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Illustration of a hand holding a vial of blood (Jonathon Rosen)

From medicine to the movies, the horrifying to the holy, and history to the present day -- we're kinda obsessed with blood. This hour, we consider the power and magic of the red liquid that runs through our veins.


Scott Carney, Edward Dolnick, Gilbert Gaul, Inger Hägglund Tornberg, Joseph Lovett, Laurel Reuter, Charles Rouault, James Shapiro, Douglas Starr, Christien Tinsely, Peter Tomasulo, Saul Villeda and Amy Wagers

Bloody Real Blood

Few things have such power over us as blood. 

Comments [6]

If You Prick Us...

Shakespeare was really into blood. It saturated his work and literally soaked the floorboards in many of his productions. James Shapiro explains what blood meant to The Bard, in a time when the world was just on the cusp of understanding how the powerful, perplexing liquid ...

Comments [2]

Clear Eyes, Full Veins, Can't Lose

You can fake blood in the movies, but so far, there's no artificial substitute in real life. Peeking in on blood drives, wondering how blood gets from an arm to an operating table, producers Molly Webster and Soren Wheeler find a complex world that has them ...

Comments [15]

Comments [86]

liam from USA

Liam Ava
I am 26 years old. Today I am so happy after getting my medical result which says that I am negative in HBsAg test. We are newly married and I am happy that my husband will not get infected. I am so happy I know that I will now be employed fully. I don't have any symptoms anymore , I can drink alcohol and I can smoke.Am back to normal life,please purchase your herbal remedies for HBsAg from Dr George website ww w .goodhealthherbshome .com.

Dec. 18 2017 01:54 AM
Robin from Ashland, Oregon

It would be helpful if you had pointed out that, yes, blood centers charge a fee for the blood products but this is not to produce a profit. A somewhat disappointing oversight. I am sure that even in the U.K. blood centers charge hospitals for the blood products. How else would they be able to operate? Also, the characterization of blood as a pharmaceutical is off the mark. Blood is an organ. A liquid organ with a host of complex physiologic and immunologic properties. A blood transfusion is an organ transplant.

Jan. 09 2017 09:04 PM
Roberto from NYC

The observations on GDF11 reported by the Wagers lab are not reproducible and have been discredited in numerous publications. Not only is the situation likely to be more complicated than can be explained by a single factor (as suggested on the show by the Villeda lab) but GDF11 is not likely to play a regenerative role at all. See, among others, the following:

Jan. 07 2017 01:42 PM
Emily from UK

It's terrifying to hear Americans talk as though charging for blood and healthcare are completely normal. Living in the US must be like living in a future dystopian apocalypse.

Dec. 01 2015 08:35 AM
Constance from USA

Kind of disappointing that the hosts are all, "blood is so gross and foreign." Only Shakespearean-era people were familiar with the smell of blood?! HELLO, some of us bleed monthly. All of our blood "hangups" are disappointing, actually

Jul. 11 2015 03:08 AM
Zia from Washington State

Appalled by the sloppy journalism in this piece. No mention of the fact that many blood banks do a lot more that collect and distribute provide clinical care and conduct research. It wasn't made clear that most blood banks are NGOs aka nonprofits and at the least any profits aren't distributed to shareholders. Further blood banks are often part of other medical systems that are nonprofits so the money earned supports the entire charitable purpose. The lousy quality of this story's reporting makes me question how accurate or fair other reporting you have is.
Too bad. Used to love this show. Sorely disappointed.

Jun. 07 2015 10:24 PM
Asterix from California

May 24, 2015.
Just listened to your show on the blood and the magic bullet: GDF11.
Please, check your facts, the initial report from Wagers is now disproved by a recent paper in Cell Metabolism. Of course, if it is not in Science, it does not make big headlines.
Better ask Science and Nature why they would never publish papers that prove that the initial paper was a fake?

May. 26 2015 12:32 AM
Cheryl S from Boulder

I was especially interested in the mice experiments and the part about the enlarged heart that shrank with the infusion o I experienced the whole thing as a half hour story that was expanded blood with a certain protein.
What was difficult for me was the pace of especially that part. It had so much repetition, was slowed down so much and then followed with music that it was irritating. It seemed more dumbed down than was necessary.

This was an excellent 30-minute piece that would have been better presented in 30 minutes or expanded into an hour show through new material.

May. 24 2015 11:55 PM
Rachel from United States

Coem on, Radiolab. You re-air this story again and still don't even take a minute to say, "Whoops, we forgot that half the population bleeds every month for about 40 years...I guess maybe we should have said something about that in this podcast on blood."

May. 24 2015 04:39 PM
Anna Chaucer

I had never really thought about how powerful blood is in our minds until I heard this podcast. It really is a powerful force both physically and emotionally; associated with everything from life to disease. This show was fascinating!

Jan. 20 2015 03:13 PM
Agatha Y. Cloeridge

I have always found blood to be mysteriously fascinating, this podcast really intrigued me about how people perceived blood and what it symbolizes for them. It was also very interesting how people would use animal blood in experiments back then, such as the sheep's blood in the mad man in order to ease him. It makes me wonder how did they come up with the idea of doing this kind of experiment and what logic did they have to assume that a sheep's blood would work as a calming agent. Also, it was interesting to me to see how the old mice could perform the task better when injected with young mice blood. This could be a possible breakthrough in science, to transfer someone with younger blood so they can think as how they used to and to be at a better neurological and physical state than if they weren't transfused.

Oct. 27 2014 08:06 PM

Please make a Blood, Pt. 2!

My sister and I are pretty avid fans of the show and we were lying around( she is currently 8 months pregnant) and listening to the show and thinking about blood. We wondered outloud about blood type based medical conditions, specifically biliruben, a condition both my brother and I had severe cases of as newborns. This led us to two seemingly innocuous but pertinent questions:

Why do we have different blood types? Biologically what purpose does this serve? and how do we establish these typologies what is the historical narrative behind their origins?

and what in our blood constitutes a genotypical determinant our sex via blood or urine?

