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Science in Action

BBC

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The latest science research and news stories from all over the world.
205 Episodes Play All Episodes
Africa%E2%80%99s+oldest+burial
access_time1 day ago
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.





(Image: An artist’s interpretation of Mtoto’s burial Credit: Fernando Fueyo)



Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Melting+glaciers%2C+warming+coffee+and+a+Dragonfly+on+Titan
access_time8 days ago
When Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins – who passed away this week – looked down on the earth from lunar orbit during those days in 1969, he saw more ice and a smaller liquid ocean than you would see today. Of the 200,000 glaciers outside of the polar and Greenland ice sheets, their melting in the last two decades accounts for about a fifth of the sea level rise we are also seeing. Thus according to a paper published this week in the journal nature by, amongst others Bob McNabb of Ulster University who describes to Roland how and why these numbers are more certain than others before. As fellow earth observation expert Anna Hogg adds, the work synthesises years of data from almost half a million images of glaciers taken from space, and provides our best handle yet on our accelerating loss of this finite and dwindling natural feature.

Researchers at Kew in the UK and in Sierra Leone have rediscovered a species of coffee plant once thought lost. As Marnie Chesterton reports, climate change threatens many coffee crops around the world as the most popular variety – arabica – needs cool high altitude conditions which are going to become more scarce. But after a long and arduous search, the researchers have discovered a more resilient variety that might not only save the morning brew for many, it may even prove agriculturally and even economically transformative for some African economies.

And whilst many of us watch the antics of NASA’s Martian helicopter, Ingenuity, as it whizzes across the distant plains of “Wright’s Field” aerodrome on Mars, some are watching with more trepidation than others. In 6 years’ time, Zibi Turtle, Principle Investigator of NASA’s Dragonfly mission, hopes to launch a much larger octocopter drone to Titan, moon of Saturn. As she describes to Roland, the challenges are huge, not least because dragonfly will carry all its instruments on board as it hops around, finding new landing sites autonomously. And communicating with Earth will take a whopping hour each way.



(Image: The lunar module, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, ascends back up to the command module with Michael Collins. It is often said that Michael Collins is the only human, living or dead, who is not in this photograph.
Credit: Michael Collins / NASA)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Exponential+growth+in+the+Indian+Covid+cases
access_time15 days ago
As Covid cases surge almost beyond belief in India, how much is to do with social distancing, and how much to do with the mutations to the original virus?

Ramanan Laxminarayan talks to Roland from Delhi about ways in which the huge second wave could and could not have been predicted and avoided. Suggestions of the latest variant to make the headlines, B1.617, have got virologists such as Ravindra Gupta working hard to identify the clinical significance of the latest combinations of mutations.

In the journal Science, Stephen Chanock of the US Cancer program reports work with colleagues in Ukraine looking at the long footprint of radiation dosing from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, 35 years ago this week. In the first of two papers, they find a definite footprint of radiation damage accounting for the many sad cases of thyroid cancer in people alive in the region at the time. But in another study, they looked at whether any higher level of mutations could be detected in the germlines of children conceived subsequently to parents who had experienced radiation in the disaster. While the parents' own health is often affected, 35 years on, thus far their offspring show no widespread elevated levels of disease, as was commonly expected.

And in the week that the world witnessed a guilty verdict delivered in the trial for the murder of George Floyd in the US, David Curtis of the University of Utah and colleagues report in the journal PNAS a study that suggests the widespread media coverage of acts of racial violence, including deaths at the hands of police, leads to poorer mental health in Black Americans. As the BBC’s Samara Linton reports, the study involved google search data over five years up to 2017, and nearly 2.3 million survey respondents.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Reporter: Samara Linton
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Rolling+out+the+vaccines+faster
access_time22 days ago
Two weeks ago several G7 leaders called for an international treaty on Pandemic Preparedness for the future. This week 175 prominent leaders called for lifting the IP on vaccine design. And former UK PM Gordon Brown called on the G7 to finance vaccines for the world in the next two months. But are there technical difficulties that limit the pace of manufacture?

Anthony McDonnell is an economist at think tank Centre for Global Development who has been looking at the problem since last year. He suggests, amongst other things, one limit is the human expertise in manufacturing these brand-new technologies, with another being a level of vaccine nationalism that is seeing a lack of exports of components involved in manufacture.

Professor Trudie Lang heads the University of Oxford’s Global Health Network, and looks at health research across the world. She says in most countries there is no lack of public health or infrastructure potential for rolling out the vaccines, if only the supply existed.

The volcano that erupted explosively on St Vincent last week has led to many thousands of people being evacuated. Dr Joan Latchman of the University of West Indies Seismic Research Centre - who has monitored Caribbean volcanos for several decades - describes from Trinidad how the layers of ash mean recovery will take a long time, even if the explosions and pyroclastic dangers subside reasonably soon. Back in The UK, Prof Jenni Barclay and colleagues are examining rocks from the early part of the eruption, before the explosive phase began, to see if there are clues in the microstructure that could provide clues to the future.

And how do our brains so quickly tell a scream of delight from a scream of horror? Or of pain? Prof Sascha Frühholz of the University of Geneva has written in the journal PLOS Biology this week about work looking at how we identify the nature of different human screams. One finding is that we perceive joy quicker than fear..



(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
On+the+trail+of+rare+blood+clots
access_time29 days ago
On Wednesday the EU’s EMA and UK’s JCVI announced a suspected correlation between vaccination and an extremely rare type of blood clot. Prof Sabine Eichinger is a co-author of a new paper suggesting a link with vaccination or the immune response to Covid vaccination and suggests the name VIPIT for the condition. One of her patients died at the end of February having presented with a rare combination of symptoms – blood clots and a low blood platelet count. Sabine tells Roland the dots they have managed to join in the story so far.

Scientists at Fermilab in the USA posted four papers and announced an exciting development in particle physics that might lift the curtain on science beyond the Standard Model. Their measurement of something known as g-2 (“gee minus two”, just fyi), by measuring with phenomenal accuracy the magnetic properties of muons flying round in circles confirms a 20-year old attempt at a similar value by colleagues at Brookhaven. At the time, it was breathtaking but suspicious. Muons, rather like heavy electrons, don’t quite behave as the Standard Model might have us believe, hinting at fields and possibly particles or forces hitherto unknown. Dr. Harry Cliffe – a member of the LHCb team who found something similarly weird two weeks ago - describes the finding and the level of excitement amongst theorists worldwide.

