Science in Action

By BBC World Service

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 Sep 8, 2018

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

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

Episode Date
Covid-19 mortality
Why is there such a range in the number of deaths from Covid -29 between countries? A study of the data across 21 industrialised countries reveals a wide discrepancy. Preparedness and the point at which countries went into lockdown were key factors says Epidemiologist Jonny Pearson- Stuttard Recurring illnesses which show up sometimes months after a Covid -19 infections are being more commonly reported. The Uk’s National Institute for Health research has launched a major initiative to better understand this long term effect of the disease, Candace Imison tells us more. And another reported case of Covid 19 reinfection raises questions about widely held beliefs on immunity Microbiologist Sarah Pitt helps us separate the science from the fiction. We also take a look at a black hole as it swallows up a star or at least at what’s detectable. Katy Alexander has trained radio telescopes at this distant event. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 15, 2020
Do Covid–19 mutations matter?
Data from clinical investigations has suggested that a specific mutation in the SARS-Cov -2 virus has made it more transmissible. This finding is now supported by molecular biology work. Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina led a team comparing the form of the virus which first emerged from China with the mutated type now prevalent word wide. Bats are known to carry many different types of viruses, horseshow bats specifically carry coronaviruses, apparently without any ill effects to themselves. However some viruses do affect or even kill bats. Daniel Streicker from the University of Glasgow says more research in this area may help find those bat viruses most likely to jump to humans. Malaria is no stranger to Africa, but largely keeps out of urban centres as it’s difficult for the mosquitoes which carry the parasites to survive there. However an Asian mosquito which is better adapted to life in the city is now threatening to move in. Entomologist Marianne Sinka Has been looking at how and where it might spread. And the Nobel prize for chemistry has been won by the inventors of the Crispr gene editing technique Gunes Taylor is a genetic engineer who used this technique at the Crick Institute in London tells us why it is now so central to biological research. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 08, 2020
Are children the biggest Covid-19 spreaders?
An analysis of Covid-19 data from South India shows children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults, Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan tell us the data also shows the situations in which the virus is most likely to spread, public transport is of particular concern. The WHO has launched an initiative to roll out rapid testing, particularly to countries that don’t have access to lab based tests, Catharina Boehme who leads one of the WHO’s partner organisation in the project tells us the test, which looks similar to home pregnancy tests should give results within fifteen minutes. Andrea Crisanti led a ground-breaking testing initiative in Italy which eliminated Covid-19 in a small town in a matter of weeks. We look to the lessons learned. And in California residents have been in a kind of self- enforced lockdown, not because of Covid – 19 but due to wildfires fires. Molly Bentley from the Seti Institute podcast ‘ Big Picture Science’ tells us about how the fires have created an atmosphere of toxic smoke, even in the cities. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 01, 2020
Why Covid -19 vaccines may not stop transmission
While vaccines against Covid -19 are being developed at unprecedented speed, none of them have been tested to see if they can actually stop transmission of the virus. They are designed to stop those who are vaccinated from developing Covid -19 disease, but not becoming infected. This says Virologist Malik Peiris from Hong Kong University means while vaccinated people themselves may be protected they might also spread the virus. Cells produced in the bone marrow may be responsible for an extreme immune response to Covid 19 in some people. Immunologist Lizzie Mann from Manchester University says this finding may help predict who will develop serious disease symptoms, and also provide a target for future treatments. Extreme ice melt in the Arctic this summer may have a long term impact on the region says glaciologist Julienne Stroeve. She spent the winter in the Arctic and tells us about the environment she encountered. And climate change is also impacting the tropics, research in Gabon from Ecologists Emma Bush and Robin Whytock shows a reduction of the amount of fruit available which is now impacting the health of forest elephants. (Image Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 24, 2020
Malaria resistance breakthrough
Some East Africans have a genetic mutation which gives them resistance to Malaria. Investigations into how it works have produced a surprising finding. As researcher Silvia Kariuki explains it’s all to do with the surface tension of the red blood cells. SARS-CoV- 2 can pass from people in the very early stages of Covid -19, before they show symptoms. New research shows identifying cases at this early stage is crucial to controlling the pandemic. And yet most testing regimes require symptoms to show before testing. Luca Ferretti did this latest analysis. And how about getting up close with virus? That’s what Camille Ehre has done, using an electron microscope to produce remarkable pictures of the virus as it attacks lung tissue. Carl Wunsch tells us of a technique he developed in the 1970s to measure changes in global ocean temperatures using sound waves. Revisiting this method may give us insight into the impact of climate change on the deep ocean. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 17, 2020
Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth. Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19 around China and beyond. Dr Catherine Nakalembe, of the University of Maryland and East Africa Lead for NASA Harvest explains how she uses data collected by satellites to find out where crops are thriving and where they are not. She also talks about how this technology can alert countries to approaching locust swarms. And Professor Moriba Jah of University of Texas at Austin, tells Roland why he’s concerned about the amount of space junk that’s orbiting the earth and why so little is being done about controlling satellite launch and disposal. (Image: Artist response to NASA Harvest discussion at AAAS Credit: Lorenzo Palloni) Presenter: Roland Pease Editor: Deborah Cohen
Sep 15, 2020
Covid -19 science versus politics
With the announcement in the UK of investment in rapid testing for people who may not have Covid -19 we ask why is this only happening now? For months on this programme we’ve featured scientific research suggesting such a strategy would be the quickest way to end the pandemic. We speak with Connie Cepko and Brian Rabe who have developed a rapid test and Manu Prakash who is currently rolling it out to countries in the global south. Could a huge motorcycle rally really have been the source of over a quarter of a million Covid -19 infections? That’s the finding of a study by economist Andrew Friedson he tells us how mobile phone data helped to determine that figure. And the politics of vaccines, Many health officials in the US have spoken out against president Trumps claim that a vaccine may be ready before the November presidential election. Helen Branswell from Stat news tells us why there is so much concern over political attempts to manipulate science. (Image:Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 10, 2020
Nyiragongo - is Goma under threat?