(We both realize that these biologically driven markers are extremely iffy to delve in, however we're mostly interested in the history of genetics which led to these typologies and what they currently mean, from an ostensibly scientific standpoint?)

thank you for your attention to this question!

Sep. 11 2014 01:04 AM

Personally, I'm not sure if people would continue to donate blood should they find out they're blood is not likely to be used and potentially be wasted. It would certainly be a detractor for people who associate importance to their `gift' rather than recognizing as not so huge a contribution.

Aug. 05 2014 04:58 PM
Nicole S. from Chapel Hill, NC

This comment is more of an anecdote in response to the early days of blood banks, when some banks would set up shop to pay individuals for blood of dubious quality.

A friend and doctor was living with my family as he got settled before starting his surgical residency at a nearby university (he had just arrived from Peru, we had lived here for years but were originally from Chile). He told us of a day working at the hospital in Lima were one of his patients needed a blood transfusion, but no blood was available. He was frantic: the patient would have died without blood soon. So his friend and colleague told him not to worry, and led him outside the hospital via a side door. They looked around, and the friend yelled out "Vampiros! (Vampires)" Between 5 and 8 individuals walking around ran straight to the doctors, a blood donor was chosen and taken inside, and later paid for their donation. Talking later with other doctors in the hospital, our friend told us that many individuals had either heard of or personally gotten a 'vampire' to donate blood at one point or another, and there were always a few individuals waiting around that side door to donate blood.

It struck me, going from the business model of blood banks in the US, to the 'vampires' of Lima. Somehow, the hospitals get the blood that they need to save lives.

Jul. 31 2014 01:27 PM
Tyson from Syd, Australia

I start by saying I absolutley love all of your podcasts. How ever I think you missed some key points in your blood bank story.

Firstly you skipped over the ongoing discrimination against gay people when giving blood, I think it could have followed on nicely from your story about AIDS and art.

Secondly you wrapped up with an almost positive/supporting view of blood-for-profit. Isn't this everything that is wrong with the american system? Costs are out of control and to have a blood transfusion will send you broke. I'm not saying it should be magically free, but it shouldn't be business motivated.

Jul. 14 2014 08:47 PM
Taylor from Portland, OR

LOVE LOVE LOVE the use of The Doors for music. Good job, guys!

Jul. 11 2014 12:55 PM

somehow I didn't encounter this episode until after the fact but I have to comment.... As has been hashed and rehashed, this episode didn't cover menstruation, and at the risk of engaging in a meta-discussion I have a point or three.

1- Menstruation isn't inherently about blood. Period. As a biologist with an extensive background in reproduction I've always thought it disingenuious when a woman states, "I'm bleeding", etc. It isn't "bleeding", not really. She's shedding the lining of her uterus; partially blood but also mucus and vaginal secretions. It's low in clotting factors (fibrinogen) and high in Calcium. The lining of the uterus thickens to allow for the implantation of a fertilized egg and eventual growth of extra-embryonic (outside the embryo) tissues (placenta, amnion) if the egg is one of the 25% of those fertilized that develop to term. (yes, I said 25%. Three quarters of fertilized eggs do not develop and are aborted (miscarried).) To say that we're familiar with blood because of menstrual flow demonstrates how *unfamiliar* we are with blood if that's our benchmark because they're very different.

2. Many comments claim the show ignored the familiarity with blood that fully 50% of the population has on a monthly basis. Our societal expectation of a monthly period is quite recent. Menarche is earlier, menopause is later because women in Western cultures generally have more fat cells (source of estrogen synthesis) and a greater intake of fat (precursors to many hormones). The overall time spent lactating is generally shorter resulting in a shorter return to full fertility after childbirth. Culturally we seem to have forgotten that human milk is low in protein, meaning human development evolved for frequent short breastfeeds, including at night. Decreased nursing also shortens lactational ammenorrhea (lack of menses during lactation).

3. There's an idea that in was only in the last 200 years that humans figured out what menstruation is. I think that attitude does disservice to the observation skills of people before us. People have known for hundreds or thousands of years that the onset of fertility is usually accompanied by menstrual flow and flow stops with pregnancy. (As another example of how little we think of our forebears observation and reasoning skills... No, they never thought the earth was flat. That was a misguided joke made during the late Renaissance to ridicule people.) Sure, maybe we couldn't explain in great detail how menstruation, etc work but a large percentage of women are stunningly ignorant as to how their bodies function. The detail with which we can explain the process is expanding all the time so maybe 200 years from now women will be making snippy comments about *our* ignorance. (get a glimpse of how much you don't know, head over to for the Museum of Menstruation.)

Apr. 07 2014 08:05 PM

To the people talking about menstruation: I'm really sorry that this episode couldn't be all about what you apparently have an incredible fascination with.

But if you were really this concerned, then you'd know that radiolab could EASILY have an entire episode about menstruation and periods and its affect on humanity as a whole.

Honestly though, we didn't know what the hell menstruation really was until the 1800's! Two hundred years ago!! That just blows my mind, as does this episode of radiolab. It's nice that you're ready to start a fight for how much you care about a process that I'm sure most people could benefit from learning about, but don't come here and complain that you didn't get what you want.

Feb. 21 2014 02:15 PM

This piece annoyed me as a person inside the process (ie the hospital side of transfusion) and a long term blood donor. The US moved to a voluntary donor pool after the AIDS epidemic when the hemophilia population (who depended on blood derivatives) became one of the hardest hit groups. By incentivizing blood donation with cash payments, you give people a reason to lie about their health and risk factors. The donor questionnaire is a very powerful tool in reducing transmission of viral diseases (HIV and Hepatitis B&C primarily) through transfusion, but only if people answer honestly. The other part that has kept the incidence of HIV transmission via transfusion non-existant since 1986 in the US is the testing that is performed after collection, which does not come free. I'm willing to pay for that safeguard and willing to donate uncompensated to keep blood available for those who need it.