Superfans around the world have learned to speak fluent Klingon, a fictional language originating from Star Trek. In a quest to understand the science behind these languages often dismissed as gobbledygook, Gaia Vince has been speaking to some of the linguists responsible for creating these languages. It’s time for her to relax the tongue, loosen those jaw muscles and wrap her head around the scientific building blocks embedded in language and what languages like Klingon tell us about prehistoric forms of communication.

Meanwhile, primatologist Edward Wright of the Max Plank Institute has been hanging out with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and recording the sound of their “chest clapping”. As he describes in the journal Scientific Reports his work confirms what scientists have long suspected - that the famous gesture - often portrayed in films - is a measure of size and strength - allowing communication in the dense, tropical forests in which the animals live.



Image: Platelets, computer illustration. Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Post-Covid+outcomes+after+release+from+hospital
access_time1 month ago
After last year’s first wave of covid-19 in the UK, individuals who had been discharged after hospitalisation suffered higher rates of coronary and respiratory disorders, and even diabetes subsequently over 140 days. As Dr Ami Banerjee of University College London explains, out of 48,000 cases, patients who had had acute covid-19 were four times more likely to be readmitted and 8 times more likely to die. Ami’s team suggests in their paper published in the British Medical Journal that diagnosis, treatment and prevention of post-covid syndrome needs an integrated approach.

In France, researcher Xavier Montagutelli describes how his team has observed that unlike the original virus, some of the newer Variants of Concern can infect mice in laboratories. They do not show serious illness, but nevertheless host the virus in their lungs. Whilst infection is unlikely in natural environments and not yet observed in the wild, it does show how the viral variants can extend the host range, perhaps leading to more opportunities for mutation. But this finding, posted as a pre-print, also perhaps represents an avenue for deeper gene-specific research that has not so far been possible.

Over in Colombia, Monica Carvalho of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute describes her team’s findings regarding the origins of the diversity and habitat of rainforests in south America. Looking at leaf fossils and pollen grains from 60 million years ago, they have found significant differences between the forests of the dinosaurs, and the ones we see today. As they write in the journal Science, it all changed when the Chixulub meteor hit the Gulf of Mexico and the global lights went out. The rainforests that grew back were simply not the same.

But much further back in time, some billion years ago, the forests of the world that were changing the chemistry and making seas inhabitable allowing complex multicellular life, consisted of pencil-lead sized algae quietly photosynthesizing in the shallows of an ocean in what is today remote Canada. Katie Maloney of University of Toronto Mississauga spotted fossils of just these when out on a field trip in Yukon territory. Publishing in Geology Magazine this week, her eagle-eyed finds shed light on this crucial epoch in life history of which there are scant fossilized remains.

Image: Rainforest canopy
Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Science+on+the+side+of+a+new+volcano
access_time1 month ago
Sightseers and social media scrollers have flocked to the slopes of Fagradalsfjall, a volcano erupting 40 kilometres west of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. Having produced less than 1 square kilometre of lava this eruption could be deemed relatively minor, allowing bystanders to get up close and personal. Among the hubbub, you might also spot Dr Evgenia Ilyinskaya from University of Leeds, just one of the researchers measuring and observing the event from an alarmingly small distance. Her interest is more in the invisible toxic gases and trace elements being emitted from one of the deepest magma eruptions in recent times than the more cinematic molten rock.

This week scientists working on results from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN announced intriguing evidence (NB “evidence” – not yet a definite discovery) of physics beyond our current understanding. Everything we can detect directly in the universe is made from a few basic building blocks, fundamental particles. These particles are governed by four universal fundamental forces. Our best understanding of these forces and particles are sewn together in the Standard Model of particle physics. Since the 1970s this model has been able to explain most of our experimental results, but not all. Professor Gudrun Hiller from Technische Universität Dortmund has been theorizing as to what sort of experiments might lead to evidence of where the model might be incomplete. And this week, she has reason to feel a little bit proud. As she and her fellow member of the LHCb consortium, Harry Cliff, explain, a mysterious asymmetry in the way certain quarks – beauty quarks – have been seen to decay could be pointing at a deeper, more sophisticated, picture of the nature of the universe. Theorists are theorizing all around the world: could this be a new class of particle called a “leptoquark” that mediates a whole new type of force?

The new results have been submitted for publication in the journal Nature, but have also been made public online in what is known as a “preprint”. Science publication has, for hundreds of years, been governed by peer-review. This process has prevented the wider community of scientists from accessing new scientific reports and papers unless vetted by a smaller number of fellow experts in the field. But this hasn’t been the case for all disciplines. “Preprints”, uncorrected proofs, have for some decades played a role in the publication process of physics and mathematics. In these fields, on the whole, lives are not at risk if mistakes get through to publication, but over the past year the practice of posting proofs to preprint servers is now common in the biomedical and life sciences, to accommodate the deluge of research being conducted on Covid-19. Might this be a problem? Or could it demonstrate the value of preprints? A new paper from Jonny Coates (also a preprint) and colleagues has looked at whether much changes on a biomedical or life-science preprint as it travels through peer-review towards conventional publication.

Image: Lava flows from Fagradalsfjall volcano in Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland
Credit: Kristinn Magnusson/mbl.is

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
International+science+at+sea
access_time2 months ago
In the UK thousands of scientists have signed open letters to the UK government protesting cuts to international funding announced this week. Abruptly and severely, the cuts may end hundreds of international collaborations between UK scientists and colleagues around the world working on health, climate change, disaster resilience, sustainability and many development topics.

Professor Jenni Barclay is a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia, and is one of the organisers of the protest. At the University of Cape Town, Dr Chris Trisos is the director of the Climate Risk Lab at the African Climate and Development Initiative, one of the authors of the IPCC 6th assessment, and has just learned his funding will be terminated, as the UK’s Royal Society must trim its output in this area by two thirds. Professor Otteline Leyser is CEO of UKRI – the UK’s main research funding agency, and will have to work out what will happen to over 900 projects currently under way.