A new survey of the volcano's activity suggests there may be an eruption in the next 4 to 7 years. It's a particular concern for the populations of Goma and Gisenyi, two cites between the volcano and lake Kivu. As we hear from the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory Katcho Karume, the city of Goma in particular has expanded so much that many people now live right next to fissures in the flank of the volcano through which any eruption would likely occur. Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana's main area of swamp land, missing big urban areas to either side. It was a lucky escape for many, but as hurricane historian Jill Trepanier tells us such extreme weather events do seem to be more frequent and potentially more destructive. And wildfires ravaging California and other Western US states may have been intensified by changes to global weather systems . Climate scientist Bill Lau says those weather systems in turn have been modified by man-made climate change. In November 2018 a Chinese scientist announced he had edited the genes of twin girls. The announcement was greeted with horror by many researchers in the field. Now a way to regulate gene editing internationally has been proposed by some of the world's leading scientific institutions. Kay Davies co-author of their report explains the plan. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Main Image: Sunset, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shamim Shorif Susom / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Sep 03, 2020
Covid-19 therapy controversy
This week Science in Action examines the evidence around the Trump Administration’s emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma therapy for the treatment of Covid-19. Donald Trump described its US-wide roll-out as ‘historic’ but the majority of scientists and doctors disagree, questioning the scientific basis for the government’s decision. Roland Pease talks to Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner, the leader of the convalescent plasma therapy study on which the action was based. The Mayo Clinic trial involved a large number of patients but none of them were compared to Covid-19 patients who were not treated with convalescent plasma. Trials that incorporate that comparison are the only way to properly assess the therapy’s effectiveness. Roland talks to Martin Landray of the University of Oxford who is testing convalescent plasma therapy in the UK’s Recovery randomised control trial, and to medical ethicist Alison Bateman-House of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. We also talk to nanotechnologist Marc Miskin about the million-strong army of microscopic robots he’s creating in his lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck Baker (Main image: New York lab tests serum from recovered covid-19 patients for possible therapy. Credit: Misha Friedman / Getty Images)
Aug 27, 2020
Trouble in Greenland
Has the loss from Greenland’s vast ice sheet reached a tipping point? According to glaciologist Michalea King, the rate at which its ice flows into the sea stepped up about 15 years ago. The process of glacial retreat is outpacing the accumulation snow and ice in Greenland’s interior and the loss of Greenland’s ice to the Ocean is set to continue for many years to come. An international study of past climate changes during the last ice age reveals how fast changes to weather patterns and climate states can reverberate around the world. During the last ice age, when temperatures rose suddenly in Greenland a series of changes to the climate in Europe and the monsoons in Asia and South America occurred almost simultaneously - within decades of each other. Climate scientists Eric Wolff and Ellen Corrick have discovered this through studies of stalagmites from caves around the world. It’s a demonstration of how rapidly and dramatically the Earth’s atmospheric system can change when it’s perturbed. Was the hottest temperature ever on Earth recorded last weekend? A weather station in Death Valley in California recorded a temperature of 54.4 degrees C. Roland Pease discusses the controversy with extreme weather historian Christopher Burt. Andrea Dupree of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reveals the latest on the giant star Betelgeuse which to everyone’s amazement dimmed dramatically at the beginning of the year. At the time some people wondered whether it was about to explode as a supernova but Andrea’s new findings suggest an event at the star which is almost as extraordinary. (Image: Masses of ice break off from the edge of a glacier. Credit: Press Association) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 20, 2020
Putin’s Covid-19 vaccine
Russia’s President Putin announced the registration of a vaccine for coronavirus. This was reported with widespread alarm amid concerns over safety, but as BBC Russian Service’s Sergei Goryashko, tells us the announcement was a political move to capture the headlines. Investigations by Alexandra Reynolds and Hooman Poor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have revealed why some Covid 19 patients have low oxygen levels, but don’t have breathing difficulties. The answer came when looking for signs of stroke in the brain. Nisreen Alwan, a specialist in public health at Southampton University is concerned about the quality of life of people who have had a Covid -19 infection. Being classed as recovered is not enough she says and we need to look more at recurring health problems associated with the disease. And Cardiff University’s Haley Gomez has news of a tantalising discovery. The detection of a neutron star hidden in a dust cloud for more than 30 years. (Image:President Putin. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Aug 13, 2020
Counting the heat health threat from climate change
If the world does not curb its greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of this century, the number of people dying annually because of extreme heat will be greater than the current global death toll from infectious diseases - that’s all infectiousness diseases, from malaria to diarrhoeal diseases to HIV. This is the grim assessment of climate researchers and economists of the Climate Impact Lab in the largest global study to date of health and financial impacts of temperature-related deaths. Roland Pease talks to Solomon Tsiang of the University of California, Berkeley. UK ecologists have new insights about how diseases jump the species barrier from wildlife to humans. With a global survey of land use and biodiversity, they’ve discovered that when natural habitats are converted to farmland or urbanised, the animal species that survive the change in greatest number are those species which carry viruses and bacteria with the potential to spread to us. This is particularly the case, says Rory Gibb of the University College London, with disease-carrying rodent species, bats and birds. Do past infections by mild cold coronaviruses prepare the immune systems of some people for infection by SARS-CoV-2? Could immune memory T cells made in response to these cold viruses lessen the severity of Covid-19? Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology lead the team which published the latest contributions to these questions. Anglerfish are perhaps the weirdest inhabitants of the deep sea. Their sex lives are particularly strange because finding partners in the dark expanse of the ocean abyss is hard. Females are much bigger than males. When a male finds a female, he latches on her body with his teeth and over a couple of weeks, their flesh fuses so he is permanently attached. Her blood supplies him with all the food and oxygen he needs and he becomes an ever present supply of sperm whenever she produces eggs. But this fusion should be impossible. The female’s immune system should be rejecting her partner like a mismatched organ transplant. German scientists have now discovered that these fish do this by giving up the production of antibodies and immune T cells – essential for fighting infections in all other animals including us. It was a shocking discovery for Prof Thomas Boehm at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg. (Image: Relatives of heatstroke victims, their heads covered with wet towels, wait outside a hospital during a heatwave in Karachi. .Credit: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Aug 06, 2020
NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago – the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet. Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. Sampled from compacted mud 70 metres below the seafloor and beneath 6 kilometre of water, Yuki Morono and Steve D’Hondt admit they struggle to understand how the bacteria have survived for so long. Science in Action celebrates the little unknown oceanographer Marie Tharp who in the late 1950s discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge which helped to launch the plate tectonics revolution in earth sciences. It would be Tharp’s 100th birthday this week. New research this week suggests that coronaviruses capable of infecting humans have been in bats for 40 to 70 years, and that there may be numerous and as yet undetected viruses like the Covid-19 virus in bat populations with the potential to cause future pandemics. Their message is that we should be sampling and testing wild bat colonies much more extensively than currently. Their findings provide further evidence against the unfounded claim that the Covid-19 virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Roland Pease talks to Dr Maciej Boni at Pennsylvania State University. (Image: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. Credit: Illustration provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS) Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 30, 2020
Making a Covid-19 vaccine for two billion people
There’s been encouraging news about the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine this week from a trial involving about 1,000 people. But how great is the challenge in scaling up from making a few thousand doses of the vaccine to manufacturing two billion by the end of this year? Sandy Douglas of Oxford’s Jenner Institute explains how they plan to mass-produce the vaccine safely given the speed and magnitude of the scale up. A new kind of treatment for Covid-19 may come from an unlikely source: llamas and alpacas, the South American relatives of the camel. Camelids produce unusually small and simple antibodies against viruses, including the coronavirus. This feature may make these molecules an effective Covid-19 therapy. Jane Chambers reports on research in Chile and the UK. Also in the programme: 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. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 23, 2020
How long do Covid-19 antibodies last?
Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on the response of our immune system to infection by the coronavirus. Researchers at Kings College London find that protective antibodies appear to fade away after about three months following infection whereas a team at the Karolinska Institute has discovered that although antibodies may decline, other important players called T cells in our defences do not. 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 a novel type of vaccine against the virus. NIAID have partnered with biotech company Moderna to produce the first mRNA vaccine in the Institute’s pandemic preparedness program. Biologist Dr Sonja Wild tells Roland about the remarkable fishing strategy devised by dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia. They chase fish into the empty shell of giant sea snails, then take the shells to the surface and tip the fish into their mouths. Dr Wild’s 7 years of research has revealed how the dolphins have learned to do this. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jul 16, 2020
Rwanda’s game changing coronavirus test
African scientists have developed a reliable, quick and cheap testing method which could be used by worldwide as the basis for mass testing programmes. The method, which produces highly accurate results, is built around mathematical algorithms developed at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Kigali. We speak to Neil Turok who founded the institute, Leon Mutesa Professor of human genetics on the government coronavirus task force, and Wilfred Ndifon, the mathematical biologist who devised the algorithm. The virus is mutating as it spreads, but what does this mean? There is particular concern over changes to the spike protein, part of the virus needed to enter human cells. Jeremy Luban has been analysing this mechanism. So far he says ongoing genetic changes seem unlikely to impact on the effectiveness of treatments for Covid -19. And Heatwaves are increasing, particularly in tropical regions, that’s the finding of a new analysis by climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle Main image: People stand in white circles drawn on the ground to adhere to social distancing in Kigali, Rwanda, on May 4, 2020, Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP via Getty Images
Jul 09, 2020
Covid -19 and Children
Studies in Children who have been severely affected by Covid 19 in Italy, Britain and the US are showing the same thing – a range of symptoms slinked 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 !9 cost? Remdesivir which has shown promise against the virus has been priced at over $2000 for a course of treatment, but Drug price analyst Andrew Hill says the cost of production is actually below $10. And how about some really alternative energy? Marion Cromb at Glasgow University has run an experiment to simulate a spinning black hole. In theory a rocket sent to an equivalent real black hole could use its rotation as a power source (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 02, 2020
Record high temperatures – in the Arctic
A record summer temperature in Siberia is an indication of major changes in the Arctic climate. Changing weather patterns there have a knock on effect for other parts of the planet says Climatologist Steve Vavrus Chile appeared to get Covid-19 under control, but in reality the virus was spreading uncontrollably through poor areas, As we hear from our correspondent in Santiago Jane Chambers, the lockdown has tightened but cases continue to rise. And could mass testing using new saliva tests help control or even end the epidemic? Epidemiologist Julian Peto tells us about his plan which is designed to contain the virus within individual households and stop community spread. Experiments to investigate dark matter have produced some tantalising results, Physicist Laura Manenti says it’s not confirmation of detection, but potentially close. (Image: Rural Scene in Verkhoyansk. Credit: Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 25, 2020
Covid -19 hope for severe cases
A multi arm trial testing a range of drugs has shown that readily available steroids can be lifesaving for people severely ill with Covid-19. Max Parmar, head of the UK Medical Research Council’s clinical trials unit says the trial design, where many potential drugs can be tested against the same controls, is key to producing results quickly. As it spreads around the world SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. But what does this mean? These mutations are part of a natural process and some researchers are finding they make no real difference to patient outcomes so far, but others are concerned the virus may become more dangerous. Neville Sanjana from New York University has been running lab tests on the mutant virus. Measles mutated from an animal virus, developing the ability to jump from cattle to human around 2,500 years ago. Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute tracked its origins using preserved lung samples from centuries old measles victims. Covid -19 has become a magnet for conspiracy theorists. A common unfounded claim is that the virus was deliberately manufactured. During the boredom of lockdown such ideas have taken off online, with conspiracy videos receiving millions of views. We speak to scientists who have been targeted, and become the subject of this online misinformation. (Image: Doctor examines Covid-19 virus patient. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 18, 2020
Food security, locusts and Covid -19
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic efforts to counter massive swarms of locusts across East Africa have continued. In many places this has been very effective, killing up to 90% of locusts. However, the threat of repeated waves of locusts remains says Cyril Ferrand, who leads the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Resilience Team in East Africa. Conversely West Africa is unaffected by locusts and with a block on imports local producers have seen demand grow for their produce, an unusual positive effect from the pandemic according to Sandrine Dury from the French agricultural research agency CIRAD. We examine the potential for a second wave of coronavirus as many countries relax lockdown measures, businesses reopen and mass protests take to the streets. Epidemiologist Carl Bergstrom is interested in working out which of these movements is likely to have the most impact. And from South Africa, how radio telescope engineers there have turned their hands to developing new ventilators appropriate for regional needs. (Image: Desert locust. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 11, 2020
The medical complexity of Covid -19
Autopsies show Covid 19 can affect the brain and other organs. Pathologist Mary Fowkes from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found the signs of stroke - unusually in young people, as well as a disruption of the immune system throughout the body. And studies of heart stem cells show these can be killed by the virus. Cell Biologist Stefanie Dimmeler from the University of Frankfurt says this finding could prove useful in providing treatment and preventative medicine. A massive research project in China has identified over 700 different types of coronavirus carried by bats, some of these obscure virus sequences are thought to have already jumped from bats to human and animals such as pigs. In a similar way to SARS-CoV-2 they present a potential threat as a source of future pandemics says Peter Daszak from the EcoHeath Alliance which conducted the research in collaboration with Chinese scientists. And is there racism in the way people with Covid -19 infections are categorised? It’s an issue which concerns toxicologist Winston Morgan from the University of East London. He says as race is a social construct it’s an inappropriate measure to use when trying to work out who is vulnerable to the virus. (Image: Illustration showing the virus structure of SARS-CoV-2. Credit: CDC HO via AFP / Getty) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 04, 2020
Brazil’s Covid chaos
The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment. A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of infection is not necessarily direct person to person transmission says investigator Richard Lessells from the University of KwaZulu Natal. And from London a study in a hospital with many Covid patients at the height of the pandemic supports the South African findings; Researchers found viral particles on surfaces and in the air says Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College. An early warning system for outbreaks of the virus or second waves may come from analysis of sewage, Jordan Peccia from Yale University analysed waste from his local sewage treatment works and found peaks in concentrations of the virus in the sludge occurred a few days before increases in hospital admissions. (Image: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wear face masks as they demonstrate against quarantine and social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors to combat the new coronavirus outbreak and demand military intervention. Credit: SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 28, 2020