Jan. 13 2014 12:48 AM
Dr Paul Kangas from 94107

Actually, there is a substitute for human blood.
What if the body can transpose urine into blood?

Hollywood made a movie, "127 Hours", about a guy who sawed off his own arm, lost half his blood in the process, lived 6 days without food or water, drank all his own urine, to replace his blood, as he was sawing off his own arm, then walked 20 miles to a hospital.
I am a doctor who drinks all his own urine daily, as a way to test this form of disease treatment.

Mothers milk, blood & urine are chemically similar

What if the body really can transpose urine into blood with very energy?
That would mean hospitals could feed urine to patients needing blood.

Jan. 11 2014 07:33 PM

I had a problem with the tone of this piece. The complete reverence for blood struck me as odd. I feel this could only be written by people who see the body as this attachment to the person and not part of the person itself. We have bodies! Mucus, organs, fluids and all the other gross parts keeps them running. Many people spend careers elbow deep in blood and other things in order to help people or just as part of caring for those who can't care for themselves. Not to mention some of us, about half, have to see blood on a very regular basis as part of every day life. The stories in this piece are well don, but overall but the tone really prevented me from getting immersed. I felt the narrators had a fantasy image of blood that artificially clashed with the realities of life, such as blood donation. There was no need for the build up and overall it came across as a bit, well, pretentious. Perhaps in the future some of the theatrics will be replaced with more time on the stories.

Jan. 11 2014 06:34 PM
Cindy Eiger from Tacoma WA

I got a hint of the "business" side several years ago. I had been donating regularly, then began participation in a drug study. I informed the blood center when I got my post card of what I was doing. It got kind of nasty. Phone calls and emails "what, when, how, where, why?". I had explained that this study was started AFTER the last donation, but somehow I got the feeling that my blood was THEIRs and it was a problem that I was NOT coming regularly--NOT that my blood may have something unusual in it, but that they weren't getting my blood any longer. At that point I no longer made regular "contributions."

Jan. 11 2014 05:04 PM
Tim Mallard

Another aspect of the blood donation system is the incentives provided to select members of the population. I am an employee of the Commonwealth of Kentucky - we have blood drives at our facility every two months (alternating between the Red Cross and the Kentucky Blood Center) addition to the small incentives usually provided by the Blood bank (a $10 Walmart gift card, or a tee-shirt), we are also provided with 4.00 hours of comp time to donate the blood. Since the mobile unit is at our facility, it rarely takes more than 45 minutes at most to donate blood. The remaining time of the 4 hours is then banked by the employee as COMP time, so the state government is indirectly subsidizing the Blood industry. I don't know if this arrangement is fair, appropriate or ethical, but it seems like all the participants are happy. I don't think the citizenry at large is aware of this, or of the enormous amount of money which is made in blood, but it does raise questions. Just wanted to share.

Jan. 11 2014 02:07 PM
jeff jewell

I enjoyed your piece on the blood supply. However I think that you missed a very important thing that happened during the HIV/AIDS crises. Besides blood being used for transfusions it is used to create the factor that is needed for hemophiliacs to treat their situation. There was a point where the Red Cross knew that the batched blood used to make the factor may be compromised and could cause AIDS in some of the people receiving it. There was a way to test the blood but it was expensive. The Red Cross made a business decision that at that point they thought the number of people that would be affected and die would be small enough that it was not worth the cost of testing the blood. They decided that spending the money was not worth saving the lives that it would save. The Red Cross ended up being wrong about the numbers that would be affected. Nearly all of the hemophiliacs in the US have died from AIDS because of the blood factor that they took.

This is an important part of the business of blood in this country and I think that it should have been part of your story. I hope that it will be looked at by your researchers and added to a new segment on the issue.

Jan. 11 2014 01:33 PM
NMB from New York

The story of blood transfusion in mice is encouraging for older people but a bit alarming for young children and infants who need blood transfusions.
Will infants become cognitively impaired or risk heart damage by receiving blood from an older adult? Did the young mice recover with time?

Jan. 11 2014 01:29 PM

Did the vampires have an effective approach to eternal youth?

Jan. 11 2014 12:37 PM
David Linton

I just caught up with this episode in a rebroadcast and want to add my voice to those who noted the absence of menstrual blood from consideration. This is shocking and reveals a deep-seated, unacknowledged limitation in the producers' outlook. Normally I like Radio Lab a lot but this time they really dropped the ball.

Jan. 11 2014 12:20 PM
Lisa McLean from Bathurst, NSW, Australia

I listened to this recently and was perplexed by the absence of ANY mention of menstruation. As I got further into the podcast I kept expecting SOMETHING might be mentioned.. but nada! How can a show be about blood and not mention it? Quite odd but indicative of the shame, secrecy and silence our society has around the subject of menstruation.

Jan. 10 2014 05:10 AM

One more thought, about the dilemma many of us feel about blood donation after hearing that bit, I would say that one thing is certain: if you live in New York City (and probably other very large cities) you should have no hesitation: donate as often as you can, because we are paying premium for blood in NYC.

Jan. 09 2014 08:53 PM

I'm really fascinated by the bit on the aging effects, and the commenter who added more about this regarding hart failure. wow.

On another note, to all those who are complaining about no mention of menstrual blood--I think you are seeing this backwards: menstruation could easily be an ENTIRE EPISODE, and a pretty great one at that. I would be very interested, and I'm a man. I think most Radiolab listeners will gladly look past the yuck factor.

Jan. 09 2014 08:44 PM
Faith from Cambridge, MA

In reading this comment section I would like to remind everyone that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women.

Dec. 25 2013 02:42 AM
Lee Morgan from Atlanta

I love that you included the score from Bram's Stoker's Dracula! Very apt.

