Episodes

  • We’ve all been there: doubled over in pain as stomach cramps grip your guts; the panicked shuffle to the nearest bathroom; the waves of nausea and chills as you cry out loud, “oh no, what did I eat??”.  At the very least, food poisoning is a humbling experience, but at the worst, it can be absolutely deadly. In this episode, we take a deep dive into one group of pathogens commonly responsible for outbreaks of food-borne illness, the infamous Salmonella. We start first with an exploration into how and why these bacteria make you sick before turning towards the history of these pathogens, a history which includes a brief jaunt through a bizarre story involving a cult, bioterrorism, and a small Oregon town. Finally, we wrap up the episode with a look at Salmonella by the numbers today. You’ll leave this episode brimming with Salmonella knowledge, thinking twice about how well you cook your chicken or wash your veggies, and contemplating how fast you can get your hands on a food thermometer. Trust us - you’re not gonna want to miss this one!

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  • Introducing the true crime podcast Persona: The French Deception— the story of Gilbert Chikli, one of the greatest con artists of all time. What does it feel like to pick up the phone and scam someone out of $50 million? Host and award-winning journalist, Evan Ratliff, investigates how Chikli successfully duped some of the world’s most powerful people into handing over their fortunes. He explores how Chikli evaded the law for years and became a Robin Hood-like hero. More than just a tale of criminal genius, this is a show about the moment we’re living in right now — the golden age of scammers — and the power of seduction. But what happens when the fantasy we’ve been lured into finally crumbles away? For all that and more, follow “Persona: The French Deception” wherever you get your podcasts. Or you can listen early on Amazon Music or early and ad-free by subscribing to Wondery Plus in Apple Podcasts or the Wondery app: wondery.fm/TPWKY_Persona

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  • It’s been years since our first (and, until now, only) vitamin-centric episode on scurvy, and we’re thrilled to be dipping our toes back into these nutritious waters with this episode on folate. Have you ever wondered why folate is important or what the difference is between folate and folic acid? Or maybe you’re curious about this vitamin’s discovery and the impact that fortification programs have had around the world. Look no further - this episode has got all the folate facts you could desire. Tune in to hear how antifolates are used in cancer treatment, where folate got its name, and what a famous savory food spread has to do with the history of this essential vitamin.

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  • Our snake venom episode last week took us down some fascinating roads, from the pathophysiological effects of these compounds to the snake detection hypothesis and from the development of antivenom to the incidence of snakebite around the world today. But how did we make it through that whole episode without discussing how and why these venoms evolved in the first place? It’s because we were saving it for this one, where we enlisted the expert help of Professor Nick Casewell, Professor of Tropical Disease Biology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Director of the Centre for Snakebite Research & Interventions. In this bonus episode, the last in our series for now, Professor Casewell takes us through the remarkable world of snake venom evolution, covering such topics as the genetic basis for venom evolution, how snake venom is related to prey type, why spitting cobras spit, and so much more. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts to gain an even greater appreciation for these venom-producing snakes as well as the brilliant people who research them!

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  • How do you feel about snakes? Intrigued or terrified? In awe or creeped out? Of course, those aren’t the only options; the sight or thought of a snake can evoke many different emotions, but chances are indifference isn’t one of them. And is it any wonder? Some snakes can produce incredibly potent venoms that can seriously harm or even kill you, a characteristic that likely helped earn them their prominent role in many cultures and religions as a creature or god to be respected, if not feared. In this episode, we take a closer look at the diverse compounds that make up these venoms by exploring how they impact our bodies in the myriad ways they do and the current tools we have to combat their effects. Then we turn to evolution, not of snakes themselves but rather the role snakes may have played in primate evolution (snake detection hypothesis, anyone?) before discussing the historical development of antivenoms. We round out the episode by reviewing the current status of snakebite as a neglected tropical disease and mentioning some very exciting therapies on the horizon. Don’t missssss out on this enlightening envenoming episode today!