Covid-19 vaccines
There are more than 100 different Covid-19 vaccine trials currently going on. We look at which seem to be the most promising with Helen Branswell from Stat News. And we examine a very old idea, using antibodies from one virus – in this case Sars, to counter another virus Sars-CoV-2 , which causes Covid-19. Davide Corti from Vir Biotechnology says a version of these antibodies offers potential for both vaccination and treatment. Race and Covid-19, there seems to be a link between ethnicity and susceptibility to the virus which can’t be easily explained away by economic factors. That's the finding from a study of nearly six million people in the US conducted by epidemiologist Chris Rentsch from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. And social distancing in ancient times, how plagues and pandemics in the past seem to have been defeated using similar behavioural adaptations to those we are current employing. Archaeologist Shadreck Chikure has seen the evidence in sites across Africa. (Image:Vaccine trials Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 21, 2020
Loosening lockdown
How is Covid -19 spread? Who is most at risk and what are the circumstances under which it is most likely to be transmitted? These questions need answers for the implementation of effective and safe strategies to end lockdown. We look at what research is showing. And if you have to go back to work what’s the best way to protect yourself, how should we be using face coverings for example? There are lessons from research on fluid dynamics. Also key is reducing the rate of infection, the R number, Italy relaxed lockdown a few weeks ago we look at early findings on the impact. It’s clear more widespread and effective testing will be needed to reduce transmission, A new test which should be quicker has been developed using synthetic biology and gene editing techniques. (Image: Commuters wear masks whilst travelling on a London Underground train. Credit: Tolga Akmen/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 14, 2020
Covid -19 new hope from blood tests
Research from New York examining the blood of people who have recovered from Covid – 19 shows the majority have produced antibodies against the disease, The researchers hope to soon be able to establish whether this confers long term immunity as with more common viral infections. And Research in Berlin and London has identified biomarkers, minute signs of the disease which may help clinicians identify who is likely to develop severe symptoms and what kind of treatment they might need. Mutations have been much in the headlines, these are a natural processes of evolution and not just in viruses, but the term is misunderstood, two studies focusing on different aspects shed some light on what mutation in SARS-CoV-2 really means. (Image: People wear face masks as they cross a street in Times Square in New York City. Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 07, 2020
Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19
Remdesivir a drug eventually rejected as a treatment for Ebola seems to have aided recovery in a trial with more than a thousand Covid -19 patients. Researchers are cautious but hopeful; a leading health official in the US has made comparisons with the impact of game changing drugs used to treat HIV. In contrast an organisation researching the mechanisms by which bat coronaviruses infect humans has had its funding cut following criticism from President Trump. A scheme to help manufacture ventilators and protective equipment worldwide has seen some success with a simple ventilator they developed, now in use in hospitals. And we look at climate change –with this year set for extreme weather (Image: Liberian photographer Alphanso Appleton took this picture of a schoolgirl and sent it to the Wellcome Trust, to express thanks for their and others’ efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. Credit: Alphanso Appleton/Wellcome Trust) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 30, 2020
Presidents and pandemics
President Trump has repeated unfounded claims that scientists created Covid-19 in a lab. Rigorous scrutiny of the genetics of the virus reveals no evidence for such a claim. And Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is at odds with his own health advisors – splitting public opinion and action over lockdown measures needed to control the virus. We also look at why Covid -19 seems to be associated with so many different symptoms, from diarrheal infections to complicating kidney disease, to heart attacks And some potentially good news from HIV research, a new target to stop that virus in its tracks, which might also be useful in the fight against other viruses. (Image: President Trump with Brazilian President Bolsonaro. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 23, 2020
Italy, getting Covid-19 under control
Italy is beginning its first tentative steps towards ending its lockdown. These are small steps, opening a few shops in areas where virus transmission has seen big falls. Part of the reason for this controlled strategy is that there are real concerns over a potential resurgence of the virus, Around the world there are now hundreds of trials on drug treatments for Covid 19. Results so far are mixed, with antivirals developed for Ebola and HIV showing positive signs, but antimalarial drugs, championed by President Trump in particular have been shown to have dangerous potentially life threatening side effects. A warning from history, more than 500 years ago suggests the western US in particular is entering an extreme drought, a ‘Megadrought’. When this last happened it led to war, depopulation and the spread of disease. And its 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Studies of fish in the region suggest they are still affected by oil from that spill and more recent lesser known pollution events. (Image: Italy, shops begin to open. Credit: European Photopress Agency) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 16, 2020
Covid 19 - the threat to refugees
Massively over crowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has seen numbers grow from 5 to 20 thousand in a matter of months. Hundreds of people share taps and toilets, there is little chance to implement measures designed to stop the spread of covid 19. So far the camp has not been hit by the epidemic, but aid agencies fear for the most vulnerable in the camp. Covid 19 jumped from bats to humans, possibly via another wild animal. A study of zoonotic diseases has identified many other viruses that could do the same. The skies are clearer, levels of pollution from traffic have dropped by up to 50 percent but how long will cleaner air remain? And Comet Borisov makes a spectacular exit. (Image: Moria refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 09, 2020
Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins
Nigeria has seen a small number of Covid -19 cases, largely spread amongst the most affluent, people who travel abroad, However there is concern about the potential of the virus to spread to overcrowded slum areas. In such conditions social distancing measures would be difficult to enforce. What are the alternatives? The US now has the majority of cases of the virus, New York has been heavily hit, medics have developed an app to help understand the spread of Covid 19 in the community. The availability of test kits is an issue worldwide, we look at a novel idea, adapting a device made from paper that could help to see whether the virus is present in wastewater. The WHO has launched international drug trials to tackle covid 19, but none of the drugs involved were developed specifically to target this virus we look at why they might just work. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 02, 2020
The science of social distancing
The strong social distancing policies introduced by China seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of Covid 19. Without any effective drug treatments, reducing our number of contacts is the most effective way to prevent viral transmission. We also look at the similarities been policies in Russia and the US on how best to deal with the virus. In both cases there are contradictions and disagreements between medical professionals and politicians. And a warning from Polio, how vaccines may create problems when immunisation campaigns do not reach everyone. (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 26, 2020
Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?
