The Science Hour

By BBC World Service

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Subscribers: 1974
Reviews: 3

Pookie
 Dec 3, 2018
Used to be good with different stories to other bbc sci podcasts. But now its just a repeat of Science in Action podcast followed by a repeat of Crowd Science podcast. Therefore now an absolutely pointless podcast.

JT
 Nov 22, 2018


 Nov 11, 2018

Description

Science news and highlights of the week

Episode Date
Monster microbe
4141
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. Death is inevitable, though many of us would rather not dwell on it. For those with a terminal illness, however, the end of life is clearly a more pressing reality. CrowdScience listener Sam has known for a while that her illness is terminal, and by now she’s got used to the idea. But she finds many friends and family would rather avoid the subject at all costs; they don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening until it’s all over. She’s wondering if there’s a way to lighten up the topic of her approaching death, and create the openness she craves. If we could learn to be more accepting of illness and dying, the end of life could be a more positive experience for all involved. So how can we face up to the impending death of a loved one, and best support that person in the process? In search of answers, we talk a clinical psychologist about death anxiety, visit a death café, and learn about a scheme in India where whole communities are trained in caring for people at the end of life. (Image: Thiomargarita magnifica. © The Regents of the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 26, 2022
Thirty years after the Earth Summit
3667
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. Arctic zoologist Kristin Laidre tells us about the identification of an unique population of polar bears in Southeast 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. What is a quantum computer? Every year, new computers are being developed that are faster and smarter than ever before. But if you really want to take things to the next level, you have got to go quantum. CrowdScience listener Atikah in Hungary likes the sound of a quantum computer but wants to know what exactly is it, what can it do that a normal computer cannot, and how soon can he get hold of one? The digital devices in our everyday lives - from laptop computers to smartphones - are all based on 0s and 1s: so-called ‘bits’. But quantum computers are based on ‘qubits’ - the quantum 0s and 1s that are altogether stranger, but also more powerful. CrowdScience presenter Alex Lathbridge picks the brains of quantum scientists to find out how these ‘qubits’ allow computers to perform calculations millions of times faster than normal - and discovers how much of the theory is being used in reality. While quantum computers do exist, they are not yet big enough or stable enough to be really useful. Alex visits a working quantum computer to understand what they can do right now, and why it’s so incredibly difficult to scale them up. He hears from the engineers racing to overcome the obstacles and unlock the potential of these mega-powerful systems. But once the engineering problems are solved, what then? What should we do when the first really powerful quantum computer comes online? We explore the exciting range of possible applications - from helping create new drugs, to making electric batteries much more efficient and maybe even helping farmers fertilize their crops for a fraction of the price. Presenters: Roland Pease and Alex Lathbridge Producers: Andrew Luck-Baker and Cathy Edwards (Photo: Earth Summit In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 2 June, 1992 Credit: Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)
Jun 19, 2022
Body scan reveals HIV's hideouts
3647
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. And, Humans can walk for miles, solve problems and form complex relationships on the energy provided by three meals a day. That's a lot of output for a fairly modest input. Listener Charlotte from the UK wants to know: how are we so efficient? And how does human efficiency compare to that of machines? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton pits her energetic wits against everything from cars to wheelchairs to find out how she shapes up. Cars can travel many hundreds of kilometres a day if you give them a couple of tanks of fuel. But the only fuel Marnie needs to walk to work is a cup of coffee. She gets experts to help her work out who does the most efficient job. Marnie also explores whether humans are born equal when it comes to fuel efficiency. Does the energy from one banana get converted into the same amount of movement from person to person? And how does she compare to an Olympic athlete? Marnie gets put through her paces to find out how efficient she really is. Image: VRCPET body scan reveals HIV's hideouts Credit: Timothy Henrich / University of California, San Francisco
Jun 11, 2022
Should we worry about the latest Omicron subvariants?
3409
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. This week’s CrowdScience is dedicated to bodily fluids – and why humans spend so much time spraying them all over the place. From snot and vomit to sweat and sneezes, listeners have been positively drenching our inbox with queries. Now presenter Marnie Chesterton and a panel of unsqueamish expert guests prepare themselves to wade through… One listener has found that as he ages, bright light seems to make him sneeze more and more – with his current record sitting at 14 sneezes in a row. He’d like to know if light has the same effect on other people and why? Sticking with nasal fluids, another listener wants to know why she’s always reaching for a tissue to blow her endlessly dripping nose and yet her family seem to produce hardly any snot at all. Could it be because she moved from a hotter climate to a colder one? CrowdScience reveals the answers to these and other sticky questions… if you can find the stomach to listen. Image Description: Coronavirus COVID-19 virus Credit: Getty Images
Jun 04, 2022
Heat death by volcano and other stories
3407
This week Science in Action 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. And ... On Crowd Science, why can't I find gold in my back yard? If you go outside with a spade and start digging, the chances are you won't find any gold. You might get lucky or just happen to live in a place where people have been finding gold for centuries. But for the most part, there'll be none. But why is that? Why do metals and minerals show up in some places and not others? It's a question that's been bothering CrowdScience listener Martijn in the Netherlands, who has noticed the physical effects of mining in various different places while on his travels. It’s also a really important question for the future – specific elements are crucial to modern technology and renewable energy, and we need to find them somewhere. Marnie Chesterton heads off on a hunt for answers, starting in a Scottish river where gold can sometimes be found. But why is it there, and how did it get there? Marnie goes on a journey through the inner workings of Earth's geology and the upheaval that happens beneath our feet to produce a deposit that’s worth mining. On the way she discovers shimmering pools of lithium amongst the arid beauty of the Atacama Desert, meets researchers who are blasting rocks with lasers and melting them with a flame that’s hotter than the surface of the sun, and heads to the bottom of the ocean to encounter strange potato-sized lumps containing every single element on Earth. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll also find gold. Image: Multi-beam sonar map of Hunga Tonga volcano post-eruption Credit: Shane Cronin/Uni of Auckland/Tonga Geological Services Presented by Roland Pease and Marnie Chesterton Report by Jane Chambers Produced by Andrew Luck-Baker and Ben Motley
May 29, 2022
Death in the rainforest
3522
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. Digging and excavating are bywords for archaeology. But why does history end up deep under our feet? This question struck CrowdScience listener Sunil in an underground car park. Archaeological remains found during the car park’s construction were displayed in the subterranean stairwells, getting progressively older the deeper he went. How had these treasures become covered in so much soil over the centuries? CrowdScience visits Lisbon, the capital of Portugal – and home to the above-mentioned multi-storey car park. The city has evidence of human habitation stretching back into prehistory, with remnants of successive civilisations embedded and jumbled up below today’s street level. Why did it all end up like this? Human behaviour is one factor, but natural processes are at work too. Over at Butser Ancient Farm, an experimental archaeology site in the UK, we explore the myriad forces of nature that cover up – or expose - ancient buildings and artefacts over time. Image: Credit: Getty Images
May 21, 2022
Portrait of the monster black hole at our galaxy’s heart
3876
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. And…. Does photographic memory exist? Most people are great at remembering key points from important events in their lives, while the finer details - such as the colour of the table cloth in your favourite restaurant or the song playing on the radio while you brushed your teeth - are forgotten. But some people seem to have the power to remember events, documents or landscapes with almost perfect recall, which is widely referred to as having a photographic memory. CrowdScience listeners Tracy and Michael want to know if photographic memory actually exists and if not, what are the memory processes that allow people to remember certain details so much better than others? Putting her own memory skills to the test along the way, presenter Marnie Chesterton sets out to investigate just what’s happening inside our brains when we use our memories, the importance of being able to forget and why some people have better memories than others. 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 and Marnie Chesterton Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker and Hannah Fisher
May 15, 2022
Mekong Delta will sink beneath the sea by 2100
3666
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, as Matt Kondolf of the University of California, Berkeley explains to Roland Pease. Also in the programme: Seismologist Laura Emert on using the rumbling of traffic in Mexico City to monitor earthquake hazards. Mars-shaking Marsquakes – recent record-breaking quakes on Mars explained by seismologist Anna Horleston of Bristol University. A record-breaking high jumping robot designed by mechanical engineer and roboticist Elliot Hawkes which is so light it can access any terrain, perhaps even the moon. And gene editing…. Humans now have the ability to directly change their DNA and gene-editing tool CRISPR has led to a new era in gene-editing. CrowdScience listener ‘Bones’ wants to know how gene-editing is currently being used and what might be possible in the future. Gene-editing offers huge opportunities for the prevention and treatment of human diseases, and trials are currently underway in a wide range of diseases like sickle cell anaemia. CrowdScience presenter Caroline Steel finds out about some of the most promising work tackling disease before turning to consider the possibilities of using gene editing for non-medical changes. Will we be able to extend human longevity, swap our eye colour or enhance athletic performance? And even if we can do all these things, should we? As scientists push the boundaries of gene-editing and some people are DIY experimenting on themselves with CRISPR, we discuss the practical and ethical challenges facing this promising but potentially perilous area of science. Photo: Mekong River in Kampong Cham, Cambodia Credit: Muaz Jaffar/EyeEm/Getty Images Presenters: Roland Pease and Caroline Steel Producers: Andrew Luck-Baker and Melanie Brown
May 08, 2022
The Indian subcontinent’s record-breaking heatwave
3955
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. Myths about the personalities of dog breeds are exploded with new research by Elinor Karlsson of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. And how do we stay up when we ride a bicycle? Lots of us can do it without even thinking about it, but probably very few of us can say exactly HOW we do it. Well, CrowdScience listener Arif and his children Maryam and Mohammed from India want to understand what’s going on in our heads when we go for a cycle, and how we learn to do it in the first place. Marnie Chesterton is on the case, tracking down a neuroscientists studying how our brains and bodies work together to keep us balanced whether we’re walking or trying to ride a bicycle. She learns about the quirks of bicycle engineering from researchers in the Netherlands who are part of a lab entirely devoted to answering this question. In the process falling off of some unusual bicycles and uncovering the surprising truth that physics might not yet have a proper answer. And we peer deeper into our brains to find out why some memories last longer than others, whether some people can learn quicker than others and the best way to learn a new skill. (Photo: Woman cooling herself in India heatwave Credit: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images) Presenters: Roland Pease and Marnie Chesterton Producers: Andrew Luck-Baker and Emily Bird for BBC World Service
May 01, 2022
Climate techno-fix would worsen global malaria burden
4060
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? The ancient Maya flourished in modern day Mexico and Central America for millennia. They built incredible cities and they had sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, architecture and the natural world. But although Maya culture continues to exist today, around 900 AD, many of their great settlements collapsed, and today they lie in ruins. CrowdScience listener Michael wants to know - how did the Maya sustain their populations successfully for so long? And what happened 1000 years ago that led them to abandon their cities? To find out, Melanie Brown travels to the forests of Western Belize. She visits the archaeological site of Xunantunich to learn about what life would have been like for the Maya living in what was once a prosperous city. She hears about the importance of water to the Maya way of life in this region, and their ingenious methods for capturing and storing rainfall. She meets archaeologists using lasers and drones to map Maya settlements that have lain hidden by jungle for centuries. And she discovers what material from the bottom of lakes can tell us about how the Maya faced a changing climate, which may have had huge consequences for their society. (Photo: Illustration of a mosquito biting Credit: SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images) Presenters: Roland Pease and Melanie Brown Producers: Andrew Luck-Baker and Anand Jagatia
Apr 24, 2022
How ‘magic mushroom’ chemical treats depression
4471
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. The team at CrowdScience has spent years answering all sorts of listener questions, which must make them pretty smart, right? IN this week’s episode, that assumption is rigorously tested as Marnie Chesterton and the team pit their wits against a multitude of mind-bending puzzles from an old TV game show - all in the name of answering a question from Antonia in Cyprus. She wants to know: how do we work out how clever someone is? Is IQ the best measure of cleverness? Why do we put such weight on academic performance? And where does emotional intelligence fit into it all? In the search for answers, presenter Marnie Chesterton and the team are locked in rooms to battle mental, physical, mystery, and skill-based challenges, all against the clock. Unpicking their efforts in the studio are a global team of cleverness researchers: Dr. Stuart Ritchie from Kings College London, Professor Sophie von Stumm from York University, and Dr. Alex Burgoyne, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US. They are challenged to face the toughest questions in their field: Why do men and women tend to perform differently in these tests? Is our smartness in our genes? And what about the Flynn effect – where IQs appear to have risen, decade after decade, around the world. (Image: Mexican Psilocybe Cubensis. An adult mushroom raining spores. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 17, 2022
Tsunami detective in Tonga
3712
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 is 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. The odds of becoming a fossil are vanishingly small. And yet there seem to be an awful lot of them out there. In some parts of the world you can barely look at a rock without finding a fossil, and museum archives worldwide are stuffed with everything from ammonites to Archaeopteryx. But how many does that leave to be discovered by future fossil hunters? What’s the total number of fossils left to find? That’s what listener Anders Hegvik from Norway wants to know and what CrowdScience is off to investigate. Despite not having the technology or time to scan the entire planet, presenter Marnie Chesterton prepares to find a decent answer. During her quest, she meets the scientists who dig up fossils all over the world; does some very large sums; and asks whether we'll ever run out of the very best and most exciting fossil finds. (Image: An eruption occurs at the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha"apai off Tonga, January 14, 2022. Credit: Tonga Geological Services/via Reuters)
Apr 10, 2022
Radioactive Red Forest
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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. Many animals undertake remarkable migratory journeys; travelling thousands of miles only to return to same burrow or beach they departed from. Yet, unlike humans, they don’t have digital or paper maps to guide their way, so how are they able to orientate themselves with such accuracy? In the second part of this migration story, CrowdScience’s Anand Jagatia explores how animals are able to navigate using the sun, stars, smells, landmarks and magnetism to help guide them. Anand journeys to the coast of Florida where he helps to place a satellite tracker on a sea turtle in order to follow the long-distance journeys of these animals. He then visits a lab in North Carolina to meet a team that is recreating the earth’s magnetic fields to examine how sea turtles might be using these forces to find their feeding and nesting grounds. Anand wades into the hotly contested topic of just how birds may be sensing magnetic fields – and hears about one of the latest theories that suggests birds eyes may be exploiting quantum physics. The range of navigational tools we encounter throughout the animal kingdom from whales to ants is beguiling, Anand asks what does our increased understanding of these feats might mean for animal conservation as well as human development of mapping systems. (Image: Radiation hazard sign in Pripyat, a ghost town in northern Ukraine, evacuated the day after the Chernobyl disaster. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 03, 2022
Covid in the sewers
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Analysis of wastewater from sewage systems has provided an early warning system for the presence of Covid19 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 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. Faced with one cake and eight hungry people, it’s pretty obvious how maths underpins reality. But as mathematics gets further from common sense and into seemingly abstract territory, nature still seems to obey its rules - whether in the orbit of a planet, the number of petals on a flower, or the structure of an atom. But what exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question CrowdScience has been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one that’s been pondered by humans for millennia: the Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed “All is number”. Is maths a human construct to help us make sense of reality - a tool, a model, a language? Does maths create its own reality? Or is it reality itself? (Image: USA, New York, steam coming out from sewer. Credit: Westend61 via Getty Images)
Mar 20, 2022
Why are Covid19 cases rising in Hong Kong?
