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access_time3 days ago
Episode One: Spillover in Suburbia

A horse mysteriously falls ill in her paddock, and before long dozens of other horses from her stables are sick. As the horses start to die vicious, painful deaths, their trainer falls into a coma and is placed into intensive care. The race is on to figure out what's making both species sick, and where it came from. What they find will resonate throughout the following decades and might help us uncover the origins of COVID-19.

Presented by Olivia Willis

Patient Zero is a production of ABC Science, Radio National, and the BBC World Service.

Picture: Wild horses, Credit: Phil Copp/Getty Images
access_time10 days ago
Why do some people find noises like a fork scraping a plate so terrible? asks Findlay in Aberdeenshire. Rutherford and Fry endure some horrible noises to find out the answer.

Warning - This episode contains some horrible sounds

Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, has run experiments to find out the worst, most cringe-making sound. He divided horrible sounds into three categories: scraping sounds, like nails down a blackboard; disgusting sounds like a snotty sniffy nose; and sounds that make us cringe because of what we associate them with, like the dentist’s drill. All horrible sounds have some sort of association whether it’s a primal scream or fear of catching a disease, and they’re dealt with in the ancient part of the brain – the amygdala.

Professor Tim Griffiths is a Cognitive Neurologist at Newcastle University’s Auditory Cognition Group. He has been studying people with misophonia, a condition where ordinary, everyday sounds, such as someone eating or breathing causes a severe anxiety and anger response. Misophonia may affect around 15% of the population and Tim thinks that different parts of the brain – the insula and the motor cortex - are involved in this fight or flight response to seemingly innocuous sounds.

Cat Thomas’s job is to make horrible sounds. She is a foley artist at Boompost. If you watch Call the Midwife or Peaky Blinders, all the incidental sounds are created by Cat and her team. She also created some of the sounds for the horror film Camilla, which involved evisceration and disembowelling with the aid of some squishy oranges and bananas. Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry try their own horror sounds when they chop off a finger with the aid of some large pasta shells, an orange and a knife.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time17 days ago
How many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London?" asks Judah from Virginia in the USA. Rutherford & Fry return with engineering, ethics and economics to answer this electric query.

Smart grid engineer Lynne McDonald helps keep the lights on for 8.3 million homes and businesses across London at UK Power Networks. She explains how the kilowatt hours we see on our electricity bills relate to the thousands of gigawatt hours required when thinking about powering the whole of London. In theory, a hamster in a wheel might be able to produce about half a watt of power – enough to run a small LED light bulb.

Whilst the doctors argue the case on the resultant practicalities and ethics of even considering such a scenario – as, for example, the required cubic kilometre stack of hamster habitats would cover Canary Wharf – Royal Veterinary College researcher Zoe Davies points out some biological and anatomical home truths. As an expert in biomechanics currently investigating athletic performance in racehorses, she walks Adam through the impossibilities of using pretty much any animal, bird or insect as a source of power.

There may be one exception though: humans. Veteran lecturer of undergraduate chemistry for biologists and cycling enthusiast, Andrea Sella discusses whether human power might realistically work. We consider what this or other more realistic sources of renewable energy could mean for the future of our national grid.
access_time24 days ago
What would it take for humans to live permanently on Mars? asks Martin in Weston-super-Mare, UK. The doctors dig into requirements and possibilities of a long-term Martian outpost.
We know that many missions to Mars have failed, for a range of reasons – malfunctions, crashes and even a mix-up between imperial and metric units. Getting to Mars – let alone decelerating from 30,000 miles per hour to a safe landing speed in about seven minutes – is not straightforward. Aerospace engineer Anita Sengupta helped land NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. She knows first-hand the challenges of putting a robot on the red planet.

But getting robots to Mars is an easier proposition than doing the same for humans. Even if we work out how to survive the radiation exposure on the eight-month journey and the pulverising descent, Mars’ surface isn’t easily habitable. Principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) Bruce Jakosky describes the conditions on Mars: Freezing, with an atmosphere containing mostly carbon dioxide and very little water, and subject to annual global dust storms.

However, this isn’t deterring space agencies and private companies from researching the challenge. The European Space Agency and Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems focussed on finding out the physiological and psychological tolls by selecting six candidates to spend 520 days in a simulated spacecraft and landing module. Diego Urbina explains the personal challenge of taking part in the Mars500 experiment.
Some private company owners have gone even further. As well as making technology based on the current physical conditions, could those constraints themselves be altered? Could Mars be terraformed, or warmed, for easier human survival? Bruce Jakosky shares just what that would take – and compares these requirements with what’s actually available.
access_time1 month ago
In 1976, Nasa launched a campaign to help recruit the next generation of Astronauts. It was fronted by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, as part of an effort to ensure the astronaut corps represented the diversity of the United States.

When they were revealed to the press, the 35 members of the new astronaut group included six women, three African American men and one Asian American man. All were appointed on merit.

The selection of the first women caused quite a stir. As the ‘first mom in space’, Anna Fisher was asked by the press whether she was worried about her child (none of the fathers were asked). There were also jibes about separate restrooms and whether the women would ‘weep’ if something went wrong.

Meanwhile, Nasa’s engineers suggested developing a zero-g makeup kit and the first US woman in space, Sally Ride, was issued with a long string of tampons (joined together like sausages) for a six-day mission.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Shuttle launch in April 1981, astronaut Nicole Stott speaks to some of these pioneers and hears how Nasa has since aimed to become a beacon for diversity.

Contributors also include astronaut Charles Bolden, the first African American to head the space agency and – as Nasa prepares to land the first woman on the Moon – its new head of human spaceflight, Kathy Lueders.