In Italy the entire population of a small town was tested for Covid 19. Of those infected, one in three people with no symptoms had the virus. And from China researchers found many people carried the virus – even before authorities there began tracking its spread. The findings suggest vulnerable people may contract the virus from those without symptoms. And we’ve news of a breakthrough - new tests looking at Covid 19 antibodies, These should help provide a picture of developing immunity to the virus. However as growing numbers of people fall ill there are concerns over a potential shortage of hospital ventilators globally, These are needed to treat the most severe cases. However a crowdsourcing project has been set up to try and kick start the manufacturing of a variety of different types of ventilator that could be built around the world. If you have knowledge of ventilators or their use and would like to get involved more information is available here. (Image: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 19, 2020
Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why. And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner. Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dipole. The findings show the most extreme years occurred recently – under the influence of man-made climate change. And we look at life deep below the sea floor, microbes which multiply slowly over centuries and eat their neighbours. (Image: Coronavirus test. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 12, 2020
Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change
Attributing Australia's bush fires, a major study says man-made climate change was a big driver – making the fires at least 30% worse than they would have been if natural processes were the only factors. We look at preparations for coronavirus in Africa. Although cases there are currently lower than in much of the rest of the world a major training initiative is taking place to spread awareness amongst medics across the continent. We ask why Horseshoe bats in particular carry coronaviruses, and find a novel idea for distributing vaccines in places without refrigeration. (Image: Australian bushfires. Credit: Getty images/AFP) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 05, 2020
Tracking coronavirus spread
The appearance of Covid -19 in Italy and Iran surprised many this week. As the virus continues to spread we look at ways to contain it. Australia’s fires have burnt around 20 percent of the countries woodlands, what are the implications for the recovery of those ecosystems? And what is the link between the world’s super rich and deforestation? Unsurprisingly it’s money. And we hear about the unexpected cooling effects of hydroelectric dams. (Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Coliseum in Rome. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer Julian Siddle.
Feb 27, 2020
CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself. And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise drug targeting and potentially save lives. We also look at how social science is helping to improve the health of people reliant on woodstoves for cooking, and we unearth a huge impact crater hidden in plain sight. (Image:Getty Images)
Feb 13, 2020
Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material. East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather pattern across the Indian Ocean, made more extreme by climate change, links the rains in Africa with the heatwave in Australia. New features of The Northern Lights have been discovered thanks to an analysis of photos on Facebook by physicists in Finland. Amateur sky watchers pictures reveal previously unnoticed forms in the light display. And we look at the search for properties of sub atomic particles, why a small device might be better than the enormous ones used so far. (Image: Scientists are at work as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Feb 06, 2020
Understanding the new coronavirus
Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus. We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available. We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine high tec solutions designed to speed up the process of drug development. Image: Medical staff member helps a couple at a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 30, 2020
New Coronavirus
The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread. Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the outbreak. This week’s edition is very much a snapshot of what we know or knew about this virus on the afternoon of Thursday January 23rd 2020. (Image: Wuhan Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 23, 2020
Mount Taal volcano
An experimental satellite called Aeolus, named after a Greek god of wind, which takes daily global measurements of the wind patterns throughout the depth of atmosphere has improved weather forecasts. ESA’s Anne-Greta Straume explains how it works. The dramatic eruption of the island volcano Taal in the Philippines was a spectacular picture of the plume of ejecta punching a hole in overlying cloud cover. Nearby towns have been blanketed with dust, fissures have appeared in the ground and there has been dramatic lightning. Geologist Yannick Withoos at Leicester University is studying historic eruptions of Taal and current events have brought the purpose of her research into sharp relief. Philipp Heck of the Field Museum in Chicago explains how he has found the oldest dust grains on earth inside a Murchison meteorite. They are millions of years older than the solar system. And Roland Pease talks to Brian Rauch of Washington University, St ouis, who is currently in Antarctica flying detectors on balloons around the South Pole searcLhing for cosmic rays produced in the death of stars. Tracking climate change in the Himalaya – not up at the snow capped peaks, clearly visible from afar, but in the extensive rocky hinterland further down you occasionally see in documentaries about attempts on Everest – is difficult. Ecologist and hydrologist Karen Anderson, of Exeter University, has used satellite data to measure the changes in the vegetation in this remote area. (Image: Taal Volcano, Philippines. Credit: EPA) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 16, 2020
Australia’s extreme fire season
2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, a major factor behind the bush fires which have been far worse than usual. We look at the patterns of extreme weather that have contributed to the fires but are also linked to floods in Africa. And the way in which thunderstorms have helped to spread the fires. The armpit of Orion is changing. The star Betelgeuse is dimming some claim this is readying it for a major explosion others are more sceptical, we weight up the arguments. And an Iron Age brain may hold some clues to modern neurodegenerative disease. Protein fragments have been extracted from the brain tissue found inside a 2,500 year old human skull. (Image: Australia fires. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jan 09, 2020
Adapting California
Roland Pease is joined by California based science Journalist Molly Bentley as we examine the impact of earthquakes and fires. California has experienced both in the last year - What’s it like to live with a constant threat from these extreme events? We also take a look at NASA’s plans for a new mission to Mars – to look for signs on life. Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC
Jan 02, 2020
Gaming climate change
The latest round of climate negotiations, COP25 have ended without agreement on many fundamental issues. We join researchers from Perdue University in the US who have developed a role playing game to encourage climate negotiators and others to take a long term view. Key to this research project is the concept of tipping points, where an environment changes irreversibly from one state to another. This is accompanied by the loss of ecosystems, for example the widespread melting of arctic sea ice, rainforest burning or coral bleaching. The idea is that such tipping points provide a more meaning full focus for the implication of climate change than abstract concepts like temperature rise. Image: Polar Bear in the Arctic Sea, Credit: Coldimages/Getty
Dec 26, 2019
Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption
We have the latest from a year long investigation into the causes of the December 2018 Indonesian Tsunami. And we get a look at the first pictures from the Mayotte undersea volcano, which emerged earlier this year off the coast of East Africa. (Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 19, 2019
White Island volcano eruption
This week’s programme comes from the world’s largest earth sciences conference, the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Roland Pease talks with Diana Roman of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC about the tragic White Island volcanic eruption in which at least eight tourists died. Aurora Elmore of National Geographic and Arbindra Khadka of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu Nepal discuss the state of Himalayan glaciers and climate change. Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC tells Roland about the research area called geobiochemistry and Hilairy Hartnett of Arizona State University explains why it may not be easy to find life on extra solar planets. (Image: Smoke from the volcanic eruption of Whakaari, also known as White Island. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 12, 2019
CRISPR babies scandal – more details
Extracts from unpublished papers on the methods used by a Chinese scientist to genetically modify the embryos of two girls reveal a series of potentially dangerous problems with the procedure and ethical shortcomings. We look at the mechanism behind the formation of our facial features and how this is linked to our evolution, scrutinise the impact of current emissions on global climates and see why lithium, used in batteries and medicines, is now a potentially widespread pollutant. (Photo: He Jiankui, Chinese scientist and professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. Credit:Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 05, 2019
New malaria target
Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again. We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Dec 02, 2019
