Science In Action

By BBC World Service

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 Sep 12, 2021

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 Sep 8, 2018

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Pete Ellinger
 Aug 4, 2018
More BBC hand ringing and doom mongering. Give it a rest.

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 Aug 3, 2018


The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

Episode Date
Icelandic volcano erupts again
We talk to volcano scientist Ed Marshall in Iceland about working at the volcano which has burst into life spectacularly again after a year of quiet. Also in the programme, we'll be following migrating moths across Europe in light aircraft to discover the remarkable secrets of their powers of navigation, and hearing how synthetic biology promises to create smarter and more adaptable genetically engineered crops. (Image: Lava spews from the volcano in Fagradalsfjall. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 11, 2022
Synthetic mouse embryos with brains and hearts
This week two research groups announced that they have made synthetic mouse embryos that developed brains and beating hearts in the test tube, starting only with embryonic stem cells. No sperm and eggs were involved. Previously, embryos created this way have never got beyond the stage of being a tiny ball of cells. These embryos grew and developed organs through 8 days – more than a third of the way through the gestation period for a mouse. Roland Pease talks to the leader of one of the teams, developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz of Cambridge University and Caltech about how and why they did this, and the ethical issues around this research. Also in the programme: the latest research on how we spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus when we breathe. Infectious disease researcher Kristen Coleman of the University of Maryland tells us about her experiments that have measured the amounts of virus in the tiny aerosol particles emanating from the airways of recently infected people. The results underscore the value of mask-wearing and effective ventilation in buildings. We also hear about new approaches to vaccines against the virus – Kevin Ng of the Crick Institute in London talks about the possibility of a universal coronavirus vaccine based on his research, and immunologist Akiko Iwasaki of Yale University extolls the advantages of nasal vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. (Image: Stem cell built mouse embryo at 8 days. Credit: Zernicka-Goetz Lab) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 04, 2022
The first galaxies at the universe's dawn
In the last week, teams of astronomers have rushed to report ever deeper views of the universe thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. These are galaxies of stars more than 13.5 billion light years from us and we see them as they were when the universe was in its infancy, less than 300 million years after the Big Bang. As University of Texas astronomer Steve Finkelstein tell us, there are some real surprises in these glimpses of the cosmic dawn. The super-distant galaxy that Steve's group has identified is named after his daughter Maisie. Also in the programme: a 550 million year old fossil which is much the oldest representative of a large group of animals still with us today. The early jellyfish relative lived at a time known as the Ediacaran period when all other known complex organisms were weird, alien-looking lifeforms with no surviving descendants. Roland Pease talks palaeontologist Frankie Dunn at the University of Oxford who's led the study of Auroralumina attenboroughii. Did the cultural invention of romantic kissing five thousand years ago lead to the spread of today's dominant strain of the cold sore virus (Herpes simplex 1) across Europe and Asia? That's the hypothesis of a team of virologists and ancient DNA experts who've been studying viral DNA remnants extracted from four very old teeth. Cambridge University's Charlotte Houldcroft explains the reasoning. Image: Maisie's Galaxy aka CEERSJ141946.35-525632.8. Credit: CEERS Collaboration Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 28, 2022
Heat waves in the Northern Hemisphere
The extreme heat wave in western Europe over the last couple of weeks is just one of many in the Northern Hemisphere in 2022. How is global warming changing the atmosphere to make heat waves more frequent and more intense? We talk to climatologists Hannah Cloke, Friederike Otto and Efi Rousi. If we want to stabilise global warming to two degrees by the end of the century, how are we going to do that? One novel idea is to harness the world's vast railway infrastructure and equip freight and passenger trains with an additional special wagon or two. These extra cars would be designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, liquify it and transport it to sequestration sites. Critically all the energy to capture the carbon dioxide comes free from regenerative braking on the trains. University of Toronto chemist Geoff Ozin and Eric Bachman, founder of the start-up CO2 Rail, explain the vision. On the 40th anniversary of the International Whaling Commissions announcing an end to commercial whaling, we hear from Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler about the high seas campaign in the 1970s that helped prevent the extinction of the great whales. He talks about the contribution to the cause made by the discovery of whale song, and the release of humpback whale recordings as a commercial disc. (Image: Firefighter trucks burning during a wildfire on the Mont d'Arrees, outside Brasparts, western France, 19 July 2022. Credit: LOIC VENANCE/ AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Andrew Luck-Baker Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 21, 2022
First images from the James Webb Space Telescope
Roland Pease talks to two astronomers who began working on the James Webb Space Telescope more than two decades ago and have now seen the first spectacular results of their labours. Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona and JWST's senior project scientist John Mather discuss the highlights of the first four images. Also in the programme, geologists discover precisely where on the Red Planet the most ancient Martian meteorite came from - we speak to Anthony Lagain whose detective work identified the crater from which the rock was ejected into space. And what causes vast areas of the Indian Ocean to glow with strange light - a rare and mysterious phenomenon known as 'milky seas'? The world is a step closer to understanding this centuries' old maritime enigma thanks to the crew of a yacht sailing south of Java, atmospheric scientist Steven Miller and marine microbiologist Kenneth Nealson. Image: The Southern Ring Nebula Credit: NASA/STScI Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 14, 2022
Long Covid ‘brain fog’
Following a bout of Covid-19, a significant number of people suffer with weeks or months of 'brain fog' - poor concentration, forgetfulness, and confusion. This is one of the manifestations of Long Covid. A team of scientists in the United States has now discovered that infection in the lung can trigger an inflammatory response which then causes patterns of abnormal brain cell activity. It’s the kind of brain cell dysregulation also seen in people who experience cognitive problems following chemotherapy for cancer. Also in the programme, the latest discoveries about the asteroid Bennu from the Osiris Rex mission, how Malayasian farmers led US researchers to a botanical discovery, and a new explanation for why dinosaurs took over the world 200 million years ago. (Image: System of neurons with glowing connections. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 07, 2022
Extreme heat death risk in Latin America
A new analysis of deaths in cities across Latin America suggests rising global temperatures could lead to large numbers of deaths in the region and elsewhere in the world. Even a 1-degree rise in extreme heat can add 6% to the risk of dying. Lead researcher Josiah Kephart at Drexel University tells Roland Pease the lessons from Latin America should apply to cities across the global south. Brazilian ecologist Andreas Meyer talks about the troubling prospects for the health of ecosystems, particularly in tropical regions, if the world does not cut its fossil fuel emissions hard and fast in the next few years. In the USA, a team of engineers and neurosurgeons are developing a radical new approach for targeted pain relief – in the first instance, for patients recovering from surgery. It’s a flexible implant that wraps around a nerve and cools it to prevent it from transmitting pain signals. What’s more, says bioengineer John Rogers, the implant is made of a material designed to have dissolved safely into the body by the time its pain-killing work is done. Geologist Bob Hazen has spent more than a decade producing a new classification system for the 5,700 minerals known to exist on the Earth. It improves on the pre-existing scheme by taking into account the myriad ways that many minerals have come into being. He tells Roland that this new way of categorising minerals lays bare a 4.5 billion-year history of remarkable chemical and biological creativity. (Image: Rio de Janeiro City. Credit: Pintai Suchachaisri/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 30, 2022
Monster microbe
Researchers have discovered a species of bacteria which dwarfs all others by thousands of times. Normally you need a microscope to see single-celled bacteria, but Thiomargarita magnifica is the length and width of an eyelash. It's been found growing in mangrove swamps in the Caribbean. Roland Pease talks to Jean Marie Volland about what makes this Godzilla of the microbial world extra-special. Also in the programme, a new study published in the journal Nature has discovered that women scientists are less likely than their male peers to be credited for their contributions to research projects. Roland discusses the findings with the study leader Julia Lane of New York University and nanoscientist Shobhana Narasimhan in Bangalore. We also find out about the oldest evidence for wildfires on the planet which raged across the land 430 million years ago, with palaeobotanist Ian Glasspool. And Edinburgh University vertebrate palaeontologist Steve Brusatte talks about some of the evolutionary wonders in his new book The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. (Image: Thiomargarita magnifica. © The Regents of the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 23, 2022
Thirty years after the Earth Summit
Thirty years ago, world leaders met at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio and appeared to commit to action to tackle two of the world's greatest environmental threats. The Earth Summit launched the UN Climate Change Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Science in Action assesses their success by talking to atmospheric scientist Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the International Panel of Climate Change, and to Tom Oliver, professor of applied ecology at the University of Reading, decades on. Also, Arctic zoologist Kristin Laidre tells us about the identification of an unique population of polar bears in south-east Greenland. The bears’ unusual habitat and means of survival may make them more resilient to the loss of sea ice as the Arctic region continues to warm. Finally, archaeo-geneticist Maria Spyrou talks about her team’s detective work which points to an area of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia as the likely source of the 14th Century Black Death pandemic. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Photo: Earth Summit In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 2 June, 1992. Credit: Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)
Jun 16, 2022
Body scan reveals HIV's hideouts
Researchers have developed a medical imaging technique which reveals where in the body HIV lies hidden, even when people have their infection well controlled by antiviral drugs. The team at the University of California, San Francisco hope this will lead to better treatments and even cures for HIV. As Timothy Henrich told us, they are also going to use the technique to investigate the notion that Long Covid is caused by the coronavirus persisting deep in the body's tissues. Also in the programme, Roland Pease reports from the vast particle accelerator in Switzerland where the famous Higgs particle was discovered ten years ago. The scientists there are preparing to begin experiments with an upgraded Large Hadron Collider to learn more about the particle and the fundamental nature of the Universe. Roland also talks to Frank Close, physicist and author of 'Elusive' - a new biography of Peter Higgs, a scientist as elusive as the particle named after him. Finally an international team of archaeologists have revised the ancient history of the chicken, with a new programme of radiocarbon dating and analysis of buried bird bones. Humanity's relationship with the bird began much more recently than some researchers have suggested. Naomi Sykes of Exeter University and Greger Larson of Oxford University tell Roland when, where and how the domestication began and how the birds spread from Southeast Asia to the rest of the world. Image: VRCPET body scan reveals HIV's hideouts Credit: Timothy Henrich / University of California, San Francisco Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 09, 2022
Should we worry about the latest Omicron subvariants?
Should we worry about the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA 4 and BA5? They are the subtypes of the Covid-19 virus now dominant in southern Africa and spreading elsewhere. New research suggests that they are better at evading our antibody defences than other forms of the virus. Columbia University virologist David Ho explains the findings and what they means for us. Also, reducing air pollution makes agricultural crops grow better, how large wildfires warm the upper atmosphere, and the dolphins in the Red Sea which use secretions from corals and sponges as preventative medicines. Image Description: Coronavirus COVID-19 virus Credit: Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 02, 2022
Heat death by volcano and other stories
Science in Action this week comes from a vast gathering of earth scientists in Vienna, at the general assembly of the European Geosciences Union. Roland Pease hears the latest insights into the cataclysmic eruption of Hunga Tonga in the Pacific ocean from volcanologist Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland. He also talks to NASA's Michael Way about how the planet Venus might have acquired its hellish super-greenhouse atmosphere, and how the same thing could happen to planet Earth. There’s intriguing research from geologist John Tarduno of the University of Rochester that hints of a link between the ups and downs of the Earth’s magnetic field and the evolutionary history of animals. Fraser Lott of the UK's Hadley Centre explains his ideas for calculating an individual person's responsibility for climate change-driven extreme weather events. Image: Multi-beam sonar map of Hunga Tonga volcano post-eruption Credit: Shane Cronin/Uni of Auckland/Tonga Geological Services Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
May 26, 2022
Death in the rainforest
Tree mortality in tropical moist forests in Australia has been increasing since the mid 1980s. The death rate of trees appears to have doubled over that time period. According to an international team of researchers, the primary cause is drier air in these forests, the consequence of human-induced climate change. According to ecologist David Bauman, a similar process is likely underway in tropical forests on other continents. Also in the programme: the outbreaks of monkeypox in Europe and North America… Could SARS-CoV-2 infection lingering in the gut be a cause of Long Covid? News of a vaccine against Epstein Barr virus, the cause of mononucleosis, various cancers and multiple sclerosis. Image: Credit: Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
May 19, 2022
Portrait of the monster black hole at our galaxy’s heart
The heaviest thing in the Galaxy has now been imaged by the biggest telescope on Earth. This is Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy – a gas and star-consuming object, a 4 million times the mass of the Sun. The Event Horizon Telescope is not one device but a consortium of radio telescopes ranging from the South Pole to the Arctic Circle. Their combined data allowed astronomers to focus in on this extreme object for the first time. Astronomer Ziri Younsi from University College London talks to Roland Pease about the orange doughnut image causing all the excitement. Also in the programme… Climatologist Chris Funk talks about the role of La Niña and climate change in the record-breaking two year drought that continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in East Africa. Was a pig virus to blame for the death of the first patient to receive a pig heart transplant? We talk to the surgeon and scientist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who led the historic animal to human transplant operation this year. How easy will it be to grow plants in lunar soil on future moon bases? Plant biologist Anna Lisa Paul has been testing the question in her lab at the University of Florida, Gainesville, with cress seeds and lunar regolith collected by the Apollo missions. Photo: First image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy Credit: EHT Collaboration, Southern European Observatory Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
May 12, 2022
Mekong Delta will sink beneath the sea by 2100
The Mekong Delta is home to 17 million people and is Vietnam’s most productive agricultural region. An international group of scientists warn this week that almost all of the low lying delta will have sunk beneath the sea within 80 years without international action. Its disappearance is the result of both sea level rise and developments such as dams and sand mining. Also in the programme: using the rumbling of traffic in Mexico City to monitor earthquake hazard, record-breaking quakes on Mars and a record-breaking high jumping robot. Photo: Mekong River in Kampong Cham, Cambodia Credit: Muaz Jaffar/EyeEm/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
May 05, 2022
The Indian subcontinent’s record-breaking heatwave
Deadly heat has been building over the Indian sub-continent for weeks and this week reached crisis levels. India experienced its hottest March on record and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (and in some places approaching 50 degrees) are making it almost impossible for 1.4 billion people to work. It’s damaging crops and it’s just what climate scientists have been warning about. Roland Pease talks to Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar about the impact and causes of the unprecedented heatwave. What could be behind the incidence of hepatitis in young children around the world in recent months? Ordinarily, liver disease in childhood is extremely rare. Could a virus normally associated with colds be responsible or is the Covid virus involved? Roland Pease talks to virologist William Irving of Nottingham University. Also in the programme: how climate change is increasing the likelihood of animal viruses jumping the species barrier to humans with global change modeller Colin Carlson of Georgetown University, and myths about the personalities of dog breeds are exploded with new research by Elinor Karlsson of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. (Photo: Woman cooling herself in India heatwave Credit: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Apr 28, 2022
Climate techno-fix would worsen global malaria burden
As a series of UN climate reports have warned recently, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – a halving over the next decade – are needed if we are to keep global warming down to manageable levels. No sign of that happening. An emergency measure to buy time that’s sometimes discussed is solar geoengineering – creating an atmospheric sunscreen that reduces incoming solar heat. Sulphate compounds in volcanic gases or in industrial fumes attract water vapour to make a fine haze and have that effect. The difference would be starting a deliberate programme of injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere. There are a host of arguments against it, including a revulsion against adding another pollutant to the atmosphere to offset the one, carbon dioxide, that’s giving us problems in the first place. Another objection, outlined this week, is that it could set back the global fight against malaria - a major killer in its own right. University of Cape Town ecologist Chris Trisos tells Roland Pease what his team’s modelling study revealed. Yale University neurologist Kevin Sheth talks to us about a revolution in medical scanning – small-scale MRI machines that can be wheeled to the patient’s bedside. According to palaeontologist Maria McNamara, an amazingly preserved pterosaur fossil from Brazil proves that some of these flying reptiles did have feathers similar to those of birds (and some dinosaurs), and that the feathers were of different colours, possibly for mating display. Primatologist Adrian Barnett has discovered that spider monkeys in one part of the Brazilian Amazon seek out fruit, full of live maggots to eat. Why? Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Photo: Illustration of a mosquito biting Credit: SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
Apr 21, 2022
How ‘magic mushroom’ chemical treats depression
Brain scanning experiments reveal how psilocybin works to relieve severe depression. Psilocybin is the psychedelic substance in 'magic mushrooms'. The psychoactive chemical is currently in clinical trials in the UK and US as a potential treatment for depression and other mental illnesses. Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London tells Roland about the research Also in the show, worrying findings about the increase in premature deaths because of air pollution in growing cities in tropical Africa and Asia. An international group of climatologists has found that the tropical storms which struck Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar in early 2022 had been made more intense by human-induced climate change. And astronomer David Jewitt used the Hubble telescope to measure the largest known comet in the solar system - it's huge at about 120 kilometres across. (Image: Mexican Psilocybe Cubensis. An adult mushroom raining spores. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Apr 14, 2022
Tsunami detective in Tonga
Just over two months ago, the undersea volcano of Hunga Tonga erupted catastrophically, generating huge tsunamis and covering the islands of Tonga in ash. University of Auckland geologist Shane Cronin is now in Tonga, trying to piece together the sequence of violent events. Edinburgh University palaeontologist Ornella Bertrand tells us about her studies of the ancient mammals that inherited the Earth after the dinosaurs were wiped out. To her surprise, in the first 10 million years after the giant meteorite struck, natural selection favoured larger-bodied mammals, not smarter ones. At the University of Bristol, a team of engineers are developing skin for robots, designed to give future bots a fine sense of touch. Roland shakes hands with a prototype. A global satellite survey of the world’s largest coastal cities finds that most of them contain areas that are subsiding faster than the rate that the sea level is rising. Some cities are sinking more than ten times faster, putting many millions of people at an ever-increasing risk of flooding. Oceanographer Steven D’Hondt at the University of Rhode Island explains why this is happening. (Image: An eruption occurs at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha"apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022. Credit: Tonga Geological Services/via Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Apr 07, 2022
Radioactive Red Forest
Russian forces in the forested exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear site may be receiving potentially dangerous levels of radiation. After the nuclear accident trees were felled and radioactive material was buried across the site. As the forest regrew its took up much of that radiation - making it the most radioactive forest in the world according to Tom Scott from Bristol University who studies radiation levels in the region. The troop's activities, from digging trenches to lighting fires as missiles are fired, may be releasing radiation. Its unclear how dangerous this is, but those with the greatest and most immediate exposure risk are the troops themselves. Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef has suffered a mass bleaching event – where coral can be killed by rising temperatures. This is the latest in a series of such events which also affect other reefs. Kate Quigley from The Australian Institute of Marine Science is working to breed corals that can be more heat tolerant. However, she says this is not a solution in itself without addressing climate change and continued ocean warming. Understanding the human genome has reached a new milestone, with a new analysis that digs deep into areas previously dismissed as ‘junk DNA’ but which may actually play a key role in diseases such as cancer and a range of developmental conditions. Karen Miga from the University of California, Santa Cruz is one of the leaders of the collaboration behind the new findings. And can fish do maths? Yes according to Vera Schlussel from the University of Bonn. Her group managed to train fish in both addition and subtraction. (Image: Radiation hazard sign in Pripyat, a ghost town in northern Ukraine, evacuated the day after the Chernobyl disaster. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 31, 2022
