NOVA scienceNOW

PBS Airdate: April 19, 2005
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ROBERT KRULWICH: Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich, and the show you're about to see is something new for NOVA. We do it from time to time; instead of one story, we're going to do several.

And tonight, the stories range in size. We've got one about very big things, another about a surprisingly small things, and yet another about incredibly little things, all on NOVA scienceNOW.

JARED DIAMOND (UCLA): This is the most amazing discovery in any field of science in at least the last 10 years.



ROBERT KRULWICH: Could this be a new species of human? A race of people so little, about three feet tall when they're adults with brains the size of a monkey...small, small, small...

RALPH HOLLOWAY (Columbia University): Oh, small. You know, that's under chimpanzee.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yet it appears that they could make tools. They could hunt animals, really big animals. Could this be?

RALPH HOLLOWAY: What the hell have they found?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Stem cells: in California, in Massachusetts, in Congress, the White House, battle lines are forming.

DR. GEORGE Q. DALEY (Harvard Stem Cell Institute): ...trying to create cells, not children.

SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK ( U.S. Senator, R-Kansas): I think we failed to ask the basic question: "Is it a person or is it a piece of property?"

ROBERT KRULWICH: Who says women can't compete in science? Well, even this professor who runs a physics and engineering lab which is chock full of female scientists, she says it was very hard for her.

NAOMI HALAS (Rice University): I remember very clearly, in high school, I was told, "Don't take physics," because if I ever took physics, I would never date.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well she is now a full professor of physics, but even so, her female students are still being told, ever so subtly, "Science ain't for you."

NAOMI HALAS: I always thought, "When I'm older, then people won't be like that anymore." But they are.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And the tale of a little frog, so cold every winter, he's virtually dead, not even a heartbeat. As in no heartbeat?

JONATHAN COSTANZO (Miami University): Right.



ROBERT KRULWICH: Then comes the spring. And how he wakes up, that, that's a miracle.

Better science makes better innovation a possibility. Better innovation makes better communication a reality. Sprint, making communication better. Sprint is a continuing proud sponsor of NOVA.

Major funding for NOVA is provided by Microsoft.

Major funding for NOVA scienceNOW is provided by the National Science Foundation, America's investment in the future, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, serving society through biomedical research and science education, HHMI.

Additional funding is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology; the George D. Smith Fund; and the Kavli Foundation, advancing scientific knowledge at leading universities worldwide.

Major funding for NOVA is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by PBS viewers like you. Thank you.


ROBERT KRULWICH: You're not going to believe this, and I wouldn't blame you, 'cause if I told you this story that..."once upon a time, on a little island, somewhere way off in the sea, there lived a race of teeny people not known to science. They lived with elephants the size of ponies. They hunted dragons that spat poisonous saliva laced with botulism and anthrax..."

You'd say, "Come on."

But here's the thing. An international team of paleoanthropologists think that this story may be true, and tonight we're going to show you evidence that suggests that these little people may have existed on our planet for tens of thousands years. And, even more intriguing, there's the outside chance, they may still be around.

Midway between Asia and Australia, here in Indonesia, lies the island of Flores. For centuries the people who lived here told tales of little, hairy people.

KERRY GRANT (University of New England, Australia): Well, they talk about being scared of three things: one is elephants, one is tigers, and one is the little people of the forest.

RICHARD ROBERTS (University of Wollongong): Small people, maybe a meter tall, hairy, with sloping foreheads, thick eyebrow ridges and no chin...and they used to come up to the village. They used to raid their crops, until, one day, they stole a baby. And that was it. The villagers decided to chase them out of their cave, and that was the last they saw of what they called the Ebu Gogo which is translated as "the grandmother who eats everything."

ROBERT KRULWICH: Ebu Gogo: learned people, scholars, dismissed these tales as folklore. But then a team of Australian archeologists digging in this cave, Liang Bua, it's called, discovered something simply astounding. At first, they thought it was a child.

MICHAEL JOHN MORWOOD (University of New England): They thought it was a young child because the skeleton was very, very small. The Individual was about a meter tall.

ROBERT KRULWICH: About the size of a modern three year old. But then they looked more closely at the skull. The lines on top here would be different if it was a child's skull, further apart. And the teeth...This was no child.

MICHAEL JOHN MORWOOD: It's, in fact, an adult. The wear and tear on the teeth shows that this individual was an adult, probably aged about 30. It was a female. We already knew she was very, very small, so then we knew we had something quite unusual.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Unusual is an understatement. Jared Diamond is a scientist and author.

JARED DIAMOND: To me, when I heard of this, I immediately said to myself, "This is the most amazing discovery in any field of science in at least the last 10 years."




JARED DIAMOND: Why? Because it's the most drastically different human that existed in the last million years.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Just to give you a taste for this, I am about six feet tall. Now here, this is what a full-grown pygmy looks like, a 24 year old adult pygmy. Let's check it out...about four and a half feet tall. And here is Homo floresiensis. Let's check this...a little over three feet tall. That's about half my size.

MICHAEL JOHN MORWOOD: It's the smallest human species ever identified anywhere in the world from any time.

ROBERT KRULWICH: "Wait a second," said this well-respected Indonesian anthropologist. Teuko Jacob says, "I think she's one of us, our species, but with a rare disease."