Politics and Amazonia’s fires
This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs. Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change. Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to earth after its mission to blast a crater in a distant asteroid. And how the chemistry of protein analysis is helping psychiatrists and emergency medics deal with the effects of the street drug spice. (Image: A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member is seen as he attempts to control hot points during a fire. Credit: Reuters/Bruno Kelly) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 21, 2019
Australia burning
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change? A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was. Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower And a hologram produced from sound waves. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 14, 2019
Climate in crisis
Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further. (Image: Tourists wearing masks to protect themselves from smog in New Delhi, India. Credit: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Nov 07, 2019
Wildfires and winds in California
The Santa Ana in the south, and the Diablo in the north, are winds that are fuelling the terrible fires raging in California this week. They’re also blamed for bringing down power lines that sometimes start the fires. Roland Pease talks to Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research NCAR who has been developing a highly detailed model to forecast how wind, mountains, and flames interact during a wildfire. The glaring gaps in human genetics are in Africa – much overlooked because the companies and universities sequencing DNA are mostly based in Europe, the US and other advanced economies. A ten-year attempt to fill in some of those gaps came to fruition this week, with the release of a study covering thousands of individuals from rural Uganda. Deepti Gurdasani, of Queen Mary University London, explains the data reveal both new medical stories, and the scale of past migration within Africa. There are also gaps in the climate record from Africa. Knowing past climates could help massively in understanding the prospects for climate change in coming years on the continent. Journalist Linda Nordling has just published an article in Nature that shows that the records exist – old weather data collected since the 19th Century. It’s just they’re scattered, unexamined, in vaults and collections across Africa. Adam McKay of NASA and Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast talk to Roland Pease about the latest observations of the interstellar interloper Comet Borisov. (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) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Oct 31, 2019
Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?
A quantum computer has performed a calculation considered impossible for conventional computers, but how meaningful is the result? As our guest reveals, this quantum state can be hugely significant and garbage – at the same time. Also we look at a new method of gene editing, which avoids cutting up DNA, get to grips with where the worlds worms live and watch elements being created in distant solar collisions. (Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 24, 2019
Malaria's origins and a potential new treatment
A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia, 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. (Photo: Gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 17, 2019
From batteries to distant worlds
Nobel prizes this week went to a range of discoveries that you might be familiar with, in fact you might be using one of them right now – the lithium ion battery. The scientists credited with its Invention got the chemistry prize. And the tantalising prospect of life on other planets plays into the physics prize win. And we also see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis (Picture: Illustration of the Earth-like exoplanet Kepler-452b and its parent star Kepler-452. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/Science Photo Library) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Oct 10, 2019
Drought likely to follow India’s floods
India has experienced some of the worse monsoon weather in years, but despite the extreme rainfall climate models suggest a drought may be on the way, with higher than average temperatures predicted for the months following the monsoon season. We also hear warnings over the state of the world’s aquifers, with water levels in many places already low enough to affect ecosystems. We examine the consequences of two historic eruptions. How Indonesian volcano Tambora changed global weather and why papyrus scrolls blackened by Italy’s Vesuvius can now be read again. And from Australia the discovery of a new species of pterosaur in Queensland. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Commuters make their way on a waterlogged road following heavy rainfalls in Patna.Credit:Getty Images)
Oct 03, 2019
Global climate inaction
This week’s IPCC report on the state of the world’s climate looks very much like their earlier reports on the subject. The document cautiously expresses a picture of a future with greater climate extremes. Activists are frustrated by the lack of action. We look at why the scientific message is often hampered by politics. Fish could provide micronutrients to the world poor, but as we’ll hear this would need a major shift in commercial fishing practices globally. Baby bottles from thousands of years ago suggest Neolithic people gave animal milk to their children. And when did the Sahara develop? New findings in deposits from volcanic islands provides some evidence. (Image: Greta Thunberg. Credit: AFP/Getty Image) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 26, 2019
South East Asia choking - again
Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started. In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated by climatic conditions. A new mission to the region involving trapping a ship in ice over winter hopes to provide answers. Nearly 500 million of year ago the earth’s sky was darkened by a massive asteroid explosion, blotting out the sun. New data on this event may provide an insight into contemporary climate change. And how about a device which turns the conventions of solar panels on their head and generates electricity in the dark? (Researcher Mark Grovener from Kings College London measures air quality in Indonesia. Credit Marlin Wooster KCL) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Sep 20, 2019
Embryoids from stem cells
Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. Magdalena and Roland Pease discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely. Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. The lead scientist, Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London, talks to Roland about the discovery and what she hopes to explore when a satellite telescope called ARIEL is launched by ESA in around a decade. And an amateur astronomer has discovered a comet that appears to have arrived from outside our Solar System. This observation follows on from that of Oumuamua which looked like it was an asteroid that had escaped from an exoplanetary system. Roland asks professional astronomers Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast and Simon Porter from South West Research Institute in Colorado what they make of the latest interstellar visitor. (Picture: A set of five embryo-like structures in a microfluidic device developed in the lab of Jianping Fu. The top row consists of “immunostaining” images in which key proteins are tagged with dyes to label different cell types, whereas the bottom row shows standard photos taken through a microscope. Parts of the bottom images were blurred to more clearly show a correlation between the rows. Image credit: Fu Lab, Michigan Engineering) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen
Sep 12, 2019
New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Also, a near miss in Earth’s crowded orbit, India expects a moon landing, and defrosting cemeteries. (Tell-tale radioactive isotopes could still be in dust on cars near the site of the blast. Credit: Humonia/iStock / Getty Images Plus) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
Sep 05, 2019
Nanotube computer says hello
A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s. (The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)
Aug 29, 2019
Amazonian fires likely to worsen
As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers. (Photo: Wildfires in Amazon rainforest. Credit:REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Aug 22, 2019
Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future. Wyoming Dinosaur trove The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere in the US which scientists reckon could keep them busy for many years. Jon Amos got to have a tour and even found out a tasty technique to tell a fossil from a rock. Bioflourescent Aliens Researchers at Cornell University’s Carla Sagan Institute report their work thinking about detecting alien life on distant planets orbiting other stars. Around 75% of stars are of a type that emits far more dangerous UV than our own sun. What, they argue, would a type of life that could survive that look like to us? Well, just maybe it would act like some of our own terrestrial corals, who can protect their symbiotic algae from UV, and in doing so, emit visible light. Could such an emission be detectable, in sync with dangerous emergent UV flares around distant suns? The next generation of large telescopes maybe could… (Photo: Volcano Anak Krakatoa. Credit: Drone Pilot, Muhammad Edo Marshal, ITB university in Bandung, Indonesia) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield Reporter: Giulia Barbareschi
Aug 15, 2019
Keeping tabs on nuclear weapons
The US has withdrawn from a historic nuclear disarmament treaty. However the verification of such treaties has been under scrutiny for some time as they don’t actually reveal the size of nuclear stockpiles. New methods of verification and encryption should allow all sides to be more confident on who has what in terms of nuclear stockpiles. Can carbon capture and storage technology help reduce atmospheric Co2 levels? The answer seems to be yes, but at a considerable cost. And we go for a cold swim around some hydrothermal vents. Please add a picture caption to the long description in the following format: Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Sputnik/Reuters Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Aug 08, 2019
