NOVA scienceNOW : 49 –  Picky Eaters, Smart Marine Mammals, Sangeeta Bhatia, Capturing Carbon

NOVA scienceNOW : 49 – Picky Eaters, Smart Marine Mammals, Sangeeta Bhatia, Capturing Carbon

NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON (Astrophysicist/American
Museum of Natural History): On this episode of NOVA scienceNOW you’ll meet some walruses
with impressive brawn and brains… ZIYA TONG (Correspondent): Sit up. Oh, get out of town! NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: …and a sea lion who
takes her schoolwork very seriously. COLLEEN REICHMUTH (University of California,
Santa Cruz, Long Marine Laboratory): Sea lions can pass tests that are very difficult for
many other species to pass, including humans. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: So are these just fancy
circus tricks? SIVUQAQ (A Walrus): Ohhhhhhhh. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Or does this gift for
gab… LEAH COOMBS (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom):
Knock. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: …and ability to reason
demonstrate that animals are smarter than we think? And did you ever wonder what makes some people
picky eaters? According to my mother, I was never one of them. SUNCHITA F. TYSON (Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Mother):
He ate everything that was put in front of him. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And I still do. But was
it because my mother was strict? SUNCHITA TYSON: There was no question about
being picky. I didn’t even know what the word meant. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Or could it be food tastes
better to me because it’s in my genes? DENNIS DRAYNA: We, ultimately, were able to
pinpoint the actual gene that causes this. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And, in our profile,
you’ll meet a doctor whose taste for science began when she performed surgery on the family
answering machine. SANGEETA BHATIA (Harvard – MIT): I took it
apart and laid all the pieces on the table and fixed it. There were some parts left over
but it was working anyway, so I called it a day. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Today, she’s trying to
revolutionize transplant surgery, and she’s already had a major breakthrough in the race
to build the first ever artificial liver. SANGEETA BHATIA: The moment that I looked
into the microscope and saw that this had actually come to fruition was amazing. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: All that and more on
this episode of NOVA scienceNow. THE SCIENCE OF PICKY EATERS
NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Hello, I’m Neil deGrasse Tyson, your host for NOVA scienceNOW. Can you imagine sitting down for a meal and
getting served something that you know will taste so bitter, so vile, but it’s really
good for you and you have no choice but to eat it? Thank you. For some people out there this is just what
it’s like to eat foods that most others find delicious. Why do people have such different
reactions to the same thing? Well, as I found out, the answer may just lie in their genes. Nasty. Some kids love to eat, they’ll eat almost
anything. But others just hate the foods that are best for them. BOY: I don’t like that green stuff. I don’t
want it. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Some kids are picky eaters. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: According to my mom,
I was never one of them. SUNCHITA TYSON: Ever since he was a little
toddler, he ate everything that was put in front of him. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And it’s a good thing
I did. SUNCHITA TYSON: There was no question about
being picky. I didn’t even know what the word meant. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: So why are some people
picky and others not? DANIELLE R. REED (Monell Chemical Senses Center):
Just like we all differ in our ability to see and to hear, people differ in their ability
to taste. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: What makes a dish taste
good to some people and terrible to others? I was determined to find out, and I couldn’t
think of a better way to do it than to invite biologists Bob Margolskee and Stuart Firestein
for a tasty meal. I love good food, although it’s still a mystery
to me how my sense of taste works. So, to set me straight, the chef and my colleagues
came up with a little experiment. Much to my surprise, it involved a lot more than my
tongue. Hey, wait, my food is coming. What, what are
you doing? STUART FIRESTEIN (Columbia University): I’m
over here now, Neil. I’m over here now. Ready for this experiment? NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: I’m ready to eat. STUART FIRESTEIN: All right, open wide, here
it comes. I want you to describe now, just what you’re sensing in your mouth. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: I don’t taste anything. STUART FIRESTEIN: That’s because flavor really
consists of several different sensory modalities. It’s not just the taste in your mouth… NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Right. STUART FIRESTEIN: …but also the way the
food smells in your nose, the way it looks on the plate, the way it feels in your mouth. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Okay. STUART FIRESTEIN: I’m going to take your nose
plug off, and I want you to breathe out while I do that. Okay, breathe out. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Wow, completely different.
Oh, it’s fruit. I get some sort of sweet spices, like, I get
a little bit of cinnamon, maybe a little bit of clove. STUART FIRESTEIN: So now let’s take a look
at what you’ve been eating. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: JELL-O. So why couldn’t I taste it without my nose?
Why should my nose have anything to do with it at all? STUART FIRESTEIN: Well I think evolution has
seen fit to devote as much of our sensory apparatus as possible to what we eat. You
are, after all, what you eat. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And so were our caveman
ancestors. They had to use all their senses to find the nutrients they needed to survive
in a hostile environment. And just like us, they probably loved sweets. And there’s an
evolutionary reason for that: the sugar in sweet foods provides a lot of energy. ROBERT F. MARGOLSKEE (Monell Chemical Senses
Center): Sweet is very important and most people strongly prefer sweet. This is a direct
measure of the nutritive value of a food. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: On the other hand we
have a very different relationship with that bitter taste in many vegetables. Bitter is
a warning. BOB MARGOLSKEE: Bitter is a protective sense.
