BBC Inside Science

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Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

BBC Radio 4

    • Nov 25, 2021 LATEST EPISODE
    • weekly NEW EPISODES
    • 30m AVG DURATION
    • 379 EPISODES

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    Latest episodes from BBC Inside Science

    Malaria: what's in it for the mosquito?

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 25, 2021 36:11

    Malaria, a disease that infects hundreds of millions of people and kills hundreds of thousands each year. It is caused after a plasmodium parasite is passed from a blood-feeding mosquito into a human host. Subject to much research over hundreds of years, of both host and parasite, one of the evolutionary mysteries has been why the plasmodium so prospers in the mosquito populations in infected areas. Why haven't mosquitoes' immune systems learned to fight back for example? In short, what's in it for the mozzies? Ann Carr, working with Laurence Zwiebel at Vanderbuilt University, reports in the journal Nature Scientific Reports how they managed to discover a mutual symbiotic relationship between the plasmodium and the mosquito. Using advanced sequencing technology they discovered that the infected insects can live longer, and have enhanced sensing (olfaction) and egg positioning than their uninfected brethren. This, in turn, could help them finds meals better, bestowing higher numbers of infection opportunities for the parasite, and benefitting both. NASA this week successfully launched its DART mission, which will next year attempt to nudge an asteroid in its orbit by smashing a mass into it. Could this method allow future humans, endangered by an impending collision push an asteroid out of the way to save the planet? It is billed as human's first ever “earth-defence mission”, but as relieved-sounding mission leads Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University told the BBC, it is perhaps finally time to stop talking about these sorts of things and have a go. Less relieved perhaps are astronomers around the world, as the James Webb Space Telescope team announce a further small delay to its launch to sometime after December 22nd. The BBC's John Amos a few weeks ago stood in the presence of the telescope before it was coupled to the launch vehicle, and spoke with ESA's Peter Jensen about its cost and complexity. BBC Inside Science is planning a special episode devoted to the instrument to accompany the launch of this successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Watch, as they say, this space... And finally an insight perhaps into the origin of words and language. Apart from onomatopoeia, where a word can sound like the noise of a noise-making thing, can a word sound like other properties, such as for example its shape? In the late 1920s psychologists found that different people would match certain made-up words with the same abstract shapes. This “Bouba/ Kiki” effect has been studied since, where the word “Bouba” is associated with rounded blobby shapes, and “Kiki” with spikier, angular forms. But there wasn't so much evidence whether or not the effect worked across different languages or different written alphabets, until now. Aleksandra Ćwiek of Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft in Berlin tells Gaia of her international study (published in Royal Society Phil. Trans. B) looking at the effect in 25 different languages and cultures. The effect is robust across the different writing systems and locations, so the link is not simply about the shape of a letter b or letter k when written in a latinate alphabet, but could allude to something much deeper. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer, Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University.

    Yet More Space Junk; COP-up or COP-out; The End of Bias.

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 18, 2021 37:25

    Earlier in the week the current ISS crew had to prepare to evacuate after Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon, spreading thousands of high velocity shards of ex-satellite into a reasonably low-earth orbit and potentially endangering many other earth observation and communication satellites of all nations. How can we clear this and all the other debris? BBC Space Correspondent Jonathan Amos tells Gaia Vince about the Russian test and of efforts to de-orbit some other deceased orbital vehicles. Simon Evans, deputy editor of the website Carbon Brief, was one of many attending the COP26 summit which ended at the weekend. How do all the declarations, promises and the "Glasgow Pact" itself add up in the great carbon ledger we all need to worry about? And the last of BBC Inside Science's Royal Society book prize nominees, Jessica Nordell talks to Gaia about writing her book "The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias". Her investigation into the science of all of our preconceptions and unacknowledged prejudices surprized even herself. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Studio production by Anna Buckley and Bob Nettles Made in Association with The Open University

    Propane: Keeping Your Cool as the World Warms Around You

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 11, 2021 38:30

    How propane might prevent air conditioning and refrigeration becoming an even bigger burden as our planet warms. Also, covid antiviral pills, and how we forgot to breathe properly. The Montreal Protocol is famous for reducing CFC emissions to help protect the Ozone Layer. We only started using things like CFCs as refrigerants in our fridges and air-conditioning because they weren't as flammable as many alternatives. They were mainly replaced by HFCs, though these are also on the way out. The reason? Their huge greenhouse warming potential (or GWP). Propane has long been thought to be an alternative because of its comparatively tiny GPW, but the safety standards haven't been in place in much of the world for many of the types of application that would make the big difference. Sophie Geoghegan, Climate Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Asbjørn Vonsild who has been working on some of the new standards, due to become normal in Europe next year tell Gaia what greenhouse savings there are to be made, both in terms of efficiency and the contents of the systems themselves. If public opinion and consumer choice can drive the transition as our cities heat up. This week two new Anti-viral pills that are designed to fight SARS CoV2 infections have made headlines in the UK. Professor Penny Ward is Chair of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine's Policy Expert Group, and explains how they work, how they were developed, and when they will be properly available. And in the penultimate of our 2021 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlisted authors, science journalist James Nestor describes his book, Breath: The new science of a lost art. The book documents James's journey around the world investigating traditional eastern practices, the latest pulmonology research, and learning from the palaeontology of ancient skulls, and he attempts to cure himself with better breathing habits. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University

    How Whales Farmed For Food, COP progress, and The Last Stargazers

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 4, 2021 34:21

    Gaia Vince hears how blue whales' huge appetites and energetic eating behaviours helped generate more food for themselves. Also, an update from COP26, and Emily Levesque on The Last Stargazers. New research published this week in the journal Nature reveals new insights into blue whales eating habits. Matthew Savoca and colleagues suggest these biggest of marine animals actually eat up to three times the mass of krill previously estimated. And they do this by finding the blooms of krill and using a spectacular lunging approach to open their massive mouths and filter the gulp of seawater for tonnes of food. But how come, since the near destruction of their population by commercial whaling in the twentieth century, are current krill populations lower than when the voracious whales themselves were far more numerous? Shouldn't there be more krill now than then? The answer, as Victor Smetacek, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, describes to Gaia is that whales themselves help to keep iron in the upper waters of the southern oceans, re-fertilizing it for the lower ecosystem member like phytoplankton, and their powerful diving lunges and defecation effectively plough the waters, akin to herds of bison treading manure into prehistoric grass plains. Former GSO David King, of the Centre For Climate Repair at Cambridge University, is beginning experiments next year that seek to mimic this whale-defecation effect to bring about eventual repopulation of whales and fish to allow the oceans to restart this historical cycle. From Glasgow, above the hubbub of delegates and dignitaries CarbonBrief's deputy editor Simon Evans talks to Gaia about his perceptions of progress so far at the COP26 climate summit. Amongst the flurry of declarations so far this week, what are the details and how do they add up towards our eventual recovery back down to the 1.5C rise everybody is talking about? And in the latest of Inside Science's interviews with shortlisted finalists of this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Prof Emily Levesque, an astronomer at Washington State University tells Marnie Chesterton of her adventures and astronomical anecdotes at some of the world's most famous observatories. Researching her book, "The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers", she interviewed hundreds of practicing and practical astronomers, many of whose jobs, she suggests, will soon be transformed as the act of observation becomes more remote, automated, and data-heavy. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University

    Atmospheric Pollutants and Where to Find Them

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 28, 2021 33:31

    This week London's Ultra Low Emission Zone was extended to 18 times its previous size. In an effort to cut levels of various nitrogen oxides and other gases dangerous to humans from urban air, cities encouraging lower emission vehicles is a trend soon stretching across the UK and other European countries. But some are sceptical as to their efficacy. Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College London is author of The Invisible Killer, and has been studying the air in London and elsewhere since these zones began. As COP26 begins in Glasgow, a wealth of climate science is being published and publicised. Victoria Gill describes a couple of stories this week that point out quite how complex the science is, let alone the diplomacy and economics. Whilst the world's forests taken as a whole undoubtedly still capture more CO2 than they release, research this week shows that ten of Unesco's World Heritage Forests - making up for an area twice the size of Germany - have in the last ten years actually moved from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. There are several reasons, land use pressure being one of them, but also extreme climate events like wildfires (and even a hurricane in one instance) have tipped the balance, and show what how sharp the knife edge is for natural resilience. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that scientists have found an unexpected outflow of methane into the atmosphere from a site very close to the COP26 conference centre in Glasgow, highlighting just how great a challenge net zero will be. Alongside some of humans' most earth-changing achievements, the domestication of the horse stands as something outstanding in human history. Without it, war, traded and culture would be unrecognizable. But quite when and where the modern horse originated has been something of a mystery. In Nature this week, researchers have published an extensive study into ancient DNA that seems to pinpoint finally a moment and a place where this happened, 4,200 years ago. Geoff Marsh takes Marnie for a canter through the mystery. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University