(Image: Sally Ride. Credit: Nasa)

Producer: Richard Hollingham
access_time1 month ago
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 was awarded to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino "for the development of lithium-ion batteries." These rechargeable batteries are in our phones, and in our laptops. And they will be the batteries powering electric vehicles which we are being urged to use in place of ones fuelled by gasoline and diesel. Jane Chambers finds out how the element lithium has become so important in the world today. She lives in Chile, where lithium is called the country’s white gold, as it is the source of much of the world’s supply. Jane travels to the Atacama Desert and visits the SQM mine where lithium is evaporated out of huge brine lakes.

She talks to Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge University about her research into improving the efficiency of lithium ion batteries. And Dr Paul Anderson of Birmingham University explains what needs to be done for more lithium to be recycled.

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Picture: Lithium mine in Atacama Desert, Chile, Credit: Jane Chambers
access_time2 months ago
Today’s episode is about the history we’re still living. From Melbourne to Munich, Lombardy to Wuhan and all the way back again, this episode is about what happened when we faced those first coronavirus cases. Where things went well, where they didn’t, and where contact tracing was effective — and whether there’s anything we could have done to stop it.

Presented by Olivia Willis of ABC Australia.

Picture: Coronavirus particles spreading in a crowd of people, Credit: peterhowell/Getty Images
access_time2 months ago
Year two of the pandemic and in tandem with rising rates of illness, death, acute economic shock and restrictions on everyday life, mental health problems have risen too.

Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts answer listeners’ questions about the pandemic of mental illness and distress and find out which groups that have been hardest hit.

Children and young people were at low risk from the virus itself, but their lives have been upended as societies have locked down. Older people too have suffered loneliness and isolation as they have tried to keep themselves safe.

What does the evidence show about the true scale of suffering and what can we learn from other countries about the best way to support those in real distress and bolster resilience within communities?

Claudia hears from Giulia in Brazil about her struggles with anxiety and from Mohsen in Tehran, Iran about the techniques he is using to cope with anxiety and depression following the serious illness of himself and his family from the virus.

And her global panel of experts includes Dr Lola Kola, a mental health specialist and Assistant Director at the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria (one of the authors of a major review of the mental health impacts of the pandemic in low and medium income countries published last month in Lancet Psychiatry); Andrew Steptoe, Professor of Psychology and Epidemiology at University College London in the UK, leading the UK Social Study, the world’s largest study into the mental health impact of the pandemic during the longest enforced isolation in living history; Cathy Creswell, Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford in the UK is head of the Co-Space Study tracking how parents and children are coping during this pandemic and Steven Taylor, who is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Steven specialises in anxiety disorders and just before the pandemic, he published a book, called The Psychology of Pandemics.

Production Team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Giles Aspen and Bob Nettles
access_time2 months ago
Three transplant patients died within a week of each other in Melbourne in December 2006 and alarm bells started ringing. One of the patients was Karen. When she got a phone call from the hospital offering her a kidney transplant, it seemed like a lucky break. But things didn't go according to plan. Olivia Willis tells the story of how doctors discovered that one donor had transmitted a mystery virus to these patients. These tragic cases changed the way that transplantation was done in Australia.

Produced by James Bullen, Cheyne Anderson and Joel Werner of ABC

Picture: TEM of Arenavirus, Credit: Callista Images/Getty Images
access_time2 months ago
It was October 2010 when reports first emerged of a mysterious disease spreading through Haiti. In a hospital in Saint Marc, about an hour north of the country's capital Port-au-Prince, 400 cases of adults with watery diarrhoea had been reported in a single day. On a regular day, there might be four people show up at the hospital with these symptoms.
For the doctors at the hospital, diarrhoea and vomiting pointed to one disease — cholera.

Olivia Willis tells the story of how cholera came to Haiti in the first of a series about disease outbreaks
access_time2 months ago
Mice, like humans, prefer to be treated with a little dignity, and that extends to how they are handled.

Pick a mouse up by its tail, as was the norm in laboratories for decades, and it gets anxious. Make a mouse anxious and it can skew the results of the research it’s being used for.

What mice like, and how they behave, is the focus of Professor Jane Hurst’s research. Much of that behaviour, she’s discovered, can be revealed by following what they do with their noses - where they take them and what’s contained in the scent marks they sniff.

Now William Prescott Professor of Animal Science at the University of Liverpool, Jane has unravelled a complex array of scent signals that underpin the way mice communicate, and how each selects a mate.

Within this heady mix of male scent, she’s identified one particular pheromone that is so alluring to females that she named it Darcin, after Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Producer: Beth Eastwood
access_time2 months ago
Professor Cath Noakes studies how air moves and the infection risk associated with different ventilation systems. Early in the pandemic, she was invited to join the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE and asked to study the transmission routes for Covid-19. In July, together with many other scientists, she urged governments around the world and the World Health Organisation to recognise that Covid-19 could be transmitted in tiny particles in the air, even if the risk of getting infected in this way was much smaller than the risk from larger particles that travel less far. Her research highlights the importance of good ventilation as a way to stop the spread of infection in indoor environments. Being in a well ventilated space can reduce the risk of inhaling tiny airborne pathogens by 70%. Cath talks to Jim Al-Khalili about her journey from studying industrial processes to infection risk, her work on the airborne transmission of diseases and the challenge of designing buildings that are both well ventilated and energy efficient.

Producer: Anna Buckley

Photo credit: University of Leeds
access_time3 months ago
From flight bans, entry bans, compulsory quarantine and virus testing, most countries have introduced travel restrictions in an effort to control the spread of the virus. But for a virus that knows no borders, do cross border health measures actually work?

Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts answer listeners’ questions and discuss the very latest science about the use of border controls in this pandemic.

The countries we can all learn from, researchers say, include Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea. Their border policies are said to be consistent and crucially, integrated with strong domestic public health measures.