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Hong Kong had been very successful at preventing the spread of Coivd19. 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. Massage has been used for thousands of years to soothe our aches and pains and help us relax. Today there are a wide array of styles to choose from – Swedish massage, deep tissue, hot stone, sport, Thai, the list goes on. But which techniques are backed up by evidence? CrowdScience listeners Catherine and Stacy are keen for us to untangle this knotty issue, so presenter Caroline Steel selflessly ventures from her desk to the massage table all in the name of science. Is there such thing as a muscle 'knot' and can massage help to get rid of them? Does lactate build up in our muscles and need to be released? And why does rubbing sore muscles feel so good? We dig into the physiological and psychological aspects of what's happening in our bodies when we get a massage. With scientists only beginning to study massage in recent decades, we put the research to the test with our many questions and even a bit of myth-busting. Can massage help us avoid injury or recover faster when we exercise? Does drinking water after a massage flush out toxins? Is self-massage or massage from a friend or family member just as good as that from a professional massage therapist? Can children benefit from massage? Caroline talks to medical professionals and experts to find out what works when it comes to treating a stiff neck and tight muscles and unpacks the importance of touch in relieving the tensions of modern life. (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 13, 2022
Covid -19 origins
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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 The Ukraine. Also, If you took a fly into a really tall elevator and let it out at the top, would it still be able to fly? And what’s the absolute highest an insect could possibly go? It’s a question that’s been bugging CrowdScience listener Chee for a while, but presenter Alex Lathbridge is on the case. He discovers that when they’re not buzzing around your lunch, insects can be routinely found flying high up in the atmosphere travelling from A to B. There are also ground-dwelling bumblebees living in the mountains of Sichuan, China that have demonstrated an ability to fly at altitudes higher than the highest point on the planet. But leaving aside how high insects DO fly, how high COULD they fly if given the chance? Alex explores the theoretical limits of insect flight with the help of a bit of biomechanics – before contemplating the ultimate heights of the International Space Station where the mystery of whether a fruit fly will fly in zero gravity is finally answered. Image: Disinfection Work At Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, China 4 March 2020. Credit: Zhang Chang / China News Service via Getty Images.
Mar 06, 2022
Reforming the 'China Initiative'
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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. Controlling fire was a turning point in the development of human civilisation. But how did fire become part of the human toolkit? It’s a question that has got Crowdscience listener Joseph wondering. He wants to know how humans first made fire and how that knowledge spread around the world, eventually developing into our industrial civilisations today. Archaeologists have many different ideas and theories about this. Did humans learn the skill millions of years ago, and carry it with them as they migrated out of what is now Africa? Or was it a skill developed much later, after different groups had settled in different locations? Did people share the skill with each other or did different groups of people discover it individually? Marnie Chesterton speaks to experts to try to piece together the archaeological clues to discover what kindled humankind's relationship with fire and flame. She hears about the early evidence of fire from Anand Jagatia, who visits Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, and she speaks to an archaeologist who has found remains of burned flint suggesting campfire locations dating back hundreds of thousands of years in Israel. Marnie also tries her hand at making fire, Neanderthal style. (Image: Students. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 27, 2022
Bone repair from Covid-19 vaccine technology
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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 How good are you at finding your way from A to B? Humans throughout history have used all sorts of tools to get us to our destination – from a trusty map and compass to the instant directions on a smartphone sat nav. But CrowdScience listener Pam from Florida wants to know what happens when we leave the surface of the Earth – and try to navigate our way around space. Is there a North and South we can use to orientate ourselves? Which way is left if your nearest landmark is a million light-years away? And if you can’t tell which way is up, how do spacecraft know where they’re going? Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to experts in an attempt to find his way through the tricky problem of intergalactic space navigation. (Image: Knee X-ray, illustration. Credit: Science Photo Library via Getty Images)
Feb 20, 2022
Inside Wuhan's coronavirus lab
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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 Qui 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. And, Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the biggest threats humanity has ever faced - and tackling them is going to take a whole lot of collaboration and putting others before ourselves. But are humans cut out for this level of cooperation? Or are we fundamentally too self-interested to work together for the common good? Listener Divyesh is not very hopeful about all this, so he’s asked CrowdScience if humans have a “selfish gene” that dooms us to failure when trying to meet these challenges. He's worried that humans are destined by our evolution to consume ever more natural resources and destroy the environment in the process. But while it's true that humans often act in our own interest, we also show high levels of cooperation and care. Could tapping into these beneficial behaviours help us solve our global problems? Marnie Chesterton goes on the hunt for the best ways to harness human nature for the good of planet Earth - from making sure the green choice is always the cheaper and easier option, to encouraging and nurturing our better, altruistic and collaborative sides. We visit a rural mountain community in Spain to see the centuries-old system they have for sharing common resources; while in the city, we meet activists figuring out how to live a more community-spirited and sustainable urban life. And we speak to experts in evolution, ecology and psychology to find out what helps nudge us into greener habits. (Image: Getty Images)
Feb 13, 2022
Identifying a more infectious HIV variant
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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. Imagine spending six months of every year living in total shade. That’s what life is like for residents of the Norwegian town of Rjukan, set so low in a valley that they see no direct sunshine at all from October to March. Marnie Chesterton heads there to hear about an ingenious solution: giant mirrors that beam rays down into the town square, where locals gather to feel the reflected heat. The man behind the project was motivated by a need for winter sun – but how much difference does it really make to our health and happiness? That’s the question posed by this week’s Crowdscience listener Michael, who has noticed living in the rainy Australian city of Melbourne is taking its toll. Many pensioners claim sunshine relieves achiness as well as conditions like arthritis but one of the biggest scientific studies found temperature actually has no impact on reported pain levels, while factors like air pressure and humidity may play a role. When it comes to our mood, it seems that spending time outside is more important than feeling the heat and the optimum temperature for wellbeing is around cool 19 degrees centigrade, while excessive warm weather has been linked to an increase in violence and crime. (Image: 3d illustration of HIV virus. Credit: Artem Egorov via Getty Images)
Feb 06, 2022
The roots of Long Covid
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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. Also, How is a small budget pocket radio able to recreate all the atmosphere and sounds of a football match? CrowdScience listener Andy wants to know about the science enabling his radio listening, so presenter CrowdScience Geoff Marsh sets off - microphone in hand - to follow the journey of sound on the radio. Starting with the microphone, Geoff learns how acoustic energy is converted into electrical signals. Then BBC World Service presenter Gareth takes Geoff to a little-known room in the BBC called the Radio Shack. Gareth demonstrates how these electrical signals are attached to radio waves before being sent over the airwaves and they take a radio kit apart to understand how these waves are received and converted back into sound waves. Geoff talks to a speech and hearing specialist who, through the use of auditory illusions, shows Geoff that our brains are often filling in the gaps of lower quality audio. Finally, Geoff visits an acoustic lab at Salford University where he hears a demonstration of ‘object based audio’. This technology could enable us to create our own bespoke mix of dramas and sports, such as heightening the commentary sound or choosing to hear just the crowd, just by using the everyday speakers many have lying around them, such as mobile phones. (Image credit: Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images)
Jan 30, 2022
Tonga eruption – how it happened
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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. Scientists have been searching for dark matter for decades, and think there’s six times more of it in the universe than the stuff we can actually see, like stars and planets. But they still don’t know what it is. So how can we be sure dark matter really exists? And why does it matter, anyway? Back in 2018, armed with a boiler suit, hard hat and ear defenders, Marnie Chesterton travelled over a kilometre underground into a hot and sweaty mine to see how scientists are valiantly trying to catch some elusive particles – in the hope of settling things once and for all. Several years on we return to the problem, tackling a few more CrowdScience listeners’ questions about dark matter, and hearing whether we’re any closer to uncovering its mysteries. We’re joined in our quest by Dr Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, physicist and author of The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred. With Professor Malcolm Fairbairn, Dr Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Dr Chamkaur Ghag and Professor Katherine Freese.
Jan 23, 2022
Have we got it wrong on Omicron?
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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. Also, Are big heads smarter? We live in a world where bigger is often seen as better - and the size of someone's brain is no exception. But a listener in Nairobi wants to know, does size really matter when it comes to grey matter? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton is on a mission to find out if the physical attributes of our head and brain can tell us anything about what's going on inside. We certainly thought so in the past. In the 1800s, phrenology – determining someone’s characteristics by their skull shape – was very fashionable and curator Malcolm MacCallum gives us a tour of the extensive phrenological collection of death masks and skulls in Edinburgh’s anatomy museum. It's a 'science' that's now been completely debunked. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that over our evolutionary history, human brain size has increased dramatically alongside our cognitive capabilities. But is it the whole story? Rick Potts, Director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian tells of the point in time when human brains expanded the most; a time when the climate was changing, resources were unreliable and the intelligence to be adaptable might mean the difference between life and death. Adaptability is also key to Professor Wendy Johnson’s definition of intelligence, although she points out that IQ test, flawed as they are, are still the best predictor we have for intelligence… and that, yes, there is a weak correlation between having a larger head, and doing better at IQ tests. Why is that? We don’t know, says Dr Stuart Ritchie from KCL. According to him, neuroscientists are only in the foothills of understanding how a physical difference in the brain might underpin a person’s psychology. But researching this could offer valuable insights into how our amazing brains work. (Image: Getty Images)
Jan 16, 2022
CORBEVAX – A vaccine for the world?
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Now being produced in India CORBEVAX 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 and go a long way to addressing the problems of Covid19 vaccine availability globally. 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 repose to the use of antibiotics, however, 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 over 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. Also... “I’m bored!” We can all relate to the uncomfortable - and at times unbearable - feeling of boredom. But what is it? Why does it happen? And could this frustrating, thumb-twiddling experience actually serve some evolutionary purpose? CrowdScience listener Brian started wondering this over a particularly uninspiring bowl of washing up, and it’s ended with Marnie Chesterton going on a blessedly un-boring tour through the science and psychology of tedium. She finds out why some people are more affected than others, why boredom is the key to discovery and innovation, and how we can all start improving our lives by embracing those mind-numbing moments. (Image: Getty Images)
Jan 09, 2022
Omicron – mild or monster?
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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. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – CrowdScience has covered a lot this year. And what better way to see out 2021 than to look back at a few of our (and your!) favourite things? Great questions are right at the top of the team’s list – especially with the way that for every one we answer, five more appear in our inbox! So for a festive treat, Marnie asks the crew to answer three of them. What's the sun's role in our sense of direction? Why are we so uncomfortable with other people’s sadness? And why does listening to the radio make us sleepy? (Or is it just too much eggnog…?) From our favourite listener advice on how to keep your Christmas lights untangled to why cold swimming could activate your Vagus nerve, tune in for new questions and more CrowdScience favourites to light up your holiday season! Presented by Marnie Chesterton and many members the CrowdScience Team – Melanie Brown, Marijke Peters, Caroline Steel, Hannah Fisher, Samara Linton and Anand Jagatia. Produced by Sam Baker for BBC World Service. Featuring: • Haneul Jang, post-doctoral researcher, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology • Juliet Rosenfeld, psychotherapist and author of The State of Disbelief: A Story of Death, Love and Forgetting • Mathias Basner, professor of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania (Image: Getty Images)
Dec 26, 2021
Omicron’s rapid replication rate
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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. As many of us gear up for the annual Christmas feast, some of you may be wondering how to eat everything before it goes off. It’s a great question, as the UN puts global food waste at a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes a year – that’s one third of all edible produce being thrown in the bin. So this week the team investigates listener Peter’s query about what makes some fruit and vegetables rot faster than others. Preserving food used to be about ensuring nomadic populations could keep moving without going hungry, but these days some things seem to have an almost indefinite shelf-life. Is it about better packaging or can clever chemistry help products stay better for longer? A Master Food Preserver explains how heat and cold help keep microbes at bay, and how fermentation encourages the growth of healthy bacteria which crowd out the ones that make us ill. Presenter Datshiane Navanayagam learns how to make a sauerkraut that could keep for weeks, and investigates the gases that food giants use to keep fruit and veg field-fresh. But as the industry searches for new techniques to stretch shelf-life even further could preservatives in food be affecting our microbiome? Research shows sulphites may be killing off ‘friendly’ gut bacteria linked to preventing conditions including cancer and Crohn’s disease. (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)
Dec 19, 2021
Can the weather trigger a volcano?
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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. And, Life is full of choices, from the mundane (like what to wear today) to the critical (how should we deal with the pandemic?). So how can we make the best decisions? That’s what listener David wants to know. To investigate, Caroline Steel learns how being smarter doesn’t necessarily make you a good decision maker. She speaks to researchers about the importance of ‘gut feelings’ – and how certain people with no intuition whatsoever can struggle to make choices. She also learns why it’s easier to give advice to other people than to follow it yourself, and how we can work together to make the best decisions in a group. (Image: Eruption of Semeru. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 12, 2021
Omicron, racism and trust
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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. And, What makes things sticky? Listener Mitch from the USA began wondering while he was taking down some very sticky wallpaper. Our world would quite literally fall apart without adhesives. They are almost everywhere – in our buildings, in our cars and in our smartphones. But how do they hold things together? To find out, presenter Marnie Chesterton visits a luthier, Anette Fajardo, who uses animal glues every day in her job making violins. These glues have been used since the ancient Egyptians –but adhesives are much older than that. Marnie speaks to archaeologist Dr Geeske Langejans from Delft University of Technology about prehistoric glues made from birch bark, dated to 200,000 years ago. She goes to see a chemist, Prof Steven Abbott, who helps her understand why anything actually sticks to anything else. And she speaks to physicist Dr Ivan Vera-Marun at the University of Manchester, about the nanotechnologists using adhesion at tiny scales to make materials of the future. (Photo: Vaccination centre in South Africa administering Covid-19 vaccine after news of Omicron variant. Credit: Xabiso Mkhabela/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Dec 05, 2021
Deliberately doomed dart
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d dart Science in Action 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. And, In most cultures, the soundtrack to our lives is one of optimism. We're told to aim for the stars, dream big and believe that tomorrow will definitely be a better day. But why do so many people subscribe to the cult of 'glass half full' when life’s hardships should make any reasonable person a bit more wary? Listener Hannah from Germany - a self-described pessimist - is intrigued as to whether the alternative, optimistic way of life is really the best way to be. Cheerily taking on the challenge is ray of sunshine Marnie Chesterton, who finds out why 80% of the population have an optimism bias and how the ability to hope and take risks may have helped the human species get where it is today. She also meets a man who pushes the optimistic outlook to its very limits - BASE jumping world champion, Espen Fadnes. Listener Hannah on the other hand looks into the psychology of pessimism to find out if there are any advantages to her less rose-tinted view on life - and whether the culture we grow up in shapes how realistically we see the world. We ask whether optimism or pessimism is the answer to a happy life. Image: NASA's DART Spacecraft Launches in World's First Planetary Defense Test Mission Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Nov 28, 2021
The end for coal power?
