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Cellular Fountain of Youth

PLOSable header, bones, blood cells, jumping figures

Cellular Fountain of Youth

Cellular Fountain of Youth

By Benjamin Katchman

show/hide words to know

  • Cell: a tiny building block that contains all the information necessary for the survival of any plant or animal. It is also the smallest unit of life. ... more
  • Chromosome: a long, thread-like molecule made of the chemical called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that is held together with special proteins and is visible (with strong microscopes) during cell division... more
  • Gene: a region of DNA where a specific set of instructions for one trait is kept. We get some of our genes from our mother and some from our father... more
  • Genetic Mutation: a change in the sequence of an organism's genetic material.
  • Molecule: a chemical structure that has two or more atoms held together by a chemical bond. Water is a molecule of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O)... more
  • Nucleotide: molecules (biological building blocks) that when joined together make up RNA and DNA... more
  • Sequence: an order of items, in biology the order of joined nucleotides that make up DNA or RNA.

What’s in the story?

Did you ever think the search for the “fountain of youth” would be found inside our very own cells? There are some scientists that have found that parts of our cells might hold the answer to aging and diseases like cancer. The parts are called telomeres and they get their name from the Greek words telos – end and meros – part. They are end points of chromosomes and help protect chromosomes from mutating. Chromosomes are the instruction set that all cells have. You might have heard them called “DNA.”

Young Women in Science Part 1

Young scientists, CG Schultz and Jessica Mathews, two of the top winners at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair talk about their work and interview ASU ecologist Kiona Ogle. Pauline Davies hosts the show as Dr. Biology is exploring the Panama rainforest to bring back fun and exciting stories.

The event was sponsored by the Central Arizona Chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Content Info | Transcript

MP3 download | 6MB

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Topic Time
Intro 00:00
CG Schultz introduces her project. 00:29
Jessica Mathews introduces her project. 00:50
Introduce guest scientist Kiona Ogle. 02:11
How would you describe yourself as a ecologist? 02:29
What is an ecologist? 02:56
How does climate change affect plants and animals? 03:13
Do you know what species are going to go extent? 04:05
How can you preserve species that might go extinct? 04:38
Would you feel bad about changing the DNA of a species? 05:17
Why did you decide to study plants instead of animals? 05:49
Is the desert a good place to do your work? 06:21
Have you always been interested in being an ecologist? 06:55
What would you like to be Jessica? 07:34
Do you have any idea of what kind of mathematician you would like to be? 08:28
Interesting calculus problem dealing with time of death based on body temperature. 08:45
What do you think about the golf courses? 09:16
What would you like to be when you grow up? [CG] 08:01
Sign off 14:15

Transcript - (PDF)

Pauline Davies:  This is "Ask a Biologist," a program about the living world, and I'm Pauline Davies sitting in for Dr. Biology, who's out of the country exploring some fascinating new projects that he'll talk about on a later show. But today, we're celebrating youngsters who've been given awards by the Association of Women in Science, and it's wonderful to have two of these young people here in the Grassroots Studio with me. Tell me your names.

CG Shultz:  I'm CG Shultz and I'm 11, and my project was proving Pick's Theorem using lattice line polygons. I like doing math because it's one of my favorite subjects in school, and I like doing mental math, as well, so I thought that would be a good project for me.

Pauline:  Great. And we've got Jessica.

Jessica Mathews:  Yes. I'm Jessica Mathews. I am 12 years old. I go to Paragon Science Academy, and my project was on magnets and whether or not temperature, like hot and cold, affects the magnetic force field of the magnet. I took paper clips, small, I believe they were steel, and I laid them out on a flat surface. I took the magnets and I put them in different temperatures and different climates, such as a refrigerator at, say, 32 degrees, and I made sure I checked the temperature. I grazed over the paper clips that were on the flat surface, and I put them in a bowl so I could count them, and I put the magnet back in the refrigerator. I counted them and I recorded it. I did that 10 times for different climates.

