SciTech Now Episode 314

In this episode of SciTech Now, an attraction in New Jersey is helping visitors picture their backyards with dinosaurs; goTenna is a new device that allows you to communicate without service; geneticists and biotech researchers are breeding cattle without horns; a new tool for film composers; and researchers in Florida are learning why the number of loggerhead sea turtle nests was so high in 2016.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Coming up, a real-world robotic 'Jurassic Park'...

We went to roboticists and animatronic companies from California to Florida to Japan and figured out who was making the best dinosaurs to make sure that the dinosaurs matched our standards.

Engineering a hornless cow...

The editing reagents were brought into cell culture.

And they went in and very precisely made a tweak in the DNA at the gene that grows horns to introduce exactly the same sequence as is done in Angus at that particular gene.

Sea turtles in Florida...

All the species of sea turtles we deal with are threatened or endangered.

Um, and so we bring them in.

And our goal, obviously, is to rehabilitate and put them back out into the wild.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, and contributions to this station.

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to 'SciTech Now,' our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation.

Let's get started.

The world around us was a very different place when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Many familiar plants and animals didn't exist.

And landmasses had not yet formed the continents we know today.

Now an attraction in New Jersey is helping visitors picture their backyards with the dinosaurs that used to inhabit them.

Reporter Andrea Vasquez took a trip to Field Station Dinosaurs.

Take a trip to Leonia, New Jersey, and you'll travel more than 65 million years back in time, when the sights and sounds of dinosaurs dominated the landscape.

At Field Station Dinosaurs, towering animatronic dinos let visitors imagine the prehistoric world this land used to hold.

My favorite part was looking at all the dinosaurs and seeing the

As a kid, I think, at this point, just the, uh, discovery process of, like, seeing how amazing things were.

The park's creator, Guy Gsell, shares visitors' awe, his own interest sparked as a child at the 1965 World's Fair in New York.

Probably one of my earliest memories 'cause as you can imagine, I was pretty little in 1965.

But I remember seeing those -- those great Sinclair dinosaurs that were at that exhibit.

So that has stayed with me my whole life.

Decades later, he paired his prehistoric passion with years spent directing theater and large-scale exhibits.

And I put it all together in one place.

And it's been a blast ever since.

The dinosaurs include several locals to the area, like the hadrosaurus, a 25-foot, 17,000-pound dinosaur whose fossils were some of the first to be discovered in North America less than 100 miles from here in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

The first dinosaurs bones were really discovered here in New Jersey at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Those scientists kept coming out to New Jersey to the marl pits of New Jersey.

Marl is literally the bed of an ancient ocean that used to be on top of New Jersey.

So that... All of the ancient animals and all of the sea life fell to the bottom of that ancient ocean.

And over millions of years, it compressed and decomposed and became marl, which is this very rich soil, the exact conditions you need to find dinosaur bones.

It is literally why we're called the Garden State.

With an ideal environment and a wealth of fossils, the area became a hub of paleontology.

And Gsell tapped into the resource, teaming up with experts to help design the dinos.

And then we went to, believe it or not, roboticists and animatronic companies from California to Florida to Japan and China and shopped around and figured out who was making the best dinosaurs but also who was willing to work with our paleontologists to make sure that the dinosaurs matched our standards.

The robotic creatures move, roar, blink and breathe.

At least, they sound like it.

Ah!

The 33 dinosaurs are all life-sized, though they did not all reach the heights Hollywood would have us believe.

Here, we teach kids all day long that scientists don't mind when we make mistakes because science can't move forward unless we're brave enough to make mistakes and smart enough to learn from them.

And then we tell them, in the movies, they make mistakes on purpose all the time.

The velociraptor, for instance, is only about the size of a -- a wild turkey.

So in the movie 'Jurassic Park,' this guy would've been as high as the -- as the bamboo.

But in real life, this is how big they were.

This is a full-grown one?

This is a full-grown velociraptor.

The dinosaurs are mostly in their natural habitats.