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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 SiddleThe 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. And, Cats started hanging out with humans thousands of years ago, and nowadays these fluffy, lovable pets are found in many of our homes. But there’s no doubt lots of them still have keen hunting instincts - witness all the birds and small mammals they kill each year. CrowdScience listener Rachel started wondering whether her cat Eva could fend for herself while watching her uncoordinated swipes at a toy on a string, and seeing her fall off the sofa. Even though Eva was once a stray, she now lives entirely indoors, and it's hard to imagine her holding her own back on the mean streets. But could this pampered pet recover her survival instincts? Or would she go hungry, or fall foul of other cats or predators? Cat behaviour expert Roger Tabor is on hand with answers. His pioneering ‘cat-navs’ shine a light on what cats get up to inside and outside the home: we meet one of his subjects, a tiny cat with a fierce personality. Roger explains how a cat’s survival toolkit depends on their sex, breed, and above all their early life. Environment matters, too, so in Japan, where Rachel and her pet cat live, we visit a cat shelter to learn about the day-to-day challenges stray cats face And just how ‘domestic’ are our cats, anyway? How different are they from their wildcat cousins, and how did they come to be our companions in the first place? It turns out beguiling humans might be even more of a survival trick than hunting. Image: A coal-fired power station in Nanjing in east China Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Nov 21, 2021
Bambi got Covid
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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. And, Concrete is the most widely used substance on earth after water. It’s quite literally the foundation of the modern world, and no wonder - it’s strong, cheap, and mouldable into nearly any shape. But these benefits come at a cost: concrete production is responsible for around 8% of global CO2 emissions - that’s around three times more than the aviation industry. Concrete might not look pretty, but given its carbon footprint, should we be more careful about how we use it? And rather than throwing waste into landfill, could we recycle it instead? That’s what Crowdscience listener Catherine wants to know. To investigate, Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia learn more about what makes concrete such a brilliant and versatile material. It’s down to the chemistry of how cement dries – which, it turns out, is anything but boring. They find out how the stuff is made, and why that produces so much carbon. And they hear about some ingenious projects to repurpose demolition waste – including creating underwater habitats for marine life, and using 3D printers to turn crushed concrete into street furniture. Image: Bambi, lobbycard, 1942 Photo by LMPC via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease
Nov 14, 2021
Jet fuel from thin air
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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. And, The science is unequivocal: human-made climate change is leading the world into an environmental crisis, and time is running out to prevent permanent damage to ecosystems and make the planet uninhabitable for many of us humans. As communities around the world increasingly experience the devastating effects of global warming, world leaders, policy makers and scientists from all over the globe are attending COP26, the United Nation’s major climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Each nation will be frantically negotiating its commitments to tackling emissions - many agree it’s a pivotal moment for the future of humanity. Crowdscience hosts a panel of three experts taking part in the conference, to hear their thoughts on what progress has been made so far. They answer listener questions on rising sea levels, explaining that a temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees won’t just affect small island nations but will have serious consequences for every country in the world. We hear about an interactive atlas developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shows the impact of higher temperatures in different regions. And presenter Marnie Chesterton asks about the financial barriers that have prevented many people from traveling to COP26 and discovers why it’s vital that people from the global south have their voices heard. 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.
Nov 07, 2021
Can we still avoid climate catastrophe?
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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. And, As the world slowly moves away from using fossil fuels for electricity, one tiny Scottish island has proved it’s possible to rely almost entirely on renewables. The inner Hebridean isle of Eigg used to get its power from diesel generators. But in 2008 its residents launched the world’s first electricity system powered by nature, and the Crowdscience team wants to know exactly how they did it, and whether such a model could work in other places with no national grid? Marnie discovers that the community is key to the success of this project, meeting the maintenance men who taught themselves to install equipment and solve any problems themselves, and hearing from residents who’ve changed their habits to use less juice. With the mainland more than an hour away by a once-daily ferry, this kind of resourcefulness is vital. Hydroelectric generators harness the power of running water and are complemented by wind turbines and solar panels on peoples roofs, meeting 95% of Eigg’s energy needs. Now others are learning from this unique experiment and we meet the Malawians who were inspired after visiting Eigg. A solar grid in the village of Sitolo has provided power to thousands of people, and the people who designed it are planning others. Credit: Abstract Aerial Art/Getty Images
Oct 31, 2021
Red blood cells’ surprising immune function
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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. 'To be or not to be' was never your decision. No one alive today is an 'exister' by consent - your parents made that call for you. But who can blame them? Animals are hardwired with strong impulses towards their procreative goals, and we humans, by and large, are no different. But for some conscientious people alive today, this most fundamental of biological impulses is butting up against a rational pessimism about the future... With apocalyptic scenes of natural disasters, rising sea levels and global pandemics causing existential dread and actual suffering, it's understandable that CrowdScience listener Philine Hoven from Austria wrote to us asking for help her make sense of what she sees as the most difficult question she faces - should she have children. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh helps Philine to predict what kind of a world her hypothetical child might inhabit, and explores the impact their existence, or indeed non-existence might have on society and the planet. Plus, we'll explore how medical ethicists can help us to navigate the moral landscape of the unborn. Brooding or broody, this is essential listening for any prospective parents. Image: Confocal microscopy of CpG-treated human RBCs stained for Band 3. Credit: Mangalmurti Lab / Nilam Mangalmurti, MD)
Oct 24, 2021
Wetlands under attack
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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. Philosophers have long pondered the concept of a brain in a jar, hooked up to a simulated world. Though this has largely remained a thought experiment, CrowdScience listener JP wants to know if it might become reality in the not-too-distant future, with advances in stem cell research. In the two decades since stem cell research began, scientists have learned how to use these cells to create the myriad of cell types in our bodies, including those in our brains, offering researchers ways to study neurological injuries and neurodegenerative disorders. Some labs have actually started 3D printing stem cells into sections of brain tissue in order to study specific interactions in the brain. Human brain organoids offer another way to study brain development and diseases from autism to the Zika virus. So, might stem cell research one day lead to a fully-grown human brain, or is that resolutely in the realm of science fiction? If something resembling our brains is on the horizon, is there any chance that it could actually become conscious? And how would we even know if it was? Host Marnie Chesterton takes a peek inside the human brain and speaks with leading scientists in the field, including a philosopher and ethicist who talks about the benefits – and potential pitfalls – of growing human brain models. Along the way, we'll pull apart the science from what still remains (at least for now) fiction. (Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 15, 2021
Youngest rock samples from the moon
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n 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. Snails are a major enemy of gardeners around the world, invading vegetable patches and gobbling prize plants. CrowdScience listener Alexandre reckons he’s removed thousands of them from his garden, which got him wondering: apart from eating his garden to the core, what’s their wider role in nature? Would anyone or anything miss them if they suddenly disappeared? And for that matter, what about other creatures? We all know how complex biodiversity is, but it seems that some animals are more important than others in maintaining the balance of life on earth. Is there anything that could go extinct without having knock-on effects? CrowdScience heads to the Hawaiian mountains, a snail diversity hotspot, to discover the deep value of snails to native ecosystems there. Researchers and conservationists are working together to protect these highly endangered snails, and their natural habitats, from multiple threats. We hear why all snails – even the ones munching Alexandre’s petunias – have their role to play in the natural world, and get to grips with cascading extinctions: how the loss of a single species can trigger unpredictable effects on a whole ecosystem. (Image: Getty Images)
Oct 10, 2021
Drug resistant malaria found in East Africa
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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. Also In the past 18 months we have heard lots about the human immune system, as we all learn about how our bodies fight off Covid-19 and how the vaccine helps protect us. But this got listener John, in Alberta, Canada, thinking about how trees and plants respond to diseases and threats. Do they have immune systems and if so, how do they work? Do they have memories that mean they can remember diseases or stressful events 5 months, or 5 years down the line, to be better prepared if they encounter the same threats again? Presenter Marnie Chesterton sets out to investigate the inner workings of plants and trees, discovering that plants not only have a sophisticated immune system, but that they can use that immune system to warn their neighbours of an attack. Some researchers are also investigating how we can help plants, especially crops, have better immune systems – whether that’s by vaccination or by editing their genes to make their immune systems more efficient. But some plants, like trees, live for a really long time. How long can they remember any attacks for? Can they pass any of those memories on to their offspring? Crowdscience visits one experimental forest where they are simulating the future CO2 levels of 2050 to understand how trees will react to climate change. Image: Mosquito net demonstration in a community outreach centre in Kenya Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images
Oct 03, 2021
New evidence for SARS-CoV-2’s origin in bats
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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 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. This year has been a weird one for UK gardeners – unpredictable spring temperatures meant flowers failed to bloom and throughout the rainy summer, slugs have been savaging salad crops. But why and when plants blossom is about more than just early cold spells and wet weather, and a listener in California has asked Crowdscience to investigate. Flowering is vital to both plants and us. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to evolve and survive (and we wouldn’t have anything to eat). Anand Jagatia hears that different species have developed different strategies for doing this based on all sorts of things, from where they’re located to how big they are to what kind of insects are around to pollinate them. The famously stinky Titan Arum, or corpse flower, for example, blooms for a single day once every decade or so before collapsing on itself and becoming dormant again. This gives it the best chance of attracting carrion beetles in the steamy Sumatran jungle. But other plants open their petals much more regularly, which is a process regulated by a clever internal clock that can sense daylight and night. It’s even possible to trick some of them into producing flowers out of season. Cold is also a vital step for some brassicas and trees, and scientists are starting to understand the genes involved. But as climate change makes winters in parts of the world warmer and shorter, there are worrying knock on effects for our food supply. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Sep 26, 2021
Ebola can remain dormant for five years
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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. Also...Look into my eyes. What do you see? Pupil, lens, retina… an intricate set of special tissues and mechanisms all working seamlessly together, so that I can see the world around me. Charles Darwin called the eye an ‘organ of extreme perfection’ and he’s not wrong! But if the eye is so complex and intricate, how did it evolve? One listener, Aloyce from Tanzania, got in touch to pose this difficult question. It’s a question that taxed Darwin himself, but CrowdScience is always up for a challenge! The problem is that eyes weren’t ever designed - they were cobbled together over millions and millions of years, formed gradually by the tweaks and adaptations of evolution. How do you get from the basic detection of light to the wonderful complexity - and diversity – of visual systems we find throughout the animal kingdom? CrowdScience sent Marnie Chesterton on an 800 million year journey to trace how the different elements that make up the human eye gradually came into being; from the emergence of the first light-sensitive proteins to crude eye-cups, from deep sea creatures with simple pinhole eyes to the first light-focusing lenses, all the way to the technicolour detail of the present day. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Sep 19, 2021
Keep most fossil fuel in ground to meet 1.5 degree goal
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For the world to have a decent chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, 90 per cent 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, working with colleagues in Peru and Chile. They’ve discovered that the Lomas are much more extensive than suspected. Ecologist Carolina Tovar tells Roland 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 mimic but why this duck species has evolved this trick remains a mystery. Pioneering physicist Nikolas Tesla had a dream of connecting the world up through wireless communication and power. And whilst at the start of the 20th Century Tesla demonstrated that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly very short distances, the amount of power that was needed to do this made it an unfeasible venture and the idea has since lain mostly forgotten. CrowdScience listener, George from Ghana, has asked the team whether it is once again time to reconsider this means of power generation. In countries where rugged landscapes make laying traditional power lines difficult, could wireless electricity help connect those currently reliant on costly and polluting generators? CrowdScience gets talking to various scientists who are now using state of the art technology to reimagine Tesla’s dream. We speak to a team in New Zealand developing ‘beamable’ electricity and hear how they are using lasers to make sure they don’t harm any wildlife that might wander into the beam. We then hear how wireless electricity could help fulfil the power demands of a growing electric vehicle market. We learn how a town in the USA is turning its bus fleet electric and putting wireless chargers into the tarmac at bus stops so that the busses can trickle charge as passengers get on and off. Finally, we ask whether one day, the tangled knot of wires spilling out of our electronic devices will be but a thing of the past. (Image credit: Getty Images)
Sep 12, 2021
Methane - a climate solution?
