Science’s Blind Spots


One of the things we assign to science is that there are true, absolute facts. But scientists are human and, it turns out, as prone to blind spots in their thinking as the rest of us, especially when cultural assumptions and biases get in the way.


Emily Martin
& Richard Cone

In this episode, biologist Christina Agapakis explores ways these blind spots, especially around gender and sexism, have affected research and women’s careers in science. She talks with one of her heroes, anthropologist Emily Martin, and her husband, biophysicist Richard Cone, about Emily’s 1991 article “The Egg & The Sperm.” Reading that article about the ways cultural romantic assumptions limited scientists’ understanding of human reproduction was a turning point for Christina as a young scientist who considered her feminism as something separate from science.


Kate Clancy

She also talks with anthropologist Kate Clancy who has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the ways women’s careers in science are different from men’s. Kate offers some thoughts on what science needs to consider to truly bring in more underrepresented voices and perspectives. New perspectives and voices in science may be key to science seeing blind spots for the first time.

Episode Extras — Your Transistor producers have picked out some further reading on this topic and how it affects both men and women:

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman.

Music Credits:
Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs
Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider
Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds
Not Waving: “Two-Way Mirror” from Intercepts
Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe

The Skinny on Your Skin


Art by Noa Kaplan. Photo by Jed Kim

Your skin is your largest organ and is also is a thriving ecosystem, covered in bacteria. While many of us consider regular showers key to keeping our skin healthy, a group of scientists — and artists — are starting to ask: Could the future of skin care not be soap, but bacteria?

Inside the Episode

Biologist Christina Agapakis visits AOBiome in Cambridge, Mass. to talk with the team there that has developed a bacterial mist you spritz on your skin several times a day instead of showering.

Then, it’s off to rethink one of the most common skin problems, pimples. We meet Noa Kaplan, who makes sculptures based from ultra-magnified shots of her pores.

©Noa Kaplan

©Noa Kaplan

We also explore how fabric could support our skin’s ecosystem. Fashion futurist Suzanne Lee talks about the not-too-distant future when our clothes may do more than just cover us – they may be made from living bacteria and designed to interact with our skin. Check out this article about Suzanne’s process, and her TED Talk.

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman.

Music credits:
Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs
Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds
Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider
Pye Corner Audio: “Palais Spectres” from Sleep Games
Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe

The Straight Poop


A freezer full of donated poop at OpenBiome

For one disease, poop — yes, human poop — is nothing short a miracle cure. Microbiologist Christina Agapakis takes a look at Fecal Microbiota Transplants or FMT and what happens when you take the really complex gut microbiome from a healthy person and transplant it into the gut of a really sick person. For patients suffering from a one of the most common and deadly hospital acquired infections, Clostridium Difficile, or C Diff, one poop transplant can cure them, sometimes within hours. But, why?

Inside the Episode:


Mark Smith shows host Christina Agapakis and
producer Kerry Donahue the container
donors, uh…”donate” in.

Sign on the door at OpenBiome,
reminding us of the importance of poop!

Christina visits Mark Smith at OpenBiome in Medford, Massachusetts. OpenBiome is a poop bank where donors are paid $40 bucks a po(o)p and where scientists like Mark produce highly screened, liquefied poop samples to be sent to doctors and hospitals all over the country.

Christina talks with Ed Yong, blogger at Not Exactly Rocket Science and author of a forthcoming book about microbes called I Contain Multitudes, about what we might be failing to ask in all of the excitement surrounding FMT.

Christina also talks with Tami Lieberman, a systems biologist at Harvard who decided to put some new home sampling kits for sequencing your gut microbiome to the test.

It’s a wild and wooly world out there when it comes to the medical power of poop. Who knew? Stay tuned.

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman. Photos by Genevieve Sponsler.

Music credits:
Mort Garson: “Good Morning Starshine” from Electronic Hair Pieces
Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider
Piero Piccioni: “Mexican Borders” from Piero Piccioni Soundtracks
Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds
Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs
Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe

Food, Meet Fungus


Your host Christina in a
tempeh kitchen, for science!

In her episodes of Transistor, biologist Christina Agapakis is exploring the microbiome: the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body. The microbiome is hot right now and in these episodes Christina will explore what we do know in the face of so much hope and hype.

She starts with food. Bacteria-rich foods such as tempeh, cheese, pickles and yogurt have long been praised for their probiotic effect. But can you really add enough good bacteria to your digestive system to outnumber the bad?

Inside the Episode:


Barry’s business partner Gordon Bennett
mixing the Rhizopus culture into the soybeans.

Christina pays a visit to an industrial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens, where Barry Schwartz and a small team meet up every other week to make Barry’s Tempeh, the only fresh tempeh sold in New York State.

Wanting to better understand tempeh – aka “blue cheese of tofu” – Christina then calls her friend Colin Cahill in Indonesia where tempeh originated. He explains how it’s more than just soybeans and fungus that give tempeh in Indonesia its regional flavor.

Then, if a single bacteria food like tempeh is good, studying a more complex ecosystem like the bacteria on cheese rind might tell us more about bacteria interact with each other and in our digestive systems – at least that’s Harvard biologist Rachel Dutton‘s goal. She’s studied more than a hundred different types of cheese from around the world, trying to better understand how cheese gets its flavor and why they are all so different. She’s now the go-to biologist for world-famous chefs like David Chang of Momufuko and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, helping them explore ways to make foods taste new, different and better.

Christina then shares her early love of fermentation with fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz. Sandor’s never met a fermented food he didn’t like, but he’s skeptical of anyone who says fermented foods can make us healthy on their own.

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by Tim Einenkel.