The herbivores graze together while others perch near the trees and tuck into the bushes.

You read about the stuff.

But when you come and see it, I think that's the most amazing part of this place is that, you know, you just walk in.

And you look behind you and around you.

It's like, 'Wow.

How did these things even come about?'

The dinosaurs were right here.

They lived in the same place.

They're not from outer space.

They're not magical.

They lived right here.

And there are places in New Jersey where even little kids can go and find dinosaur fossils.

The budding paleontologists here get a hands-on, interactive experience to connect them with the ancient past.

Field Station Dinosaurs is a working scientific expedition.

So we ask that you guys come on into this -- the park with the mind of a scientist, ready to learn new things and discover.

You guys ready to be scientists today?

There's some ages where it's, like, every kid loves dinosaurs.

Like -- like -- like, 7-year-olds, it's just, like, every 7-year-old loves dinosaurs.

I knew a lot about dinosaurs before I came here.

So we take that love and passion for -- for the dinosaurs, and we turn that into a love and a passion for science and learning.

And we turn every little kid who comes here into a scientist.

Obviously, anything hands-on, experiencing something, is more than just reading about it or watching a video.

Hands-on, doing it, seeing it, it sinks in a lot more.

And it keeps 'em more engaged, for sure.

Many of these young scientists are building on an already impressive expertise.

One of the most -- most biggest theories in the world are an asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs, that wiped them all out.

But it didn't do all the dinosaurs because only in the late Cretaceous, they all died.

So that was only one little piece.

I'm Daniela Perdomo, and I'm co-founder of goTenna.

And I'm J. Perdomo, also co-founder of goTenna.

We started the company four years ago.

And we actually just released our second product, which is called goTenna Mesh.

This device pairs to your phone and allows you to communicate, even when you don't have service.

So it allows you to send texts and GPS locations over many miles.

It creates its own radio signal that then forms into its own network out in the field that we built from the ground up.

I think it's more like a tactical radio, kind of, like, military grade.

But we've made it a lot smaller, easier and, you know, accessible to, kind of, the general consumer population.

Our phones are communications devices.

But if you don't have service because you're out in a remote area, or a disaster hits, or any other reasons for why you don't have cell service or Wi-Fi or so forth, we wanted to create a way to allow people to continue to communicate even, you know, when they didn't have any essential infrastructure.

What's really cool about this product is that, let's say, J. and I are hiking somewhere.

And he's, you know, out of range of me.

If someone else has goTenna Mesh between us, I can send their -- my message through them automatically and privately.

You might attach it to a backpack.

You can put it in a pocket.

I mean, it's really small.

It weights 1.7 ounces.

It's everything from if you're going out hiking, spending time outdoors, crowded events, travel abroad.

And emergency preparedness is another use case as well.

You need some kind of iOS or Android device.

But what's nice about that is that we designed it with an app that looks kind of just like an iMessage or WhatsApp mixed with a Google Maps.

So you don't need to, like, learn how to use it.

We want it to be something very natural so people can continue to communicate the way they normally do, like, over text and GPS and so forth.

You use it the way you normally would use your phone, except it work-- this makes it works when it otherwise can't.

Our first product you can buy at REI and at Amazon and everything.

But our second product we just launched for preorder last week.

And so you can get it on preorder right now for, you know, discount pricing before we start shipping later this month.

For generations, dairy farmers and cattle breeders have sought ways to breed a hornless cow.

Up next, 'Science Friday' looks at how geneticists at the University of California, Davis, are partnering with biotech researchers to edit genes and breed cattle without horns.

How are you?

Nice to see you.

Nice to see you, my friend.

How are you? You good?

Yeah, I know.

So this is Spotty Guy.

Yeah, he's very friendly.

So normally, his horns would be growing up here and here.

But you can see that -- that they're not growing.

This is -- this guy's called Barry.

He has a slightly different spotting pattern but also no horns.

And so these are the stars of the show, yes, the two bulls that have been, um, genome edited.

