MEDIA: NPR's Science Friday

Scott Badger (
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 20:23:21 -0500

For those who enjoy the show, National Public Radio's Science Friday will feature a couple of (hopefully) good discussions tomorrow at 3:00 Central. If you miss it, you can always listen to it later at

Hour One, Second Half: The New Plant Biotech

Imagine a world in which plants aren't just "what's for dinner" - they're biological machines that can manufacture drugs or help clean up human messes. Sound like science fiction? Research published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology says that it may not be too far off...Many researchers have been looking into ways to get plants to produce specific proteins for human use. But a big problem has always been getting the proteins out of the plant once they're produced. Having to harvest the plant and separate out the desired protein has made large-scale protein production through plants somewhat difficult. But researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have developed a new twist - tobacco plants that manufacture proteins, and then excrete them out of the plants' roots into a hydroponic solution. That makes it a lot easier to separate the wheat from the chaff - and raises the possibility of "protein factories" in which plants suspended in hydroponic tanks drink in protein ingredients and ooze the finished product out into a constantly-flowing stream.

Plants are also being used to take chemicals out of the soil. Some teams are developing plants that filter harmful materials like chromium, lead, and mercury out of the soil - and one team, at Cambridge University in the UK, have developed a tobacco plant that can filter the explosive TNT out of soil and break the organic compound down into harmless components.

Plants as living, breathing solar-powered machines? We'll talk about it on this segment of Science Friday.


Ilya Raskin
Professor of Plant Biology
Rutgers Biotechnology Center
New Brunswick, NJ

Michael Sussman
Professor of Horticulture and Genetics
Director, University of Wisconsin Biotechnology Center Madison, Wisconsin

Hour Two: The X Chromosome

What, deep down, makes a woman a woman? Sugar and spice and everything nice? Nope - unless you count the tiny amount of sugar that makes up the backbone of the DNA in the X chromosome.

You probably learned once that women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y. But can that microscopic difference really account for all the differences between the sexes - beyond the physical differences to the emotional, behavioral, and psychological differences? (and do all those differences actually exist, or are some of them just a product of society?)

On this hour of Science Friday, we'll talk about the X chromosome and what it does... and next week, we'll continue the conversation in this hour with a look at the Y chromosome.


Natalie Angier
Author, "Woman: An Intimate Geography" (Houghton Mifflin) Science Writer, The New York Times
Takoma Park, MD

Meredith Small
Author, "Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent" (Anchor Books)
Professor, Anthropology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY