Geneticists wanted to make an ordinary purple petunia more purple. Instead they got white flowers. Why? Quite by accident, the researchers found a secret defense system in living cells, a gene-silencing mechanism called RNA interference. It has become one of the hottest topics in biology and was the subject of the recently awarded 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. In addition to the RNAi segment, the NOVA scienceNOW program, presented by Robert Krulwich, also featured a humorous description of the chemistry of fuel cells, complete with electrons attached to the posteriors of “Car Talk” hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi; a segment on two Brooklyn brothers whose expertise in supercomputing produced a complex digital analysis of the thread patterns in a unicorn tapestry from the collection of the Cloisters Museum in New York; and a look at a glacier in Greenland that is the fastest moving in the world.

Allan Butler of The Science Channel said the winning program used “great analogies that take complex material and make it easy for the lay public to understand.” It described science, he said, in “an entertaining, thoughtful and, at times, wonderfully playful manner.” Christine Dell’Amore of United Press International said the RNAi segment “offers a rare look into a type of medical research not often covered in the mainstream media, and gives a sense of hope about eradicating the worst of diseases.”

Julia Cort

Julia Cort has more than 25 years of broadcast experience as a producer, writer and director. She joined the WGBH Science Unit in 1991, contributing films such as “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” “Smartest machine on Earth” and “Manhunt— Boston Bombers.” She was a key player in developing NOVA’s award-winning sister series, NOVA scienceNOW, recently serving as executive producer. In the pursuit of a story, Cort has been blindfolded and led to secret diamond-making factories, waded in leech-infested swamps and attempted to recreate the technological feats of ancient Egyptian engineers.