So while we wait for vaccinations, it seems an international vaccination passport will be rolled out very soon, maybe as early as Spring. A digital passport – a golden ticket to travel – could give privileged access to those who have been inoculated. But what are the ethical and scientific concerns of such a move?

The panel with the answers include Kelley Lee, Professor of Public Health at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada who is leading an international project to assess cross border health measures, Pandemics and Borders, Dr Voo Teck Chuan, Assistant Professor at the University of Singapore Centre for Biomedical Ethics and a member of the WHO Working Group on Ethics and Covid-19, Dr Birger Forsberg, Associate Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and senior physician and health planner at the regional health authority of Stockholm and Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics in the USA.

Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Sarah Hockley
access_time3 months ago
Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work.
access_time3 months ago
Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s nocturnal inhabitants to understand why it pays to stir once the sun goes down.

She examines some of the extraordinary nocturnal adaptations from the largest group of mammals, the bats, to the mysterious long fingered lemur, the Aye Aye, to hear why the dark has proved evolutionarily advantageous. In an increasingly crowded planet, could future survival for many diurnal animals depend on a nightlife?

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Picture: Honey Badger, Credit: Cindernatalie/Getty Images
access_time3 months ago
We humans are a supremely social species, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us into solitary confinement.

It feels like an unnatural, regressive move, that goes against our collective nature. So why do some species embrace the power of one? And how do they make a success of a solo existence?

Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s biggest loners - from the Komodo Dragon, to the Okapi and the Black Rhino - to explore the lure of solitude.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Picture: Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, Credit: Jiri Hrebicek/Getty Images
access_time3 months ago
You might think that sex is essential for life, but you'd be wrong!

Lucy Cooke travels to the Hawaiian island of Oahu to meet a community of mourning geckos - self-cloning sisters who have done away with males altogether.

An array of reptiles, amphibians and fish, along with a host of spineless wonders, from snails to spiders, can reproduce without sex. It's what biologists call parthenogenesis, from the Greek meaning “virgin birth”.

Many, like the mourning gecko, make great “weed” species. They're explosive opportunists capable of rapidly colonising new territory, as they don’t need to waste energy finding a mate. But without the mixing up of genes, that sex with a male provides, they are less able to adapt and change.

So sex pays if you don’t want to go extinct.

Yet there is one self-cloning sister that defies that theory - the Bdelloid Rotifer. Living for millions of years and comprising over 450 species, these microscopic water dwelling creatures have conquered the planet. They get around the drawbacks of no sex, by stealing genes, and escape disease by desiccating and then coming back to life.

Producer: Beth Eastwood

Picture: Female Komodo dragon at London Zoo, Credit: Matthew Fearn/PA
access_time3 months ago
News that at least three new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in three separate continents have sent a chill throughout the scientific community. All viruses mutate but the speed and scale of the changes and the fact they occurred independently, is seen as a wake-up call.

Genetic sequencing in South Africa first raised the alarm about the version of the virus that was racing through populations in the Eastern and then Western Cape.

Scientists at the country’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, KRISP, were struck by the sheer number of genetic mutations, many of which were on the all-important spike protein. This is where the virus binds to human cells and where neutralising antibodies, our immune system’s defences, also mount their defence. Any changes there, researchers knew, could be bad news.

Genetic sequencers in the UK also identified a new lineage which shares just some of the mutations in the South African variant. Named B.1.1.7 this version tore through populations in the South East of England and is now the dominant strain throughout the country and beyond. Latest estimates suggest is between 30 and 50% more infectious, although exactly how it is more transmissible is still being worked out.

In Brazil too, news earlier this month of another troubling variant, the P.1. tearing through populations in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, where so many were infected in the first wave of the pandemic. Like the version identified in South Africa, this variant also has mutation called E484K on the all-important spike protein. This could make the virus better at evading antibodies, with huge implications for re-infection rates and the new vaccines.

Claudia Hammond and her expert panel consider what the new shapeshifting virus means for the global goal of herd immunity and an end to the pandemic. And they answer your questions. Please do keep your virus queries coming in to and your question could be included in the next programme.

Claudia’s guests include Dr Richard Lessells, infectious diseases specialist from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and part of the team that identified the South African variant; Dr Muge Cevik, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and a member of the UK’s expert committee NERVTAG (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group); Dr Shane Crotty, Professor for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at la Jolla Institute for Immunology, University of California San Diego in the USA and Dr Margaret Harris from the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Donald McDonald and Tim Heffer
access_time4 months ago
When US health expert sighed last week that science could now speak again, his sense of relief was shared by many scientists. Since the start of the Trump administration, experts inside the US government's science agencies, and those outside working with them have felt their efforts sidelined. From the coronavirus effort to international relations and the border wall, Roland Pease hears from some of those who have felt shut out of the nation's science conversation these past four years.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Picture: U.S. President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security, credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
access_time4 months ago
Professor Dale Sanders has spent much of his life studying plants, seeking to understand why some thrive in a particular environment while others struggle. His ground breaking research on their molecular machinery showed how plants extract nutrients from the soil and store essential elements. Since plants can’t move, their survival depends on these responses. In 2020, after 27 years at the University of York, he became the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, one of the premier plant research institutions in the world. Meeting the food needs of a growing global population as the climate changes is a major challenge. And, Dale says, it’s not only about maximising yields. We need crops that are more resilient and more nutritious. Drought resistant crop varieties, for example. And zinc-rich white rice. Dale talks to Jim about how plant science is helping to feed the world in a sustainable way and why plant scientists don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
Producer: Anna Buckley
access_time4 months ago
Professor Andrew Fabian from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy has spent his career trying to unravel the mystery of how some of the most dramatic events in the universe can profoundly influence its evolution. For over 50 years he’s been examining our universe using X-ray satellites orbiting way above earth’s atmosphere . He’s built up compelling evidence that supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies are the engines that drive the movement of energy through the universe and provide the building blocks for the formation of new galaxies. They're extraordinary insights, for which he’s now been awarded the 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, one of the world's most prestigious science prizes.

