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   28 episodes



Finding Genius Podcast

Richard Jacobs

28 episodes

Nov 24, 2020

Viral Translation Strategies: Aurelie Rakotondrafara Talks Plant Viral Infections 

It's all in the translation, especially for plant viruses. This podcast takes an interesting look at virus expressions in plants and their ability to coopt cellular machinery for their own purposes. Listen and learn

  • The basics methods a virus uses to infect a plant cell, including insect-vector mechanics,
  • The challenges a virus faces inside the cell to use the ribosomal translation factors, and
  • The ways this knowledge may be used to speed production of vaccines. 

Aurelie Rakotondrafara is an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She brings an infectious awe to all things viral as she discusses the ways plant viruses work in this episode, from viral gene transfer to viral resistance in plants. Her particular focus is on viral gene expression—how viruses manage to outcompete other cell molecules to make proteins. The primary goal for any virus, whether animal or plant, is to enter their obligate host cell and replicate. But plant cells have an impenetrable cell wall; unlike with animal viruses, there's no endocytosis or similar entry method. They often use a vector to put them inside the cell—the majority of plant viruses are transmitted by insects, who are able to penetrate the cell wall and secrete the virus.

Aurelie Rakotondrafara's research focuses on what the viruses do once they are inside that cell as they work to coopt the cell's ribosomes. The plant uses ribosomes to make their own proteins and the virus needs to work a complex strategy to trick the ribosomes into making their proteins instead. The majority of plant viruses are RNA viruses, and they are competing with a million of the plant's mRNA that are already floating in the cytoplasm. Dr. Rakotondrafara studies the unique strategies that the viruses use to do this. She discusses some of these tricky strategies and mentions one particular wheat virus she studies in detail. That virus has such a tremendous ability to translate that researchers may see if it can be used to speed the production of vaccines.

For more about her work, see her lab's web page: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 24, 2020

Fighting Neurodegeneration with Tau Tangle Blocking: Oligomerix CEO James Moe Explains 

There are still no disease-modifying therapeutics for dementia patients, but James Moe thinks that will change soon. This podcast discusses research on a particular drug that's showing promise, but also helps with understanding Alzheimer's disease progression. On a hopeful note, James Moe emphasizes how close the neurodegeneration research community is to developing significant breakthroughs. Listen and learn

  • Why Oligomerix chose to focus on the tau protein when many other companies were working with amyloid,
  • How their therapeutic prevents tau from misfolding and forming tangles that harm neurons, and
  • Where they are in clinical studies and what the research community as a whole might offer.

Oligomerix, Inc. focuses on neurodegenerative diseases of the brain, such as the management of Alzheimer's disease. James Moe says that when they started the company, they decided to focus on the tau protein despite a contemporaneous emphasis on amyloid. Among other reasons, their thought was to focus upstream in the pathway by blocking the tau protein from binding to itself. Their research showed that neurodegeneration is connected to the neuron damage resulting from tangles the protein accumulations caused.  This began their quest to develop self-association assays for tau. 

Almost 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease symptoms and it poses a significant burden on health care costs of our country in addition to the pain of patients and families. But developing preventions of Alzheimer's dementia and effective treatment is no small task. However, because there's been so much investment by the medical community, James Moe feels that the field is developing a "mass amount of knowledge . . . and is on the cusp for major therapeutics." Their own research has shown in vivo data where phosphorylation was diminished in three different regions throughout the molecule. This should prevent the misfolding that leads to neuron-damaging tangles. Listen in for more about the exciting potential of this therapeutic. 

For more about the company, see their web site: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 23, 2020

Modern Forensic Genealogy with Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders International 

Are you a mystery fan who also loves science? This podcast is for you! Considered the founder of modern forensic genealogy, Colleen Fitzpatrick shares how genetic genealogy works. Listen and learn

  • How she became interested in the possibilities of genetic genealogy for solving crimes,
  • What are some examples of her more interesting cases, and
  • What her advice is for those interested in getting into the field.

Real genetic genealogy crime mysteries aren't solved after the next commercial, says Colleen Fitzpatrick. "It's hard," she adds. "It's not a couple-of-hours deal." Based in Southern California, Identifinders International helps find people, alive or deceased. They might help solve issues around unclaimed property or fraud cases as well as identifying victims and perpetrators in violent crimes. Colleen Fitzpatrick actually has a doctorate in nuclear physics, so is no stranger to the hard sciences. In 2011, it occurred to her that the markers people used in genetic genealogy were the same markers forensic science was using to get crime scene Y chromosome DNA profiles. She realized she could take a forensic Y DNA profile and compare it to genetic genealogy databases and identify the last name of a criminal.