    The Possible Impact of false-negative PCR Tests

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 21, 2021 38:53

    As many as 43,000 PCR tests for people living in and around the South West of England could have been wrongly returned as negative recently, thanks to a seemingly unknown error, or errors, at a laboratory near Wolverhampton. For an extraordinarily long time the mistakes went undetected, and every day many hundreds of people who really had Covid, were told they hadn't. To discuss the numbers and difficulty in calculating the full tragic consequences of the events, Marnie Chesterton speaks to Dr Deepti Gordasani of Queen Mary, University of London, and Dr Kit Yates, of Bath University. How many people may have died as a result of this? BBC Inside Science's back-of-the-envelope suggests 500-1000 preventable deaths, and counting.. As accusations of fossil fuel lobbying begin to encircle the pre-negotiations of the COP26 negotiations, we heard last week of the sad death of Dutch climate scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh. Listeners to BBC Science programmes will recognise his work from earlier this year, as flash floods and heatwaves ravished Europe and North America, when he and his colleagues at the World Weather Attribution Initiative were able to say unambiguously that these events could only have happened because of anthropogenic climate change. Roland Pease looks at Geert Jan's work and legacy. And the latest of the Royal Society Book Prize finalists to speak to BBC Inside Science is Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at Kings College London. His book explores the murkier corners of science as a process. Certainly the so-called replication crisis has dogged psychological sciences for several years, but in "Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth" Stuart outlines quite how deep some of the flaws in the modern experimental reporting and publishing model go, and in almost all fields. However, as he explains to Marnie, there may be ways of rescuing the great achievement of the scientific method by tweaking some of our peer-review norms. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University

    Early Alzheimer's Alert

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 14, 2021 32:04

    Marnie Chesterton hears of a simple test for the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease. She finds out about UK scientists using robots to map radiation at Chernobyl, and talks to Merlin Sheldrake about fungi. Roland Pease travels to Bath University to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earliest stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team in the development of this simple 2 minute test. Prof Thomas Scott of Bristol University and team develop robotic techniques to scan areas of high radiation that would otherwise be unsafe for humans to enter. Their rolling, quadruped or even flying robots have recently been deployed in and around the reactor building at the Chernobyl disaster site. Authorities there have recently been licensed to begin disassembling remains inside the vast concrete shield, but as they do so, areas of intense radiation are likely to shift from day to day. Being able to map these changes in 3D at the end of each working shift should enable workers to avoid the areas of biggest danger. Dr Merlin Sheldrake is one of the nominees for this years Royal Society Insight Investment Book Prize. "Entangled Life - How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures" is a rich tale of interconnectedness and subtle intrusion and extrusion between different living things, and particularly fungi's huge influence on human existence, from beer, bread and psychedelia to the whole history of life on earth. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University

    Surprising choice for Nobel prizes in a pandemic?

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 7, 2021 31:37

    This week saw the announcement of the Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine, chemistry and physics. None of them reward research connected with Covid. Roland Pease, science journalist and Nobel watcher, and Gaia Vince discuss the decisions, which some have said are controversial in this pandemic year. The BepiColombo space craft, a joint European and Japanese mission, has just completed its first fly-by of Mercury, after a three year journey. Professor Dave Rothery, a planetary geologist at the Open University, who's been involved since the early days of the mission in the 1990s, talks about what Mercury's cameras have seen and what the mission aims to find out when it finally gets into orbit around the planet in 2026. Plants remove carbon from the air during photosynthesis, and forests will be a key part of meeting our climate goals. But there's a lot of uncertainty about how forests will react as temperatures and CO2 rise. Now researchers at University of Birmingham have bathed ancient oak trees in the sort of carbon dioxide concentrations we expect in 2050, and measured the impact. Anna Gardner led the research from a forest in Staffordshire. The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021 was announced last week. Inside Science will be featuring the six authors. The first is The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O'Sullivan. She's a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who's been described as “a detective of the mind”. Suzanne O'Sullivan specialises in epilepsy but this leads her to see a number of patients with symptoms such as unexplained paralysis or blindness. For The Sleeping Beauties, she travelled around the world investigating what is often referred to as psychosomatic illness. Sometimes whole groups of people have been affected in mysterious ways. Claudia Hammond spoke to her about the strange case of refugee children in Sweden who fell asleep for years at a time.

    Covid vaccine boosters; why we don't have a tail; cassowary domestication; Royal Society Science book prize shortlist

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 30, 2021 33:13

    Booster vaccines are now being offered to people in England most at risk of Covid, who had their second jab at least 6 months ago. Most people are getting an mRNA vaccine as a booster, mainly the Pfizer one. Dr Andrew Ustianowski, national clinical lead for the UK COVID Vaccine Research Programme, and infectious diseases consultant in Manchester, explains why people are not being offered new vaccines, specifically tweaked to prevent the current highly transmissible delta variant. And he talks about a trial with a new vaccine that works against more than just the spike protein. Why don't we have a tail? We share that absence with our primate cousins, the great apes. What made the difference genetically speaking has eluded scientists, until now. Professor Jef Boeke of NYU Langone Health tells Gaia Vince why it was a change in just one gene that caused us to lose our tail. New research just published in PNAS pushes back the origins of farming by thousands of years. Professor Kristina Douglass of Penn State University and team studied 18 000 year old eggshells of cassowaries, found in human shelters in New Guinea. She explains how the finds suggest that these Pleistocene people had domesticated these large flight less birds. And six authors this week learned that their books have made the shortlist of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021. Chair of the judges, Luke O'Neill, Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, tells Gaia how the panel made their choices from the 350 books entered.

    La Palma volcano; wind energy in the UK; origins of SARS-Cov2; Formula 1 safety

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 23, 2021 31:56

    Thousands of people have been forced to flee the path of the lava that has been spewing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma since Sunday 18th September. Dr Rebecca Williams of Hull University is an expert on the geology of the Canary Islands and tells Gaia Vince that eruptions are regular events on the islands. There's been much discussion about where we are going to get our energy from in the UK. Gas prices are soaring, a fire has knocked out a key power cable, and the weather has affected the amount of power that can be generated from our wind turbines. And to meet our climate targets we're going to become ever more dependent on renewable, and variable, sources. Tom Butcher from the Met Office talks about wind forecasting. He says that the winds have been between 10% and 20% lower in intensity this summer. Professor Deborah Greaves, of Plymouth University and Head of the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, explains how the UK is planning to increase the number of wind turbines, moving into deeper waters. A team from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, investigating bats in caves in Northern Laos, has found bats that are infected with a coronavirus that's genetically almost identical to the one now causing Covid in humans. Lead researcher Dr Marc Eloit discusses what they have discovered and how coronaviruses could move from bats to humans. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had what looked like a very serious crash at their recent Formula 1 race in Italy. Max Verstappen's car landed on top of Lewis Hamilton's, but amazingly Hamilton got out unscathed. The safety features on these cars which can travel at more than 200 mph, are very sophisticated. Nick Wirth, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering who has many years experience of engineering in the F1 world, describes the Halo which saved Lewis Hamilton's life.

    Perseverance drills on Mars; space tourism; Australian fire debris and algal blooms; DNA vaccines against Covid

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 16, 2021 31:20

    NASA's Perseverance rover has been trundling around the Jezero crater since it landed successfully in February 2021. A few weeks ago it made its first attempt at collecting a sample of rock. Unfortunately the rock turned out to be so crumbly it disintegrated away. But Perseverance lives up to its name and has been drilling elsewhere and has now collected two samples. The rover has stored them in special canisters for later collection. Katie Stack-Morgan, Deputy Project Scientist of the Mars 2020 mission at NASA, tells Gaia Vince what they've found out so far. The Inspiration 4 mission has just blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center with 4 civilian astronauts on board. Unlike previous billionaire space flights, which have shot up far enough to officially cross into space before immediately returning, these four are going further out than the International Space Station, where they will orbit the earth for three days. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos talks about the recent boom in space tourism, and about the Chinese rover on Mars. The terrible Australian wildfires of the summer of 2019/20 had a devastating impact, burning across more than 18 million hectares and causing loss of life and livelihoods.. Now, it turns out the impacts stretched far beyond Australia. Climate scientists have been looking at satellite images of the vast Southern Ocean, which plays a major role in controlling the global climate, and found massive algal blooms, fertilised by debris blown thousands of kilometres from the fires. Gaia discusses the observations with Nicolas Cassar of Duke University, one of the authors on a recent Nature paper, and what they tell us about geoengineering to cool down the earth. This month India licensed the world's first DNA vaccine against Covid. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, is involved with a DNA vaccine that is just starting in clinical trials. He explains the pros and cons of this kind of vaccine. It could be of benefit to those who are needle phobic.