Jim Al-Khalili hears how Andy gets to capture epic galactic events in motion to build up a picture of this vast ecosystem - and also how he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for discovering the deepest note in the universe – a B flat , 57 octaves below middle C.

Producer Adrian Washbourne
access_time4 months ago
Professor Heather Koldewey wants to protect our oceans from over-fishing and plastic pollution. An academic who is not content to sit back and let the science speak for itself, she wants to turn science into action and has found conservation allies in some unexpected places. Working with a carpet manufacturer, she created Net-Works, a business that turns old fishing nets into high-end carpet tiles and she has collaborated with Selfridges department store to give marine conservation a make-over. A research career that began studying the genetics of brown trout in Welsh rivers took her to the Philippines to save seahorses and a job running the aquarium at London Zoo. In 2018, she was made a National Geographic Fellow. Heather tells Jim Al-Khalili why, despite all the challenges to marine life, she remains an ‘ocean optimist’ and how she learned to drop her ‘scientific seriousness’.
access_time5 months ago
The year 2020 started with wildfires raging across parts of Australia, exceptional floods in East Africa, and a heatwave in the Arctic. Extremes persisted through the year in the north - where wild fires consumed record areas in Siberia, and the Arctic ice reached record lows. Death Valley saw the highest reliable temperature yet recorded on the planet, while the Atlantic saw the most active hurricane season on record. An extreme year by many measures, and one that could end up as the hottest on record globally. Roland Pease asks what it tells us about global warming.

Picture credit: Wegener Institute / Steffen Graupner
access_time5 months ago
Less than a year in, and the first vaccines are already being rolled out, with many more in the pipeline. It is an unprecedented scientific response to the global pandemic and researchers around the world have provided the first hope against one of the most formidable challenges facing humanity in a century.

Claudia Hammond and her expert panel of guests consider the scale of this herculean effort and answer listeners' questions about vaccine safety, trust, immunity, and long term protection.

The World Health Organisation has repeatedly said that no-one is safe until we are all safe, so the threat of vaccine nationalism and the purchase of millions of the first vaccine doses by rich countries is something that is concerning everybody worried about equitable vaccine distribution.

How will the COVAX facility, which is designed to boost vaccine purchasing power for the world's poorest countries, fare in the face of nationalistic purchasing - and will surplus doses be shared so that all seven point five billion of us can get protection?

And, finally, the scale of the threat from vaccine hesitancy. Any vaccine is only as good as the number of people who will take it to achieve herd immunity. The numbers of those suspicious about a potential Covid-19 vaccine have grown over the course of the pandemic, causing real concern for governments around the world. How can people be reassured that vaccines are safe?

This month, Claudia's guests include Professor Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development in the USA, Professor Helen Rees, founder and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, Kalipso Chalkidou, Professor of Practice in Global Health at Imperial College, London and Director of Global Health Policy at the Centre for Global Development and Dr Ève Dubé, a medical anthropologist from the Institute of Public Health in Quebec, Canada.

Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Tim Heffer and Giles Aspen

Picture: Covid-19 Vaccination Clinics Open In Surrey, UK, Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images
access_time5 months ago
It’s amazing what we can learn from a pile of old bones. Having worked as a paediatric surgeon for several years (often doing the ward round on roller blades), Alice Roberts spent a decade teaching anatomy to medical students and studying human remains. A niche interest in the collar bone and how it has changed since we evolved from the common ancestor we share with other apes 6 million years ago, led her to some of the biggest questions in science. Who are we? And where do we come from? She is the presenter of several landmark TV series on human evolution and archaeology, such as The Incredible Human Journey and Digging for Britain. And in 2019 she became President of the British Science Association. In conversation with Jim Al Khalili, Alice shares her passion for the bones of our ancient ancestors and of the freshly dead, and describes her own incredible journey from a basement full of medieval bones to an eminent science communicator and public figure.

Producer: Anna Buckley
access_time5 months ago
Steve Haake has spent much of his career using technology to help elite sports people get better, faster and break records. He has turned his hand to the engineering behind most sports, from studying how golf balls land, to designing new tennis racquets and changing the materials in ice skates. He’s now Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and was the Founding Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre there.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, Steve has also been working to improve the health and wellbeing of all of us. As Chair of the Parkrun Research Board he’s heavily involved in this international phenomenon in which thousands of people have sprinted, jogged and stumbled around a 5-kilometre course on Saturday mornings, which he’s shown really does encourage people to be generally more active.

Jim al-Khalili talks to Steve Haake about how he got from a physics degree to being one of the leading sports engineers in the world, and how we can all improve our health by moving more.
access_time5 months ago
Is there a point in space where the Sun could heat a burrito perfectly? asks Will. The doctors tackle this and a plethora of other conundrums from the Curious Cases inbox.

Featuring expert answers from astrophysicist Samaya Nissanke, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, and cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time5 months ago
Today I learnt that tigons and ligers are what you get when lions and tigers interbreed?!’ surprised listener Jamz G tells the doctors. ‘What determines whether species can interbreed?’

Geneticist Aoife McLysaght studies molecular evolution. She explains the modern definition of a species, built on ideas from Aristotle, Linnaeus and Darwin: a species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. Hybrids – such as ligons and tigers – are usually infertile, because their common ancestors long ago diverged into the lions and tigers we know today. However, this definition isn’t absolute, and there are many ways a new species can be formed.