Earlier this week German Research Vessel Polarstern released images from its remarkable circumnavigation of Antarctica’s latest iceberg, known as A74. This is the largest chunk of ice to break away from this sector of Antarctica since 1971, approaching the same size of Greater London. Dr Autun Purser describes a hair-raising voyage between the narrow gap left between eh berg and the shelf, including the first images of life that have spent at least 50 years in total darkness, hundreds of miles from the open sea.

Image: Polarstern between Brunt and iceberg A74, Antarctica
Credit: RalphTimmermann


Presented by Roland Pease
Produced by Alex Mansfield
A+shooting+star+parked+on+your+driveway
access_time2 months ago
Last week a fireball lit up the sky of western England. Locals and professionals scoured the countryside for any surviving precious fragments of meteorite, and thanks to them some bits of the earliest solar system are now in London’s Natural History Museum. And as an excited Sara Russell, Merit Researcher in Cosmic Mineralogy tells us, examples of carbonaceous chondrite – the soft, loamy type that fell in Winchcombe – such as this, are a rare and special chunk of luck.

10 years on from the Japanese Tsunami
Exactly a decade ago the disastrous huge wave caused by an earthquake at sea struck the coast of Japan, causing death and devastating consequences. The flood defences have been rebuilt to replace the ones swept away. But could new ways of spotting tsunamis beyond the horizon be, well, just over the horizon? Giovanni Occhipinti of the Paris Geophysics Institute tells Roland about his technique of looking at disruptions in the highest levels of the atmosphere - using the slight twinkle in a beam from a GPS or GNS satellite - to infer that a massive wave may be on its way.

Hacked EMA emails and mRNA vaccine stability
This week a piece in the British Medical Journal provides some insight into how the medical regulatory bodies scrutinised the novel RNA vaccines that were the science marvels of 2020. Investigative journalist Serena Tinari was one of the people who received anonymously a large, though selective, bundle of hacked emails and documents dating back to November copied from the servers of the European Medicines Agency. They make mention of concerns the Agency had over the levels of effective RNA contained in some batches of the industrially produced Pfizer Biontech Covid vaccine compared to the laboratory produced doses. The EMA did subsequently licence the vaccine - the problem having presumably been solved. However, as Serena describes, she was then surprised that the companies and agencies she and the BMJ approached would not tell her what the threshold was for adjudging acceptable levels, given as is well known, the fragility of mRNA and the need to store it carefully. They said it was commercially sensitive.

But as RNA researcher Prof Anna Blakney tells Science in Action, there are fascinating reasons why that might simply not be known, and also why precise accuracy likely doesn’t matter too much compared to the better-known clinical efficacy these vaccines continue to demonstrate.


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Studio Manager: Duncan Hannant


Image: Meteorite of carbonaceous chondrite found in Gloucestershire, England, UK
Credit: Anonymous
Uncovering+history+with+Little+Foot%27s+skull
access_time2 months ago
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.


(Image: Little Foot Skull. Copyright: Diamond Light Source Ltd)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Rory Galloway
Waste+not%2C+want+not
access_time2 months ago
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.


(Image: Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Weird+weather
access_time3 months ago
A paper in the BMJ shows that deaths from Covid 9 are being massively overlooked in Zambia. The new data come from post-mortem tests at the University Hospital mortuary in Lusaka, showing that at least 1 in 6 deaths there are due to the coronavirus; many of the victims had also been suffering from tuberculosis. Chris Gill of Boston University’s Department of Global Health, and Lawrence Mwananyanda, chief scientific officer of Right to Care, Zambia, discuss their findings with Roland Pease.

New variants of concern continue to be reported, such as the one labelled B 1 1 7 in the UK, or B 1 351 identified in South Africa. Geneticist Emma Hodcroft, of the University of Bern, talks about seven variants that have been found in the US. Although all these variants are evolving from different starting points, certain individual mutations keep recurring – which suggests they have specific advantages for the virus.
Her co-author Jeremy Kamil, of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, explains how he can watch the viruses replicating inside cells.

Much of the United States, as far south as Texas, and Eurasia, has been gripped by an extraordinary blast of Arctic weather. Roland hears from climatalogist Jennifer Francis, of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, about the Arctic’s role in this weird weather.

Life, in the form of sponges, has been discovered hundreds of metres under the thick ice surrounding Antarctica, where it’s dark, subzero and barren. The British Antarctic Survey’s Huw Griffiths reveals how it was spotted unexpectedly in pictures colleagues took with a sub-glacial camera.






(Image: A man walks to his friend's home in a neighborhood without electricity as snow covers the BlackHawk neighborhood in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S. Credit: Reuters)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Perseverance+approaches+Mars
access_time3 months ago
On 18th February the Perseverance rover should land on Mars. Katie Stack-Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab tells Roland Pease about the technological advances that mean that the spacecraft should be able to land in Jezero Crater. Imperial College geologist Sanjeev Gupta discusses what this crater can reveal about the history of life on the red planet.

After months of negotiations, and weeks of work on the ground, a team brought together by the World Health Organisation has just concluded its first attempts to find out the origins of SARS-Cov2 in Wuhan. Peter Daszak, who has worked closely with Chinese virologists in the past, briefed Roland Pease on what had been discovered.

The South African government has announced that it will not be rolling out the Astra Zeneca Covid vaccine as it appears it is not very effective against the dominant strain in the country. Helen Rees, of Witwatersrand University and a member of South Africa’s Health Products Regulatory Authority, explains that the ‘ban’ is an overstatement.

At least 35 people died in a flood disaster in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India on February 6th. The details are still unclear, but the trigger seems to be associated with a glacier overhanging an upstream lake in the steep valley. Rupert Stuart-Smith of Oxford University, who has just published an analysis of a glacier melting disaster in waiting in the Andes, talks about the impacts of climate change on the stability of mountain glaciers.


(Image: An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars.
Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Mixing+Covid+vaccines
access_time3 months ago
A new trial is about to start in the UK, seeing if different vaccines can be mixed and matched in a two-dose schedule, and whether the timing matters. Governments want to know the answer as vaccines are in short supply. Oxford University’s Matthew Snape takes Roland Pease through the thinking.