I have come to the conclusion that yes, temperature does affect the magnetic field. Colder temperatures bring on more paper clips because...You know how when you have a solid, liquid, and gas, how the particles create a solid because they are compacted together because it's colder? Well, it brings more paper clips because it's colder, and so they come together more so they can create their own heat, and it gets more paper clips.

Pauline:  Well done! Well, I hope you're going to enjoy your day here at ASU. I think it's going to be really exciting. Also with us is someone the students have been very excited to meet, Dr. Kiona Ogle, a professor and researcher here in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. Welcome, Kiona.

Kiona:  It's good to be here.

Pauline:  Girls, have you got any questions for Kiona?

CG:  How would you describe yourself as an eco‑ologist?

Kiona:  An ecologist?

CG:  Yes.

Kiona:  I consider myself a mathematical ecologist at this plant and ecosystem ecology, and desert ecosystems. A lot of stuff I do combines ecology with mathematics. I actually started out your age or younger, very interested in math, and then I developed that it into interest in biology as a way to apply my math skills.

Pauline:  I want to know, what is an ecologist?

Kiona:  The ecologist studies how organisms, plants and animals, me in particular, plants, interact with their environment, how the environment affects them in terms of their physiology, their growth, their population dynamics.

Pauline:  Jessica?

Jessica:  Yes. With climate does that affect certain plants and animals?

Kiona:  Well, I know a lot more about plants. In the scientific literature regarding animals, there's predictions that certain species may go extinct because of changes in their environment. Like, elevated temperature might affect some species more than others. There's a same idea with plants, too, that it might affect some species more than others, so that it's not very clear how to predict what will happen, in particular. But the idea is that we might see shifts in what we call "species community composition." So some species do a lot better under elevated carbon dioxide, increased temperature, changes in rainfall, and other species may be out‑competed. They don't do as well, and they could potentially go extinct.

But exactly what will happen? We're still not sure. It's unpredictable.

CG:  When you're saying some species are going to go extinct, do you know exactly what species?

Kiona:  No. I can't name particular species, but the idea is that species that are more sensitive to environmental conditions...If you increase the temperature by five or 10 degrees, some species may be harmed more than others because they can't tolerate extreme temperatures. Here in the desert, if it increases by five more degrees then we have summers at 120 degrees. You might see temperature‑sensitive species that might go extinct.

Jessica:  How can you preserve those certain species?

Kiona:  That's a good question. You have to change the environment or you change the DNA, potentially, of the species, such that you might find certain genotypes that do better under different conditions, where other genotypes have the certain combination of DNA might be more susceptible. Within the species, different individuals might be less susceptible to climate change than others, and so you could target those that are hardier as ones that could potentially be conserved, that keep the population viable.

Pauline:  Would you feel bad about changing the DNA of the species?

Kiona:  Maybe I didn't use the correct words. You could change the genetic composition, not by going in there and actually using molecular ways to change it, but the population could shift towards individuals that already are in the population but that do well, so that certain genotypes might do well. You may not actually change the DNA itself.

Pauline:  It would just be natural selection?

Kiona:  Yeah, helped by man. Helped by us.

CG:  Why did you choose to study plant instead of animals?

Kiona:  I find animals very interesting too, but they're very difficult to study, for one thing, because they move around, and you have to have special permits often to study animals. But I also am just fascinated by plants. Especially desert plants. They're very pretty and they...if we didn't have plants, none of us would be alive, because they produce the oxygen that we breathe. And they're very easy to study. Beause they're there, they don't move, you can make all sorts of measurements on them. You can manipulate them very easily.

Pauline:  Do you think the desert is a good place to do what you're doing?

Kiona:  I personally do. I love the desert. [laughter] Other people might find other ecosystems more interesting, but I am particularly interested in how changes in rainfall might affect desert plants and ecosystems. And we're seeing changes in rainfall patterns due to Climate Change. And deserts are very extreme environments in terms of temperature and water availability. So they are a good place to study some of the effects of these extreme climate changes that you might see.

