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What does the world look like through insect eyes? What biological mechanisms make their vision different from our own? And how might those differences influence their evolution? On this episode, we talk with UC Irvine evolutionary biologist Adriana Briscoe (@AdrianaBriscoe) about color vision in insects, particularly Heliconius butterflies. We dis…
 
What do we mean by ‘extreme ecological events’? What’s more important to a population, more frequent extremes or changes to average conditions? How should we link the performance of individuals to the success or failure of entire populations? On this episode, we talk with Mark Denny, Stanford University professor of marine science and former direct…
 
Season 4 of Big Biology will kick off at the end of August. Before then, Art and Marty have a few updates to share: We're looking for new interns to join our team and help produce the show! Also, we're hiring an executive producer to help with management and episode production. The application is available on the USF career page for a limited time …
 
Is artificial light at night partly responsible for insect declines? How does it affect nocturnal insects, especially fireflies and other species that need darkness to thrive? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Avalon Owens (@avalonceleste), a PhD candidate at Tufts University whose research aims to better understand the effects of artifi…
 
What has COVID-19 taught us about preparing for future epidemics? Can we trigger innate immune responses – our first lines of defense - to mitigate novel infections? Can we use live-attenuated vaccines (LAV) meant for other infections to protect us while we develop specific vaccines for new pathogens? On this episode, we talk to virologists Konstan…
 
What is agency? How does it evolve? Do non-living things have agency? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Tufts University professor Michael Levin about his recent article in Aeon magazine called ‘Cognition all the way down’. In it, Mike and Dan Dennett discuss the phenomenon of agency and what it means for biology, basic to medical. We di…
 
How do organisms cope with long periods of tough conditions where regular life is impossible? How do some animals turn down their metabolism to levels so low that they can appear dead? How do animals emerge from such deep, low activity states? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Jason Podrabsky, a professor of biology at Portland State Uni…
 
Can selection act on ecosystems, societies, or planets such that some persist and others disappear? Must such systems reproduce to evolve? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute (@GSI_Exeter) and a Professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science at the University of Exeter. In his 2021 T…
 
Are genes the prime movers in evolution, or is causality distributed across multiple levels of organization? What role do organisms play in evolution? Could organismal agency, the propensity to respond actively to selective forces, affect standard evolutionary theory? On this episode, we talk with Denis Walsh, a professor and philosopher of biology…
 
What is CRISPR? Who are the key players behind its discovery? And what does it mean for science both now and in the future? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to renowned author Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson) about his new book, Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. We break down the rich history of …
 
Why are some corals more resilient to bleaching than others? How should we leverage genetic and epigenetic information to conserve coral diversity? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Hollie Putnam (@HolliePutnam), a professor at the University of Rhode Island, about threats to coral reefs and the steps she and her colleagues are taking to…
 
What can modern hunter-gatherer societies teach us about human energy budgets? What misconceptions do we have about weight loss and weight management? Are there limits to human endurance? On this episode, we talk with Herman Pontzer (@HermanPontzer) of Duke University. We discuss his new book Burn, in which he examines -- and in some cases overturn…
 
How did vocal learning evolve? What is special about human language? What brain structures are associated with speech and the many components of spoken language? On this episode, we talk with Erich Jarvis (@erichjarvis), a professor at Rockefeller University, about the neurobiology of vocal communication. Erich’s ideas draw on the amazing breadth o…
 
What is coevolution? How has coevolution between insects and plants shaped human history and culture? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Rob Raguso, a professor at Cornell University, who studies insect-plant interactions. Rob discusses his work on diffuse coevolution between night blooming flowers and their long-tongued hawk moth pollina…
 
Why are bee populations declining? How can we reliably monitor insect populations when many are so cryptic? And what steps can we take to ensure that populations remain viable? In this episode, we talk with Dave Goulson (@DaveGoulson), a professor of biology at the University of Sussex. Dave studies the ecology and conservation of insects, particul…
 
We are jumping into the podcast feed with a few quick updates. We’re revamping our Patreon tier system to give you more Big Biology content. We also created a Facebook group where you can discuss Big Biology episodes with other fans and we're starting to upload transcripts for select episodes on BigBiology.org. Become a Patron: https://www.patreon.…
 
On this episode of Big Biology we talk to Christine Cooper (@CECooperEcophys), a vertebrate ecophysiologist and professor at Curtin University, Australia. Christine’s research focuses on the thermal, metabolic, and water physiology of Australian mammals and birds. Her recent research, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology (a sponsor of t…
 
What is a germ cell and why do animals separate germ and soma (body) cells at all? What molecules determine whether cells become germ or soma, and are some such mechanisms products of horizontal gene transfer? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Cassandra Extavour, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Harvard who studies the how's an…
 
How has the amount of artificial light changed over the last 150 years? In what ways does artificial light affect human health and wildlife? And how can new lighting technologies ameliorate the effects of light pollution? On this episode of Big Biology we talk to Kevin Gaston (@KevinJGaston), a professor of Biodiversity & Conservation at the Univer…
 
How can local and state governments repair the damage done by COVID-19? Is there a vaccine on its way to a pharmacy near you? And what should you expect about lockdowns, facemasks, and new COVID-19 therapies in the coming months? On this episode of Big Biology, a panel of experts discusses the virus’s trajectory and impact, and our options going fo…
 