Nov. 19 2013 03:39 PM
maya from new orleans, la

I'm glad to see other women commenting on how surprisingly problematic this episode was. From the comment "Really?" to the idea of a woman threatening to "bury" the blood mogul, to the idea that humans are unfamiliar or made queasy by blood... well, this is just absurd and really marginalizing to most of the human race. Let's face it, as a woman I am intimately acquainted with blood, it doesn't gross me out, and I don't live in the 16th century or whatever. I found it hard to believe that Jad and Robert as grown men haven't encountered blood outside of the donation process / hospital room-- ignoring normal injuries, I mean, aren't these guys sexually active? Don't they have KIDS? Blood is a lot more normal and less gross than this episode made it seem, and as a longtime listener of Radiolab I found myself spurred to write my first comment here about this because I really think it didn't cover ground in the right way. Please recognize that blood is not an exotic fluid to at least half the human population next time you try and tackle this topic.

Nov. 10 2013 11:35 PM

The Blood podcast I just listened to was very interesting. Apparently blood banks used to be located in seedy parts of town where it was convenient for poor folks to donate for cash; some even set up shop next to liquor stores and the givers where paid with chips to buy liquor. The producers of the show said blood from these non-altruistic centers was more prone to disease, and renumeration is no longer practiced, only altruistically obtained blood flows through our blood banks. A little research down in Central Georgia would dispute that claim.

I am a Section 8 landlord - one of the few who care about tenants, and maintain quality, safe houses for them to live in. Sometimes the HUD supplement paid directly to the landlord does not cover the entire rent. Tenants on Section 8, by nature, are mostly unemployed or underemployed, To supplement their monthly SSI (approx. $600/mo. collected for each ADHD, asthmatic or otherwise "disabled" child), and the compensation from factoring their annual child-tax-credit windfall ahead of time*, some tenants also donate blood for money - as often as allowed. Apparently, here in Macon, GA, they are paid a minimum of $45-$50 per donation, but that amount doubles to no less than $90 when they come in with a friend who also donates. I don't know all the details, I just listen, although, as a major in social psychology and anthropology, I am just as curious how a family of 5 has 10 "Obama Phones”, but I haven’t asked how, yet. So, I hear the 'money for blood' business is gurgling right along here in Central Georgia. If you would like another good story for your listeners, here is a place to start asking questions.

* $20k+, the average amount a family with 5 children receives as a gift from the Federal Government for filing a tax return, (the tax credit per child, approx. $3,300, is NOT a refund of taxes paid, it is FREE money given to whomever 'claims' (to care for) the child on his/her tax return, hence the factoring of said “receivables”, is big business here in the south too.

Oct. 29 2013 10:25 AM
Elizabeth from Michigan

I usually really like RadioLab, however the Blood episode was really problematic.

I was listening to this episode, and you kept implying that people were generally not acquainted with blood. Half the population is intimately acquainted with blood! This episode is glaringly male-centric. You cannot talk about blood, and especially taboos around blood without talking about WOMEN and menstrual blood. Every month half the population deals with blood, and a whole industry created to “sanitize”, “pacify”, or, “purify” bleeding women. The first segment dealt almost entirely with men, male special effects artists, male artists who sleep with men, male scientists, ect.

As the program went on to blood banks and selling blood, selling blood was treated like a thing of the past, when in fact, selling plasma is an industry that is alive and well. Only the rich and male aspects of this subject were explored. Rather than mentioning the how the medical industry uses poor people, often of color, as test subjects for new drugs, as producer of plasma, and, as creators of transplantable organs, all which frequently end up in rich, white bodies, the show only talked about the wealthy male business owners role in the blood industry.

It would be wonderful if these issues could be brought up in the RadioLab blog or as an audio add on to the Blood episode.

Oct. 28 2013 05:26 PM
Robin from Atlanta, GA

I have to agree. For a show about blood there was very little talk of actual bleeding, which can go anywhere from women's menstruation to the medical practice of blood letting. These things could easily tie into perceptions of blood throughout history and how opinions about blood change. Everything within this segment seems to just be about blood uses within various containers. It would be no trouble at all to do another segment on this subject.

Oct. 22 2013 01:23 PM

Where's reign in blood?

Sep. 22 2013 01:02 AM
Candice from USA

Some great stuff, especially the mice and the "red market".

I would love to hear a follow-up episode covering the research with the mice brains and hearts; I guess that would be in a few years.

I was hoping to hear some other information, particularly pertaining to reasons for certain blood donation restrictions and more about black-and-white era blood special effects.

Sep. 11 2013 01:53 AM
Andrew Horner from Manchester, UK

By way of an unplanned coincidence, I listened to this episode in a Blood Donor Centre while watching my blood go in and out of the platelet separator machine for an hour. It was interesting to hear about the economics of blood donation in the US. Here in the UK blood donation forms part of the internal market of the National Health Service. Blood is 'sold' to hospitals at a price that is set annually based on estimated cost (, but it is essentially public money circulating around our tax-funded system.

Sep. 05 2013 01:07 PM

Pretty much all I could think about after Robert's comment in the middle segment:

Aug. 28 2013 07:48 PM

This is in relation to the short segment regarding the research on blood exchange in rats and the effects on activity.

Reported in the latest edition of Cosmos ( is some recent research on treatment for heart failure, the condition strongly associated with ageing and involving chronic cardiac enlargement.

Researchers surgically connected the blood vessels of an old mouse to that of a young mouse. After 4 weeks the hearts of the old mice shrank to a more effective size and fewer of them developed heart failure.

This landmark study went on to find that the active agent responsible is a factor circulating in the blood called GDF11 (Growth Differentiation Factor 11). GDF11 is present in the spleen of young mice. Treating old mice directly with GDF11 also provided the same benefit. This points to the possibility of a new treatment for heart failure.

Matthew Hunt

Paper: Growth Differentiation Factor 11 Is a Circulating Factor that Reverses Age-Related Cardiac Hypertrophy. Cell, 2013, vol 153, p828.