Jessica:  OK. So you're saying you're interested in certain ecosystems such as the desert and plants. Well, have you always been interested? Like when you were a child, did you know you were going to be an ecologist?

Kiona:  No. I thought I might be either a graphic artist, or a math teacher. But I grew up in a very rural area on a farm. So I was always outside, interacting with plants and the environment. And I developed an interest more probably about it in high school. And then in college, I really decided to become an ecologist after about two years in college. It was more a gradual. I realized, "I really like this, so I might as well study it."

Jessica:  That's good.

Pauline:  What would you like to be, Jessica?

Jessica:  I don't know. I'm kind of still deciding, because certain people know what they want to be. But others don't. They take a long time to decide. So I don't know.

Kiona:  What are your favorite subjects?

Jessica:  All of them. I like school a lot, so I'm very interested in math and science, and technology and engineering. I could be an engineer, or I could be a singer or an artist, or anything really.

Pauline:  How about you, C.G.?

C.G.: I would like to become a math professor when I grow up, because I've always really had an interest in math. By the time I'm in eighth grade, I'll have all my high school math done. So I just thought it would be really fun to become a math professor, and teach kids about math and different [laughter] things. So...

Pauline:  That's a great ambition. Do you have any idea what sort of mathematician you would like to be? Would you like to study problems in the real world, or would you like to do math for its own sake?

C.G.: Study math in the real world, I guess. Because it sounds [laughter] really fun to do that.

Kiona:  I remember when I was in high school and I took a calculus class. Have you had calculus yet? C.G.: No.

Kiona:  OK. But we had a problem in there that was using calculus methods to figure out when somebody died, based upon the change in their temperature. I thought that was a very interesting problem when I was in high school, and I realized that there's many applications of math to biological problems. You know, real world applications that made it kind of exciting.

C.G.: That sounds really cool what you did in high school.

Kiona:  Yeah. C.G.: I want to do that now. [laughter]

Pauline:  You'll get there soon enough.

C.G.: [laughter] OK.

Pauline:  Well I can't let you go without asking fact, I'll ask you all. What do you think about the golf courses all around the Phoenix area? They take up a lot of water, don't they?

Kiona:  They probably do, but they are also using reclaimed water. So I'm torn about them. I don't think they belong in a desert, but then they're using water we don't use elsewhere, really. I don't know.

Pauline:  Right. What about you girls?

Jessica:  Well, personally, I don't like golfing. It's not one of my favorite hobbies. But I think that it does use a lot of water that, yes, we may not use the water, but it could also be used in different areas. So they're good and bad. They have different sides.

Pauline:  And C.G.?

C.G.: I like golf, but I don't do it as often as I used to. I also agree with Jessica, because they could be used for good things, but they're also could be used for bad things as well, so...

Kiona:  Though I read a study recently that I use for my Ecology class that looked at bird diversity in different urban habitats. And golf courses were one of the urban habitats that supported the highest bird diversity. So that's a potentially good component of it, even though I'm not advocating lots of golf courses everywhere.

Pauline:  So as an ecologist, you've got mixed views?

Kiona:  Yes. I'm more on the side that I wish that there were fewer. But I think we have a lot here in the Valley.

Jessica:  Yeah, we do. [music]

Pauline:  Well, that's been fantastic, girls. Thank you very, very much.

Jessica:  Thank you.

C.G.: Thank you.

Kiona:  Thank you. [music]

You've been listening to Ask a Biologist and with me have been school girls C.G. Schultz and Jessica Matthews, winners of awards given by the Association of Women in Science. Together we've been talking to environmentalist and ecologist, Dr. Kiona Ogle. The Ask a Biology Podcast is produced on the campus of Arizona State University and is recorded in the Grassroots Studio which is housed in the school of Life Sciences, a division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live, you can still send us your questions about biology using our companion website. The address is,, or you can just Google the words, "Ask a Biologist." I'm Pauline Davies.