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  • Our tapeworm episode last week mentioned the remarkable finding of tapeworm eggs in a 270 million-year old shark coprolite, that is, fossilized feces. And this certainly wasn’t the first time coprolites have come up on the podcast; we’ve referenced them several times before, mostly when discussing early histories of parasitic worms. But there is so much more to the world of coprolites than just which parasites were found and when. To help us explore all that coprolites can teach us is the world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Karen Chin, Professor at University of Colorado Boulder and Curator of Paleontology at CU-Boulder Museum of Natural History. In this exciting bonus episode, Dr. Chin takes us on a fascinating tour of the what (what are coprolites?), the why (why are they important?), the how (how do feces get preserved?), and the who (who dung it?) of these incredible trace fossils.

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  • We can probably all agree that the thought of a tapeworm hiding out in your gut is not a pleasant one. Nor is the image of tapeworm larvae forming cysts in your muscles, organs, and even your brain. So listening to an entire episode on these parasitic worms? We understand why that may seem like a bit much. But trust us, the world of these worms is too fascinating and important to be missed. In this episode, we break down the biology of the tapeworm species that commonly infect humans and discuss the role of these parasites as a leading infectious cause of epilepsy around the world. Then we venture into the ancient and not-so-ancient history of these tapeworms, starting at “who was infected first - the human or the pig?” and ending with “what was the tapeworm diet all about anyway?” Finally, we wrap up the episode with a look at tapeworm by the numbers today. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts!

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  • The classic tale of epidemiology almost always begins with public health hero John Snow traipsing all over London to track down the source of the 1854 cholera epidemic, ultimately identified as the Broad Street Pump. While Snow’s famous endeavor earned him the title “the father of field epidemiology”, it turns out, as it so often does, that the real story is more complicated. In this bonus episode, we look beyond John Snow to explore the deeper roots of epidemiology with Dr. Jim Downs, Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History at Gettysburg College. Dr. Downs’ latest book, Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine, reexamines the historical drivers that led physicians to turn their attentions towards the spread of disease in populations. Where does John Snow fit into this revised story of epidemiology? Tune in to find out.

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  • [CW: Firsthand account includes description of the death of an infant. Skip approximately first 3 min to avoid.]

    What comes to mind when you hear the word tetanus? For many people, it’s probably the horrible thought of stepping on a rusty nail or the every-so-often Tdap booster you get at your doctor’s office. Thanks to the wide availability of this incredibly effective vaccine, not many of us have an image of what an infection with tetanus actually looks like or how deadly it can be. But that’s not the case everywhere, especially in places with limited access to these life-saving vaccines. In this episode, we take you through the biology of the spore-forming, soil-dwelling, obligately anaerobic, Gram positive Clostridium tetani and the powerful paralytic neurotoxins it produces. We then venture into the history of this pathogen, a history that includes a tour through early medical texts and a discussion of the origins of epidemiology as viewed through the context of neonatal tetanus in the American South. We round out the episode by reviewing where tetanus still poses a substantial threat today and highlighting some very exciting ways this deadly pathogen may be used to treat cancer! Tune in to gain a newfound respect for this incredible microbe!

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  • Chlamydia trachomatis may have stolen the show in our last episode, but there are many other Chlamydiae that deserve some time under the spotlight. In this bonus episode, Dr. Martina Jelocnik (@MartinaJelocnik) and Dr. Sam Phillips (@Sam_Phillips_83) from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, join us to chat about some of these other Chlamydia species and the effects they have on wildlife and domestic animals. Curious about koalas and chlamydia? This episode will bring you up to speed on how these charismatic creatures are impacted by Chlamydia pecorum as well as current research efforts towards a vaccine to combat this pathogen. Wondering about psittacosis and birds? Or livestock and Chlamydiae? We’ve got you covered there as well! Tune in this week for a truly fascinating deep dive into the wide world of these pathogens!