It’s a signal for something potentially poisonous. A plant puts out a toxic compound so people
won’t eat it. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: So the bitter flavor
in a plant prevents people from eating it. Our bitter taste buds honor and respect that
fact in a plant? BOB MARGOLSKEE: Yes. Good. STUART FIRESTEIN: Finally, you got it. Geez. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: I got it, but my colleagues
still hadn’t explained why people like me love eating broccoli while others think it’s
got a nasty, bitter flavor. Stuart and Bob assured me the answer to this
taste bud mystery was on the tip of my tongue. These are taste buds, and those long slender
leaf-like shapes are taste cells. These cells enable us to detect five basic flavors: sweet,
salty, bitter, sour and umami, the Japanese word for the savory taste in meat and cheese. On the outside of each taste cell are finger-like
projections, covered with hundreds of tiny taste receptors. And when those receptors
bind with the foods we eat, it opens a chemical pathway into the cell that leads all the way
up to the brain; that’s what we call taste. So, why do some people hate that bitter taste
found in green plants like broccoli and Brussels sprouts and others, like me, enjoy it? It’s
all because of those little taste receptors on your tongue, they’re actually proteins,
made by your genes. You’ve heard of genes: they’re subunits of
our D.N.A., that long chain of four chemicals, best known by their initials, A, C, G and
T. Biologists have discovered that, out of the
thousands of genes in our D.N.A., there’s one that determines if we like the taste of
some healthy greens or if we can’t stand them. And that single gene was discovered by geneticist
Dennis Drayna. He found it by testing how strongly people react to the taste of P.T.C.,
a compound a lot like the chemical found naturally in vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli.
While some people hate the taste of P.T.C, others can’t taste it at all. Dennis found the reason why, and it’s in our
genes. DENNIS DRAYNA: Lo and behold, what did we
find? We ultimately were able to pinpoint the actual gene that causes this. Ah ha! NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: A gene that determines
how we perceive that bitter flavor in broccoli that so many people hate. So I have this perfectly prepared salmon on
this sauce of broccoli. As I chowed down on a plate of healthy greens, I wanted to know
just how this gene works, and why it turns some of us into broccoli eaters and others
into picky eaters. Geneticist Danielle Reed and bio-psychologist
Julie Menella are finding answers to this question with the help of middle school students
like these. DANIELLE REED: The experiment we’re going
to do today is actually quite fun. One, two, three. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Students rub their cheeks
with a sterile swab, giving researchers easy access to a sample of their D.N.A. Those four letters in D.N.A., they’re packed
into 23 pairs of chromosomes. On one of those pairs is the gene they’re looking for. DANIELLE REED: You get one chromosome from
your mom and one chromosome from you dad. So this chromosome might have a gene that’s
a non-taster gene, and this chromosome from your dad might also be a non-taster gene. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Non-tasters don’t taste
the bitterness in many vegetables because they have the letters G-T-A in that order
in a certain spot on the gene. When you get G-T-A from your mom and dad, those taste receptors
on your tongue can’t bind with the bitterness in broccoli. But instead, if you get the letters
C-C-G from both your mom and dad, you can taste the bitterness in broccoli, and you’re
a “taster.” DANIELLE REED: And that makes you very sensitive
to bitter. YOUNG VOICE: Oh, yuck! NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Now, I bet you’re wondering
what would happen if you got one of each. DANIELLE REED: You might think of that as
being a “medium bitter-taster.” NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Over time, it may be
possible for medium bitter-tasters to actually learn to like the bitterness in broccoli. Back in the lab, Danielle analyzes the kids’
swabs. She thinks she can predict who hates the bitterness of broccoli, based solely on
their D.N.A. She then returns to the classroom to share
the results with students and their parents. But first, they give each kid some P.T.C.
to drink. As she expects, some taste absolutely nothing,
while others wished they’d stayed home, especially Reed and Jarrod. When they see their D.N.A.
results, it comes as no surprise; they’ve both got the form of this gene which makes
them very sensitive to bitter. And guess what? Neither of them likes broccoli. GAIL MOMJIAN (Reed’s Mother): She did come
right over to me afterwards and said, “See, I told you I don’t like vegetables.” Maybe I’ll give her some slack. ISA WELSCH (Jared’s Mother): Yeah, I’ll have
a little more empathy, I guess, at this point. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: So what you’re telling
me is that the picky-eating children are not accountable for being picky eaters. BOB MARGOLSKEE: It’s in their genes. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: It is biologically predetermined.
They are innocent in this accusatory world. So what’s a parent to do with their picky
eater? Let them eat cake? BOB MARGOLSKEE: My favorite part. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: In the end, are we really
held hostage by our genes? Oh, man that’s good. Not entirely. Remember at the beginning of my meal, when
I found out just how much our senses work together to create our perception of flavor?
It turns out, over time, that our sense of smell changes, and that affects our sense
of taste, no matter what kind of genes we have. In a recent study, my dining companion, Stuart
Firestein found that of the thousand genes in the mouse genome used for smell, not all
of them are active throughout life. Maybe the same is true for us. STUART FIRESTEIN: And so, we think, over a
lifetime, our sense of smell changes. So that something which smelled really bad, like,
for example, Brussels sprouts or spinach, when we were a kid and therefore gave us a
bad feeling for the taste, now smells much better. BOB MARGOLSKEE: So young children will avoid
bitter much more than the adult, and they are more sensitive and more preferring of
sweet. They have a sweet tooth. They like lots of fat, lots of sugar. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: What you’re saying is
you have a biogenetic argument for why the children’s menu at every single restaurant
in America doesn’t have vegetablesóno green vegetablesóand there’s always something fried