Transcription by CastingWords

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Young Women in Science Part 1

Audio editor: Pauline Davies

Young Women in Science Part 2

Young scientists, Farah Eltohamy, Amanda Benedetto and Sarah Sakha, three of the top winners at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair talk about their work and interview ASU biologist Susan Holechek. Pauline Davies hosts the show as Dr. Biology is exploring the Panama rainforest to bring back fun and exciting stories.

The event was sponsored by the Central Arizona Chapter of the Association for Women in Science.

Content Info | Transcript

MP3 download | 8MB

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

Topic Time
Intro 00:00
Farah Eltohamy introduces her project. 00:34
Amanda Benedetto introduces her project. 00:53
Sarah Sakha introduces her project. 01:42
Is cinnamon a spice that could be good for food storage? 02:21
Introduce guest scientist Susan Holechek. 02:44
Susan what do you think of the girls projects? 03:08
How did you come up with your projects? 03:38
What's the difference between Dengue Fever and Hemorrhagic Fever? 05:38
What happens when you get Hemorrhagic Fever? 06:28
Are there scientist in Peru who were working on Dengue Fever who inspired you to become a scientist? 07:05
Are you working on a future vaccine for Dengue Fever? 08:20
How do you blend molecular biology and advanced mathematics in your research? 08:52
What's the best thing about your work? 10:38
Do you have any hobbies that lead you to a career in science? [link with art] 11:18
If you weren't a scientist, what you you be? [Susan Holcheck] 12:15
Sara, what would you like to be? [Sara, Amanda] 12:45
Sign off 14:15

Transcript - (PDF)

Pauline Davies:  This is "Ask a Biologist," a program about the living world, and I'm Pauline Davies standing in for Dr. Biology, who is trekking around the rainforests of Panama recording the sounds of animals to bring to you in a future program. Today, though, we're honoring young people who've been given awards by the Association of Women in Science, and I'm delighted to have with me three of those young people. Tell me about yourselves. Farah?

Farah Eltohamy:  I'm 12 years old, and I go to BASIS Chandler. The project I did, which I won the award for, was using nitrifying bacteria to clear out ammonia and nitrate from lake water to help the fish.

Pauline:  Wow, Farah, and what's your second name, just so that everyone knows who you are.

Farah:  Farah Eltohamy.

Pauline:  OK, and Amanda?

Amanda Benedetto:  Hi, I'm Amanda Benedetto, and I'm 11 years old. My project was "Can Roaches Learn?" I ran roaches in a maze that I constructed myself. It looks almost like a pitchfork. It's a Y with another endpoint in the middle. I wanted to see if they learned, because I put food in one of the endpoints and I ran them through. Learning would be if they went in faster each time and found the food. But some roaches also went to different endpoints without the food. They called that their favorite spot, and went there faster and faster.

Pauline:  That sounds absolutely fascinating and a lot of fun. Did you enjoy doing that project?

Amanda:  Yes, I did. I like bugs a lot.

Pauline:  Well, let's see what Sarah has to say.

Sarah Sakha:  I am a sophomore, 16 years old, at Xavier College Prep. I did my experiments by creating an alternative emergency food product by using lentil rice, what is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, and I tested the anti‑microbial activity of three different spices ‑‑ cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom ‑‑ on the shelf life of the EFP [Emergency Food Products]. I ran it over six weeks, and stored it at room temperature at my own house, and tested.

Pauline:  What did you find? What was the answer?

Sarah:  Cinnamon yielded the greatest anti‑microbial activity, and the EFP, it's still going strong after six weeks. I hope to test it in a food lab one day.

Pauline:  Do you think I should add cinnamon to things that I've got at home if cinnamon is the right sort of flavor?

Sarah:  For palatability, sure, and for shelf life, it depends.