The snowball effect of Arctic fires
Wildfires are an annual phenomenon across the arctic region, but this year they are far more intense than usual, we look at the drivers for these extreme fires and the consequences, in particular long term environmental change across the region. We visit Naples which is built on a super volcano. A new analysis is designed to help predict when it might erupt. We hear from young scientists around the world on their hopes for the future and hear about the discovery of a new potentially earth like planet. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Arctic wildfires: Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 01, 2019
The human danger – for sharks
A global project tracking sharks through the deep oceans has found they are increasingly facing danger from fishing fleets. Sharks used to be caught accidentally, but now there is a well-established trade in shark meat and fins, which the researchers say is reducing their numbers. We look at how tourists might be a useful source for conservation data, And we meet one of the planets smallest predators, is it a plant is it an animal? Well actually it’s a bit of both. (Photo: Tiger shark. Credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian siddle
Jul 25, 2019
The moon landing and another big space anniversary
It’s 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide. We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there? One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scientific tools which hadn’t been invented when the Apollo missions ceased. Picture: Shoemaker – Levy 9 Comet Impact Marks on Jupiter Credit: Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 18, 2019
'Free' water and electricity for the world?
Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages. A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present in humans. This suggests such traits could have developed in the prehistory of both species. More than 500 fish species can change sex. Analysis of the underlying mechanism shows how sex determination is heavily influenced by environmental and in the case of one species social factors. (Picture: Future PV farm: not just generating electricity, but also producing fresh water. Credit: Wenbin Wang) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 11, 2019
Analysing the European heatwave
The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely. And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many? (Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jul 04, 2019
Is climate change driving Europe’s current heatwave?
As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change. However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens. Also we find lakes of fresh water hidden – under the sea, find that Neanderthals went west and discover how spiralling laser light may be used to control a new generation of microelectronics. (Photo: Heatwave in Paris. Credit: European Photopress Agency) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 27, 2019
Iran’s nuclear plans
Iran’s nuclear programme is at the centre of a political row, with the country suggesting it could increase uranium production to above the levels permitted under an international agreement. We look beyond the rhetoric, discuss Iran’s covert history of nuclear development and ask scientifically what this latest move involves. Fish are no respecter of international borders and when it comes to spawning, research reveals up to $10bn worth of potential fish stocks move between different political territories. Ancient trees in the Eastern US are yielding clues to the climate going back more than 2000 years, they reveal there has been more rain recently. And we look at how to quantify that rain as it falls now, over much shorter timescales. (Photo:President Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran nuclear technology organization Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology. Copyright: Office of Islamic Republic President via EPA) Presenter:Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 20, 2019
South Asia heatwave and climate change
South Asia has experienced a heatwave where the monsoon has been delayed and temperatures have reached over 50 degrees. Despite this the extreme heat has led to far fewer fatalities than previous heatwaves; we look at why that is. Research into the origins of almonds shows they were domesticated in Asia before spreading worldwide. It’s a bitter sweet story, with sweet varieties being selected over bitter ones. In fact the bitter ones contain poisons which can kill.. As with almonds cannabis as a drug seems to have spread via silk routes. The discovery of ancient burnt wooded bowls suggests it was smoked millennia ago in China – as part of funeral rituals. And we investigate California’s cannabis farming industry, there are concerns over the environmental impact of this now legal cash crop. (Photo: Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary. Credit: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 13, 2019
US foetal tissue research ban
The US has withdrawn funding for scientific research involving foetal tissue. Scientists point to the lack of feasible alternatives to using foetal tissue – which comes from embryos donated to scientific research via abortion clinics. They say the move to halt this kind of research will have a negative impact on the ability of US medical institutions to develop new treatments for a range of diseases from diabetes to cancer. More controversy from the ‘Crispr babies ‘ scandal – with a new analysis showing the modified gene may have a wide impact on the health of the children it was claimed to have been implanted into. A reassessment on North Korea’s Nuclear tests using cold war methodology suggest the last explosion was more powerful than previously thought. And we investigate a small British Earthquake south of London. (Picture: Donald Trump, Credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Jun 06, 2019
The eclipse that made Einstein famous
100 years ago, a solar eclipse proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity was onto something. Known as the Eddington expedition, in 1919 two teams of astronomers set forth to witness a total solar eclipse from either side of the Atlantic. The photographs, once developed, showed that the background stars, made visible by the moon shading the sun, appeard to be a tiny bit closer towards the sun’s disc than they normally appeared in the night sky. The triumphal announcement was the first new evidence, predicted by Einstein, that large masses in the universe are accompanied by a bending of spacetime, made Einstein the most famous scientist of the twentieth century. At a special event held by London’s Royal Astronomical Society, where Eddington worked at the time, astronomers and archivists explain more to Science in Action, as does this years recipient of the Eddington Medal, Bernard F. Shutz, who is hoping gravitational waves will point us in the direction of the next big breakthrough in cosmology. Murray Gell-Mann A week ago we learned of the death of physicist Murray Gell-Mann. His Nobel prize was awarded exactly 50 years after the Eddington expedition in 1969, for work elucidating the particles now known as quarks. Oxford emeritus prof Frank Close gives his evaluation of Gell-Mann’s influence on particle physics. Apples were big long before humans Robert Spengler, of the Max Planck Institute in Jena, spends his time thinking about the evolutionary origins of certain crops we eat every day. His recent work suggests that apples, rather than being bred to be large by human beings, may well have evolved long before that to be big. Human beings’ influence on the domesticated crops we now eat came much later. Picture: Image of the 1919 Solar eclipse taken by Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), Credit: Science Photo Library Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield
May 30, 2019
The birth of a new volcano
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. India has a new government, but problems with pollution remain, we examine the reasons why electricity distribution is so inefficient. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Image caption: 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 23, 2019
The World Wood Web
The World Wood web is a global map of two different types of underground fungi, microscopic organisms living in and around tree roots. The presence of these fungi is a key indicator of the health and variety of above ground life in the forests where they are found. They have key roles in our planets natural carbon cycle and are useful indicators of the impact of climate change and policies to deal with it. Synthetic Biology, new techniques opening the way for designer organisms for use in fields from energy to drug production. Two squashed discs with signs of cooked organic matter – the latest findings on Ultima Thule, one of the most distant objects in our universe ever surveyed. Surfing with a technology packed fin, how citizen science is helping to fill in the gaps in costal ocean surveys. Roland Pease and Tom Crowther hiding in exotic woodlands of London’s Wimbledon Common. Credit: Julian Siddle Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 16, 2019
Biodiversity in crisis
This week’s UN biodiversity assessment paints a grim picture for species loss worldwide. However scientists are looking at ways to ensure conservation can be done in a way that works with economic development. We focus on examples from Africa. Africa is well known for its conservation work with large animals – but what about peat bogs? Recently discovered in the Congo region is a bog containing 3 times the amount of carbon emitted by the entire world in a year. And from Australia how some farmers are turning to ‘weeds’ to help conserve their land. In areas hit by drought deliberately planting and encouraging wild plants has been shown to retain moisture in the land. (Picture: Gorilla in the jungle in Congo. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 09, 2019
What is behind the Indian Ocean Cyclones?