TEUKO JACOB (Gadjah Mada University): Therefore there's a small brain, microencephaly.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Microencephaly can severely retard growth in modern people. So she's one of us with a growth disease?

TEUKO JACOB: I'm sure about it.

ROBERT KRULWICH: "Well, you're wrong," said the Australian team.

RICHARD ROBERTS: There's no chance at all that it's a pathologically deformed individual of our species.

RALPH HOLLOWAY: Welcome to paleoanthropology.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So, since the debate here is highly technical, I visited Ralph Holloway, one of the world's preeminent ancient skull experts.

Less than this?

RALPH HOLLOWAY: Less than many chimpanzees.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And since he's got a cast of the lady's skull, I asked him, "Does it look like our species? Like Homo sapiens? This is a human being. Are these new creatures that you've they look like this? Or are they..."


ROBERT KRULWICH: No. They're different in some fundamental way?


ROBERT KRULWICH: Ralph has examined this cast of her brain cavity, and it's not like ours, he says.

RALPH HOLLOWAY: It's low. It's broad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: You're sure of this.


ROBERT KRULWICH: So what we may have here is a brand new flavor of human. But if we do, how'd this creature get so small?

The Australians believe that Homo floresiensis descends, as we do, from the original, earlier human, Homo erectus, who came out of Africa and spread to Europe and Asia. But as best scientists can tell, Homo erectus probably wasn't advanced enough to build boats. So how'd they get to the island?

Jared theorizes that early humans reached Flores by a land bridge.

JARED DIAMOND: All this was going on during the Ice Ages, when, around the world, a lot of water was locked up in glaciers so sea level was low.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So what today is water, then was land. You could have walked there conceivably?

JARED DIAMOND: No, you couldn't walk there, but the water gaps were narrower.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Those gaps were so narrow it didn't take much to swim or float across. Other creatures did.

JARED DIAMOND: Elephants did it. Monkeys did it. If monkeys could do it, why couldn't these dumb humans do it?

ROBERT KRULWICH: But after they got there, he says, the Ice Age ended. Glaciers melted, the ocean rose, and these early humans were stranded. And this may explain why they got so small.

RICHARD ROBERTS: They get small on an island where there are no major predators and where there are not that many nutrients, so you really don't want to be eating any more than you need to if you want to survive. So for reasons for avoiding starvation, it's more efficient to keep small.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So you're not surprised then that this group of human-types could become very small?

JARED DIAMOND: There're lots of big animals that arrive on small islands and then, over evolutionary time, they shrink on...shrink in size.

ROBERT KRULWICH: There are islands where instead of hippos there are pigmy hippos; instead of buffalo, there are pigmy buffalo; instead of elephants, there are elephants one-eighth normal scale. So maybe people landed on Flores, and they got smaller, too—one half our size. The amazing thing, though, is their brains were a third our size.

RALPH HOLLOWAY: Small, small. That's under chimpanzee. And here it is associated with supposedly sophisticated stone tools. What the hell have they found?

KERRY GRANT: The evidence is showing us that something with such a little brain may have been more capable of doing a lot more things than we originally thought.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The Australians say they found, at the cave site, traces of campfire, so the little people may have been cooking with fire. They found stone tools nearby that may or may not belong to them but they look pretty sophisticated.

And remember, these people hunted and ate dwarf elephants, so... Here's one getting up. Check out the sharp tusks. And look at this one's tusks. And, say the paleontologists, they did okay hunting and eating formidable prey 'cause not all island species get small.

JARED DIAMOND: Warm-blooded animals shrink on islands. Cold-blooded animals often expand on islands, to fill the niche left by lions and tigers that could not get out there.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The evidence suggests little people ate Komodo dragon. And these guys weigh in at what?

JARED DIAMOND: Up to 500 pounds. But it's worse than that.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Because back then, apparently, Komodo dragons were even bigger, and if you get near their mouths... You see that spit?

JARED DIAMOND: It's spit that contains botulism bacteria and anthrax and other things you wouldn't want to get infected by, really nasty bacteria.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So, most likely, if you were three feet tall, you'd want to hunt these animals in groups.

Would that, in your sense require some kind of signaling or language or "Watch out, Joe! Here comes the lizard,"?

RALPH HOLLOWAY: Yeah, I tend to be in that camp. I really do think that communal hunting, and so forth, has to involve language.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Language, tools, technology, maybe the little people did all that, but if they did it with brains a third our size, those brains would be very different, radically different.

RALPH HOLLOWAY: And that may be one of the great lessons of this, if it turns know, it may tell us...Hey...

ROBERT KRULWICH: Oh, you're suggesting that maybe this brain is organized differently so it can do more in a little space?

RALPH HOLLOWAY: Oh, it's definitely organized differently, and it may have done more in a little bit of space, absolutely.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And if that's true, brain scientists would have a whole new model for human intelligence, and that's huge.

Meanwhile, back at the cave site, the Australians say they've discovered fragments from seven additional individuals, all, they claim, appear to be little people.

But the biggest shock was yet to come: the age of these remains. Paleontologists say that the first Homo erectus creatures arrived on Flores something like 800,000 years ago. So scientists figured, "Well, then, these skeletons would be old."

KIRA WESTAWAY (University of Wollongong): We were all expecting it to be may be sixty, a hundred thousand years old.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But when they aged these bones, one sample was only 18,000 years old. In paleontology, that's like the day before yesterday.