Warming world
Unseasonably high temperatures have been recorded in both polar regions. Glaciologist Ruth Mottram discusses why they might be occurring now and the potential impact on her own work measuring climate change in Greenland. Erica Ollmann Saphire from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology tells us about her work developing new treatments for Ebola, she is looking to develop drugs which work not just on Ebola but also a range of related Viruses. And Eugene Koonin from the United States National Institutes of Health shows us how his computer modelling of the mutations of Sars Cov -2 suggest some good news - that the virus might not be able to mutate into further dangerous forms – at least not with its current set of genetic tools. Eugene is originally from Russia and both he and President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren are keen to keep up ties with scientists in Russia despite the international sanctions now being applied over the war in Ukraine. Both point out that many Russian scientists have opposed the war, and that curtailing scientific collaboration could have a detrimental effect not just on science in Russia but elsewhere as well. Image: Penguins on an ice float, Paradise Harbor, also known as Paradise Bay, behind Lemaire and Bryde Islands in Antarctica. Credit: Leamus via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Mar 24, 2022
Covid in the sewers
Analysis of wastewater from sewage systems has provided an early warning system for the presence of Covid-19 in communities – showing up in the water samples before people test positive. It’s also possible to identify the variants and even specific genetic mutations. Davida Smyth of Texas A&M University has been using this technique in New York and found intriguing results - forms of the virus not present in humans. The suggestion is that mutated forms may be infecting other animals, possibly those present in the sewers. An analysis of long Covid, symptoms of fatigue, and ‘brain fog’ which occur long after initial infection, show that around a quarter of those infected develop these symptoms. Lucy Cheke of Cambridge University discusses the implications. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of the region in supplying raw materials and energy to other countries, gas, cereal crops, and fertilisers in particular. As crop scientist John Hammond from Reading University explains, the stopping of fertiliser exports from Russia, in particular, could impact food security in many countries. And with unseasonal fires already burning in the Western US Caroline Juang of Columbia University’s Earth Observatory gives us her analysis of the driving factors in the intensification of fires year-on-year. (Image: USA, New York, steam coming out from sewer. Credit: Westend61/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 17, 2022
Why are Covid-19 cases rising in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong had been very successful at preventing the spread of Covid-19. Testing and isolation measures were very effective. However, vaccine uptake was low amongst elderly people and that says virologist Malik Peiris has now left them vulnerable to the highly infectious Omicron variant. The bombing of a scientific institute in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv has echoes of the Stalinist purges says physicist and historical Mikhail Shifman. He tells us how the institute developed as a leading centre for physics in the 1930s, but scientists there fled or were murdered after being targeted by Stalin’s regime. Economic sanctions and other measures designed to isolate Russia are likely to have an impact on Russian participation in international scientific collaborations. Nikolay Voronin from the BBC’s Russian Service gives us his assessment of the immediate impact and, if the conflict continues long term, the potential for Russian science to retreat the kind of isolation last seen during the cold war. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Patients wearing face masks rest at a makeshift treatment area outside a hospital, following a Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, 2 March, 2022. Credit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
Mar 10, 2022
Covid -19 origins
Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Market is associated with many of the first cases or Covid- 19, but data on precisely how and from where the virus might have first spread has been difficult to find. However a re-examination of the earliest samples collected from the market seem to pinpoint where the virus first showed itself. Sydney University virologist Eddie Holmes says this evidence will be crucial in determining which animals may have initially passed the virus to humans. Humans are known to have passed the Sars-Cov-2 virus to other animals, including cats, mink and deer. Canadian researchers have recorded the first incident of a modified form of the virus passing back from deer to humans. Virologist Samira Mubareka from the University of Toronto explains the implications. Chernobyl, the site of the worlds worst nuclear accident is back in the news as the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a stirring up of nuclear material when troops entered the site. Ukraine has a number of nuclear reactors, Claire Corkhill, professor of nuclear materials at Sheffield University explains the potential risks from the current conflict and safeguards in place. And we hear from Svitlana Krakovska Ukraine's representative on the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change, on her thoughts on the prospects for climate action and scientific progress in Ukraine. Image: Disinfection Work At Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, China 4 March 2020. Credit: Zhang Chang / China News Service via Getty Images. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 03, 2022
Reforming the ‘China Initiative’
A scheme in the US designed to prevent industrial espionage and the theft of intellectual property, is to be refocused after it was accused of unfairly targeting Chinese American scientists. We speak to Gang Chen, a professor from MIT who was falsely accused of financial crimes, and Holden Thorp Editor in Chief of the Journal Science who tells us why the ‘China Initiative’ is at odds with the reality of international scientific collaboration. And a huge study of farmed animals in China, from raccoon dogs to porcupines and Asian badgers, reveals that they carry a wide range of pathogens, including forms of avian flu and coronaviruses. Virologist Eddie Holmes from the University of Sydney, who was involved in the analysis, says these viruses may have the potential to jump species and infect humans – possibly leading to another pandemic. (Image: Students. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Feb 24, 2022
Bone repair from Covid-19 vaccine technology
Messenger RNA-based vaccines have been used successfully to kick start the antibody production needed to fight Covid-19. Now the technology has been successfully used to encourage the growth of new bones to heal severe fractures. The technique seems to work far better than the current alternatives says Maastricht University’s Elizabeth Rosado Balmayor. Ivory smuggling continues to be a lucrative business for international criminal gangs, however, DNA techniques to trace where ivory seized by law enforcement authorities originates are now so accurate that individual animals can be pinpointed to within a few hundred miles. This says Samuel Wasser at the University of Washington, can be used as evidence against those ivory trafficking gangs. And we look at development in attempts to detect and weigh neutrinos, elusive subatomic particles essential to our understanding of the makeup of the universe. Physicist Diana Parno from Carnegie Mellon University takes us through the latest findings. Philologists have borrowed a statistical method from ecology to try and work out how much medieval romantic literature has been lost. The results seem to depend on which languages were involved, and like ecological systems, whether they were shared in isolated communities says Oxford University’s Katarzyna Kapitan (Photo: A doctor points to a x-ray of a woman's hand broken small metacarpal bone. Credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Feb 17, 2022
Inside Wuhan's coronavirus lab
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the centre of a controversy surrounding the origins of the virus which caused the Covid-19 pandemic. The work of the lab's previously obscure division looking at bat coronaviruses has been the subject of massive speculation and misinformation campaigns. Journalist and former biomedical scientist Jane Qiu has gained unique access to the lab. She has interviewed the staff there extensively and tells us what she found on her visits. And Tyler Starr from the Fred Hutchinson Institute in Seattle, has looked at a range of bat coronaviruses from around the world, looking to see whether they might have the capability to jump to humans in the future. He found many more than previously thought that either have or are potentially just a few mutations away from developing this ability. Nuclear fusion researchers at the 40-year-old Joint European Torus facility near Oxford in the UK for just the 3rd time in its long history, put fully-fledged nuclear fuel, a mixture of hydrogen isotopes, into the device, and got nuclear energy out – 59 megajoules. They used a tiny amount of fuel to make this in comparison with coal or gas. A survey of Arctic waters under ice near the North pole has revealed a colony of giant sponges, feeding on fossilised worms. Deep-Sea Ecologists Autun Purser at the Alfred-Wegener-Institut and Teresa Maria Morganti from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology tells us about the discovery. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Image: Getty Images)
Feb 10, 2022
Identifying a more infectious HIV variant
We’re 40 years into the AIDS pandemic, and even with massive public health campaigns, still, 1 ½ million become infected with HIV each year; about half that number die of its ravages. And a study just out shows that this well-understood virus can still take on more worrying forms as a new variant has been uncovered. Although the total number of cases involved is small, and the new variant is as treatable as earlier strains, the finding underlines that viruses can become more infectious and more virulent. Back in October 2020, before we had effective vaccines, 36 plucky volunteers agreed to be deliberately infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to better understand the infection process and outcomes in what’s known as a human “challenge” trial. Dr. Chris Chiu from Imperial College reveals what they’ve learned now the results of the study are in. We’ll hear about a new plastic that’s stronger than steel and as many gardeners have long suspected, – spring-flowering has over many years been occurring earlier and earlier, at least according to a new UK study. We discuss the implications for the ecosystem. Presenter: Roland Pease Producers: Julian Siddle and Rami Tzabar (Image: 3D illustration of HIV virus. Credit: Artem Egorov/Getty Images)
Feb 03, 2022
The roots of Long Covid
There are now a number of biological indicators for the potential development of long covid. Immunologist Onur Boyman of Zurich University Hospital and Claire Steves, Clinical Senior Lecturer at King’s College London strives to tell us how pinpointing these factors is now helping in the development of strategies to predict the syndrome and prepare treatment. The James Webb telescope has reached its final orbit. The years of planning, preparation and rehearsal seem to have paid off. The telescope is now ready to begin its mission of looking back into the early universe. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos has followed the mission. The widely held view that human development was propelled by our ancestors developing a taste for meat is being questioned by a new analysis of the fossil record. Paleoanthropologist Andrew Barr of George Washington University suggests part of the reason for this assumption is the sampling method, actively looking for evidence to support the hypothesis. And Michael Boudoin of Lille University has led a team of physicists who have produced the longest-lasting soap bubble ever – they managed to prevent the bubble from popping for well over a year. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Image credit: Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images)
Jan 27, 2022
Tonga eruption – how it happened
The effects of the Tonga eruption could be felt around the world, many heard the boom of a sonic shock, and tsunami waves travelled far and wide. Volcanologist Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland in New Zealand is one of only a handful of people to have landed on the tiny islands above the volcano where the eruption took place. Those islands have now sunk beneath the waves but Shane tells us what he found when he went there and how his findings could inform what happens next. Stephan Grilli from the School of Ocean Engineering at the University of Rhode Island joins us from Toulon in France where he felt the effects of the shockwave and Tsunami. He says the force of the shockwave drove those waves worldwide. The oceans have continued to warm, producing continuous record temperature rises for several years now. That’s the finding of Michael Mann of the University of Pennsylvania and author of The New Climate Wars. He says warming occurred last year despite the presence of global weather patterns which would usually have a cooling effect. The long-term effects of covid-19 on health are a cause of growing concern even though in many places the virus itself now appears to be taking on a milder form. Yale University neuroscientist Serena Spudich is particularly concerned with covid’s impact on the brain. She says while the SARS- CoV-2 virus might not be found in brain cells themselves there are neurological impacts. (Image: Tonga Geological Services/via Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Jan 20, 2022
Have we got it wrong on Omicron?
Studies using swabs from coronavirus patients seem to contradict earlier findings from cell cultures which showed Omicon replicated faster than earlier variants. As Benjamin Meyer from the centre for Vaccinology at the University of Geneva, explains there may be other reasons why omicron is spreading faster not just how quickly it reproduces. Predicting how the pandemic will develop is not possible, however predicting what individual mutations in the virus may develop and the impact they might have individually and collectively is getting closer, Cyrus Maher and Amalio Telenti of the biotech company Vir, have developed a way to model potential future viral mutations which they hope will now be used by many scientists worldwide looking to understand the virus. There are concerns that other viruses may be on the rise, bird flu in particular, which as Nicola Lewis of the Royal Veterinary College explains is now spreading to part of the world where it is not usually seen, and infecting other animals as well as birds. And we’ve news of a massive collection of nests – at the bottom of the sea, Deep sea Ecologist Autun Perser describes how he found them in Antarctica. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 13, 2022
Corbevax – A vaccine for the world?
Corbevax, which is being produced in India, is grown in yeast in a similar way to several other widely available vaccines. The technology used to make it is far simpler and much more readily available than that used to produce mRNA vaccines. In theory, Corbevax could be produced cheaply in large quantities to improve Covid-19 vaccine availability around the world. It was developed by a team from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, including Maria Elena Bottazzi. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are thought to have emerged in response to the use of antibiotics. The discovery of a superbug living on the skin of hedgehogs has challenged this view. The superbug is thought to have been living with hedgehogs long before antibiotics were discovered. Jesper and Anders Larsen at the Danish State Serum Institute in Copenhagen explain. Modifying viruses, using them to infect or kill pest organisms is an attractive proposition. However, there are concerns about what might happen when they are released, particularly over their ability to mutate and evolve, says Filippa Lentzos from Kings College Department of Global Health and Social Medicine in London. And The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew have released the names of over 200 new species of plants and fungi discovered last year. Mycologist Tuula Niskanen and botanist Martin Cheek tell us more. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 06, 2022
2021: The year of variants
In our first programme of the year, we gathered a group of scientific experts directly involved in analysing the structure and impact of the SARS- Cov-2 coronavirus. There were concerns over the emergence of two new variants, Alpha and Beta, especially whether these variants might spread more quickly, or outmanoeuvre the suite of new vaccines that were about to be rolled out. Now the same questions are being asked about the Omicron variant’s ability to spread and overcome our defences. We’ve invited the same scientists back to give us their assessment of our journey with Covid-19 over the past year, and discuss their findings on Omicron. The programme features: Ravi Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge Tulio de Oliveira, Professor of Bioinformatics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa Dr Allie Greaney from the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine Professor Jeremy Luban from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle Image: Local residents queue to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Parkhurst, Johannesburg (Credit: Luca Sola/AFP via Getty Images)
Dec 30, 2021
Omicron – mild or monster?
Studies from South Africa and the UK suggest Omicron may be a mild infection for the majority of people. Hospital admissions are down when compared with other variants. However, the virus is replicating at a much faster rate than earlier variants and is able to overcome vaccines to some extent. Cases studies so far have mainly been in young people. There is concern over what will now happen as Omicron spreads across Europe and the US where there are older unvaccinated populations. Anne von Gottberg from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases tells us what early results from studies there show and discusses the implications. Typhoon Rai in the Philippines led to the loss of many lives and even destroyed buildings designed to resist such extreme weather events. Could more have been done either to predict the ferocity of the typhoon or to prepare for its impact? Liz Stephens, Associate Professor in Climate Risks and Resilience from the University of Reading discusses these issues. Beavers are making a comeback – in the Arctic. Their activity in engineering the landscape, building dams, and changing water courses is so widespread it can be picked out by satellites. However, this is not entirely welcome says Helen Wheeler Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin University. who has been working with local people concerned about the beavers impact on their livelihoods. And the James Webb telescope is finally launching. Heidi Hammel, who has been involved in the project for over 20 years tells us what it’s all about. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 23, 2021
Omicron’s rapid replication rate
A study from Hong Kong university shows Omicron replicates 70 times faster than two earlier variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Virologist Malik Peiris, explains how tests using cells from the wind pipe showed the dramatic difference, which supports observations of increased transmission. In contrast Omicron replicated less well than other variants on cells from dep in thre lung – offering some possibility that it may produce mild infections. Tornados in the US do not normally occur in December. The one which swept across Kentucky and 3 other states was fuelled by weather patterns likely to have been influenced by long term climate change says Geographer James Elsner of Florida State University. The Parker Solar probe continues its mission of flying closer and closer to the sun. Results just published show what the data the probe picked up when it dipped into the surrounding plasma. NASA’s Nicky Fox is our guide. And how many legs does a millipede have? Until now not as many as you might think. Entomologist Paul Marek of Virginia Tech reveals the Australian specimen with more legs than ever seen before. (Image: Omicron variant (B.1.1.529): Immunofluorescence staining of uninfected and infected Vero E6 cells. Credit: Microbiology HKU/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 16, 2021
Can the weather trigger a volcano?
Which came first the volcano or the rain? Volcanic eruptions are known to influence global climate systems, even leading to the cooling of the planet. However local weather conditions can also influence the timing and ferocity of volcanic eruptions. As volcanologist Jenni Barclay explains rainwater can contribute to volcanic instability and even increase the explosiveness of eruptions. Syria has been experiencing civil war for more than 10 years. Many people have left including many of the country's scientists. We speak with 3 exiled Syrian scientists Shaher Abdullateef, Abdulkader Rashwani, and Abdul Hafez about their current work, which involves working with other academics and students in Syria sometimes remotely and sometimes directly. New findings from Chile reveal an unknown Tsunami emanating from an earthquake there in the 1700s. Historical records mention other ones, but not this one. Geoscientist Emma Hocking found the evidence in layers of sand. And we discuss the development of tiny robot-like structures made from frog cells, they can move and build other copies of themselves. Sam Kreigman and Michael Levin explain how. (Image: Eruption of Semeru. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 09, 2021
Omicron, racism and trust
South Africa announced their discovery of the Omicron variant to the world as quickly as they could. The response from many nations was panic and the closure of transport links with southern Africa. Tulio de Oliveira who made the initial announcement and leads South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation tells us this is now having a negative effect on the country, with cases rising but vital supplies needed to tackle the virus not arriving thanks to the blockade. Omicron contains many more mutations than previous variants. However scientists have produced models in the past which can help us understand what these mutations do. Rockefeller University virologist Theodora Hatziioannou produced one very similar to Omicron and she tells us why the similarities are cause for concern. Science sleuth Elisabeth Bik and Mohammad Razai, professor of Primary Care in St George’s University in London have just been awarded the John Maddox Prize for their campaigning investigations in science. Elisabeth is particularly concerned with mistakes, deliberate or accidental in scientific publications, and Mohammad structural racism in approaches to healthcare. Laura Figueroa from University of Massachusetts in Amhert in the US, has been investigating bees’ digestive systems. Though these are not conventional honey bees, they are Costa Rican vulture bees. They feed on rotting meat, but still produce honey. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Vaccination centre in South Africa administering Covid-19 vaccine after news of Omicron variant. Credit: Xabiso Mkhabela/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Dec 02, 2021
Deliberately doomed dart
DART is a space mission designed to hit a distant asteroid and knock it slightly out of orbit. It’s a test mission, a pilot project for a way of potentially protecting the earth from a stray asteroid. We hear from mission coordinators Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin, both from the Applied Physics Labs, APL, of Johns Hopkins University. A new kind of Covid-19 vaccine has successfully undergone preliminary tests. Tuebingen University’s Juliane Walz tells us about how it hopes to stimulate a longer lasting protective effect against the virus than current vaccines. And Haley Randolph of Chicago University sheds light on how our ancient ancestors’ exposure to viruses influences our susceptibility today. Historian Robert Schulmann gives us an insight into the significance of research notes by Albert Einstein and Michele Besso. Sold at auction in France the notes give an insight into the collaboration between the two scientists which led to much of what we now understand about the fundamentals of physics. Image: NASA's DART Spacecraft Launches in World's First Planetary Defense Test Mission Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 25, 2021
The end for coal power?
The political message from the COP meeting was a fudge over coal, but what does the science say? Surprisingly India seems to be on track to switch away from coal to renewables. We explore the apparent contradiction with Lauri Myllyvirta of the thinktank Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Also a synchrotron for Africa, how such a project would give a boost to scientific development across the continent, with Marielle Agbahoungbata from the X-tech Lab in Seme City in Benin. Moriba Jah, who leads the Computational Astronautical Sciences and Technologies Group, at the University of Texas, in Austin, tells us what he saw when an exploding Russian satellite sent a shower of debris into the path of the International Space Station. And the animals that carry SARS-Cov-2, an analysis from Barbara Han of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York shows there are many more than previously thought. Image: A coal-fired power station in Nanjing in east China Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 18, 2021
Bambi got Covid
Up to 8 percent of deer sampled in studies in the US were found to be infected with the SARS-Cov-2 Virus. Suresh Kuchipudi from the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Penn State University in the US says what they are seeing is a mixture of human to deer and deer to deer transmission of the virus. There is concern that its presence in animal reservoirs could lead to a new form of the virus emerging. Tropical forests and spread of zoonotic diseases And as the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow draws to a close we ask how global policy on climate will impact the spread of zoonotic disease. Spill over of possible pandemic pathogens from animals to humans occurs with the destruction of tropical forests in particular and can expose people to previously unknown zoonotic diseases such as Covid 19. Aaron Bernstein from the Coalition to Prevent Pandemics at the Source says healthcare initiatives designed to reduce the potential spread of such diseases need to be designed to work in tandem with conservation and climate change impact reduction initiatives, essentially tackling both problems simultaneously. LED lighting Researchers in South Africa are looking into ways of making LED lighting both cheaper and more efficient. This should help reduce energy consumption, a prerequisite for effective policy on climate change. In addition, as Professor Odireleng Martin Ntwaeaborwa tells us, the technology now has many applications in places where access to electricity is limited, including South Africa which currently has regular power outages. Personalised medicine And personalised medicine based on our genes took a further step forward this week. Richard Scott, Chief Medical Officer for Genomics England discusses new findings which reveal the genetic basis for a range or rare diseases. Image: Bambi, lobbycard, 1942 Photo by LMPC via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 11, 2021
Jet fuel from thin air
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a system which uses solar energy to extract gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air and turns them into fuels for transport. So far they have only made small quantities in experimental reactors, however they say with the right investment their alternatives to fossil fuels could be scaled up to provide a climate friendly way to power transport, particularly aviation and shipping. We speak to Aldo Steinfeld and Tony Patt from ETH Zurich and Johan Lilliestam from the University of Potsdam. And what will rises in global temperature mean where you live? An interactive model developed by Bristol University’s Seb Steinig shows how an average global rise of say 1.5C affects different regions, with some potentially seeing much higher temperatures than others. Dan Lunt – one of the contributing authors to this year’s IPCC report discusses the implications. We also look at racism in science, with problems caused by decisions on the naming of ancient bones more than 200 years ago. As more is known about human evolution, the way we classify the past seems to make less sense says Mirjana Roksandic. And the issue of colonialism looms large in the international response to conservation. Its legacy has been discussed at COP26 and as Lauren Rudd, author of a new study on racism in conservation tells us, this hangover from colonial times is limiting the effectiveness of current conservation initiatives. Image: President Biden and his wife travelling to the G20 summit in Rome and COP26 in Glasgow. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 04, 2021
Can we still avoid climate catastrophe?
Just a few days before COP26 opens in Glasgow, the World Meteorological Organisation reported record greenhouse gas levels, despite a fall in CO2 due to pandemic restrictions. The UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report also revealed that current country pledges will only take 7.5% off predicted greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, well below the 55% needed to limit global warming to 1.5C. Worse still, many large emission producers are not on track to meet their countries’ pledges. Rachel Warren, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, tells us the 1.5C limit is still achievable if we work in tandem with nature. Research by Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), illustrates this. Her contribution to the WMO Greenhouse Bulletin revealed that New Zealand’s indigenous forests play a bigger role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than previously thought. Also on the programme, Abinash Mohanty, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, has been mapping climate vulnerability in India and explains why communities should be at the forefront of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. And particle physicist Claire Malone shares her insights on how we can help women thrive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Picture: Aerial shot at the edge of Lake Carezza showing storm damaged forest, Dolomites, Italy, Credit: Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Samara Linton
Oct 29, 2021
Red blood cells’ surprising immune function
We’ve talked a huge amount the past 18 months, for obvious reasons, about the way that white blood cells protect us from infection. But red blood cells – it’s probably among the earliest things I learned in human biology that they’re simple bags for carrying oxygen around the body. But over recent years, immunologist Nilam Mangalmurti, University of Pennsylvania, has been finding several clues to challenge that dogma – including molecules on the surface of red blood cells known from other parts of the immune system. The Last Ice Area, home to the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic, is expected to act as the last refuge for ice-dependent wildlife as the rest of the Arctic melts. Kent Moore, University of Toronto-Mississauga, tells us that the formation of a 3,000 square kilometre rift in the area means the ice is not as resilient as we once thought. Also on the programme, an obituary for the renowned Dutch climate scientist and physicist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (October 22, 1961 – October 12, 2021), and, Dominique Gonçalves, Gorongosa National Park, explains how ivory poaching during the Mozambican civil war led to the rapid evolution of tusklessness in African elephants. Image: Confocal microscopy of CpG-treated human RBCs stained for Band 3. Credit: Mangalmurti Lab / Nilam Mangalmurti, MD) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Samara Linton
Oct 21, 2021
Wetlands under attack
Since its introduction four decades ago, Spartina alterniflora, a salt-water cordgrass from the USA, has been spreading along China’s coasts. Today, it covers nearly half of the country’s salt marshes. As the UN Biodiversity Conference COP 15 kicks off in China, we look at how this invasive plant species threatens native species in protected coastal wetlands. Featuring Yuan Lin, East China Normal University, and Qiang He, Fudan University. In January 2020, Barney Graham and Jason McLellan teamed up to engineer a coronavirus spike protein that now powers the COVID-19 vaccines for Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. They discuss their work, a next-generation vaccine using chicken eggs, and the future of pandemic preparedness. Also, a recent Nature survey reveals the extent of abuse against scientists who speak about COVID-19 publicly. Deepti Gurdasani, Queen Mary University of London, shares her experiences of trolling and online abuse and discusses the implications for academia and scientific discourse going forward. And Tom Scott explains how his team uses novel robots and sensors to go into and create 3D digital radiation maps of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and surrounding areas. (Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Samara Linton
Oct 14, 2021
Youngest rock samples from the moon
In December 2020, China's Chang'e-5 mission returned to earth carrying rock samples collected from the moon – the first lunar samples to be collected since the American Apollo and Luna missions to the moon in the 1970s. Laboratory analysis has revealed that these are the youngest samples of rocks to be collected from the moon. Lunar geologist Katherine Joy explains what this tells us about the moon’s volcanic past. Also on the programme, a recent study reveals that the hepatitis B virus has been infecting humans for at least 10,000 years. Denise Kühnert from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History shares what the evolution of the virus tells us about human evolution, as well as the rise and fall of civilisations. In the wake of Cyclone Shaheen, we also speak to Princeton University’s Ning Lin about how climate modelling can help us predict tropical storms in the Arabian Sea, and Fredi Otto joins us to discuss the 2021 Nobel Prizes for Science. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Samara Linton
Oct 07, 2021
Drug resistant malaria found in East Africa
Since their discovery in the 1970s, artemisinin-based drugs have become the mainstay of treatment for malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. Researchers have identified artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites in Southeast Asia since the early 2000s, but now, there is evidence of resistance in Rwanda and Uganda. Dr Betty Balikagala of Juntendo University tells us how this resistance developed and what it means for managing malaria in Africa, which carries the greatest burden of malaria cases and deaths worldwide. We hear from some of the scientists from COVID Moonshot, a non-profit, open-science consortium which has just received key funding to develop affordable antivirals to stop SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks. Also on the programme, Dr Rakesh Ghosh from the University of California, San Francisco tells us how air pollution is contributing to 6 million preterm births globally each year, and Dr Catherine Nakalembe of the University of Maryland and Africa Lead for NASA Harvest returns to the programme as NASA/USGS launches Landsat 9. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Samara Linton Image: Mosquito net demonstration in a community outreach centre in Kenya Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images
Sep 30, 2021
New evidence for Sars-CoV-2’s origin in bats
Researchers studying bats in Northern Laos have found evidence that brings us closer than ever to understanding the origin of Covid-19. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic scientists have tried to pin-point the exact origin of Sars-CoV-2. But recent evidence from the Institut Pasteur has identified several novel coronaviruses with similarities to the current coronavirus in bats. Professor Marc Eliot spoke to Roland Pease about how this research could give us a better idea where Covid-19 came from. Could an oral Covid-19 treatment be available soon? Daria Hazuda, responsible for infectious disease and bacteria research at MSD tells us about their clinical trials for an oral antiviral drug that could combat Covid-19: Molnupiravir. Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Roland Pease travels to Bath to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earlier stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team from Bath university in the development of this simple 2 minute test. Inducing Earthquakes Scientists are experimenting with artificially managing earthquakes by injecting fluid into fault lines. Professor Derek Elsworth at Pennsylvania State University explains his research into how these induced earthquakes can be more tightly controlled. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz (Photo: Bats hanging in a cave. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 23, 2021
Ebola can remain dormant for five years
An international team of researchers has discovered that an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea in February this year was the result of re-activated Ebola virus in someone who’d been infected at least five years ago during the earlier large Ebola epidemic that swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This means the virus can remain dormant in some Ebola survivors for five years or more. Virologists Alpha Kabinet Keita and Robert Garry talk to Roland Pease about the research and its implications. Also in the programme: The eruption of lavas from Iceland’s newest volcano Fagradalsfjall continues six months on. Geochemist Ed Marshall tells us how he gets up close to sample the molten rock with a long scoop and a bucket of water, and what he’s learning about this remarkable eruption. NASA’s Katie Stack Morgan updates Science in Action on the Perseverance rover’s successful sampling of rocks from Jezero crater on the planet Mars. When the specimens are eventually returned to Earth, she says they may turn out to contain tiny samples of Mars’ water and atmosphere from early in the Red Planet’s history. (Image credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Sep 16, 2021
Keep most fossil fuel in ground to meet 1.5 degree goal
For the world to have a decent chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, 90% of remaining coal reserves and 60% of unexploited oil and gas have to stay in the ground. These are the stark findings of carbon budget research by scientists at University College London. Dan Welsby spells out the details to Roland Pease. Virologist Ravi Gupta of the University of Cambridge describes his latest research that explains why the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more infectious and more able to evade our immune systems and covid vaccines than other variants. When dense fog rises from the Pacific ocean into the foothills of the Andes, oases of floral colour bloom for a few weeks or months. When the fog goes, the plants die and disappear for another year or maybe another decade. The true extent of these unique ecosystems (known as fog oases or Lomas) has now been revealed by researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK and their colleagues in Peru and Chile. They have discovered that the Lomas are much more extensive than suspected. Ecologist Carolina Tovar explains why the fog oases are threatened and need to be protected. A species of duck can now be added to the list of birds such as parrots and starlings that mimic human speech and other sounds in their environment. Listen to Ripper, the Australian musk duck who was hand-reared on a nature reserve where he learnt to imitate his keeper say ‘You bloody fool’ and imitate the sound of an aviary door closing. Animal behaviour researcher Carel ten Cate of Leiden University says that Ripper is not the only mimicking musk duck, but why this duck species has evolved this trick remains a mystery. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Image credit: Getty Images)
Sep 09, 2021
Hurricane season intensifies
When hurricane Ida struck the coast of Louisiana last weekend, almost to the day that Katrina did 16 years ago, comparisons between the two events were soon to follow. As the latest storm continues to wreak havoc and death further north in the US, Suzana Camargo of Columbia university talks to Roland Pease about the similarities and differences, the better forecasting available now, and the grim reality that climate change suggests for this and future hurricane seasons. A couple of weeks ago, Science in Action looked at the carbon accounting of Blue Hydrogen (hydrogen manufactured from fossil fuels). Listener Nick Arndt got in touch to say we were wrong when we stated that hydrogen can’t be piped out of the ground from natural sources. His company, Sisprobe, plans to use its passive seismic prospecting technology to work with an international consortium that aims to unlock a new “hydrogen Rush” – commercialising what they suspect to be a near-ubiquitous source of genuinely carbon-free fuel - to supply the world economy of the near future. Viacheslav Zgonnik - CEO of start-up Natural Hydrogen Energy LLC - has been working on hydrogen for 10 years, has written a recent review of the science, and tells Roland about current and future studies into finding the best way to tap this simplest of molecules before it escapes into space. In Chile, the recent megadrought has led to fears that hydroelectric damns may become so drained that power-outs may occur in the coming months. This will not help Chile to achieve its target of carbon-neutrality by 2050. Apt, then, that a new Concentrated Solar Power plant (CSP) is now up and running in the north of the country. Reporter Jane Chambers has been to visit Cerro Dominador – the spectacular new array of 10,600 mirrors that focus sunshine onto a molten salt target, heating it up to 560C, and generating up to 210 MW electricity. Meanwhile archaeologists have been doing a molecular analysis of a protein found to survive in the bones of unfortunate victims of the mount Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii. Despite the searing heat that killed inhabitants of nearby Herculaneum, Oliver Criag of York University has been able to examine the different isotopes in amino acids still recoverable from their bones to help identify what sorts of things these people ate during their tragically foreshortened lifetimes. A whole lot of cereals generally, but more interestingly, the men tended to eat more fish while the women seem to have consumed more meat and dairy. (Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Sep 02, 2021
World’s first DNA Covid vaccine
Indian authorities have approved the world’s first DNA-based Covid vaccine for emergency use. Not all the data that has led to the opening of the phase 3 trials is yet publicly available, but as public health policy expert Chandrakant Lahariya explains to Roland, it could be a real help in India’s, and the world’s, fight to get things under control. The origins of the Covid virus were investigated last winter by a WHO team sent to Wuhan – where the first cases were discovered – earlier this year. Their work has since become the subject of intense political scrutiny and some criticism. This week, members of the team including Marian Koopmans have written a rebuttal, setting out the original terms of the investigation and urging the continuation of the process, as she explains to Victoria Gill. Most of the science written by people from or about the African continent is written in English. Many local African languages do not currently have a meaningful vocabulary for many of the scientific terms and concepts researchers use. This week a team of scientists, journalists, and translators are completing the launch of a project called Decolonise Science, which will take 180 nominated papers posted on the website AfricaArxiv, translate them into 6 African languages including isiZulu, Sothu, and Hausa, and then use Machine Learning methods to build resources for science communication and education in people’s home languages. Project partner Sibusiso Byela explains the thinking. This week the UK’s Royal Society announced its annual awards. Kenya’s George Warimwe has taken the Africa Award for his work creating vaccines for a virus that creates disease in livestock and humans – Rift Valley Fever. His promising approach stems from years of working with adenovirus technology akin to the AstraZeneca covid virus. But as he explains, his One Health approach is to learn from the immune response in humans and apply it to animals, and vice-versa. The grant associated with the award should also help him and his team pick- up on research left-off before the coronavirus pandemic. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield (Image: Getty Images)
Aug 26, 2021
Seismic citizen science in Hispaniola
The epicentre of the tragic earthquake in Haiti last week was just 100km from that of the even more deadly 2010 one. Unlike then, a network of small cheap seismic detectors run by volunteers is currently monitoring the aftershocks. As Eric Calais says, the suspicion is that this could be the latest in a sequence of quakes, echoing previous clusters over the last few hundred years. Hydrogen is being much touted as an alternative to natural gas as a source of fuel for homes in a low-carbon world. In particular, “blue” hydrogen – hydrogen made from fossil fuels but with the carbon dioxide being captured at the point of production – is said to be some sort of transitional fuel that could be introduced into current infrastructure with little stress. But Robert Howarth is less optimistic. He is co-author on a paper published last week analysing the net carbon impact of blue hydrogen production. He argues that not only are there hidden greenhouse gas emissions in production, but that in fact burning blue Hydrogen at home could have a worse impact than burning the natural gas from which it is made. Meanwhile, physicists at the US National Ignition Facility are rumoured to have made a huge stride in the quest for controlled, sustained nuclear fusion. Using a barrage of powerful lasers to heat indirectly a tiny hydrogen isotope target, on the 8th of august, they briefly got 70% of the energy back from one of their runs. It is a huge leap in returns, and tantalisingly suggests some sort of runaway fusion reaction occurred. Around the world, hopes of laser-driven fusion energy generation are soaring, but as an ecstatic Kate Lancaster of the University of York cautions, even if it does represent ignition, we are still a long way from “plug socket efficiency” or net energy gain. Meanwhile, scientists of the Leibniz Institute evolution and Biodiversity have been eavesdropping on bats in Panama. Human babies babble when they are learning how to talk. It’s been shown before that songbirds do something similar, but according to Ahana Fernandez, it now it seems another mammal joins the babbling ranks – the younglings of the Greater Sac-Winged bat of South America. Ahana tells Roland about her analysis. (Photo by Reginald Loiussaint/JR/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Aug 19, 2021
Methane: A climate solution?
The latest IPCC assessment raised alarm about the rate at which manmade emissions are contributing to climate change. Much of the focus for action is on reducing levels of carbon dioxide, however there is a more potent greenhouse gas, methane, produced by natural and industrial processes which, says Drew Shindell of Duke University and lead author on the Global Methane Assessment, is relatively easy to target for reduction. Neuroscientist John Cryan of University College, Cork in Ireland is interested in the effects our gut microbes can have on our behaviour. It’s an unusual connection and one which he’s been experimenting on in mice. By feeding the faeces of younger mice to older ones he has found that the older ones’ took on some of the younger ones’ behaviour. Ball lightning is the stuff of legend and the supernatural. And yet there are many reported sightings of this phenomenon. Texas State University's Karl Stephan is keen to uncover the science behind these observations. He’s running a crowd sourcing project encouraging people to contribute video recordings of any ball lightening events they might observe. And Chile is home to the oldest known mummies in the World. UNESCO world heritage status has been given to a collection of around 300 mummies from Chile’s northern deserts. The mummies of babies, children and adults are thought to have been created in response to arsenic poisoning in the region around 7,000 years ago. Image: Livestock farm in Brazil Credit: Photo by Igor Do Vale/NurPhoto via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Aug 12, 2021
Record-shattering weather
July 2021 saw temperatures in the western US and Canada smash previous records by 5 degrees. And that’s what we should expect, according to a study prepared much earlier but published, coincidentally, just a few days later. A hallmark of rapid climate change, says author Erich Fischer of ETH Zurich, will be an accelerating number of record-shattering, and socially disruptive, events. A large new study on communications and hierarchy across a large range of our ape and monkey relatives has just been published. Lead author Katie Slocombe of the University of York explains the findings: like us, the primates live socially in groups, and there are leaders, but the more tolerant ones are also the more communicative ones. In species with ‘despotic’ leaders, order seems to be maintained with more menacing silence. The double helix of all DNA on earth twists in one direction. But researchers at Tsinghua University in China have made some important steps towards making mirror life, in which the DNA twists in the opposite direction. Chemistry journalist Mark Peplow discusses the significance of this discovery with Roland Pease. One of the benefits of science’s ability to read normal DNA has been to compare human genomes from across the globe – for example in the Human Genome Diversity Project – for what they reveal about both our health – and our past. But sequences from the Middle East have been sadly lacking. The Sanger Institute’s Mohamed Almarri and colleagues have just rectified that, saying that the Middle East played such a key role in the human story. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Editor: Deborah Cohen
Aug 05, 2021
The earliest traces of animal life on earth.
