Science Saturday: Allergies, symbiotic bacteria, and scientific literacy

I had a great conversation with Christina Agapakis, a science blogger at Scientific American and a scientist studying synthetic biology. In this episode of's Science Saturday, you'll find out what Christina learned when she traced her allergies on a phylogenetic tree, why she's currently obsessed with symbiotic bacteria, why I think adults need more opportunities for informal science education after they've left school, and how scientists and educators are trying to address clashes between science and culture.

In the video, I talked about my experience at the 6th Science Center World Congress. For a little more on that, check out the story I wrote about why adults need science museums to pay more attention to them.


  1. I found Ms. Agapakis’ insights into the phylogenetic relationship of various food allergies VERY interesting.  Like her I have long suffered from seasonal allergies and a few [what I thought were unrelated] food allergies, namely melons and various raw fruits. The graphs on her blog about the phylogenetic relationships she has discovered regarding her food allergies, were immediately helpful to my own. 

    I look forward to learning more.

  2. Wow, this sounds like me.  I have about a ba-zillion (ok not a real count) allergies.  I do know about the botanical families aka, latex allergies stay away from bananas, which I have to as I have some bad reactions to.  I really would love to hear from Christina more and compare notes.  Its really hard to figure out why we have such allergies and where they actually came from.  When I eat something for more than say 4-5 days in a row that I really don’t have a reaction to, sometimes I end up breaking out in hives.  I have been to multiple doctors, allergists and have had testing upon testing just to see what was going on. In Christina’s case breaking it down to a protein, this helps me.  OH, the Birch tree and cucumbers, that was crazy to me too!  Who knew.  Keep it coming  If you have any questions you want to ask me for research purposes, please feel free to ask,,  as my IgE is 6510 last time I had it tested in 2002.  I just had it re-tested recently so I have no clue what it is now.   
    I will be watching for updates, be careful testing we all know reactions are never the same.

  3. This video was excellent!!  

    I agree that a lot of psychological studies are conducted on undergraduate students, but more and more are conducted cross-culturally and have revealed many human universals.  The field of evolutionary psychology has unveiled many- I highly recommend anything by David Buss!  

  4. As an example, I would say that while the study that you mentioned on unattractive people can be upsetting- there are human universals in beauty.  Humans are attracted to other humans who have symmetrical faces, among other preferences like clearer skin because they are prime indicators of good health.  So, if they are chosen as mates, are more likely to produce healthy offspring.  Very interesting stuff!  

    We also have to remember that we’re animals first who create culture.  Not that you’re suggesting otherwise, but it’s a common misconception that culture enacts primarily on us, when it’s simply not the case. I also highly recommend Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate.

    And would love to know your thoughts on this, Maggie! Keep up the outstanding work.

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