Swinging with Sagan
“The Greatest Show on Earth,” Symphony of Science

If you grew up during the mid-’90s, you’ll remember Bill Nye as the Science Guy, the bowtie-clad goofball who hosted an eponymous after-school TV show. Nye has reemerged in the Symphony of Science music videos, an edutainment series that recasts vintage TV clips of famous eggheads such as Nye, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking using Auto-Tune, software that can turn rapping into singing. In the latest installment, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Symphony’s creator, John D. Boswell, used footage of Nye, filmmaker Sir David Attenborough and biologist Richard Dawkins to make a slow-dance-worthy celebration of natural selection. “We are surrounded by endless forms, most beautiful, most wonderful, the greatest show on Earth,” sings an Auto-Tuned Dawkins over a video montage of fish, birds and bats skittering in time to a gauzy electronic rhythm section. The Symphony of Science Web site contains videos on such subjects as Mars, quantum physics and the human brain, some of which are pretty catchy.

Forever young?
“A New Path to Longevity,” Scientific American, January

Plastic surgery, exercise and anti-wrinkle creams may help combat the ravages of time. But what if you could block the proteins that make you age in the first place? In the January issue of Scientific American, David Stipp writes about mammalian TOR, or mTOR, a protein that researchers think might hold the key to developing anti-aging pharmaceuticals. When you’re young, mTOR helps regulate cell growth, but after maturity is reached, its continued activity can cause negative effects: too much protein synthesis, unwanted proliferation of certain cell types and declines in cell function. In other words, the stuff that causes you to physically age. According to Stipp, there’s already a drug, rapamycin, an immunosuppressant, that has shown the ability to slow mTOR’s activity in mammals. Unfortunately, it has serious side effects in humans. Studies on lab mice have shown there’s another way to retard mTOR’s activity: a near-starvation diet. But, as Stipp points out, “very stringent dieting is not a feasible option for slowing aging in most mortals.”

Scientific American, January 2012

Aaron Leitko