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BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

Podcast BBC Inside Science
Podcast BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science


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5 of 300
  • When Pandemics Collide
    As virologists around the world race to investigate the latest SARS CoV2 variant of concern, the UN’s World AIDS Day this week reminds us of the other global pandemic raging for some 40 years. Much of the work achieved over the last two years on SARS CoV2 has been achieved because of the investment made into, and the understanding gained from, HIV research over the last two decades. But to what further extent do they overlap in the population? There is a theory that the omicron variant, displaying so very many mutations compared to previous variants, might well have been incubated in a person suffering from a compromised immune system, possibly due to HIV, in whom the covid virus was able to linger longer than in fitter individuals. Prof. Penny Moore, of South Africa’s National Centre for Infectious Disease and Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, is one of many virologists who transferred from HIV to coronavirus research, and hers, like hundreds of labs around the world, is racing to clone the parts of the omicron virus to enable research into its transmissibility and severity as soon as possible. She describes to Vic what we yet know and what we don’t about it, and also how it is high time to bring the same sense of urgency back to HIV research. Nottingham University’s Prof. Jonathan Ball is another virologist who suddenly transferred experience over to coronaviruses early on. He outlines something of what is really happening when viruses mutate, and how the arms race between host and invader can play out. Our regular Inside Science listener will be interested to know that this week Merlin Sheldrake was awarded the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment, and the hefty cheque that accompanies it, for his book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures. Merlin is one of several high profile advisors to something called the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks - SPUN. They have received funding recently to begin an international mission to map the world’s subterranean fungal mycelial networks, including the infamous Wood Wide Web. SPUN Co-Founder Prof. Toby Kiers of VU University in Amsterdam tells Vic about the need to preserve, map and cherish this unseen yet essential part of the global ecosystem. And could rising sea levels paradoxically be used to help fight climate change? Researchers up in St Andrews took Vic for a squelch about the salt marshes reclaimed recently by the sea in an estuary near Grangemouth, where flora and fauna are thriving just a few years since the seas were allowed back in. Finally, you may have thought that wasps eat meat whereas bees eat honey and nectar. But this week we learned that some bees eat meat, preserving it in honeycombs to feed young and augment their own nutrition. Intrepid field entomologist Laura Figueroa of Cornell University describes to Vic her work in the jungle with Vulture Bees, social bees that over evolutionary time seem to have rescinded their vegetarian instincts and now are happy to enjoy a bit of “chicken on the side”. Laura found that they can digest their flesh because of big adjustments to their gut microbes, including acid-loving bacteria also found in other carnivorous animals. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer, Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University
  • Malaria: what's in it for the mosquito?
    Malaria, a disease that infects hundreds of millions of people and kills hundreds of thousands each year. It is caused after a plasmodium parasite is passed from a blood-feeding mosquito into a human host. Subject to much research over hundreds of years, of both host and parasite, one of the evolutionary mysteries has been why the plasmodium so prospers in the mosquito populations in infected areas. Why haven’t mosquitoes’ immune systems learned to fight back for example? In short, what’s in it for the mozzies? Ann Carr, working with Laurence Zwiebel at Vanderbuilt University, reports in the journal Nature Scientific Reports how they managed to discover a mutual symbiotic relationship between the plasmodium and the mosquito. Using advanced sequencing technology they discovered that the infected insects can live longer, and have enhanced sensing (olfaction) and egg positioning than their uninfected brethren. This, in turn, could help them finds meals better, bestowing higher numbers of infection opportunities for the parasite, and benefitting both. NASA this week successfully launched its DART mission, which will next year attempt to nudge an asteroid in its orbit by smashing a mass into it. Could this method allow future humans, endangered by an impending collision push an asteroid out of the way to save the planet? It is billed as human’s first ever “earth-defence mission”, but as relieved-sounding mission leads Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University told the BBC, it is perhaps finally time to stop talking about these sorts of things and have a go. Less relieved perhaps are astronomers around the world, as the James Webb Space Telescope team announce a further small delay to its launch to sometime after December 22nd. The BBC’s John Amos a few weeks ago stood in the presence of the telescope before it was coupled to the launch vehicle, and spoke with ESA’s Peter Jensen about its cost and complexity. BBC Inside Science is planning a special episode devoted to the instrument to accompany the launch of this successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Watch, as they say, this space... And finally an insight perhaps into the origin of words and language. Apart from onomatopoeia, where a word can sound like the noise of a noise-making thing, can a word sound like other properties, such as for example its shape? In the late 1920s psychologists found that different people would match certain made-up words with the same abstract shapes. This “Bouba/ Kiki” effect has been studied since, where the word “Bouba” is associated with rounded blobby shapes, and “Kiki” with spikier, angular forms. But there wasn’t so much evidence whether or not the effect worked across different languages or different written alphabets, until now. Aleksandra Ćwiek of Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft in Berlin tells Gaia of her international study (published in Royal Society Phil. Trans. B) looking at the effect in 25 different languages and cultures. The effect is robust across the different writing systems and locations, so the link is not simply about the shape of a letter b or letter k when written in a latinate alphabet, but could allude to something much deeper. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer, Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University.