Do rocks found in Canada show animal life 350 million years older than any found before? And, delving to the core of Mars, the guts of cats, and into the life of Steven Weinberg. Prof Elizabeth Turner of Canada's Laurentian University reports in the journal Nature structures in some of the oldest sedimentary rocks that resemble the residue left by sponges such as the sort you might find in a bath. 350 million years older than the oldest such fossils yet identified, if they are left by such animals, they represent a complex life that existed some 90 million years before - it has been supposed - there was even enough oxygen to support such development. As she tells us, rather like previous geologists investigating the deep history of life, Elizabeth has been sitting on this idea since she was a young researcher. Since 2019 NASA's InSight probe has been on the surface of Mars listening for seismic waves from below to try to form a picture of the planet's internal structure. Last week in the journal Science, three papers presented data and analysis and some surprises for planetary scientists trying to work out how a planet that began almost, but not quite, so similar to earth could have turned out so different today. Cambridge University's Dr Sanna Cottaar gives us her take on the exciting findings. Most of our understanding of genetics – diseases and heritability – is derived from decades of deep studies into just a few model species besides humans. But Prof Lesley Lyons runs a lab at the University of Missouri focusing almost entirely on cats. She describes to Roland a proclamation she makes this week to her fellow scientists to do more work into cat genetics and how, because of the similarities between cats and human genomes, that will bring all sorts of benefits to human (and cat) health. Earlier this week we heard of the death of physicist Steven Weinberg - one of the giants of 20th century particle physics and cosmology. Roland presents recordings and reminiscences of a remarkable scientist who provided so much insight into the first 3 minutes of our universe's existence... Image: Field locations in Northwest Territories, Canada Credit: Elizabeth Turner, Laurentian University Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Jul 29, 2021
Your molecular machinery, now in 3D
Back in November it was announced that an AI company called DeepMind had essentially cracked the problem of protein folding – that is they had managed to successfully predict the 3D structures of complex biochemical molecules by only knowing the 2D sequence of amino acids from which they are made. They are not the only team to use machine learning to approach the vast amounts of data involved. But last week, they released the source code and methodology behind their so called AlphaFold2 tool. Today, they are publishing via a paper in the journal Nature, a simply huge database of predicted structures including most of the human proteome and 20 other model species such as yes, mice. The possibilities for any biochemists are very exciting. As DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis tells Roland Pease, they partnered with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory to make over 350,000 protein predictions available to researchers around the world free of charge and open sourced. Dr Benjamin Perry of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative told us how it may help in the search for urgently needed drugs for difficult diseases such as Chagas disease. Prof John McGeehan of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at Portsmouth University in the UK is on the search for enzymes that might be used to digest otherwise pollutant plastics. He received results (that would have taken years using more traditional methods) back from the AlphaFold team in just a couple of days. Prof Julia Gog of Cambridge University is a biomathematician who has been modelling Covid epidemiology and behaviour. In a recent paper in Royal Society Open Science, she and colleagues wonder whether the vaccination strategy of jabbing the most vulnerable in a population first, rather than the most gregarious or mobile, is necessarily the optimal way to protect them. Should nations still at an early stage in vaccine rollout consider her model? And did you know that elephants can hear things up to a kilometre away through their feet? And that sometimes they communicate by bellowing and rumbling such the ground shakes? Dr Beth Mortimer of Oxford University has been planting seismic detectors in savannah in Kenya to see if they can tap into the elephant messaging network, to possibly help conservationists track their movements. Image: Protein folding Credit: Nicolas_/iStock/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producers: Alex Mansfield and Samara Linton
Jul 22, 2021
Science when the funding dries up
This week the UK parliament voted to accept the Government’s continued cap on Official Development Aid. This disappointed many researchers around the world, funded directly and indirectly through various scientific funding structures enabling international collaboration on some of the global challenges facing all of us. These funding mechanisms make for a small fraction of the overall amount, but they have been hit hard, with many projects closing altogether. There had been hope amongst the scientific community that the cap – from 0.7% down to 0.5% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Income – might have been in place just for a year. But it seems like the criteria set to judge when the level of aid might rise again imply that it is unlikely to happen for several years at the earliest. What, asks Science in Action, does that mean to the world of scientific collaboration on such topics as climate change, contagious disease, and emergency planning? Researchers Chris Trisos and Jenni Barclay, with journalist Robin Bisson of Research Professional News, update us on the story. In Zambia, where covid testing remains scarce, a project run by Boston University’s Christopher Gill has been estimating the prevalence of covid in the capital Lusaka by taking nasal swab samples from the noses of around one in five of those recently deceased, in the morgue of a major hospital. Tantalisingly, his team have seen over the last few months a sharp rise in cases to the extent that in June, nearly 90 percent of the cadavers tested positive for covid. But as Chris describes, unrelated to the UK cuts, their funding has now run out, so where the graph leads from here we may not learn for a long time. Presented by Roland Pease Produced by Alex Mansfield. (Image: Getty Images)
Jul 15, 2021
Human induced climate change heats up fast
Scientists say the record-breaking Pacific North-West heatwave of recent weeks must have been caused by human induced climate change, but as Geert Jan van Oldenborgh explains to Roland Pease, despite a herculean effort to analyse the event in just a week, the precise mechanism to cause such an extreme and sudden event is so far bewildering climate modellers, exceeding even worst expectations. Looking to the skies, Rosita Kokotanekova of the European Southern Observatory and colleagues have been getting excited about the discovery of a comet maybe twice as large as any observed before. Being so big, it has been spotted much further out from the sun and – if the best telescopes can be convinced to join the fun – will provide astronomers a chance to observe the core of the comet before the solar heat induces a gaseous coma to form as it nears the point in its orbit closest to the sun. It will be around for the next decade before continuing its several million year journey around our mutual star. But it won’t get terribly close to earth, at least not as close as lumps of an asteroid that fell onto a driveway in the UK earlier this year. Dr Ashley King of the UK’s Natural History Museum is leading a consortium of scientists (benefitting from a rapid research grant by the UK’s STFC) who have now officially classified it and named it. The Winchcombe meteorite is a CM carbonaceous chondrite, meaning it represents the unspoilt early building blocks of the solar system. Falling like 4.5 billion year old leftover celestial lego, only a few are known around the world but perhaps none have been in scientists hands in such a short period of time, continuing its pristine survival. Dr Pablo Tsukayama has published a preprint paper announcing a new variant of interest in the ongoing evolution of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Now named by the WHO as the Lambda variant, it seems it has driven the pandemic for much of this year in Peru – as much as 80% of cases – and large fractions of the outbreak elsewhere in South America. But as Pablo suggests, the reason we don’t know as much about it as for example the Alpha or Delta variants is likely because it hasn’t thus far affected the countries best equipped to do the analysis. Maybe that could change. Image: Wildfires in Lytton, British Columbia Credit: ProPics Canada Media Ltd/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Jul 08, 2021
Insects in incredible detail
The Natural History Museum in London holds a massive collection of insects. It asked researchers at the Diamond light source, a facility near Oxford, to develop a high throughput X-ray microscope to take 3D scans of them all. Roland Pease has been to see the new technology in action. Many people seeking compensation for the impacts of climate change are turning to the law courts. Successes so far have been few. Oxford University’s Friederike Otto, who specialises in connecting weather extremes to the greenhouse effect, has just published a paper looking at the challenge in bringing successful climate lawsuits. Spacecraft will be returning to Venus in the next decade with the recent approval of two NASA missions to the planet, and one from the European Space Agency, ESA. Philippa Mason of Imperial College is a planetary geologist on that mission, Envision. She plans to use radar to peer through that dense and interesting atmosphere to follow up evidence of volcanic activity and tectonics on the surface beneath. A few years ago synthetic biologist Jim Collins of Harvard found a way to spill the contents of biological cells onto … basically … blotting paper, in a way that meant by just adding water, all the biochemical circuitry could be brought back to life. With a bit of genetic engineering, it could be turned into a sensor to detect Ebola and Nipah viruses. His team have kept developing the idea, and this week they report success in a smart face mask that can detect SARS-CoV-2 in your breath. (Image: Hairy Fungus Beetle - Prepared by Malte Storm. Credit: Diamond light Source Ltd) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Jul 01, 2021
Tales of unexpected DNA data
This week Jesse Bloom of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research has published an account of some DNA sequence data he located in an internet archive, despite it having been removed from the US NIH’s Sequence Read Archive. He tells Roland Pease of its significance to our understanding of the beginning of the Covid pandemic, but also, of more general interest, to what it might tell scientists about the full availability of relevant virological evidence. Elsewhere, Elena Zavala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has been using new techniques for sequencing tiny fragments of mitochondrial DNA found in layers of mud to trace a long narrative of different evolutionary species of human and animal and their changing fortunes. As she describes in a paper published in Nature, sediments from different depths of the floor of the famous Denisova cave tell a long story of different humans (Denisovan and Neanderthal), bears, hyenas and other animals living there over different periods in the last 250 thousand years. Over in the journal Science, several papers describe a new type of early hominin found in Nesher Rambla, Israel, that may be yet another instance of a human species that didn’t quite make it. As Marta Lahr, professor in human evolutionary biology at Cambridge University tells Roland the new findings all point to the bigger question – given the similar ages, technologies, and even neighbourhoods that all these types of hominin shared, just what was it about our own direct ancestor species that enabled us to take over the world? Since almost the beginning of the Covid pandemic, in some parts of the world, the drug Ivermectin has been repurposed as a therapy against the disease, with some even believing it to convey protection against infection – a situation not without tragic consequences. The evidence for any meaningful effect has been less than obvious to most scientists and health authorities. Not the first controversial drug in the story of Covid-19, the discourse has led to abuse directed at scientists and officials, and scathing arguments across social media. As Oxford University’s PRINCIPLE trial this week begins to include Ivermectin in its investigations, BBC Reality Check’s Jack Goodman reports on the Ivermectin’s tortuous path. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Jun 24, 2021
Doubling Earth’s energy imbalance
Nasa scientists have observed that the Earth’s energy imbalance has doubled in just 15 years. As greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations have risen, so too has the difference between the total amount of energy being absorbed from the sun, and the total amount being reradiated back into space. Meanwhile, as we all heat up, scientists at the LIGO Gravitational Wave Observatory have managed to do something very cool with their mirrors. Such is the precision with which the detectors have been engineered, they have managed to effectively reduce the temperature of one of the big 10kg reflectors to such an extent that it betrays its quantum state, as if it were simply one big subatomic particle. So what? Roland Pease finds out. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Giant sun in the horizon. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 17, 2021
Evolving viral variant trickery
Dr. Clare Jolly and colleagues have been looking at how the first of the major covid variants – alpha - evolved to be more transmissible. Whilst a lot of attention has been on the spike binding areas of the virus and the effectiveness of antibodies from either vaccine or prior infection, their preprint paper this week reports how the virus evolved an ability to inhibit our bodies innate virus response once it has infected a cell. Prof Dan Shugar and colleagues have been studying the conditions that led to the tragic rock and ice avalanche in February in Chamoli, Uttarakhand. 27 million cubic meters of rock and ice broke off the steep mountainside and plummeted almost 2km down into the valleys below. Using satellite, seismic and video data the scientists have investigated the sequence of events that led to the tragic deaths of 204 people in the floods that followed. It was a thankfully rare combination of geography and geology and events, but highlights the care that should be taken when building the growing number of hydroelectric plants in high mountainous areas. But avalanches don’t just happen in mountains. A year before, in a canyon under the sea near the outflow of the Congo river, a sediment avalanche rumbled on for almost two days along some 1,100km of the ocean floor. And as Prof Pete Talling describes, whilst it didn’t trigger a tsunami, it did sever cables supplying internet connectivity between South Africa and Nigeria. And the BBC’s Samara Linton reports on research into a type of DNA you perhaps haven’t heard of – Z-DNA. It winds the other way to what we consider normal DNA, and scientists are finally beginning to understand its role in many human diseases, including cancer, with some future promise of novel therapeutics. Presented by Roland Pease Produced by Alex Mansfield (Image: Getty Images)
Jun 10, 2021
Zoonotic hotspots and where to find them
Researchers map where the riskiest areas are for viruses to jump from bats into humans. Also, synthetic bacteria with unnatural DNA, and the origin of the humble watermelon. David Hayman of Massey University in NZ and colleagues have published in the journal Nature Food a study highlighting areas of the world where zoonotic transmission of coronaviruses are most likely to occur between humans and bats of the type most suspected of being the origin of the current SARS CoV2 virus. There are a lot of hotspots combining fragmented forest, livestock farming, human habitation, and populations of horseshoe bats. It is, as he says, just part of the evidence suggesting a natural origin in the areas of northern south-east Asia and southern China. Jason Chin, Wes Robertson and team at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology have been tinkering with their work on synthetic organisms. By rewriting the dictionary of DNA itself, their new molecular alphabet is able to encode far more elaborate and innovative functions than even nature has ever produced. Publishing this week in the journal Science, their latest bacterium is even capable of being completely immune to viral infection. But as they describe, this could be just the start of what the new technology could deliver in terms of new materials and medicines. Meanwhile, Susanne Renner has been tracking down some of human beings’ earliest genetic engineering. The selection and breeding of various fruits to produce sweet, sweet watermelon was long suspected to have originated in Africa, the question was where and when? Using a combination of genetic sequencing, ancient Egyptian art, and early modern paintings, she describes to Roland how what we now know as Sudan likely played a part in the story. (Image: Horseshoe bat Credit: Getty Images) Presented by Roland Pease Produced by Alex Mansfield
Jun 03, 2021
Nyiragongo eruption
The latest Nyiragongo eruption was not entirely unexpected, the volcano’s lava lake inside the crater had been building up for years. Local volcanologists say it was only a matter of time before an eruption occurred. The big concern was where the flank of the volcano would be breached as the city of Goma rests under the volcano and there are potential fissures even within the town. However there are still questions over the effectiveness of seismic monitoring in the area, North Kivu. The Goma observatory has been unable to carry out this work due to a lack of funding. And monitoring is further complicated by the region’s long running civil war, with rebel groups often camped around the volcano. We hear from Dario Tadesco and Cindy Ebinger. Who have both been monitoring developments. Cyclone Yass was the second Cyclone to hit India within a week. Are these events becoming more common and are they related to rises in global temperatures? Climatologist Roxy Koll has been monitoring the situation. Greenland’s pristine glaciers might not be so pristine. Jemma Wadham from Bristol university and her team have found unexpectedly high levels of Mercury in meltwaters - similar to those from industrial pollution. They say research now needs to focus on the impact for wildlife and people in the Arctic region. And the elusive Sowerby’s beaked Whale doesn’t travel very much despite pockets of the species being found across the Atlantic. Kerri Smith has been researching this species, which is rarely seen alive. Using samples from whales beached or caught accidentally she was able to build up a picture of their distribution. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Nyiragongo volcano erupting. Credit: Getty images)
May 27, 2021
Robot revolution
A brain-computer interface allows a severely paralysed patient not only to move and use a robotic arm, but also to feel the sensations as the mechanical hand clasps objects . We hear from Jennifer Collinger at Pittsburgh University’s Rehab Neural Engineering Labs. And Nathan Copeland, who has been controlling the robotic arm with his thoughts via a series of brain implants. Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina tells us about the development of a multi-component vaccine that would be effective not just against the current coronavirus outbreak and its variants, but also future outbreaks from SARS-like coronaviruses that we don’t even know about yet. Blood clots, thromboses, have been a problem for a small number of people following Covid vaccination Paul Knöbl, and a team of medics in Vienna have worked out the link between vaccination and clot development. They now have a method to treat such clots – so they should not be fatal. And how did fungi and plants come to live together? Symbiotic relationships between the two are a key component of the evolution of life. Melanie Rich of the University of Toulouse has been looking at the present day genetic markers which allowed plants and fungi to help each other as they first colonised land millions of years ago. (Image: Artificial tactile perception allows the brain-computer interface user to transfer objects with a robotic arm at twice the speed of doing it without the feedback. Credit: UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences Media Relations) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
May 20, 2021
Covid and clean air
We wouldn’t drink dirty water so why do we put up with polluted air? Researchers are calling for a major rethink on our attitude to air quality. Professor Lidia Morawska, from the Queensland University of Technology, says attention to air quality during the Covid pandemic has shown how levels of airborne disease can be reduced. Sam Wilson from the UK Medical Research Council, University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research has been investigating genetic mechanisms associated with susceptibility to Covid infection. His team has identified a molecule that detects SARS-COV-2 when it starts to replicate in our cells. However, not all humans have this protective mechanism, which may help explain why some people become very ill with Covid and others have little if any symptoms. Many Europeans lack this protective molecule, whereas the vast majority of Africans have it. The difference can be seen in cell cultures. However, the lack of diversity in the cells used in experiments worldwide can be a serious problem when looking at genetic differences as Samara Linton reports. Nuclear material buried beneath the doomed Chernobyl nuclear power plant is becoming more active Neil Hyatt Professor of Nuclear Materials Chemistry at Sheffield University says it’s a small increase but needs to be monitored. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
May 13, 2021
Africa’s oldest burial
Analysis of the 78,0000-year-old fossil of a Kenyan boy reveals he was likely buried with care and attention, the body wrapped and laid to rest supported on a pillow. Maria Martinon-Torres, of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, and a team from Kenya and Germany used techniques from paleontology and forensic science to reveal his story from the fragile remains. A promising malaria vaccine is to enter trials which could lead to it being used globally to vaccinate children. Merheen Datoo, Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, explains malaria vaccines have been in development for 100 years. Research from these helped covid vaccine development and the success of covid vaccines may now help to speed up the rollout of malaria vaccines. Covid vaccines may also help to treat those who have symptoms of long covid – a range of immune system issues that develop sometimes months after the initial infection. Yale University immunologist Akiko Kawasaki is embarking on a research project to assess the impact. If you’d like to take part, have yet to be vaccinated, and live in Connecticut in the US, email And in India scientists are calling on the government to make all data on Covid more widely available. At present Indian bureaucracy means statistics on infection rates, variants and recovery are not distributed widely. Science journalist TV Padma says greater access to the data could help more scientists come together to work on solutions to India’s Covid crisis. (Image: An artist’s interpretation of Mtoto’s burial Credit: Fernando Fueyo) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 06, 2021
Melting glaciers, warming coffee and a Dragonfly on Titan
When Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins – who passed away this week – looked down on the earth from lunar orbit during those days in 1969, he saw more ice and a smaller liquid ocean than you would see today. Of the 200,000 glaciers outside of the polar and Greenland ice sheets, their melting in the last two decades accounts for about a fifth of the sea level rise we are also seeing. Thus according to a paper published this week in the journal nature by, amongst others Bob McNabb of Ulster University who describes to Roland how and why these numbers are more certain than others before. As fellow earth observation expert Anna Hogg adds, the work synthesises years of data from almost half a million images of glaciers taken from space, and provides our best handle yet on our accelerating loss of this finite and dwindling natural feature. Researchers at Kew in the UK and in Sierra Leone have rediscovered a species of coffee plant once thought lost. As Marnie Chesterton reports, climate change threatens many coffee crops around the world as the most popular variety – arabica – needs cool high altitude conditions which are going to become more scarce. But after a long and arduous search, the researchers have discovered a more resilient variety that might not only save the morning brew for many, it may even prove agriculturally and even economically transformative for some African economies. And whilst many of us watch the antics of NASA’s Martian helicopter, Ingenuity, as it whizzes across the distant plains of “Wright’s Field” aerodrome on Mars, some are watching with more trepidation than others. In 6 years’ time, Zibi Turtle, Principle Investigator of NASA’s Dragonfly mission, hopes to launch a much larger octocopter drone to Titan, moon of Saturn. As she describes to Roland, the challenges are huge, not least because dragonfly will carry all its instruments on board as it hops around, finding new landing sites autonomously. And communicating with Earth will take a whopping hour each way. (Image: The lunar module, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, ascends back up to the command module with Michael Collins. It is often said that Michael Collins is the only human, living or dead, who is not in this photograph. Credit: Michael Collins / NASA) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Apr 29, 2021
Exponential increase in Indian covid cases
As Covid cases surge almost beyond belief in India, how much is to do with social distancing, and how much to do with the mutations to the original virus? Ramanan Laxminarayan talks to Roland from Delhi about ways in which the huge second wave could and could not have been predicted and avoided. Suggestions of the latest variant to make the headlines, B1.617, have got virologists such as Ravindra Gupta working hard to identify the clinical significance of the latest combinations of mutations. In the journal Science, Stephen Chanock of the US Cancer program reports work with colleagues in Ukraine looking at the long footprint of radiation dosing from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, 35 years ago this week. In the first of two papers, they find a definite footprint of radiation damage accounting for the many sad cases of thyroid cancer in people alive in the region at the time. But in another study, they looked at whether any higher level of mutations could be detected in the germlines of children conceived subsequently to parents who had experienced radiation in the disaster. While the parents' own health is often affected, 35 years on, thus far their offspring show no widespread elevated levels of disease, as was commonly expected. And in the week that the world witnessed a guilty verdict delivered in the trial for the murder of George Floyd in the US, David Curtis of the University of Utah and colleagues report in the journal PNAS a study that suggests the widespread media coverage of acts of racial violence, including deaths at the hands of police, leads to poorer mental health in Black Americans. As the BBC’s Samara Linton reports, the study involved google search data over five years up to 2017, and nearly 2.3 million survey respondents. Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Reporter: Samara Linton Producer: Alex Mansfield
Apr 22, 2021
Rolling out the vaccines faster
Two weeks ago several G7 leaders called for an international treaty on Pandemic Preparedness for the future. This week 175 prominent leaders called for lifting the IP on vaccine design. And former UK PM Gordon Brown called on the G7 to finance vaccines for the world in the next two months. But are there technical difficulties that limit the pace of manufacture? Anthony McDonnell is an economist at think tank Centre for Global Development who has been looking at the problem since last year. He suggests, amongst other things, one limit is the human expertise in manufacturing these brand-new technologies, with another being a level of vaccine nationalism that is seeing a lack of exports of components involved in manufacture. Professor Trudie Lang heads the University of Oxford’s Global Health Network, and looks at health research across the world. She says in most countries there is no lack of public health or infrastructure potential for rolling out the vaccines, if only the supply existed. The volcano that erupted explosively on St Vincent last week has led to many thousands of people being evacuated. Dr Joan Latchman of the University of West Indies Seismic Research Centre - who has monitored Caribbean volcanos for several decades - describes from Trinidad how the layers of ash mean recovery will take a long time, even if the explosions and pyroclastic dangers subside reasonably soon. Back in The UK, Prof Jenni Barclay and colleagues are examining rocks from the early part of the eruption, before the explosive phase began, to see if there are clues in the microstructure that could provide clues to the future. And how do our brains so quickly tell a scream of delight from a scream of horror? Or of pain? Prof Sascha Frühholz of the University of Geneva has written in the journal PLOS Biology this week about work looking at how we identify the nature of different human screams. One finding is that we perceive joy quicker than fear.. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Apr 15, 2021
On the trail of rare blood clots
On Wednesday the EU’s EMA and UK’s JCVI announced a suspected correlation between vaccination and an extremely rare type of blood clot. Prof Sabine Eichinger is a co-author of a new paper suggesting a link with vaccination or the immune response to Covid vaccination and suggests the name VIPIT for the condition. One of her patients died at the end of February having presented with a rare combination of symptoms – blood clots and a low blood platelet count. Sabine tells Roland the dots they have managed to join in the story so far. Scientists at Fermilab in the USA posted four papers and announced an exciting development in particle physics that might lift the curtain on science beyond the Standard Model. Their measurement of something known as g-2 (“gee minus two”, just fyi), by measuring with phenomenal accuracy the magnetic properties of muons flying round in circles confirms a 20-year old attempt at a similar value by colleagues at Brookhaven. At the time, it was breathtaking but suspicious. Muons, rather like heavy electrons, don’t quite behave as the Standard Model might have us believe, hinting at fields and possibly particles or forces hitherto unknown. Dr. Harry Cliffe – a member of the LHCb team who found something similarly weird two weeks ago - describes the finding and the level of excitement amongst theorists worldwide. Superfans 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. Meanwhile, primatologist Edward Wright of the Max Plank Institute has been hanging out with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and recording the sound of their “chest clapping”. As he describes in the journal Scientific Reports his work confirms what scientists have long suspected - that the famous gesture - often portrayed in films - is a measure of size and strength - allowing communication in the dense, tropical forests in which the animals live. Image: Platelets, computer illustration. Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Science Photo Library via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Apr 08, 2021
Post-Covid outcomes after release from hospital
After last year’s first wave of covid-19 in the UK, individuals who had been discharged after hospitalisation suffered higher rates of coronary and respiratory disorders, and even diabetes subsequently over 140 days. As Dr Ami Banerjee of University College London explains, out of 48,000 cases, patients who had had acute covid-19 were four times more likely to be readmitted and 8 times more likely to die. Ami’s team suggests in their paper published in the British Medical Journal that diagnosis, treatment and prevention of post-covid syndrome needs an integrated approach. In France, researcher Xavier Montagutelli describes how his team has observed that unlike the original virus, some of the newer Variants of Concern can infect mice in laboratories. They do not show serious illness, but nevertheless host the virus in their lungs. Whilst infection is unlikely in natural environments and not yet observed in the wild, it does show how the viral variants can extend the host range, perhaps leading to more opportunities for mutation. But this finding, posted as a pre-print, also perhaps represents an avenue for deeper gene-specific research that has not so far been possible. Over in Colombia, Monica Carvalho of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute describes her team’s findings regarding the origins of the diversity and habitat of rainforests in south America. Looking at leaf fossils and pollen grains from 60 million years ago, they have found significant differences between the forests of the dinosaurs, and the ones we see today. As they write in the journal Science, it all changed when the Chixulub meteor hit the Gulf of Mexico and the global lights went out. The rainforests that grew back were simply not the same. But much further back in time, some billion years ago, the forests of the world that were changing the chemistry and making seas inhabitable allowing complex multicellular life, consisted of pencil-lead sized algae quietly photosynthesizing in the shallows of an ocean in what is today remote Canada. Katie Maloney of University of Toronto Mississauga spotted fossils of just these when out on a field trip in Yukon territory. Publishing in Geology Magazine this week, her eagle-eyed finds shed light on this crucial epoch in life history of which there are scant fossilized remains. Image: Rainforest canopy Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Apr 01, 2021
Science on the side of a new volcano
Sightseers and social media scrollers have flocked to the slopes of Fagradalsfjall, a volcano erupting 40 kilometres west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. Having produced less than 1 square kilometre of lava this eruption could be deemed relatively minor, allowing bystanders to get up close and personal. Among the hubbub, you might also spot Dr Evgenia Ilyinskaya from University of Leeds, just one of the researchers measuring and observing the event from an alarmingly small distance. Her interest is more in the invisible toxic gases and trace elements being emitted from one of the deepest magma eruptions in recent times than the more cinematic molten rock. This week scientists working on results from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced intriguing evidence (NB “evidence” – not yet a definite discovery) of physics beyond our current understanding. Everything we can detect directly in the universe is made from a few basic building blocks, fundamental particles. These particles are governed by four universal fundamental forces. Our best understanding of these forces and particles are sewn together in the Standard Model of particle physics. Since the 1970s this model has been able to explain most of our experimental results, but not all. Professor Gudrun Hiller from Technische Universität Dortmund has been theorizing as to what sort of experiments might lead to evidence of where the model might be incomplete. And this week, she has reason to feel a little bit proud. As she and her fellow member of the LHCb consortium, Harry Cliff, explain, a mysterious asymmetry in the way certain quarks – beauty quarks – have been seen to decay could be pointing at a deeper, more sophisticated, picture of the nature of the universe. Theorists are theorizing all around the world: could this be a new class of particle called a “leptoquark” that mediates a whole new type of force? The new results have been submitted for publication in the journal Nature, but have also been made public online in what is known as a “preprint”. Science publication has, for hundreds of years, been governed by peer-review. This process has prevented the wider community of scientists from accessing new scientific reports and papers unless vetted by a smaller number of fellow experts in the field. But this hasn’t been the case for all disciplines. “Preprints”, uncorrected proofs, have for some decades played a role in the publication process of physics and mathematics. In these fields, on the whole, lives are not at risk if mistakes get through to publication, but over the past year the practice of posting proofs to preprint servers is now common in the biomedical and life sciences, to accommodate the deluge of research being conducted on Covid-19. Might this be a problem? Or could it demonstrate the value of preprints? A new paper from Jonny Coates (also a preprint) and colleagues has looked at whether much changes on a biomedical or life-science preprint as it travels through peer-review towards conventional publication. Image: Lava flows from Fagradalsfjall volcano in Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland Credit: Kristinn Magnusson/ Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Mar 25, 2021
International science at sea
In the UK thousands of scientists have signed open letters to the UK government protesting cuts to international funding announced this week. Abruptly and severely, the cuts may end hundreds of international collaborations between UK scientists and colleagues around the world working on health, climate change, disaster resilience, sustainability and many development topics. Professor Jenni Barclay is a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia, and is one of the organisers of the protest. At the University of Cape Town, Dr Chris Trisos is the director of the Climate Risk Lab at the African Climate and Development Initiative, one of the authors of the IPCC 6th assessment, and has just learned his funding will be terminated, as the UK’s Royal Society must trim its output in this area by two thirds. Professor Otteline Leyser is CEO of UKRI – the UK’s main research funding agency, and will have to work out what will happen to over 900 projects currently under way. Antarctica Iceberg A74 break away Earlier this week German Research Vessel Polarstern released images from its remarkable circumnavigation of Antarctica’s latest iceberg, known as A74. This is the largest chunk of ice to break away from this sector of Antarctica since 1971, approaching the same size of Greater London. Dr Autun Purser describes a hair-raising voyage between the narrow gap left between the berg and the shelf, including the first images of life that have spent at least 50 years in total darkness, hundreds of miles from the open sea. Image: Polarstern between Brunt and iceberg A74, Antarctica Credit: RalphTimmermann Presented by Roland Pease Produced by Alex Mansfield
Mar 18, 2021
A shooting star parked on your driveway
Last week a fireball lit up the sky of western England. Locals and professionals scoured the countryside for any surviving precious fragments of meteorite, and thanks to them some bits of the earliest solar system are now in London’s Natural History Museum. And as an excited Sara Russell, Merit Researcher in Cosmic Mineralogy tells us, examples of carbonaceous chondrite – the soft, loamy type that fell in Winchcombe – such as this, are a rare and special chunk of luck. 10 years on from the Japanese Tsunami Exactly a decade ago the disastrous huge wave caused by an earthquake at sea struck the coast of Japan, causing death and devastating consequences. The flood defences have been rebuilt to replace the ones swept away. But could new ways of spotting tsunamis beyond the horizon be, well, just over the horizon? Giovanni Occhipinti of the Paris Geophysics Institute tells Roland about his technique of looking at disruptions in the highest levels of the atmosphere - using the slight twinkle in a beam from a GPS or GNS satellite - to infer that a massive wave may be on its way. Hacked EMA emails and mRNA vaccine stability This week a piece in the British Medical Journal provides some insight into how the medical regulatory bodies scrutinised the novel RNA vaccines that were the science marvels of 2020. Investigative journalist Serena Tinari was one of the people who received anonymously a large, though selective, bundle of hacked emails and documents dating back to November copied from the servers of the European Medicines Agency. They make mention of concerns the Agency had over the levels of effective RNA contained in some batches of the industrially produced Pfizer Biontech Covid vaccine compared to the laboratory produced doses. The EMA did subsequently licence the vaccine - the problem having presumably been solved. However, as Serena describes, she was then surprised that the companies and agencies she and the BMJ approached would not tell her what the threshold was for adjudging acceptable levels, given as is well known, the fragility of mRNA and the need to store it carefully. They said it was commercially sensitive. But as RNA researcher Prof Anna Blakney tells Science in Action, there are fascinating reasons why that might simply not be known, and also why precise accuracy likely doesn’t matter too much compared to the better-known clinical efficacy these vaccines continue to demonstrate. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield Studio Manager: Duncan Hannant Image: Meteorite of carbonaceous chondrite found in Gloucestershire, England, UK Credit: Anonymous
Mar 11, 2021
Uncovering history with Little Foot's skull
One of our most complete ancient ancestor’s fossils has been transported to the UK from South Africa in order to be scanned at the Diamond Light Source. Roland Pease investigates what these scans could reveal about the human story. Professor Corinne Le Quéré explains how she managed to look past the 7% reduction in human emissions caused by the pandemic in 2020 to reveal the impact of the Paris Climate agreements, and explains what more needs to be done. Roland speaks with anthropologist Dr. Rolf Quam, who has studied the inner ears of fossilised Neanderthal skulls to reveal they may have evolved the ability to hear the complex sounds of spoken language separately to our own species. Dr. Emma Hodcroft discusses the Brazilian P1 COVID 19 variant that is spreading around the world. (Image: Little Foot Skull. Copyright: Diamond Light Source Ltd) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Rory Galloway
Mar 04, 2021
Waste not, want not
Although vaccines will go a long way to reducing the number of cases of Covid, there’s still a need for other approaches. One of these could be an engineered biomolecule, designed by virologists Anne Moscona and Matteo Porotto, that blocks SARS-CoV-2 precisely at the moment it tries to enter cells in the nose and upper airways. Roland Pease talks to Anne Moscona about this “molecular mask”. We’re already beginning to see really encouraging analyses showing that Covid vaccines are performing as well in the real world as was promised by last year’s trials. Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology discusses progress so far and the question of one dose or two with Roland. Lives can be saved if there’s an early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis. Seismologist Zhongwen Zhan at CalTech has been experimenting with a newly installed 10,000 km cable laid along the Pacific coasts of north and south America by Google, all the way from Los Angeles to Santiago. What he was looking for were subtle changes in a property of light that’s important to IT engineers, and can detect subsea earthquakes. We are still sending too much waste to landfill sites. At the Commonwealth Science Conference this week Veena Sahajwalla of the University of New South Wales explained how she is creating small scale factories that can use discarded objects such as ceramics and textiles to make new products. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Feb 25, 2021
Weird weather
A paper in the BMJ shows that deaths from Covid 9 are being massively overlooked in Zambia. The new data come from post-mortem tests at the University Hospital mortuary in Lusaka, showing that at least 1 in 6 deaths there are due to the coronavirus; many of the victims had also been suffering from tuberculosis. Chris Gill of Boston University’s Department of Global Health, and Lawrence Mwananyanda, chief scientific officer of Right to Care, Zambia, discuss their findings with Roland Pease. New variants of concern continue to be reported, such as the one labelled B 1 1 7 in the UK, or B 1 351 identified in South Africa. Geneticist Emma Hodcroft, of the University of Bern, talks about seven variants that have been found in the US. Although all these variants are evolving from different starting points, certain individual mutations keep recurring – which suggests they have specific advantages for the virus. Her co-author Jeremy Kamil, of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, explains how he can watch the viruses replicating inside cells. Much of the United States, as far south as Texas, and Eurasia, has been gripped by an extraordinary blast of Arctic weather. Roland hears from climatalogist Jennifer Francis, of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, about the Arctic’s role in this weird weather. Life, in the form of sponges, has been discovered hundreds of metres under the thick ice surrounding Antarctica, where it’s dark, subzero and barren. The British Antarctic Survey’s Huw Griffiths reveals how it was spotted unexpectedly in pictures colleagues took with a sub-glacial camera. (Image: A man walks to his friend's home in a neighborhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Feb 18, 2021
Perseverance approaches Mars
On 18th February the Perseverance rover should land on Mars. Katie Stack-Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab tells Roland Pease about the technological advances that mean that the spacecraft should be able to land in Jezero Crater. Imperial College geologist Sanjeev Gupta discusses what this crater can reveal about the history of life on the red planet. After months of negotiations, and weeks of work on the ground, a team brought together by the World Health Organisation has just concluded its first attempts to find out the origins of SARS-Cov2 in Wuhan. Peter Daszak, who has worked closely with Chinese virologists in the past, briefed Roland Pease on what had been discovered. The South African government has announced that it will not be rolling out the Astra Zeneca Covid vaccine as it appears it is not very effective against the dominant strain in the country. Helen Rees, of Witwatersrand University and a member of South Africa’s Health Products Regulatory Authority, explains that the ‘ban’ is an overstatement. At least 35 people died in a flood disaster in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India on February 6th. The details are still unclear, but the trigger seems to be associated with a glacier overhanging an upstream lake in the steep valley. Rupert Stuart-Smith of Oxford University, who has just published an analysis of a glacier melting disaster in waiting in the Andes, talks about the impacts of climate change on the stability of mountain glaciers. (Image: An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Feb 11, 2021
Mixing Covid vaccines
A new trial is about to start in the UK, seeing if different vaccines can be mixed and matched in a two-dose schedule, and whether the timing matters. Governments want to know the answer as vaccines are in short supply. Oxford University’s Matthew Snape takes Roland Pease through the thinking. Despite the numbers of vaccines being approved for use we still need treatments for Covid-19. A team at the University of North Carolina is upgrading the kind of manufactured antibodies that have been used to treat patients during the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies. Lisa Gralinski explains how they are designing souped-up antibodies that’ll neutralise not just SARS-CoV-2, but a whole range of coronaviruses. Before global warming, the big ecological worry that exercised environmentalists was acid rain. We’d routinely see pictures of forests across the world dying because of the acid soaking they’d had poisoning the soil. In a way, this has been one of environmental activism’s success stories. The culprit was sulphur in coal and in forecourt fuels – which could be removed, with immediate effect on air quality. But biogeochemist Tobias Goldhammer of the Leibniz Institute in Berlin and colleagues have found that sulphur, from other sources, is still polluting water courses. There’s been debate over when and where dogs became man’s best friend. Geoff Marsh reports on new research from archaeology and genetics that puts the time at around 20,000 years ago and the place as Siberia. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Feb 04, 2021
New Covid vaccine
