Episode 3: Gut Feeling

Join us on a field trip to the gut! We can joke about going with our gut all day, but in the meantime a serious pile of evidence is accumulating in support of the idea that our guts play a larger role in shaping choices and behavior than we might have suspected.

Could your gut bacteria be making decisions for you–even when choosing a mate? It certainly seems that way for flies. In Gut Feeling, student host Sophie Hearn talks with Dr. Sharon Greenblum about fly sex, a multiple choice mating test, poop (you’ve been warned), and why we think the gut-brain connection is real.

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Flies in action (Thai National Parks)

And if you think it seems far-fetched that humans could be controlled by single-celled overlords, guess what. It’s a good thing I didn’t release this episode last Friday because on this very day in the news, there is evidence that this may be true for humans, too, by way of body odor.

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Is attraction in the mind/gut? Yes. (Pixabay)

 

Anyway, hope you enjoy a brief departure from the brain. Turns out your brain isn’t really 100% in charge, anyway. Back to the brain and its chemicals later this week with some talk about magic mushrooms and death acceptance!

 

 

 

 

Details & links:

Recorded: June 7, 2017

Released: August 14, 2017

Student Host: Sophie Hearn, a first-year student at Stanford University (soon to be second-year)

Guest: Dr. Sharon Greenblum, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, who studies how organisms evolve (and co-evolve). More about some of her work here.

Show & tell: Commensal bacteria play a role in mating preference of Drosophila melanogaster by Gil Sharon, Daniel Segal, John Ringo, Abraham Hefetz, Ilana Zilber-Rosenberg, & Eugene Rosenberg  

Thanks to: Stanford Storytelling Project for much guidance (Will Rogers, Jonah Willihnganz, Jake Warga, Jenny March), Thinking Matters for all kinds of support (Tiffany Lieuw, Parna Sengupta, Ellen Woods), the Generation Anthropocene podcast for advice (Michael Osborne and Leslie Chang), and Sarah Houser and Jen Sloan for feedback on early versions of this episode

Further reading: Bacteria are everywhere! For starters, variations in the gut microbiome are associated with schizophrenia, autism, and other disorders like anxiety and depression. Take all of this with a HUGE grain of salt, because even where there’s evidence of a link, it’s difficult to determine if this is at all a causal link, and even where there’s a causal link, that doesn’t mean we can manipulate it. Some other questions you might have: Is this like a personality transplant? More on probiotics and fecal transplants (or are they just hype?). These guys studied their poop for a year. Cohabitating couples’ immune systems and gut bacteria are more similar. Finally: Michael Pollan is a superorganism and so are you.

Fact check: Here’s that study that found travel impacted someone’s microbiome–we’re betting he knew this, though, because of the diarrhea. Anyway this is a minor correction but we said India, it was in fact Southeast Asia, whatever, travel sometimes means a drastic change in diet and this ripples through your community of gut bacteria, is the point.

Theme music: Transmogrify, by Podington Bear

Episode 2: Decoding

Last episode we talked about what happens when you mess with the leech nervous system, a simple chain of pseudobrains along a pseudospinalcord (not a real word).

Episode 2 takes place somewhere a little closer to home: inside the human brain. Or at least directly on the surface, which turns out to produce a whole lot more information than, say, recording from the surface of the scalp.

Heatmap
Responses to voices, tones, and language in the human brain, as recorded using electrocorticography/ECoG (Wikimedia Commons)

I know last time we said some things were too invasive to be done in humans and so we use simpler organisms instead, but it’s also true that when opportunity knocks, scientists answer. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!

In Decoding, student host Ethan Cruikshank talks with Dr. Chris Holdgraf. Chris uses data recorded from the human brain during open-brain surgery to understand how the brain processes sound and language. He’ll tell us what it’s like for patients that need these surgeries, how the brain encodes language, and how close scientists and neuroprosthetic engineers are to decoding your thoughts.