    Climate change and oil and gas exploration; cutting methane emissions; African wild dog populations; freezing eggs and sperm

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 9, 2021 29:14

    We're just weeks away from the big international climate talks in Glasgow, where governments will be trying to figure out a workable plan for how to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Gaia Vince explores a couple of strategies to tackle climate change. By far the biggest source of the rise comes from the release of greenhouse gases when we burn fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas. So it's no surprise that we need to cut back on this habit - but much of the discussions are over how much of our reserves countries can continue to burn. Earlier this year, a landmark report from the International Energy Agency said there must be an immediate end to new fossil fuel exploration, and that current production must drop by 75% by 2050 if we are to stay within emissions targets. Daniel Welsby from UCL talks to Gaia about his just published massive analysis of fuel reserves and extraction. His study doesn't go as far as the IEA's, but still says that 60% of the remaining oil and gas, and 90% of coal reserves must stay underground if we are to keep below that 1.5C temperature rise. Natural gas, or methane, has a much stronger effect on temperature than carbon dioxide, but because it doesn't last very long in the atmosphere before converting into carbon dioxide, it's been a bit overlooked by governments. Two recent reports, from the IPCC and the UN, have pointed out that cutting methane emissions would be a quick win in reducing global heating. Most of our methane emissions are because of leaks from the oil and gas industry, or from landfill sites and agriculture. Gaia discusses tackling methane with Drew Shindell, of Duke University in North Carolina, the author of the Global Methane Assessment from the UN Environment Programme. Climate change is already having an impact on life everywhere. We've all seen the powerful pictures of polar bears on melting ice, but global warming is also causing problems for species in the tropics. Dani Rabaiotti of the Zoological Society of London explains how climate change is having an impact on African wild dogs, a species which is already endangered. This week the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority A recommended that the time limit for using frozen eggs, sperm and embryos, should be extended from 10 years to 55 years. Shahnaz Akbar, a fertility expert at Luton and Dunstable Hospital, explains what has changed in the science of preserving eggs from when the law was originally passed.

    Rugby and the brain

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 2, 2021 29:21

    Victoria Gill talks to Professor Damian Bailey who's leading research at the University of South Wales into the potential risks to brain health in contact sports players, from impacts to the head and body sustained during play. His latest study found that over the course of a 31 game season, the brains of members of a professional rugby union team underwent measurable changes, particularly the forward players who sustained most tackles, knocks and falls. The findings may help to identify why professional players of some contact sports are at an increased risk of dementia later in life. Also in the programme: How food waste may help with the development of a more sustainable generation of batteries, with Imperial College chemist Magda Titirici. Professor Titirici was awarded this year's Kavli Medal by the Royal Society for her research on new sustainable energy materials. The bones of people who died in 79 AD during the eruption of Vesuvius have revealed in extraordinary detail what the citizens of Herculaneum ate, and how the diets of men differed from those of women in the town. With bioarchaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York. How the babbling of baby bats is comparable to babbling in human babies. Both are about learning the skills of communication, according to zoologist Ahana Fernandez of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin.

    Window to solve pandemic origins closing

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 26, 2021 28:51

    Virologist Marion Koopmans is one of the independent researchers appointed by the World Health Organisation to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The team visited China in January this year as a first step to answer how, when and where SARS-Cov-2 first infected humans. Professor Koopmans tells Victoria Gill that time is beginning to run out to launch the next phase of studies, to trace the first people in China to be exposed and identify the animals from which the virus jumped the species barrier. Also in the programme: Is the practise of feeding the birds in our gardens creating losers as well as winners, and causing the numbers of some woodland birds to decline? Conservation biologist Alexander Lees visits Victoria in her garden to discuss the question, and reveal the truly dark side of the Great Tit. A new study of the impact of street lighting on nocturnal insects shows that the local impacts on moths can be dramatic. According to entomologist Douglas Boyes, street lights deter female moths from laying their eggs and make them more vulnerable to predation by bats. He's found that artificially illuminated areas are home to half the number of moth caterpillars compared to dark areas.

    Mammoth Journey

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 19, 2021 30:20

    A 17,000-year-old tusk contains a remarkable story of the lifetime travels of a woolly mammoth, which roamed the grasslands of Ice Age Alaska. The animal travelled 70,000 kilometres over the course of three decades before his premature death north of the Arctic Circle. The University of Alaska's Matthew Wooller tells Victoria Gill how his team pieced together the mammoth's life from isotopic clues captured in the tusk. Also in the programme: The search for storage capacity underground for all the hydrogen we'll need for a net zero carbon economy, with geoscientists Katriona Edlmann and Eike Thayson of the University of Edinburgh. How the 1987 Montreal Protocol (which phased out CFCs) saved us from an even worse climate crisis than the one we're facing, with climate scientist Paul Young of the University of Lancaster. Probiotics may protect corals from death by bleaching, with marine biologist Raquel Peixoto of King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia.

    IPCC report - extreme weather events

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 12, 2021 30:04

    Victoria Gill talks to climate scientist Friedericke Otto about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new landmark report. The report this week states that the evidence for humanity's role in changing global change is now unequivocal. Dr Otto was a lead author on the chapter on extreme weather events and explains how human influence can be attributed to the increasing incidence and intensity of heat waves and heavy rainfall events. Also in the programme: Immunological evidence to support a covid vaccine booster programme in the UK, with virologist Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham. Faecal transplants that rejuvenated the memory and the brains of elderly mice, with neuroscientist John Cryan of University College Cork. A website for the public to report their sightings and upload their videos of ball lightning, with electrical engineer Karl Langham of Texas State University, San Marcos.


    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 5, 2021 31:45

    Victoria Gill looks at the latest stories from the world of science. In this week's episode: the threat to bees from multiple pesticide exposure, how bee colonies can evolve defences against the varroa parasite, more problems for the Starliner space capsule, and what may be the oldest fossil animals yet found.

    Covid 19 – reaching the unvaccinated

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 29, 2021 30:12

    In the UK we have seen a recent fall in Covid 19 cases. Good news, but we don't know yet if this will be sustained. The virus is now thought to be spreading predominantly amongst the under 30s, most of whom remain unvaccinated. Young adults are the demographic most likely to be vaccine hesitant or vaccine averse. Kavita Vedhara from Nottingham University discusses the delicate balancing act of managing personal choice and collective responsibility needed to persuade people to get vaccinated to help stop the spread of the virus. Forget lab rats, how about lab cats? Leslie Lyons from the University of Missouri says we've long neglected the genetic similarities between cats and humans. And that understanding how the diseases we share in common affect our feline friends will help with treatments for ourselves. If you take lots of medicines wouldn't it be great to have them all in one pill? That's the aim of Ricky Wildman's project at Nottingham University – a personalised pill that can be 3D printed to order, And we look at the life of Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg, famed for his beautifully simple explanations of complex science and also his love of a good argument.

    A life-changing database

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 22, 2021 32:51

    Proteomes, the sequences of protein within the DNA of every living thing, are notoriously difficult to model. The usual chemical methods can take months, but a new computational model using the ability of artificial intelligence to learn the complex sequences is able to predict structures within a matter of hours. Thousands of protein structure predictions are now available on a public database for anyone to access. Understanding such proteins is seen as key to treating nearly all disease. It also hold the potential for improvements in fields as diverse as increasing crop resilience to climate change and biodegrading plastic on an industrial scale. Marnie Chesterton speaks with Demis Hassabis from Deepmind which developed the protein structure prediction system, and Janet Thornton from the European Bioinformatics Institute which holds the database. Genetic engineering, the promise and perils, is the subject of a new series with Matthew Cobb on Radio 4, called Genetic Dreams, Genetic Nightmares. He tells us about the dilemmas now faced by researchers who on the one hand have the potential to send terminator genes into malaria spreading mosquitoes – but who are also aware of the huge unknowns surrounding the release of such technology. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Hayley Fowler has been researching the links between weather systems, climate change and the heat and floods we are currently experiencing. And could we reduce the incidence of SARS-Cov2 with a different vaccination strategy? Julia Gog has modelled different scenarios, as the number of infections continues to rise. A strategy to target those who are mixing the most, whether socially or through their employment, may be more effective than one targeting the most vulnerable.

    Covid19 - should we test everybody ?

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 15, 2021 28:08

    Epidemiologist Julian Peto is advocating mass testing as the key part of a plan to stop the virus spreading. Studies where everyone has been tested have picked up asymptomatic cases. With the addition of isolation and contact tracing this method of testing has been able to massively reduce the spread of the virus. The hope is such a coordinated scheme implemented nationally could help bring the numbers down. There's a question over which type of test is best to use for mass testing. At the moment many of us do lateral flow tests at home. Although they give instant results their accuracy has been shown to be strongly linked to how well the tests are conducted - hence the need to back up any positive findings with the more accurate PCR test. PCR takes longer and needs sophisticated lab equipment. However a compromise could be to use RT Lamp tests, they are accurate, give results in around 20 minutes, do require a very basic lab, but without the expensive equipment of PCR. A number of RT lamp tests have now been developed for SARS-Cov2. Kevin Fong has been to see the developers of one of them, the OxLAMP test. And with the lifting of restrictions how are you going to judge your own personal risk from Covid? It's a question that interests philosopher of science Eleanor Knox. She says government mandates on mask wearing and social distancing have allowed us to avoid tricky questions around our own potential risk from the virus and risks our own behaviour might pose to loved ones. Now there's a lot more to think about in terms of balancing our desires to return to some semblance of normality while levels of Covid infection continue to rise. One area that's come into sharp focus over lockdown is exercise. Some people have been unable to exercise due to Covid restrictions while others have discovered a whole new interest in moving more. A new book ‘Move' by Caroline Williams explores the links between brain function, evolution and movement. She says staying active is a fundamental part of what makes us human.

