Bad Data, CRISPR Therapies, Wildfire Impact, Oilbirds. August 6, 2021, Part 2

47:21
 
Share
 

Manage episode 299333746 series 2500522
By Science Friday and WNYC Studios, Science Friday, and WNYC Studios. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
How Imperfect Data Leads Us Astray

Datasets are increasingly shaping important decisions, from where companies target their advertising, to how governments allocate resources. But what happens when the data they rely on is wrong or incomplete?

Ira talks to technologist Kasia Chmielinski, as they test drive an algorithm that predicts a person’s race or ethnicity based on just a few details, like their name and zip code, the Bayseian Improved Surname Geocoding algorithm (BISG). You can check out one of the models they used here. The BISG is frequently used by government agencies and corporations alike to fill in missing race and ethnicity data—except it often guesses wrong, with potentially far-reaching effects.

CRISPR Stops Rare Genetic Disease In New Human Trial

When the gene-editing technique CRISPR first came on the scene in 2012, researchers were excited by the potential the technology offered for editing out defects in genetic code, and curing genetic diseases. The researchers behind the technique, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, won a 2020 Nobel Prize.

In one of the first clinical applications of the technique, last month researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that CRISPR had stopped a genetic disease called amyloidosis, which occurs when an abnormal protein accumulates in your organs. They’re not the only group moving toward using CRISPR on humans; recently, the FDA approved a human clinical trial that will use the technique to edit genes responsible for sickle cell disease.

Fyodor Urnov, a professor in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley and the director of the Innovative Genomics Institute, joins Ira to discuss the clinical trials, as well as what other therapeutic targets for CRISPR-based gene editing lie on the horizon.

Latinos In The West Are Twice As Likely To Be Affected By Wildfires

A housing crisis, mixed with the location of farmwork and frontline jobs that attract Latino residents, particularly migrant workers, have put the community at greater risk of being impacted by wildfires, California activists and experts say.

According to reporting by Politico, which analyzed data from risQ, “The Latino population makes up about 18 percent of the U.S. but represents 37 percent of the people who live in the areas that risQ identified as facing the most extreme wildfire risks.”

José Trinidad Castañeda, a climate activist in Orange County who serves as the Beautification and Environmental Commissioner for the city of Buena Park, says that in order to address the wildfire issue, California must address its housing crisis.

“Climate does not discriminate, but our housing crisis has,” said Trinidad Castañeda. Read the full story and listen to a conversation with Abbie Veitch, editor in chief at Currently.

Consider The Nocturnal, Whiskered Oilbird

At first glance, the oilbird doesn’t seem so strange. It’s a chestnut-colored, hawk-like bird that lives in South America. But with a closer look, its strange qualities start to stack up.

Oilbirds are nocturnal creatures that roost in caves in huge colonies. Sure, some other birds, like nightjays, do the same. But oilbirds also have a triple threat for navigating the darkness: They’re one of the few birds that use echolocation, they have incredible eyesight and sense of smell, and they have whiskers on their faces. Unlike bats, their ecolocating peers, oilbirds exclusively live off a fruit diet, confounding researchers looking into why they evolved so many specialized traits.

They also have an incredible screech—when deployed in large numbers, it’s easy to understand why local populations have given them a name that translates to “little devils."

“It’s wrong in every way, as far as birds go,” says researcher Mike Rutherford, curator of zoology and anatomy at the Hunterian museum at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Rutherford studied oilbirds in Trinidadian caves to learn more about their population sizes. “A lot of people say every species is unique, but some are more than others, and the oilbird is one of those.”

Rutherford joins Ira and SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to make the argument that the oilbird deserves to be labeled a charismatic creature, and join the ranks of the Charismatic Creature Corner.

337 episodes