Thanks for the great radio!

Aug. 24 2013 03:59 AM
John from Columbus, OH

I have not donated since I heard this episode. I may donate again I do not know. Here is the question I am left with:

Is it more important to protest and withhold enriching a few blood commodity traders, or more important to give a limited resource to patients in dire need?

Before I heard this podcast, I just gave and felt good. This eats at me multiple times per week. It donate platelets and it takes me 4 hours or more of my time, not to mention the discomfort and/or pain. No easy answers...

Aug. 19 2013 03:21 PM

@ Joe from Washington, D.C.

I don't see any comments asserting that "the omission of menstrual blood [was] a purposefully misogynistic omission." In fact, my reading demonstrates quite the opposite. My comment was, perhaps, among the most pointed in saying that this episode is, sadly, another example of men marginalizing women's experiences and I -- like others -- still took pains to make it clear that I appreciated the program overall.

I'm glad you didn't feel alienated by this episode. I'm also glad to know that I am not alone in having felt so.

Aug. 19 2013 03:18 PM
Joe from Washington, D.C.

Also, Radiolab didn't include any information on bat blood! I'm being tongue-in-cheek, of course, as a way of pointing out how ludicrous it is that other commenters are raising the omission of menstrual blood as a purposefully misogynistic omission.

This was a terrific episode. Loved it and have been insisting that my family and friends listen to it.

Aug. 18 2013 09:34 PM
ellej9 from Sacramento, NM

With the blood selling industry as a billion?\multi million business (I did want to check the transcript to get my numbers right) and thinking how people donate gratis I agree that the population at large should be compensated - as in turning it a government run operation - we can of course hire reasonably priced contractors - and the money can go to fund the Affordable Care act. I also think the taxes collected from the tobacco, alcohol, junk food and marijuana should go towards the same. I would write my congressman but to bad he is a Republican. And indeed women I feel your outrage - but I know when I have brought up the issue with my husband - he can't hear it for to long either - so I imagine Radiolab did not even want any switching off that dial. But I believe that most women would listen to a show on sperm - naturally.

Aug. 15 2013 12:35 PM
Susan from Brooklyn, NY

Very interesting about the blood donation. I give regularly but I go directly to Sloan Kettering. I had discovered that I could give directly to my friend who was a patient and then just continued giving there so that others wouldn't be stuck with the cost of purchased blood.

And yes, I love this show but the rape part was jarring -- I was pretty surprised at the tone. I get that you might not have been able to "get to" menstruation but the tone of the rape in addition to some of the other comments throughout did seem like the hosts might want to chat with their female buddies and family members and get their take.

Aug. 12 2013 06:23 PM

It has already been said, but worth repeating - it is really disappointing that menstruation was overlooked in this discussion. Many of the generalizations made were not applicable to a female audience. I love this show and expect better.

Aug. 11 2013 02:46 AM

I love this show. It's brilliant - informative and creative in the best ways. Feel the need to add my voice to the chorus of women here - I too had a visceral reaction to Robert's comment about us "not being familiar with blood." Left me feeling alienated and frustrated for the rest of the program. And I agree that there didn't have to be a story on menstrual blood - just an acknowledgement. Please do better to incorporate the female experience in the future. Now I'm gonna be looking for it.

Aug. 10 2013 02:50 PM
vh from north carolina

after the condescension faced by Kao Kalia Yang in a previous show, this episode served as further confirmation that radiolab - though ostensibly aimed at being progressive and inclusive and produced for an educated and critical audience - is simply produced from a male perspective that fails to take seriously the experience of those who do not share that perspective.

1) i am glad to see that others have pointed out the show's curious omission of menstrual blood. while i am not suggesting that the show ought to have included a discussion about menstrual blood, it was obvious that the statements about how WE ARE ALL unfamiliar with our own blood was a statement about a particular kind of (male) experience, mistaken as a universal observation. (to suggest, as another commenter did, that this is because menstrual blood is not "real blood" is a cop out, and further evidence of a male-dominant perspective.)

(furthermore: we've all known that blood was somehow important to human life since the first person was STABBED? what about the first period and its obvious connection to human life? this bordered on parody)
(FURTHERMORE: radiolab has dedicated an ENTIRE episode to SPERM! and not even one mention of menstrual blood in an episode on blood?)

2) the discussion of rape was jarring. it was surprisingly unreflective in its approach to the question of, essentially, "legitimate rape". i realize the discussion was about a cultural perspective (that we apparently haven't escaped), but it was downright disturbing to hear krulwich and shapiro say: "how do you prove intent?" and go on with a series of quandaries about how you would ever possibly know whether or not she "wanted it". how could these two supposedly very educated people be so flippant in their discussion, without any apparent hint of sensitivity to our long history of failing to take the claims of women, about sexual violence, seriously.

3) why the editorial choice to leave in jad's naive reaction to the idea that a woman could be as cut-throat as a man? i'm getting tired of this charade of child-like wonder. (now that i think of it, i seriously can't imagine robert and jad even talking about menstrual blood without giggling. maybe this is sufficient reason to exclude it from the show.)

i have loved this show from the beginning. i am not accusing the creators of the show of any kind of flat-footed or consciously-held sexism. it is just that there is a kind of prominence that has been given to a male perspective, on a show that purports to be more than that. adjusting away from this perspective need not result in any major changes in content (it isn't about including more women, for example), just attitude.

Aug. 10 2013 12:55 PM
nick from Canada

As much as I agree with the comments regarding menstruation's noticeable absence, I raised my eyebrows at the assertion that people are unfamiliar with blood for another reason- it forgets about all the people who come in contact with blood through their work or their play. From paramedics, doctors, and nurses to butchers, chefs, veterinarians, soldiers, anyone who raises livestock, etc., there are a lot of folks who live with blood. And then there are hunters, anglers, boxers, mountain bikers, climbers, etc who accept blood as part of their play. Not to mention parents! Between children's clumsiness, rambunctiousness, curiosity, and fearlessness, moms and dads get pretty used to seeing blood too (in my experience). As a rugby player who works with (sharp) rocks, I get in close contact with plenty of blood- mostly my own. squeamishness would be very inconvenient.