Hybrids also offer rich study subjects for scientists. Mathematical biologist Kit Yates discusses why he’s been reading research papers about hebras and zorses (horse x zebra) as their patterns offer insights into how cells spread and develop into organisms, building on a prediction made by codebreaking mathematician Alan Turing.

And it turns out that these hybrids are even more intriguing. As speciation and evolution expert Joana Meier explains, hybrids are not always infertile. Hybridisation can lead to successful new species arising, such as in Lake Victoria’s cichlid fish, who it seems have been having a wild evolutionary party for the last 15,000 years. And the picture gets even murkier when we discover that modern genetics reveals our human ancestors successfully mated with Neanderthals.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time6 months ago
Millions of us, across the world, are subject to curfews, stay-at-home orders and lockdowns but what makes us stick to the rules, bend them or ignore them altogether? Claudia Hammond and her expert panel of guests consider the psychology of following the rules.

Leading social psychologists share research which show that higher levels of trust in leadership translates to more pandemic guidance followed. A sense of “We” not “I”, a shared identity, makes a difference too, as well as identification with the whole of humankind, not just your immediate family.

But there is danger too, from a “narrative of blame”, where individuals are demonised if they break the rules. Such an approach, Claudia hears, is corrosive to the all-important sense of shared identity and alienates some groups, while making others complacent.

Also in the programme, what impact can rapid “have you got it” antigen tests which give results in minutes, rather than days, have on the virus?

Claudia hears from the Cameroon in Central, West Africa, one of the first countries in the world to try mass testing using these rapid diagnostic tests. And she talks to scientists at the forefront of evaluating and modelling how their use could affect transmission of the virus, and daily life for all of us, until a vaccine is available.

This month, Claudia’s panel of specialists answers BBC World Service listeners’ questions and includes Professor Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in USA, Dr Margaret Harris, from the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at St Andrews University in Scotland, Professor Rolf Van Dick, social psychologist and Vice President of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and Dr Jilian Sacks, senior scientific officer for Pandemic Preparedness for FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in Geneva.
access_time6 months ago
Everyone knows about the Big Bang being the beginning of the universe and time - but when and how is it going to end? ask brothers Raffie and Xe from Rome. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. The doctors sift science from philosophy to find out.

Cosmologist Jo Dunkley studies the origins and evolution of the universe. She explains how astrophysical ideas and techniques have evolved to tell us what we now know about our galaxy and far beyond, from the elegant parallax technique to standard candles. This particular distance measure, which uses stars of a known brightness to work out how far away other objects in the universe are, was discovered by American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in 1912, who worked at the Harvard University as one of several “computers” – women who processed and calculated data and made significant contributions to astronomy.

Curious Cases’ universal guru Andrew Pontzen puts this into context. Because the universe is so enormous, it turns out that these measurements are just the first steps on the cosmic distance ladder – a suite of tools that astrophysicists use to determine distances to celestial objects. Scientists know that objects are moving away from us because the wavelengths of light from them get stretched and appear redder in our telescopes – the so-called red shift effect. But having a handle on the distances to and between those objects allows cosmologists to monitor what’s happening to them over time. And it turns out that not only are they getting further apart, indicating that the universe is expanding, but that this process is accelerating.

So what might happen in the end? Expansion and then collapse – a big crunch? Expansion into the void – a big freeze, or a big rip? Or what if there is more than one universe – might a new one bubble up with totally different laws of physics that would cause our own to cease existing? It turns out that when dealing with predictions for something involving infinite space and time, the possibilities are largely limited by human imagination alone. Ideas are where science starts, but experiments are required to build evidence confirming or rejecting them as fact. The doctors discuss how gravitational wave detectors and quantum computers might one day provide this.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time6 months ago
Autism is a lifelong condition, often seen as particularly ‘male’. Yet a growing number of women, and those assigned female at birth, are being diagnosed as autistic in their 30s, 40s, 50s - and beyond. Writer and performer Helen Keen is one of them, and she’s found this diagnosis has helped her make sense of many aspects of her life, from growing up with selective mutism, to struggling to fit in as a young adult. In this programme Helen asks why she, like a growing number of others, had to wait till she was well into adulthood before finding her place on the autistic spectrum. She discovers that for many years psychologists believed that autism was rarely seen in women and non-binary people. Now it is accepted that people often display autistic traits in different ways, for example, they may learn to ‘camouflage’ and behave in a neurotypical way - but at what cost? Helen talks to others like her who have had late diagnoses and finds out if knowing they are on the autistic spectrum has given them insight into how they can navigate the pressures on them from contemporary society. She also explores how we can value and celebrate neurodiversity.

Helen also talks to psychologists Professor Francesca Happé , of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience in London, and Dr Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University about their research into autism.

Picture: Geometric camouflage pattern, Credit: Yuri Parmenov/Getty Images
access_time6 months ago
As large areas of the world have locked down this year, many of us have become more aware of the birdsong around us. The relative silence has allowed us to listen in. But scientists have known for several years that the birds themselves have been responding to human noise too, by pitching their songs and other calls higher, to be heard over the rumble of our urban life.

There are several ways in which birds can adapt how they communicate in the face of environmental pressures, but what are the limits to these adaptations? And what can this tell us about how to maximise conservation efforts in the future? Rory Crawford talks to ornithologists and animal behaviourists studying bird species around the world. He finds out how the advance of technology is helping researchers explore birds’ preferences and behaviours in the wild, and hears how one particular bird changed its song, and the new version rapidly spread across North America – “the most viral tweet of all time”, as it’s been called!