and an ice cream dessert at the end. STUART FIRESTEIN: Boy, that sounds good. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: So next time you get
frustrated with your picky eater, take a moment to relax and remember, their genes may be
influencing their food choices just as much as you are. On Screen Text: Take 14 hydrogen atoms, 10
carbons, one oxygen and put them together, and it smells like mint. Assemble that very
same molecule in a mirror image, and the same molecule, in this configuration, smells like
caraway. Why? For the most part, both molecules bind to
the same receptors, but there are another three receptors that bind only with the caraway
version. And that’s nothing to sniff at. Sorry. SMART SEA LIONS AND TALKING WALRUSES
NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Class, we know that some animals can learn to do all kinds of entertaining
tricks. But now we’re finding out that some creatures can learn and even reason in a way
that’s totally unexpected. Correspondent Ziya Tong had a close encounter
with a group of animals who not only go to school, they study and they’re actually acing
their tests! Class!! Class!!! Thank you. LEAH COOMBS: Okay, Ziya come on in. ZIYA TONG: I’m so excited. Okay, so this was an offer I couldn’t refuse… LEAH COOMBS: Come around this way, Ziya. ZIYA TONG: My God, what did I get myself into? I’ve flown across the country for a kiss,
a kiss from a walrusóall 2,300 pounds of him. His name is Sivuqaq, and he and two females
live here at a Six Flags Amusement Park in Vallejo, California. They were found abandoned
in Alaska, when they were only two weeks old. LEAH COOMBS: So here’s their food. ZIYA TONG: Leah Coombs is their trainer. LEAH COOMBS: Do you want to grab a handful
out of there? ZIYA TONG: Uggh. LEAH COOMBS: Are you ready? ZIYA TONG: I think so. This is certainly a long way to come for a
kiss. Wow. LEAH COOMBS: So, this is Siku, right here,
one of the girls. ZIYA TONG: Hello, Siku. And now, seeing their size, I wonder if it
was such a good idea. LEAH COOMBS: You want to give her a kiss?
Give her a kiss on her cheek. Siku, target. So lean in to her so she can get to you. Target. Good girl. Kiss. Okay. Good girl.
Blow a kiss. ZIYA TONG: All my fears aside, these guys
really know how to impress a gal. Sit up. Oh, get out of town! Get out of town. As charming and funny as these characters
are, some scientists say these clowns are challenging long-held assumptions about what
makes humans different from other animals. I never thought you could be so friendly. LEAH COOMBS: Good girl. Give me a sound. Good. ZIYA TONG: And that is what Colleen Reichmuth
and Ron Schusterman study. They’re trying to understand the behavior and intelligence
of these marine animals and others, like seals and sea lions, that all belong to a family
of fin-footed mammals called pinnipeds. At their lab, at the University of California,
Santa Cruz, they and their students work to understand the how these animals’ brains function.
And to do so, they run the lab much like a school for pinnipeds. Meet the class star, Rio, a California sea
lion. Definitely entertaining, but no academic slouch either. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Rio’s really a remarkable
animal. She’s had about 21 years of schooling. ZIYA TONG: Rio has some pretty remarkable
classmates, too, including Sprouts, a harbor seal… COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Speak. SPROUTS (A Harbor Seal): Wowowowowo. ZIYA TONG: …and a half-ton Northern elephant
seal, named Burnyce. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Here you go. Good. Down. ZIYA TONG: At this would-be-school, the animals
spend their days taking tests. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Sea lions can pass tests
that are very difficult for many other species to pass, including some of the great apes
and including humans. ZIYA TONG: Here’s how it works. Rio, like
a participant at a game show, sits in front of a wood set and is shown different characters,
some that look like numbers, some like letters. Rio has been taught that certain sounds, like
crickets, go with a particular number or letter, like D. So, when the buzzer sounds, she selects her
answer by pointing her nose at one of the cards. If she makes the right match, she gets
a fish. Rio loves getting fish rewards and memorized
very quickly that particular sounds go with particular letters or numbers. For instance,
the ring of a telephone goes with B. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: So, Rio could learn, by
trial and error, that straightforward rote memorization that if she hears the ring, then
she should always choose B. And she’s able to make that type of association very quickly. ZIYA TONG: Sea lions like Rio are perfect
for this kind of testing because they are like, well, a dog with bone. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Sea lions can be very focused.
They can ignore lots of other distractions, and really home in. When Rio makes an error,
you may see her kind of tense up, jump in the pool, swim around. She may bark. She’ll
pace around a little bit. She’s a bit intense. ZIYA TONG: As any student knows, rote memorization
is a useful skill in taking tests for a sea lion or a human, but it isn’t all that impressive
when it comes to demonstrating intelligence. But today’s test is. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: This is J, as in jack,
on the right; number 9, on the left. ZIYA TONG: Colleen wants to see if Rio can
exhibit that supremely human skill of logic. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: So Rio had previously learned
that A, B and C, that all letters could be grouped together. And now, she learned something
new: that ring goes with B. ZIYA TONG: So today, Rio is presented with
a new problem. She hears the familiar ring sound, but her choices are only the letter
C and the number 9, not B the answer she has been taught. Now Rio must figure out what
answer will get her a fish. Very quickly, she figures out that she can substitute B
with any other letter. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: It turns out that Rio is
able to use a logic rule to solve a problem that you haven’t encountered before, being
able to, you know, think it through and be correct on your first exposure. ZIYA TONG: Rio scores over 90 percent on this
exam, definitely an A student. It was through experiments like this that
Rio became one of the first animals to demonstrate a kind of higher order reasoning once thought
limited to humans. And this kind of reasoning is also believed to be the basis for the most
human of intellectual expressions: language. So how does this research relate to the evolution
of human language? RONALD J. SCHUSTERMAN (University of California,