So maybe we can rephrase their statement: childless vegetarian males living in urban areas working desk jobs and avoiding contact/adventure/field sports are out of touch with blood.

Aug. 10 2013 02:42 AM

Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one who was taken aback a bit by Robert's anecdote about his own spilled blood on his clothes and his skin and the comment "we're all unfamiliar with blood." For at least half the population, we're pretty familiar with blood on our clothes and our skin by the time we're teenagers and have to deal with it on a fairly regular schedule. I won't go on a rant about male-dominated society, but as a loyal fan of Radiolab and someone who did enjoy most of the stories on this episode, I was a bit disappointed that "Blood" wasn't a little more balanced.

Aug. 09 2013 10:48 AM
Circe from the Netherlands

I simply found it striking that they said "we are out of touch with blood these days". I too do understand that they didn't devote an entire segment to the topic (though it would have been interesting, and I think there is a taboo to break here) - just a small joke along the lines of "ok, at least us males are" would have been enough. But it was ignored etirely, I think this is what bothered me (and other women).

Aug. 09 2013 10:22 AM
R.J. from Michigan

I can't pretend to know the thought process of the show's producers or why they elected to exclude menstruation as a topic from a show centered around blood, but I can say that if I were involved in the process, I would have argued against its inclusion (and that's all an internet commentator is really good for after all, his/her own opinion) because menstruation is at its core little to do with blood at all.

Blood is the most visible byproduct of the menstruation process, but menstruation as a topic is really defined by its role as a taboo in a traditionally male-dominated society. Menstruation would be a fascinating topic on the emphasis placed on the understanding and general education of biological processes as informed by the gender biases of cultural influence, but for an episode which is exploring the nature of blood and its place in the human psyche in relation to what is known of blood as a result of scientific research (the duality that Radiolab excels in exploring for multiple topics) menstruation doesn't have nearly the weight in that particular discussion as the topics which were included.

I'm not saying that menstruation isn't a valid and interesting topic that could be excellently tackled by Radiolab given their track record, but the case that it should be included in this particular theme, Blood, isn't that strong. Menstruation is about a lack of understanding of female biology in a male-centric society. It's not really about the blood.

Aug. 08 2013 09:27 PM
Roq from Seattle

@ Charlie from Virginia

That's the Batman Score. :)

Aug. 08 2013 12:51 PM
Kate from Washington state

First of all, I want to thank everyone who works on Radiolab for creating such an entertaining, educational, wonder-inducing, high quality show. I have listened for a long time and get a whole lot out of it. So, thanks again for all you do.
I have to add my comment about the lack of discussion of menstruation in the latest episode. It was for me, and I would guess pretty much every woman who gets a monthly period, a glaring omission. When Robert says something along the lines of "we are not used to blood these days," I had an immediate reaction of shock and disbelief that left me feeling put-off for the rest of the episode. It was an example of lack of inclusion of women's experiences in the norm.
I understand you have limited time for an episode, and perhaps menstruation seemed outside the scope of the episode. But I find it hard to understand making an entire episode about blood without mentioning even once the blood that half the population, and our male sexual partners if we have them, deal with on a monthly basis; blood that is so central to the fundamental processes of sex and procreation.

Aug. 08 2013 09:58 AM
Dave Kliman from Long Island, NY

The whole thing about young blood really makes for a huge ethics dilemma. I suppose that if it becomes well known that young, compatible blood can assist the older among us to learn like kids again, that the rich, and likely the military, would take interest in exploiting the blood of the young to enable the older to learn new languages, or other subject matter, more rapidly than normal, but at what cost, really?

The concept that blood banks are profiting from blood, is just another one of those really inane things about the medical system we have in this country these days. restoring generous r&d budgets to entities like the NIH would allow for research that could possibly do an end-run around the current system and the ethical problems that come along with it.

Aug. 06 2013 10:44 PM
Angus Farquhar from London, UK

Firstly, great show and loved this episode but being a Brit used to the national health service I was quite amazed to hear the description of the marketplace for blood products after donation.
Here in the uk blood donation is nationalised as part of the National Health Service and is all managed by one service, including donation, screening and distribution.
Surely when the realisation was made in the US that paid blood was of lower quality and all blood should be donated it would have made sense to create a single not-for-profit that's aged the whole
Process so that blood could be distributed evenly throughout the country? Or does this meet the same problems that the US always faces with centralised control as was seen with the whole Obamacare debacle?

Aug. 06 2013 08:31 AM
ZJ from Spokane, WA

There is some mixed information going back and forth on this board about the Human Blood Plasma Derived Pharmaceuticals industry.

It is going no where, despite the truth to the statement that human blood is dirty and that screening is cost-prohibitive. That cost goes into the price of the dozen or more immune-deficiency and blood clotting related disorders that are so far only treatable with drugs and therapies derived from basically healthy human blood.

Another thing that was missing from the episode is the tragic link between the plasma pharmaceuticals industry and the initial intesity of the outbreak of HIV and hepatitis amongst hemophylliacs and others using their products. You opened the program with AIDS and closed it with the big business of blood, and yet missed the connection between them.

Aug. 06 2013 01:42 AM
Coco Coyle from Nashville

It's always a treat to find a full hour of interesting stories ready for listening, yet I feel the need to ask about what a few others have mentioned before me--the lack of talk about menstruation in an episode devoted to blood.

I believe Jennifer from St. Paul said it well when she wrote:: "I've come to expect the show to explore concepts beyond the experiences of the hosts". This is also one of the most appealing aspects of the show to me, so while I have grown used to media and culture shying away (or often, sprinting away) from the topic of menstruation I was hopeful that the scientific and curiosity-driven perspective of the show would overcome that cultural taboo.

