Hello and welcome to another episode of The Upside, a program featuring the flip side of your regular news reporting, with highlights of good things that have happened in our world in recent days. With this morning’s release of the rather dismal State of the Environment report, and well, *waves hands and gestures around* the general situation, we could all use a reminder that all hope is not lost, and there are still nice things happening that might even signify PROGRESS on planet earth.
After months, and maybe even years?, of not having much going on socially, I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of months now in intense travel and socialising. Of course in reality all that means is I’ve had a few house guests and took a road trip, but perhaps after years of lockdown this all feels like a bit much! I’m not complaining about making human contact though. In other news I am still plugging away on my studies, inching closer to that elusive degree in public health, which continues to feel a bit strange given the ongoing pandemic.
Anyway. How are you feeling? I hope all is well in your world. If you’d like, send me a text at 2BBB and let me know what’s new in your world. Or as always, whatever feedback you may have for us at your local community radio station. Again, we have a lot of new indie and pop tunes to get through this Tuesday afternoon, so do stay tuned to hear three upsides of the news, at 2:30, 3, and 3:30pm.
2:30pm Whales Make a Comeback
“It was one of the most spectacular observations I’ve had.”
I thought that quote was a great way to introduce our first upside story for the week, which brings us to Antarctica, where fin whales are making a comeback. The quote comes from Helena Herr, a scientist who discovered, along with other researchers, “the largest gathering of fin whales ever documented.”
The New York Times reports on new research published in Scientific Reports that offers, according to the Times, “a glimmer of good news in what is otherwise a worrisome landscape for global biodiversity, and species of ocean dwellers in particular.” The paper, titled “Return of large fin whale feeding aggregations to historical whaling grounds in the Southern Ocean,” describes how conservation efforts in the antarctic region, including a commercial whaling ban, have led to this once near-extinct species making a remarkable comeback.
Apparently fin whales in particular are doing better than some of the other whale species, but this is very good news: it shows that changing our ways and making an effort to manage and preserve ecosystems can result in these areas being reclaimed by nature, with biodiversity wins and food chains reinstated. These whales were once hunted almost to the last one swimming, so this is a remarkable success story. More at The New York Times and details for nerds in the study.
3pm Good Medical News. Really.
From a conservation success to combined medical and technical progress, our next story comes from Nature, who reports that “Clinical trials for pig-to-human organ transplants inch closer” to reality.
The US FDA (the Food and Drug Administration, responsible for approving drugs and medical devices along with monitoring food and cosmetic safety in America) has agreed to move forward, cautiously, on human trials for organs transplanted from pigs. This comes after two separate experiments saw pig kidneys function for more than 2 days, and a heart transplanted from a pig give an extra two months to a man who was too ill to receive any other treatment.
This style of transplant, where an organ is taken from one species like a pig and installed in a human being, is referred to as “xenotransplants,” and is hoped to help meet the extraordinary, currently unmet demand for organs needed to save lives (over 100,000 on waiting lists in the US alone). What the FDA has approved are limited clinical trials that will focus on how to best manage risk post-surgery, which drugs work best to prevent the recipients from rejecting the pig organs, and even to determine which type of pig works best for donation.
Apparently the man who received the pig heart died possibly as a result of a pig virus found in the heart in the postmortem which “has been linked with reduced survival times for non-human primates that received pig organs.” More research is needed to figure this out.
While we’re still a long way from xenotransplants becoming standard operating practice, this move from the FDA is a significant step forward that could lead to saving hundreds of thousands of lives around the world and hopefully improving quality of life as well. Though I suppose not for the pigs…
And for a slight, though this time, very slight, tangent, may I recommend a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab called “My Thymus, Myself”: my husband and I recently listened to this on our aforementioned road trip and found it totally fascinating. The hosts discuss and describe the role of an organ called the thymus, which it turns out I didn’t even know we had – I also failed to guess where it is in the body. From the show description: “the thymus is the biological training ground where the body learns to protect itself from outside invaders (think: bacteria, coronaviruses). But this training is not the humdrum bit of science you might expect. It’s a magical shadowland with dire consequences.” Link in the show notes, as always.
3:30pm Recommendations Round-up
For our final segment, as usual, a round-up.
First, it’s been almost a week since the first images from the James Webb Telescope were released by NASA late last Tuesday night here in Australia. Did you have a chance to take a look?
Next, a random recommendation for you to read a wild story describing an Irishman’s unexpected adventure in Dubai. I’ll leave you with this enigmatic, leading quote, and suggest you click on the link to the full story in The Guardian in the show notes: “I got out my shovel and approached the camel.”
Wired recently ran an interview with Carlos Alvarez Pereira, who edited a new book titled, Limits and Beyond: 50 Years on From The Limits to Growth, What Did We Learn and What’s Next? The Limits to Growth was a book published by the Club of Rome, where Pereira is vice president nowadays, fifty years ago and was basically received as a doomsday prediction that all hope was lost and civilisation would fall in the next half century. We’re all still here, so obviously that hasn’t happened. As Pereira says, the report’s intended message was largely lost back when it was published in 1972, and that was not we’re all going to die but, “We have the capacity to choose. We have, as humanity, the capacity to decide what kind of future we want.” It’s a fascinating interview about an intriguing report that does get into how there is still hope for a better future. It also made me, at least, want to learn more about this previously unknown group of international intellectuals called the Club of Rome.
Finally, a quick TV show recommendation: The Bear, on Hulu, a short (average 25 minute) episodic look at a fancy chef who returns home to run his family’s sandwich shop in Chicago after the death of his brother. I’m guessing Americans all sound pretty much the same to most Australians, but I can assure you the main actor is from Brooklyn, not Chicago, but still, this is a fantastic, fast-paced and gritty show with heaps of character development. I’m already waiting for season 2!