Researchers at Imperial College have been working on a strategy that can make RNA vaccines stretch further. Anna Blakely explains how the new approach works and why RNA vaccines are adaptable to a changing disease. In January 2019 a dam collapsed in Brazil, spilling 10 million cubic metres of red sludge down nearby rivers, claiming the lives of at least 259 people. An engineering report into the collapse looked at data from safety sensors around the site, and said they’d not revealed any weakening of the dam prior to the failure. But a new study using data from Earth observing satellites has found signs of subtle movement starting weeks earlier. Stephen Grebby of Nottingham University and Roland Pease discuss this finding. An international collaboration led by Kew Gardens has just set out a list of ten golden rules for maintaining and restoring forests. The main author, Kate Hardwick talks about why the rules are necessary and why it isn’t as simple as planting any old trees. There’s been a lot of debate about whether being bilingual is good for the brain. Does knowing more than one language take up precious capacity that could be used for better things? Or does it sharpen it, all the better to take on more challenges? Dean d’Souza of Anglia Ruskin University has been addressing this question by comparing the behaviour of infants brought up in monolingual and multilingual homes. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Jan 28, 2021
Saving the Northern White Rhino
Northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild and there are just two females in captivity in Kenya. Conservationists are working on an artificial breeding programme, using eggs from the females and sperm from a deceased male. Now five embryos have been created. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin explained the research. President Biden’s first executive order was what’s being called the hundred-day mask mandate. The day before the inauguration a massive analysis of mask-wearing and COVID rates demonstrated a clear, if small, benefit. Epidemiologist Ben Rader told Roland Pease that it got over 300,000 opinions by using the online questionnaire, SurveyMonkey. After the alarming series of record-breaking heatwaves last year, global warming is causing specific problems in the innumerable lakes around the world. Lakes are ecologically particularly vulnerable to extremes. The European Space Agency’s Yestyn Woolway has been analysing past trends, and modelling the future. 2020 delivered a record year in hurricanes, which caused around $60 billion dollars in damage to the US alone, according to one estimate. A new technology called Airborne Phased-Array Radar promises to improve the measurements that are currently made by planes that fly right into the eye of the hurricanes, and make the missions safe. It’s being developed at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research and Roland discussed the new technology with the Director of NCAR, Vanda Grubišić. (Image; Najin and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhinos graze in their paddock. Credit: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Jan 21, 2021
Gravitational waves and black holes
After collecting data for more than twelve years the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) announced it may have detected new kinds of gravitational waves caused by colliding supermassive black holes. Professor Chiara Mingarelli of the University of Connecticut tells Roland Pease why this is such an exciting discovery. Supermassive black holes are at the heart of galaxies and they are the engines of quasars, the brightest light sources in the heavens that can be seen across the expanse of the Universe. A team including Professor Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona has identified the oldest quasar in the universe. The SARS-CoV-2 virus looks much like bat coronaviruses, but the most likely route into humans involved some other infected animal. Roland talks to Dr Dalan Bailey of The Pirbright Institute about how he has been looking for possible intermediaries. A new study that looks into the genetics of twins and their families in Iceland shows that identical twins aren’t really identical. Kari Stefansson of the Icelandic genome company, DeCode, explains that the differences can appear when the twins are at the embryonic stage. (Image: Representative illustration of the Earth embedded in space-time which is deformed by the background gravitational waves and its effects on radio signals coming from observed pulsars. Credit: Tonia Klein / NANOGrav) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Jan 14, 2021
New variants of SARS-Cov2
Mutant strains of SARS-Cov2 have been identified not only in the UK, where it was first identified, but also in at least 30 other countries. And to complicate matters, another alarming variant, with some similar mutations, has arisen in South Africa. Roland Pease talks to Ravi Gupta, a virologist at Cambridge University and Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu Natal about these new strains. There’s only so much that can be learned about the virus by looking at the patients it infects. Thanks to techniques developed to study HIV, Ebola, flu and other viruses in the past, researchers have methods for growing key parts of viral structures in the lab and watching closely how they behave in cell cultures. Jeremy Luban of the University of Massachusetts and Alli Greaney at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center talk to Roland about how they are studying the biology of the mutations to discover how the new strains might respond to vaccines. (Image: Swab test. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Jan 07, 2021
Coping with Covid
This has been an incredible year for scientific advance and collaboration, epitomised by the roll out of vaccines that didn’t exist a year ago, against a virus that no one had ever heard of . And yet at the same time its been a year of incredible frustration. We are stil largely using the same methods to counter the virus that were used in past pandemics, going back a hundred years. Here we look back at key the findings on who is most susceptible and why, and ask how to improve the strategies for reducing transmission. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 31, 2020
A year with Covid -19
It was the end of December 2019 when reports of a new flu like infection first came out of China. Within weeks millions of people were in lockdown as the virus took hold around the world. In this programme we look back and revisit the scientists who were ready, those who had been studying bat coronaviruses and warning of their pandemic potential. The scientific response was immediate. The coronavirus tests now used across the world were being developed within a few hours of news of the outbreak in China, and the vaccines we now have licenced for use began to be formulated just a few days later. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 24, 2020
Covid -19 – Mutations are normal
This week the UK Health secretary raised concerns over a new variant of SARS- CoV-2 currently spreading across Europe. Viruses mutate all the time so it’s no surprise that a new form of the one causing Covid -19 would emerge. However, virologist Ravi Gupta who analysed the new strain says we need to be weary in case future strains mutate in ways that could overcome vaccines. Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki is part of a team looking at the impact of Covid -19 on our immune system. Her research has uncovered autoantibodies linked to infection with the virus. These are responsible for a number of autoimmune diseases. The finding goes some way to explaining the symptoms seen by some people long after a Covid -19 infection. And how clever are ravens? According to behavioural scientist Simone Pika at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in many ways they are up there with chimps or young children. She found they performed well in tests designed for primates. Following the dinosaur destroying meteor strike where was the best place for life to develop a new? Geologists, David Kring and Tim Bralower, think they’ve found the answer hidden in plain sight. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 17, 2020
The unchecked spread of Covid-19 in Manaus
Pictures of coffins and mass graves seen by satellites showed that Manaus has been badly affected by Covid- 19. Now analysis of blood samples shows the extent to which the virus took hold in the Amazon city earlier this year. Investigators Ester Sabino and Lewis Buss from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo discuss how and why the virus spread. Humanity has been modifying the environment for millennia, but have we now reached a point where it’s all too much? An analysis by Emily Elhacham from Tel Aviv University shows the amount of stuff produced by humanity, from plastics to buildings now has a greater mass than all natural biomass on the planet. And China has been to the moon. Space watcher Andrew Jones tells us how the robotic mission mimics the manned missions of the 1960s and 70s. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 10, 2020
Freak weather getting even freakier
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has seen a new record for severe storms says Climatologist Michael Mann. He says warming oceans are one of the drivers. And Australia has seen spring temperatures hit new highs. Climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick says it’s all the more remarkable as weather patterns are currently in a cycle associated with cooler temperatures. Where exactly did SARS- COV-2 emerge from? That’s one of the questions for a WHO fact-finding mission to China looking into the origins of the Virus. Peter Daszak has worked with Chinese scientists for many years, looking for bat viruses with the potential to jump to humans. He tells us how the mission hopes to map out the event which led to the initial spread of the virus. And the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe is due to return to earth. Masaki Fujimoto Deputy director of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA, tell us what to expect when a cargo of material from a distant asteroid lands in the Australian desert. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 03, 2020
Vaccines – the Covid confusion
While developing new treatments drug companies usually release little useful information on how the clinical trials are progressing. However with the world’s attention on potential vaccines against Covid -19, the usually dull data on the progression of each trial step is subject to huge scrutiny. It doesn’t help to clarify things says epidemiologist Nicole Basta when that data raises questions about the rigour of the trial itself. This seems to be what happened with the latest Astra Zeneca, and Oxford University trial – where the best results were reportedly due to a mistake. The link between locust plagues and extreme weather was demonstrated once again when cyclone Gati hit Somalia – dumping 2 years worth of rain in just a few days. This creates a perfect environment for locusts to breed to plague proportions. And this will be the third time in as many years that cyclones will trigger such an effect says Keith Cressman from the UNFAO. However thanks to the previous recent locust plagues in East Africa the countries most in line for this returning locust storm are better prepared this time. A study of tree rings from Greater Mongolia suggests the region is now drying out rapidly, the past 20 years have been drier than the past thousand says climate scientist Hans Liderholm. This points to potential desertification in coming years. And the death of a scientific icon. The Arecibo observatory, featured in the films ‘Goldeneye’ and ‘Contact’, and responsible for the Nobel Prize winning detection of gravitational waves is facing demolition. Sitting in a crater in the jungles of Puerto Rico this 57 year old radio telescope dish has suffered severe storm damage and is in danger of collapse. Astronomer Anne Virkki, who works at the telescope and science writer Shannon Stirone explain its significance. (Image: Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 26, 2020
Covid- 19 – Good news on immunity
Tests on patients for up to 8 months following their infection with SARS- CoV-2 suggests an immune response can persist. Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf at the La Jolla Institute in California are optimistic this could mean vaccines would also confer long lasting immunity. An analysis of samples from Kenya’s blood banks by Sophie Uyoga at the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Programme reveals far more people in Kenya contracted the virus than was previously know. The figures mean Kenya has similar levels of infection to many European countries. And a study of mosquitoes by Louis Lambrechts of the Pasteur Institute in Paris reveals why Zika, a virus originating in Africa is much more prevalent in other parts of the world. We also look at the future of the Nile. Ethiopia is building a massive Dam which will have consequences for Sudan and Egypt who are reliant on the Nile’s waters says hydrologist Hisham Eldardiry from the University of Washington, Seattle. (Image: Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 19, 2020
Covid-19 defeats US Marines
The WHO is working with China to try and pinpoint the source of SARS- COV-2. Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says there are lessons we can learn from the investigation she led into the original SARS outbreak back in 2003. That inquiry revealed how SARS had spread from bats to humans via civet cats. A Covid-19 vaccine claims to be 90% effective. It uses genetic material, messenger RNA. Daniel Anderson of Harvard MIT Health Science tells us about the huge potential of mRNA to provide treatments for many medical conditions. However, rolling out such a vaccine globally faces a huge range of economic and practical obstacles as ethicist Nicole Hassoun of Binghamton University explains. And a unique experiment shows despite a vast range of precautions including being isolated US Marines have contracted Covid -19. Stuart Sealfon, Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai Hospitals says this study shows we need testing to be integrated more thoroughly into everyday life and that many of the precautions we currently use may not be enough to prevent transmission. (Image: Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 12, 2020
Coronavirus spreads from mink to humans
All the farmed mink in Denmark are to be killed. Around 17 million. This is because they have SARS COV-2 coronavirus circulating among them and some humans have contracted a new strain from the animals. The scientific detail is sketchy, but Emma Hodcroft at Basel University pieces together a picture of what this means for tackling the virus. Typhoon Goni and hurricane Eta are two very powerful tropical cyclones. But the way these storms are recorded differs by geographical location and recording style. We speak with Kerry Emanuel, a professor at MIT in Boston, USA. The magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the Mediterranean last Friday (30/10/20) was 70 miles away from the city of Izmir, but despite this, there was devastating loss of life due to collapsed buildings. Earthquake engineer Eser Çaktı from the Turkish University of Boğaziçi, and Tiziana Rossetto from University College London talk us through the damage. Migratory arctic animals are a weathervane for how the world is coping with climate change. Scientists have now pulled together monitoring data for these species’ movements into one accessible bank. Sarah Davidson tells us how this can help us understand the impact of Arctic climate change. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Rory Galloway
Nov 05, 2020
Osiris Rex stows asteroid material
Last week NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission successfully touched down on asteroid Bennu’s crumbly surface. But the spacecraft collected so much material that the canister wouldn’t close. NASA systems engineer Estelle Church tells Roland Pease how she and the team back on Earth performed clever manoeuvres to remotely successfully shut the lid. As winter draws on in the North, and people spend more time indoors, there’s considerable debate about the conditions in which SARS-Cov2 is more likely to spread. Princeton University’s Dylan Morris has just published research exploring the coronavirus’s survival in different humidities and temperatures. Indian agriculture in some areas uses vast amounts of water. Dr Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar has discovered that this irrigation, plus very high temperatures, is causing not just extreme discomfort amongst the population but also more deaths. In the 1930s serious dust storms over several years ruined crops and lives over a huge part of Midwest America. The dustbowl conditions were made famous by the folk songs of Woodie Guthrie and in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. Now a study in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that levels of dust have doubled in the past twenty years. Roland Pease asks researchers and farmers if they think the dust bowl is returning. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Editor: Deborah Cohen
Oct 29, 2020
Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid
Science in Action talks to Nasa researcher Hannah Kaplan who is part of the team for the space agency’s sampling mission to the asteroid Bennu. Mission scientists were overjoyed this week when the probe Osiris Rex momentarily touched the asteroid and sucked up some of the sand and grit on its surface. What might we learn when the sample is returned to Earth in three years' time? There is some not-such-good news about a theory about immunity to the pandemic coronavirus, and medical researchers in the UK announce the world’s first study that will deliberately infect volunteers with the novel coronavirus. The so-called challenge study is planned to begin in London in January. The purpose is to speed up the quest for effective Covid-19 vaccines but will it be safe for the participants? And there’s a new green chemistry breakthrough for tackling the world’s plastic waste crisis. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Image: Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid. Credit Nasa)
Oct 22, 2020
Covid-19 mortality
Why is there such a range in the number of deaths from Covid -19 between countries? A study of the data across 21 industrialised countries reveals a wide discrepancy. Preparedness and the point at which countries went into lockdown were key factors says epidemiologist Jonny Pearson- Stuttard Recurring illnesses which show up sometimes months after a Covid -19 infections are being more commonly reported. The Uk’s National Institute for Health research has launched a major initiative to better understand this long term effect of the disease, Candace Imison tells us more. And another reported case of Covid 19 reinfection raises questions about widely held beliefs on immunity. Microbiologist Sarah Pitt helps us separate the science from the fiction. We also take a look at a black hole as it swallows up a star or at least at what’s detectable. Katy Alexander has trained radio telescopes at this distant event. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 15, 2020
Do Covid–19 mutations matter?
Data from clinical investigations has suggested that a specific mutation in the SARS-Cov -2 virus has made it more transmissible. This finding is now supported by molecular biology work. Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina led a team comparing the form of the virus which first emerged from China with the mutated type now prevalent word wide. Bats are known to carry many different types of viruses, horseshow bats specifically carry coronaviruses, apparently without any ill effects to themselves. However some viruses do affect or even kill bats. Daniel Streicker from the University of Glasgow says more research in this area may help find those bat viruses most likely to jump to humans. Malaria is no stranger to Africa, but largely keeps out of urban centres as it’s difficult for the mosquitoes which carry the parasites to survive there. However an Asian mosquito which is better adapted to life in the city is now threatening to move in. Entomologist Marianne Sinka Has been looking at how and where it might spread. And the Nobel prize for chemistry has been won by the inventors of the Crispr gene editing technique Gunes Taylor is a genetic engineer who used this technique at the Crick Institute in London tells us why it is now so central to biological research. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 08, 2020
Are children the biggest Covid-19 spreaders?
An analysis of Covid-19 data from South India shows children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults, Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan tell us the data also shows the situations in which the virus is most likely to spread, public transport is of particular concern. The WHO has launched an initiative to roll out rapid testing, particularly to countries that don’t have access to lab based tests, Catharina Boehme who leads one of the WHO’s partner organisation in the project tells us the test, which looks similar to home pregnancy tests should give results within fifteen minutes. Andrea Crisanti led a ground-breaking testing initiative in Italy which eliminated Covid-19 in a small town in a matter of weeks. We look to the lessons learned. And in California residents have been in a kind of self- enforced lockdown, not because of Covid – 19 but due to wildfires fires. Molly Bentley from the Seti Institute podcast ‘ Big Picture Science’ tells us about how the fires have created an atmosphere of toxic smoke, even in the cities. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 01, 2020
Why Covid -19 vaccines may not stop transmission
While vaccines against Covid -19 are being developed at unprecedented speed, none of them have been tested to see if they can actually stop transmission of the virus. They are designed to stop those who are vaccinated from developing Covid -19 disease, but not becoming infected. This says Virologist Malik Peiris from Hong Kong University means while vaccinated people themselves may be protected they might also spread the virus. Cells produced in the bone marrow may be responsible for an extreme immune response to Covid 19 in some people. Immunologist Lizzie Mann from Manchester University says this finding may help predict who will develop serious disease symptoms, and also provide a target for future treatments. Extreme ice melt in the Arctic this summer may have a long term impact on the region says glaciologist Julienne Stroeve. She spent the winter in the Arctic and tells us about the environment she encountered. And climate change is also impacting the tropics, research in Gabon from Ecologists Emma Bush and Robin Whytock shows a reduction of the amount of fruit available which is now impacting the health of forest elephants. (Image Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 24, 2020
Malaria resistance breakthrough
Some East Africans have a genetic mutation which gives them resistance to Malaria. Investigations into how it works have produced a surprising finding. As researcher Silvia Kariuki explains it’s all to do with the surface tension of the red blood cells. SARS-CoV- 2 can pass from people in the very early stages of Covid -19, before they show symptoms. New research shows identifying cases at this early stage is crucial to controlling the pandemic. And yet most testing regimes require symptoms to show before testing. Luca Ferretti did this latest analysis. And how about getting up close with virus? That’s what Camille Ehre has done, using an electron microscope to produce remarkable pictures of the virus as it attacks lung tissue. Carl Wunsch tells us of a technique he developed in the 1970s to measure changes in global ocean temperatures using sound waves. Revisiting this method may give us insight into the impact of climate change on the deep ocean. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 17, 2020
Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth. Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19 around China and beyond. Dr Catherine Nakalembe, of the University of Maryland and East Africa Lead for NASA Harvest explains how she uses data collected by satellites to find out where crops are thriving and where they are not. She also talks about how this technology can alert countries to approaching locust swarms. And Professor Moriba Jah of University of Texas at Austin, tells Roland why he’s concerned about the amount of space junk that’s orbiting the earth and why so little is being done about controlling satellite launch and disposal. (Image: Artist response to NASA Harvest discussion at AAAS Credit: Lorenzo Palloni) Presenter: Roland Pease Editor: Deborah Cohen
Sep 15, 2020
Covid -19 science versus politics
With the announcement in the UK of investment in rapid testing for people who may not have Covid -19 we ask why is this only happening now? For months on this programme we’ve featured scientific research suggesting such a strategy would be the quickest way to end the pandemic. We speak with Connie Cepko and Brian Rabe who have developed a rapid test and Manu Prakash who is currently rolling it out to countries in the global south. Could a huge motorcycle rally really have been the source of over a quarter of a million Covid -19 infections? That’s the finding of a study by economist Andrew Friedson he tells us how mobile phone data helped to determine that figure. And the politics of vaccines, Many health officials in the US have spoken out against president Trumps claim that a vaccine may be ready before the November presidential election. Helen Branswell from Stat news tells us why there is so much concern over political attempts to manipulate science. (Image:Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 10, 2020
Nyiragongo - is Goma under threat?