Some people I might believe had simply not thought about it, but I have too much faith in the creativity and intelligence of the Radiolab staff to believe that the topic of periods was simply forgotten. Additionally, I know there are many women who worked on this show, so while I don't agree with Jennifer that this is purely an example of repression of the female experience by males, I am strongly disappointed that this taboo was not confronted here, where much opportunity was given.

As Lindsey said, I might have been convinced of the argument that menstruation, since it is so related to human sexuality, would not be 'appropriate' for a radio show, if not for the fact that there has already been an entire episode devoted to sperm (Sperm, Dec. 2008). The idea that many listeners who do not experience a monthly period would not find such a show interesting is also not a very strong argument--I don't believe there were overwhelming complaints from female listeners about the sperm episode (I found it extraordinarily interesting myself, since it is so essential to life on earth and human life and culture especially.

Similarly, the topic of menstruation is, after a little research, incredibly interesting and surprising and the modern taboo which may have driven the Blood show away from the topic is in itself deeply rooted in virtually all human cultures. It is a topic with no lack of twisty and dark scientific avenues and back alleys to investigate. Honestly, especially because it is a seldom-discussed topic, there's room for an entire show and more devoted to menstruation, and I can't think of people who are more prepared or capable of tackling this topic than Radiolab.

I know it is rather ungrateful of a listener to demand particular content when they are on the receiving end of a free and amazing production every few weeks, so I hope this is taken as a suggestion and not as a command (for that is the last thing I want to do). All I really ask is some explanation of why a potential segment on menstruation was left out.

If you've read this to the end... Sorry! And thank you.

Aug. 05 2013 09:32 PM
Sadie from Dripping Springs, TX

The combination of the last 2 stories on this podcast made me wonder about a blood-related research question. Has anyone done a study where they look at the recovery times of patients who receive blood transfusions and the age of the person who donated the blood?

Basically, has anyone tried to combine the idea that 'young blood' has something special in it and human blood donations? You would have to control for age of the blood recipient and the type of surgery/injury they sustained, but it would be interesting to see if you get a human correlate of the mouse study.

Aug. 05 2013 07:38 PM
Ryan Marr from Toronto

I was a little surprised to hear the amazement regarding the positive effects of young blood in old mice. Wasn't it just within the past year that Lance Armstrong came out admitting to blood doping. My understanding of blood doping is not that he was taking HGH but that he'd be training in the mountains then drawing his own blood while in peak physical performance then later when everyone is exhausted in the second week of the tour and they're about to face the massive climbs he'd lay down on the bus floor and get an infusion of brand new blood. The stories I heard while working on the tour were that the feeling waking up the next morning is like it's day one all over again.

Aug. 05 2013 02:32 PM
Jennifer from St. Paul

I'm really glad I'm not the first person to note that half the population confronts their own blood on a monthly basis for several decades of their lives. I enjoyed the program (as per always), but I'm finding it difficult to believe that I just listened to an hour and seven minutes on blood as it pertains to men and ONLY to men. It's disappointing and actually became a distraction, when I started wondering when we'd get to the part about how some of us bleed. A lot.

I think it's also worth mentioning that this particular show could have only been created by men, who have the "benefit" (or lack of experience) of not confronting their own blood -- in all its metallic, messy, vibrant glory -- on a periodic basis. It's a credit to Radiolab that I've come to expect the show to explore concepts beyond the experiences of the hosts and when you fail to even acknowledge something that affects half the globe in such dramatic and powerful ways it leaves me shocked and appalled.

Maybe including menstruation was discussed and discarded for viable reasons but, when you leave it off the table completely, this episode becomes yet another example, in the infinite list, of men marginalizing women and their experiences. And that is a unfortunate outcome for such an interesting show.

Good episode, boys, but I expect better.

Aug. 04 2013 04:10 PM

I'm afraid you've forgotten the other half of the story about blood donations: the recipient. Yes, there are people and institutions in the middle that are flawed. We're human. And there's money involved. People need to make a living, equipment needs to be maintained and updated, and blood needs to be transported to the place with the greatest need. So what. It saves lives. It saved mine.

I had a bone marrow transplant in 1994 for chronic myelgenous leukemia. Not only did I receive the marrow (which looks like blood), but I received many many many bags of blood products: platelets, red cells, and IGG. It took thousands of donations to make everything I received.

I'm profoundly grateful, in part because I'm barred from giving blood myself because of my medical history of blood cancer. But also because blood *is* a very personal gift of time and energy and life.

That's gotta be worth something.

Aug. 04 2013 02:53 PM
Lindsey from Winston Salem, NC

Love the show, and enjoyed this episode. The only thing that came up for me was the feeling that this show was a little bit androcentric. The idea that people don't encounter blood regularly doesn't include the experience of most women during most of their lives, who have a monthly (ish) experience with menstrual blood.

Obviously the show can't cover everything, and blood is a huge topic--but I just have the feeling that if men had periods, that would be totally core to human ideas about what blood is. I know it's a lot to ask that a widely listened radio program mention menstruation, but it's so central to my experience with blood (and, I would guess, to very many people's experience) that I wish it had come up.

Aug. 04 2013 12:49 AM
Judith Cameron from Southern California

As an exchange student in Germany in the late 70's I sold my blood once a month to help subsidize my small stipend. I also sold my plasma when I returned home when I had no job. It paid for my groceries. I never felt that I was being selfish or a bad citizen.

Aug. 03 2013 10:44 PM

Well done Radioblab -- just listening to this episode made me queasy and anxious -- who knew just listening to the word "blood" spoken again and again and again and again, coupled with the creepy music and sounds could be so moving. I had to stop listening half way through to decompress.

Aug. 03 2013 05:48 PM
David McElroy from Birmingham, Ala.