Despite the numbers of vaccines being approved for use we still need treatments for Covid-19. A team at the University of North Carolina is upgrading the kind of manufactured antibodies that have been used to treat patients during the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies. Lisa Gralinski explains how they are designing souped-up antibodies that’ll neutralise not just SARS-CoV-2, but a whole range of coronaviruses.

Before global warming, the big ecological worry that exercised environmentalists was acid rain. We’d routinely see pictures of forests across the world dying because of the acid soaking they’d had poisoning the soil. In a way, this has been one of environmental activism’s success stories. The culprit was sulphur in coal and in forecourt fuels – which could be removed, with immediate effect on air quality. But biogeochemist Tobias Goldhammer of the Leibniz Institute in Berlin and colleagues have found that sulphur, from other sources, is still polluting water courses.

There’s been debate over when and where dogs became man’s best friend. Geoff Marsh reports on new research from archaeology and genetics that puts the time at around 20,000 years ago and the place as Siberia.



(Image: Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
New+Covid+vaccine
access_time3 months ago
Researchers at Imperial College have been working on a strategy that can make RNA vaccines stretch further. Anna Blakely explains how the new approach works and why RNA vaccines are adaptable to a changing disease.
In January 2019 a dam collapsed in Brazil, spilling 10 million cubic metres of red sludge down nearby rivers, claiming the lives of at least 259 people. An engineering report into the collapse looked at data from safety sensors around the site, and said they’d not revealed any weakening of the dam prior to the failure. But a new study using data from Earth observing satellites has found signs of subtle movement starting weeks earlier. Stephen Grebby of Nottingham University and Roland Pease discuss this finding.
An international collaboration led by Kew Gardens has just set out a list of ten golden rules for maintaining and restoring forests. The main author, Kate Hardwick talks about why the rules are necessary and why it isn’t as simple as planting any old trees.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether being bilingual is good for the brain. Does knowing more than one language take up precious capacity that could be used for better things? Or does it sharpen it, all the better to take on more challenges? Dean d’Souza of Anglia Ruskin University has been addressing this question by comparing the behaviour of infants brought up in monolingual and multilingual homes.


(Image: Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Covid+transmission+and+masks
access_time4 months ago
President Biden’s first executive order was what’s being called the hundred-day mask mandate. The day before the inauguration a massive analysis of mask-wearing and COVID rates demonstrated a clear, if small, benefit. Epidemiologist Ben Rader told Roland Pease that it got over 300,000 opinions by using the online questionnaire, SurveyMonkey.

Northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild and there are just two females in captivity in Kenya. Conservationists are working on an artificial breeding programme, using eggs from the females and sperm from a deceased male. Now five embryos have been created. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin explained the research.

After the alarming series of record-breaking heatwaves last year, global warming is causing specific problems in the innumerable lakes around the world. Lakes are ecologically particularly vulnerable to extremes. The European Space Agency’s Yestyn Woolway has been analysing past trends, and modelling the future.

2020 delivered a record year in hurricanes, which caused around $60 billion dollars in damage to the US alone, according to one estimate. A new technology called Airborne Phased-Array Radar promises to improve the measurements that are currently made by planes that fly right into the eye of the hurricanes, and make the missions safe. It’s being developed at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research and Roland discussed the new technology with the Director of NCAR, Vanda Grubišić.






(Image; Najin and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhinos graze in their paddock. Credit: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)



Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Gravitational+waves+and+black+holes
access_time4 months ago
After collecting data for more than twelve years the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) announced it may have detected new kinds of gravitational waves caused by colliding supermassive black holes. Professor Chiara Mingarelli of the University of Connecticut tells Roland Pease why this is such an exciting discovery.

Supermassive black holes are at the heart of galaxies and they are the engines of quasars, the brightest light sources in the heavens that can be seen across the expanse of the Universe. A team including Professor Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona has identified the oldest quasar in the universe.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus looks much like bat coronaviruses, but the most likely route into humans involved some other infected animal. Roland talks to Dr Dalan Bailey of The Pirbright Institute about how he has been looking for possible intermediaries.

A new study that looks into the genetics of twins and their families in Iceland shows that identical twins aren’t really identical. Kari Stefansson of the Icelandic genome company, DeCode, explains that the differences can appear when the twins are at the embryonic stage.

(Image: Representative illustration of the Earth embedded in space-time which is deformed by the background gravitational waves and its effects on radio signals coming from observed pulsars.
Credit: Tonia Klein / NANOGrav)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
New+variants+of+SARS-Cov2
access_time4 months ago
Mutant strains of SARS-Cov2 have been identified not only in the UK, where it was first identified, but also in at least 30 other countries. And to complicate matters, another alarming variant, with some similar mutations, has arisen in South Africa. Roland Pease talks to Ravi Gupta, a virologist at Cambridge University and Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu Natal about these new strains.

There’s only so much that can be learned about the virus by looking at the patients it infects. Thanks to techniques developed to study HIV, Ebola, flu and other viruses in the past, researchers have methods for growing key parts of viral structures in the lab and watching closely how they behave in cell cultures. Jeremy Luban of the University of Massachusetts and Alli Greaney at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center talk to Roland about how they are studying the biology of the mutations to discover how the new strains might respond to vaccines.


(Image: Swab test. Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Deborah Cohen
Coping+with+Covid
access_time4 months ago
This has been an incredible year for scientific advance and collaboration, epitomised by the roll out of vaccines that didn’t exist a year ago, against a virus that no one had ever heard of .

And yet at the same time its been a year of incredible frustration. We are stil largely using the same methods to counter the virus that were used in past pandemics, going back a hundred years.
Here we look back at key the findings on who is most susceptible and why, and ask how to improve the strategies for reducing transmission.


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
A+year+with+Covid+-19
access_time4 months ago
It was the end of December 2019 when reports of a new flu like infection first came out of China. Within weeks millions of people were in lockdown as the virus took hold around the world.

In this programme we look back and revisit the scientists who were ready, those who had been studying bat coronaviruses and warning of their pandemic potential.

The scientific response was immediate. The coronavirus tests now used across the world were being developed within a few hours of news of the outbreak in China, and the vaccines we now have licenced for use began to be formulated just a few days later.