Picture: A Robin [Erithacus rubecula], Credit: Gary Chalker/Getty Images
access_time6 months ago
Claudia Hammond asks if touch can be replicated digitally? What devices exist already and how likely are we to use them?
Michael Banissy, co-creator of the Touch Test, neuroscientist David Eagleman and researcher Carey Jewitt look at the possibilities for touch technologies in the future. David has developed a wristband that translates sound into touch for deaf people, Carey looks at the ethics of digital touch and Michael reveals the attitudes from the Touch Test towards digital technologies. If we could replicate the feeling of holding a loved one's hand in hospital would it really be the same? And dancer Lisa May Thomas talks about her experience of extending touch into space and through virtual reality.
access_time6 months ago
As a surge of cases risks overwhelming health services in parts of Europe, Claudia Hammond and experts from around the world examine the evidence behind using lockdowns to supress the virus.

Lockdowns describe a huge range of actions that many governments took in the first wave of the pandemic when so little was known about where the virus was circulating. But full lockdowns are seen as very blunt tools, a last resort because they can have enormous social and economic consequences.

Instead a more targeted, localised, smarter response to slow down transmission is recommended, where data about virus circulation informs focussed interventions.

Also in the programme, The Great Barrington Declaration earlier this month called for an end to current lockdown policies and appealed for the vulnerable to receive “focussed protection” while everybody else “should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”. The goal, the group of scientists said, should be to minimise deaths and social harm, until herd immunity, or population immunity, is reached.

The World Health Organisation has described such a strategy as dangerous and counterproductive. Claudia’s guests discuss the scientific and ethical issues raised and consider the scale of global exposure to this novel virus. So far only around 10% of the world’s population have been infected so what would a policy of herd immunity in the absence of a vaccine mean for the remaining 90%?

Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists, which this month includes Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Response; Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist and Chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee for Covid-19; Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the signatories to the John Snow Memorandum; epidemiologist Tove Fall, Professor at Uppsala University in Sweden running the Covid-19 symptom app and virologist Professor Steven Van Gucht, from Sciensano, the Belgian national institute for public and animal health.

The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection.
Production team: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons
Studio engineer: Jackie Margerum
Editor: Deborah Cohen
access_time7 months ago
Claudia Hammond looks at the neuroscience behind our sense of touch. Why does a gentle touch from a loved one make us feel good? This is a question that neuroscientists have been exploring since the late 1990's, following the discovery of a special class of nerve fibres in the skin. There seems to be a neurological system dedicated to sensing and processing the gentle stroking you might receive from a parent or lover or friend, or that a monkey might receive from another grooming it. Claudia talks to neuroscientists Victoria Abraira, Rebecca Bohme, Katerina Fotopoulou and Francis McGlone who all investigate our sense of emotional touch, and she hears from Ian Waterman who lost his sense of touch at the age of eighteen.
access_time7 months ago
Claudia Hammond explores unwanted touch and who we do and don’t mind touching us – and where. She draws on insights from the largest study that’s ever been conducted on the topic of touch – The Touch Test - commissioned by Wellcome Collection. Almost forty thousand people from all over the world chose to take part. Claudia discusses where we draw the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable touch, at work or in the street, with Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner, Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and the author of “Rape - a History”, and Dr Natalie Bowling, a psychologist at the University of Greenwich who co-created the Touch Test and has been crunching the numbers. After #meToo and Covid, could unwanted touch even become a thing of the past?
access_time7 months ago
Claudia Hammond explores our experience of touch hunger, and asks if we have enough touch in our lives. Covid-19 and social distancing have changed how most people feel about touch but even before the pandemic there was a concern about the decrease of touch in society. Claudia and Professor Michael Bannissy of Goldsmiths, University of London, discuss the results of the BBC Touch Test, an online questionnaire that was completed by around 40 000 people from 112 countries. Professor Tiffany Field, Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and Merle Fairhurst, Professor of Biological Psychology at Bundeswehr University Munich, reveal their findings about the impact of touch hunger and how to overcome it.

John grew up during the Second World War and endured a lack of touch in his childhood. He relates how in adult life he overcame this absence of touch and why touch remains so important to him. And left isolating in London during lock down, flatmates B and Z came up with a plan to stay healthy with a 6 o’clock hug. Hugging releases a mix of anti-stress chemicals that can lower the blood pressure, decrease anxiety and help sleep.
access_time7 months ago
Drought is a massive problem for Chile. Jane Chambers has been living in the capital Santiago for more than ten years and has seen huge changes in that time. It used to rain frequently in the winter months between June and September and the Andes Mountains which run down the whole of Chile were snow-capped all year round. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Jane reports on the impact of the mega drought on the country and what is being done about it. She talks to climate scientists Sebastian Vicuna, Director of the Global Change Research Centre, at the Catholic University of Chile and to Rene Garreaud, a Professor in the Geophysics Department at University of Chile and Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Resilience Research, about whether the megadrought is the result of natural weather patterns or of climate change. She meets farmers who are struggling to find pasture for their goats in the village of Til Til, and Francisco Meza, a Professor in the department of agriculture and forestry at the Catholic University in Santiago, who is helping agriculture adapt to low rainfall. And Jane hears about ways to increase the availability of drinking water through small-scale desalination and by capturing moisture from the air.

Picture: Flows of rivers and reservoirs have reached historic minimums in Chile. A severe drought is hitting the country's central area, making local communities more vulnerable to face the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)
access_time8 months ago
What’s the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace?

Ecologist Serian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think.

However, much remains unknown about wasps’ contribution to our ecosystem. Serian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned.

But in some parts of the world UK wasp species have become a major problem. Just after World War II, having unwittingly chosen some aircraft parts destined for New Zealand as their overwintering home, some wasp queens woke up in the city of Hamilton. With no natural predators or competitors, they quickly established a growing population. Fast forward to today, and by late summer the biomass of wasps becomes greater than all the birds, rodents and stoats in the southern island’s honeydew beech forests. Multiyear nests have been discovered that are over three metres tall and contain millions of wasps. Researcher Bob Brown is digging into wasp nests back in the UK to discover which species keep wasps in check here, and whether they might work as biological control.