I just wanted to add something to the segment about the blood industry. You said that companies can't pay for blood today, but remember that companies can (and do) buy blood plasma every day. An online search will find many, many places everywhere that are buying blood plasma.

I think it's odd that so many people have visceral reactions against selling blood and think it should only happen on an altruistic basis. There's a value for everything that people need. There's already a market for blood (as you demonstrated very well), so why shouldn't the people at the bottom of the supply system be compensated? Why should they be sold the lie that this system works as a fee-free charity? It's interesting that everyone in the system is being compensated except for the people who are supplying the raw "product." Why shouldn't they get compensation? In addition to being the obviously fair thing, it also provides an easy mechanism to ramp up blood collection when supplies are low. As long as donors are screened, there's no reason this should be any more unsafe than the current system.

I'm happy to see this subject brought to light, because a doctor friend of mine explained to me years ago how the industry works. His experience is that the allegedly non-profit sector was more dishonest than the people who were openly in it as a business.

Aug. 03 2013 03:42 PM
zooltar from Cleveland

Well gosh darn it if you aren't back and my belly-aching was for nought. This is classic, beautiful, unsettling, interesting, well-researched, precisely edited and just plain addictive radiolab. Good work, all.

Aug. 03 2013 12:42 PM

Hi guys,

congratulations on this episode. It was great fun to listen to. Regarding your section on research going on with para-symbiotic mice in Stanford or Boston, especially in Amy Wagers lab, you might consider some background information on controversial or even retracted studies by Wagers et al. ( before sending people off with the wrong kind of awe.


Aug. 03 2013 11:55 AM

for anyone wondering, the title of the reggae song that's mashed with Captain Beefheart's "Well" is Blood and Fire by Niney & The Observers.

Aug. 03 2013 05:18 AM

Must get music playlist!

Aug. 02 2013 08:43 PM

We are out of touch with blood these days? Uhm... you might be... but I think you're forgetting the other half of the population, guys :)

Aug. 02 2013 02:23 PM

Downloaded the episode yesterday on my podcast app. Went to finish listening to it today and its gone. Not even available for download. What happened?

Aug. 02 2013 12:53 PM
sean from Kaohsiung, Taiwan

I could be wrong here, but I think at least some of the orchestral music used in the breaks may be from Wojciech Kilar's fantastic score for Coppola's film version of Dracula.

Aug. 02 2013 04:17 AM
knigt from DC

Aha!! It's from "Written on the Forehead" by PJ Harvey, from Let England Shake

phew...literally had to scroll through every album on my phone before I found that

(also: me*)

Aug. 02 2013 01:19 AM
knigt from DC

oh god I need to know the name of that reggae song mashed with Captain Beefheart

I've heard it sampled somewhere else before or something and it's driving my craaaaaaazy

Aug. 02 2013 01:14 AM
Charlie from Virginia

Awesome episode! What was the instrumental track underneath the MOZY ad around 19:30?

Aug. 01 2013 11:41 PM

Is that seriously a mashup of Captain Beefheart and some reggae band? at 17:30ish?

It is a crime if you don't expand that into a full track, sir

Aug. 01 2013 10:20 PM
Erin from Pennsylvania

Jad - You better watch your neck! Robert just might be a vampire!!!
Awesome mix of bloody music by the way!

Aug. 01 2013 08:03 PM
Adrian from Seattle

Within the Blood episode there is some beautiful instrumental music that begins playing at min 54:02. Might someone be able to please tell me the name of the piece and artist name?

Thank you.


Aug. 01 2013 06:49 PM
Aaron from California

There should be a picture of Robert with the bloody thing.

Aug. 01 2013 05:45 PM

Hi Jillian,

That lovely song is "Drop of Blood" by Maddy Prior and the Girls, from the album Bib and Tuck. Enjoy!


Aug. 01 2013 05:43 PM
Jillian from seattle, wa

Very curious as to the title of the song at 16:38-16:48. It was very beautiful and soul resonating. Can anyone give me a hint? Google didn't help!

The lyrics were something like, "they won't _____ from a broken moment, one drop of our blood..."

Aug. 01 2013 05:06 PM
Soren from San Diego

Thank you for taking on this topic!
I study blood all day long and I say it is like trying to nail jello to a wall. Yet so many important conversations should be had right now about the pharmaceutical industries, medicine, financial transactions, but also about theology, about culture, about who we want to be and how that influences our perception of blood.

(By the way, the blood industry is ever-growing, and though single functions of blood can be reproduced, there is no synthetic product that can offer them all at once, blood is just too 'smart.' Obviously whole blood is a blunt instrument in rare diseases, oncology, and trauma therapy. Your donated pint is going to an industrial processing plant and split into blood component for therapeutic use.)

For all who thirst for more blood, I would recommend the following:
Douglass Starr's book Blood,
the PBS Red Gold show based on it (,
Waldby and Mitchell's Tissue Economies (,
but especially Bill Hayes' entertaining and intelligent Five Quarts (

Keep up the great work!

Aug. 01 2013 03:51 PM
Rodrigo from Rio

Where are the pictures of Jad cutting Robert?
Link it for us.
Good show.

Aug. 01 2013 08:45 AM
Justin Boie from Big Lake, MN

Great topic! I wish it had a different ending though. The truth is that the blood industrial complex is dying. Greed is hastening its demise, but science struck its death blow. It's achilles heel, is that it comes from humans. Humans unfortunately all come with blood born diseases and infections. It is currently impossible, not to mention cost prohibitive, to screen for them all. Then plug in the numbers for the rate of new diseases appearing in the population, and you will begin to realize that all blood is very dirty, and dangerous for medical use. The standard of care is now bloodless, or synthetic blood. The reason is scientific, bloodless care, or synthetic blood, both give an order of magnitude better medical outcomes, and significantly reduced recovery times. Maybe you could include this in Blood 2.

Aug. 01 2013 01:23 AM

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