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An eCoG grid placed on a human brain (Wikimedia Commons)

Details & links:

Recorded: June 8, 2017

Released: August 3, 2017

Student Host: Ethan Cruikshank, a first-year student at Stanford University (soon to be second-year)

Guest: Dr. Chris Holdgraf, who’s just finished his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley and is also a fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science

Show & tell: Reconstructing Speech from Human Auditory Cortex (not paywalled–Thanks, PLoS!) by Brian Pasley, Stephen David, Nima Mesgarani, Adeen Flinker, Shihab Shamma, Nathan Crone, Robert Knight, & Edward Chang

Thanks to: Stanford Storytelling Project for much guidance (Will Rogers, Jonah Willihnganz, Jake Warga, Jenny March), Thinking Matters for all kinds of support (Tiffany Lieuw, Parna Sengupta, Ellen Woods), the Generation Anthropocene podcast for advice (Michael Osborne and Leslie Chang), and Melina Walling for feedback on early versions of this episode

Shout-outs: More on locked-in syndrome, the P300 speller, and a movie recommendation: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A lot of the ECoG work around here is a collaboration between the Knight Lab at UC-Berkeley and the Chang Lab at UCSF. Here’s another good rundown on the pros and cons of ECoG research, from the Sen lab at New York University. And here’s the work Chris mentioned on decoding the contents of the visual system using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

From freesound.org: Bar sounds, plus some sound waveslow and high

Theme music: Podington Bear

Episode 1: Inhibiting

Our first episode is out! You can find it below, via Soundcloud, and from what I understand, iTunes will know about this soon too. One thing at a time. It’s summer. It’s Friday. Happy weekend.

Episode 1 is about leeches. Yes, leeches. Remember leeches? Scourge of summer camp? Well, turns out we can learn a lot from them.

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Wikimedia Commons

Leeches don’t even have a brain in the same way that you or I do, which makes them an odd pick for a podcast about the brain. Leeches have two sort-of brains, one on each end, with a bunch of clusters of nerve cells called ganglia (plural of ganglion) in the middle, like a spinal cord, but not (they are invertebrates, meaning they don’t have a backbone).

Wikimedia Commons

In Inhibiting, student host Lea Bourgade talks with Dr. Ian Greenhouse, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley (soon to be assistant professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene). Ian does not study leeches. Ian studies the human motor system. He zaps brains to get muscles to twitch, not just for fun, but to test ideas about how the brain might be communicating with the muscles. Ian and Lea talk about a study by Serapio Baca & colleagues, who used leeches to test similar ideas, but in a much messier way. Probably don’t be eating lunch. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Details & links:

Recorded: June 6, 2017

Released: July 29, 2017

Student Host: Lea Bourgade, a first-year student at Stanford University

Guest: Ian Greenhouse, a postdoctoral researcher in the neuroscience of human motor control, currently at the University of California, Berkeley & soon to be at University of Oregon in Eugene (now recruiting graduate students!).

Show & tell: Widespread Inhibition Proportional to Excitation Controls the Gain of a Leech Behavioral Circuit (not paywalled, for some reason!) by Serapio Baca, Antonia Marin-Burgin, Daniel Wagenaar, and William Kristan, Jr.

Thanks to: Stanford Storytelling Project for much guidance (Will Rogers, Jonah Willihnganz, Jake Warga, Jenny March), Thinking Matters for all kinds of support (Tiffany Lieuw, Parna Sengupta, Ellen Woods), the Generation Anthropocene podcast for advice (Michael Osborne and Leslie Chang), and Dan Kurtz, developer of Binky, for feedback on early versions of this episode.

We checked: Decathlon is a real sport, but Ian was thinking of biathlon, and it was invented when the Norwegian military competed at skiing and shooting rifles, sometimes at the same time. Oh, and that syphilitic seaman with hemiballismus? Verified.

Shout-outs: 

I of the Vortex by Rodolfo Llinas

Daniel Dennett

Theme music: Podington Bear

 

Got a question about something else we talked about? Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you!

Watch this space!

5 guests in, and we finally remember to take a picture!

Season 1 is shaping up nicely. Here’s a list of the neurofriends who have visited our studio, in no particular order, and what we talked about:

Dr. Eric Chan: Could magic mushrooms be the next antidepressant for cancer patients?

Dr. Levi Gadye: How does information flow through the retina?

Dr. Ian Greenhouse: What can poking leeches can tell us the human motor system?

Dr. Sharon Greenblum: Could your gut bacteria be controlling your brain?

Dr. Chris Holdgraf: Can we read thoughts from the surface of the brain, and why do we try?

Once episodes are up, they’ll be on Soundcloud and iTunes. For now, you can follow us on Soundcloud. We’re also on Twitter as @Neurofriendship.

Get excited! In the meantime, please enjoy this list of rejected (and accepted!) podcast names.