Pauline:  Well, it's a good thing to try, I think, anyhow. Together, we're going to be interviewing one of the most inspiring young researchers in the School of Life Sciences here at Arizona State University. Welcome, Susan Holechek.

Susan Holechek:  Welcome, girls. I am very happy to see some of you again. Welcome back. I just graduated in December with a PhD degree in molecular and cellular biology, so now I move from one biologist’s lab to an immunology lab. I'm very happy to talk about my research with you, so if you have any questions, please come at.

Pauline:  First of all, Susan, what do you think of the girls' projects?

Susan:  They are amazing. I already heard so many things about you. I, unfortunately, didn't have the time to be a judge this year, but I was a judge last year. The projects are just unbelievable. I already know that some people in Biodesign are very interested in your results, so if you're looking for any high school internships, yes, let us know. You girls are welcome. You're already stars.

Farah:  I plan on becoming a biologist, so maybe I could go and do an internship.

Susan:  Perfect.

Pauline:  How did you think of your projects? Was it the school that advised you, your teachers, or did you all come up with them, yourself?

Farah:  Well, I was always inspired by environmental projects, but our school science fair project, they would only give us one week or a couple of days so we could get the idea, so I had to do it really quickly. My mother and I, we found the idea online. Even though it looked really complicated, I thought I would take the chance to do it because I was always interested in environmental projects, as I said before, and I want to make a big change. I decided to choose it.

Pauline:  And Amanda?

Amanda:  I've always liked bugs ever since I was four, and when I was a baby. I've always played with bugs, and when I grow up, I would like to be an entomologist. I've always been inspired by them, so every science fair I've used bugs with my projects. Last year, I used mealworms and beetles, and used their metamorphosis, but this year I used Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Pauline:  Where did you get those?

Amanda:  There was a store in Mesa called the Reptile Center, and I got them there. A buck each.

Pauline:  Right, so your parents don't mind you having these strange bugs at home?

Amanda:  No. My dad actually approves of it, and my mom, she's kind of scared of them but she says it's OK.

Pauline:  Great project. And Sarah?

Sarah:  I was watching a late‑night CNN special on Anderson Cooper about the food famine and droughts in Somalia, and they were showing the EFPs that they used, which is a paste‑like substance that must be very unpalatable.

Pauline:  EFPs, what are they?

Sarah:  Emergency food products that they use in times of low food supply in remote areas. So, I got to thinking. I'm in the accelerated science program in my own school, so I started working on a project.

Pauline:  Cool. Now, have you got some questions for Susan?

Amanda:  Yes.

Pauline:  Go on, Amanda.

Amanda:  What's the difference between the dengue fever and the hemorrhagic fever?

Susan:  Both are diseases, and both of them are transmitted by the same virus, dengue virus. Now, we have four different kinds of dengue. We call it dengue serotypes, dengue‑1, ‑2, ‑3 and ‑4. Dengue fever would be somebody that gets bitten by a mosquito, so it's a mosquito‑transmitted disease. The mosquito bites you, and then you may have a mild fever. What happens is that then, maybe one month later, there's another mosquito that bites you, with another dengue. Let's say, in this case, dengue‑2. Now you have both serotypes in your body, right? They are dengue‑1 and dengue‑2, so the probabilities that you're going to get dengue hemorrhagic fever are higher, especially for children under 15 years old. That's what's the big, big problem.

Pauline:  You're obviously a specialist on dengue fever. What are the consequences of getting hemorrhagic fever?

Susan:  I'm from Peru, and when I was working there in '98 we have the first dengue-hemorrhagic fever dengue outbreak, ever. I was overseeing thousands of people getting the disease. There were a lot of children that get the disease, and there was even a six‑year‑old girl that died with complication. The problem with hemorrhagic fever is when you're so young, you don't have a lot of immune defenses and you can die in four days, so it's a big problem.

Farah:  Were there scientists in Peru that were planning on curing dengue fever, like you did, that inspired you?