So we tweaked that gene so that they no longer grow horns.

As a geneticist and animal breeder, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam doesn't see a cow the way that most people do.

Things like the -- the health of the animal, the reproductive capability of the animal, what its form is like, and then also the amount of -- of protein it produces.

It's a genetic basis underneath all of that.

And it's due to the random mutations that happen during evolution or selection, artificial selection.

And while much of her work has involved wrangling these random DNA changes, Dr. Van Eenennaam's motivations are hardly clinical.

Some of the work we're doing with them to try to select for animals that are less susceptible to disease and to try to minimize welfare issues, like dehorning, is really what interests me about animal breeding.

And I think that genetics is a really sustainable approach to dealing with some of the problems of -- of agriculture.

Some of these challenges popped up long after cattle were domesticated.

During the development of -- of dairy cattle breeds, um, the horned trait came along.

It wasn't necessarily something breeders were selecting for.

But it is now fixed in the dairy breeds, for example, Holstein and -- and -- and Jersey.

And it's not a trait that is optimally suited to modern production systems because the animals can hurt each other with the horns.

And they can also hurt the human handlers.

So to previous future harm, dairy farmers often burn the growing horn buds off of male and female calves.

It's done at a young age, when the animals are one or two months old.

And it's painful when it's done.

And so typically, a lidocaine block is given to the animal before the heat is applied to the -- to the horn bud.

And so that's unpleasant.

And it's not something that is enjoyed by either the farmer or the -- or the cow.

Thankfully, not all breeds of cattle are given this procedure.

As it happens, Angus have a naturally occurring mutation in their DNA that makes them not grow horns.

So they're what's called polled, which means that they don't grow horns.

It's a genetic defect, if you will.

And of course, this leads to the question, 'Why can't they get rid of the horn trait the old-fashioned way?'

You could cross an Angus over the top of a Holstein and get a polled, no-horned calf.

But you'd have this calf that was kind of half dairy and half beef.

And it wouldn't really be ideally to -- to either.

And then you'd have to cross it back to Holstein to Holstein to Holstein to get it back to the high productivity of a typical Holstein.

So by the time you did eight crosses, that's, you know, a 20-year process.

And that's assuming the random genetic changes that come with traditional breeding methods work out in your favor.

It's a process cattle breeders are not likely to adopt.

So how do we make the Holsteins hornless?

In the case of the bulls that we've been working with in collaboration with the company Recombinetics, the editing reagents were brought into cell culture.

And they went in and very precisely made a tweak in the DNA at the gene that grows horns to introduce exactly the same sequence as is found in Angus at that particular gene.

So we introduced, basically, a cow sequence into a cow genome.

And then those cells were cloned.

And that's the two bulls that we have here on campus that are Holsteins that no longer grow horns.

Dr. Van Eenennaam and her team at UC-Davis is currently working on editing embryos in a similar manner.

But it may be a while before bulls like these are ready for prime time.

They're prototype animals.

It wasn't done in an elite genetics line.

It was really done more as a -- as an experimental proof of concept.

So there's very elite animals that are at the top of the breeding pyramid.

So, for example, if you edited an elite Holstein, then all of the daughters that he produces would inherit that change.

And so you could make improvements quite rapidly in -- in a production system like that.

Um, but how soon this technology might be seen in agricultural breeding programs really is 90 percent dependent on regulations and 10 percent dependent on scientists.

Um, if there's an overly arduous, you know, 20-year time frame to bring it to market, then obviously, that's gonna make it cost-prohibitive.

Because the edit to the animals DNA is identical to a random mutation during sexual reproduction, Dr. Van Eenennaam doesn't believe this type of change merits legal oversight.

We don't regulate that now.

I mean, the reason that a Holstein looks different to an Angus is because of spontaneous mutations in evolution or selection, artificial selection.

And so what's the rationale for -- for regulating it if it's done by done by man versus if it occurs spontaneously?

To me, there's no scientific rationale for that.