KIRA WESTAWAY: The fact that it came out at 18,000 was pretty much a shock to everybody.

ROBERT KRULWICH: A shock because that means that these little people were alive during, well, modern times.

MICHAEL JOHN MORWOOD: We know that modern humans have been in that area for at least 50,000 years.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So, if you do the math, little people and big people shared this island for over 30,000 years!

JARED DIAMOND: The final question that everybody is too shy to ask is, well er, uh, um, "Did we, or didn't we have sex with them?"

ROBERT KRULWICH: Because if little people became a different species, they branched away from humans and couldn't have babies with us, and wouldn't want to.

JARED DIAMOND: My bet is we did not have sex with them. And here's my reasoning. I would have predicted that they would have been really nasty, just like any humans would be really nasty.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Because looking at the other was like, this is an other. I don't know why he's doing this.

JARED DIAMOND: That's right. That's right.

ROBERT KRULWICH: To test this you'd want to analyze the little people's DNA.

RICHARD ROBERTS: Then we can compare their DNA with our DNA and we'll have a case for whether we may or may not have interbred as we came through Southeast Asia on our way to Australia.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So what happened to the little people of Flores? It looks like they were wiped out—along with those little elephants they were hunting—by a major volcanic eruption on the island about 12,000 years ago. Or—and this is not impossible—could the Ebu Gogo still exist?


ROBERT KRULWICH: That's one view. Here's another.

KERRY GRANT: I did have somebody speak to me, a geologist, and he didn't want to be named because, of course, he felt like if he told people he'd seen little people, people would think he'd seen aliens or something like that. So, at the moment, we are going to follow these stories of an actual cave where they may have been living, and we, we do intend to go and excavate this actual cave.

RICHARD ROBERTS: Folklore has it that they, they just simply ran over the volcano nearby and disappeared further west. So, perhaps in some other part of Flores, they might still be living. It's not outrageous, but it's highly improbable. But it'd be worth looking, just in case that did happen to be the case.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And now we are going to make something. I'm not going to tell you what it is we're making; you'll have to guess. But we will give you all the ingredients. We will do this in an English kitchen, so we will use English measures. So this is a recipe for something.

Can you guess what that something is?

This recipe is key to the future:

Take 3 liters of water.

Add sufficient fat to make a small bar of soap.

Take enough carbon for 55 pencil leads.

Mix with enough phosphorus to produce 135 match heads.

(A generous helping of calcium always improves the result.)

Take enough sulfur to produce a couple of stink bombs.

Extract every atom of iron and zinc from a galvanized roof tack.

Garnish with traces of magnesium and potassium.

Season with a pinch of salt.

Bake in an oven at 37 degrees for 270 days.

Monitor carefully until incubation is complete.

We will return to the subject of making babies later in the program when we talk about stem cells, which by the way, are, again, teeny, teeny little things.

But we shouldn't dwell only on small things, because sometimes big things, very big things, can be exciting and scary. So, if I may...

Thank you.


So many of us, when we're little, think about and dream about and play with these celebrated reptiles, you'd think we'd know a whole lot about them. And yet, there are things about tyrannosaurs, basic, bottom line things that nobody knows, like, "How long did they live?" Apparently, there is no way to tell. That's what the experts said.

But as our correspondent Chad Cohen reports, the experts were wrong.

CHAD COHEN (Correspondent): For over 150 million years, dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sixty five million years ago they became extinct. For scientists looking to piece together the mysteries of these animals, fossilized bones are among the only clues left.

Perhaps the greatest mystery about dinosaurs, like Sue here at Chicago's Field Museum, is how did they get so big? Over 20 feet tall and 40 feet long, Sue is the world's largest Tyrannosaurus rex. How she got that big is tied up in yet another mystery: "How long did she live?"

DR. GREG ERICKSON (Florida State University): It really is just like forensic biology.

CHAD COHEN: ...a mystery Greg Erickson of Florida State University wanted to solve. Greg is a biologist. His expertise is living reptiles like lizards and alligators.

GREG ERICKSON: If you really want to understand the lives of dinosaurs, you need people that understand the lives of living animals in the first place.

CHAD COHEN: Today's huge animals, elephants and whales, generally live long lives. To find out if this was also true for T-rex, well, of course, Greg was going to need to know its age, and that's not so easy. Scientists typically age dinosaurs by counting growth rings in the weight-bearing leg bones—yup, just like trees—but not in tyrannosaurs.

GREG ERICKSON: I was always told you can't age tyrannosaurs, the reason being that tyrannosaurs have hollow bones, just like birds.

CHAD COHEN: That was the problem Greg was pondering when, a little over four years ago, he made an unexpected discovery at the Field Museum. Greg wasn't interested in what was on display here, but what the museum might have tucked away in the maze of corridors behind the scenes.

PETE MAKOVICKY (Dinosaur Curator): These are all pieces of Sue, and as you can see, it's really a jigsaw puzzle that no one can put together.

CHAD COHEN: It's a nightmare.

Dinosaur curator Pete Makovicky's nightmare turned out to be Greg Erickson's dream come true. It was here where he found his first clue.

GREG ERICKSON: And I pulled open the drawer and started looking at some of these rib chunks. I realized how solid they were.

