Scientist Politicians, Microbiome, Wildlife Car Accidents. June 1, 2018, Part 1 | WBEZ
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Science Friday

Scientist Politicians, Microbiome, Wildlife Car Accidents. June 1, 2018, Part 1

This year’s midterm elections have seen an upswing in the number of scientists running for office. There are approximately 60 candidates with STEM backgrounds in the races for federal offices, and 200 for state positions, according to 314 Action, an advocacy organization that helps scientists run for office. But why would a scientist want to leave the lab for the Hill? According to volcanologist and Congressional candidate Jess Phoenix, “Science by definition is political because the biggest funder of scientific research in our country is the government.” And Aruna Miller, who is a Maryland State Delegate for District 15 and a former civil engineer for the Department of Transportation, says that “Your job as an engineer isn’t only your profession. It is to be a citizen of your country…. You have to be engaged in our community.”

By now, we all know about the microbes that live in our gut and digestive tract—different species of bacteria living together in the same environment. Now researchers are trying to learn more about what keeps these bacteria living together in harmony. Scientists suspect the secret “microbe whisperer” is actually a member of the immune system—a molecule called immunoglobulin A. That molecule keeps the gastrointestinal system free of pathogens and, researchers hope, might one day be used to combat diseases of the digestive tract.

States like Wyoming and Montana are high risk for wildlife-vehicle collisions. These accidents result in expensive damages and sometimes even death for both wildlife and drivers. One group of scientists found an unlikely solution. You’ve probably driven by one before and not noticed it, but wildlife reflectors are poles on the side of the road. There have been a lot of studies on reflectors, but Riginos said the results are mixed and not very impressive. So Riginos and her team developed an experiment. They’d cover up some reflectors, leave others uncovered, and then compare the results. “We covered them with this cheap, easily available and durable material, which just happened to be white canvas bags,” Riginos said. And to their surprise—the bags turned out to be more effective than the reflectors. “We could actually see that in the white bags situation, that the deer were more likely to stop and wait for cars to pass before crossing the road, instead of just running headlong into the road,” said Riginos.

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