This causes the doctors to ponder the problems of humans moving species around the planet. Accidental or even well-meaning introductions all too often become invasive. As climate change and urbanisation accelerate, wasps may become more helpful in some ways and more harmful in others.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time8 months ago
Claudia Hammond and experts from around the world consider the evidence behind schools, colleges and coronavirus spread. Listeners from India, Cuba, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, France, the USA pitch their questions to the specialists.

Research so far shows a low risk of transmission but as children and young people return to classrooms across the globe, will that remain the case?

And Claudia and the team look at that vital role of “test, trace and isolate” when it comes to SARS-CoV-2, something the World Health Organisation describes as the backbone of any Covid-19 response.

Which countries are getting this right and what can others learn from the best? New research comparing six countries from Europe, Africa and Asia highlights the successes and the failures.

Plus Kat, a nurse from Kansas City, Missouri gives a first hand account of pandemic response in the USA and then, when she moved to Germany in the summer, from Stuttgart.

On the panel are Dr Regina Osih, an infectious disease and public health specialist from the Aurum Institute in South Africa who’s working on the country’s Covid response, Dr Young June Choe, paediatrician and assistant professor at Hallym University in South Korea, Gail Davey, Professor of Global Health Epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England, David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from France and Dr Margaret Harris from the WHO in Geneva.

The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection.
Production team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Studio engineers: Matilda Macari and Tim Heffer
Editor: Deborah Cohen
access_time8 months ago
Could you make a machine to make it rain in minutes?" asks listener Alexander from Hampshire, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Rutherford and Fry dive into the clouded story of weather modification.

First, we need to decide where and when we might deploy any rain machine. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological society, takes us through the science, maths and art of predicting the weather. Hannah heads down to the BBC Weather Centre to meet meteorologist Helen Willetts, who takes us through the highs and lows of forecasting.

And then for the technology itself. Mark Miodownik, scientist and author of Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances The Flow Through Our Lives, reveals that a technique called cloud seeding has almost certainly been tried in different places around the world for decades. But, whilst it’s supposed to induce showers and even clear the way for sunny spells, the results aren’t always reliable. And even if we can make it rain, Liz explains why messing with the weather may be at our peril.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time8 months ago
Why do our tummies rumble - and when they do, does it always mean we are hungry?" asks listener James, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. To get to the bottom of this noisy problem, the doctors tune in to our guts.

Geneticist Giles Yeo studies food intake and obesity. He explains the wavy workings of our digestive system, and how those audible rumbles are a sign that digestion is taking place – a phenomenon thought to be onomatopoeically named 'borborygmi' by the ancient Greeks, and explored further in the gruesome 19th century experiments of surgeon William Beaumont.

However, tuning in to the gut’s sounds can tell us more than whether we need a snack. Family doctor Margaret McCartney takes us through the process of how and why she and her medical colleagues may use a stethoscope to listen to your abdomen for both particular noises and silence.

Microbiologist Barry Marshall has taken medical listening one step further in his Noisy Guts Project. Inspired by microphones used to listen for termites hiding in walls, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist is trialling an acoustic belt, which could be worn to help diagnose and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
access_time8 months ago
In February 2021, three spacecraft will arrive at Mars. One is the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter - the first interplanetary probe sent by the Arab world. Tianwen-1 will be China’s first mission to reach Mars – an ambitious bid to put both a probe into orbit and a small robot on the Martian surface. But the most sophisticated of all is the United States’ Mars 2020 mission. If all goes well, it will land a car-sized robotic rover on the rocky floor of a vast crater that contained a lake more than 3.7 billion years ago. The rover, named Perseverance, will spend years surveying the geology of Jerezo crater and using a battery of new instruments to examine the rocks for any evidence that life existed in the ancient lake. It will also be the first mission to extract rock samples and package them up for eventual return to Earth, sometime in the 2030s. Andrew Luck-Baker talks to NASA’s deputy project scientist Katie Stack-Morgan and mission manager Keith Comeaux, planetary scientists Melissa Rice and Sanjeev Gupta, and astrobiologist Mark Sephton.
access_time9 months ago
Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to Liz Seward, Senior Space Strategist for Airbus Defence and Space. Liz's young interest in Science Fiction led to a career designing spacecraft and robots for exploring our own earth, other planets, and the stars.

From a library in the US where the science fiction section stood next to the children's section, Liz took inspiration from Robert A. Heinlien and Arthur C. Clarke through a degree in Physics and Space Science at the University of Leicester to begin a career at EADS Astrium (now part of Airbus), initially as a Thermal Engineer. As Liz explains to Jim, thermal engineering lies at the heart of any successful space mission. Any metal box floating in space has to deal with the searing heat of the Sun on one side and the deep, deep freeze of the cosmos on the other. Engineering solutions to cope with these extremes means the difference between triumph and failure.

Liz has worked on several missions and international collaborations, including a design for a landing (since de-scoped) on Mercury aboard the current BepiColombo mission due to arrive at Mercury in 2025, and the experimental Aeolus satellite that currently keeps our weather forecasters up to speed on global wind dynamics.

A large part of Liz's career was spent with the ESA Martian rover, named Rosalind Franklin, which should have been on its way to the red planet this summer, but has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nowadays at Airbus, Liz works on the strategy of maximizing commercial potential in space, whilst abiding by issues of responsibility around exploration, pollution, and even space traffic management. What if a launch to Mars collides with a long dead weather satellite on its way there? Or that the first detection of life on Mars turns out to be a cold virus from Stevenage?