    Covid and our ancient ancestors

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 8, 2021 28:01

    A global project looking at the genomes of over 2 million people has found a number of distinct genetic markers which seem to either make Covid infection more likely or the symptoms more severe. Some of these markers are known to be associated with susceptibility to cancer and lung disease. However the researchers say on their own these genetic factors are not determinants of how sick people will become. Underlying health, age and sex and a range of environmental and social factors are likely more important says Andrea Ganna from Finland's Institute of Molecular Medicine who crunched the numbers. The Royal Society Summer Exhibition has just opened. And this year its an opportunity for more people to get involved than ever before – the event is taking place online. There are a number of workshops and interactive games. We speak to a couple of the participants. Caroline Orr from Teesside University talks about research using supercomputers to make microbes produce a range of biofuels that could replace petrol and diesel, and Tony Peyton from Manchester University tells us how the electromagnetic properties of materials are bring harnessed to improve mine clearance in former war zones. And we go to another exhibition, the Royal College of Art graduate show, and ask the age old question - is it art ? Students Kukbong Kim and Bahareh Saboktakin show us their work with recycled concrete and 3d printing - which looks more like science to us.

    Gene editing gets real

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 1, 2021 31:57

    For the first time the gene editing technique CRISPR has been used by injecting the CRISPR instructions into the bloodstream rather than directly into the affected organ. In a trial, six adult patients showed improvements after the treatment was used to prevent the expression of deformed proteins associated with a genetic disease. The hope is this method could treat a range of other genetic diseases, says Megan Molteni from Stat News. In the near future domestic gas boilers may be replaced by heat pumps. However, a district heating system in London is already installing the pumps in a scheme which should see 50% reductions in their carbon emissions. We visited the Citigen site to see how the plan would work, and discussed the potential for domestic heat pump roll out with Simon Evans from Carbon Brief. And why watermelons, wildflowers and pollinating insects can benefit from less attention. Evidence from Florida on how reducing methods associated with intensive farming chime with initiatives here in Britain to replace grass verges with banks of wildflowers. Researcher John Ternest picks up the story.

    UK science policy shake-up; Ivermectin & Covid; black fungus in Indian Covid patients; many hominins in Siberian cave

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 24, 2021 34:21

    The Prime Minister has announced his desire for the UK to become a 'science superpower'. A new office within the cabinet to look at science will work alongside existing science strategy and funding structures. So far it's unclear where the responsibilities between the various science policy bodies lie. James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy at the University of Sheffield, helps Gaia Vince pick her way through the spaghetti of overlapping organisations and Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI Chief Executive, gives her her take of the impact of the reorganisation. A major new trial has been announced into the effectiveness of the drug Ivermectin for the treatment of Covid-19. There's controversy surrounding the drug, which was designed to kill parasitic worms. It showed some promise against the virus in very limited lab studies. For many reluctant to vaccinate these studies seemed to suggest an alternative way to treat the virus. However, regulatory bodies disagree. It's hoped the new study and a range of other wide scale trials will give a more rounded view on the potential if any for Ivermectin as a Covid 19 treatment. Jack Goodman from the BBC News Misinformation Unit has been looking at the controversy surrounding Ivermectin. Scientists researching it have been subject to abuse and in some countries it has been rolled out as a treatment despite the lack of evidence on its effectiveness. There have been reports of a number of cases of Black Fungus in patients with Covid-19 in India. What exactly is this unusual but life threatening fungal growth? Dr Nitin Gupta, Assistant Professor in Infectious Diseases at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, South West India, explains why this previously rare infection is now on the rise.. Gaia Vince talks to Elena Zavala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany about how she and her team have managed to extract DNA from samples of earth from the Denisovan cave in Siberia. Some years ago fragments of bone recovered from the cave revealed a new hominin species, called the Denisovans. Now DNA analysis of the layers of earth built up over hundreds of thousands of years are painting a picture of the vast variety of early people who used the cave, which included Neanderthals and early humans as well as Denisovans.

    Cov-Boost trial; SARS-Cov 2 infection in action; sapling guards; why tadpoles are dying

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 17, 2021 30:22

    Scientists are now looking at the question of third doses of vaccines against SARS-Cov2, and this week the Cov-Boost trial was launched. It's being run from University of Southampton and is going to be using seven different vaccines, some at half doses, in people over the age of 30 who were early recipients of their two doses. The Chief Investigator, immunologist Professor Saul Faust explains the aims of the trial. Once we've breathed the coronavirus into our lungs, how does it spread through our bodies, despite our immune defences? Remarkably, scientists have managed to film the virus in the act of infecting lung cells and spreading between them. They then added some antibodies and watched what happened. Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute tells Gaia Vince what they saw. The UK government has pledged to plant some 2 billion trees to help get us to net zero – and that's an awful lot of plastic casing to be littering the countryside with. A team at the Institute of Making at UCL decided to look at the overall environmental impact of these tree protectors. This is quite a complicated calculation as it involves looking at the entire life cycle of the trees and the plastic, including the carbon and water and energy used. Gaia finds out from Charnette Chau, the life cycle assessment expert on the team, and Professor Mark Miodownik what they found. Across the US, people have been reporting ponds full of dead tadpoles: mass mortality events. It seems that a parasitic infection previously associated with disease in marine oyster populations, may be to blame: severe Perkinsea Infection. The big fear is that it will spread further, to places like Panama in Central America, which has seen such a drastic decline in frog populations that researchers have begun captive breeding some species as “assurance populations” to protect them from extinctions. Tom Richards, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Oxford, reports on what he discovered when he went to Panama to see if the infection had reached its precious hoppers.

    Covid vaccines in children; preventing dengue; algal blooms; supersonic flight

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 10, 2021 31:34

    Should we be vaccinating children in the UK against SARS-Cov 2? Children are rarely seriously ill if they catch Covid but infections mean missed school, and they can pass it onto older vulnerable people. The US, Canada, Israel and Dubai are some places that are already vaccinating the under 18s and Pfizer has recently published data from a trial of its mRNA vaccine in just over 2000 12-15 year olds, showing no safety concerns. Gaia Vince discusses the issue with Professor Beate Kampmann, consultant paediatrician and Director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dengue fever is a widespread tropical disease caused by a virus spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Until now, there's also been no way of preventing dengue aside from trying to get rid of mosquitoes, which is pretty tricky. Gaia hears from the World Mosquito Programme's Dr Katie Anders about some positive news from a large trial in Yogyakarta in Indonesia, where mosquitoes infected with a harmless bacteria called Wollbachia, were deliberately released. The researchers found a 77% drop in cases of dengue in the areas where the infected mosquitoes were released. Hospitalisations were 84% lower. This week the first attempt to map algal blooms globally has been released, and it also charts how blooms have changed over the last thirty years. And the news isn't good. Henrik Enevoldsen of the UN who's based at the University of Copenhagen, has spent thirty years studying these phenomena and he explains how the growth in aquaculture has had an impact on the rise of algal blooms in some parts of the world. Nearly twenty years after Concorde last flew, a company called Boom is promising to bring back supersonic passenger flights in the next few years. They say it'll all be environmentally sustainable. The company has sold some new jets to the US airline United. Gaia talks to Dr Guy Gratton, an engineer and pilot at Cranfield University, about how green supersonic flight can be.

    Lab origin theory of SARS-Cov2; gene for obesity; dark matter map; rock art in Scotland

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 3, 2021 31:54

    Sars Cov2, as the Covid19 coronavirus is called, probably began as the vast majority of new diseases do, when an animal virus infected a person – perhaps in a market or farm. There’s a large animal market in the city of Wuhan that sold wild as well as farmed animals, and studies have shown that different species of animals can infect each other with coronaviruses on their journey to market. But there’s also a possibility that the virus originated in one of two government laboratories in Wuhan. After all, we know that other viruses have escaped from labs, including the original Sars virus, which escaped multiple times from different Asian labs. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, discusses with Gaia Vince why the lab leak theory is again in the news. We know that obesity runs in families but because parents and children live in the same environment and eat the same food it is difficult to tease out how much of this relationship is inherited genetically. Researchers at Cambridge University have been working with the Children of the 90s cohort of people based in Bristol, and they’ve have found that a mutation in a single gene drives obesity in some families. The gene in question is called MC4R. Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, who is one of the researchers, explains that the mutation is remarkably common and has a significant impact on individuals, from an early age. Last week, researchers released the biggest and most detailed map of how matter and dark matter have spread across the universe since the Big Bang. The problem, is that the dark matter is more smoothly distributed than expected according to Einstein’s theory. Some are now saying physics is broken. Was Einstein wrong? Astrophysicist Catherine Heymans, who is a Dark Universe expert, and has just been appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the first woman to hold the role, talks about the implications of the new map of dark matter and her plans to encourage the public to appreciate the night sky. For the first time figurative rock art over 4000 years old has been discovered in Scotland. Up till now all that’s been found have been marks such as cups and rings. The new images are detailed portraits of deer, with antlers, on a capstone of a burial mound, or cairn, in Kilmartin Glen on the west coast. It’s a well-studied archaeological site but the rock art hadn’t been spotted before. Gaia asked Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at Historic Environment Scotland, about who may have produced this art.