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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, as Roland Pease tells Drew Shindell of Duke University and lead author on the Global Methane Assessment, is relatively easy to target for reduction. Gut microbes and behaviour Roland speaks to neuroscientist John Cryan of University College, Cork in Ireland who 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 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 explains to Roland that he 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. Chile mummies 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. How can smart tech tackle climate change? Humans are responsible for emitting over 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year – and we all know that we need to reduce that figure to prevent devastating climate change. Listener Saugat wonders whether smart technology and artificial intelligence can help us do this more quickly? Green energy will go a long way to tackling the problem, but integrating wind and solar into our current electricity grid is complicated. Marnie Chesterton hears how AI is being used at a wind farm on the island of Orkney to predict periods of high winds, so that excess energy can be turned into hydrogen and stored, then converted back to electricity when there’s greater demand. Digital mirrors are also playing a major role in optimising performance, and scientists say cloud-based “twins” of physical assets like turbines can improve yield by up to 20%, allowing engineers to identify problems via computer without ever having to be on site. Marnie visits an intelligent building in London’s financial district where sensors control everything from air-conditioning to lighting, and machine learning means the building knows which staff will be on which floor at any given time, switching off lifts that are not in use and adjusting ventilation to save on power. Its designer says incorporating this kind of digital technology will help companies achieve net zero more quickly. And in India, more than half the population are involved in agriculture, but the sector is plagued by inefficiency and waste. Tech start-ups have realised there’s potential for growth, and are using drones to monitor crop production and spraying, giving farmers apps which help them decide when and where to fertilise their fields. Image: Livestock farm in Brazil Credit: Photo by Igor Do Vale/NurPhoto via Getty Images Presenters: Roland Pease and Marnie Chesterton Producers: Julian Siddle and Marijke Peters
Aug 15, 2021
Record-shattering weather
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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. Today, up to 3 billion people around the world play video games, from candy-based mobile puzzles to virtual battlegrounds filled with weapons. Many people have turned to gaming during the pandemic as a way of staying connected – but what does science really say about the impact of gaming? Does playing violent video games lead to violence in the real world? Do brain training apps really work? How much gaming is too much – can video games really be addictive? And how can video games help us to explore difficult issues like death, grief and loss? Alex Lathbridge and Anand Jagatia look at the evidence and play some games along the way, speaking to psychologists, doctors and game designers about the power of video games to change us - for better or worse. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Aug 08, 2021
Insects in incredible detail
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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. Also, Food. For all of us it is a basic necessity and for those lucky enough, it is something we spend a lot of time planning and enjoying. CrowdScience listeners certainly have a lot of food related questions; in this buffet of an episode Marnie Chesterton opens the fridge door to pick the tastiest. Starting with the seemingly simple question of what makes us feel hungry, and ending in outer-space, Marnie investigates flavour, nutrition and digestion. After a year when watching TV has become a core activity for many people stuck in their homes, one listener wants us to find out if eating food whilst watching the TV affects our perception of taste. We then journey to the skies and ask if it is true that food tastes blander on aeroplanes, what does that mean for astronauts’ mealtimes? Back on earth, Marnie explores whether humans are the only animals that season their food. Tuck in your napkins and prepare to feast on a smorgasbord of scientific snacks. (Image: Hairy Fungus Beetle - Prepared by Malte Storm. Credit: Diamond light Source Ltd)
Jul 04, 2021
Nyiragongo Eruption
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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. As millions more of us move to live in densely populated cities, we almost inevitably face living in closer proximity to our neighbours. Neighbour noise can certainly be a source of annoyance – but could it even be damaging to our health? Increasing evidence suggests that unwanted noise can cause sleep deprivation, distraction and annoyance, as presenter Anand Jagatia finds out. He discovers that noise annoyance has a small but significant impact on our wider health – including our cardiovascular system – but that annoyance is not necessarily down to sound alone. Factors such as perception of the neighbourhood and relationships with our neighbours also play a part. CrowdScience has examined living with unwanted noises before, and we revisit our trip to the acoustics lab at the University of Salford in Manchester, UK. Here, we meet the researchers and engineers investigating the best ways to make our homes more pleasant for our ears whilst still maintaining the ‘buzz’ of city life. (Image: Getty images)
May 29, 2021
Robot revolution
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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. Also...You are a star. Literally. You are a carbon-based life form and those atoms of carbon in the molecules that make up your cells were formed by a nuclear fusion reaction at the heart of long dead stars. That goes for the oxygen in your lungs too. And the red blood cells that carry that oxygen to your tissues? They contain haemoglobin, and nestled at the heart of each molecule is an element (iron) formed by a supernova - the fiery explosion at the death of a star. Your body is a walking, thinking museum of some of the most violent events in the universe. This, as CrowdScience host Marnie Chesterton discovers, isn’t as special as it sounds. All of the stuff on the earth - the elements that make clouds and mountains and mobile phones – they all have an origin story. CrowdScience tells that story, starting with the big bang and ending with physicists, creating new elements in the lab. Find out the age of the elements and the distance they have travelled to make their current home on earth. (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)
May 23, 2021
Covid and clean air
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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. And There are over 400,000 species of plant on earth, they’re on every continent including Antarctica. But humans only regularly eat about 200 species globally, with the vast majority of our nutrition coming from just three species. Many of the fruits, leaves and tubers that other plants grow are packed full of toxins that are poisonous to us, and would make us very ill if we ate them. But could we take out the poisons and create new, edible crops? That’s what CrowdScience listener Marija wants to know. Crowdscience dives into this topic, and uncovers the that many crops are poisonous, and why so few plants are eaten globally. Host Anand Jagatia finds that even the modern scientific processes of crop breeding are very slow. But science can now engineer plants at the genetic level by adding, silencing or removing specific genes. This ‘genetic modification’ is hugely controversial but can be highly effective. Anand finds a man who has spent decades making cotton seeds edible by removing the poisons they naturally produce in their seeds. This GM crop could help fend-off starvation. But sometimes introducing poisons can be as important as removing them, as we find in the genetically modified ‘BT eggplants’ in Bangladesh. The new gene makes the vegetable toxic to a major insect pest, so they are much easier to grow. But GM crops are not the perfect solution. They have problems of gene escape, can increase the use of environmentally damaging herbicide, and can be open to monopolisation. In some countries, particularly in Europe, GM crops are hugely controversial. Anand finds out whether these concerns stand up to science and looks at the counterpoint in developing countries in Africa, South Asia and elsewhere, where local farmers like Patience Koku in Nigeria have little time for some of the concerns around GM, particularly as they see poor harvests, poverty and starvation as the more pressing problems. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
May 16, 2021
Africa’s oldest burial
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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 covidrecovery@yale.edu. 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. And, Have you taken classes to learn a new sport or musical instrument or a language? It’s hard work! Why is it that as children we effortlessly absorb new skills and we don’t as adults? That’s what 50-something listener Gary Grief wondered about playing guitar. Do you need to play more frequently as an adult to attain the same level of expertise? Does the 10,000-hours theory still apply? Presenter and budding tabla-player Anand Jagatia embarks on a musical journey to discover what neuroscience can tell us about muscle memory and learning. Do musicians and sportsmen share the same challenges? By understanding what’s happening in the brain, can we learn how to learn better? With tabla-teacher Satvinder Sehmbey, neuroscientist Dr Jessica Grahn, viola-player Dr Molly Gebrian and sports scientist Prof Yannis Pitsiladis. (Image: An artist’s interpretation of Mtoto’s burial Credit: Fernando Fueyo)
May 09, 2021
Uncovering history with Little Foot's skull
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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. And, The sudden agony of stubbing a toe or burning a finger can make even the most polite among us swear our heads off. It’s like a reflex, a quick-release valve for the shock. But why do expletives give us such a sense of relief? Why does it sometimes feel so good to swear? We set out to explore the science of swearing, prompted by a question from our listener Gadi. Psychological studies have shown bad language can relieve pain, or even make us stronger; we test out these theories for ourselves, and try to figure out why certain words are charged with such physical power. We don’t just use strong words in shock or anger, either. They can help us to bond with others, to express joy, solidarity, or creativity. And although people curse all over the world, it’s not quite the same everywhere. We hear what people like to swear about in different countries, and whether swearing in a second language can ever be quite so satisfying. (Image: Little Foot Skull. Copyright: Diamond Light Source Ltd)
Mar 07, 2021
Waste not, want not
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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. Listener Paula from Kenya is a computer scientist, she can’t help but notice the inequality in her workplace. With only 1 in 10 countries having female heads of state, there is no doubt that men are in charge. Paula wants to know if there is any scientific underpinning to this inequality? Perhaps it can be explained by our brains and bodies? Or does evolution weigh in? Or maybe it is all down to society and the way we raise our boys and girls. The toys and ideals we give our children must surely have an impact. And most importantly, if we want a world run by men and women equally, how can we get there? We hear how Iceland became the most gender equal country in the world. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service (Image: Getty Images)
Feb 28, 2021
Weird weather
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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. It’s the stuff of fairy tales – a beautiful cottage, with windows, chimney and floorboards … and supported by a living growing tree. CrowdScience listener Jack wants to know why living houses aren’t a common sight when they could contribute to leafier cities with cleaner air. The UK has an impressive collection of treehouses, but they remain in the realm of novelty, for good reasons. Architects are used to materials like concrete and steel changing over time, but a house built around a living tree needs another level of flexibility in its design. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible and CrowdScience hears about a project in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where architect Ahadu Abaineh made a three-storey, supported by 4 living Eucalyptus trees as a natural foundation. Host Marnie Chesterton meets some of the global treehouse building fraternity, including builder of over 200 structures, Takashi Kobayashi, who adapts his houses to the Japanese weather. In Oregon, USA, Michael Garnier has built an entire village of treehouses for his “Treesort”. He’s developed better ways of building , including the Tree Attachment Bolt, which holds the weight of the house while minimising damage to the tree. Professor Mitchell Joachim from Terreform One explains the wild potential of living architecture, a movement which looks at organic ways of building. He’s currently building a prototype living house, by shaping willow saplings onto a scaffold that will become a home, built of live trees. (Image: A man walks to his friend's home in a neighbourhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S. Credit: Reuters)
Feb 21, 2021
Perseverance approaches Mars
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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. And Do you find your bearings quickly or are you easily disorientated? Do your friends trust you with the directions in a new city? Finding our way in the physical world – whether that’s around a building or a city - is an important everyday capability, one that has been integral to human survival. This week CrowdScience listeners want to know whether some people are ‘naturally’ better at navigating, so presenter Marnie Chesterton sets her compass and journeys into the human brain. Accompanied by psychologists and neuroscientists Marnie learns how humans perceive their environment, recall routes and orientate themselves in unfamiliar spaces. We ask are some navigational strategies better than others? Marnie also hears that the country you live in might be a good predictor of your navigation skills and how growing up in the countryside may give you an wayfaring advantage. But is our navigational ability down to biology or experience, and can we improve it? With much of our modern map use being delegated to smartphones, Marnie explores what implications an over-reliance on GPS technology might have for our brain health. (Image: An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Feb 14, 2021
Mixing Covid vaccines
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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. Could being happier help us fight infectious disease? As the world embarks on a mass vaccination programme to protect populations from Covid-19, Crowdscience asks whether our mood has any impact on our immune systems. In other words, could being happier help us fight infectious diseases? Marnie Chesterton explores how our mental wellbeing can impact our physical health and hears that stress and anxiety make it harder for our natural defence systems to kick in – a field known as psychoneuroimmunology. Professor Kavita Vedhara from the University of Nottingham explains flu jabs are less successful in patients with chronic stress. So scientists are coming up with non-pharmacological ways to improve vaccine efficiency. We investigate the idea that watching a short feel-good video before receiving the inoculation could lead to increased production of antibodies to a virus. And talk to Professor Richard Davidson who says mindfulness reduces stress and makes vaccines more effective.
Feb 07, 2021
Saving the Northern White Rhino
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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. And Covid-19 has prompted a cleaning frenzy. CrowdScience listener William works as a personal trainer in a gym, and while cleaning’s always been part of his job, it’s now taken over much of his working day. He’s constantly wiping down equipment and doing regular deep cleans, and he reckons he can sanitize his hands 40 times in one shift. This kind of routine might strike a chord with many of us, and it’s certainly vital to take hygiene seriously during times of pandemic. But could there be any downsides to all this extra cleaning? There’s a whole world of microbes out there: some, like SARS-CoV-2, make us sick, but others are essential for our health. A rich microbiome is linked to a healthy immune system, while ‘good’ microbes help keep ‘bad’ ones at bay. And what about the chemicals in cleaning products – do they have any unintended consequences for our health? CrowdScience turns to the experts to ask whether our supercharged hygiene routines could damage our immune systems, or promote the spread of superbugs. And we hear why, as long as we have a good diet, plenty of fresh air, and ideally a furry pet, we don’t need to worry too much about being too clean. (Image; Najin and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhinos graze in their paddock. Credit: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)
Jan 24, 2021
Gravitational waves and black holes
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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 mostly 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. And , When it comes to speed, humans have got nothing on cheetahs - or greyhounds, kangaroos or zebras for that matter. It’s over long distances we really come into our own: when running for hours or even days, our body structure and excellent sweating skills make us able to outpace much faster mammals. But what are the limits of human endurance? Can we run ever further and faster, and what’s the best diet to fuel such ambitions? This week’s questions come from two CrowdScience listeners in Japan who already know a fair bit about stamina, having run several marathons and long-distance triathlons between them. We head to Greece, legendary birthplace of the marathon, to witness an even more arduous challenge: hundreds of athletes following in the footsteps of the ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides, to run an astonishing 246km across the country. The ever-so-slightly less fit CrowdScience team do our best to keep up, and try to discover the secrets of these runners’ incredible endurance. (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)
Jan 17, 2021
New variants of SARS-Cov2
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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. And, one of the more surprising consequences of the pandemic has been the trend for people wanting to move out of cities and back to the countryside. Not everyone has that privilege of course, but undoubtedly for some living in urban areas during lockdown, the lack of access to green spaces took its toll on their mental health and physical well-being. Now, with renewed hope of a global vaccine roll-out, ensuring more people have better access to nature is more important than ever, especially in cities of glass, steel and concrete. Italian CrowdScience listener Enrica loves nothing better than walking along the verdant riverbank near her home after a hard week at work. But is this activity doing more than making her feel good? Is it having an actual effect on her health? Presenter Anand Jagatia meets Enrica and visits a radical scheme in the city of Milan, where officials have been working hard to increase urban green features and have committed to planting 3 million trees and building twenty new parks by 2030. One such idea is the innovative Bosco Verticale - or vertical forest, planted up the side of two high rises apartment blocks. Amongst other benefits It’s hoped it could provide cooling microclimates to reduce the dangers (Image: Swab test. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 10, 2021
Coping with Covid
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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. As regular listeners may recall, CrowdScience has delved into the strange world of fungi before, as we dug down into the forest floor to reveal how plants and trees are connected to the vast mycelial network known as the “wood wide web”. But what makes this network possible and how might it have evolved? Fungi are incredible clever, or at least , it appears that they’re capable of displaying complex behaviour that gives them the appearance of intelligence. In this episode, we speak to fungal ecologist and author of a new book, Merlin Sheldrake, about fungal “brains”, the evolution of magic mushrooms and zombie insects – the astonishing way certain fungi can take over the bodies of ants and wasps in order to sow their spores above ground. (Image: Getty Images)