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Covid+-19+%E2%80%93+Mutations+are+normal
access_time5 months ago
This week the UK Health secretary raised concerns over a new variant of SARS- CoV-2 currently spreading across Europe. Viruses mutate all the time so it’s no surprise that a new form of the one causing Covid -19 would emerge. However, virologist Ravi Gupta who analysed the new strain says we need to be weary in case future strains mutate in ways that could overcome vaccines.

Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki is part of a team looking at the impact of Covid -19 on our immune system. Her research has uncovered autoantibodies linked to infection with the virus. These are responsible for a number of autoimmune diseases. The finding goes some way to explaining the symptoms seen by some people long after a Covid -19 infection.

And how clever are ravens? According to behavioural scientist Simone Pika at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in many ways they are up there with chimps or young children. She found they performed well in tests designed for primates.

Following the dinosaur destroying meteor strike where was the best place for life to develop a new? Geologists, David Kring and Tim Bralower, think they’ve found the answer hidden in plain sight.

(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
The+unchecked+spread+of+Covid-19+in+Manaus
access_time5 months ago
Pictures of coffins and mass graves seen by satellites showed that Manaus has been badly affected by Covid- 19. Now analysis of blood samples shows the extent to which the virus took hold in the Amazon city earlier this year. Investigators Ester Sabino and Lewis Buss from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo discuss how and why the virus spread.

Humanity has been modifying the environment for millennia, but have we now reached a point where it’s all too much? An analysis by Emily Elhacham from Tel Aviv University shows the amount of stuff produced by humanity, from plastics to buildings now has a greater mass than all natural biomass on the planet.

And China has been to the moon. Space watcher Andrew Jones tells us how the robotic mission mimics the manned missions of the 1960s and 70s.





(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Freak+weather+getting+even+freakier
access_time5 months ago
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has seen a new record for severe storms says Climatologist Michael Mann. He says warming oceans are one of the drivers.

And Australia has seen spring temperatures hit new highs. Climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick says it’s all the more remarkable as weather patterns are currently in a cycle associated with cooler temperatures.

Where exactly did SARS- COV-2 emerge from? That’s one of the questions for a WHO fact-finding mission to China looking into the origins of the Virus. Peter Daszak has worked with Chinese scientists for many years, looking for bat viruses with the potential to jump to humans. He tells us how the mission hopes to map out the event which led to the initial spread of the virus.

And the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe is due to return to earth. Masaki Fujimoto
Deputy director of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA, tell us what to expect when a cargo of material from a distant asteroid lands in the Australian desert.

(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Vaccines+%E2%80%93+the+Covid+confusion
access_time5 months ago
While developing new treatments drug companies usually release little useful information on how the clinical trials are progressing. However with the world’s attention on potential vaccines against Covid -19, the usually dull data on the progression of each trial step is subject to huge scrutiny. It doesn’t help to clarify things says epidemiologist Nicole Basta when that data raises questions about the rigour of the trial itself. This seems to be what happened with the latest Astra Zeneca, and Oxford University trial – where the best results were reportedly due to a mistake.

The link between locust plagues and extreme weather was demonstrated once again when cyclone Gati hit Somalia – dumping 2 years worth of rain in just a few days. This creates a perfect environment for locusts to breed to plague proportions. And this will be the third time in as many years that cyclones will trigger such an effect says Keith Cressman from the UNFAO. However thanks to the previous recent locust plagues in East Africa the countries most in line for this returning locust storm are better prepared this time.

A study of tree rings from Greater Mongolia suggests the region is now drying out rapidly, the past 20 years have been drier than the past thousand says climate scientist Hans Liderholm. This points to potential desertification in coming years.

And the death of a scientific icon. The Arecibo observatory, featured in the films ‘Goldeneye’ and ‘Contact’, and responsible for the Nobel Prize winning detection of gravitational waves is facing demolition. Sitting in a crater in the jungles of Puerto Rico this 57 year old radio telescope dish has suffered severe storm damage and is in danger of collapse. Astronomer Anne Virkki, who works at the telescope and science writer Shannon Stirone explain its significance.



(Image: Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Covid-+19+%E2%80%93+Good+news+on+immunity
access_time6 months ago
Tests on patients for up to 8 months following their infection with SARS- CoV-2 suggests an immune response can persist. Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf at the La Jolla Institute in California are optimistic this could mean vaccines would also confer long lasting immunity.

An analysis of samples from Kenya’s blood banks by Sophie Uyoga at the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Programme reveals far more people in Kenya contracted the virus than was previously know. The figures mean Kenya has similar levels of infection to many European countries.

And a study of mosquitoes by Louis Lambrechts of the Pasteur Institute in Paris reveals why Zika, a virus originating in Africa is much more prevalent in other parts of the world.

We also look at the future of the Nile. Ethiopia is building a massive Dam which will have consequences for Sudan and Egypt who are reliant on the Nile’s waters says hydrologist Hisham Eldardiry from the University of Washington, Seattle.


(Image: Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Covid-19+defeats+US+Marines
access_time6 months ago
The WHO is working with China to try and pinpoint the source of SARS- COV-2. Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says there are lessons we can learn from the investigation she led into the original SARS outbreak back in 2003. That inquiry revealed how SARS had spread from bats to humans via civet cats.

A Covid-19 vaccine claims to be 90% effective. It uses genetic material, messenger RNA. Daniel Anderson of Harvard MIT Health Science tells us about the huge potential of mRNA to provide treatments for many medical conditions.

However, rolling out such a vaccine globally faces a huge range of economic and practical obstacles as ethicist Nicole Hassoun of Binghamton University explains.

And a unique experiment shows despite a vast range of precautions including being isolated US Marines have contracted Covid -19. Stuart Sealfon, Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai Hospitals says this study shows we need testing to be integrated more thoroughly into everyday life and that many of the precautions we currently use may not be enough to prevent transmission.


(Image: Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Coronavirus+spreads+from+mink+to+humans
access_time6 months ago
All the farmed mink in Denmark are to be killed. Around 17 million. This is because they have SARS COV-2 coronavirus circulating among them and some humans have contracted a new strain from the animals. The scientific detail is sketchy, but Emma Hodcroft at Basel University pieces together a picture of what this means for tackling the virus.