    Human use of plants beyond the limits of history.

    Play Episode Listen Later May 27, 2021 35:42

    Human impact on planet earth’s plant life might be detectable several thousand years back in fossil pollen cores taken from mud columns around the world. As Suzette Flantua and Ondrej Mottl describe in a paper published in the journal Science, a rapid acceleration in the changes in pollen species goes back further than we might have expected. This matters particularly when it comes to decisions around re-wilding and re-planting areas today in the name of conservation. As they hope to build on in future work, learning more about the state of ecosystems further back into the past might prevent us making the mistake of simply recreating different types of post-agricultural situations which might not solve the problem we are trying to fix. One of the biggest impacts on the earth’s flora today is of course influenced by our meat consumption. The BBC’s Melanie Abbott has been to see a new exhibition opening at Oxford University’s Musuem of Natural History. Produced in association with the University’s Livestock, Environment and People research programme, this exhibition “Meat the Future”, seeks to raise awareness of the issues for health and the environment around eating – or not eating meat - and is open until January 2022. At the same time, a travelling interactive experience called Meat Your Persona will be moving around the UK, starting in Cardiff. And there's an online interactive questionnaire you can try from home. See the links at the bottom of the BBC Inside Science programme page. Researchers in the US are working on devices that might be able to connect with people’s brains to allow them to manipulate robotic or digital devices to regain abilities lost to disease or injury. As Dr Frank Willett and Prof Krishna Shenoy - both at Stanford University’s neural prosthetics translational laboratory - describe in the journal Nature, they have managed to create a device that allows one patient to create text using just thought. Rather than trying to guide a cursor over a keyboard, their technique works by learning which letter the patient is thinking of drawing by hand, despite being unable to wield a pen. And Jacob Dunn, associate professor at Anglia Ruskin University describes his team’s work which finds that tamarin monkeys will use the “accent” of another species when they enter its territory to help them better understand one another and potentially avoid conflict. His paper, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, describes findings in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus where a species that ordinarily use quite distinct long distance calls subtly change their call to sound more like a neighbouring species’ equivalent call when they are sharing the same area of forest. Not so much an aggressive intrusion as a polite lingua franca, it may be that the shared understanding reduces unnecessary and costly territorial fights between the two species. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Blood Clot Cure, Synthetic Fuels and Coal Mine Heat Pumps

    Play Episode Listen Later May 20, 2021 42:55

    Vic Gill talks to scientists who have cured a vaccine induced blood-clot patient, and meets a former top F1 chief engineer who wants to transform the fuel industry.

    Microplastics in UK river beds

    Play Episode Listen Later May 13, 2021 35:49

    Untreated wastewater "routinely released into UK rivers" is creating microplastic hotspots on riverbeds. That is the conclusion of a study in Greater Manchester, which revealed high concentrations of plastic immediately downstream of treatment works. The team behind the research concluded: untreated wastewater was the key source of river microplastic. Jamie Woodward takes Vic Gill wading in the River Tame in Greater Manchester to show some of the sites they studied, while co-author Rachel Hurley talks from Norway on the wider global questions of where microplastics get into our environment and what harm they do. The origin and location of the radioactive pollution that so devastated the lives and livelihoods of those affected by the Chernobyl disaster 35 years ago is not a mystery. But recently it has become apparent that in one small inaccessible room within the massive sarcophagus at the ill-fated power station, the nuclear fission still happening is getting slightly faster. As Neil Hyatt describes to Vic, the reason may be because the new concrete shell, unlike its predecessor, is doing a better job at keeping the rain out, and noithing to worry about for the time being. Meanwhile, Jim Smith and colleagues have been trying to demonstrate that agricultural products could help the besieged economy of surrounding areas. Using apples grown in regions where investment is illegal, they have developed a spirit drink - called Atomik - with which they hope to demonstrate a viable market outside of the Ukraine, perhaps providing jobs and export business, and maybe even useful profit with which to help the area. And finally, Dr Kim Deines describes from Swansea the health and psychological benefits of something so many hundreds of millions of people in the world have been missing this year: a nice hug. Presenter: Vic Gill Producer: Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer: Samara Linton.

    Early burials, diversity in Tudor England, a malaria vaccine, and rogue brain waves

    Play Episode Listen Later May 6, 2021 27:58

    Despite being home to our early ancestors, attempts to find evidence of early burials in Africa have proved unsuccessful. That is until now. Professor María Martinón-Torres explains how findings from a 78,000-year-old Kenyan grave shed light on how our ancestors related to the dead. In keeping with the theme of clues from the past, Cardiff University academics have been studying the remains of crew who drowned on King Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose. As it turns out, Tudor England was more ethnically diverse than we previously thought. Victoria Gill speaks with University of Oxford researcher Dr Mehreen Datoo about a promising new malaria vaccine which was shown to be 77% effective in early trials. And Dr Nir Grossman, explains how his team at Imperial College London has been synchronising electrical pulses with rogue brain waves to treat tremors.

    Dragonfly on Titan, Retreating Glaciers, Surge Testing, Acoustic lighthouses

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 29, 2021 32:00

    Now that NASA engineers have successfully flown a helicopter remotely on Mars planetary scientists are exploring how to use the technology elsewhere. Marnie Chesterton talks to Elizabeth "Zibi" Turtle, from Johns Hopkins University who is working on a mission to fly a drone, called Dragonfly, above Titan, one of Saturn's moons. A new report that has measured the state of over 200 000 of the world's glaciers has just been published. Bob McNabb of the University of Ulster explains why it's not good news as glaciers are melting at a faster pace than before. He says it could have a particular impact on people who live in low lying areas. At the start of April cases of the South African variant of SARS-Cov 2 were found in a number of London boroughs. In order to stop the further spread of these variants, a programme of surge testing was announced. It’s just come to an end and Marnie finds out from Public Health England’s regional director for London, Professor Kevin Fenton, how it worked. Birds aren’t very good at adapting to human additions to the landscape, particularly tall buildings. Could extra sonic elements - so-called acoustic lighthouses - help? From William and Mary University in Virginia, Timothy Boycott and John Swaddle joined Marnie to explain how these can make a difference.

    Coronavirus variants and vaccines, climate change resistant coffee, dare to repair and how to get rid of moths

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 22, 2021 28:32

    This week has seen a huge surge in Covid- 19 in India leading to concern of a "double mutant" variant, but what do we know about this B.1.617 as it is otherwise known. It was first described in October and is now in other countries including the UK. Virologist Dr Muge Cevik looks at the emerging evidence around vaccines and new variants. Climate change threatens coffee crops so it's exciting to know that researchers have found an ancient coffee variety that is drought resistant and can tolerate higher temperatures than the highly prized Arabica coffee used to make your latte - but it wasn't easy to find. In Sierra Leone Daniel Sarmu spent 4 years searching for it and Dr Aaron Davis from Kew helped to track it down using historic samples from the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Clothes moths do enormous damage to our jumpers and carpets, Marnie finds out how best to protect your clothes. And we hear from Mark Miodownik about the right to repair.

    Blood clots, grieving and the emotion of screams

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 15, 2021 28:27

    The story of what we understand about the rare cases of blood clots associated with certain Covid-19 vaccines is constantly evolving. In today’s programme Professor Beverley Hunt looks at the emerging evidence. How have the restrictions due to Covid 19 affected how we grieve? Professor Claire White, an expert in grief and mourning, is investigating what it means to the grief process when the traditional ways of acknowledging death are changed. Sascha Fruholz has the unenviable task of listening to people scream all day, but he has made some surprising discoveries about which types of scream people are best able to identify.

