The US Battles RSV, Neural Connections, La Brea Tar Pits. Nov 11, 2022, Part 2

Nov 11, 2022, 05:48 PM

How Past Extinctions At The La Brea Tar Pit Can Teach Us About Our Climate Future

If you drive through Los Angeles, you’ll pass by some of California’s most iconic sites—the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Pier. But if you don’t look for it, you may miss the La Brea tar pits—a place where Ice Age life from around 50 thousand years ago got trapped and preserved in sticky black ooze. Visitors can see megafauna, including skeletons of saber tooth cats and dire wolves, along with a vast collection of specimens, including things as small as beetle wings and rodent dung.

La Brea was recently named as one of the world’s most important geological heritage sites by the International Union of Geological Sciences. The museum is currently planning an extensive redesign that will seek to connect visitors to research, offering lessons about climate, extinction, and survival. Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, joins Ira to explain the significance of the site, and how a trove of Ice Age specimens can serve as a modern-day climate laboratory.


Across The Country, RSV Is Overwhelming Medical Systems

If you have a child—or interact with children on a regular basis—odds are you’ve heard about a very contagious virus: RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. This isn’t a new illness, but it has been surging across the country. This has left parents and caretakers stressed about how to keep their kids safe.

Hospitals across the country are having trouble coping with this year’s surge, which has come earlier and stronger than normal. This week, Science Friday is spotlighting two regions affected by the wave: Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

The two regions have their own challenges when it comes to the RSV surge. In Wisconsin, care deserts and a large elderly population make containing this virus important to avoid dangerous consequences. In Washington, D.C., hospitals are feeling the effects of years of shutting down pediatric units to make room for adult beds.

Joining Ira to talk about RSV in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. are two journalists who have been following this: Jenny Peek, news editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and Aja Drain, reporter at WAMU public radio.


What You Should Know About This RSV Surge

Respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is the number one cause of infant hospitalizations in the United States, and cases are soaring this year. Because young children have spent part—if not most—of their childhoods isolated, masking, or staying home due to the pandemic, many of their immune systems haven’t been exposed to RSV until now. It’s caused a huge surge in cases, and placed a heavy burden on pediatric clinics and hospitals.

What do you need to know about the spike in infections? Ira talks with Dr. Carol Kao, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who has treated RSV for years. They dig into why this surge is happening now, the basics of the virus, how RSV is treated, and where we stand with an RSV vaccine.


Mapping Brain Connections Reinforces Theories On Human Cognition

Brain regions are associated with different functions—the hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory, for example, and the frontal lobe for personality, behavior, and emotions.

After decades of research using sophisticated brain imaging, there’s a growing consensus among neuroscientists that understanding the connections between brain regions may be even more important than the functions of the regions themselves. When it comes to understanding human cognition, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ira speaks with Dr. Stephanie Forkel, assistant professor at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging at Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, who wrote a review article in the journal Science about the importance of brain connectivity, and what it means for the future of neuroscience.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on