Typhoon Goni and hurricane Eta are two very powerful tropical cyclones. But the way these storms are recorded differs by geographical location and recording style. We speak with Kerry Emanuel, a professor at MIT in Boston, USA.

The magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the Mediterranean last Friday (30/10/20) was 70 miles away from the city of Izmir, but despite this, there was devastating loss of life due to collapsed buildings. Earthquake engineer Eser Çaktı from the Turkish University of Boğaziçi, and Tiziana Rossetto from University College London talk us through the damage.

Migratory arctic animals are a weathervane for how the world is coping with climate change. Scientists have now pulled together monitoring data for these species’ movements into one accessible bank. Sarah Davidson tells us how this can help us understand the impact of Arctic climate change.




(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Rory Galloway
Osiris+Rex+stows+asteroid+material
access_time6 months ago
Last week NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission successfully touched down on asteroid Bennu’s crumbly surface. But the spacecraft collected so much material that the canister wouldn’t close. NASA systems engineer Estelle Church tells Roland Pease how she and the team back on Earth performed clever manoeuvres to remotely successfully shut the lid.

As winter draws on in the North, and people spend more time indoors, there’s considerable debate about the conditions in which SARS-Cov2 is more likely to spread. Princeton University’s Dylan Morris has just published research exploring the coronavirus’s survival in different humidities and temperatures.

Indian agriculture in some areas uses vast amounts of water. Dr Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar has discovered that this irrigation, plus very high temperatures, is causing not just extreme discomfort amongst the population but also more deaths.

In the 1930s serious dust storms over several years ruined crops and lives over a huge part of Midwest America. The dustbowl conditions were made famous by the folk songs of Woodie Guthrie and in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. Now a study in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that levels of dust have doubled in the past twenty years. Roland Pease asks researchers and farmers if they think the dust bowl is returning.


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Editor: Deborah Cohen
NASA+probe+Osiris+Rex+lands+on+asteroid
access_time7 months ago
Science in Action talks to NASA researcher Hannah Kaplan, who is part of the team for the space agency’s sampling mission to the asteroid Bennu. Mission scientists were overjoyed this week when the probe Osiris Rex momentarily touched the asteroid and sucked up some of the sand and grit on its surface. What might we learn when the sample is returned to Earth in three years' time? There is some not-such-good news about a theory about immunity to the pandemic coronavirus, and medical researchers in the UK announce the world’s first study that will deliberately infect volunteers with the novel coronavirus. The so-called challenge study is planned to begin in London in January. The purpose is to speed up the quest for effective Covid-19 vaccines but will it be safe for the participants? And there’s a new green chemistry breakthrough for tackling the world’s plastic waste crisis.


(Image: NASA probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid. Credit NASA)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Covid+-19+mortality
access_time7 months ago
Why is there such a range in the number of deaths from Covid -29 between countries? A study of the data across 21 industrialised countries reveals a wide discrepancy. Preparedness and the point at which countries went into lockdown were key factors says Epidemiologist Jonny Pearson- Stuttard

Recurring illnesses which show up sometimes months after a Covid -19 infections are being more commonly reported. The Uk’s National Institute for Health research has launched a major initiative to better understand this long term effect of the disease, Candace Imison tells us more.

And another reported case of Covid 19 reinfection raises questions about widely held beliefs on immunity Microbiologist Sarah Pitt helps us separate the science from the fiction.

We also take a look at a black hole as it swallows up a star or at least at what’s detectable. Katy Alexander has trained radio telescopes at this distant event.


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Do+Covid+%E2%80%93+19+mutations+matter%3F
access_time7 months ago
Data from clinical investigations has suggested that a specific mutation in the SARS-Cov -2 virus has made it more transmissible. This finding is now supported by molecular biology work. Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina led a team comparing the form of the virus which first emerged from China with the mutated type now prevalent word wide.

Bats are known to carry many different types of viruses, horseshow bats specifically carry coronaviruses, apparently without any ill effects to themselves. However some viruses do affect or even kill bats. Daniel Streicker from the University of Glasgow says more research in this area may help find those bat viruses most likely to jump to humans.

Malaria is no stranger to Africa, but largely keeps out of urban centres as it’s difficult for the mosquitoes which carry the parasites to survive there. However an Asian mosquito which is better adapted to life in the city is now threatening to move in. Entomologist Marianne Sinka
Has been looking at how and where it might spread.

And the Nobel prize for chemistry has been won by the inventors of the Crispr gene editing technique
Gunes Taylor is a genetic engineer who used this technique at the Crick Institute in London tells us why it is now so central to biological research.



(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Are+children+the+biggest+Covid-19+spreaders%3F
access_time7 months ago
An analysis of Covid-19 data from South India shows children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults, Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan tell us the data also shows the situations in which the virus is most likely to spread, public transport is of particular concern.

The WHO has launched an initiative to roll out rapid testing, particularly to countries that don’t have access to lab based tests, Catharina Boehme who leads one of the WHO’s partner organisation in the project tells us the test, which looks similar to home pregnancy tests should give results within fifteen minutes.

Andrea Crisanti led a ground-breaking testing initiative in Italy which eliminated Covid-19 in a small town in a matter of weeks. We look to the lessons learned.

And in California residents have been in a kind of self- enforced lockdown, not because of Covid – 19 but due to wildfires fires. Molly Bentley from the Seti Institute podcast ‘ Big Picture Science’ tells us about how the fires have created an atmosphere of toxic smoke, even in the cities.




(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Why+Covid+-19+vaccines+may+not+stop+transmission
access_time8 months ago
While vaccines against Covid -19 are being developed at unprecedented speed, none of them have been tested to see if they can actually stop transmission of the virus. They are designed to stop those who are vaccinated from developing Covid -19 disease, but not becoming infected.

This says Virologist Malik Peiris from Hong Kong University means while vaccinated people themselves may be protected they might also spread the virus.

Cells produced in the bone marrow may be responsible for an extreme immune response to Covid 19 in some people. Immunologist Lizzie Mann from Manchester University says this finding may help predict who will develop serious disease symptoms, and also provide a target for future treatments.

Extreme ice melt in the Arctic this summer may have a long term impact on the region says glaciologist Julienne Stroeve. She spent the winter in the Arctic and tells us about the environment she encountered.