Santa Cruz, Long Marine Laboratory): Symbols have meaning. They stand for something else.
Many experiments now suggest that different types of animals have an understanding of
meaning. They can comprehend the use of symbols. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: You can make the analogy
to the way we use sounds to identify certain objects in our environment. For example we
use the word “car” to identify a physical shape that is a car. ZIYA TONG: Another aspect of Reichmuth and
Schusterman’s research is to see if these animals can be taught to control the sounds
they make, like humans do when we learn to speak. That is where our one-ton walrus friends
come in. SIVUQAQ: Ohhhhhhhhh. ZIYA TONG: Most mammals make particular sounds
only in reaction to a specific situation, like a dog that growls when it’s threatened.
Efforts to train apes and other land-dwelling mammals to control and modify the sounds they
make have largely been unsuccessful. LEAH COOMBS: Knock. Good. Knock, knock. Good. ZIYA TONG: A lot of animals obviously communicate
through sound, so what’s different about a walrus? RONALD J. SCHUSTERMAN: What this training
shows is they have incredible control over this, so that they can learn to produce these
under certain occasions and inhibit them under other occasions. LEAH COOMBS: Give me a sound, something else,
now. COLLEEN REICHMUTH: Certainly language is very
special. You know, people have always looked for reasons to separate animals from humans.
Some people will tell you it’s because humans have a soul, some people will tell you it’s
because humans have language. From my experiences studying animals, I can’t point to any one
feature that sets humans apart from non-human animals. The distinctions are blurred. ZIYA TONG: Through the rigors of higher education,
it seems that animals like Sivuqaq, Rio and Sprouts, are capable of surprising intellectual
feats… Oh, you deserved this one. You worked extra
hard. …and that suggests that many of the skills
we considered to be uniquely human, just might not be. On Screen Text: So Rio was able to figure
this out: if greater-than is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then greater-than
is greater than C. At what age is a human able to do this? 6 months? No. One year? No.
Two years? No. Four years? If greater-than is greater than B, and B is
greater than C, then greater-than is greater than C. It isn’t until about four years of age that
humans are able to make the associations that Rio made. PROFILE: SANGEETA BHATIA
NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Sometimes, if something goes terribly wrong with one of your organsólet’s
say your liver stops workingósurgeons might be able to replace it and help you survive. But for this kind of transplant to work, you
need a new liver standing by, one that somebody just donated. Internal organs like this have
no shelf-life and they’re hard to find. But what if we could manufacture livers, so that
you could just order up a new one if you needed it? Well, in this episode’s profile, we meet a
bioengineer who’s trying to do just that, by figuring out how to build functioning livers
in the lab, on demand. SANGEETA BHATIA: I don’t cook at all. My husband
likes to say that I’m very good at “preparing” things, which means, like, heating them up.
I don’t keep my car very clean; my car is a mess. Right now, it smells like a dead animal. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Sangeeta Bhatia seems
a lot like the rest of us. ALICE CHEN (PhD student, Harvard-MIT): She
actually is really normal. GEOFFREY VON MALTZAHN (PhD student, Harvard-MIT):
I think she’s remarkably normal. MEHMET TONER (Sangeeta Bhatia’s Ph.D. Advisor):
I find Sangeeta is a very normal person. SANGEETA BHATIA: I’d like it to be that if
you met me socially, you wouldn’t necessarily know what I did, until I told you. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: What this M.I.T. doctor
and bioengineer has done isn’t exactly normal. She was a pioneer in getting liver cells to
function outside the human body, taking a major step toward developing an artificial
liver. Her problem-solving potential became obvious
at an early age, when she performed surgery on the family’s broken answering machine. SANGEETA BHATIA: I got out the screwdriver,
and took it apart, and laid all the pieces on the table, and tried to figure out what
was broken. And I found something that looked amiss and fixed it. And lo and behold, the
answering machine worked again. There were actually some parts left over that were supposed
to belong on the inside, but it was working anyway, so I called it a day. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Sangeeta’s parents emigrated
from India, her father, an engineer, and her mother, one of the first female M.B.A.s in
India. SANGEETA BHATIA: My mom was, sort of, ahead
of her time. She was a really independent, strong woman. If I look back on it now, she
arranged her life so that she could work and contribute and still be home for us when we
came home from classes. When I was in high school, I, even like now,
had a very full life. So I’ve always had a lot of things going on. I had a lot of really
hard classes, I was twirling baton, I was dancing. I think I never really thought about
the fact that it was a lot of work. I just thought about how I could do all the things
I wanted to do. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And all these activities
helped her to deal with the stresses of schoolwork. SANGEETA BHATIA: You can’t worry about the
exam that’s the next day, because you’re focusing, in the moment, on learning this move. And
I think what emerged from it was this, this, probably, more balanced version of me. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: But after arriving at
M.I.T., the harsh reality of a highly competitive, around-the-clock-work culture hit hard. SANGEETA BHATIA: I felt, in the beginning,
really out of my league, like I could never possibly work enough hours in the day. And
I came to the lab one Saturday night at 3 a.m., and I noticed the lab was full of people.
And I had this moment where I realized that I didn’t want to be there every Saturday night
at three in the morning. Science is a marathon, and finding ways to
protect part of yourself is an important part of success in the marathon. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: In Sangeeta’s marathon,
she got a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from M.I.T. and an M.D. from Harvard. And
in the process, she applied the power of computer chip technology to tackle one of the human
body’s most complicated organs. SANGEETA BHATIA: I fell in love with the liver,
sort of by accident. When I was a first-year graduate student, my advisor, Mehmet Toner,
had what seemed like this fascinating project, which was to make an artificial liver. It