    Disobedient particles, noisy gorillas, sharks and fictional languages

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 8, 2021 30:59

    In 2016, an accelerator physics centre called Fermilab acquired a massive circular 50 foot magnet from a lab in New York. Too big for the roads, the magnet had to take a 2000km detour via New Orleans to get to its new home. This was the start of the “muon g-2” experiment. Last week, Fermilab announced some of their results, and they don’t quite add up. UK experiment lead Professor Mark Lancaster from Manchester University tells us what they have discovered about the tiny particle that is disobeying the laws that govern how our entire universe fits together. Mountain gorillas are among the most impressive and powerful primates alive today. Living in the dense forests of eastern and central Africa, they are able to communicate with other gorillas a mile away by cupping their hands and beating their chests. Primatologist Edward Wright and colleagues have been studying male silverback gorillas and explains how gorillas use chest beating to attract potential mates and suss out competitors. And Professor Corey Bradshaw from Adelaide, South Australia sheds light on a more fearsome animal: sharks. His research has investigated the likelihood of shark attacks around the Australian coast into the future, up to 2066, and asked what would happen to those figures if everyone wore an electrical emitter that interferes with the sharks electrical senses. He finds that shark attacks are remarkably low already, but these emitters could reduce bites by up to 3000 over the next 50 years. Super fans around the world have learned to speak fluent Klingon, a fictional language originating from Star Trek. In a quest to understand the science behind these languages often dismissed as gobbledygook, Gaia Vince has been speaking to some of the linguists responsible for creating these languages. It’s time for her to relax the tongue, loosen those jaw muscles and wrap her head around the scientific building blocks embedded in language and what languages like Klingon tell us about prehistoric forms of communication. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway

    Science funding cuts; Mice get Covid-19; Native oyster reintroductions

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 1, 2021 28:58

    Scientists were delighted earlier this year to find they would still have access to the EU Horizon 2020 funding and collaborations. Now, it has been revealed that membership of this group, which was previously paid for through fees to the European Union, may come directly from the science budget, at a cost of about £15 billion over the next 7 years. That’s £1-2 billion a year. Marnie Chesterton speaks with Beth Thompson, head of policy at the Wellcome Trust about the implications, and Roland Pease asks scientists working around the world how the previously announced ODA cuts are affecting their work. Native oysters help to filter coastal waters of the UK of pollutants including nitrates, while also providing habitat for other species. But their numbers have declined by 95% throughout their British range. Now, the Zoological Society of London is placing thousands of mature oysters under pontoons in marinas across the UK to let them breed, and encourage the return of the species to their former numbers. And the new coronavirus mutations that are worrying us all have been found to affect mice in experimental studies at the Pasteur Institute in France. Marnie asks if this change to the infectivity of the new variants has implications for human health and our ability to combat the virus. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway


    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 25, 2021 41:04

    The UK is reportedly halfway towards meeting its 2050 target of "net zero" carbon emissions. How did we get there and how will we achieve the next stage? ‘UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 51% below 1990 levels, according to a new Carbon Brief analysis. This means the UK is now halfway to meeting its target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050.’ Simon Evans explains his predictions from the report, outlines how we define net zero and what is required from the next few decades to ensure that the UK meets its 2050 goal. Much of Europe is attempting to replace fossil fuels, transforming transport and domestic heating to run on electrical alternatives, such as batteries and heat pumps. But where electrification isn’t possible or cost effective, such as in many homes, an alternative is still needed. Natural gas is responsible for over 30% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Hydrogen would, theoretically, appear to be the perfect alternative, as combustion only produces water as a by product. Gaia discusses the options with hydrogen strategist, Dr Jenifer Baxter, and Dr Angela Needle of Cadent explains the pilot projects the company is carrying out to introduce 20% hydrogen into gas going into our homes. Last Friday, Fragradalsfjall began erupting for the first time in 800 years. The volcanic system is located in the West of Iceland close to the capital city of Reyjkavik. Dr Evgenia Ilynskaya of Leeds University has been out measuring the gases emitted by the eruption and she describes the experience of working on an active volcanic system.

    Human embryo research and ethics; sperm whale social learning; Antikythera mechanism

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 18, 2021 31:54

    We still know very little about exactly how the embryo forms out of a mass of dividing cells in those crucial first weeks after conception. This is also the time when many miscarriages occur, and scientists want to understand why. Couples going through IVF donate spare embryos for research and scientists are permitted to study them in a test tube, or in vitro, allowing them to grow and develop for up to 14 days. This 14 day rule is abided by globally, and it’s enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in the UK. Thirty years ago no-one could keep these embryos alive for more than a few days but recently the techniques have moved on and they have been cultured for nearly 14 days. So should the 14 day rule be extended? Gaia Vince discusses this question with bioethicist professor Insoo Hyun of Case Western University and Harvard Medical School. There are other ways of studying this early development that don’t involve growing an actual embryo, and that’s by using just a few stem cells from it. These are cells that haven’t yet specialised into any type of body cell and so they have the potential to become any cell type. Researchers can grow these cells into structures that resemble embryos, although they could never survive inside a woman’s womb, and these artificial embryos aren’t subject to the 14 day rule. Gaia talks to Dr Naomi Moris of the Crick Institute in London about her work on what she calls gastruloids. Whaling was a huge industry in the 19th century, and populations of sperm whales plummeted, as hunters sought the oil in their heads that was used everywhere for lighting. The whalers who were hunting in the North Pacific kept meticulous records that have been recently made public. Biologists have been studying them, and picking out unexpected changes in the patterns of whale capture. Dr Luke Rendell of St Andrews University explains how he and his colleagues worked out that that the whales seemed to be learning from each other how to avoid the boats. A piece of intricate Ancient Greek engineering called the Antikythera mechanism, that was found by sponge divers in 1901 in the Mediterranean, has fascinated many people. Last week a team from University College London published the latest explanation of how the device worked. Science writer Jo Marchant herself became so obsessed with the mechanism that she published a book on it called Decoding the Universe and she talks to Gaia about the object and what the new research tells us about how the Greeks understood the cosmos two thousand years ago.

    China's green growth plan

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 11, 2021 27:59

    On Friday 5th March China published a draft for its 14th five-year plan in Beijing. The document acts as a national economic blueprint and was expected to provide an outline as to how the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions planned on tackling its target of reaching net zero emissions by 2060, put forward by President Xi Jinping last September. It appears that greenhouse emissions could continue to increase by 1% or more each year up until 2021. Sam Geal, acting CEO at China dialogue, explains how influential Chinese efforts are when combatting climate change. Since the late 1980s conservationists have used captive breeding to prevent the extinction of North America’s only native ferret species, the black footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). Now, an individual called WIlla, who died without leaving any offspring over 30 years ago has been cloned. Her genes represent 300% of the current genetic diversity of the species, and could help boost the chances of these animals. Dr Bridget Baumgartner works with one of the teams that took part in the successful cloning project, she describes how this novel process could bolster and prop up the genetic diversity of the dwindling population. How does one get a closer look at nutrient cycling and water temperature in marine Antarctic conditions? You could always recruit some of the local inhabitants, elephant seals! That’s exactly what Yixi Zheng at the University of East Anglia did. Her furry research assistants have revealed that surface water temperatures around the ice shelves and glaciers of Antarctica are warmer than expected in winter, and this holds implications for nutrient cycling and the productivity of the southern ocean. And finally, after an ancient rock seized the attention of the residents of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, Professor Sara Russel discusses the rarity of finding meteors here on earth, let alone finding one early in the morning sat on your driveway. We hear what the nearly 400g of space rock that's been found this week could reveal about the origins of our solar system. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Rory Galloway This programme was made in association with the Open University.

    Blue carbon; inside Little Foot's skull; reading locked letters

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 4, 2021 30:35

    With global warming continuing to increase at an alarming rate, we need all the help we can get to lock up the carbon that we’ve released into the atmosphere. Fortunately, plants have evolved to do just this, but there’s a whole class of plants that often get forgotten: the mangroves and seagrasses that grow between land and sea, which are among the planet’s most effective carbon sinks. Gaia Vince talks to Fanny Douvere, head of the marine programme at UNESCO, about its new report that shows the importance of blue carbon locked up in its marine World Heritage Sites. And Professor Hilary Kennedy, of Bangor University, explains why seagrasses are so effective at locking up carbon. Roland Pease reports on the secret journey made by one of the most valuable of human fossils, Little Foot, from Johannesburg to Oxfordshire, where it was scanned at the Diamond Light Source facility – one of the most powerful X-ray machines in the world. He talks to some of the main players about the hush hush voyage, and what they’re hoping to discover. There are few things more intriguing than an unopened letter, but what about one from 300 years ago? The Brienne Collection is a Postmaster's trunk containing more than 2000 letters sent to the Hague between 1680 and 1706, and more than 600 are still unopened. In the days before envelopes, people used elaborate folding techniques to secure letters, even tearing off a bit of paper and using that to sew the letter shut, effectively locking it. It makes reading those letters very tricky indeed, especially as antiquarians don't want to risk opening them. Instead, researchers hatched a plan to scan the letters in their untouched, still folded state, and generate a 3D image of their insides of such detail it could be used by an algorithm to unfold it virtually. David Mills from Queen Mary University London tells Gaia about how he used a microtomography scanner to peek inside the unopened letters. Presented by Gaia Vince.