Susan:  It was my intention. I did my biologist degree in Peru, and then I was invited to work at NIH at a very young age. When you're at NIH, you have to work with assistance and make an impact in your country. So being in Peru and dengue was a very important disease. Although at the time we didn't have any hemorrhagic fever, it was still very important because we didn't know what kind of dengue it was and we didn't know the genotype, so yes, more going into the genomic sequence of the virus. When the dengue hemorrhagic fever appeared for the first time ever in 2000, I was part of the multidisciplinary group that went. We looked at the people that were in the hospitals. It was just crazy.

Unfortunately, here in the States, we have the mosquito that transmits the virus in more than 28 states, and Mexico has dengue‑1, ‑2, ‑3 and ‑4. So, you girls do the math, we better be aware and have to have a prevention plan in place, because when the disease hits you there is no way back. And there is no vaccine. That's the problem. There is no vaccine for dengue.

Farah:  You're going to work on the vaccine?

Susan:  We're working, right now. I just finished my PhD. There are not a lot of scientists working with dengue in the States, and that's because we don't have the disease. I think there was an outbreak a couple of years ago in Florida with dengue‑1, but there were not many people. In order for us to start really working on the project, we need to get a lot of approval. We need to get the virus. We need to get the animal models or whatever it is that we need. That takes some time, and I just graduated. I'm doing my best.

Sarah:  I've noticed that you're working with both molecular biology and advanced mathematics, and I was just wondering how you can integrate these two in order to predict the outcomes of dengue fever and outbreaks.

Susan:  That's an excellent question, and that's something that I would like to advise to you. Right now, we are in the world of interdisciplinary work, so you girls, if you can team up with somebody that's...If you are interested in ecology, you should team up with somebody in molecular biology. These interdisciplinary roles are very valuable. The way I started working with math, although I'm not a mathematician, was when I met an ex‑collaborator and David Murillo. He already left ASU, but I am still working with the math department here. He had a big interest in dengue. I have a huge interest in dengue. He was doing mathematical models. I used to do molecular biology in Peru. That was what I did for five years there.

We decided, OK, what if we can look into whether the variables ‑‑ what mosquitoes, and is there a different serotype, as I mentioned, 1, 2, 3, and four ‑‑ if there is a predisposition for a specific serotype to be transmitted at a higher rate. That's when mathematics go into place. You should see these complicated models that they created. We're going to publish a paper ‑‑ we are working on it ‑‑ in maybe three months for a conference.

It gives me a different perspective, and I think that was a very valuable trade, because that was what got me my post‑doc right now. Because my advisor, Dr. Blackman, he's very interested also in immunology and the math part. It's because of my background, because I'm not afraid of math, that's how I got the position.

It's very valuable for you girls to try to collaborate with other people in different fields.

Pauline:  What's the best thing about your work? What do you enjoy most?

Susan:  OK, this is great. Every day is different. Every day is a challenge. In science, you have to be ready to fail. That's how you learn is when you experiment, it won't work the first time. It may not work the second, it may not work the...but when it works, you celebrate. Every day is different. It's not sitting down at the desk and doing the same job every day. You're in the lab, then you're on the computer. You're running your samples. You're ordering. You're planning ahead. You're writing a grant or you're writing your paper, your results. It's so exciting. Every day is so different, so I love it about it.

Farah:  Do you find being a scientist is very unique and not boring in the job? Were there any hobbies that motivated you to being a scientist?

Susan:  Well, I was funny because I told my dad I wanted to be a scientist, I think, when I was six years old. He kept buying me these microscopes and science books and stuff, so I didn't have the time to go into music when I was little. I wish, but I love painting, and I think being an artist as a hobby helped me a lot. Because when you're working with tiny things, you have that art in your fingers. You had a nice strife, [?] yes.

Farah:  Yeah. Since art is also my talent, whenever I do science it reminds me of art, since art is unique and it's your way. You can think of any idea you want. You can turn it to reality.