would be an off-the-shelf transplant that you could give a patient, that didn’t have
to come from another dying patient. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: The first step toward
making this artificial liver was to take liver cells from a real liver, and get them to function
outside the human body, in the lab. The problem was, as soon as the liver cells were removed
from the body, they immediately began to die. MEHMET TONER: As soon as we take liver cells
out of the body, put it in a laboratory environment, all bets are off. They don’t function, they
are not happy. And Sangeeta’s problem was to tackle that. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: She saw that inside the
body, the liver cells branched off into stripes. Since cells communicate with one other through
chemical signals, this striped pattern could be crucial. SANGEETA BHATIA: The hypothesis was tissue
architecture should matter, but no one had ever done the experiment to show that that
was the case. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: The challenge now was
to get the tiny liver cells to obediently line up on a slide, in the lab, exactly as
they do in the human body. Combining her backgrounds in biology and engineering,
Sangeeta turned to the technology used in producing the tiny patterns on computer chips. SANGEETA BHATIA: If you’ve ever seen a picture
of a computer chip, and it has all these networks of wires that make circuitsóthat technology
that makes those patterns works by shining light on a surface. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Using the same technique,
creating a chemical reaction with light to etch striped lines onto glass slides, she
hoped to corral the liver cells into formation. SANGEETA BHATIA: For about a year I tried
this. Turned out, for my liver cells, nothing actually worked. At one point in the process,
I started to think I was losing my mind, because the experiment was, you take this piece of
glass that’s clear, and you shine light on it, and it’s still clear. And you dip it in
a bunch of clear solutions, and you pour cells on it, and at the end they’re supposed to
organize. After you do this about a thousand times, and you never see organized cells,
you start to the think that you’re insane. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: After laboring over her
experiment for a year, one day, everything changed. SANGEETA BHATIA: The moment that I looked
into the microscope and saw the…that this thing that I had invented in my head had actually
come to fruition was amazing. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: With the cells lined
up properly, their communication system was working. Not only were the micro-livers functioning,
they were now living for an unprecedented six weeks, outside of the human body. MEHMET TONER: It enhanced our understanding
of liver biology significantly. She figured out that if you put liver cells on a surface
in a certain, specific geometric configuration, bingo! Liver cells start functioning. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Soon, these micro-livers
could be used to test experimental vaccines for malaria. And Sangeeta hopes that within
her lifetime, she can create a functioning, artificial liver, to save patients with liver
failure. But to do this, she needs a lot of help. SANGEETA BHATIA: I have a ton of support.
I have a babysitter at home, an assistant at work, and somebody who helps run the lab,
and a husband that’s supportive and parents that are nearby. So, it sort of takes a village
to help me run my life. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: It’s this team of people
that gives her more time to spend with her two daughters. And she makes certain that
her daughters have the same kind of positive role models that she had growing up. And in her family, Barbie(TM) is not one of
them. JAGESH SHAH (Sangeeta Bhatia’s Husband): Barbie
is kind of persona non grata in our house. SANGEETA BHATIA: Barbie, in our house, is
“that doll that Mommy doesn’t like.” Barbie really represents the exaggerated figure,
the “I don’t like math.” And so, when I had girls, I really didn’t want Barbies in the
house. I didn’t want that body image, I didn’t want that focus on materialismóI just didn’t,
you know, like anything about Barbie. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Instead, she gave her
daughters a Marie Curie doll. SANGEETA BHATIA: The cool thing about Marie
Curie is that she was, of course, the first Nobel Prize-winning woman. She was also the
mother of two little girls. And her older daughter went on to win the Nobel Prize herself. JAGESH SHAH: Oh, my goodness, that went down
really fast. SANGEETA BHATIA: Right to the bottom. Which
one is denser? SANGEETA BHATIA’S DAUGHTER: What does “denser”
mean? SANGEETA BHATIA: I don’t think that science
is necessarily a career for everyone. I want to share with them a curiosity for the way
the world works, and I think whatever they want to be, they should be. JAGESH SHAH: What’s happening now? SANGEETA BHATIA’S DAUGHTER: It’s getting sparkly. NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And it’s not just her
own daughters that she wants to inspire. SANGEETA BHATIA: Keys to Empowering Youth
was an outreach organization that I helped to start when I was in graduate school. ALICE CHEN: We see these young girls come
in and get so excited to put on lab coats and lab goggles and work with the equipment.
And I think that it does make them think about choosing science and engineering as a career,
and at least shows them that they have that option. GEOFFREY VON MALTZAHN: I think Sangeeta is
a wonderful role model for women, but she’s a terrific role model for anybody. One of
the hardest things in life is to make a clear distinction between how much time you’re going
to dedicate to your work, and how much time you’re going to dedicate to your family and
your friends. And she is able to manage both of those with a sense of ease that I think
is inspirational, independent of whether you’re a man or a woman. ALICE CHEN: Once, when I was at Sangeeta’s
house, I was sitting with her at her dining room table, and I said, “Wow, this is place
is lovely. I can imagine you working here.” And she said, “Why? I don’t work all the time
at home. I have a life. I have my kids.” I think that she just always reminds us that
life is more than just work. SANGEETA BHATIA: It is a lot of work to be
a mom, and it is a lot of work to run a lab, but I don’t really think about the fact that
it’s a lot of work; I just try and figure out how to make them all fit together. On Screen Text: Remember Fantastic Voyage?
Scientists miniaturized a submarine so that it could be injected into a patient, so they