  • Yet More Space Junk; COP-up or COP-out; The End of Bias.
    Earlier in the week the current ISS crew had to prepare to evacuate after Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon, spreading thousands of high velocity shards of ex-satellite into a reasonably low-earth orbit and potentially endangering many other earth observation and communication satellites of all nations. How can we clear this and all the other debris? BBC Space Correspondent Jonathan Amos tells Gaia Vince about the Russian test and of efforts to de-orbit some other deceased orbital vehicles. Simon Evans, deputy editor of the website Carbon Brief, was one of many attending the COP26 summit which ended at the weekend. How do all the declarations, promises and the "Glasgow Pact" itself add up in the great carbon ledger we all need to worry about? And the last of BBC Inside Science's Royal Society book prize nominees, Jessica Nordell talks to Gaia about writing her book "The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias". Her investigation into the science of all of our preconceptions and unacknowledged prejudices surprized even herself. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Studio production by Anna Buckley and Bob Nettles Made in Association with The Open University
  • Propane: Keeping Your Cool as the World Warms Around You
    How propane might prevent air conditioning and refrigeration becoming an even bigger burden as our planet warms. Also, covid antiviral pills, and how we forgot to breathe properly. The Montreal Protocol is famous for reducing CFC emissions to help protect the Ozone Layer. We only started using things like CFCs as refrigerants in our fridges and air-conditioning because they weren't as flammable as many alternatives. They were mainly replaced by HFCs, though these are also on the way out. The reason? Their huge greenhouse warming potential (or GWP). Propane has long been thought to be an alternative because of its comparatively tiny GPW, but the safety standards haven't been in place in much of the world for many of the types of application that would make the big difference. Sophie Geoghegan, Climate Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Asbjørn Vonsild who has been working on some of the new standards, due to become normal in Europe next year tell Gaia what greenhouse savings there are to be made, both in terms of efficiency and the contents of the systems themselves. If public opinion and consumer choice can drive the transition as our cities heat up. This week two new Anti-viral pills that are designed to fight SARS CoV2 infections have made headlines in the UK. Professor Penny Ward is Chair of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine’s Policy Expert Group, and explains how they work, how they were developed, and when they will be properly available. And in the penultimate of our 2021 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlisted authors, science journalist James Nestor describes his book, Breath: The new science of a lost art. The book documents James’s journey around the world investigating traditional eastern practices, the latest pulmonology research, and learning from the palaeontology of ancient skulls, and he attempts to cure himself with better breathing habits. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University
  • How Whales Farmed For Food, COP progress, and The Last Stargazers
    Gaia Vince hears how blue whales' huge appetites and energetic eating behaviours helped generate more food for themselves. Also, an update from COP26, and Emily Levesque on The Last Stargazers. New research published this week in the journal Nature reveals new insights into blue whales eating habits. Matthew Savoca and colleagues suggest these biggest of marine animals actually eat up to three times the mass of krill previously estimated. And they do this by finding the blooms of krill and using a spectacular lunging approach to open their massive mouths and filter the gulp of seawater for tonnes of food. But how come, since the near destruction of their population by commercial whaling in the twentieth century, are current krill populations lower than when the voracious whales themselves were far more numerous? Shouldn't there be more krill now than then? The answer, as Victor Smetacek, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, describes to Gaia is that whales themselves help to keep iron in the upper waters of the southern oceans, re-fertilizing it for the lower ecosystem member like phytoplankton, and their powerful diving lunges and defecation effectively plough the waters, akin to herds of bison treading manure into prehistoric grass plains. Former GSO David King, of the Centre For Climate Repair at Cambridge University, is beginning experiments next year that seek to mimic this whale-defecation effect to bring about eventual repopulation of whales and fish to allow the oceans to restart this historical cycle. From Glasgow, above the hubbub of delegates and dignitaries CarbonBrief's deputy editor Simon Evans talks to Gaia about his perceptions of progress so far at the COP26 climate summit. Amongst the flurry of declarations so far this week, what are the details and how do they add up towards our eventual recovery back down to the 1.5C rise everybody is talking about? And in the latest of Inside Science's interviews with shortlisted finalists of this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Prof Emily Levesque, an astronomer at Washington State University tells Marnie Chesterton of her adventures and astronomical anecdotes at some of the world's most famous observatories. Researching her book, "The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers", she interviewed hundreds of practicing and practical astronomers, many of whose jobs, she suggests, will soon be transformed as the act of observation becomes more remote, automated, and data-heavy. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University

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