    Good COP Bad COP, Shotgun Lead Persistence, and Featherdown Adaptation

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 25, 2021 30:18

    On Thursday, The UN Environmental Programme published a report called Making Peace With Nature. It attempts to synthesise vast amounts of scientific knowledge and communicate “how climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution can be tackled jointly within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals”. But it also offers clear and digestible messages that governments, institutions, businesses and individuals can act upon. Concluding BBC Inside Science’s month-long look at some of the challenges ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year, and its sister biodiversity meeting in China, Vic speaks with the report’s co-lead Prof Sir Robert Watson FRS and the Tyndall Centre’s Prof Rachel Warren, also a contributing author. Can all the ills of the natural world really be tackled at once? Game-shooting, for sport and food, has traditionally used the toxic metal lead for ammunition. In other parts of the world its use has been banned for the dangers to the human food chain and to the pollution in natural environments, and even deaths of wildfowl from poisoning. But not so in the UK. A year ago, as reported on Inside Science at the time, the shooting community announced a voluntary five year transition period to alternative shot materials. But researchers including profs Rhys Green and Debbie Pain from Cambridge University have discovered that a year on, little seems to have changed. Gathering game sold for food across the UK, they found that all but one bird in their sample of 180 contained lead shot. Meanwhile, up in the Himalayas, Smithsonian scientist Dr Sahas Barva was enjoying the scenery on a cold day off in 2014 when he saw and heard a tiny Goldcrest, thriving in temperatures of -10C. Wondering how such a tiny thing could keep its body insulated, he decided to investigate feathers, and utilizing the huge numbers of specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection he found some striking commonalities in the thermal properties and adaptations of birds everywhere. The higher up they live, the fluffier their coats. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University.

    Nasa's Perseverance - will it pay off? And spotting likely hosts for future pandemics.

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 18, 2021 49:55

    On Thursday 18th Feb 2020 Nasa’s Perseverance Rover is due to touch down – gently and accurately – in the Jezero crater on Mars. Using similar nail-biting Sky Crane technology as its predecessor Curiosity, if successful it will amongst many other things attempt to fly the first helicopter in the thin Martian atmosphere, and leave small parcels of interesting samples for future missions to collect and return to earth. Unlike previous Martian landings of course, there are no mass-landing parties to be held because of Covid. So Vic Gill invites you to join her and current Curiosity and future Rosalind Franklin (ESA’s 2023 Rover) team scientists in nervously awaiting the signal of success. Dr Susanne Schwenzer was so tense during Curiosity’s final approach in 2012 that she managed to draw blood from her own hand from clutching her mobile phone too hard. BBC Inside Science expects nothing less this time round. Dr Peter Fawdon has been part of the team seand examining the landing site for ESA’s Martian lander and Rover, currently slated to launch in 2022. The project has had a complicated history, having been delayed several times. But with so much at stake, it’s worth getting right. Meanwhile, at Liverpool University, computer scientist Dr Maya Wardeh and virologist Dr Marcus Blagrove have been collaborating to see if Machine Learning and AI can help predict which mammalian species are more likely to harbour the next big coronavirus. Pitting traits and genomes, species similarities, lifestyles and ecosystems of mammals and viruses, they highlight in a paper published in Nature Communications some of the potentially most potent combinations where different coronaviruses could meet and spawn a new breakout. Not just looking for the more quotidian viral mutations the world is increasingly and unfortunately aware of, they have been looking instead for those species where something called homologous recombination between two different viruses, producing a third completely novel type, may occur. It turns out there are many possibilities beyond just bats, which are highly suspected of being the crucible in which SARS-CoV2 was smelted. To spot whatever comes next we should keep an eye on camels, rabbits, palm civets and even hedgehogs, according to the algorithm. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with the Open University.

    Meeting Mars, Melting Ice, Ozone on the Mend Again, and A Sea Cacophany

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 11, 2021 41:09

    Victoria Gill and guests discuss the signs and symptoms of melting ice and anthropogenic climate warming, illicit CFC production and the racket we make in the seas. As two robotic missions from UAE and China arrive at Mars , and a third from NASA arrives next week, UK astronaut Tim Peake talks of the international collaboration in Mars research that is to come. And continuing BBC Inside Science's look at some of the issues facing COP26 delegates to Glasgow this autumn, Victoria is joined by cryosphere scientist Dr Anna Hogg, Anna studies – sometimes from space - how polar and Greenland ice sheets are melting and shifting as our climate warms. But those giant volumes of ice and concomitant rising sea levels might not be the only threat to people’s lives. It may be that the recent deadly flash flood in India was a result of a swiftly melting Himalayan glacier. The Montreal treaty - prohibiting the production of CFCs to allow the man-made polar hole in the Ozone layer identified back in the 1980s to repair - has long been cited as the classic example of an effective international agreement to protect earth's environment. But just a few years ago in 2018 Luke Western and colleagues identified not just that CFC production was suddenly and unexpectedly rising, but that it was mainly emanating from an area in eastern China. It was speculated then that their use in foams for buildings was happening illicitly on a large scale. This week, they happily announce that those emissions seem to have ceased, and that the target of a healthy ozone layer is back on track. The oceans are, since man first took to the waves, a noisy place. In a comprehensive paper published last week in the journal Science Carlos Duarte and colleagues describe how huge an impact the many anthropogenic noises that echo for miles across the sea beds have on virtually all aquatic life. He argues that it is one stressor, rather like CFCs, that we could and should take swift and effective action to address, that the time for that is ripe, and that doing so will see a swift rebound in many aquatic ecosystems. Humans are not naturally adapted to hear the noise underwater, but to illustrate the point, co-author digital artist Jana Winderen has made an acoustic demonstration for your benefit, of quite how noisy neighbours we are Also, for listeners on BBC Sounds, the BBC's Roland Pease gives an update on where and how scientists think the covid-19 epidemic began, after a WHO team of scientists report on their recent mission to Wuhan and the infamous market. As Roland and WHO delegate Peter Daszak surmise, we still don't quite know, but it wasn't in a lab. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University.

    Putting a number on biodiversity

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 4, 2021 41:34

    Ahead of the COP summit in Glasgow at the end of the year, this week an important study was published that attempts to enumerate the value of biodiversity in the economics of humankind. Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta's review makes it clear how essential and yet vulnerable it is. Trees play a large part in the biosystems of the planet, and replanting them is often touted as a solution to many of the carbon challeneges of the next century. But a paper and forthcoming conference hosted by Kew points out just how carefully reforestation - let alone afforestation - must be conducted. Kew tree expert Kate Hardwick tells Victoria about their 10 golden rules of planting trees. In a forest in Borneo, trees have been planted that will extract the high levels of Nickel from the local soil. It is hoped that the biomass from the trees can then be used to harvest the nickel. It is an attempt to commercialize successfully the dreams of "phytomining" - finding specific crops or traits in plants that can act to "hyperaccumulate" minerals and metals from soils. BBC Inside Science's Harrison Lewis reports how, after some intrepid botany, the idea might just now be bearing heavy fruit. But finding the plants that do some of what you want them to does not mean they should be planted just anywhere. Lulu Zhang from United Nations University in Dresden, Germany tells Victoria about the Chinese experience of a few decades ago when the Black Lotus tree seemed to be just the ticket for newly foresting huge areas of China to stabilize and neutralize soils. Unfortunately, nobody realized how thirsty the monocultured forest would be, and the thirsty trees deprived the area of much of the rainwater from humans and agriculture. Meanwhile this week scientists have published work looking at how even the noise from traffic on the roads can disrupt animal behaviour. Chris Templeton of Pacific University in Oregon has been studying how some bird's cognititve abilities can be affected. And Adam Bent describes work at Anglia Ruskin University into how crickets' mating choices can be adversely affected by recordings of the A14 near Cambridge. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University

    Next Gen Covid Vaccines; Man's Oldest Bestest Friend; Bilingual Brain Development

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 28, 2021 35:54

    A year after the first SARS-Cov2 sequences were received in the vaccine labs, Dr Alex Lathbridge and guests look into ongoing development and what next year's booster shots might be like. Prof Robin Shattock's team at Imperial College are still working on their vaccine technology - called 'Self Amplifying RNA' or saRNA. A little bit behind their well financed corporate colleagues, this week they announced that instead of pressing ahead with a phase III trial, they will instead look to developing possible boosters and alternative targets just in case more and more serious mutations happen. But as Prof Anna Blakney explains from her lab at University of British Columbia, the possibilities of saRNA don't stop with coronaviruses. Researchers in the journal PNAS report this week a new theory as to when and where dogs were first domesticated by humans, and suggest that they accompanied the first humans across the Bering straight into America. Inside Science's Geoff Marsh has a sniff around. And Dr Dean D'Souza from Anglia Ruskin University describes in Science Advances work he has done looking at certain kinds of development in children who grow up in bilingual households. His work suggests a slightly faster and keener observation of detailed changes in visual cues, and that this seems to be a trait that survives into adulthood. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University

    Vaccine Hesitancy and Ethnicity; The Joy of catnip; Lake Heatwaves

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 21, 2021 30:57

    Reports this week talk of some BAME ethnic minorities being significantly less likely to take a covid vaccine if offered. Vittal Katikireddi and Tolullah Oni both sit on the SAGE ethnicity subgroup, and they discuss with Alex Lathbridge where the figures come from and quite what they might mean. And yet some of these same groups have suffered some of the worst outcomes from infection. Addressing any underlying problems that bely the figures will take a nuanced approach. Researchers in Japan and Liverpool have been investigating cat's prediliction for the Herb Catnip and Silver Vine. It turns out that there may well be a deep evolutionary reason they have evolved to love rubbing it in their fur so much - a key ingredient is a good mosquito repellent. As Professors Masao Miyazaki and Jane Hurst describe. It might keep the mozzies away but you might end up being talied by cats. And researcher Iestyn Woolway of the Euroopean Space Agency Climate Group, at Didcot UK, describes his work modelling the world's lakes' reaction to a warming climate over coming decades. It's not very comforting, with increased duration and intensity of what he calls "Lake Heatwaves".