could perform surgery from the inside. Sangeeta’s working on a way to perform surgery on a similar
scale from the inside, as well. By injecting tiny particles that bind to cancer
cells, doctors may one day be able to image cancer cells, deliver drug therapies, and
kill cancer cells, all without invasive surgery. Downside? No Fantastic Voyage for Sangeeta. CAPTURING CARBON
NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Every creature on Earth does the same thing. We take in oxygen and
then give out carbon dioxide, with the same breath. And while we’re putting out CO2, trees,
like this one, and other plants are sucking it right up. They need it to survive! But with worldwide population growth and increased
fossil fuel consumption, we’re now putting out more CO2 than our trees and plants can
absorb. And since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, there’re fears that all this carbon dioxide
is heating up our planet. For some the solution is obvious. Correspondent
Peter Standring met up with some inventors trying to design a very “green” machine, one
that can “make like a tree…” PETER STANDRING (Correspondent): In a warehouse
on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, Professor Klaus Lackner has come up with an idea even
he admits is a bit fantastic. He’s attempting to compete with Mother Nature. KLAUS LACKNER: We are trying to mimic what
a tree can do. And these are the leaves of that tree. PETER STANDRING: Mimic a tree? KLAUS LACKNER: Some people would say this
can’t possibly be done, but then, on the other hand, every tree can do it. PETER STANDRING: Every tree, in fact every
leaf, is like a tiny factory, taking in carbon dioxide from the air and using it to make
the energy it needs to survive. In the process, it releases the oxygen that we need to live. Klaus’s version of a tree also pulls carbon
dioxide out of the air. Not for its own survival, but to help us fight global warming. Sounds
pretty incredible? Well, so is the way he came up with the idea. It all started a decade ago, when his 12 year-old-daughter,
Claire, came to him for advice. KLAUS LACKNER: When I started to think about
this problem, I was looking for ways of doing experiments. And, just about that time, Claire
came to me in the study at home and said she is looking for an experiment to do for her
science fair. CLAIRE LACKNER (Student, Princeton University):
I was in middle school, and I had to do a science experiment for my science class. And
so I talked to my dad about various ideas and he suggested this. KLAUS LACKNER: I said, “Why don’t you pull
CO2 out of the atmosphere?” PETER STANDRING: Pull carbon dioxide out of
the air? A tall order for a little girl. But, as the daughter of a renowned scientist, Claire
already knew about global warming. She understood that when sunlight enters the atmosphere and
strikes the Earth’s surface, some of it is reflected back towards space in the form of
heat. Greenhouse gases like CO2, carbon dioxide,
work like a chemical blanket to trap heat and keep the planet nice and warm. But the
increased burning of fossil fuels was generating so much carbon dioxide that our planet’s temperature
appeared to be rising at an alarming rate. But how could you just pull CO2 out of the
air? PARROT: Hello. PETER STANDRING: Claire had an innovative
idea. CLAIRE LACKNER: I went to the local pet shop
and bought a fish pump. I filled a test tube with sodium hydroxide. Next, I attached the
fish pump to the test tube, turned it on and ran air through it all night. PETER STANDRING: As Claire slept, her experiment
was hard at work. The fish pump was forcing air containing a small percentage of CO2 into
the test tube. CO2 is an acid, much like vinegar. Sodium
hydroxide, the liquid in the test tube, is a base, kind of like baking soda but stronger,
a lot stronger. It’s made of lye; the nasty stuff that cleans out your drain. When acids and bases meet, they not only attract,
but they bind to each other. It’s called an acid-base reaction. CLAIRE LACKNER: So the carbon dioxide binds
to the sodium hydroxide and leaves the air. PETER STANDRING: Claire succeeded in capturing
carbon dioxide straight from the air, won a prize at the science fair, and changed the
course of her father’s life. KLAUS LACKNER: I was surprised that she pulled
this off as well as she did, which made me feel that it could be easier than I thought. The first sketch I made ended up looking like
a tuning fork or a goal post with Venetian blinds. PETER STANDRING: A far cry from Mother Nature’s
design. KLAUS LACKNER: The first reaction of most
people, is, “Why take CO2 out of the air, where it’s more dilute than in any other place?
Clearly, it must be easier to get it out of a power plant.” But not all of the CO2 comes
out of a power plant. PETER STANDRING: A lot comes from cars, trucks
and airplanes burning fuel. Once in the air, CO2 is very dilute, making the idea of capturing
it sound close to impossible. If Klaus was going to make this far-out idea
a reality, he was going to need some practical advice. KLAUS LACKNER: If you look at Claire’s experiment
what she had is a test tube. PETER STANDRING: So he went to the Wright
brothers, not Orville and Wilbur, but project manager and engineer Allen and Burton, another
set of brothers, who, like their namesakes, don’t shy away from a challenge. ALLEN WRIGHT (Global Research Technologies):
The Wright brothers were able to look at a bird in flight, so they knew it was possible
to fly. Klaus and I will look at a tree and say, “Well, you know, that tree is capturing
carbon dioxide out of the air. We know it can be done; got to figure out how to do it.” PETER STANDRING: Not just in the laboratory
with a tiny fish pump and a test tube, but on a global scale. In 2004, they form a private company called
G.R.T. But the transition from a child’s science
fair project to the first synthetic tree is filled with obstacles. One, in particular,
could stop them dead in their tracks. Their tree needs electricity to run. And whenever
you produce electricity by burning oil, gas or coal, you also produce carbon dioxide.
It’s called an energy penalty. If their synthetic tree produces more CO2
to run than it can capture, well, what’s the point? A delicate balancing act begins. For every
choice the team makes there is a price to pay, an energy penalty. Can they somehow reduce
the amount of energy they use? KLAUS LACKNER: We needed to come up with a
shape where you don’t have to have an aquarium fish pump driving all the air through the
system, but to have the wind just deliver the air and pass it through the collector. PETER STANDRING: It all comes down to geometry.
What is the size and shape of the perfect synthetic leaf, one that can remove the most
CO2 from the air? To find out, they construct a wind tunnel