Jan 03, 2021
2021 the year of variants
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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, Alfa and Beta, especially whether these variants might spread more quickly or outmanoeuvre the suite of new vaccines that were about to be rolled out. And now with Omicron, the same questions are being asked about this 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. Featuring: Ravi Gupta Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge Tulio De Oliveria Professor on Bioinformatics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa Dr. Allie Greaney From the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine And Professor Jeremy Luban from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard Should you wash your eggs? Well, believe it or not, there is quite an international debate about this question from CrowdScience listener Susan. In Canada, where Susan grew up, commercially sold eggs are washed before they reach stores, whereas in the UK where she is now living they are not. So what is best to avoid contamination? It’s one of a number of egg-themed questions that CrowdScience tries to crack in this episode. One of our presenters, Marnie Chesterton, heads over to Susan’s home in London to cook some eggs and explore other egg cooking questions from our listeners, such as what is the science behind frying an egg without it sticking to the pan and why are some boiled eggs harder to shell than others? Meanwhile, this episode’s other presenter, Anand Jagatia, explores questions about eggs after they have hatched. He investigates a case of curious chicken behaviour sent in by listener Laurie, as well as working out how a cuckoo knows it’s a cuckoo when it’s been raised in another bird’s nest. Featuring: Dr. Vincent Guyonnet, Dr. Valérie Lechevalier, Dr. Siobhan Abeyesinghe and Dr. Ros Gloag (Image:Getty Images)
Jan 02, 2021
A year with Covid -19
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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. At Christmas, is there a better gift than knowledge? CrowdScience has cooked up its own version of 'secret Santa', with members of the team setting one another the challenge of answering surprising questions from all over the world. Are humans the only animals to exercise? Can you get colder than absolute zero? Why are sounds louder at night? When it comes to food dropped on the floor, is there such thing as the "three-second rule"? And, does honey really have healing properties? Producers and presenters from the CrowdScience team speak to all manner of experts, from zoologists through to material scientists, to find the answers. (Image: Getty Images)
Dec 27, 2020
Covid -19 – Mutations are normal
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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. CrowdScience listener Simon has a problem. He’s always bumping into things, dropping tools and knocking stuff over. And he’s sick of it. He wants to know what is going on. Was he born like this? Or is it contagious? And most importantly, can he doing anything about it or is he going to be the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’ for the rest of his life? Host Anand Jagatia gets on the case, investigating the complex coordination needed for the simplest movements, like throwing a ball and catching it. With help from Dr Andrew Green, an exercise physiologist from Johannesburg University, he delves into our secret “sixth sense” – proprioception, which helps us locate our limbs without looking. Anand discovers that an easy task, like kicking a football, needs multiple parts of the brain to coordinate in order to work smoothly. Assistant Professor Jessica Bernard from Texas AMU studies the brain, particularly the cerebellum, a part that controls smooth movements. Dr Bernard explains how tiny glitches and larger lesions in different parts of the brain can make us clumsy in different ways. And how we use our thinking powers to stay balanced; a reason why, as your memory goes with old age, you’re more prone to falling over. Our listener is not alone. Around the world, there is an under- diagnosed condition that affects millions of us. Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia is a motor coordination condition that affects 5% of the global population. As Professor Amanda Kirby from the University of South Wales and CEO of Do-It solutions explains, if you can’t tie shoelaces, catch a ball and your handwriting is awful, there’s a chance that you have DCD. There’s a large genetic component, so you are likely to come from a clumsy family. There’s no cure for DCD/Dyspraxia but all of us are capable of becoming better at a chosen task, and there’s a common pathway to mastery, whether that’s bike mechanics or open heart surgery. Professor Roger Kneebone is the author of Becoming Expert, and he talks to Simon about possible solutions to clumsiness, including accepting and living with it. [IMAGE: Getty Images]
Dec 20, 2020
The unchecked spread of Covid-19 in Manaus
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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. The space between stars is usually measured in light years, but this makes it less easy to acknowledge the true scale of the distance. Even the closest star system to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years or 40.13 trillion kilometres from Earth. If we are ever going to bridge the gap between the stars, we will have to have some very fast spaceships, with extremely reliable, long-lasting technology on board. So does science allow for these spacecraft to exist? That’s what listener Allan wants to know, and to find out, Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with Tracy Drain, a systems engineer at NASA JPL responsible for overseeing the development and missions of multiple unmanned interplanetary probes including some around Jupiter and Mars. She tells us the challenges involved with simply keeping our spacecraft working for the long-haul. Even if we can overcome issues of wear and tear over time, powering a ship to other star systems will not be easy. Today’s chemical rockets are too inefficient for the job, so we speak with Rachel Moloney, a researcher in electric propulsion to ask if this relatively new technology could power ships through interstellar space. Faster than light travel is the solution most often found in Science Fiction, but it goes against Einstein’s laws of relativity. Is there a way around it? Theoretical physicist Professor Miguel Alcubierre thinks there may be, and he describes the way a spaceship may be able to create a bubble of spacetime around itself to move faster than light without breaking these fixed laws. But there’s a catch... (Image: Getty Images)
Dec 13, 2020
Freak weather getting even freakier
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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. From dumping raw sewage into rivers to littering the streets with our trash, humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to dealing with our waste. It’s something that CrowdScience listener and civil engineer Marc has noticed: he wonders if humans are particularly prone to messing up our surroundings, while other species are instinctively more hygienic and well-organised. Aasre we, by nature, really less clean and tidy than other animals? Farming and technology have allowed us to live more densely and generate more rubbish - maybe our cleaning instincts just aren’t up to the vast quantities of waste we spew out? CrowdScience digs into the past to see if early human rubbish heaps can turn up any answers. We follow a sewer down to the River Thames to hear about The Great Stink of Victorian London; turn to ants for housekeeping inspiration; and find out how to raise hygiene standards by tapping into our feelings of disgust and our desire to follow rules. (Image: Getty Images)
Dec 08, 2020
Vaccines – the Covid confusion
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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. This year, dramatic wildfires wreaked havoc across the globe from Australia to Siberia. CrowdScience listener Melissa wants to know the extent to which climate change is a factor in blazes that appear to be increasing in both frequency and intensity. Presenter Anand Jagatia hears how scientists use alternative worlds in computer models, to understand the role that global warming plays. After Siberia’s hottest ever year on record, he discovers the impact of increasing temperatures on boreal forests – and how they could help release huge stocks of carbon that has been stored in the soil. But is there anything we can do to prevent this happening? He visits the UK’s Peak District region, where conservationists are re-wilding a massive area with a special species of moss, which may offer a solution to an increase in infernos. (Image: Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 29, 2020
Covid- 19 – Good news on immunity
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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. Every year, Western Afghanistan is hit with a fierce 120-day wind, and listener Hamid wants to know what causes this phenomenon? He’s from the city of Herat, where what starts as a gentle breeze in the morning can pick up to become a dangerous gale just a few hours later, devastating buildings and causing power outages. The BBC’s Abdullah Elham in Kabul tells us the country has plenty of other ‘friendly’ wind but this one is considered ‘fierce’. CrowdScience talks to Professor Amir Aghakouchak to discover more about the phenomenon, and learns about the pollution problems Herat’s summer storm causes in neighbouring Iran. But it’s not all bad news. Professor Lorraine Remer explains how NASA used satellites to map how wind transport Saharan sand almost half way round the world, fertilising the Amazon rainforest. [IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images]
Nov 22, 2020
Covid-19 defeats US Marines
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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. We all feel pain on a regular basis; when we stub a toe, break a bone or even experience heartbreak. Bebeto from Cameroon wants to know how to cope with a pain in his wrist that just won’t go away. Does a positive mindset help? Or perhaps meditation? Marnie Chesterton speaks to psychologists and neuroscientists to find the answers. We hear from two people with very different experiences of pain. Lucy has fibromyalgia and experiences pain all over her body every day. While Stephen has a rare genetic condition which means he doesn’t feel physical pain at all. But they both argue that pain shouldn’t always be unwanted. Perhaps we need to embrace and accept our pain in order to beat it. (Image: Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 15, 2020
Coronavirus spreads from mink to humans
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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. CrowdScience listeners come in all shapes, sizes and ages. This episode is dedicated to our younger listeners who, as we’ve learned before, are experts at asking those superficially obvious questions that for parents, are anything but easy to answer. To start off with, Sylvia, asks why elephants are so big? As we hear from our expert – mammals were at one time, much larger – so perhaps the question should be, why aren’t they bigger? We investigate what drives body size in the animal kingdom. Presenter Marnie Chesterton, together with our ‘cub’ reporter Arlo, goes in search of the most brilliant scientific minds to respond to a slew of other queries. Shambhavi, from Singapore wonders why humans have five digits on each hand? And Benni from California asks why dogs don’t get sick when they drink from muddy puddles? Do dogs have some amazing ability to fight off viruses and bugs? Beyond the confines of our planet, we’ve also got a question from Olivia, from Sydney, Australia, who regularly contemplates the universe: what is the biggest object in it she wonders? Marnie and her experts do their best to solve these mysteries. (Image: Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 08, 2020
Osiris Rex stows asteroid material
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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. We’ve probably all got a friend who sings along wildly out of tune - or maybe you are that person. But why are some of us apparently tone deaf, while others can hold a melody? Can you train yourself to sing in tune, or is it mostly down to raw talent? These musical questions, from CrowdScience listeners Jenny and Anastasia, certainly struck a chord with us. Anastasia loves to sing but her friends tell her she’s off-key - or that “a bear trod on her ear,” as they say in her native Russia. Is it possible for her to improve her singing voice, and what are the best ways of going about it? Both musicians and scientists help us tackle these questions, and explain what’s going on in our ears, brains and throats when we try to sing the right notes. We learn about congenital amusia, a condition which makes it almost impossible to tell if you’re in tune or not, and attempt to tease out the relative influence of our genes and our environment when it comes to musical ability. (Image: Getty Images)
Nov 01, 2020
Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid
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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. And All living things are related to each other, from elephants to algae, e-coli to humans like us. Within our cells we hold genetic information in the form of DNA or RNA. But despite viruses sharing these molecules, many scientists don't consider them to be 'life'. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, but some can insert their DNA into a host to pass genes sideways through the branching tree of life. As a result, viruses’ relationship with life is.... complex. Two of our listeners had viruses on the mind, so they sent in the same question to CrowdScience. Senan from Singapore and Melvin from South Africa want to know how viruses began to see if this can tell us whether they shared a common ancestor with humans. To dig into this complexity Marnie Chesterton speaks with an expert on Koala genetics – Dr Rachael Tarlinton. Koalas are in the middle of tackling a retroviruses, a type of virus that plants DNA into our cells as a reproduction strategy. Her research could reveal why humans life has so much viral DNA within our genomes. Marnie speaks with a computational biologist Professor Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, who has found a new way to trace the family tree for billions of years using proteins common to all life on earth, and speaks with Professor Chantal Abergel who paints a picture of how viruses went from being the losers of evolution, to being highly successful parasites of cells. (Image: Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid. Credit Nasa)
Oct 25, 2020
Covid -19 mortality
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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. Curious CrowdScience listeners have suddenly been struck by the oddity of their behaviours. Elise ponders why she blushes. Thankfully, listener David is a vascular surgeon and knows a thing or two about blushing, as he performs operations on people debilitated by constant red-dening. He has some answers for us, but asks why did blushing evolve? In the past, red cheeks have been linked to necrophilia, repressed cannibalism, and even a de-sire for men to experience menstruation! Thankfully, research has come a long way since then, as blushing experts Peter de Jong and Corine Dijk explain. Scientists believe that it evolved as a nonverbal signal to show someone you’re sorry or that you care about what they think. This would have important for our survival in the group, en-suring we didn’t get into a fight or get kicked out the group. Anand Jagatia gets to grips with blushing and other bodily behaviours – including a question from Thai listener Nitcha who wonders why we yawn as well as a question from Mohamed in Ghana and Biana in Trinidad and Tobago who both asked why people scratch their heads when they think. To answer these questions, Anand’s joined by yawning researcher Andrew Gallup and Sophie Scott as well as body language expert Blanca Cobb. [Images: Getty Images]
Oct 18, 2020
Do Covid–19 mutations matter?
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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. Crowdscience solves a range of listeners’ cosmic mysteries, from the reason we only ever see one side of the moon, to why planets spin, and discover the answer can be found in the formation of the solar system. We talk to astronomer Dr Carolin Crawford to understand how stars are made, and investigate the art of astronomy with journalist Jo Marshall, hearing how the ancient Greeks came up with a zodiac long before the invention of a telescope, revealing an intimate relationship between humans and the night sky. (Image: Getty Images)
Oct 11, 2020
Are children the biggest Covid-19 spreaders?
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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. Also, What makes things sticky? Listener Mitch from the USA began wondering while he was taking down some very sticky wallpaper. Our world would quite literally fall apart without adhesives. They are almost everywhere – in our buildings, in our cars and in our smartphones. But how do they hold things together? To find out, presenter Marnie Chesterton visits a luthier, Anette Fajardo, who uses animal glues every day in her job making violins. These glues have been used since the ancient Egyptians –but adhesives are much older than that. Marnie speaks to archaeologist Dr Geeske Langejans from Delft University of Technology about prehistoric glues made from birch bark, dated to 200,000 years ago. She goes to see a chemist, Prof Steven Abbott, who helps her understand why anything actually sticks to anything else. And she speaks to physicist Dr Ivan Vera-Marun at the University of Manchester, about the nanotechnologists using adhesion at tiny scales to make materials of the future. (Image: Getty Images)
Oct 04, 2020
Why Covid -19 vaccines may not stop transmission
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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. And why am I embarrassed to be naked? Chumbuzzo in Zambia wonders. And what would happen if we ditched our clothes and embraced nudity? Presenter Anand Jagatia and Producer Caroline Steel spend the day naked with other naturists to see if they can shift their embarrassment. Maybe there are good evolutionary reasons to cover up or perhaps we are contributing to inequality and negative body image by hiding our real selves? Marnie Chesterton explores different cultural attitudes to nudity and finds out about the science behind embarrassment. Clothes optional. (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 27, 2020
Malaria resistance breakthrough
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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. And Many of us willingly subject ourselves to pain and irritation by eating chilli. CrowdScience listener Tina wonders what’s driving this apparent masochism: why does ‘feeling the burn’ make so many of us feel so good? It’s just one of several tasty questions we tuck into in this episode. Also on the menu is stew: why does it taste better the next day? Listener Helen’s local delicacy is Welsh cawl, a meat and vegetable concoction. Tradition dictates it should be eaten the day after it’s made, but is there any science behind this? And we finish the meal with cheese. Listener Leander asks what makes some cheeses blue, some hard and crumbly, and some run all over your fridge. How is milk transformed into such radically different end products? (Image: Getty Images)
Sep 20, 2020
Covid -19 science versus politics
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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. And Many of us enjoy cooking – but when did we switch from eating our food raw, to heating it? Listener Logan enjoys his beef burgers rare, but wants to know why he still feels compelled to grill them? Presenter Anand Jagatia travels to a remote South African cave where our ancestors first used fire at least a million years ago, which one man says could help prove when our species started cooking. And he talks to a scientist who shows how the composition of food changes when it’s cooked, to allow us more access to give us more access to calories - and hears how a completely raw food diet could have disastrous consequences for health. (Image:Getty Images)
Sep 13, 2020
Nyiragongo - is Goma under threat?