But as she explains to Jim, miniaturization and cheaper launches suggest a bright future for human activity in space. And one day, it may include vertical satellite launches from Scotland, and even passenger flights from Cornwall.
access_time9 months ago
Emma Bunce, Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics at the University of Leicester, was inspired to study the solar system as a child by a TV programme that featured Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune. She has spent the last 20 years focusing on the magnetic fields around the outer planets, in particular that of Jupiter. The Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind to create aurorae, the spectacular Northern lights. Emma’s discovered how aurorae are also produced at Jupiter's poles.

Emma Bunce talks to Jim al-Khalili about her fascination with the gas giants, why she has to be patient to check out her theories as missions to the planets are few and far between and how she'd love to work on a spacecraft to Neptune. And in the year when the Royal Astronomical Society marks its 200th anniversary, Emma explains why she's taken on the role of its President.
access_time9 months ago
Long before most of us gave air pollution a second thought, Frank Kelly was studying the impact of toxic particles on our lungs. In a pioneering set of experiments on human volunteers in northern Sweden, he proved that pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and particulates, are harmful to our health. And he is the driving force behind an air quality monitoring system in London that is the envy of the world.

When in the late 1990s, the UK government was encouraging us all to buy diesel cars to help reduce our carbon emissions, he warned that while diesel engines might be less bad for the planet than petrol engines, they were more damaging to our health. Later Frank and his team provided evidence that the car manufacturers were not telling the truth about emissions from diesel vehicles.

As the chair of the Government Medical Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, he has worked tirelessly to try and move air pollution up the political agenda and worked closely with successive Mayors of London to improve air quality in the capital. Changing all the buses from diesel to hybrid or electric vehicles would make a huge difference, he says. But we will also need to get used to relying less on driving our cars to get us from A to B.
Presented by Jim Al-Khalili.
access_time9 months ago
Emily’s grandad worked on the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. Could another man – Leo Szilard - have stopped it? This is the new series from the BBC World Service – search for The Bomb wherever you get your podcasts.
access_time9 months ago
Shark, bear and crocodile attacks tend to make the headlines but humans fall prey to a much wider variety of predators every year, from big cats and snakes, to wolves, hyenas and even eagles that’ve been known to snatch the odd child. The details can be grim and gory as many predators have developed specific techniques for hunting us humans down. But it was always so, as biologist Professor Adam Hart discovers. Archaeological evidence suggests early hominins in Africa were more hunted than hunter, spending much of their lives scavenging for food and fending off attacks from the likes of sabre-tooth-cats and giant hyenas. Much more recently, legends abound about some of the more infamous serial killers of the animal kingdom, such as the 'man-eaters' of Tsavo and Njombe - the latter, a pride of about 15 lions in Tanzania who, it is claimed were responsible for an astonishing 1500 deaths between 1932 and 1947.

Today, estimates and sources vary but most suggest carnivorous predators are responsible for hundreds if not thousands of human deaths every year. But how much of this is active predation and how much is mistaken identity or sheer bad luck? Adam speaks to experts in human-wildlife conflict dedicated to reducing attacks on both humans and predators in Africa and India, where the tensions between protecting agricultural interests and preserving predator habitats are most problematic. He discovers the grim reality for many poor rural populations dealing with the sharp end of living in close proximity to large carnivores and discusses the potential solutions for driving down attacks on both humans and predators that are caught up in the struggle for survival. Closer to home, Adam meets a wolf-tracker, who helps to monitor wild wolf populations that have spread up through Italy and France, attacking livestock with increasing confidence. Could humans be on the menu next?

Producer: Rami Tzabar

(Picture credit: Evgeny555/Getty Images)
access_time9 months ago
Adam Rutherford celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary scientific endeavours of all time - the Human Genome Project.

Its scope and scale was breath-taking, set up to read every one of the 3 billion nucleotides, or letters of genetic information, contained within the DNA in every cell of the human body. It took seven years, hundreds of scientists, cost almost $3 billion and, amazingly, came in under budget and on time.

Adam reflects back on that momentous time with Ewan Birney, Director of the European Bio-informatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Twenty years ago, he was a PhD student working on the project, in the months leading up to the first draft.

The Human Genome Project underpins many branches of science, from human evolution and synthetic biology to forensic genetics and ancestry testing. But a key motivation for the project was to alleviate human suffering. While the ‘cures’, hyped by the media back in 2000, were not realistic our understanding of disease has been revolutionised.

Adam talks to Cancer Research UK Scientist, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from Cambridge University, who explains why the sequencing of the human genome has been so crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Human Genome Project is also playing a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kenneth Baillie has been treating critically ill patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary since the pandemic started. As the Lead on GenOMICC, a global collaboration on genetics and critical illness, he has joined forces with Genomics England and the NHS, to pinpoint genetic signals in these patients to help identify the best treatments.

Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts

Picture: DNA Genetic Code Colorful Genome, Credit: ktsimage/Getty Images
access_time10 months ago
Brian Greene studies the universe at the largest and smallest scales imaginable. When he was just twelve years old, Brian wandered round Columbia University in New York looking for someone to teach him mathematics, with a letter of recommendation from his school teacher. While his mother wanted him to make money, his father encouraged Brian to pursue his passion, which was trying to understand the nature of the universe.

He studied physics at Harvard University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. While at Oxford he learnt about a bold new Theory of Everything which predicts that the universe is made not of particles but rather tiny strings which vibrate in multiple dimensions. Now a Professor at Columbia University, he has worked on string theory ever since.

He talks to Jim Al-Khalili about the rise and fall of string and superstring theory and why when he first started to think about what would happen to the universe at the end of time, he experienced a feeling of ‘hollow dread’.