In 2015, the Phoenix Police Department hired her to apply genetic genealogy to cold cases and her work helped solve the Phoenix Canal Murders. She tells listeners some of the intricacies of this case, including how she helped narrow the suspect list from thousands to a list of five, and then, after a little more police work, helped correctly identify the killer. She shares more examples of genetic genealogy solved cases and discusses how those interested in the field might start practicing the kind of work she does. She also explains upcoming advancements in the field, including knowing "more and more with less and less," integration of mapping and facial reconstruction, and better technology over all.

For more about her work and company, see their website: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 23, 2020

The Mystery of Metabolic Diseases: Paul Titchenell Parses out Metabolic Effects of Insulin 

Scientists all over the world are working on the same question facing Paul Titchenell's lab: what are the pathways that lead to metabolic diseases? This podcast explores what happens between the liver, pancreas, and blood stream during the metabolism process of the human body. Listen and learn

  • How the Titchenell Lab works to map the signal transduction pathways that insulin uses to coordinate metabolism,
  • Why the liver is the primary focus in these pathway studies, and
  • How the mechanism or action of insulin to maintain lipid synthesis while not controlling blood sugar stands as the biggest mystery.

Paul M. Titchenell is an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania. His lab is trying to understand the basic mechanism of insulin action. He describes their process as a diverse approach through studying cells through the mechanism of insulin action in vivo and in animal models. Their goal is to understand the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases associated with aberrant insulin action, like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Like many disease mysteries, he explains that to understand what goes wrong, scientists need to understand what goes right in normal physiology by mapping the signal transduction pathways that insulin uses to coordinate metabolism. 

They are focused on the liver in particular because the liver makes glucose to provide our bodies with energy while we are fasting and/or sleeping. Hormones involved in metabolism include insulin, which tells the liver to stop that glucose production. However, insulin "resistance" can trigger the body to try make even more insulin to maintain that part of the pathway. At this point, the overproduction of insulin causes problems scientists are trying to understand. The mystery includes the varying levels of metabolic capability at this point. The Titchenell Lab, as well as many other scientists, are trying to understand why insulin continues to promote lipid synthesis in the liver during conditions of insulin resistance while failing to control blood sugar. 

For more, see his lab's webpage,, and find him on Twitter. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 22, 2020

The Many Faces of Diabetes: Dr. Toni Pollin and Patient Discuss Monogenic Diabetes Treatment 

Despite the type 1 and 2 labeling, there are more than two groups of diabetes. Researchers like Toni Pollin are accelerating their work on these lesser known groups. This podcast presents a monogenic diabetes review, interviewing a specialist and a patient who, along with her two daughters, has this heritable disease. Listen and learn

  • The history behind the discovery of the monogenic diabetes genes and diseases,
  • The symptoms, or lack of, for this group of diabetes and examples of several types within the group, and
  • The treatments available, opportunities for research, and resources to find out more.

When Emily Moore was sixteen, she underwent a screening for a routine procedure and tests found unusually high blood glucose levels. She happened to have a doctor a little ahead of the game and, rather than just call it type 1 diabetes, he gave her a monogenic diabetes diagnosis, sometimes called MODY: Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young. Through treatments less extreme than what type1 diabetics usually face, she was able to control her numbers. But when she had her own kids, she wanted to learn more. Enter Professor Toni I. Pollin of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who was running a study that Emily enrolled in.

Professor Pollin explains that in the '70s, an astute group of scientists noted that some kids had a type of diabetes that seemed milder than other type 1s, and even responded successfully to pills rather than insulin. Unlike other types of diabetes that develop from genetic and environmental factors, this monogenic diabetes is inherited through an autosomal dominate manner. Such patients might control it with a CGM sensor or diabetes monitor and make diabetes lifestyle changes accordingly. Medication can help and in some cases, insulin may be indicated. The blood sugar patterns of Emily and her teenage daughters, who have been diagnosed, along with Richard, who has experienced prediabetes blood sugar levels, gives Dr. Pollin an opportunity to evidence how complex and individualized all types of diabetes are, even within the same group. It's that much more important to start with the "low-hanging fruit" of a correct diagnosis, adds Dr. Pollin.