Susan:  Exactly. It's your way of expressing what you want, and you're going to be fine in that art. It's a great hobby to have when you're a scientist.

Pauline:  If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Susan:  Oh, my gosh. When I was little, I was between being an astronaut, was scared that, because I now...and I was very interested in archaeology. The country where I'm from, Peru, is so rich. If you hear about Machu Picchu, those ruins are amazing. I've been there five times. It's so rich. The culture is so rich there that if you are an archaeologist in Peru, that would be great. That was my second choice.

Pauline:  Sarah, what would you like to be?

Sarah:  I do not know. My dad is in internal medicine, but I'm in between integrating social issues and biology. I don't know. I have a few years to decide.

Pauline:  Right. Amanda?

Amanda:  I just want to stick with being an entomologist because I think that bugs are interesting. They can transmit diseases, and sometimes they can cure them if you get the right motivation. Because I heard that there was a certain type of ant, and if they took some of the venom out and injected it into a person that was sick with something. I forget what it was, but it cured them. They used the venom from the ant on one person, and then on the other person, they added a few things to the venom to make it an antidote.

Pauline:  Well, I think that's a fantastic motivation for your career in the future. Don't you agree, Susan?

Susan:  It's perfect, because in dengue, as I mentioned before, it's transmitted by mosquitoes. I've had one year of entomology, also training. I just went to Costa Rica last year. That was very useful because I had to determine is this the right species of mosquito or not, so I had to use my entomology skill. That's amazing. I love it.

Amanda:  Thank you.

Pauline:  Thank you all, Susan and some girls.

Susan:  Thank you so much.

Pauline:  It was great fun talking to you.

Sarah:  Thank you.

Amanda:  Thanks.

Farah:  Thank you.

Pauline:  You have been listening to "Ask a Biologist." In the studio have been award‑winning youngsters Farah Eltohamy, Amanda Benedetto, and Sarah Sakha. We've been chatting with infectious disease biologist Dr. Susan Holechek. The "Ask a Biologist" podcast is produced at the campus of Arizona State University and is recorded in the Grassroots Studio housed in the School of Life Sciences, which is a division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live, you can still send us your questions about biology using our companion website. The address is, or you can just Google the words "Ask a Biologist." I'm Pauline Davies.

Transcription by CastingWords

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Young Women in Science Part 2

Audio editor: Pauline Davies

PLOSable Biology All

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Scientists are learning new things every day. They are also writing about their discoveries. In most cases they publish in science magazines called journals, like those produced by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). In PLOSable you will find stories that will help you read and explore the articles written by scientists.

Now jump in and start exploring PLOSable - a place where firsthand science is only a mouse click away.

PLOSable Biology (quick list)

PLOSable Biology (quick list)

Scientists are learning new things every day. They are also writing about their discoveries. In most cases they publish in science magazines called journals like the Public Library of Science (PLOS). In PLOSable Biology you will find stories that will help you read and explore the articles written by scientists.

Now jump in and start exploring PLOSable Biology - a place where firsthand science is only a mouse click away.

Ugly Bug Contest 2011

A quiet western town waits for the arrival of the swarm of contestants for the 2011 Ugly Bug Contest.

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Executive Producer: Jacob Sahertian
Editing, Art Design, and Animation: Erik Holsinger
Sound and Music Design: Erik Holsinger, Jacob Sahertian and Jacob Mayfield
Insect Animation: Vislab interns Luis Chavez and Robert Cohen
Voice Over talent: Travis "Big Bob" McGillicutty the Third
Bug colorization: Debra Page Baluch
Video QC: James Baxter, Jacob Mayfield, Margaret Couloumbe, Charles Kazilek and Debra Page Baluch
Transcript: Marcella Martos and James Baxter


The video opens with white words on a black background. The words read, "For one year they waited in a quiet" and in the first couple of seconds the words "WESTERN TOWN" fade in below them. 'Western town' is in gold text.