It's just, really... It's an ethical 'Man shalt not do that,' kind of statement.

But she acknowledges that there is significant public concern about genetic modifications.

If people's worries have to do with transgenesis or, you know, 'Frankenfish' or whatever, it's really a different technique to that.

But I -- I guess I would -- would step back and ask, 'What is it that concerns you?'

Um, and -- and to -- to understand where that -- that discomfort is coming from.

I mean, I don't think people would argue that it's better to burn off a horn than to genetically dehorn an animal.

And so I'd like to have a discussion not only about risks which is what the GMO discussion is only ever focused on, and discuss both benefits and risks.

I'm Matt Kabus.

And I run the marketing and business development for Amper Music.

Amper is a video creator's first artificial intelligent music composer.

This allows video creators to customize their own unique soundtracks to their videos without needing to know anything about music.

When I hear a video director or somebody say, 'I want something that is epic and driving,' well, as a composer, what do you think about when you hear that?

How would you break that down?

And that process of breaking some -- an emotion down into something that -- and -- and codifying it and teaching a computer not only that but how to then learn, how to be creative and deliver you exactly what you want, that's essentially what the team had to do to have the app work as it does today.

Amper is essentially not to replace composers, by any means.

In fact, musicians find benefit and value in actually using it, whether inspiring new songs or actually, because the way that the program works, you can, you know, download a foundation of a song.

And then they can bring it into their DAW and build upon that.

We believe that artificial intelligence and human beings are extraordinary collaborators.

And with that, we'll further innovation in a way that we've never seen.

We'll be able to create more than we ever have.

This is a very exciting time.

Every year, Florida becomes home to more than 60,000 loggerhead sea turtle nests.

In 2016, the number of sea turtle nests was unexpectedly high.

And scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota set out to learn why.

Here's the story.

Early every morning during the summer, an army of volunteers scatter across 35 miles of beaches in southwest Florida to find and identify sea turtle nests.

This program is run by the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.

We start at civil twilight, so very early but when we can still see.

And we're looking for the tracks of the mother turtle or babies if we have a hatch.

So the mother turtle comes up.

We can see her in-track and her out-track.

We walk the entire thing.

If we see signs of a nest, which will be kind of a flat area on the sand, a body pit area is what we call it, and a lot of scatter where she has swept sand with her front flippers over her eggs, those are our clues.

Jamie Schindewolf is a volunteer for Mote Marine.

And today, she's giving a guided tour for 50 locals interested in sea turtle nesting on Longboat Key.

She would've dug a hole with her back flippers somewhere in this area.

When a new nest is found, they first must verify that there are eggs.

We clear off the top sand that's scattered, basically, until we feel that the sand is hard.

And then, someone will very gently walk on the nest.

And when they sink down into the sand, they know that that's most likely where the chamber is.

And then, they'll investigate further.

And the eggs are pliable.

Go down to the top egg.

And then we'll stake it off so that people know a nest is there, so that we know.

We triangulate it.

And we GPS it as well.

And then we will X out the crawl so that tomorrow's patrollers don't get confused and think it's a new nest.

Data collection is at the heart of the research.

On today's outing, the team excavates a nest that hatched three days earlier.

All right.

No flash, very important, no flash.

We did find six babies down there.

And we got them out.

And we put some wet sand in the bottom of a bucket and covered them up with a towel.

So hopefully, they will rest today before we let them out tonight after sunset. We went down.

We counted the number of eggs that hatched, the number of eggs that were unhatched for whatever reason.

We found a number down there that were PIP, dead, which means they are half out of the shell.

But for whatever reason, they don't make it the rest of the way.

Biologist Kristen Mazzarella uses the data to determine if conservation efforts are working.

Six live, one dead, 73 hatched.

We have 250 volunteers this year.

We usually have a number of staff as well as interns that are here being trained, how to find nests and take care of nests and conserve the nests.

A female turtle returns to the area of her birth 30 years later to begin her first nesting season.

The mother turtle's gonna come up, generally, at night.