CHAD COHEN: And when he looked closely, he thought he saw what shouldn't be on a rib bone: separate, distinct lines that looked a lot like those coveted growth rings. Maybe everything he needed was recorded in these tiny chunks.

GREG ERICKSON: I was elated! And for the first time I realized that we might be able to crack the code and actually age some of the tyrannosaurs for the first time.

CHAD COHEN: But before he could celebrate, Greg had to make sure, back in his lab in Florida, that his discovery could accurately measure a tyrannosaur's age.

CHAD COHEN: He needed something living, or at least something that hasn't been extinct for the last 65 million years. And this being Florida, what better than the American alligator, a not-too-distant cousin of dinosaurs. It turns out these guys have growth rings too, in those same non-weight-bearing bones as T-rex did.

GREG ERICKSON: Since we know their age, we can see if their ages based on growth rings, match up with the actual ages of the animals. And our study showed that you can use the fibula, which is a shin bone; you can use the pubis, which is one of the hip bones, here; the ribs work quite well.

CHAD COHEN: Is it exact? I mean, is it, "Count the growth rings, and that's how old this alligator was?"


CHAD COHEN: That's amazing.

With that, Greg went to work. His first order of business, assemble a large enough scientific sample of backroom bones.

GREG ERICKSON: This is what we were looking for. We would look for broken ends like this, and we'd see very nice growth line record.

CHAD COHEN: He ended up with the remains of 20 different tyrannosaurs of different ages and sizes. Seven were T- rexes, including Sue, and the rest, smaller cousins that lived millions of years earlier.

GREG ERICKSON: So Gorgosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Albertosaurus...

CHAD COHEN: With these fragments, Greg believed he would not only be able to calculate the ages of different tyrannosaurs, but determine how T-rex grew to be so much bigger.

GREG ERICKSON: Basically, we'll take a promising specimen like this, we'll pour an epoxy resin over it and essentially re-entomb the specimen here.

CHAD COHEN: The hardened specimen is then sliced, sanded, polished to a thickness of just seven microns and put on a microscope slide. And with the flick of a switch, the life of an animal that lived more than 65 million years ago is revealed.

For the first time science can accurately determine the age of tyrannosaurs. Since one growth ring equals one year, all you have to do is count.

Let me see if I can age this guy on my own. One, two, three, four, five...five years old?

GREG ERICKSON: It was in its sixth year, yeah, 'cause there's actually a sixth, right on the rim, right there.

CHAD COHEN: Six years old.

GREG ERICKSON: So if you went to school for 11 years, then you'd find that last one.

CHAD COHEN: It's great. It's so clear. It's so easy to see.

After repeating the procedure on some 60 different tyrannosaur bones, Greg knew the exact ages when each had died. Most were in their teens. And in the case of Sue...

GREG ERICKSON: The actual age of Sue turned out to be 28. It doesn't seem right. You know, it seems like such a short life for such a magnificent animal. And this has led me to say, T-rex lived fast and died young. It's the James Dean of dinosaurs, there's no doubt about it.

CHAD COHEN: Sue not only lived fast, she grew fast.

GREG ERICKSON: You're seeing here, on Sue, you're seeing some of these broader, broader growth bands here. And as you head out towards the outer part here, all of a sudden they start getting really tight.

CHAD COHEN: Narrow rings mean slow growth, wider rings, fast, same as trees. And by comparing the ages when all the different T-rexes died to their projected weights at the time, Greg could finally show how Sue grew from a 10-pound hatchling to a six-ton giant in just 20 years, with most of the growth occurring as a teenager between the ages of 14 and 18.

GREG ERICKSON: It's just mind-boggling. This is an animal that's putting on five pounds a day. So obviously, it was eating just an enormous amount of flesh and bone to pull this off.

CHAD COHEN: But unlike today's huge animals, whose life spans can be as long as ours, T-rexes only got to enjoy their bigness for a relatively short time. And that's because we're pretty sure that Sue here died of old age. Arthritis crippled her tail; her rib bones, which were broken, had had plenty of time to heal; an infection in her mouth left holes in the back of her jaw. It was a tough life, no doubt, and now, for the first time, we know just how long a life it was.

Tyrannosaurus rex, the supreme killer of the Cretaceous, terrorized some of the largest creatures ever to walk the earth and earned a permanent place in our imagination, all before the age of 30.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Correspondent Chad Cohen who already, by the way, is older than most T-rex's ever got to be.


Okay, enough of big, time to get small again. And I mean really, really small. Here's something exquisitely small. This is the tip of a pin. We're going to move in on the tip and get smaller still.

You see those little blobs there? They are bacteria on the pin, and then on the bacteria, you see that little speck? It's a few hundred atoms across.

That teeny thing made news recently, because it is an invention. It was built by a scientist you're about to meet. And the fact that she is a she was also news, because there aren't a lot of shes doing this kind of thing. And some prominent folks have wondered why. So here is her story.

Naomi Halas knows how guys think. Her ranch in Texas is way, way outside Houston in brush country, so it's a little hard to find, but, as it happens...

NAOMI HALAS: One of our neighbors used to be a, was a former Penthouse Pet, so she was a bit of a local celebrity.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So whenever Naomi needed lumber, or whatever, delivered, all she had to say to the delivery guy, any delivery guy apparently, was...