Twangy, slow music plays as the words fade in, reminiscent of old western movies.

The scene changes to a train pulling into a small town. The train and buildings are silhouetted against a background of tan mountains and blue sky. We hear the "toot-toot" of the train's horn, and a harmonica starts playing, along with some ticking percussion.

The view pans into the middle of the town and we see three people standing in the middle of a dirt road. First we see them from the back - from left to right they are: a tall man with brown hair and a large hat, wearing a white shirt and blue jeans; a shorter man with white hair and a larger hat, wearing a jean shirt and pants, and a little girl with pink hair, wearing yellow and white dress. Both men have their hands on their hips. The video shows them from the front next, and we see that the shorter man has a large white mustache, and looks older than the other. The little girl is smiling.

The screen fades to black, and the words, "And then THE SWARM came riding in…" appear on the screen. Most of the text is white, but "the swarm" is gold.

The next scene shows a large view of the desert. There are large red rock formations in the foreground, and further back are purple mountains and a train passing by. There is a cloud of dust rising from the desert floor.

The music changes, and now we can hear a sound like the patter of feet, galloping horses, or a stampede.

(Scene shown in aerial view) The next frame is a close-up of the large cloud of dust. We can't see what is in it, but there are flashes of antennae sticking up.

The scene changes and now we can see purple and blue bugs running past, in a desert landscape dotted with saguaro cacti. The bugs are scurrying across the desert leaving a huge trail of dust behind them.

Back in the town, we see the three people standing their ground as a large cloud of dust approaches. The view flashes from the three of them, to the oncoming bugs, and back again. Each time our view returns to the people, the image closes in on the old man, whose eyes are getting wider.

The bugs come to a stop in front of the people just as the music stops. Each person's eyes get round, as though shocked, and we hear a gasp, "Huh!"

The screen splits into three sections. The old man is shown in the center. As a bell starts ringing in the background, two of the bugs appear on either side of him, one green and one red. The bell rings again, and now the younger man is in the center, and two bugs appear on either side of him; one is blue and the other is furry-looking and yellow.

The frame shifts to the little girl, who blinks twice, then smiles and waves.

Closing in on the blue bug. This bug has purple eyes, a black head, and a dark blue body. It has two long grey antennae and as it flicks one of them we hear the sound of a whip cracking.

The images changes to planks of wood, over which the words "In the end there could be only one winner in" moves up the screen as our view pans down. It stops over a more worn-looking section of wood, and we can see part of a wanted poster in the frame. In a flash of glowing red-orange light, the text changes to say, "The good, the bad & the Ugly Bug Contest." These words linger on the screen as the background fades to black.

The text changes to say, "Will it be..." and then we see images of four of the contestants. Each image lists a nick-name, scientific order and factoid about these bugs. Inspirational music swells as each bug is shown.

The first one is "Rosie," Collops vittatus, a red and tan bug with a squat face, who is shown against a blue background. Rosie's factoid is "aphid and white fly killer."

The next bug shown is "Doc," Hymenoptera, a green and brown bug with long curled antennae, whose factoid is "destroyer of any plant pests."

"Big Bob," Algarobius prosopis, is third, and "loves a good mesquite seed." Bob is yellow and red, and his body is textured in a way that looks like fur or hair.

The last bug shown is "Barney," Phyllotreta, whose factoid is "loves mustard and horseradish weeds." Barney is the blue bug with purple eyes that earlier flicked his antenna, and is shown against a red background.

After "Barney" is shown, the music ends with a bell-sound. The bell keeps ringing as text appears on the black screen. The text says "Which one will be the winner?" and then changes to "YOU DECIDE" in large letters.

The next frame shows the same three people. The little girl exclaims "whoa!" in a surprisingly deep voice. Then the older man says, 'Man, them there's some ugly bugs."

The bell stops ringing in the background, and a sound like a whip cracking signals the transition to the final frame. It has a black background and text that reads, "Vote for your favorite Ugly Bug at".

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