And climate change is also impacting the tropics, research in Gabon from Ecologists Emma Bush and Robin Whytock shows a reduction of the amount of fruit available which is now impacting the health of forest elephants.





(Image Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Malaria+resistance+breakthrough
access_time8 months ago
Some East Africans have a genetic mutation which gives them resistance to Malaria. Investigations into how it works have produced a surprising finding. As researcher Silvia Kariuki explains it’s all to do with the surface tension of the red blood cells.

SARS-CoV- 2 can pass from people in the very early stages of Covid -19, before they show symptoms. New research shows identifying cases at this early stage is crucial to controlling the pandemic. And yet most testing regimes require symptoms to show before testing. Luca Ferretti did this latest analysis.

And how about getting up close with virus? That’s what Camille Ehre has done, using an electron microscope to produce remarkable pictures of the virus as it attacks lung tissue.

Carl Wunsch tells us of a technique he developed in the 1970s to measure changes in global ocean temperatures using sound waves. Revisiting this method may give us insight into the impact of climate change on the deep ocean.


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Covid+-19+science+versus+politics
access_time8 months ago
With the announcement in the UK of investment in rapid testing for people who may not have Covid -19 we ask why is this only happening now? For months on this programme we’ve featured scientific research suggesting such a strategy would be the quickest way to end the pandemic.

We speak with Connie Cepko and Brian Rabe who have developed a rapid test and Manu Prakash who is currently rolling it out to countries in the global south.

Could a huge motorcycle rally really have been the source of over a quarter of a million Covid -19 infections? That’s the finding of a study by economist Andrew Friedson he tells us how mobile phone data helped to determine that figure.

And the politics of vaccines, Many health officials in the US have spoken out against president Trumps claim that a vaccine may be ready before the November presidential election. Helen Branswell from Stat news tells us why there is so much concern over political attempts to manipulate science.


(Image:Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Nyiragongo+-+is+Goma+under+threat%3F
access_time8 months ago
A new survey of the volcano's activity suggests there may be an eruption in the next 4 to 7 years. It's a particular concern for the populations of Goma and Gisenyi, two cites between the volcano and lake Kivu. As we hear from the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory Katcho Karume, the city of Goma in particular has expanded so much that many people now live right next to fissures in the flank of the volcano through which any eruption would likely occur.

Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana's main area of swamp land, missing big urban areas to either side. It was a lucky escape for many, but as hurricane historian Jill Trepanier tells us such extreme weather events do seem to be more frequent and potentially more destructive.

And wildfires ravaging California and other Western US states may have been intensified by changes to global weather systems . Climate scientist Bill Lau says those weather systems in turn have been modified by man-made climate change.

In November 2018 a Chinese scientist announced he had edited the genes of twin girls. The announcement was greeted with horror by many researchers in the field. Now a way to regulate gene editing internationally has been proposed by some of the world's leading scientific institutions. Kay Davies co-author of their report explains the plan.

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle

(Main Image: Sunset, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Shamim Shorif Susom / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Covid-19+Therapy+Controversy
access_time8 months ago
This week Science in Action examines the evidence around the Trump Administration’s emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma therapy for the treatment of Covid-19. Donald Trump described its US-wide roll-out as ‘historic’ but the majority of scientists and doctors disagree, questioning the scientific basis for the government’s decision. Roland Pease talks to Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner, the leader of the convalescent plasma therapy study on which the action was based. The Mayo Clinic trial involved a large number of patients but none of them were compared to Covid-19 patients who were not treated with convalescent plasma. Trials that incorporate that comparison are the only way to properly assess the therapy’s effectiveness. Roland talks to Martin Landray of the University of Oxford who is testing convalescent plasma therapy in the UK’s Recovery randomised control trial, and to medical ethicist Alison Bateman-House of the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

We also talk to nanotechnologist Marc Miskin about the million-strong army of microscopic robots he’s creating in his lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck Baker

(Main image: New York lab tests serum from recovered covid-19 patients for possible therapy. Credit: Misha Friedman / Getty Images)
Trouble+in+Greenland
access_time9 months ago
Has the loss from Greenland’s vast ice sheet reached a tipping point? According to glaciologist Michalea King, the rate at which its ice flows into the sea stepped up about 15 years ago. The process of glacial retreat is outpacing the accumulation snow and ice in Greenland’s interior and the loss of Greenland’s ice to the Ocean is set to continue for many years to come.

An international study of past climate changes during the last ice age reveals how fast changes to weather patterns and climate states can reverberate around the world. During the last ice age, when temperatures rose suddenly in Greenland a series of changes to the climate in Europe and the monsoons in Asia and South America occurred almost simultaneously - within decades of each other. Climate scientists Eric Wolff and Ellen Corrick have discovered this through studies of stalagmites from caves around the world. It’s a demonstration of how rapidly and dramatically the Earth’s atmospheric system can change when it’s perturbed.

Was the hottest temperature ever on Earth recorded last weekend? A weather station in Death Valley in California recorded a temperature of 54.4 degrees C. Roland Pease discusses the controversy with extreme weather historian Christopher Burt.

Andrea Dupree of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reveals the latest on the giant star Betelgeuse which to everyone’s amazement dimmed dramatically at the beginning of the year. At the time some people wondered whether it was about to explode as a supernova but Andrea’s new findings suggest an event at the star which is almost as extraordinary.

(Image: Masses of ice break off from the edge of a glacier. Credit: Press Association)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Putin%E2%80%99s+Covid-19+vaccine
access_time9 months ago
Russia’s President Putin announced the registration of a vaccine for coronavirus. This was reported with widespread alarm amid concerns over safety, but as BBC Russian Service’s Sergei Goryashko, tells us the announcement was a political move to capture the headlines.

Investigations by Alexandra Reynolds and Hooman Poor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have revealed why some Covid 19 patients have low oxygen levels, but don’t have breathing difficulties. The answer came when looking for signs of stroke in the brain.

Nisreen Alwan, a specialist in public health at Southampton University is concerned about the quality of life of people who have had a Covid -19 infection. Being classed as recovered is not enough she says and we need to look more at recurring health problems associated with the disease.

And Cardiff University’s Haley Gomez has news of a tantalising discovery. The detection of a neutron star hidden in a dust cloud for more than 30 years.