NAOMI HALAS: "Do you know where the stripper lives?" And they would all know. And so rather than going into long detailed directions, all I'd have to do is say well, we're about 200 yards past the stripper, on the left.

ROBERT KRULWICH: The ranch is for weekends. During the week, Naomi Halas is a professor at Rice University teaching Nanotechnology and Applied Physics, fields that are 90 percent dominated by men. But not here. Not in her group. If you look around, it's about even, which is different for guys...

SWEDISH GRAD STUDENT: I think this is great. What else could I say?

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...and very different for women.

STUDENT: Being a woman has actually never been an issue for me in this group. You just forget about it, which is nice, a nice feeling, because a lot of people aren't that lucky.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So how'd this happen? How'd Naomi create such an unusual balance? Even her husband—this is Peter—he joins the group, not as the leader, he's just one of the gang. Well, there's a story here.

NAOMI HALAS: You know, the best science stories are told backwards, okay? So...

ROBERT KRULWICH: So let's go back a bit. When Naomi was growing up—yeah that's her, and so is this—she never thought about becoming a scientist, even in high school.

NAOMI HALAS: I remember very clearly in high school, although I was always at the top of my class in math and science, I was told, "Don't take physics." And the reason I was told not to take physics was because if I ever took physics, I would never get a date.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So she didn't take physics, she became a musician. And one day, she was wondering where sounds came from, and a friend said, "Well, acoustics requires calculus."

NAOMI HALAS: "But, of course, you've taken calculus, haven't you?" And it just kind of hit me like a load of bricks. In fact, I hadn't taken calculus. I had actually bought into this myth that maybe I probably wasn't going to be very good at math.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But she was good. So at 20, she decided, "You know what? I'm going to drop music and switch to something science-y."

NAOMI HALAS: I thought, "Well, maybe I want to retool my career."

ROBERT KRULWICH: But what about her, you know, her uh, feminine problem?

NAOMI HALAS: No, I didn't, I didn't have a feminine problem.

ROBERT KRULWICH: In other words, you weren't embarrassed to do un-girlish stuff?

NAOMI HALAS: No, I was really a...I was really butch, actually.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So she switched from music to chemistry, and then, interestingly, chose a female-friendly graduate program at Bryn Mawr.

NAOMI HALAS: Bryn Mawr was certainly a place where women were 100 percent accepted.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And that's where she got her M.A. and Ph.D. in physics, and she married.

NAOMI HALAS: Have you thought about doing that?

ROBERT KRULWICH: And when she joined the faculty at Rice University, Naomi found herself increasingly attracted by the world of the very, very small, the nano world.

NAOMI HALAS: This is a vial of gold nano particles, solid gold nanospheres.

ROBERT KRULWICH: They're so small you can't see them. They're little clumps of gold atoms. But if you invent a clump that's hollow inside it will absorb a different color of light. And by changing the thickness of the gold shell, you can make it absorb whatever color you want. So look. Here, what was once ruby red is now clear.

Naomi's work was new and very interesting to graduate students, well to men. Women...?

NAOMI HALAS: For the first six years, I had no women whatsoever. And then I had one. And once, once I had her, I became okay, and then lots of women began to join my group.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Which was, at first, kind of unusual.

GRADUATE STUDENT: We're changing that. It won't be unusual for long.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Women told women, "This is a good group." Naomi says, "You know, I never planned this."

NAOMI HALAS: It just seems to sort of happen. Maybe having all these women attracts the men.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So in the end, she gets a balance. But the growing gang of women at Rice were at first, invisible.

NAOMI HALAS: For most of my scientific career I didn't publish with my first name in the paper. I was always N. Halas. And so, many people knew about my work and had no idea I was a woman, because they read my work in the literature.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But when Naomi and her colleagues created nanoshells by manipulating atoms, then the world noticed: The New York Times, Popular Science, Profiles. Nanoshells made Naomi and her lab famous. And yet, even as a tenured professor, plus by now she'd bought the ranch. As successful as she was, one day when she was presenting her findings at a meeting at Rice...

NAOMI HALAS: A man walked up to me, and in a very loud voice, said, "Excuse me, are you the lady in charge of the coffee?" And when I heard that, I just turned around and I walked back to my office, and I just sat there and, you know, I almost burst into tears. This is ridiculous. I don't want to have...Is it for the rest of my life, I'm going to be mistaken for somebody who's in charge of the coffee? And then I said, "No, I think I will go back there because I don't want that person to win. I want to, I want to be, I want to participate in the forum and I don't care if he thinks I'm in charge of the coffee." So I went back.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And the contacts she made at that meeting led to a business, which she started with biology professor Jennifer West. And they are now injecting nanoshells into animals with cancer. So here, to demonstrate, they're using a chicken breast. The nanoshells will gather inside the tumor.

NAOMI HALAS: And once they're in place, then light is shined through the skin and down into the tumor site.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...warming up the nanoshells so they burn the tumor. That's the steam there.

NAOMI HALAS: And that's sufficient to kill the cells in the tumor.

ROBERT KRULWICH: So without radiation, with light, you can attack cancer sites.

NAOMI HALAS: That's incredibly non-invasive, if you consider other types of cancer therapies.