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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. What does science say about controlling urination, and other bodily functions? We tackle three queries about peeing triggers, pooing positions and missing sweat. This episode CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton poses some of the best listener follow-up questions that have landed in our inbox to a panel of experts. Listener Samuel in Ghana is wondering why watery sounds seem to induce urination. Producer Melanie Brown heads out to survey whether this is the case for individuals in an actual crowd at a public fountain in London. And urologist and trustee of the International Continence Society Marcus Drake talks Marnie through how he uses the sound of running water during his work as a hospital doctor helping patients with common but distressing peeing issues, and the limitations of research into this question. And he's not the only listener who wants us to dig deeper into topics we've explored on the show before. Anna in Tokyo also got in touch after hearing our show about toilets, to ask if there is a toilet design that is most 'natural' for our health. Gastroenterologist Anton Emmanuel explains why small changes in people's posture whilst pooing can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Finally, listeners Stelle, James and Joel emailed crowdscience@bbc.co.uk after hearing Marnie investigate hyperhidrosis: Sweating too much. They and their relatives experience the opposite. (Main Image: Sunset, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shamim Shorif Susom / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Sep 06, 2020
Covid-19 Therapy Controversy
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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. The idea of creating underwater habitats has captured the imagination of writers, thinkers and scientists for decades. However, despite numerous grand visions, these dreams of aquatic metropolises have not yet come to fruition. Crowdscience listener and scuba enthusiast Jack wonders whether - given improved technology and the growing environmental pressures facing humans on land - it is time to reconsider the ocean as an alternative permanent living space for humans. Marnie Chesterton dons her flippers for Crowdscience in search of the oceanographers and architects who have dedicated their lives to designing vessels, labs and underwater habitats. She explores whether oceanic cities remain a sci-fi dream or a realistic solution to some of our modern challenges. Can the oceans’ largely unexplored resources be harnessed to support living underwater? (Main image: New York lab tests serum from recovered covid-19 patients for possible therapy. Credit: Misha Friedman / Getty Images)
Aug 29, 2020
Trouble in Greenland
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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. If you’re one of the millions of people who used lockdown to try something new like baking sourdough bread, you may well be wondering what’s happening chemically inside your loaf, especially if the end result keeps changing. Well, you’re not alone. Listeners Soheil and Sean are both keen bakers but want to know more about the thing that makes bread rise: yeast. What is yeast? Where does it come from and can you catch it? And how hard is it to ‘make’ yourself? Soon after lockdown took effect, commercial supplies of the stuff disappeared from supermarket shelves across the globe. The shortage also affected brewers the world over. A big fan of yeast in most of its forms, Marnie Chesterton took on the challenge of creating her own. She talks to the brewers who hunt rare strains to create the perfect beer, and hears from the biologist who says these amazing microbes, used for thousands of years, could be used to make food production more sustainable. And she discovers how this simple ingredient could be instrumental in the fight against climate change. (Image: Masses of ice break off from the edge of a glacier. Credit: Press Association)
Aug 23, 2020
Putin’s Covid-19 vaccine
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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. Squelching into the science of slime, Chhavi Sachdev seeks to find out why it took so long for listener Helen Tyson to remove slime from her fingers, after she picked up a tiny slug while gardening. This unfortunate and hugely repulsive experience set Helen to wonder what it is about the structure of slug slime that makes it gloopy, so she sent Chhavi to meet with slug slime expert Professor Andrew Smith who reveals how the complex molecular structure of this pervasive fluid makes it so difficult to scrub off. Slime is used by all sorts of creatures including the Giant African Land snail, which invaded India by hitching a ride on imported timber. But invasive species biologist Dr TV Sajeev reveals that these snails are themselves giving a lift to another meningitis-causing parasite that can infect people. Chhavi looks for these massive molluscs in her own garden in Mumbai. Marine biologist Helen Scales describes how animals can use slime for catching food, mating, defence, or even transportation, and Chhavi speaks with Dr Adam Celiz who has been inspired by this slimy adaptability to create a tool that can provide new cells to replace damaged heart cells after a cardiac arrest. Slugs, snails and even fish keep a variety of useful chemicals in their slime. Some make them taste bitter, and others numb the mouth of predators, but they may also prevent the animals from contracting infections. Dr Sarah Pitt has investigated these compounds in the slimy mucus of a garden snail and discovered an antibiotic that is brand new to science. Slime is pretty disgusting, but it’s also completely fascinating. (Image:President Putin. Credit: Reuters)
Aug 16, 2020
Counting the heat health threat from climate change
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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. Anyone else had their flight cancelled? The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on air travel – air traffic in 2020 is expected to be down 50 per cent on last year. But beyond the obvious disruption to business and people’s lives, how might the quieter skies affect our weather and climate? One curious listener, Jeroen Wijnands, who lives next to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, noticed how there were fewer clouds and barely any rainfall since the flights dropped off. Could airplanes affect our local weather? Also, did we learn anything from another occasion when airplanes were grounded, during the post-9/11 shutdown? How will the current period impact our future climate? Marnie Chesterton investigates this question and discovers some of the surprising effects that grounded aircraft are having: on cloud formation, forecasting and climate change. (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)
Aug 09, 2020
NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
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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. Listener Avalon from Australia wants to know why people use conspiracy theories to explain shocking events. Are we more likely to believe conspiracy theories in times of adversity? What purpose do conspiracy theories serve in society? Marnie Chesterton speaks to the scientists to explain their popularity, even in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence. (Image: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. Credit: Illustration provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS)
Aug 02, 2020
Making a Covid-19 vaccine for two billion people
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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: what has made just a few mosquito species evolve a preference for biting humans, and the theory that 800 million years ago the Moon and the Earth were bombarded by a shower of asteroids which plunged the Earth into a global ice age - an event which changed the course of the evolution of life. These days we're more acquainted with soap than ever before, as we lather up to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And for CrowdScience listener Sharon, this set off a steady stream of soapy questions: how does soap actually work? How was it discovered in the first place, long before anyone knew anything about germs? Are different things used for washing around the world, and are some soaps better than others? We set up a CrowdScience home laboratory to explore the soap making process with advice from science-based beauty blogger Dr Michelle Wong, and find out what it is about soap's chemistry that gives it its germ-fighting superpowers. Soap has been around for at least 4000 years; we compare ancient soap making to modern methods, and hear about some of the soap alternatives used around the world, like the soap berries of India. And as for the question of whether some soaps are better than others? We discover why antibacterial soaps aren't necessarily a good idea, and why putting a toy inside a bar of soap might be more important than tweaking its ingredients. (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)
Jul 26, 2020
How long do Covid-19 antibodies last?
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Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on how 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. Dr’s 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 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. Think of the oceans and an empty and peaceful expanse relatively untouched by humankind might come to mind. But is this peace an illusion? CrowdScience listener Dani wants to know if the noise of shipping and other human activity on the oceans is impacting on sea life. To find out, Marnie Chesterton takes a deep dive to learn how marine animals have evolved to use sound; from navigating their environments to finding a mate or hiding from prey. She then speaks to a scientist who is using acoustic observatories to track the many ways human activity - like sonar and shipping – can interfere. Marnie virtually visits a German lab which tests the ears of beached whales, dolphins and seals from around the world to try and ascertain whether they suffered hearing damage, and what might have caused it. What other smaller creatures are negatively impacted by underwater noise? Marnie learns that acoustic trauma is more widespread than first thought. As human life continues to expand along ocean waters, what is being done to reduce the impact of sound? Marnie meets some of the designers at the forefront of naval architecture to see how ship design, from propellers to air bubbles and even wind powered vessels can contribute to reducing the racket in the oceans. Main image: Abs COVID-19 antibody - Viral Infection concept. Credit: Getty Images
Jul 18, 2020
Rwanda’s game changing coronavirus test
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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. Worms are not the cutest of creatures. They’re slimy, often associated with death and tend to bring on feelings of disgust in many of us. But listener Dinesh thinks they’re underrated and wants to know whether earthworms could be the key to our planet’s future agricultural success? He’s an organic farmer in India’s Tamil Nadu province who grows these annelids to add to the soil, and he wants Crowdscience to find out exactly what they’re doing. Anand Jagatia dons his gardening gloves and digs the dirt on these remarkable creatures, discovering how they can help improve soil quality, prevent fields from becoming waterlogged, and improve microbial numbers, all of which has the potential to increase crop yield. But he also investigates the so-called ‘earthworm dilemma’ and the idea that in some parts of the world, boreal forest worms are releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, which could have dangerous consequences for climate change. 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 11, 2020
Covid-19 and children
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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. Shoes are a surprisingly recent human invention. But running isn’t. That means for most of our time on the planet, we’ve run barefoot. Today, in most countries, it’s rare to see people out in public without shoes, let alone running. But might our aversion to the free foot be causing us pain? CrowdScience mega-fan Hnin is an experienced runner - she enjoys ultra-marathons back home in Australia. But about six months ago she developed extreme foot pain, the condition Plantar Fasciitis, and this meant she had to stop doing what she loves. She reached out to CrowdScience presenter Chhavi Sachdev, to find out if barefoot running could reduce her pain and improve her performance. Simply put, is barefoot running better? In an attempt to find Hnin some answers, Chhavi hits the ground… running. Literally throwing off her own shoes on the streets of her home city of Mumbai, India, to see how feeling the ground can change her whole gait. And with Prof. Dan Lieberman, Chhavi learns what sets the human runner apart from other species, while uncovering the strange form our feet have. She speaks with Dr Peter Francis, a researcher whose life’s work has focused on curing the pain in his own feet and learning how to help others. But performance is also important for runners. Biomechanics and shoe expert Dr Sharon Dixon explains how modifications to the sports-shoe are helping marathon runners set records, and blade-running athlete Kiran Kanojia shows Chhavi how the technology behind her two prosthetic legs let her emulate either natural walking or natural running. (Image: Getty Images)
Jul 05, 2020
Record high temperatures – in the Arctic
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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. If you put one person’s blood into another person , sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s a death sentence. French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis discovered this when he performed the first blood transfusion back in 1667. He put the blood of a lamb into a 15-year boy. The teenager survived but Denis’s third attempt killed the patient and led to a murder charge. In 1900, Austrian doctor Karl Landsteiner discovered the reason for this lottery – blood types. The red blood cells in our bodies are decorated with different marker molecules called antigens. These define us as A, B, AB or O blood type. And this is just one of 38 different systems for classifying our blood. CrowdScience listeners have discovered that we aren’t the only animal with blood types and want to know more. Dogs have 12 different blood groups, so how do they cope when they need a transfusion? CrowdScience meets some very good dogs who donate a pint to the pet blood bank in return for a toy and a treat. Each pint saving up to 4 other dogs’ lives. We also hear how examining our blood types can tell us more about our links to our ape-like cousins and how the human species spread around the world. And what about the future of blood types – can we use science, and animal blood to get around the problems of transfusions? (Image: Rural Scene in Verkhoyansk. Credit: Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images)
Jun 28, 2020
Covid -19 hope for severe cases
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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. Also What exactly it means to be conscious has long been a question of profound debate amongst philosophers, and more recently, scientists. There are no easy answers, and it gets even trickier when you start asking whether animals are conscious: how can you find out about their subjective experience when they can’t tell you about it? Never afraid to tackle the impossible, CrowdScience is looking for answers after listener Natalie got in touch. She has lived with her cat for years and has a strong sense that he has thoughts and feelings: he has his own personality, acts in complex ways, and even has ‘grumpy days’. But is this consciousness? Is there any way of scientifically testing for it? How different from our own inner world is that of a cat, an octopus, or a bumblebee? And if we can find any answers to these puzzling questions, how does that affect the way we treat animals - not just our pets, but all the animals we share our planet with? We meet Natalie and her cat, and discover how scientists have explored the minds of pigs, cows and cuttlefish. Helping us ponder the elusive question of animal consciousness are philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, neuroscientist Anil Seth, animal welfare expert Donald Broom, ethicist Jessica Pierce, and comparative psychologist Alex Schnell. Featuring David Seddon as the voice of Chicco the Cat. (Image: Doctor examines Covid-19 virus patient. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 21, 2020
Food security, locusts and Covid -19
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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. And we were bowled over by a question from one CrowdScience listener in Australia wants to know how likely it is that the atoms in his body have been used in someone else’s body? We all like to think we are unique; no one is quite like us. But is that really true? Presenter Marnie Chesterton tackles Moshe’s question with help from every area of science. From geologists helping us work out how many atoms are on the Earth’s surface to biologists helping us work out how many atoms each body uses. Perhaps we are much less special than we think.