A new survey of the volcano's activity suggests there may be an eruption in the next 4 to 7 years. It's a particular concern for the populations of Goma and Gisenyi, two cites between the volcano and lake Kivu. As we hear from the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory Katcho Karume, the city of Goma in particular has expanded so much that many people now live right next to fissures in the flank of the volcano through which any eruption would likely occur. Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana's main area of swamp land, missing big urban areas to either side. It was a lucky escape for many, but as hurricane historian Jill Trepanier tells us such extreme weather events do seem to be more frequent and potentially more destructive. And wildfires ravaging California and other Western US states may have been intensified by changes to global weather systems . Climate scientist Bill Lau says those weather systems in turn have been modified by man-made climate change. In November 2018 a Chinese scientist announced he had edited the genes of twin girls. The announcement was greeted with horror by many researchers in the field. Now a way to regulate gene editing internationally has been proposed by some of the world's leading scientific institutions. Kay Davies co-author of their report explains the plan. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Main Image: Sunset, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shamim Shorif Susom / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Sep 03, 2020
Covid-19 therapy controversy
This week Science in Action examines the evidence around the Trump Administration’s emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma therapy for the treatment of Covid-19. Donald Trump described its US-wide roll-out as ‘historic’ but the majority of scientists and doctors disagree, questioning the scientific basis for the government’s decision. Roland Pease talks to Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner, the leader of the convalescent plasma therapy study on which the action was based. The Mayo Clinic trial involved a large number of patients but none of them were compared to Covid-19 patients who were not treated with convalescent plasma. Trials that incorporate that comparison are the only way to properly assess the therapy’s effectiveness. Roland talks to Martin Landray of the University of Oxford who is testing convalescent plasma therapy in the UK’s Recovery randomised control trial, and to medical ethicist Alison Bateman-House of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. We also talk to nanotechnologist Marc Miskin about the million-strong army of microscopic robots he’s creating in his lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck Baker (Main image: New York lab tests serum from recovered covid-19 patients for possible therapy. Credit: Misha Friedman / Getty Images)
Aug 27, 2020
Trouble in Greenland
Has the loss from Greenland’s vast ice sheet reached a tipping point? According to glaciologist Michalea King, the rate at which its ice flows into the sea stepped up about 15 years ago. The process of glacial retreat is outpacing the accumulation snow and ice in Greenland’s interior and the loss of Greenland’s ice to the Ocean is set to continue for many years to come. An international study of past climate changes during the last ice age reveals how fast changes to weather patterns and climate states can reverberate around the world. During the last ice age, when temperatures rose suddenly in Greenland a series of changes to the climate in Europe and the monsoons in Asia and South America occurred almost simultaneously - within decades of each other. Climate scientists Eric Wolff and Ellen Corrick have discovered this through studies of stalagmites from caves around the world. It’s a demonstration of how rapidly and dramatically the Earth’s atmospheric system can change when it’s perturbed. Was the hottest temperature ever on Earth recorded last weekend? A weather station in Death Valley in California recorded a temperature of 54.4 degrees C. Roland Pease discusses the controversy with extreme weather historian Christopher Burt. Andrea Dupree of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reveals the latest on the giant star Betelgeuse which to everyone’s amazement dimmed dramatically at the beginning of the year. At the time some people wondered whether it was about to explode as a supernova but Andrea’s new findings suggest an event at the star which is almost as extraordinary. (Image: Masses of ice break off from the edge of a glacier. Credit: Press Association) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 20, 2020
Putin’s Covid-19 vaccine
Russia’s President Putin announced the registration of a vaccine for coronavirus. This was reported with widespread alarm amid concerns over safety, but as BBC Russian Service’s Sergei Goryashko, tells us the announcement was a political move to capture the headlines. Investigations by Alexandra Reynolds and Hooman Poor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have revealed why some Covid 19 patients have low oxygen levels, but don’t have breathing difficulties. The answer came when looking for signs of stroke in the brain. Nisreen Alwan, a specialist in public health at Southampton University is concerned about the quality of life of people who have had a Covid -19 infection. Being classed as recovered is not enough she says and we need to look more at recurring health problems associated with the disease. And Cardiff University’s Haley Gomez has news of a tantalising discovery. The detection of a neutron star hidden in a dust cloud for more than 30 years. (Image:President Putin. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Aug 13, 2020
Counting the heat health threat from climate change
If the world does not curb its greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of this century, the number of people dying annually because of extreme heat will be greater than the current global death toll from infectious diseases - that’s all infectiousness diseases, from malaria to diarrhoeal diseases to HIV. This is the grim assessment of climate researchers and economists of the Climate Impact Lab in the largest global study to date of health and financial impacts of temperature-related deaths. Roland Pease talks to Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley. UK ecologists have new insights about how diseases jump the species barrier from wildlife to humans. With a global survey of land use and biodiversity, they’ve discovered that when natural habitats are converted to farmland or urbanised, the animal species that survive the change in greatest number are those species which carry viruses and bacteria with the potential to spread to us. This is particularly the case, says Rory Gibb of the University College London, with disease-carrying rodent species, bats and birds. Do past infections by mild cold coronaviruses prepare the immune systems of some people for infection by SARS-CoV-2? Could immune memory T cells made in response to these cold viruses lessen the severity of Covid-19? Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology lead the team which published the latest contributions to these questions. Anglerfish are perhaps the weirdest inhabitants of the deep sea. Their sex lives are particularly strange because finding partners in the dark expanse of the ocean abyss is hard. Females are much bigger than males. When a male finds a female, he latches on her body with his teeth and over a couple of weeks, their flesh fuses so he is permanently attached. Her blood supplies him with all the food and oxygen he needs and he becomes an ever present supply of sperm whenever she produces eggs. But this fusion should be impossible. The female’s immune system should be rejecting her partner like a mismatched organ transplant. German scientists have now discovered that these fish do this by giving up the production of antibodies and immune T cells – essential for fighting infections in all other animals including us. It was a shocking discovery for Prof Thomas Boehm at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg. (Image: Relatives of heatstroke victims, their heads covered with wet towels, wait outside a hospital during a heatwave in Karachi. .Credit: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 06, 2020
NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago – the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet. Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. Sampled from compacted mud 70 metres below the seafloor and beneath 6 kilometre of water, Yuki Morono and Steve D’Hondt admit they struggle to understand how the bacteria have survived for so long. Science in Action celebrates the little unknown oceanographer Marie Tharp who in the late 1950s discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge which helped to launch the plate tectonics revolution in earth sciences. It would be Tharp’s 100th birthday this week. New research this week suggests that coronaviruses capable of infecting humans have been in bats for 40 to 70 years, and that there may be numerous and as yet undetected viruses like the Covid-19 virus in bat populations with the potential to cause future pandemics. Their message is that we should be sampling and testing wild bat colonies much more extensively than currently. Their findings provide further evidence against the unfounded claim that the Covid-19 virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Roland Pease talks to Dr Maciej Boni at Pennsylvania State University. (Image: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. Credit: Illustration provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS) Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 30, 2020
Making a Covid-19 vaccine for two billion people
There’s been encouraging news about the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine this week from a trial involving about 1,000 people. But how great is the challenge in scaling up from making a few thousand doses of the vaccine to manufacturing two billion by the end of this year? Sandy Douglas of Oxford’s Jenner Institute explains how they plan to mass-produce the vaccine safely given the speed and magnitude of the scale up. A new kind of treatment for Covid-19 may come from an unlikely source: llamas and alpacas, the South American relatives of the camel. Camelids produce unusually small and simple antibodies against viruses, including the coronavirus. This feature may make these molecules an effective Covid-19 therapy. Jane Chambers reports on research in Chile and the UK. Also in the programme: Roland talks to Noah Rose and Lindy McBride of Princeton University about what has made just a few mosquito species evolve a preference for biting humans, and the theory that 800 million years ago. He also talks to Professor Kentaro Terada of Osaka University and David Kring of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in the USA about evidence that the Moon and the Earth were bombarded by a shower of asteroids which plunged the Earth into a global ice age – an event which may have changed the course of the evolution of life. (Image: A team of experts at the University of Oxford are working to develop a vaccine that could prevent people from getting Covid-19 Credit: Press Association) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 23, 2020
How long do Covid-19 antibodies last?
Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on the response of our immune system to infection by the coronavirus. Researchers at Kings College London find that protective antibodies appear to fade away after about three months following infection whereas a team at the Karolinska Institute has discovered that although antibodies may decline, other important players called T cells in our defences do not. Doctors Katie Doores and Marcus Buggert talk about the implications of these discoveries for the quest for a vaccine against the coronavirus. Roland Pease also talks to Dr Barney Graham of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States about the results from the Phase 1 trial of a novel type of vaccine against the virus. NIAID have partnered with biotech company Moderna to produce the first mRNA vaccine in the Institute’s pandemic preparedness program. Biologist Dr Sonja Wild tells Roland about the remarkable fishing strategy devised by dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia. They chase fish into the empty shell of giant sea snails, then take the shells to the surface and tip the fish into their mouths. Dr Wild’s 7 years of research has revealed how the dolphins have learned to do this. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Correction: The audio of this edition has been edited since its initial broadcast. This was to correct an error in Barney Graham’s interview. The phase 3 of the Moderna mRNA vaccine trial is scheduled to begin on 27 July, not 27 January as originally broadcast.
Jul 16, 2020
Rwanda’s game changing coronavirus test
African scientists have developed a reliable, quick and cheap testing method which could be used by worldwide as the basis for mass testing programmes. The method, which produces highly accurate results, is built around mathematical algorithms developed at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Kigali. We speak to Neil Turok who founded the institute, Leon Mutesa Professor of human genetics on the government coronavirus task force, and Wilfred Ndifon, the mathematical biologist who devised the algorithm. The virus is mutating as it spreads, but what does this mean? There is particular concern over changes to the spike protein, part of the virus needed to enter human cells. Jeremy Luban has been analysing this mechanism. So far he says ongoing genetic changes seem unlikely to impact on the effectiveness of treatments for Covid -19. And Heatwaves are increasing, particularly in tropical regions, that’s the finding of a new analysis by climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle Main image: People stand in white circles drawn on the ground to adhere to social distancing in Kigali, Rwanda, on May 4, 2020, Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP via Getty Images
Jul 09, 2020
Covid -19 and Children
Studies in Children who have been severely affected by Covid 19 in Italy, Britain and the US are showing the same thing – a range of symptoms linked to an overactive immune system. Elizabeth Whittaker from London’s Imperial College discusses the similarities in these cases and possible reasons for this syndrome with Shanna Kowalsky from Mount Sinai hospital in New York. How much should drugs for Covid 19 cost? Remdesivir which has shown promise against the virus has been priced at over $2000 for a course of treatment, but Drug price analyst Andrew Hill says the cost of production is actually below $10. And how about some really alternative energy? Marion Cromb at Glasgow University has run an experiment to simulate a spinning black hole. In theory a rocket sent to an equivalent real black hole could use its rotation as a power source (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 02, 2020
Record high temperatures – in the Arctic
A record summer temperature in Siberia is an indication of major changes in the Arctic climate. Changing weather patterns there have a knock on effect for other parts of the planet says Climatologist Steve Vavrus Chile appeared to get Covid-19 under control, but in reality the virus was spreading uncontrollably through poor areas, As we hear from our correspondent in Santiago Jane Chambers, the lockdown has tightened but cases continue to rise. And could mass testing using new saliva tests help control or even end the epidemic? Epidemiologist Julian Peto tells us about his plan which is designed to contain the virus within individual households and stop community spread. Experiments to investigate dark matter have produced some tantalising results, Physicist Laura Manenti says it’s not confirmation of detection, but potentially close. (Image: Rural Scene in Verkhoyansk. Credit: Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 25, 2020
Covid -19 hope for severe cases
A multi arm trial testing a range of drugs has shown that readily available steroids can be lifesaving for people severely ill with Covid-19. Max Parmar, head of the UK Medical Research Council’s clinical trials unit says the trial design, where many potential drugs can be tested against the same controls, is key to producing results quickly. As it spreads around the world SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. But what does this mean? These mutations are part of a natural process and some researchers are finding they make no real difference to patient outcomes so far, but others are concerned the virus may become more dangerous. Neville Sanjana from New York University has been running lab tests on the mutant virus. Measles mutated from an animal virus, developing the ability to jump from cattle to human around 2,500 years ago. Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute tracked its origins using preserved lung samples from centuries old measles victims. Covid -19 has become a magnet for conspiracy theorists. A common unfounded claim is that the virus was deliberately manufactured. During the boredom of lockdown such ideas have taken off online, with conspiracy videos receiving millions of views. We speak to scientists who have been targeted, and become the subject of this online misinformation. (Image: Doctor examines Covid-19 virus patient. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 18, 2020
Food security, locusts and Covid -19
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic efforts to counter massive swarms of locusts across East Africa have continued. In many places this has been very effective, killing up to 90% of locusts. However, the threat of repeated waves of locusts remains says Cyril Ferrand, who leads the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Resilience Team in East Africa. Conversely West Africa is unaffected by locusts and with a block on imports local producers have seen demand grow for their produce, an unusual positive effect from the pandemic according to Sandrine Dury from the French agricultural research agency CIRAD. We examine the potential for a second wave of coronavirus as many countries relax lockdown measures, businesses reopen and mass protests take to the streets. Epidemiologist Carl Bergstrom is interested in working out which of these movements is likely to have the most impact. And from South Africa, how radio telescope engineers there have turned their hands to developing new ventilators appropriate for regional needs. (Image: Desert locust. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 11, 2020
The medical complexity of Covid -19
Autopsies show Covid 19 can affect the brain and other organs. Pathologist Mary Fowkes from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found the signs of stroke - unusually in young people, as well as a disruption of the immune system throughout the body. And studies of heart stem cells show these can be killed by the virus. Cell Biologist Stefanie Dimmeler from the University of Frankfurt says this finding could prove useful in providing treatment and preventative medicine. A massive research project in China has identified over 700 different types of coronavirus carried by bats, some of these obscure virus sequences are thought to have already jumped from bats to human and animals such as pigs. In a similar way to SARS-CoV-2 they present a potential threat as a source of future pandemics says Peter Daszak from the EcoHeath Alliance which conducted the research in collaboration with Chinese scientists. And is there racism in the way people with Covid -19 infections are categorised? It’s an issue which concerns toxicologist Winston Morgan from the University of East London. He says as race is a social construct it’s an inappropriate measure to use when trying to work out who is vulnerable to the virus. (Image: Illustration showing the virus structure of SARS-CoV-2. Credit: CDC HO via AFP / Getty) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 04, 2020
Brazil’s Covid chaos
The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment. A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of infection is not necessarily direct person to person transmission says investigator Richard Lessells from the University of KwaZulu Natal. And from London a study in a hospital with many Covid patients at the height of the pandemic supports the South African findings; Researchers found viral particles on surfaces and in the air says Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College. An early warning system for outbreaks of the virus or second waves may come from analysis of sewage, Jordan Peccia from Yale University analysed waste from his local sewage treatment works and found peaks in concentrations of the virus in the sludge occurred a few days before increases in hospital admissions. (Image: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wear face masks as they demonstrate against quarantine and social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors to combat the new coronavirus outbreak and demand military intervention. Credit: SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 28, 2020
Covid-19 vaccines
There are more than 100 different Covid-19 vaccine trials currently going on. We look at which seem to be the most promising with Helen Branswell from Stat News. And we examine a very old idea, using antibodies from one virus – in this case Sars, to counter another virus Sars-CoV-2 , which causes Covid-19. Davide Corti from Vir Biotechnology says a version of these antibodies offers potential for both vaccination and treatment. Race and Covid-19, there seems to be a link between ethnicity and susceptibility to the virus which can’t be easily explained away by economic factors. That's the finding from a study of nearly six million people in the US conducted by epidemiologist Chris Rentsch from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. And social distancing in ancient times, how plagues and pandemics in the past seem to have been defeated using similar behavioural adaptations to those we are current employing. Archaeologist Shadreck Chikure has seen the evidence in sites across Africa. (Image:Vaccine trials Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 21, 2020
Loosening lockdown
How is Covid -19 spread? Who is most at risk and what are the circumstances under which it is most likely to be transmitted? These questions need answers for the implementation of effective and safe strategies to end lockdown. We look at what research is showing. And if you have to go back to work what’s the best way to protect yourself, how should we be using face coverings for example? There are lessons from research on fluid dynamics. Also key is reducing the rate of infection, the R number, Italy relaxed lockdown a few weeks ago we look at early findings on the impact. It’s clear more widespread and effective testing will be needed to reduce transmission, A new test which should be quicker has been developed using synthetic biology and gene editing techniques. (Image: Commuters wear masks whilst travelling on a London Underground train. Credit: Tolga Akmen/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 14, 2020
Covid -19 new hope from blood tests
Research from New York examining the blood of people who have recovered from Covid – 19 shows the majority have produced antibodies against the disease, The researchers hope to soon be able to establish whether this confers long term immunity as with more common viral infections. And Research in Berlin and London has identified biomarkers, minute signs of the disease which may help clinicians identify who is likely to develop severe symptoms and what kind of treatment they might need. Mutations have been much in the headlines, these are a natural processes of evolution and not just in viruses, but the term is misunderstood, two studies focusing on different aspects shed some light on what mutation in SARS-CoV-2 really means. (Image: People wear face masks as they cross a street in Times Square in New York City. Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 07, 2020
Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19
Remdesivir a drug eventually rejected as a treatment for Ebola seems to have aided recovery in a trial with more than a thousand Covid -19 patients. Researchers are cautious but hopeful; a leading health official in the US has made comparisons with the impact of game changing drugs used to treat HIV. In contrast an organisation researching the mechanisms by which bat coronaviruses infect humans has had its funding cut following criticism from President Trump. A scheme to help manufacture ventilators and protective equipment worldwide has seen some success with a simple ventilator they developed, now in use in hospitals. And we look at climate change –with this year set for extreme weather (Image: Liberian photographer Alphanso Appleton took this picture of a schoolgirl and sent it to the Wellcome Trust, to express thanks for their and others’ efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. Credit: Alphanso Appleton/Wellcome Trust) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 30, 2020
Presidents and pandemics
President Trump has repeated unfounded claims that scientists created Covid-19 in a lab. Rigorous scrutiny of the genetics of the virus reveals no evidence for such a claim. And Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is at odds with his own health advisors – splitting public opinion and action over lockdown measures needed to control the virus. We also look at why Covid -19 seems to be associated with so many different symptoms, from diarrheal infections to complicating kidney disease, to heart attacks And some potentially good news from HIV research, a new target to stop that virus in its tracks, which might also be useful in the fight against other viruses. (Image: President Trump with Brazilian President Bolsonaro. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 23, 2020
Italy, getting Covid-19 under control
Italy is beginning its first tentative steps towards ending its lockdown. These are small steps, opening a few shops in areas where virus transmission has seen big falls. Part of the reason for this controlled strategy is that there are real concerns over a potential resurgence of the virus, Around the world there are now hundreds of trials on drug treatments for Covid-19. Results so far are mixed, with antivirals developed for Ebola and HIV showing positive signs, but antimalarial drugs, championed by President Trump in particular have been shown to have dangerous potentially life threatening side effects. A warning from history, more than 500 years ago suggests the western US in particular is entering an extreme drought, a ‘Megadrought’. When this last happened it led to war, depopulation and the spread of disease. And its 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Studies of fish in the region suggest they are still affected by oil from that spill and more recent lesser known pollution events. (Photo: Italy, shops begin to open. Credit: European Photopress Agency) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 16, 2020
Covid 19 - the threat to refugees
Massively over crowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has seen numbers grow from 5 to 20 thousand in a matter of months. Hundreds of people share taps and toilets, there is little chance to implement measures designed to stop the spread of covid 19. So far the camp has not been hit by the epidemic, but aid agencies fear for the most vulnerable in the camp. Covid 19 jumped from bats to humans, possibly via another wild animal. A study of zoonotic diseases has identified many other viruses that could do the same. The skies are clearer, levels of pollution from traffic have dropped by up to 50 percent but how long will cleaner air remain? And Comet Borisov makes a spectacular exit. (Image: Moria refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 09, 2020
Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins
Nigeria has seen a small number of Covid -19 cases, largely spread amongst the most affluent, people who travel abroad, However there is concern about the potential of the virus to spread to overcrowded slum areas. In such conditions social distancing measures would be difficult to enforce. What are the alternatives? The US now has the majority of cases of the virus, New York has been heavily hit, medics have developed an app to help understand the spread of Covid 19 in the community. The availability of test kits is an issue worldwide, we look at a novel idea, adapting a device made from paper that could help to see whether the virus is present in wastewater. The WHO has launched international drug trials to tackle covid 19, but none of the drugs involved were developed specifically to target this virus we look at why they might just work. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 02, 2020
The science of social distancing
The strong social distancing policies introduced by China seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of Covid 19. Without any effective drug treatments, reducing our number of contacts is the most effective way to prevent viral transmission. We also look at the similarities been policies in Russia and the US on how best to deal with the virus. In both cases there are contradictions and disagreements between medical professionals and politicians. And a warning from Polio, how vaccines may create problems when immunisation campaigns do not reach everyone. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 26, 2020
Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?