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  • With this episode, you’re getting much more than you probably bargained for, thanks to the quirks of Chlamydia trachomatis. This small but mighty bacterium can cause a number of different conditions throughout your body, most notably in your eyes and your genital tract, and the resulting infections, if left untreated, can lead to substantial and permanent damage. In this episode, we focus on the two most common forms of chlamydia infection, trachoma (eyes) and chlamydia (genital tract), and discuss the similar pathway through which this bacterium leads to these distinct diseases. While the biology of trachoma and chlamydia may be similar, the history of these two infections could not be more distinct. Tune in to hear what ancient medical texts have to say about trachoma, how surprisingly recently chlamydia was recognized as an STI, and where we stand with these two incredibly common infections today!

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  • [This episode is a re-release of Ep 27 Vaccines Part 2: Have you thanked your immune system lately?, originally published May 21, 2019]

    Were you stoked about the history and biology of vaccines we covered in part 1, but left with even more questions? Were you really hoping to hear us talk about anti-vaccine sentiment and address misconceptions about vaccines in detail? Did you want even more expert guest insight?! Well then do we have the episode for you! Today, we delve into the history of the “anti-vaccine movement” which, spoiler alert, is nothing new. With the help of Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development we address some of the most common concerns and questions that arise about vaccines, their safety, and their efficacy. And finally, we hear from Bill Nye The Science Guy about dealing with the challenges of science communication in the modern world when diseases spread as fast as fake news headlines. Y’all. This is the episode you’ve been waiting for.

     You can follow Dr. Peter Hotez on twitter @PeterHotez and check out his book “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism” 

    And you can listen to “Science Rules!” the new podcast from Bill Nye the Science Guy, available now on stitcher https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stitcher/science-rules-with-bill-nye or wherever you are listening to this podcast!

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  • [This episode is a re-release of Ep 26 Vaccines Part 1: Let's hear it for Maurice, originally published May 14, 2019]

    The wait is finally over: this week we are very excited to bring you the episode we’ve been teasing for weeks: vaccines! This week and next (you don’t have to wait a full two weeks for the next episode!), we are presenting a two-part series on vaccines. In today’s episode, we dive deep into the biology of vaccines, from how they stimulate your (amazing) immune system to protect you, to how they make you into an almost-superhero, shielding the innocents around you from deadly infections. We take you back hundreds, nay, thousands of years to when something akin to vaccination first began, and then we walk along the long road of vaccine development to see just how massive an impact vaccines have had on the modern world. The best part? We are joined by not one, but two experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Gail Rodgers and Dr. Padmini Srikantiah explain the process of vaccine development, highlight the challenges of vaccine deployment, and shine a hopeful light on the future of vaccines. And be sure to tune in next week for part 2 where we’ll focus on vaccine hesitancy and address common misconceptions surrounding vaccines in even more depth.

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  • While last week’s episode covered ample ground when it came to lightning strikes, there is so much more to the world of electricity left to explore. Fortunately, there’s a bonus episode for that! This week, we’re joined by a familiar voice, Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, whose previous appearance on the podcast (see Ep 53 Radiation: X-Ray Marks the Spot) helped to lay out the basics of radiation. In this bonus episode, Dr. Jorgensen, Professor of Radiation Medicine and Director of the Health Physics Graduate Program at Georgetown University, returns to the pod to help us dig deeper into the vast topic of electricity. His latest popular science book, Spark: The Life of Electricity and the Electricity of Life, gives us much to talk about, from how electricity works to the difference between direct and alternating current, from electric fish to ECT, and beyond. As an accomplished science writer, Dr. Jorgensen also shares some insights into using storytelling as a teaching tool and advice for those who may want to become better science communicators themselves. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts!

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  • Lightning strikes have an aura of myth and legend around them, and their mystical reputation is inflated by stories that tell of people who, after having been hit by lightning, are suddenly able to speak a new language or play the piano expertly. However, such embellished stories often fail to distinguish truth from fiction and rarely acknowledge the devastating toll that getting struck by lightning can have on your body and mind. Which is where TPWKY hopes to set the record straight. In this episode, we explore what lightning is, how it can cause injuries or death, and what distinguishes it from other electrical shocks. Then, rather than focusing solely on the history of lightning, we take a tour through four vignettes in the broad history of electricity that tell of ways humanity has harnessed it for both bad and good. By the end of the episode, you’ll be shocked by the story of a dentist from Buffalo, electrified with the knowledge of how lightning forms, energized with the current status of lightning around the globe, and left with no resistance to terrible electricity-themed puns. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts!

