't know."
International Union for Conservation of Nature is the group that keeps track of
species threatened with extinction on what they call the Red List.
official Jane Smart says it's not just mammals that are threatened.
SMART: "One in three amphibians. One in eight birds. We have not assessed all
the species on the planet, but all those we have assessed tell us that there is
very, very bad news."
the mammals that Jan Schipper writes about in Science magazine, the IUCN
Red List cites more than 44,000 plant and animal species. Almost 17,000 are
threatened, and more than 3,200, or seven percent, are in the highest category —
"critically endangered" with extinction.
at the IUCN's World Conservation Congress in Barcelona this week, health
experts from a New York-based conservation group said that global warming could
lead to the spread of infectious diseases into new regions of the world. If not
addressed, they say, it could be bad news for both human and animal health.
VOA's Jessica Berman reports.
BERMAN: The Wildlife Conservation Society issued a
list it calls the "Deadly Dozen," 12 wildlife diseases or pathogens
the organization says could spread into new regions as a result of global
list includes cholera, the Ebola virus, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Some of
the diseases only affect wildlife, some affect humans, and some affect both.
are concerned that changes in climate influence migrations of wild birds, which
then could infect domestic poultry over a wider area.
conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Barcelona,
the Wildlife Conservation Society's director of Global Health Programs, William
Karesh, says infectious diseases have the potential to spread with increasing
temperatures and fluctuating precipitation caused by global warming.
KARESH: "Like some viruses do well in a moist
environment, and they'll do better when it gets wetter in some places. Some
organisms, like anthrax, survive drying very well. So it changes the
distribution of diseases. And what we're concerned about is, we'll start to see
diseases in places we didn't see them before."
BERMAN: Karesh says wild animals are very sensitive
to changes in their environment, which is why his organization monitors their
habitats for early clues that there might be danger.
Berman, VOA News, Washington.
again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative
week we introduce you to one of the Web's top sites for information technology
news, comment, and conversation.
FISHER: "Ars Technica is the leading source for
news and analysis that is of interest to technologists."
Fisher is editor in chief and founder of ArsTechnica.com, a website whose name
is a hybrid of Greek and Latin, but whose content is as up-to-date as the
latest software release. There are a lot of technology-oriented websites, of
course, with news, comment and product reviews, but Fisher says Ars Technica is
different because of the expertise of its staff and contributors, who are tech
FISHER: "So when we go to a show — say
Microsoft puts on a show about technology — we don't really hang out with the
other press members that are there. We hang out with the engineers."
says that professionalism extends to the reader forums, where the topics
include computers, gaming, mobile phones, and more.
FISHER: "I'm very proud, actually, of the fact
that we have a very mature audience, and again that reliance on fact and
accuracy means that the level of discussion is much higher, the so-called
signal-to-noise ratio is much better than you find many places online."
and information from the world of technology from ArsTechnica.com, or get the
link to this and more than 200 other Websites of the Week from our site,
MUSIC: Adam Routh — "Funky Droid"
VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art Chimes in Washington.
scientists still aren't sure exactly what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,
or SIDS, new research suggests that better ventilation in a baby's sleeping
area can reduce the risk of this mysterious, and often lethal medical phenomenon.
Health reporter Rose Hoban has the story.
HOBAN: Over the past two decades, the number of
SIDS deaths in the U.S. and Europe dropped dramatically after researchers
discovered that babies were less likely to die when they were placed on their
backs to sleep.
De-Kun Li, with the Kaiser Permanente medical system in California, is one of
many researchers trying to learn why babies still die from SIDS, and how these
deaths can be prevented. He says scientists think SIDS may be caused when
babies re-breathe, or breathe back in, the carbon dioxide that they've just
interviewed the parents of babies who had died of SIDS. He also interviewed the
parents of babies who had not died. He says he's found one important
difference in the sleeping environment of children who lived — many had fans in
the rooms where they were sleeping.
LI: "If there was a fan in the infant's
room, the infant's risk of SIDS was reduced by 72 percent compared to infant
who did not have a fan of the room."
HOBAN: Li says the theory is that there is a subtle
problem in the brains of some babies. These babies don't react by coughing or
moving when they re-breathe an excess of carbon dioxide. This is why fans
"The fan can help dissipate any trapped carbon dioxide around the mouth or
the baby's airway."
HOBAN: Li says the practice of placing a fan in a
baby's room should be added to the list of things parents can do to reduce the
SIDS risk to their infants. His research is published in the Archives of
Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. I'm Rose Hoban.
many of the world's best hospitals, if you are critically ill and maybe on life
support, chances are you will be confined to bed, and maybe sedated. It's a
standard protocol, but a new study in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical
Association, suggests that's often NOT the best route to a successful recovery.
study's author, Dale Needham, works in the intensive care unit — the ICU — at
Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. According to his research, even extremely
sick patients can benefit from getting out of bed for a walk.
NEEDHAM: What we know is that deep sedation and bed
rest is commonly used in caring for intensive care patients, but that this care
may lead to unnecessary muscle weakness and impaired physical function when
patients leave the ICU.
what I'm proposing is a change in paradigm in how we care for critically ill
patients. We want patients now to wake up and move when they're in the ICU, and
the Johns Hopkins Medical ICU has introduced a new early physical medicine and
rehabilitation program in order to create this change.
Q: This is not a new proposal. This really goes
back to a paradigm that was in place as early as World War II.
NEEDHAM: You're right. Soldiers that were injured on
the front line, when they were hospitalized, they were actively mobilized in
order to get them back to the front line as soon as possible.