What is the role of chance in explaining variation in biology? How has it shaped the history of life on Earth? And how do scientists incorporate chance into their performing experiments? In this episode of BigBiology, we talk to Sean Caroll, an award-winning scientist, author, educator and, film-producer about his latest book, A Series of Fortunate…
 
Are whales the biggest animals to have ever lived? Why have they evolved to become so gigantic? What key adaptations support their immense size? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk to Jeremy Goldbogen (@GoldbogenLab), a scientist at the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University. For the past few years he has been tracking blue whales, aimin…
 
How did life originate on Earth? Why is it that eukaryotes but not bacteria or archaea evolved large size and complicated body forms? How likely is that life has arisen independently elsewhere in the universe? On this episode, we talk with Nick Lane, a biochemist and professor at University College London, about his 2015 book The Vital Question. Ni…
 
How did the Brown Recluse get its powerful bite? How widespread is venom across the tree of life? How do spiders use their venoms? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with spider venom expert Greta Binford (@gretabinford), a Biology Professor and Biology Department Chair at Lewis & Clark University. Her lab explores the vast chemical richness o…
 
Where, when, and how did Homo sapiens appear? What do we know about the complex set of ancestral hominins that preceded us? How recently did other hominin lineages live and what happened to them? In this episode we talk with Kate Wong, a senior editor at Scientific American, about her latest article, The Origin of Us. Our understanding of hominin e…
 
Which animals are conscious, and how can we tell? Does it matter? Although many people think of insects as simple organisms that react in preprogrammed ways to their environments, scientists know increasingly that insect have subtle and complex forms of behavior and learning. But are they conscious? On this episode, we talk with Lars Chittka, a bio…
 
This podcast was originally broadcast by Complexity, a podcast from the Santa Fe Institute on April, 20 2020. Big Biology has featured several scientists connected to the Santa Fe Institute, and now SFI has its own podcast called Complexity. You can listen to all of their episodes here: https://complexity.simplecast.com/ This episode, as well as sh…
 
Today we’re replaying of our discussion with science writer David Quammen. We talked with him in 2018 about his most recent book, the Tangled Tree, which explores the influence of horizontal gene transfer on the evolution of life on Earth. But right now, it’s one of his previous books that is essential reading. In 2012, he published a book called S…
 
This episode was originally published in 2018. It's one of our most popular episodes of all time, so we decided to run it again while we're in between seasons. Look for new Big Bio episodes in August. What is life? How did life arise from non-life? What did life look like at its origin? Tune into this podcast to hear Art and Marty talk with Sara Wa…
 
How are early stage scientists pushing biology forward? What’s it like to be a graduate student during a global pandemic? Over the last several months, we’ve been collecting short audio clips from biology students describing their research. Associate Producer Michael Levin spearheaded the project, which we called the Student Spotlight. On this epis…
 
What’s the slimiest fish on Earth? Why are they so slimy? And can we leverage our understanding of slime to make better bioengineered materials? In this episode we talk with Doug Fudge, an Associate Professor at Chapman University, about his research on hagfish slime. Over the past 20 years, Doug and his lab and collaborators have figured out how a…
 
What can we learn from animals by constantly tracking their movements with transmitters? How can we use information from collectives of animals to study and predict disease spread, earthquakes, and outbreaks of pests? How do you transform a massive, international scientific idea into a reality? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Martin Wi…
 
Where did the new coronavirus come from? How can we be on the lookout for new diseases emerging from animals? Now that the coronavirus has infected humans, what’s the best path forward? In this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Andy Dobson, a disease ecologist at Princeton University who studies epidemics like the current COVID-19 outbreak. We t…
 
We’re getting ready for season three next fall. We already have a bunch of great guests lined up to talk about the evolution of venom, insect intelligence and human evolution. But we need your financial support to make that happen. Our goal is to raise at least $1,500 from listeners. If we aren’t able to accomplish that, we’ll need to drastically s…
 
How do hormones like testosterone coordinate important activities in an animal’s life, and how might those activities tradeoff with one another? How do the microbial communities living on birds affect the scents they give off, and how do those scents influence the birds’ choices of mates? In this episode, we talk with Ellen Ketterson, an evolutiona…
 
How do animals construct tissues, organs, and limbs in the right places during development? How do some animals manage to regenerate missing body parts? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Michael Levin, a biologist at Tufts University who studies how electric fields inside animals guide cells during development and regeneration. His work …
 
What forms of consciousness exist in the natural world? What roles did associative learning and episodic like memory play in its origins? Does consciousness have a function, and is it an adaptation? On this episode of Big Biology, we speak with Eva Jablonka from the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv, and M…
 
Is there a role for agency in evolution? Do organismal efforts to maintain homeostasis represent a form of biological intentionality? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Scott Turner, a physiologist and emeritus professor of Biology from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Scott’s book, Purpose and Desire, discusses how…
 
What is Maxwell's demon, and what is its role in biology? How do molecular demons underpin life? Does life really defy entropy? On this episode of Big Biology, we talk with Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and the Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. His recent book, "The Demon in the Machine," ta…
 
How is declining biodiversity affecting the occurrence and spread of Lyme disease? Is there a way to reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases using ecological approaches? On this episode of Big Biology we talk with Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld, two disease ecologists working at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New Yor…
 
If natural selection is constantly ridding lineages of detrimental traits, why do all organisms wear down with age? Why does restricting the diet slow down the aging process?On this episode of Big Biology we talk with Jenny Regan and Dan Nussey, scientists at the University of Edinburgh who study why some organisms age at different rates and what p…
 
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