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  • In last week’s episode, we explored the mysterious world of multiple sclerosis (MS) and the ongoing quest to determine what causes this autoimmune disease. While it’s likely that no one single factor leads to the development of MS, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has long been suspected to play a role in this and many other autoimmune diseases and has also been shown to be involved in several cancers. But why? How is this virus implicated in so many diseases? How does it infect us? What does it do once it’s in our bodies? Dr. Micah Luftig, Associate Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University, helps to answer these questions and many more about this surprising virus. Not only does Dr. Luftig share his expert knowledge in all things EBV in this interview, he also sheds some light on what a career in academia is like and drops some great advice on how to feel out whether a research career might be right for you. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts!

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  • Like many autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis so clearly illustrates how detection and description of a disease only gets us so far when it comes to prevention, treatment, and cure. In the over 150 years since the first comprehensive description of multiple sclerosis, a great deal of progress has been made to understand the what and how of this disease, but many mysteries still abound, especially surrounding the why. In this episode, we explore what we do know about how this disease works, including a discussion about two recent headline-making scientific articles implicating a certain virus in disease onset or progression. We then trace its history all the way from an ice skating saint to a sympathetic sister, and we end the episode by taking measure of the global status of this disease. Check it out wherever you get your podcasts!

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  • We ended our myxoma virus episode on a bit of a cliffhanger, briefly alluding to the emergence of another deadly rabbit virus on the global scene. In this follow-up bonus episode, we take a closer look at this recent arrival, rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), and what its rapid spread around the world has meant for both invasive European rabbits in Australia as well as native rabbit species around the world. Dr. Robyn Hall (@Virologica), veterinary virologist, epidemiologist, and Team Leader of the Rabbit Biocontrol Team at CSIRO in Australia, walks us through how this virus earned the nickname “bunny Ebola”, where it seems to be having the most impact, and what the sudden appearance of a new type of RHDV has taught us about viral evolution and ecological cascades. Then, once we fill up on RHDV facts, we talk favorite viruses, life as a veterinary virologist, and so much more! Tune in wherever you get your podcasts. And check out our website for links to where you can learn more about this fascinating and deadly virus.

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  • Invasive rabbits so numerous they form a “gray blanket” across the land. A killer virus, intentionally released to keep the bunnies at bay. An ensuing evolutionary arms race with no end in sight. It sounds more like the premise of a bad sci fi movie rather than a textbook case of biocontrol. But truth, especially in this case, is stranger and even more fascinating than fiction. If this is the first you’re hearing about myxoma virus and its place in the long history of European rabbits in Australia, get ready for a gripping story filled with rabbit facts, discussions about what drives pathogens to be deadly or benign, and philosophical musings about the situational difference between pest, pet, and keystone species. That’s right, we’re heading deep down the rabbit hole with this one. 

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  • Our episode last week ended on a hopeful note, a rare occurrence for this podcast, and it was due in large part to the incredible decline in reported cases of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) over the past decade. In this bonus episode, we explore one of the major reasons behind this drop in HAT: the new medication fexinidazole, developed through a partnership between the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit organization dedicated to developing new treatments for neglected diseases and Sanofi, a French healthcare company. We are thrilled to be joined by two researchers from DNDi, Dr. Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft and Dr. Wilfried Mutombo Kalonji, who share their insights into the challenges associated with bringing a medication all the way from its development stage, to testing it in the field, and finally ensuring that access is provided for those who need it most. We also chat about how this treatment works, the impact that COVID-19 has had on screening efforts for sleeping sickness, the lessons learned from fexinidazole’s development, and so much more. Tune in wherever you get your podcasts! And when you’re finished with the ep, check out this beautiful video from DNDi chronicling the story of fexinidazole: A doctor’s dream: A pill for sleeping sickness.

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