    UK Science post Brexit; GMOs vs Gene Editing regulation; Identical Twins That Aren't Indentical

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 14, 2021 32:55

    In the new EU-UK deal, the UK is to be an associate member of the latest EU research funding round, known as Horizon Europe. costing around £2bn to take part, what can UK scientists now do and what has changed? UKRI CEO Otteline Leyser and the Wellcome Trust EU specialist Beth Thompson discuss ways in which UK researchers are breathing a sigh of relief. Of all the things the UK can now diverge from the EU, DEFRA is currently holding an open consultation on whether to tweak the current GMO regulations so as not to include CRISPR style Genetic Editing. The EU is coincidentally looking at the same issue. John Innes Centre's Janneke Balk works on making strains of wheat that have a higher level of iron for nutrituiional fortification. Interim head of the Roslin Institute in Scotland Bruce Whitelaw thinks developing disease resistance in farm animals is potentially profitable area. Both agree the GMO regulations should be more tightly specified to bring clarity and opportunity for innovation. In Iceland, Kari Stefansson's company Decode Genetics analyse the genetic codes of most of the population of Iceland. This has allowed them to look at the parents, siblings, and offspring of identical twins, and identify how early genetic differences between them develop. And it's very early indeed. Given that identical twins studies are so often used to address issues surrounding the so-called Nature-vs Nurture debate, the findings, published in the Journal Nature, are striking. Presenter by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with the Open University.

    Vaccine Dosing and Biodiversity Soundscape Monitoring

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 7, 2021 38:50

    After the decision by the UK government last week to change the spacing between dosings of vaccine from the recommended 3 weeks to 12 weeks, immunologists around the world have been discussing with some urgency the wisdom of such a move. The FDA and the WHO are deeply sceptical, and the manufacturers have distanced themselves to some extent, by cautioning not to deviate from the regime tested in last year's phase III trials. The thinking behind the move is to get more people injected with a single dose in a shorter time, and that the longer wait for the second shot is worth the risk, if it means more people receive some level of protection in the short term. Clinical Epidemiologist Dr Deepthi Gurdasani and Immunoligist Prof Danny Altmann of Imperial College describe to Marnie how evidence, experience and hunch are combining in the face of the covid crisis, and quite what we know, what we don't and what we could, about this nationwide experiment. Increasingly, ecologists wanting to monitor remote areas are relying on such things as solar powered audio recorders to measure biodiversity in the sounds of the wild. But how to scrutinize years and years worth of 24 hour, multi-site recordings? Sarab Sethi and colleagues have not only been leaving solar-powered Raspberry Pi recorders out in the jungles of Borneo, they've been using machine learning techniques to look out for species and biodiversity changes from afar. You can listen to some of the Borneo work at the SAFE acoustic website (link on BBC page below). Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in collaboration with the Open University.

    Brian Cox and Alice Roberts on a decade of extraordinary science

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 31, 2020 38:50

    As a new decade ticks over, Dr Adam Rutherford, Professor Alice Roberts and Professor Brian Cox look back on a decade of science that has transformed perceptions of our medicine, our history and our universe. From advances in genetics that have brought personalized medicine to reality, and revealed the ghosts of ancestral human species never before identified, to quantum computing lessons that hint at the nature of existence and causation throughout the universe, it has been an interesting time. New observational technologies have revealed fresh windows in time and space. And all of it has been reported by BBC Inside Science. But what of the next decade? Programme may contain traces of informed speculation, but (almost) no references to Covid. Presented by Adam Rutherford Produced by Melanie Brown Made in association with The Open University.

    Space Rocks, Aquatic Dinosaurs and Global Temperatures; 2020 science reviewed

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 24, 2020 32:12

    Nobody could have failed to notice the one story dominating the science news this year - but what about the discoveries that have been overshadowed in 2020? This week, Dr Adam Rutherford eschews all mentions of the pandemic as he invites dinosaur researcher Dr Susie Maidment, climate scientist Dr Tamsin Edwards and astrophysicist Dr Emma Chapman to share their science highlights of the year. We journey to the moon and beyond to discuss the many missions that have been blasting and grabbing bits of space rock to bring back to earth and tackle the ongoing debate about whether signs of life have been found on Venus. Back down on earth, this year could be one of, if not the, hottest years on record, with particularly high temperatures in the Arctic Circle. What might a warming world mean for ice-shelf collapse in Antarctica and how are governments responding? We discuss Joe Biden’s presidency, UK carbon emissions and what China’s recent announcements of net zero by 2060 might mean for the future of the planet. And despite limitations on travel this past year, exciting discoveries in the dinosaur world have nonetheless continued with what is believed to be the first aquatic dinosaur. The detection of soft shell eggs is also changing understandings of how dinosaurs reared their offspring. And if that wasn’t enough, Dr Adam Rutherford challenges our experts to predict what big science stories might lie on the horizon in 2021.

    Covid mutation; On the facial expression of emotions; A mystery object

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 17, 2020 33:15

    Dr Alex Lathbridge with your peek at the week in science. This week in the House of Commons Matt Hancock announced a new variant in the Covid virus, discovered to be spreading through the south east of the UK. As Professor Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham describes, there have been many slight mutations and changes to the DNA in the virus since it first emerged, and most are of no added danger. But it is important that new ones - and new combinations of them - are tracked through collaborations and networks such as COG-UK, who provide an almost real-time track of the spread of new mutations. The new one this week is of some interest as it involves a slight change to the protein of the binding area on the virus, but much lab work remains to be done, Is an angry face always an angry face? A paper in the Journal Nature this week uses Machine Learning to scan millions of videos of faces on YouTube to shed light on an old problem - the universality of facial expressions in people. The authors - working with Google - suggest that broadly speaking, in a number of contexts such as weddings and sporting events, people in much of the world tend to pull the same faces. But as Lisa Feldman Barrett - who wrote an accompanying commentary in the same journal - suggests, the way Machine Learning approaches in this area require very human perceptions to train the algorithm in the first place, means care must be taken before inferring too much. This year BBC Inside Science has been showcasing some of the mystery objects the Science Museum has uncovered in the course of moving its collections to a new home in Wroughton, Wiltshire. Jessica Bradford talks to Alex about our next one. If you have any ideas what it might be for, you can let them know by dropping a note or memory to Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University

    Future risk planning; Millennium Seed Bank; Urban trees

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 10, 2020 36:46

    Dr Alex Lathbridge brings you the week in science. As the first COVID vaccines are delivered this week hastening the first glimmers of a return to normal life, is it too soon to be thinking about other future threats to humanity? James Arbuthnot, chair of a House of Lords select committee tasked to look at risk planning, and fellow committee member Martin Rees discuss their meeting this week and the assessment of the scientists invited to share their interpretations of future threats like AI, solar flares and volcanic eruptions. They are inviting evidence submissions until January 28th 2021. The Millennium Seed Bank was setup as a safety net to protect and conserve rare, threatened and useful wild plants for generations to come. As it celebrates 20 years of operation it can claim to host 16 per cent of the world’s bankable flora in its sturdy underground vaults. Alex heads down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Wakehurst, Sussex, and meets the team coaxing seeds to life to check their viability or using cryopreserving on those seeds less convivial to being preserved. One key project is protecting farmed crops that have lost genetic diversity over time and are at risk from climate change. Through collecting and researching the wild ‘cousins’ of our modern day crops Wakehurst, Kew Gardens and its partners are researching and harnessing the resilient traits found in these less pampered crop relatives. is a citizen science project designed to increase understanding of all the urban tress in the UK. Scientists, together with the public, are getting their tape measures out and cataloguing the trees to better ascertain how they influence the environment in towns and cities across the UK, to map their ages, species, sizes and health, and to help future planners to put the knowledge to work. Kate Hand is a researcher at the Open University who is looking at ways to increase our knowledge of the values trees bring to our urban environments – specifically through the lens of Milton Keynes which, it transpires, is quite the urban arboretum.

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