to study how air moves around and through a variety of surfaces. KLAUS LACKNER: The easier it is to get air
through, the more CO2 we can collect. ALLEN WRIGHT: We tried an array of strings;
we tried screens; we tried vertical plates of solid material that were smooth; we tried
vertical plates that had a knobby surface. PETER STANDRING: With each attempt, they measure
the air pressure in the wind tunnel. A drop in pressure means the airflow has stopped,
and that sample has failed. ALLEN WRIGHT: Nineteen…so this is not the
answer. PETER STANDRING: It takes a year to find a
shape that lets enough air pass through. ALLEN WRIGHT: Perfect. PETER STANDRING: It turns out to be long flat
sheets. ALLEN WRIGHT: The air would move through with
very little resistance. It worked well. PETER STANDRING: So air can move through their
manmade leaves, but how will they capture CO2? At first they follow Claire’s lead, coating
the leaves with sodium hydroxide. The chemistry is sound, but it’s a nasty business. ALLEN WRIGHT: It’ll be a much tougher job
for us. KLAUS LACKNER: Sodium hydroxide is great to
prove it can be done, but it has so many disadvantages. ALLEN WRIGHT: Sodium hydroxide is a very corrosive
material, it’s not a good idea to get it on your skin; it’s very harmful if you were to
get it in your eyes. As a practical matter, trying to build a machine that works on sodium
hydroxide would force us to use very expensive materials. It would drive the cost up significantly. PETER STANDRING: The guys decide to abandon
the idea of using sodium hydroxide when they make a startling discovery: this material.
Now, exactly what this material is, the guys aren’t telling. BURTON WRIGHT: What is it? ALLEN WRIGHT: Do I have your attention? BURTON WRIGHT: We can’t tell you. PETER STANDRING: Turns out this is where science
and commerce collide. Its true identity is proprietary, that is, until their patent comes
through. The team claims that this engineered fabric
attracts CO2 just like sodium hydroxide, but with none of the pitfalls. Here’s how the system works: the nine-foot
synthetic tree opens its doors, letting air flow through its leaves, which, thanks to
their mystery material, readily absorb carbon dioxide. The leaves are then sprayed to wash
the CO2 away for storage. The process does use electricity, but, in
the future, they hope, green power will make the device even more energy-efficient. Still one big question remains: what to do
with all that CO2. One option lies miles from civilization. Since
1996, a Norwegian oil company has gotten a lot of practice getting rid of CO2 by pumping
it into an aquifer deep beneath the North Sea. The process is called carbon sequestration.
But could the carbon leak out? If so, what effect would it have on marine life? MARTIN HOFFERT (New York University): Once
you’ve got enough gas under there, and it’s leaking out, it could become a very serious
problem. PETER STANDRING: And how much CO2 can they
put down there anyhow? KLAUS LACKNER: I believe, in the long term,
underground injection will not quite have the capacity we’re looking for, so I am looking
at another process which I refer to as mineral sequestration. PETER STANDRING: There’s a perfect example
of it in New York City, on the campus of Columbia University, underneath a bronze statue of
the school alma mater. KLAUS LACKNER: She is sitting on this pedestal
of serpentine rock. This serpentine has absorbed CO2, probably out of rainwater. It’s known
as geological weathering, and if you wait long enough, that’s what will happen to all
the CO2 we make. PETER STANDRING: But it takes hundreds of
thousands of years for Mother Nature to pull off geological weathering, and we don’t have
that long to wait, so Klaus is trying to figure out a way to speed it up in the lab. As for his tree? He now has a working prototype,
but many questions remain unanswered. Like, how well will it survive the elements? And
who’s going to a pay for it? Is Klaus’s tree too fantastic to be real? MARTIN HOFFERT: You could have said that about
the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison. I can’t sit here and tell you now that this
is going to work. I can tell you now that it would be a terrible mistake not to do the
research to find out. KLAUS LACKNER: I believe that it is impossible
to stop people from using the fossil fuels, so we need to develop technologies which allow
us to use them without creating environmental havoc on the planet. CLAIRE LACKNER: We are, as a world, changing
the climate and changing the Earth. And we need to understand how we are changing it,
and we need to understand what we would do: either how to fix it or to control how we
change it. On Screen Text: How many pounds of CO2 does
a human breathe out every year? Four-hundred-seventy-six-pounds. And how many pounds of CO2 does a tree absorb
every year? Sixty-four pounds. How many trees to absorb 1 person’s exhaled CO2? Seven. COSMIC PERSPECTIVE: COMING TO OUR SENSES
NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: And now for some final thoughts on coming to our senses. We’re born
with five senses. You know each of them: we hear, smell, touch, see and taste the world
around us. These are the five, and the only five ways we obtain information. In spite of the praise they receive, our senses
are incomplete. For example, we have no built-in way to register magnetic fields or radioactivity.
And we’re practically blind, when you consider all the forms of light we cannot see, including
infrared, ultraviolet, and radio waves, even though they are all around us. And often our five senses are just plain unreliable.
Eyewitness testimony, though high evidence in the court of law, is the lowest form of
evidence in the court of science. When we declare a food to be bitter or sweet,
we hardly ever recognize that it’s an opinion derived from our genetic profile. More typically,
we wrongly presume these features to be intrinsic properties of what we tasted. That’s why it’s hard to do science equipped
with only our senses. The most successful fields of research are those rich in methods
and tools of measurement that do not depend on the genes of who’s doing the measuring. In this way, scientists reveal fundamental
truths about the universe, allowing us to decode and even predict the operations of
nature. Otherwise, if all you have are your five senses, then all you have are your opinions. And that is the cosmic perspective. And now we’d like to hear your perspective
on this episode of NOVA scienceNOW. Log on to our Web site and tell us what you think.
You can watch any of these stories again, download additional audio and video, explore
interactives, hear from experts. And, if you want to get the advance scoop on upcoming
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at That’s our show. We’ll see you next time.