ROBERT KRULWICH: These therapies are still being tested by the women and the men who have gathered around Naomi. But the women, she says, even now, have to struggle to stay in the game.

NAOMI HALAS: I always thought it was a generational thing. I always thought, well when I was a young scientist, "Oh, those are the older people. They're like that. But when people, when I'm older, then people won't be like that anymore." But they are.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Too often, female grad students drop out, lose confidence, struggle to balance children and family. Naomi, I noticed, does not have children, which made me wonder if that's about work.

NAOMI HALAS: No, I cannot have children.


NAOMI HALAS: So it's not that we didn't try. I am absolutely...I mean, that's another thing that people do sometimes, look at someone who is childless and say, "Well, you know, know, you like science more than, you know, children and flowers and, you know, things like that," you know? But no, I like kids too.

ROBERT KRULWICH: But what she doesn't like is that half the kids, all the girls, still have trouble making the life that she has made. That struggle isn't over.


Nanoshells are little. They're very little. But little things matter. Remember how small a life is at the very beginning? A fertilized human egg, a few days after conception, is so small that if we go back to our pin, I could place the embryo—here we go—on the tip, on the pointy tip of a pin, which raises the question, "When life is this small, this preliminary, how do we honor what's here?"

There are scientists at Harvard—and you're going to meet them— who say it is sometimes right to use embryonic cells to investigate diseases and explore cures, while others say, "Yeah, but remember there is potential life. And we can't end that potential; that would be wrong." And we're going to show you, very precisely, what it is the scientists do to embryos, so you can see for yourself, because in the end, finding a balance between hope for cures and respect for life, that's the challenge. Here's our report from Correspondent Patty Kim.

PATTY KIM (Correspondent): Lauren Stanford is a busy 13-year-old.

LAUREN STANFORD: These ones are for, like, swim team. We won the soccer championships. That one I think I got for high honors.

PATTY KIM: And she's got another major project, keeping herself alive.

LAUREN STANFORD: At 7:15, I check my blood. At 9:30, I check my blood. At 12:11, I check my blood. At 3, or 2:45, I check my blood. At 6:00, I check my blood.

PATTY KIM: Lauren has Type 1 or juvenile diabetes. She's had it since she was in kindergarten. Unlike some kinds of diabetes, Type 1 requires constant vigilance, counting carbs, checking blood sugar and adjusting her insulin pump.

What would you say is the toughest thing about having this disease in your family?

MOIRA McCARTHY STANFORD: It's just invaded every corner of every member of our family. And everything that we're doing and she's doing is simply just keeping her alive.

PATTY KIM: Oh, wow. So how does this work? What, what does this do for you?

LAUREN STANFORD: It gives me insulin. It's giving me insulin all, every 10 seconds I get insulin.

PATTY KIM: Even with all her high-tech gadgets, Lauren cannot control her blood sugar as well as a working pancreas.

There's a needle that actually goes into your arm?

LAUREN STANFORD: Yeah, but then you take it out and it's...

PATTY KIM: After 15 or 20 years with diabetes, the danger grows, possibly leading to kidney failure, heart disease, blindness.

LAUREN STANFORD: That's a glucagon. You need it when...if you have, like, a seizure. I don't want to lose my eyesight. I don't want to have brain damage. I don't want to die of early age. Like, who does? Like, that's the only thing that scares me.

MOIRA McCARTHY STANFORD: As soon as you change, you have to check your blood. Now.

PATTY KIM: But many scientists say that hope may be on the horizon.

DOUG MELTON (Harvard Stem Cell Institute): I do think we can cure it, and...our research has convinced me that that is going to be possible. Everything we learn says that it is possible.

PATTY KIM: Doug Melton has spent the last seven years searching for a cure for diabetes. His work is personal; both his children suffer from the disease.

Today, he's optimistic about their future, thanks to a hot new field in medical research which we've all heard about, embryonic stem cells. These are ells that have the potential to become nerve cells, heart cells, blood cells, any kind of cell in the human body.

Melton, now co-director of the new Harvard Stem Cell Institute, wants to turn them into insulin-producing cells so they can help diabetics.

So far, embryonic stem cells have been made mostly from frozen embryos left over from fertility treatment, and that, on its own, is controversial. But now, there's a whole new way for making them that's drawing even more fire. It has to do with cloning.

In February 2004, scientists in South Korea announced they had cloned human embryos and used them to create stem cells for research.

GEORGE DALEY: I said, "Wow, they've done it! I wish we had done it."

PATTY KIM: Dr. George Daley is a pediatrician who also studies stem cells.

GEORGE DALEY: The fact that that barrier has now been passed, I think, really motivates a lot of other scientists to say, "We can do it, too."

PATTY KIM: Now, when most of us hear the word cloning we think of the cloning of people, the stuff of science fiction films, both scary.

ACTOR (clip from Star Wars): They are totally obedient, taking any order without question.

MIKE MYERS (as Austin Powers in clip from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me): Dr. Evil...

PATTY KIM: ...and absurd.

MIKE MYERS (as Austin Powers in clip from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me): He is exactly like you in every way.

MIKE MYERS (as Dr. Evil in clip from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me): Call him Mini-Me.

DOUG MELTON: I don't know any credible scientist who wants to do that, who's working on that. And I think that we, as a nation and as a world community should outlaw that. There really is no reason to be doing that.

