A podcast with Earth’s mightiest heroes and science

In The Biology of Superheroes podcast, superheroes and sci-fi meet cutting-edge biological sciences

If you are a dedicated superhero fan, chances are you’re already experiencing withdrawal symptoms after watching the astonishing climax of Avengers: Infinity War and the witty jokes from Deadpool 2. Don’t worry. This piece has no spoilers, but it still has plenty of superheroes and science fiction.

What could you possibly learn about spiders and webs (spider silk) from Spider-Man? If we were to stay within the comic universe, we would just be in awe of the web-slinger’s heroics. In the real world though, there is a lot to know about spider silk, its biomimetic applications and tensile strength.

These, in fact, form the crux of The Biology of Superheroes Podcast (Podbean.com). Hosted by evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton and Arien Darby, who works with Warner Bros, the podcast combines topics, characters and questions from comic books, movies and graphic novels with interviews from scientists and subject-matter experts.

The first episode, which released in December, was inspired by one of the famous names in the Marvel universe, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. In this episode, Campbell-Staton interviewed Todd Blackledge from the University of Akron, in Ohio. Blackledge studies the behaviour and biomechanics of web-building in spiders. His research work also focuses on the exceptional characteristics of spider silk, and how it can be utilized in applications ranging from synthetic muscles to new types of glues.

The Biology of Superheroes Podcast is hosted by evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton and Arien Darby, who works with Warner Bros.
The Biology of Superheroes Podcast is hosted by evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton and Arien Darby, who works with Warner Bros.

In one of its recent episodes (a two-part episode released in March) on the biology of de-extinction, the podcast looks at cloning and ancient DNA in a discussion with Beth Shapiro, biologist and author of How To Clone A Mammoth: The Science Of De-Extinction. What makes the discussion interesting is the pop culture reference to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). The episode is interspersed with dialogue from the movie, and Shapiro explains that it is “unrealistic" to find any DNA in dinosaur remains (in Jurassic Park, scientists used DNA sequences to recreate dinosaurs), because these remains are just rocks. She talks about the possibility of finding something in “protein sequences" from “dinosaur bones", but is sceptical since these protein sequences might belong to organisms that “colonize these bones" when they are decaying.

Campbell-Staton’s questions to the experts are neither too technical nor too simple. And good background music provides a transition when the host and expert are conversing. In all, the podcast is an interesting listen for lovers of science and fiction.

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