For more, look to the web page for the new consortium they've started, MDRAC, which includes links to helpful resources. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 21, 2020

Engaging Optimism: Gupta and Bronson Talk Cancer, Bitcoin, and Philosophy in New Book 

Anxious about the future? You're not alone. Rapid change plus overflow of information has pushed many to adapt a dystopian outlook on the future. This podcast shares a conversation with two authors who are challenging that mindset. Po Bronson and Arvind Gupta discuss their new book, Decoding the World. Listeners will hear  

  • How the background and mindset of each author informs the direction of the book,
  • Why the book tries to get "science out of its silo," and why that's important for a brighter future, and
  • How the book applies this mindset to subjects from cancer causes and the chemotherapy process to cryptocurrency trading and bitcoin currency explained.  

Arvind Gupta is founder and venture advisor at Indie Bio and co-leads Mayfield’s engineering biology practice. Po Bronson is a journalist, author, and managing director and partner at Indie Bio. Together they've written Decoding the World: A Roadmap for the Questioner (The Convergence Trilogy). Po opens up the premise of the book by talking about the work of Indie Bio, which took biotech out the limits of the health care sector and applied it to food, materials, and energy. This book wants to do the same with the reader's mindset, and take the domain of genetics out into the real world. Arvind adds, "we have a lot to look forward to . . . we can use the tools that we have to make a better future." Both authors emphasize getting out of a deterministic mindset; rather, nothing is inevitable, even climate change. We can do something.

They give some enlightening examples from the book, including a chapter on cancer and how they address cancer causes and prevention through a personal story alongside facts about cancer cells, which serves to elucidate the present and future in a unique way. They also take on the idea of bitcoin as the currency of the future, explaining why, in particular, venture industries use cryptocurrency. This chapter opens up the subject in a way that uses bitcoin future predictions to make the process understandable and free from deterministic economics. Finally, the authors even discuss a chapter based on the Jason Borne story. Listen in to find out how that theme fits with an exciting way to determine our futures.

For more about Indie Bio, see their website: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 20, 2020

Plastics as Pathogen Raft: Researcher Joleah Lamb Talks Plastic Impact on Marine Ecology 

Pathogens easily grow on plastics, and plastics travel far and wide in the ocean. That has marine biologists like Joleah Lamb looking for solutions. This podcast dives deep into the complex world of aquatic ecology and biodiversity and how our actions impact it. Listen and learn

  • What startling statistics exist about changes in marine aquatic ecosystems and the environment and ecology,
  • How scientists are exploring this ecosystem and sampling water in bivalves and around seagrasses with interesting findings, and
  • What possible mitigation factors might help these ecology and evolutionary biology impact factors.

Joleah Lamb is an assistant professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology School of Biological Sciences with the University of California, Irvine. She runs their Oceans and Human Health Laboratory, which focuses on solutions in a research-driven program at the interface of public health and ecosystem function. She gives listeners a wakeup call: the global population is expected to surpass 9.7 billion people by 2050, and more than half will live within 80 kilometers of a coastline. We know about the ocean's impact on humans, but most also consider the reverse. From microorganism on coral reefs to biofilms that might be introduced through tiny pieces of plastic in the ocean, scientists like Dr. Lamb are thinking carefully about how these systems may clash.

Only two years ago, she says that scientists didn't even have a number about the amount of plastics going in and settling on sea floor and corals. Through careful surveys, they have found that corals with plastics touching them had a 20 fold increase of contracting a disease. This was the first study to show that plastics that were in contact with animals could cause a disease outbreak. She also shares some remarkable findings about sea grasses and environmental microbiology. Seagrasses are the rainforest of the marine environment and capture even more carbon than trees. They've found that seagrasses can actually kill human pathogens, and areas with seagrasses show a healthier water column. Listen in for more ways scientists like Joleah Lamb are working for a better ecology.

For more about her work, see her lab's website: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 19, 2020

Big Data Technology for the Small Mortgage Company: Guest Li Chang of Recursion Co. Explains 

The mortgage space spits out a seemingly insurmountable level of complex numbers. Accessing clean data from interest rates and housing markets alongside numerous other elements in the mortgage space is no small feat. This podcast presents the CEO of one company that says they can do just that. Listen to hear how big data and its importance meets data democratization. Listeners will learn

  • How Li Chang's career path in big data analytics and housing market economics led her to start Recursion Co. and its new approach to data,
  • What big data versus data science means in the context of "cleaning up" data by arranging and normalizing it into usable information, and
  • What her company has been able to achieve thus far and what types of customers they are seeking.

Li Chang is the Chief Executive Officer of Recursion Co. After achieving a graduate degree in computer science, she returned to get her PhD in mathematics while working full time at Morningstar. She worked for a hedge fund soon after graduating as a financial engineer and has been working in the mortgage space ever since. She started Recursion Co. in 2015 when she needed a new challenge and saw a clear need for such a company in the industry. Mortgage data is so immense, she says, that is too big for most companies to handle. Plus, because she knew the capabilities of computer science and data science, she felt Wall Street was not taking advantage of Silicon Valley advancements. Analyzation systems in the mortgage space were very clumsy and "messy."