GEORGE DALEY: I think it's important that it's clear that we're not cloning organisms, that we're cloning cells, that we're trying to create cells, not children.

PATTY KIM: So if they're not making copies of people, what kind of cloning are the scientists talking about?

Well, they say it would work like this:

Start with an egg from a woman's ovary. Remove its genes or DNA.

Then, take a cell, like a skin cell, from a patient and put its DNA into the egg. This is called nuclear transfer.

Add a few chemicals and the egg starts to divide just like a fertilized egg.

After a few days, it becomes a blastocyst, a ball of about 50 to 200 cells.

If you wanted to clone a person, then you'd have to place the blastocyst in a woman's uterus. A similar process was used to create the famous sheep, Dolly. But these scientists don't want that, so instead, and this is the step that causes so much controversy, they would break down the outer layer of the blastocyst.

It's at this point there's no turning back. The blastocyst cannot develop into a child, but the remaining cells can become embryonic stem cells, ones with the exact same genetic makeup as the patient.

The potential benefits are obvious to doctors like Leonard Zon who sees a lot of patients needing bone marrow transplants. For two thirds of them, there's no donor with an acceptable genetic match.

LEONARD ZON (Children's Hospital Boston): How are you feeling?

PATTY KIM: Even if a donor is found, the match is never perfect. Zon says, with cloning, scientists could, in theory, grow cells customized to an individual patient.

LEONARD ZON: If you used embryonic stem cell technology, you might be able to generate embryonic stem cells that have the same immune system as the patient. You'd have less chance of rejection, and we would hope that there'd be a less death rate associated with that.

PATTY KIM: With cloning, this little boy, in theory, could get bone marrow cells that perfectly match his body.

But there's much more to cloning than custom-made transplants. The thing that has scientists all over the world really excited is that cloning could allow them to do something completely new and different: make sick cells. Now why would they want to do that?

Well, let's say you could take a cell from a patient—someone like Lauren—create a clone, let it grow in the lab until it's a blastocyst, make stem cells. Then you could watch the cells as they get sick.

That's exactly what Doug Melton wants to do.

DOUG MELTON: Just like Abbott and Costello said, "Who's on first?" When you're watching these cells develop, one of them is going to make a mistake first. One of the genes in the disease cell line is going to screw up. And we want to be watching it every minute to say, "Who's on first? Who screwed up first?" If we follow those cells in a culture dish, we can get at the root cause of the disease.

PATTY KIM: If you could learn how Lauren's diabetes got started, you'd have a much better chance of curing it. This might work with lots of diseases that right now develop invisibly inside patients. Not just diabetes patients but Parkinson's patients, Alzheimer's patients.

That's why, instead of just studying healthy stem cells, scientists like Harvard's Kevin Eggan want to use cloning to create stem cells that are genetically predisposed to a disease.

KEVIN EGGAN (Harvard Stem Cell Institute): For certain diseases, it's true that cloning is the only way to do it. By taking cells from an individual which already has that disease, it does allow us to make embryonic stem cells that we know carry all the genes that are required for that disease.

GEORGE DALEY: This is one of the frontiers. It's enormously exciting research. It's very valuable. It's a whole fresh approach.

PATTY KIM: Nobody can guarantee that this approach will lead to cures, and even if it does, tangible results could be five, 10, 20 years down the road. But right now, it's unclear whether these scientists will even get started.

FATHER: This is the worst kind of science imaginable.

PATTY KIM: The Catholic Church, along with many pro-life groups, has been a major opponent of cloning.

FATHER TAD: Making human life simply to destroy it leads us right down directly on the road to barbarism.

PATTY KIM: The U.S. House of Representatives has voted twice to make all human cloning a crime. If the bill becomes law, anyone who defies the ban could go to jail for up to 10 years and face a million dollar fine.

The measure is stalled in the Senate, but Senator Sam Brownback is trying to change that.

SAM BROWNBACK: The president is ready to sign a human cloning ban. We've been blocked in the Senate. With the last election, we're going to revive efforts to try to ban human cloning.

PATTY KIM: President Bush supports some embryonic stem cell research but only on a limited number of cell lines. He opposes cloning.

GEORGE W. BUSH (President, United States of America): We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what's taking place.

KEVIN EGGAN: I personally believe that the nuclear transfer embryos that we create are, in a sense, not new life. I would argue that that embryo that's growing in a dish, just like many other in vitro fertilization embryos, doesn't actually have the potential to go on to become an individual unless it's transferred into the uterus of a woman who's willing to carry it to term.

SAM BROWNBACK: When does that human life's significance begin? We know biologically it begins at conception. That's when your life began, that's when my life began. If I kill you as an embryo you're not here today, if you kill me as an embryo and research on me, I'm not here. So we know that, biologically.

PATTY KIM: When does a human become a human with all the legal rights and protections of a person? Much of the debate comes down to this: a human blastocyst, smaller than a grain of sand.

Whether cloned or made from the union of egg and sperm, is it the same as a person? What are its rights?

SAM BROWNBACK: What is a human embryo? What is a human clone? Is it a person or is it a piece of property? And most Americans look at this and they say, "Life beings at conception." And if that's so, that, that life...there's a sacredness to it, and we shouldn't be violating it.

