Exploradio Origins

Exploradio Origins ponders the biggest questions in the universe in 90 seconds.

Each episode highlights the work of one of the more than 200 fellows at the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University. Their research examines the origins of life, the universe, and the strands that connect all of science. Host Kellen McGee delivers a distillation of discoveries that touch on the mysteries of dark matter, language, gender, and evolution. 

Exploradio Origins is a collaboration between WKSU and the Institute for the Science of Origins.  Tune-in Thursday afternoons during WKSU’s All Things Considered.

NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE

Each time our cells grow and divide, they have to perfectly copy out almost a billion elements of genetic code. Of course, perfect almost never happens. So as soon as there was a genetic code, life had to evolve a way to fix DNA mismatches. But sometimes people inherit mutations in those DNA mismatch repair genes, and then you have really challenging cancers. But, at the bottom of this, there lies some hope in our own immune systems.  

In order to function, the cells in our bodies need to coordinate and pass information, say, if we need a burst of energy to flee a threat. But, without eyes, ears, or even radios, how do they signal this information reliably?

A photo of rings from a neutron star's flare.
NASA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Scientists have spent centuries studying how matter works. They’ve boiled it, they’ve frozen it, and they’ve even thrown it into particle colliders and smashed it up. They’ve learned a lot about what matter does in these conditions, but--that’s just what we can do on Earth.

“A neutron star is basically the densest object aside from a black hole. When they collide, the matter itself is deformed in such a way that we can probe densities inaccessible to laboratories on Earth,” Leslie Wade said.

A photo of the disease in the liver.
CDC / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

When Dr. Robert Brown started teaching physics at Case Western Reserve University, he had no idea he’d be using his expertise in magnetic fields to hunt malaria. The earlier malaria is diagnosed, the more likely you are to survive, but most lab techniques can’t be used in rural villages.

“We wanted to diagnose malaria with something fast, portable, and cheap and accurate, which sounds challenging, but in fact we were able to really do it,” Brown said.

PROF. CHRISTOPHER CULLIS / CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

What if I described a plant that has nutrient-rich beans, protein-rich roots, produces high quality oil, and, grows in desert regions where rural communities desperately need a drought-resistant crop? Sound too good to be true? Maybe not. I’ve just described the wild Marama bean, native to Africa.

“It has never been grown as an organized crop, it’s just collected out of the bush. The idea is can we find ways of developing a set of lines that give you decent yield which we can give to farmers,” Christopher Cullis, professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University, said.

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