In Italy the entire population of a small town was tested for Covid 19. Of those infected, one in three people with no symptoms had the virus. And from China researchers found many people carried the virus – even before authorities there began tracking its spread. The findings suggest vulnerable people may contract the virus from those without symptoms. And we’ve news of a breakthrough - new tests looking at Covid 19 antibodies, These should help provide a picture of developing immunity to the virus. However as growing numbers of people fall ill there are concerns over a potential shortage of hospital ventilators globally, These are needed to treat the most severe cases. However a crowdsourcing project has been set up to try and kick start the manufacturing of a variety of different types of ventilator that could be built around the world. If you have knowledge of ventilators or their use and would like to get involved more information is available here. (Image: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 19, 2020
Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why. And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner. Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dipole. The findings show the most extreme years occurred recently – under the influence of man-made climate change. And we look at life deep below the sea floor, microbes which multiply slowly over centuries and eat their neighbours. (Image: Coronavirus test. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 12, 2020
Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change
Attributing Australia's bush fires, a major study says man-made climate change was a big driver – making the fires at least 30% worse than they would have been if natural processes were the only factors. We look at preparations for coronavirus in Africa. Although cases there are currently lower than in much of the rest of the world a major training initiative is taking place to spread awareness amongst medics across the continent. We ask why Horseshoe bats in particular carry coronaviruses, and find a novel idea for distributing vaccines in places without refrigeration. (Image: Australian bushfires. Credit: Getty images/AFP) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 05, 2020
Tracking coronavirus spread
The appearance of Covid -19 in Italy and Iran surprised many this week. As the virus continues to spread we look at ways to contain it. Australia’s fires have burnt around 20 percent of the countries woodlands, what are the implications for the recovery of those ecosystems? And what is the link between the world’s super rich and deforestation? Unsurprisingly it’s money. And we hear about the unexpected cooling effects of hydroelectric dams. (Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Coliseum in Rome. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer Julian Siddle.
Feb 27, 2020
CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself. And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise drug targeting and potentially save lives. We also look at how social science is helping to improve the health of people reliant on woodstoves for cooking, and we unearth a huge impact crater hidden in plain sight. (Image:Getty Images)
Feb 13, 2020
Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material. East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather pattern across the Indian Ocean, made more extreme by climate change, links the rains in Africa with the heatwave in Australia. New features of The Northern Lights have been discovered thanks to an analysis of photos on Facebook by physicists in Finland. Amateur sky watchers pictures reveal previously unnoticed forms in the light display. And we look at the search for properties of sub atomic particles, why a small device might be better than the enormous ones used so far. (Image: Scientists are at work as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Feb 06, 2020
Understanding the new coronavirus
Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus. We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available. We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine hi-tech solutions designed to speed up the process of drug development. Image: Medical staff member helps a couple at a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 30, 2020
New Coronavirus
The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread. Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the outbreak. This week’s edition is very much a snapshot of what we know or knew about this virus on the afternoon of Thursday January 23rd 2020. (Image: Wuhan Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 23, 2020
Mount Taal volcano
An experimental satellite called Aeolus, named after a Greek god of wind, which takes daily global measurements of the wind patterns throughout the depth of atmosphere has improved weather forecasts. ESA’s Anne-Greta Straume explains how it works. The dramatic eruption of the island volcano Taal in the Philippines was a spectacular picture of the plume of ejecta punching a hole in overlying cloud cover. Nearby towns have been blanketed with dust, fissures have appeared in the ground and there has been dramatic lightning. Geologist Yannick Withoos at Leicester University is studying historic eruptions of Taal and current events have brought the purpose of her research into sharp relief. Philipp Heck of the Field Museum in Chicago explains how he has found the oldest dust grains on earth inside a Murchison meteorite. They are millions of years older than the solar system. And Roland Pease talks to Brian Rauch of Washington University, St ouis, who is currently in Antarctica flying detectors on balloons around the South Pole searcLhing for cosmic rays produced in the death of stars. Tracking climate change in the Himalaya – not up at the snow capped peaks, clearly visible from afar, but in the extensive rocky hinterland further down you occasionally see in documentaries about attempts on Everest – is difficult. Ecologist and hydrologist Karen Anderson, of Exeter University, has used satellite data to measure the changes in the vegetation in this remote area. (Image: Taal Volcano, Philippines. Credit: EPA) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 16, 2020
Australia’s extreme fire season
2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, a major factor behind the bush fires which have been far worse than usual. We look at the patterns of extreme weather that have contributed to the fires but are also linked to floods in Africa. And the way in which thunderstorms have helped to spread the fires. The armpit of Orion is changing. The star Betelgeuse is dimming some claim this is readying it for a major explosion others are more sceptical, we weight up the arguments. And an Iron Age brain may hold some clues to modern neurodegenerative disease. Protein fragments have been extracted from the brain tissue found inside a 2,500 year old human skull. (Image: Australia fires. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 09, 2020
Adapting California
Roland Pease is joined by California based science Journalist Molly Bentley as we examine the impact of earthquakes and fires. California has experienced both in the last year - What’s it like to live with a constant threat from these extreme events? We also take a look at NASA’s plans for a new mission to Mars – to look for signs on life. Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC
Jan 02, 2020
Gaming climate change
The latest round of climate negotiations, COP25, have ended without agreement on many fundamental issues. We join researchers from Perdue University in the US who have developed a role-playing game to encourage climate negotiators and others to take a long-term view. Key to this research project is the concept of tipping points, where an environment changes irreversibly from one state to another. This is accompanied by the loss of ecosystems - for example, the widespread melting of Arctic sea ice, rainforest burning or coral bleaching. The idea is that such tipping points provide a more meaning full focus for the implication of climate change than abstract concepts like temperature rise. Image: Polar bear in the Arctic Sea (Credit: Coldimages/Getty)
Dec 26, 2019
Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption
We have the latest from a year long investigation into the causes of the December 2018 Indonesian Tsunami. And we get a look at the first pictures from the Mayotte undersea volcano, which emerged earlier this year off the coast of East Africa. (Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 19, 2019
White Island volcano eruption
This week’s programme comes from the world’s largest earth sciences conference, the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Roland Pease talks with Diana Roman of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC about the tragic White Island volcanic eruption in which at least eight tourists died. Aurora Elmore of National Geographic and Arbindra Khadka of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu Nepal discuss the state of Himalayan glaciers and climate change. Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC tells Roland about the research area called geobiochemistry and Hilairy Hartnett of Arizona State University explains why it may not be easy to find life on extra solar planets. (Image: Smoke from the volcanic eruption of Whakaari, also known as White Island. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 12, 2019
CRISPR babies scandal – more details
Extracts from unpublished papers on the methods used by a Chinese scientist to genetically modify the embryos of two girls reveal a series of potentially dangerous problems with the procedure and ethical shortcomings. We look at the mechanism behind the formation of our facial features and how this is linked to our evolution, scrutinise the impact of current emissions on global climates and see why lithium, used in batteries and medicines, is now a potentially widespread pollutant. (Photo: He Jiankui, Chinese scientist and professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. Credit:Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 05, 2019
New malaria target
Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again. We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 02, 2019
Politics and Amazonia’s fires
This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs. Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change. Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to earth after its mission to blast a crater in a distant asteroid. And how the chemistry of protein analysis is helping psychiatrists and emergency medics deal with the effects of the street drug spice. (Image: A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member is seen as he attempts to control hot points during a fire. Credit: Reuters/Bruno Kelly) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 21, 2019
Australia burning
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change? A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was. Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower And a hologram produced from sound waves. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 14, 2019
Climate in crisis
Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further. (Image: Tourists wearing masks to protect themselves from smog in New Delhi, India. Credit: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 07, 2019
Wildfires and winds in California
The Santa Ana in the south, and the Diablo in the north, are winds that are fuelling the terrible fires raging in California this week. They’re also blamed for bringing down power lines that sometimes start the fires. Roland Pease talks to Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research NCAR who has been developing a highly detailed model to forecast how wind, mountains, and flames interact during a wildfire. The glaring gaps in human genetics are in Africa – much overlooked because the companies and universities sequencing DNA are mostly based in Europe, the US and other advanced economies. A ten-year attempt to fill in some of those gaps came to fruition this week, with the release of a study covering thousands of individuals from rural Uganda. Deepti Gurdasani, of Queen Mary University London, explains the data reveal both new medical stories, and the scale of past migration within Africa. There are also gaps in the climate record from Africa. Knowing past climates could help massively in understanding the prospects for climate change in coming years on the continent. Journalist Linda Nordling has just published an article in Nature that shows that the records exist – old weather data collected since the 19th Century. It’s just they’re scattered, unexamined, in vaults and collections across Africa. Adam McKay of Nasa and Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast talk to Roland Pease about the latest observations of the interstellar interloper Comet Borisov. (Photo: A firefighter sets a back fire along a hillside during operations to battle the Kincade fire in Healdsburg, California. Credit: Philip Pacheco/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Oct 31, 2019
Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?
A quantum computer has performed a calculation considered impossible for conventional computers, but how meaningful is the result? As our guest reveals, this quantum state can be hugely significant and garbage – at the same time. Also we look at a new method of gene editing, which avoids cutting up DNA, get to grips with where the worlds worms live and watch elements being created in distant solar collisions. (Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 24, 2019
Malaria's origins and a potential new treatment
A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia. How did one of them jump species and why did humans became its preferred host? And from Antarctica we hear about a potential new treatment for malaria found in a deep sea sponge. Also, why improved monitoring is changing our perceptions of earthquakes and the story of an endangered Polynesian snail. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Oct 17, 2019
From batteries to distant worlds
Nobel prizes this week went to a range of discoveries that you might be familiar with, in fact you might be using one of them right now – the lithium ion battery. The scientists credited with its Invention got the chemistry prize. And the tantalising prospect of life on other planets plays into the physics prize win. And we also see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis (Picture: Illustration of the Earth-like exoplanet Kepler-452b and its parent star Kepler-452. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/Science Photo Library) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 10, 2019
Drought likely to follow India’s floods
India has experienced some of the worse monsoon weather in years, but despite the extreme rainfall climate models suggest a drought may be on the way, with higher than average temperatures predicted for the months following the monsoon season. We also hear warnings over the state of the world’s aquifers, with water levels in many places already low enough to affect ecosystems. We examine the consequences of two historic eruptions. How Indonesian volcano Tambora changed global weather and why papyrus scrolls blackened by Italy’s Vesuvius can now be read again. And from Australia the discovery of a new species of pterosaur in Queensland. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Commuters make their way on a waterlogged road following heavy rainfalls in Patna.Credit:Getty Images)
Oct 03, 2019
Global climate inaction
This week’s IPCC report on the state of the world’s climate looks very much like their earlier reports on the subject. The document cautiously expresses a picture of a future with greater climate extremes. Activists are frustrated by the lack of action. We look at why the scientific message is often hampered by politics. Fish could provide micronutrients to the world poor, but as we’ll hear this would need a major shift in commercial fishing practices globally. Baby bottles from thousands of years ago suggest Neolithic people gave animal milk to their children. And when did the Sahara develop? New findings in deposits from volcanic islands provides some evidence. (Image: Greta Thunberg. Credit: AFP/Getty Image) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 26, 2019
South East Asia choking - again
Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started. In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated by climatic conditions. A new mission to the region involving trapping a ship in ice over winter hopes to provide answers. Nearly 500 million of year ago the earth’s sky was darkened by a massive asteroid explosion, blotting out the sun. New data on this event may provide an insight into contemporary climate change. And how about a device which turns the conventions of solar panels on their head and generates electricity in the dark? (Researcher Mark Grovener from Kings College London measures air quality in Indonesia. Credit Marlin Wooster KCL) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 20, 2019
Embryoids from stem cells
Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. Magdalena and Roland Pease discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely. Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. The lead scientist, Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London, talks to Roland about the discovery and what she hopes to explore when a satellite telescope called ARIEL is launched by ESA in around a decade. And an amateur astronomer has discovered a comet that appears to have arrived from outside our Solar System. This observation follows on from that of Oumuamua which looked like it was an asteroid that had escaped from an exoplanetary system. Roland asks professional astronomers Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast and Simon Porter from South West Research Institute in Colorado what they make of the latest interstellar visitor. (Picture: A set of five embryo-like structures in a microfluidic device developed in the lab of Jianping Fu. The top row consists of “immunostaining” images in which key proteins are tagged with dyes to label different cell types, whereas the bottom row shows standard photos taken through a microscope. Parts of the bottom images were blurred to more clearly show a correlation between the rows. Image credit: Fu Lab, Michigan Engineering) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Sep 12, 2019
New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Researchers ask people living in the area or nearby to send them samples of dust or soil before the radioactive clues therein decay beyond recognition. Also, a near miss between an ESA satellite and a SpaceX/Starlink module in crowded near space strengthens the case for some sort of international Space Traffic Management treaty, whilst in the arctic circle, melting permafrost is disinterring the graves of long-dead whalers. (Photo:Tell-tale radioactive isotopes could still be in dust on cars near the site of the blast. Credit: Humonia/iStock / Getty Images Plus) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Sep 05, 2019
Nanotube computer says hello
A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s. (The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)
Aug 29, 2019
Amazonian fires likely to worsen
As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, new pictures back from the surface of asteroid Ryugu thanks to Germany’s MASCOT lander, part of the Japanese Hyabusa2 mission, give insights into the clay from which the solar system was originally formed, and Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Wildfires in Amazon rainforest. Credit:REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Aug 22, 2019
Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future. Wyoming Dinosaur trove The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere in the US which scientists reckon could keep them busy for many years. Jon Amos got to have a tour and even found out a tasty technique to tell a fossil from a rock. Bioflourescent Aliens Researchers at Cornell University’s Carla Sagan Institute report their work thinking about detecting alien life on distant planets orbiting other stars. Around 75% of stars are of a type that emits far more dangerous UV than our own sun. What, they argue, would a type of life that could survive that look like to us? Well, just maybe it would act like some of our own terrestrial corals, who can protect their symbiotic algae from UV, and in doing so, emit visible light. Could such an emission be detectable, in sync with dangerous emergent UV flares around distant suns? The next generation of large telescopes maybe could… Exopants Jinsoo Kim and David Perry of Harvard University tell reporter Giulia Barbareschi about their new design for a soft exosuit that helps users to walk and, crucially also to run. They suggest the metabolic savings the suit could offer have numerous future applications for work and play. (Photo: Volcano Anak Krakatoa. Credit: Drone Pilot, Muhammad Edo Marshal, ITB university in Bandung, Indonesia) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield Reporter: Giulia Barbareschi
Aug 15, 2019
Keeping tabs on nuclear weapons
The US has withdrawn from a historic nuclear disarmament treaty. However the verification of such treaties has been under scrutiny for some time as they don’t actually reveal the size of nuclear stockpiles. New methods of verification and encryption should allow all sides to be more confident on who has what in terms of nuclear stockpiles. Can carbon capture and storage technology help reduce atmospheric Co2 levels? The answer seems to be yes, but at a considerable cost. And we go for a cold swim around some hydrothermal vents. Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Sputnik/Reuters Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Aug 08, 2019
The snowball effect of Arctic fires
Wildfires are an annual phenomenon across the arctic region, but this year they are far more intense than usual, we look at the drivers for these extreme fires and the consequences, in particular long term environmental change across the region. We visit Naples which is built on a super volcano. A new analysis is designed to help predict when it might erupt. We hear from young scientists around the world on their hopes for the future and hear about the discovery of a new potentially earth like planet. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Arctic wildfires: Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 01, 2019
The human danger – for sharks
A global project tracking sharks through the deep oceans has found they are increasingly facing danger from fishing fleets. Sharks used to be caught accidentally, but now there is a well-established trade in shark meat and fins, which the researchers say is reducing their numbers. We look at how tourists might be a useful source for conservation data, And we meet one of the planets smallest predators, is it a plant is it an animal? Well actually it’s a bit of both. (Photo: Tiger shark. Credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian siddle
Jul 25, 2019
The moon landing and another big space anniversary
It’s 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide. We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there? One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scientific tools which hadn’t been invented when the Apollo missions ceased. Picture: Shoemaker – Levy 9 Comet Impact Marks on Jupiter Credit: Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 18, 2019
'Free' water and electricity for the world?
Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages. A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present in humans. This suggests such traits could have developed in the prehistory of both species. More than 500 fish species can change sex. Analysis of the underlying mechanism shows how sex determination is heavily influenced by environmental and in the case of one species social factors. (Picture: Future PV farm: not just generating electricity, but also producing fresh water. Credit: Wenbin Wang) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 11, 2019
Analysing the European heatwave
The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely. And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many? (Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 04, 2019
Is climate change driving Europe’s current heatwave?
As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change. However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens. Also we find lakes of fresh water hidden – under the sea, find that Neanderthals went west and discover how spiralling laser light may be used to control a new generation of microelectronics. (Photo: Heatwave in Paris. Credit: European Photopress Agency) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 27, 2019
Iran’s nuclear plans
Iran’s nuclear programme is at the centre of a political row, with the country suggesting it could increase uranium production to above the levels permitted under an international agreement. We look beyond the rhetoric, discuss Iran’s covert history of nuclear development and ask scientifically what this latest move involves. Fish are no respecter of international borders and when it comes to spawning, research reveals up to $10bn worth of potential fish stocks move between different political territories. Ancient trees in the Eastern US are yielding clues to the climate going back more than 2000 years, they reveal there has been more rain recently. And we look at how to quantify that rain as it falls now, over much shorter timescales. (Photo:President Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran nuclear technology organization Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology. Copyright: Office of Islamic Republic President via EPA) Presenter:Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 20, 2019
South Asia heatwave and climate change
South Asia has experienced a heatwave where the monsoon has been delayed and temperatures have reached over 50 degrees. Despite this the extreme heat has led to far fewer fatalities than previous heatwaves; we look at why that is. Research into the origins of almonds shows they were domesticated in Asia before spreading worldwide. It’s a bitter sweet story, with sweet varieties being selected over bitter ones. In fact the bitter ones contain poisons which can kill.. As with almonds cannabis as a drug seems to have spread via silk routes. The discovery of ancient burnt wooded bowls suggests it was smoked millennia ago in China – as part of funeral rituals. And we investigate California’s cannabis farming industry, there are concerns over the environmental impact of this now legal cash crop. (Photo: Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary. Credit: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 13, 2019
US foetal tissue research ban
The US has withdrawn funding for scientific research involving foetal tissue. Scientists point to the lack of feasible alternatives to using foetal tissue – which comes from embryos donated to scientific research via abortion clinics. They say the move to halt this kind of research will have a negative impact on the ability of US medical institutions to develop new treatments for a range of diseases from diabetes to cancer. More controversy from the ‘Crispr babies ‘ scandal – with a new analysis showing the modified gene may have a wide impact on the health of the children it was claimed to have been implanted into. A reassessment on North Korea’s Nuclear tests using cold war methodology suggest the last explosion was more powerful than previously thought. And we investigate a small British Earthquake south of London. (Picture: Donald Trump, Credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 06, 2019