Q: Well, this is a little bit counterintuitive.
It seems like bed rest would actually be good for you. What, actually, sorts of
harms do you get when you have an individual who is put in this strict bed rest
NEEDHAM: If you take a healthy, well-nourished
person, and give them a week of bed rest, during that one week they lose 4-5
percent of their muscle strength for each week that they're in bed. So if you
have an ICU patient who may tend to be more frail, elderly and certainly
malnourished while they're in the ICU, and put them to bed rest for one, two,
three, four, five weeks in the ICU, we would expect even larger decreases in
Q: And a word about the overall methodology of
NEEDHAM: So what I talked about in the JAMA
publication was really a synthesis or summary of research that's been done in
the field. And then finally, we present a single case study of a patient from
my ICU that, despite being on life support, was able to be awake, was able to
be out of bed and walk laps around the ICU.
Q: And that is "Mr. E."
NEEDHAM: That's right.
Q: There's a picture of Mr. E as he's walking
around in the hospital, and he's got two people — maybe nurses, I'm not sure — walking
in front of him and behind him. There's a cart-full of equipment. The tubes
obviously from the breathing apparatus. It looks like a kind of cumbersome and,
well, if you have staff involved, it's an expensive procedure. To what extent
is that an impediment?
NEEDHAM: Art, you've identified a critically
important question. The resources required to mobilize a patient are
tremendous. The thing to keep in mind is that if we don't do this with patients
when they're in the ICU, the resources required when they leave the ICU for
weeks of rehabilitation are likely much greater than if we deploy those
resources while they're in the ICU to prevent or minimize the weakness that
results. And I would like to see patients leave the ICU at a higher level of
function so that they can get back to work more quickly, so that they can get
back to a more normal quality of life more quickly.
Needham's study on intensive-care patients was published Wednesday in the
journal JAMA. I reached him at his office at Johns Hopkins University.
covers more than seventy percent of the surface of the earth, yet what's
underneath the sea is largely unknown and unexplored. Here in Washington — about
170 kms. west of the nearest ocean, incidentally — a new museum exhibit aims to
teach visitors more about the ocean ecosystem. Our tour guide is VOA's Rosanne
SKIRBLE: While millions of people worldwide live on
or near a coast, for most of us our connection with the ocean stops at the
beach. Visitors to Sant Ocean Hall are immediately immersed into another world,
with hues of green and blue reflected from the glass display cases rippling
like waves through the exhibit space.
and hanging from the ceiling is Phoenix, an exact replica of a 14-meter-long
North American Right Whale tracked by scientists since her birth off the coast
of Georgia in 1987. Museum director Cristian Samper updates the story.
SAMPER: "She was spotted a few weeks ago off
the coast of Maine. And she is 21 years old. She's had three calves. The name
comes from being the 'right' whale to hunt. And the fact is that there [are]
less than 400 of these whales in the northeast. So it is a species that is at
the brink of extinction, where [human] activities will determine the fate of
the species for the future."
SKIRBLE: Phoenix appears as if she were swimming in
the ocean, because projected on huge panels on the walls over the exhibit hall
are videos alive with action: sharks, whales, jellyfish, manta rays, and
schools of colorful darting fish.
into the past can be pretty scary too. Witness the nasty looking deep-dwelling
giant squid captured by Spanish fishermen in 2005.
SAMPER: "She is the largest, most intact squid
specimen anywhere on display. And one of the big challenges is how to display
these specimens, because we couldn't have them in thousands of gallons of
alcohol with thousands of people around them."
SKIRBLE: So the 7-meter-long female and the smaller
male squid are suspended in time in a non-toxic clear liquid developed
especially for Sant Ocean Hall. They make a big impression, as do the other
specimens from the museum's marine collection — the largest in the world.
SAMPER: "Probably close to 80 million specimens
of our collection are marine in one way or another, and we have a tiny fraction
on display, but there are close 700 different specimens on display, everything
from jellyfish to sea stars. So you can come here and get a pretty good feeling
for what's life in the ocean."
SKIRBLE: Visitors are invited to touch fossils or gaze eye-to-eye at a tiny shark in a
glass jar. That's why Sally Babylon from Galesville, Maryland, brought her
seven-year-old grandson, Elim, who she says already shows a keen interest in
the ocean world.
ELIM: "I really liked the one back there, the
deep sea one. It is really cool because it has all these sharp teeth. And I like
the sculpture over there, the big whale."
BABYLON: "I just want to pass on to him both my
appreciation of the beauty of it, and also the care that it takes. That we all
have to not pollute and be aware of species that are threatened."
SKIRBLE: And there is a lot more to see. A crowd
gathers around the 6,000-liter Indo-Pacific reef aquarium that contains dozens
of species. Other eyes are riveted on the two-meter wide iridescent blue and
green rotating globe that represents what the earth looks like from space.
Projected videos and graphics show how the ocean interacts with the land, the
atmosphere, the sea floor, and humans.
VIDEO: "We call the ocean by many names:
Atlantic, Pacific, Indian ..."
Samper hopes this Science-in-the-Sphere and other exhibits help raise awareness
about global issues like habitat change, fishery loss, invasive species,
pollution, and global warming that affect the health of the planet. I'm Rosanne
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Voice of America
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Sivak edited the show. Bob Doughty is the technical director.
this is Art Chimes, inviting you to join us online at voanews.com/ourworld or
on your radio next Saturday and Sunday as we check out the latest in science
and technology ... in Our World.