Jun 14, 2020
The medical complexity of Covid -19
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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. And, Have you ever broken up a fight? Or pushed someone out the way of an oncoming vehicle, only to be hit by it yourself? Most of us probably haven’t taken as many risks as listener Alix, who has put herself in peril to save strangers on several occasions, and she wants Crowdscience to investigate why? At a time when medical professionals have to weigh up the personal dangers of working on the frontline of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a particularly timely question. Marnie Chesterton finds out why it’s a good thing that children push the boundaries of what’s safe during playtime, because it makes them less anxious adults. And she questions the existence of the so-called bystander effect, discovering how evolution has ensured we’re a much braver species than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. But she hears from some social scientists who say there’s no such thing as a ‘hero’ however likely they are to intervene to help others
Jun 07, 2020
Brazil’s Covid chaos
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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. Also this week, The kids take over. Our younger listeners are as curious as their parents, it seems, so presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks out the finest minds and attempts to answer a raft of their science questions, including why can’t you tickle yourself? Why don’t our eyebrows grow as long as the hair on our heads? Not content with humankind, these whizz kids have been pondering deeply about other animals. Ava, 9, from the UK wants to know if any other animals kill for fun, like some humans do. Not limited by planet Earth, these little thinkers have been contemplating even weightier questions. Joshua, 13, from Kenya wonders if our Solar System rotates around anything. And Seattle-based Michael, 10, puzzles over what would happen if a black hole collided with a wormhole. These and other mysteries are uncovered by Marnie and her experts. Credit: SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images)
May 31, 2020
Loosening lockdown
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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. Also despite being a universal need, talking about our toilet use and the infrastructure that aids us remains somewhat taboo. Whilst sectors like telecommunications and computing have undergone rapid transformations over the past century, the flush toilet and wastewater system have mostly remained unchanged. CrowdScience listeners Linda and Allison wonder if flush toilets – and the clean water used to wash waste away - make economic or environmental sense. So CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton looks under the toilet lid, to probe (in a sanitary fashion) whether our sewerage systems and plumbed toilets are fit for purpose. In a future where population growth and climate change are likely to affect water demands, can we continue to use clean water to dispose of our waste and should the developing world be emulating this model? Around 2 billion people don’t have access to proper toilets or latrines, risking serious health consequences. Marnie investigates how countries without comprehensive sewerage infrastructure deal with human waste and how science is providing novel ways to dispose of - and use – human waste. Marnie speaks to a Kenyan scientist using poo-eating fly larvae to process faeces and a North American scientist who is developing a smart-toilet she hopes will monitor our health through sampling our daily movements. Are we ready to break taboos to innovate our toilet habits? (Image: Commuters wear masks whilst travelling on a London Underground train. Credit: Tolga Akmen/Getty Images)
May 17, 2020
Covid -19 new hope from blood tests
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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. Also What is the smallest particle of matter? How does radiation affect our bodies? And, how is particle physics useful in our everyday lives? We take on particle physics questions from listeners all over the world. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia get help from particle physicists from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and medical physicist Heather Williams. (Image: People wear face masks as they cross a street in Times Square in New York City. Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
May 10, 2020
Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19
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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 What’s the importance of zero, and how was it discovered? How do scientists calculate Pi’s infinite digits? Why do so many people find maths difficult – and what’s the most difficult thing in maths? CrowdScience takes on a whole bunch of questions sent in by high school students in Spain. Like many children all over the world, their school is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but lessons continue at home. So how are their studies going, and can CrowdScience help out? We attempt to answer some of their trickiest maths questions with the help of mathematics whizz Katie Steckles, Pi aficionado Matt Parker, and mathematical biologist Kit Yates. Image Credit: Getty Images
May 03, 2020
Presidents and pandemics
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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. If you're an exercise fan, you'll know that sweating is how our bodies keep us cool, but how much water we lose and which bits of us get wettest depend on a whole host of factors. Jamaican listener Andre wants to know why he sweats in a heart-shape when he hits the gym, and we find out how everything from the clothes he wears to the moves he's doing explain his unusual perspiration patterns. In Kenya we meet a woman whose permanently clammy hands cause her to drop her mobile phone, and sweaty feet start to stink when she spends too long in shoes. Hyperhidrosis is a condition affecting millions of people worldwide but an expert explains some of the treatments for this mysterious condition. Image: President Trump (rhs) with Brazilian President Bolsonaro (lhs). (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Apr 26, 2020
Italy, getting Covid 19 under control
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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. If you have ever watched a spider as it works to build a web, spiralling inwards with a thread of silk, that intersects each glistening spoke with a precise touch of the foot, you will know that it is a remarkably complex behaviour. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh dives into the minds of spider-constructors as they build their webs. CrowdScience listener Daan asked us to find out how spiders can build webs without ever being taught how to do it. Are they just little robots controlled entirely by their genetic instructions? Spider silk expert Dr Beth Mortimer, describes the process of building a web in detail, while Professor Iain Couzin explains the simple modular behaviours that build up, in sequence, to create apparently complex instincts, like the huge locust swarms that are sweeping across vast areas of Africa and Arabia. Taking us deep under the exoskeletons of invertebrates, Professor Gene Robinson reveals an animal's behaviours can be altered by their genes, and the root similarity between learning and instincts. Spiders, despite their tiny size, have fascinating behaviours. Some jumping spiders can work out the best way out of a maze, and one arachnologist reveals how some social spiders can cooperate to build communal webs and capture moths that are many times their size. Geoff searches for the science that can reveal how instinct can create complex behaviour by setting up interviews at the homes of spider experts from around the world. (Image: Italy, shops begin to open. Credit: European Photopress Agency)
Apr 19, 2020
The impossibility of social distancing and even handwashing in crowded refugee camps
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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. Listener Keith from Lincolnshire wants to know how to reduce stress as he is under extreme pressure as a firefighter. Not only does he have to cope with the stress of responding to emergency situations but he has to do it while wearing challenging breathing equipment. We all experience times of stress, especially given the current situation, our chest starts to feel tight and our breathing becomes shallow. Claudia Hammond – presenter of BBC World Service programme Health Check – explains steps we can take to protect our mental health during this pandemic. How should we alter our breathing to manage stress? Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to breathing experts to find techniques to help listener Keith, and everyone else. (Image: Moria refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 12, 2020
Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins
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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. In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research. With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance? As an amateur sports enthusiast, he’s been reading up on his sports psychology to try and improve his game but he wonders if any coaches or psychologists use placebos to improve performance? Always ready to take up a challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia explores the world of endurance sport to find out how a placebo might used to improve athletes’ performances as well as his own and look at how advances in brain science are helping us understand the unusual neurobiology of placebo. And what of the amateur golfer or rugby or table tennis player - can placebo help? On an individual level, so called ‘verbal placebo’ is a technique that can help players with anxiety, confidence and concentration, and ultimately make them win more. And what about team sports – when, say, a new manager takes over at an ailing football club, and sparks a massive reversal in poor results, is that placebo effect in action? The CrowdScience team investigates. (Image: Getty Images)
Apr 05, 2020
The science of social distancing
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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. And If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy. Marnie Chesterton finds out how brain scans are being used to discover which specific aspect of an advertisement a person is responding to, and then she hears how this information is being used by companies who want to sell us more stuff. But there's also evidence to suggest we have less control over these decisions than we think, and that computers are getting closer to detecting our intention before we're even aware of it ourselves. And this could have huge implications for the way we shop. (Image: Getty Images)
Mar 29, 2020
Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?
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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. http://bit.ly/frontiertech4COVIDaction Many of us are fascinated by our ancestry: knowing where our families came from can give us a sense of identity and roots. Tracing your family tree is a time-honoured tradition, but several companies now sell DNA tests that offer you insights into your heritage: so you might find out you’re 70% Nigerian, 39% Italian, or 11% South Asian, for example. There’s no doubt that genes contain clues about your family history, but how reliable are these commercial tests? That’s what CrowdScience listener Karen wondered after an update of her test results showed her going from 39% Scandinavian to 2% Norwegian. How confident can she be in her results now? And what does it actually mean to be 2% Norwegian, in terms of your family tree? Presenter Alex Lathbridge delves into his own African and European ancestry, talks to some of the companies offering these tests, and unpicks the complex relationship between genetic science and family trees. We meet a woman who found her long-lost uncle with a combination of a DNA test and old-fashioned archive research; and look to the Americas to ask whether genetic testing can restore ancestral ties erased by the inhumanity of the transatlantic slave trade. (Image: AFP/Getty Images)
Mar 22, 2020
Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
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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. Since the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus late last year, health workers and governments have been rushing to limit transmission by deploying containment tactics and anti-contamination campaigns. But, as the virus spreads around the world, what are scientists doing to help our bodies fight off or resist this new infectious disease? Viruses that cause human disease can be notoriously tricky to tackle. They don’t respond to antibiotics, can spread rapidly between human hosts, and even evolve improved ways of working as they multiply. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine to meet the researchers who are urgently searching for solutions. Professor Tao Dong is Director of Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute, collaborating with colleagues on the ground in China to see how Chinese patients’ immune systems are responding to the virus, which could inform vaccine design. Professor Sarah Gilbert leads the Jenner Institute’s influenza vaccine and emerging pathogens programme. She’s been developing a vaccine against another strain of coronavirus that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, and is using the same technology to generate a new vaccine against the 2019 coronavirus. And, whilst that’s being developed, there is a possibility that some existing antiviral drugs may even help infected patients – Professor Peter Horby is working with colleagues in China on clinical trials to see what might work. CrowdScience goes into the laboratories using cutting edge science to combat coronavirus. (Image: Coronavirus test. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Mar 15, 2020
Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change
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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. And why are we obsessed with crime? Kay from Hamburg, Germany asks as every Sunday evening Germans pile into their local pubs to watch Tatort, a hugely successful crime drama which has been running for 50 years. Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts with the science and speaks with psychologists to get to the bottom of where this obsession might come from. Have we evolved to have an innate obsession with danger or are we addicted to feeling fear? Or perhaps the dramatisation of crime fuels our obsession. Producer Caroline Steel visits the film set of BBC crime drama, Line of Duty. Producer Jed Mercurio explains what draws us to crime narratives and the techniques he uses to keep his audience captivated. But does the way we chose to represent crime in media match up with reality? And what is the impact of this on society and policy? (Image: Australian bushfires. Credit: Getty images/AFP)
Mar 08, 2020
Tracking coronavirus spread
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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. Weather: wet, dry, cold, hot, sunny, windy or downright weird - there’s nothing quite like it as a conversation starter, from Austin to Jakarta. And judging from the large volume of emails about all things meteorological in the CrowdScience inbox, there’s plenty to talk about. What’s the weirdest weather on Earth, and how big a chance is there of it happening? Why does it always seem to rain on the days when we’re not working? And – conversely – is there any way we could make it rain when and where we need it to? Presenter Anand Jagatia finds out the answers to these questions and more by bringing together a panel of experts under the CrowdScience umbrella: Prof Liz Bentley, Royal Meteorological Society; Dr Anthony Rea, World Meteorological Organization, and Dr Rebecca Buccholz, National Centre for Atmospheric Research. (Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Coliseum in Rome. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 01, 2020
Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
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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. A lovely day out in the countryside can be blighted when swarms of midges or mosquitos invite themselves to the party. A CrowdScience listener in New Zealand has noticed that, when sand-flies come a-biting, she and her daughter are targeted, while her husband and other daughter escape unharmed. She wants to know why some, but not all of her family become bait for insect bites. CrowdScience delves into a world of smells, called semiochemistry, which explores the aromas one animal uses to attract or repel another. Does our attractiveness as a blood meal to insects come down to what we wear, what we’ve eaten or is it all in our genes? Host Marnie Chesterton discards the DEET and bravely offers herself up as a meal for mozzies, in a quest for answers. (Image: Artist response to NASA Harvest discussion at AAAS Credit: Lorenzo Palloni)
Feb 23, 2020
CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
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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. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Many of us will at some point in our lives be confronted with the disease – either by falling ill ourselves or through a family member or friend. For CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton, the diagnosis would change her life. The range of cancer symptoms and mortality rates vary considerably. Not all cancers are fatal and in some cases, cancer ends up more like a chronic debilitating disease, resulting in patients eventually dying from some other condition. This has got listener Gill in Scotland wondering – why do we call all cancers, cancer? And when did doctors first realise that all cancers are part of the same problem? First described by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and later coined by the Greek physician Hippocrates as “karninos”, the Greek word for “crab”, cancer is ominously absent from medical literature until the late 19th century. Throughout history it has puzzled, infuriated and enticed doctors and scientists to push medical science to its breaking point. Archaeologists have recently discovered that the ancient Egyptians had a term for cancer and that remedies they used then contain compounds that are found in modern chemotherapy. As we uncover the science and history of cancer, presenter Marnie Chesterton takes us on a journey through her own experience of living with and beyond the diagnosis and we examine the promise of future treatments. (Image:Getty Images)
Feb 16, 2020
Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
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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. Today, once-fatal diseases like the plague, sepsis, or cholera can be treated simply and quickly with a pill. These tiny tablets hold compounds that can fix illnesses, and most people don’t think twice about taking an asparin for a headache. Modern medicine looks nothing like the plants that many of them are derived from. But there must have been a moment, when the first humans decided that a particular plant, fungus, or mineral might cure them of an upset stomach, or infected wound. Right? That’s what listener Andrew Chen wondered, so he emailed CrowdScience to find answers. Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with an archaeologist, a botanist, an ethno-pharmacologist, a zoologist and a historian to uncover the story of early human experimentation with ‘drugs’ from plants, fungi, animals and minerals. The history of humans is full of illness and poor health, and it seems we’ve always tried to fix this. Anand discovers the connection between food and medicine while making tonic water from scratch with Kim Walker at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, and tastes the daisy-like Chinese herb that was first used thousands of years ago, and then – once tested - became one of the best modern drugs for treating the world’s most deadly infectious disease. Listener Andrew’s inspiration came from a previous episode of CrowdScience ‘Who were the first farmers?’ and so we return to expert anthropologist Cheryl Makerewicz who tells us about the ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers and pastoralist communities. With Jaap de Roode, Anand discovers that conscious thought isn’t a pre-requisite of medical discovery, and historian Vivienne Lo explains how written word helped to standardise generations of medical knowledge in East Asia. Previously medical knowledge had been irrevocably linked with shamanism, magic and spirituality, but with modern medicine this changed – but today there is still much we can learn from ancient forms of knowledge, Christophe Wiart explains how his science focuses of discovering what plants tribal people in east Asia have used for centuries to cure their ailments. These early methods may help us combat new diseases today. (Image: Scientists are at work as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Feb 09, 2020
Understanding the Wuhan coronavirus
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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. And CrowdScience heads to Freetown, Sierra Leone for a panel debate in front of a live audience to answer listener questions about how artificial intelligence is helping tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Anand Jagatia is joined by regional science experts to explore how robots, drones and big data are transforming sectors such as agriculture, health and governance. Could clever machines help eradicate invasive species? Will block chain IDs eventually replace physical documents? And while this technology is heralded as a force for change we’ll ask whether fears of an AI takeover are unfounded? (Image: Medical staff member helps a couple at a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Feb 02, 2020
Wuhan Coronavirus
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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. Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event. Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time, as we’ve heard before on CrowdScience. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist. So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed? Presenter Marnie Chesterton finds out by meeting experts who are already preparing for the remote but real possibility of the biggest disaster we could face. It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies. How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface? Marnie heads into an underground bunker near the remote Scottish coast to find out if hiding out is a viable survival option. Now a museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, formerly RAF Troywood, is one of a network of nuclear shelters built by nation states during the Cold War. And she hears about one of the combined space agencies most ambitious projects yet: NASA and ESA’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission to crash an impactor into an asteroid’s moon to find out whether we could knock any potentially problematic collisions off-course well before Earth impact. (Image: Wuhan Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 26, 2020