First there was cyclone Idai, then cyclone Kenneth and now cyclone Fani. As we go to air Fani is still developing, but the earlier two were unprecedented, occurring in a manner rarely if ever seen before. What is behind these extreme events? We look at the current state of weather patterns in the region and the influence of climate change. And from Tibet a jawbone from an ancient giant provides new insight into the development of humanity. Astronomers join forces to search for evidence of a black hole swallowing a neutron star, and why atmospheric pollution might have reduced the severity of past droughts. (Image: A man ferries a residents through a flooded road in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Pemba. Credit: Reuters) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
May 02, 2019
Turning brain waves into speech
Neuroscientists have recorded the brain activity of patients while talking and used this to develop computer programmes that can simulate speech. The neural activity they monitored is associated with the muscle movements needed to talk and form words rather than the meaning of the words themselves. They say a refined version of the system should be able to generate speech for people who cannot talk. Data collected from a long running study of plankton is proving useful for research into historic ocean plastic pollution. Records of plastic accidentally entangled in the ocean going plankton samplers now provides a snapshot of contamination dating back to the 1950s. Rewilding, letting nature take its course has romantic appeal. Perhaps counter intuitively a review of methods from around the world shows the key to successful projects is often how well they interact with local people. And over 600 scientists have called for the European Union to put indigenous rights and deforestation to the fore of its trade negotiations with Brazil. We look at why they made this political call. (Picture: Researchers implanted electrodes similar to these in participants’ skulls to record their brain signals. Credit: UCSF) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 25, 2019
The Zombie Pig Brain
What are the ethical concerns behind the so-called “Zombie Pig Brain”? Also, the Crick African Network; Searching for the Californian earthquakes; Neolithic animal husbandry. On Science in Action this week we look at the ethical concerns behind the so-called “Zombie Pigs”. Using a machine called BrainEx a team from Yale University part-revived pig brains hours after they had been removed from the body. The researchers are hoping it could lead to advancements in brain restoration but the NIH Brain Initiative says that there are many ethical questions researchers should now consider. The Crick Institute in London has hosted their first Crick African Network symposium. The fellowship programme will train African researchers to tackle health challenges in their home countries by sharing the Crick's experience researching infectious diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Two very different Earthquakes studies have been released in the US. California sits on multiple Fault lines so is no stranger to earthquakes. But a recent study has been looking into why there has been a 100 year hiatus in ground rupturing earthquakes. Another study from Caltech, has been searching for hidden, smaller earthquakes in Southern California. In Turkey, an international team of researchers has been closely examining soil layers at an early Neolithic site helping to identify the types of animals present through the history of the site. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Jack Meegan
Apr 18, 2019
Black Holes: The heart of darkness
The first EVER picture of a Black Hole has been captured by a network of telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The picture shows a bright ring of fire surrounding a circular dark hole. The Black Hole has been described as a “monster” and is located in the M87 galaxy, 500 million trillion miles from Earth. As remarkable and spectacular as the picture is, it also provides scientists and researchers valuable scientific information about these behemoths of the universe. A team from the National Natural History Museum in Paris and the University of the Philippines have discovered bone fragments which are thought to belong to a new species of hominid, which they have called the Homo Luzonensis. These fossils provide sufficient evidence of a new species of hominin, who lived on the island of Luzon in the Philippines prior to 50,000 years ago. Wandering interstellar worlds like Oumuamua may help form planets. Some of these huge objects, which can be as large as skyscrapers and even cities, drift through every cubic parsec of space between the stars. Once these emerging systems become part of new stellar systems, interstellar objects could accelerate the growth of new planets. Picture: First ever image of a black hole. Courtesy of the Event Horizon Telescope. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Jack Meegan-Vickers
Apr 11, 2019
The day the dinosaurs died
A remarkable new fossil find shows a record of events in the minutes and the hours that followed the impact of a 10km wide asteroid. The fossils show how plants and animals were thrown up into the atmosphere before crashing down again. Early whales came from India and Pakistan and migrated from Asia to the Americas – but at the time they looked more like dogs or giant otters. A legged fossil find from Peru shows an intermediate stage before they evolved into fully marine mammals. Wood is used extensively as a building material, but new research has developed a transparent form of wood which can also act as an insulator. The researchers behind the new material say it will provide an energy efficient alternative to glass and also plastic foam building materials. And detectors Ligo And Virgo are switched on again, to search for more gravitational waves revealing the hidden workings of space. (Picture: Artwork of Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur fleeing a hail of meteorites. Credit: Copyright: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 04, 2019
What are Saturn’s moons made of?
New data revealed from the Cassini mission to Saturn suggests the planets’ tiny moons are made of the same material as its enigmatic rings. Material from the rings is building up around the circumference of the moons - in effect making them grow. Looking into the far reaches of deep space scientists are narrowing down the number of planets they think could be habitable. New developments with space and ground telescopes will give us a chance to examine the chemical signature of earth like exoplanets for tell-tale signs of life. Ancient barnacles may have a role to play in predicting the impact of climate change on migratory whale species. Fossilised barnacles species known to live on whales give clues to ancient migratory routes and how these evolved as the earth’s climate changed. And how a better understanding of coral genetics may help them cope with warming seas. (Photo from the Cassini spacecraft showing the mighty planet Saturn – credit: Nasa) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle
Mar 29, 2019