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Science news and highlights of the week
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The end for coal power?

The end for coal power?

2021-11-2158:092

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
Bambi got Covid

Bambi got Covid

2021-11-1454:10

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
Jet fuel from thin air

Jet fuel from thin air

2021-11-0701:13:48

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.
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
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)
Wetlands under attack

Wetlands under attack

2021-10-1559:20

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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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
Record-shattering weather

Record-shattering weather

2021-08-0801:05:342

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)
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)
Nyiragongo Eruption

Nyiragongo Eruption

2021-05-2955:251

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)
Robot revolution

Robot revolution

2021-05-2301:12:372

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)
Covid and clean air

Covid and clean air

2021-05-1601:00:07

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)
Africa’s oldest burial

Africa’s oldest burial

2021-05-0901:06:002

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)
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)
Waste not, want not

Waste not, want not

2021-02-2801:10:393

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)
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Comments (20)

Kammal khamissi

👍🏻

May 22nd
Reply

Kammal khamissi

very good details

May 22nd
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Emanuel Fahngon

yeeeeesss thank God for that. to much covid science 🤣

Jun 30th
Reply (1)

Emanuel Fahngon

pllleeeeeaasssseeee stop!!! with the covid19 podcasts 🤬

Jun 22nd
Reply

tell boyracer

no sound

May 25th
Reply

Corinne Meier

one podcast about Australias bushfires, one about climate change... but 4 podcasts about a bloody flu?!? really, BBC? really?

Mar 1st
Reply (1)

Adam Greenwold

interesting about food cravings. I hadn't associated cravings as part of the problem.

Oct 8th
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Terence Michaels

excellent

Sep 3rd
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Abdul Hamid

why can't I view old episodes??

Jul 3rd
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yathartha seresinhe

All good now.. thanks

Nov 14th
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yathartha seresinhe

It seems like they links are crashed. ..can't download

Nov 9th
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Pedro Gonçalves

Amazing Podcast!

Sep 13th
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Pascal

it not letting me download Mars has watery lake

Aug 30th
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May 10th
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Dmitriy Sharnin

nicely done

May 2nd
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