Mount Taal volcano
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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 searching 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. Is there something bigger than infinity? Does quantum mechanics affect how I think? And why can I suddenly do algebra? As ever, we’re not afraid to tackle the big questions. After a previous episode about the relationship between mathematics and reality, we received a flood of profound and difficult questions, so we dive back into the world of maths, physics and philosophy to try and answer them. A panel of experts help us puzzle out whether some infinities are bigger than others - and why that matters, as well as what quantum mechanics can teach us about the workings of the brain. And we seek answers for one of our listeners who surprised himself by being able to figure out mathematics equations he previously found unfathomable. With philosopher of physics Dr Eleanor Knox, mathematician Dr Katie Steckles, and Dr Aldo Faisal, an expert in neurotechnology. (Image: Taal Volcano, Philippines. Credit: EPA)
Jan 19, 2020
Australia’s extreme fire season
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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. Reducing climate change and global warming is one of the biggest and most urgent challenges for everyone as we enter a new decade. The CrowdScience team have been trying to figure out how to play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. So what’s the best way forward? Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts to find out by pitting three of her colleagues against each other for the first phase of our challenge. Anand Jagatia, Geoff Marsh and Melanie Brown have all been tasked with answering a listener’s question in the lowest-carbon way possible. Along the way, they must monitor and account for every emission – from their travel methods to their choice of sustenance whilst working. It turns out that the challenge is not only in acknowledging all the types of activity that produce emissions, but in working out the volume of greenhouse gases produced. Marnie judges her colleagues’ efforts, determines a winner, and dispatches the losing challenger to look further into carbon calculation, and to find out about the possibilities of legitimately offsetting the overall footprint. And we start our on-going experiment using a broadcast industry carbon calculator to find out the most carbon-efficient and sustainable ways to keep answering everyone’s questions and sharing more cutting-edge global science. (Image: Australia fires. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 12, 2020
Adapting California
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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. What is empathy? This week’s question comes from Maria in Amsterdam who has noticed that when one of her friends is in pain, she feels their pain too, literally. Maria wants to know - is she experiencing a type of ‘super’ empathy? To help find the answer, Marnie Chesterton visits the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and gets into an MRI scanner to discover what is happening in her brain when she empathises. She talks with a pro-social psychopath to find out how psychopaths experience empathy differently and how they navigate social situations. And Marnie meets with a mediator specialising in The Israeli–Palestinian conflict, to learn the value of empathy when the stakes are at their highest. Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC
Jan 05, 2020
Gaming climate change
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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. Two years ago reporter Anand Jagatia travelled up beyond the Arctic Circle to meet Norwegian researchers in order to answer a question from US listener Kira on why some people function best in the mornings whilst others only come alive at night. In this episode we revisit the topic with the help of science writer and Parentland podcast presenter Linda Geddes, author of Chasing the Sun, a book which explores the science behind the Sun’s effects on our bodies and our minds. The morning sun helps to kick-start our day and our body’s biological cycle – so what happens when it barely rises above the horizon or we live for prolonged periods in artificial environments where the sun never shines? Research has suggested that some communities in northern latitudes are better protected against the mental and physical effects of reduced exposure to sunlight in the winter which might have implications for those suffering the winter blues. (Image: Polar Bear in the Arctic Sea, Credit: Coldimages/Getty)
Dec 29, 2019
Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption
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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. As CrowdScience celebrates its third birthday, the team takes time to revisit some of our early episodes, and catch up with listeners to discover if the answers we uncovered changed the course of their lives? We hear from Zach, who has learned to let go of a possibly lost memory and Erin, who discovered technology could hold the key to finding the man of her dreams. And two years after he emailed to ask why he couldn’t kick his habit, we ash Sharif whether he has finally managed to stop smoking? (Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Dec 22, 2019
White Island volcano eruption
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From 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. Buzzing insects that sting and fall into your food can be annoying. But perhaps we should think twice before taking aim with the fly swatter because bug populations around the world are in rapid decline. This worries CrowdScience listener Daria; she wants to know what will happen to our food production without the help from our tiny friends – the pollinators? And what can she do, as a city-dweller, to help the bugs? The dollar value of agricultural services that insects supply – for free – is estimated to be 350 billion dollars worldwide. For scientists, a major challenge is the lack of long-term studies of insects on a global scale – in fact – entomologists worry that species are dying out faster than we can document their existence. The culprits, they believe, are climate change, invasive species, land-use and pesticides. CrowdScience speaks to the scientists who want to save the bugs; one project capitalises on the chemical signals that attract certain species of pollinators while others are building ‘bee hotels’ to encourage native bees back into our cities. (Image: Smoke from the volcanic eruption of Whakaari, also known as White Island. Credit: Reuters)
Dec 15, 2019
CRISPR babies scandal – more details
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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. 66 million years ago, a huge asteroid hit the earth, wiping out most of the dinosaurs that roamed the land. It would still be tens of millions of years before the first humans appeared - but what if those dinosaurs hadn’t died out? Would we ever have evolved? CrowdScience listener Sunil was struck by this thought as he passed a Jurassic fossil site: if dinosaurs were still around, would I be here now? We dive back into the past to see how our distant mammal ancestors managed to live alongside huge, fierce dinosaurs; and why the disappearance of those dinosaurs was great news for mammals. They invaded the spaces left behind, biodiversity flourished, and that led – eventually – to humans evolving. It looks like our existence depends on that big dinosaur extinction. But we explore a big ‘what if?’: if the asteroid hadn’t hit, could our primate ancestors still have found a niche – somewhere, somehow - to evolve into humans? Or would evolution have taken a radically different path: would dinosaurs have developed human levels of intelligence? Is highly intelligent life inevitable, if you give it long enough to develop? We look to modern day birds - descendants of certain small dinosaurs who survived the asteroid strike - to glean some clues. (Photo: He Jiankui, Chinese scientist and professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. Credit:Reuters)
Dec 08, 2019
New Malaria target
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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. Science fiction is full of people settling on distant planets. But even the closest stars would take millennia to reach with current speeds of travel, by the time any passengers reached an extra solar planet, they would be long dead. So CrowdScience listener Balaji asked us to find out whether humans could hibernate for interstellar travel? To uncover the science fact behind this idea, Anand Jagatia holds a tiny hibernating dormouse at the Wildwood Trust in Kent, and meets Dr Samuel Tisherman who puts his patients into suspended animation for a couple of hours, to save their lives after traumatic injuries that cause cardiac arrest. We ask if Dr Tisherman’s research could be extended to put healthy individuals to sleep for much longer periods of time? It’s a question that neuroscientist, Professor Kelly Drew is studying, in Alaska Fairbanks. She uses Ground Squirrels as a model to understand internal thermostats, and how hibernating mammals manage to reduce their core temperatures to -3 degrees Celsius. Anand speculates wildly with science fiction authors Adrian Tchaikovsky and Temi Oh whose characters in their books ‘Children of Time’ and ‘Do You Dream of Terra Two?’ traverse enormous distances between habitable planets. But is human stasis something that would actually be useful? John Bradford is the director of SpaceWorks, this company works with NASA to try to investigate human hibernation for space travel. He’s trying to make space-based human hibernation a reality, and it seems that may be closer than you’d think. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library
Dec 02, 2019
Politics and Amazonia’s fires
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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)
Nov 24, 2019
Australia burning
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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. Can machines read our minds? We go in search of the latest efforts to connect brains to computers. We learn how researchers are combining brain scans with machine learning to generate large amounts of information. We explore how this technology might be used to help people with serious medical conditions like locked-in syndrome. And discover there are many hurdles to overcome along the way – for example how can scientist develop implants that can access the brain without causing long-term damage? Our listener Daniel wants to know whether we might finally be on the cusp of enabling machines to meld with our minds. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)
Nov 17, 2019
Climate in crisis
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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. We’re all familiar with the sensation of sleepiness – heavy eye-lid, that warm, fuzzy feeling. But, one listener wants to know, what’s actually going on in our body and brain when tiredness takes over? We investigate how our psycho-motor skills are affected by fatigue in a driving simulator. And we ask how does sleepiness change with age? Why, when tired, do adults crave a nap but children become ever more excitable? And what the hell’s going on with teenagers? We have some answers. (Image: Tourists wearing masks to protect themselves from smog in New Delhi, India. Credit: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Nov 10, 2019
Wildfires and winds in California
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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. Most of us take the ability to speak fluently for granted but for listener Breeda it has been a lifelong struggle. She has asked us to investigate whether there is a cure for stuttering and if not, what is the best way to live with it is. Breeda is not alone as stammering is a neurological condition that affects 70 million people worldwide. (Image: A firefighter sets a back fire along a hillside during firefighting operations to battle the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California. Credit: Philip Pacheco/ /AFP via Getty Images)
Nov 03, 2019
Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?
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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. Listeners Michael and Ricky have been walking a tributary of the River Thames in London, UK. They’ve noticed that there are loads of fish, which have only returned in recent years thanks to clean water initiatives. But what about salmon, they wonder? Could they one day return too? If they popped some salmon eggs in the river, would they return to spawn later on in their lives? We head to Norway to find out whether it’s possible. There, we follow the life cycle of salmon, from birth to death and travels to the salmon’s spawning grounds, before following their path out to sea and beyond. We explore the science behind ‘natal homing’ - returning to the place of your birth in order to reproduce. It isn’t just confined to salmon. But how does it work? (Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google)
Oct 27, 2019
Malaria, origins and a potential new treatment
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A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia, we look at how one of them jumped species and why humans became its preferred host. And from Antarctica we hear about a potential new treatment for malaria found in a deep sea sponge. We also look at why improved monitoring is changing our perceptions of earthquakes and follow the story of an endangered Polynesian snail. What exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question we have been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one that’s been pondered by humans for millennia: the Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed “All is number”. Is maths a human construct to help us make sense of reality - a tool, a model, a language? Does maths create its own reality? Or is it reality itself? (Photo: A young gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Oct 20, 2019
From batteries to distant worlds
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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. We see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis. Human life expectancy has been increasing for decades. In many developed countries, we can now expect to live into our 80s, and it isn’t uncommon to live to 90 or even 100 years old. But eventually our bodies fail, old age is undoubtedly a clear indicator of approaching death. This fact annoyed 79 year old listener Bill, who emailed in to set us the task of seeking out the secrets to a longer, healthier life. Bill has a personal target to live to 200 years old, so can he do it?
Oct 13, 2019
Global climate inaction
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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. The number of vegans is on the rise in many parts of the world, with many people swearing by the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. But is a vegan diet really better for your health? Is there any evidence to show that vegans are likely to live longer? And what about the new, highly processed meat analogues becoming increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants menus? They look, feel and taste just like meat products but what affect are they having on our health? To find out more, we talk to the experts and join listener Samantha in following a vegan diet. (Image: Greta Thunberg. Credit: AFP/Getty Image)
Sep 29, 2019
South East Asia choking - again
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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. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective is renowned for his feats of memory, his observational capacity, tireless energy and an almost supernatural ability to solve the most perplexing crimes from seemingly unconnected facts. But what does science have to say about the matter? We pit fact against fiction with a leading forensic expert, a sleep scientist, and we discover that most humans are able to train their brain to rival the memory capacity of Sherlock Holmes. And who wouldn’t want that? (Image: Researcher Mark Grovener from Kings College London, measures air quality in Indonesia. Credit Marlin Wooster KCL)
Sep 25, 2019
Embryoids from stem cells
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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. We 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 about the discovery and what she hopes to explore when a satellite telescope called ARIEL is launched by ESA in around a decade. The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the second most disabling neurological disorder in the world and in people under the age of 50, it is the single most disabling medical condition. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that so many listeners have got in touch wanting help with their headaches. Peter from Germany askes what happens in his brain when he’s got a migraine, whilst Nika from Germany has found that changing lifestyle has dramatically reduced hers but she’s not sure why. What’s the link between diet, exercise and migraines, Nika wonders? Meanwhile, Judy from USA wants to know if there’s a cure, as her son gets chronic migraines and she wants to know what the future looks like for him. We investigate some of the latest research in headache and migraine research to find some answers. (Photo: A set of five embryo-like structures in a microfluidic device developed in the lab of Jianping Fu. Image credit: Fu Lab, Michigan Engineering)
Sep 15, 2019
New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
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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. Sociable, lively, outgoing people are highly valued in certain cultures - think of the stereotype of the hyper-confident American. And there’s even evidence that extroverts all over the world tend to be happier. But are the positive qualities that quieter types can bring to society being ignored or under-appreciated? And couldn’t introverts be just as happy as extroverts, if only they lived in a more accepting culture? We probe the links between happiness, personality and culture, and find out what makes introverts happy. (Photo:Tell-tale radioactive isotopes could still be in dust on cars near the site of the blast. Credit: Humonia/iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Sep 07, 2019
Nanotube computer says hello
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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. Satellites have transformed our lives, giving us digital communications, navigation and observations of Earth, and even an artificial place to live above the atmosphere: The International Space Station. But, would more of these satellites and stations help us get back to the Moon, as well as further into the solar system? What else would astronauts need for living beyond Earth? We ask the engineers working on the possibilities – from communications satellites that could transform lunar missions to a brand new moon-orbiting space station: The Lunar Gateway. These technologies could help humans get back to the Moon, and perhaps one day to Mars, for hopefully reduced costs – but funding missions beyond our planet still isn’t going to be cheap. Why might we need deep space-based infrastructure, and how could it help humanity back here on Earth? (Photo: The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)
Aug 31, 2019
Amazonian fires likely to worsen
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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. Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to carry out certain tasks, from hanging out the washing to writing a job application. How can we best motivate ourselves? And how can we avoid procrastination? Listener Moses in Uganda wants to find out. Anand Jagatia puts science to the test as he trains and participates in an open water swimming race which Marnie Chesterton has kindly volunteered him for. (Photo: Wildfires in Amazon rainforest. Credit: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Aug 24, 2019
Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
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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. Listeners Mark and Jess have been watching TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. It's an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood and depicts a dystopian future where many have become infertile. The remaining few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced into child-bearing servitude. Why so many have become infertile isn’t clear but the series hints at several possible causes, from radiation to environmental pollutants. All of which got Mark and Jess wondering… What could cause mass infertility? Would we descend into a political landscape akin to Gilead? Award-winning author Margaret Atwood has left a paper trail for us to follow in the pages of her novel. There’s a ream of possible causes, and so Marnie Chesterton investigates which ring true. (Photo: Volcano Anak Krakatoa. Credit: Drone Pilot, Muhammad Edo Marshal, ITB university in Bandung, Indonesia)
Aug 18, 2019
The birth of a new volcano
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A new undersea volcano has appeared off the coast of East Africa. The sea floor between Madagascar and Mozambique has become increasingly seismically active in the last year. As well as the appearance of this active volcano, local islands are now experiencing frequent earthquakes. The causes of Indonesia’s Palu Bay tsunami last year are being examined thanks to social media. Videos taken as the tsunami hit have been analysed to determine wave heights and speeds and suggest possible causes. Scientists at a massive underground physics research facility in Italy are to stand trial over safety risks. The facility uses poisonous chemicals. There are concerns these could leak into drinking water supplies in the event of an earthquake. As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we investigate what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds. We head out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Jamie Lorimer from the University of Oxford to find out what kind of creatures are living in our kitchens, bathrooms and gardens - from bacteria normally found in undersea vents popping up in a kettle, to microbes quietly producing tiny nuggets of gold. For so long this hidden world has been one that we’ve routinely exterminated - but should we be exploring it too? (Image: Multibeam sonar waves, reflecting off the sea floor near the French island of Mayotte, reveal the outline of an 800-meter-tall volcano (red) and a rising gas-rich plume. Credit: MAYOBS team (CNRS / IPGP -Université de Paris / Ifremer / BRGM)
May 26, 2019