Li Chang realized that she had the ability, tools, and know-how to put these very complicated numbers together and address the mortgage space data issues in a much more efficient way. She also knew she could make it affordable for a broader audience, calling this effort "data democratization." What exactly does this look like? They rearrange and normalize the chaotic data, bringing it together from many sources in a way that tells the whole story. Currently, they are looking for smaller companies in the mortgage space as customers. They can help companies who don’t have a lot of human resources or technology in-house by providing them with the equivalent resources as if they have a big company behind them. 

For more about their work, see their web page, and follow their blog on LinkedIn. Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 18, 2020

Focus Forward: Mental Fitness Strategies with J.J. Flizanes 

Weight loss and stress management seem to top everyone's list. But our attempts at achieving all types of fitness may be overwhelming. We strive for physical fitness motivation while understanding the importance of mental fitness—it's a lot. But JJ Flizanes stands out with a unique and inspiring science-based approach that simplifies and calms these claims on our attention. This podcast explores her approach to the laws of attraction.

Listeners will hear

  • How her training in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and physics led to this larger understanding of the frequencies we inhabit,
  • Why being in a place where you are mentally, physically, and emotionally drained indicates the type of mirror you are reflecting on the world, and
  • How to begin to adjust one's approach and what resources her work offers to listeners to learn more.  

Flizanes is a podcast host, author, speaker, trainer, and Director of Invisible Fitness. Her work to become a trainer opened up her understanding of scientific principals and as she researched even more, she came to understand how we literally have our own operating frequency. She says that "the law of attraction is actually physics: when you apply physics and realize that, it's a game changer." Listeners will have an opportunity to hear more about this game-changing approach as the conversation continues. 

She says that the frequencies we live with everyday are the same frequencies in our bodies, and these are reflected in our emotions. In other words, how we experience the world is a reflection of where we are, not what we want. She adds that eighty-eight percent of our mind is at a subconscious level, so simply thinking positive thoughts isn't going to lead to change. Rather, the law of attraction is about adjusting that feedback loop and takes a lot of practice beyond a list of mental fitness tips. However, she provides inspiration to start down that path. 

For more about her work, see her website, which links to her podcasts and other programs: Available on Apple Podcasts:

Nov 17, 2020

Chaos of Cancer and Evolution: Reshuffling our Understanding with Professor Henry Heng 

Scientists have come to visualize cancer as species in itself, with its own evolutionary patterns and characteristics. Furthermore, researchers like Henry Heng are realigning how we think about evolution. This podcast presents a fascinating conversation about both and how each informs the other. Listen and learn

  • How the importance of genetics in cancer has evolved into the importance chromosome packaging and reshuffling in cancer,
  • Why this means cancer genetics and genomics must focus on the topological arrangement and interactions of genes, and
  • Why our dynamic mechanism for adaption can lead to too much change, resulting in cancer.

Author and Professor Henry Heng is with the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics at Wayne State University School of Medicine. His research centers on how cancer evolution occurs, what is the unique pattern of cancer evolution, and how to develop tangible tools for a cancer biomarker and treatment leading to a greater molecular medicine impact factor. Author of numerous books, including Genome Chaos: Rethinking Genetics, Evolution, and Molecular Medicine, he also presents an intriguing realignment in how many scientists think about evolution. In fact, he uses the nature of cancer evolution as a model to understand how evolution works overall. 

Think about it: cancer is always under attack by our system; it's always evolving and fighting back and presents an interesting model to understand how competition occurs. For a long time people thought of cancer as a problem of over growth, he says, and tried to find genetic reasons for this overgrowth. But scientists like Heng understand that this was the wrong emphasis. Rather than overgrowth, he says, cancer is just another evolutionary system with its own signature. The question is then, rather, what is the overall trend. This leads to an interesting explanation of how nonsexual reproduction, or fission, opens cells up to the kinds of changes that lead to cancer. Cancer is a type of punctuated evolution, a reshuffling resulting from the dynamic mechanism our cells use for successful adaptation: cancer is simply too much change. Listen in for the implication of how this may affect genetics biology and cancer treatments in the future. 

For more about Henry Heng's work, he suggests his recent books, including Genome Chaos: Rethinking Genetics, Evolution, and Molecular Medicine and Debating Cancer: The Paradox in Cancer Research. Available on Apple Podcasts:

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