When she finds a good spot on the beach, she's starts digging.

She moves all the dry sand off, the top layer of sand off.

And then, she starts using her back flippers to dig an egg chamber.

And then when she's done making that egg chamber, she's gonna lay her eggs.

After laying her eggs, the mother covers her nest and heads back to sea.

There's an average of about 100 to 120 eggs in a loggerhead nest, which is 98 percent of our nests is -- are loggerhead sea turtles on these beaches.

They can bury from 10 eggs or one egg to 200 eggs.

And so you never know what you're gonna find inside those nests.

A big part of the conservation effort is to educate local homeowners and beachgoers.

Made-made lighting can cause big problems.

The lighting from the homes are disorienting, sending the hatchlings and the mother turtles in the wrong direction.

All this data has helped identify trends.

And the news is good.

The number of nests in 2016 are up, way up.

Our lowest year was 2007.

Uh, we had about 735 nests.

Our highest year after that was last year, 2015, which was 2,475 nests.

And then this year, we just broke 4,000 nests right now.

And we're still having more nests being laid.

But 30 years ago, it must've been a pretty good year with the number of nests and the number of hatchlings making it to the water and being successful out in the ocean for 30 years.

Mote Marine Labs also provides a rehabilitation center for sick and injured sea turtles.

Sometimes, that includes baby turtles.

Some of the most common things that we have come in to us here are just hatchlings that are disorientated.

So they end up following the brightest light.

Today, sometimes, the brightest light is the traffic lights or condos.

And hatchlings end up getting disorientated.

And we find them in parking lots or up stuck in the dunes.

As an aquarium biologist, Holly West understands the hatchlings' instincts kick in when they hit the water.

Once they enter the water, a hatchling goes through what we call a swim frenzy.

And that swim frenzy is usually about three days long.

And it is designed to get them as far offshore as possible, away from that predator zone or that inshore area.

Um, and so if they end up doing that three days of swimming in a swimming pool or in a storm water drain, we can't release them on the beaches anymore.

So the guys that are here right now are actually gonna get a free ride out to the weed line when we can find a boat to get them out there.

Injured and sick adult sea turtles are cared for by Lynne Byrd, a medical care and rehabilitation and coordinator here.

All the species of sea turtles we deal with are threatened or endangered.

Um, and so we bring them in.

And our goal, obviously, is to rehabilitate and put them back out into the wild.

Meet Bellatrix, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle who was caught on a line by fishermen.

They did do the right thing.

They brought her in for rehab.

Um, and we were unable to, in the hospital, to remove that hook.

And it did such severe damage to her lung, it actually collapsed her right lung.

And so she's not able to be put back into the wild.

We just wanted to make sure she was doing okay.

So we just did routine blood work, took some radiographs, weighed her to make sure she's gaining enough weight.

Um, we did some regular measurements to follow her growth.

And this is Avalon, a green turtle who was injured in the Atlantic.

Obviously, she has boat-prop wounds on her back.

So a lot of times, when turtles get sick, they overinflate their lungs.

And they're find -- floating on the surface.

And they're either taken out by predators.

Or they're more vulnerable to boat strikes.

And she has developed tumors on her shell.

They're called fibropapilloma tumors.

Um, all we know about them is they're caused by a herpes virus.

We know it comes out in times of stress.

So long as they don't have internal tumors, we can remove those external tumors.

Once they're healed, they can be put back out into the wild.

The scientists and volunteers who work with these magnificent creatures are all dedicated to preserving the species for future generations.

We care about these individual animals because without the individuals, we don't have a population.

And if these populations go, um, it's gonna just spiral down.

I'm not studying to be a, you know, a marine scientists or anything like that.

But it's cool to be kind of a citizen scientist and just really be at the forefront of this kind of research.

I would love to see that the turtle nesting doesn't decline and that we continue to see an increase, that in 30 years, my impact is being still seen as I'm seeing the impact of people who started 30 years before me.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, and contributions to this station.