32 thoughts on “NOVA scienceNOW : 49 – Picky Eaters, Smart Marine Mammals, Sangeeta Bhatia, Capturing Carbon”

  1. We can't possibly plant enough trees to negate the effects of our fossil fuel consumption. So it would be a good thing until we can use alternative fuels. Even engineering a tree able to use up more CO2 could take centuries because large trees take such a long time to mature. Then there would be concern about this engineered tree spreading in the wild. An artificial tree would be the most efficient and cause the least environmental harm

  2. Aww I love how Rio gets as far from the 'base' as she can so she can get to the letter ASAP when the buzzer sounds!

  3. Tyson is a lot better host than all those other clowns that they put in other episodes only because "they wrote a best selling book" and stuff like that. Especially that guy that talks like a nerd. Is like if he was mocking all the show topics when he uses that annoying high pitch voice.

  4. Kids are picky because they learn it from their own parents with their example as they are picky to some stuff too. There was a study that showed that this is also cultural. African bushmen were exposed to the taste and odor of cinnamon and they found it awful, because we are brainwashed with TV commercials saying that stuff with cinnamon and sugar is good, but they are not. As parents we play the game of "look, it's sooooo goood" with our kids with some stuff, but don't do it with other stuff.

  5. Just think of all the cartoons that kids watch in which the characters always go like "ughh!, veggies!" when they are kids too. Then real kids learn that same reaction just by example. I remember the Kids Next Door episode in which they do nothing but complain about broccoli, and even portray it as an evil thing. No wonder kids grow up hating vegetables. WE TEACH THEM TO.

  6. not true. i was a picky eater as a kid but it had nothing to do with cartoons. i had an aversion to certain textures. anything "mushy" like tomatoes, cooked vegetables, ect…my sister couldnt eat ground meat because she could sometimes spot a bit of fat in it and the gresy globules and most dont even notice would have her literally wretching

  7. I am so glad I have taste buds that can't taste the bitterness in green vegetables. I love broccoli, spinach, and just about any other common green vegetable at the supermarket. It always puzzled me as to why others absolutely cannot stand them; green vegetables are so damn good!

  8. So, did they have the letters on the left side all the time for the seals who where answering those questions??? If so they would need to do that experiment over to eliminate the chance of the seals reacting to the side opposed to deciphering the connection of other letters as being a substitute for one another.

  9. I don't get the sense of aww for Sangeeta, to me she is the normal one and the others who work 90h/week are the odd ones. It has long been demonstrated that humans do not produce better (work) results by working a lot more hours than around 40/50 per week. The balance between work/family/vacation/hobby's actually makes the human mind/body produce better results than working non-stop. So Sangeeta is just doing it right….the rest being stupid.

  10. Vegetables are bitter? huh, i must have good genes because i like veggies. The test wasn't very well done though. catering to children and uneducated parents to get the results they predicted and wanted. To get a research grant most likely.

  11. I can't imagine the struggle Mr. Tyson faces when the script calls for him to say at the end, "Opinions don't matter. Anyway, we'd love to hear your opinions!"

  12. its because they dont cook them, you gotta cook vegetables or they taste like shit. boil it or steam it, put some salt on it, put it with rice or like a steak. thats real top notch food.

  13. My granddad loved Tobasco sauce and Would sprinkle it all over his gumbo. It was scary to watch. I am convinced he no longer had taste buds.

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