DOUG MELTON: Often times this issue is couched in terms of, "When does life begin?" I think of it more as an issue, "When does a person begin?" And personhood for me is a process. The fertilized egg has the potential to become a person, but it won't necessarily become a person. Imagine you and I are sitting in an IVF clinic with my son and the fire alarm goes off. So now I have the choice of taking my son out of the room or grabbing a freezer with 100 fertilized eggs, which would I choose? I think for me that emphasizes the difference between a real life, a person who exists, and a potential.

PATTY KIM: Both the blastocyst and the child are alive. Some scientists say we're approaching a crossroads where we, as a society, have to choose. What life do we value more?

Lauren's mom, Moira McCarthy Stanford, is a Catholic and the parent of a diabetic child. Hopeful that the work might lead to a cure for diabetes, she supports cloning for research.

MOIRA McCARTHY STANFORD: To me, that ball of cells is the miracle of possibility. It's the possibility of becoming a human being if it ends up implanted in a woman. It's the possibility of becoming cells to be put in my daughter because she needs to be cured of diabetes. It's the possibility of becoming the nerve endings for a spinal cord so someone can walk again. It hasn't made its mind up yet of what to be, and, therefore, it is the possibility of all different kinds of life, whether it's new life or saving life.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That's Correspondent Patty Kim with additional reporting by Deborah Amos.


Well, as we all know, it is finally springtime. So before we go, I wanted to celebrate the season. And I can think of no better way than to introduce you to a creature who is, again, very, very small, and lives down here somewhere, close to the ground, doing things that I think you will find very surprising.

Here's the thing about North American wood frogs. They're small...

JOHN COSTANZO: So it might be difficult to spot a frog.

ROBERT KRULWICH: ...very small. But they're everywhere, just out of view, hiding on the forest floor.

JOHN COSTANZO: He's camouflaged. His coloration is the same as the soil around him. You see him here? He's cold.

ROBERT KRULWICH: You can find them here in southern Ohio, all the way up to the Arctic Circle. But, wherever they are, once it gets cold, with the first sprinkle of ice, this frog does something I didn't know was possible. As soon as the frog touches, just touches, an ice crystal...

JOHN COSTANZO: This animal is going to freeze.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Freeze, freeze?

JOHN COSTANZO: Freeze solid, freeze.

ROBERT KRULWICH: That touch of ice immediately sets off signals inside the frog, says Professor John Costanza, that pull water away from the center of its body. So the frog's internal organs are now wrapped in a puddle of water that then turns to solid ice.

JOHN COSTANZO: I still can't get over it. It's really an amazing, amazing thing.

ROBERT KRULWICH: There is no breathing, no kidney function, the heart stops.

JOHN COSTANZO: And there will be no heartbeat for a long period of time.

ROBERT KRULWICH: You mean as in no heartbeat? Nothing?

JOHN COSTANZO: Right. Flat line.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Flatline. For an hour or two?

JOHN COSTANZO: It could be for days, perhaps even weeks.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Really? Sounds like it's virtually dead, no?

JOHN COSTANZO: We know that the frog isn't dead, but he's probably about as close as you can get.

ROBERT KRULWICH: To being dead?


ROBERT KRULWICH: So, from the outside, this little frog feels like a rock except that as it froze, the frog flooded itself with a kind of sugar.

JOHN COSTANZO: The frog's blood sugar is distributed through the circulatory system and works like an antifreeze.

ROBERT KRULWICH: It's harder for water to freeze, so cells stay just damp enough for the animal to hold itself together, until the springtime, when the days grow a little longer and the ground gets a little warmer and then, well, a kind of miracle happens.

After weeks or months of no heartbeat, none, suddenly there's a pulse. And that first heartbeat leads to another and then another and then, within a day, and—in the case of this little frog, it took about 10 hours—the animal literally comes back to life.

JOHN COSTANZO: Spontaneous resumption of function.


JOHN COSTANZO: We don't know. We don't know what triggers that event.

ROBERT KRULWICH: And think how elegant a business this is, because although the sun is warming up the outside of this little guy, somehow his insides, his heart, his brain, they thaw first. His insides warm up before his outsides. But somehow, it all happens in perfect synchrony every spring.

JOHN COSTANZO: Yes, and it's going to undertake a very energetic activity. It's mating time.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Oh, you mean hours after it thaws it's going to do it with a lady?

JOHN COSTANZO: It's going to perform.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Uh-huh. What an animal!

JOHN COSTANZO: Can we say that on TV?

ROBERT KRULWICH: I don't know if we can or not.

Well, we just did.

Oh, come on, we should give him little privacy, leave now. But before we do, on subjects small and large, nanoshells, stem cells, frogs, little humans, T-rexes, as the bee says, visit our Web site, You can watch any part of this broadcast over again, join discussions, a whole lot more. Until we meet again, goodbye.

There is more about NOVA scienceNow, but first this.

ALAN ALDA: Next time on Frontiers, the strange story of the Gulf Stream and the climate. Scientists say global warming could slow down or stop the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream keeps a lot of people warm, so global warming could make those folks colder. I'm Alan Alda. Join me next time for Hot Planet, Cold Comfort.

Alan Alda, in Scientific American Frontiers, tomorrow on most PBS stations.

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NOVA scienceNOW: April 19, 2005

Little People

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T. Rex

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Naomi Halas

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