(Image:President Putin. Credit: Reuters)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Counting+the+heat+health+threat+from+climate+change
access_time9 months ago
If the world does not curb its greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of this century, the number of people dying annually because of extreme heat will be greater than the current global death toll from infectious diseases - that’s all infectiousness diseases, from malaria to diarrhoeal diseases to HIV. This is the grim assessment of climate researchers and economists of the Climate Impact Lab in the largest global study to date of health and financial impacts of temperature-related deaths. Roland Pease talks to Solomon Tsiang of the University of California, Berkeley.

UK ecologists have new insights about how diseases jump the species barrier from wildlife to humans. With a global survey of land use and biodiversity, they’ve discovered that when natural habitats are converted to farmland or urbanised, the animal species that survive the change in greatest number are those species which carry viruses and bacteria with the potential to spread to us. This is particularly the case, says Rory Gibb of the University College London, with disease-carrying rodent species, bats and birds.

Do past infections by mild cold coronaviruses prepare the immune systems of some people for infection by SARS-CoV-2? Could immune memory T cells made in response to these cold viruses lessen the severity of Covid-19? Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology lead the team which published the latest contributions to these questions.


Anglerfish are perhaps the weirdest inhabitants of the deep sea. Their sex lives are particularly strange because finding partners in the dark expanse of the ocean abyss is hard. Females are much bigger than males. When a male finds a female, he latches on her body with his teeth and over a couple of weeks, their flesh fuses so he is permanently attached. Her blood supplies him with all the food and oxygen he needs and he becomes an ever present supply of sperm whenever she produces eggs. But this fusion should be impossible. The female’s immune system should be rejecting her partner like a mismatched organ transplant. German scientists have now discovered that these fish do this by giving up the production of antibodies and immune T cells – essential for fighting infections in all other animals including us. It was a shocking discovery for Prof Thomas Boehm at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg.


(Image: Relatives of heatstroke victims, their heads covered with wet towels, wait outside a hospital during a heatwave in Karachi. .Credit: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP via Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
NASA+rover+heads+for+Mars+ancient+lake
access_time9 months ago
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago – the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet.

Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. Sampled from compacted mud 70 metres below the seafloor and beneath 6 kilometre of water, Yuki Morono and Steve D’Hondt admit they struggle to understand how the bacteria have survived for so long.

Science in Action celebrates the little unknown oceanographer Marie Tharp who in the late 1950s discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge which helped to launch the plate tectonics revolution in earth sciences. It would be Tharp’s 100th birthday this week.

New research this week suggests that coronaviruses capable of infecting humans have been in bats for 40 to 70 years, and that there may be numerous and as yet undetected viruses like the Covid-19 virus in bat populations with the potential to cause future pandemics. Their message is that we should be sampling and testing wild bat colonies much more extensively than currently. Their findings provide further evidence against the unfounded claim that the Covid-19 virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Roland Pease talks to Dr Maciej Boni at Pennsylvania State University.

(Image: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. Credit: Illustration provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS)

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Making+a+Covid-19+vaccine+for+two+billion+people
access_time10 months ago
There’s been encouraging news about the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine this week from a trial involving about 1,000 people. But how great is the challenge in scaling up from making a few thousand doses of the vaccine to manufacturing two billion by the end of this year? Sandy Douglas of Oxford’s Jenner Institute explains how they plan to mass-produce the vaccine safely given the speed and magnitude of the scale up.

A new kind of treatment for Covid-19 may come from an unlikely source: llamas and alpacas, the South American relatives of the camel. Camelids produce unusually small and simple antibodies against viruses, including the coronavirus. This feature may make these molecules an effective Covid-19 therapy. Jane Chambers reports on research in Chile and the UK.

Also in the programme: what has made just a few mosquito species evolve a preference for biting humans, and the theory that 800 million years ago the Moon and the Earth were bombarded by a shower of asteroids which plunged the Earth into a global ice age – an event which changed the course of the evolution of life.



Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
How+long+do+Covid-19+antibodies+last%3F
access_time10 months ago
Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on how response of our immune system to infection by the coronavirus. Researchers at Kings College London find that protective antibodies appear to fade away after about three months following infection whereas a team at the Karolinska Institute has discovered that although antibodies may decline, other important players called T cells in our defences do not. Dr’s Katie Doores and Marcus Buggert talk about the implications of these discoveries for the quest for a vaccine against the coronavirus.

Roland Pease also talks to Dr Barney Graham of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States about the results from the Phase 1 trial of novel type of vaccine against the virus. NIAID have partnered with biotech company Moderna to produce the first mRNA vaccine in the Institute’s pandemic preparedness program.

Biologist Dr Sonja Wild tells Roland about the remarkable fishing strategy devised by dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia. They chase fish into the empty shell of giant sea snails, then take the shells to the surface and tip the fish into their mouths. Dr Wild’s 7 years of research has revealed how the dolphins have learned to do this.


(Image: Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Rwanda%E2%80%99s+game+changing+coronavirus+test
access_time10 months ago
African scientists have developed a reliable, quick and cheap testing method which could be used by worldwide as the basis for mass testing programmes.

The method, which produces highly accurate results, is built around mathematical algorithms developed at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Kigali. We speak to Neil Turok who founded the institute, Leon Mutesa Professor of human genetics on the government coronavirus task force, and Wilfred Ndifon, the mathematical biologist who devised the algorithm.

The virus is mutating as it spreads, but what does this mean? There is particular concern over changes to the spike protein, part of the virus needed to enter human cells. Jeremy Luban has been analysing this mechanism. So far he says ongoing genetic changes seem unlikely to impact on the effectiveness of treatments for Covid -19.

And Heatwaves are increasing, particularly in tropical regions, that’s the finding of a new analysis by climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick.

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle

Main image: People stand in white circles drawn on the ground to adhere to social distancing in Kigali, Rwanda, on May 4, 2020, Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP via Getty Images
Covid+-19+and+Children
access_time10 months ago
Studies in Children who have been severely affected by Covid 19 in Italy, Britain and the US are showing the same thing – a range of symptoms linked to an overactive immune system. Elizabeth Whittaker from London’s Imperial College discusses the similarities in these cases and possible reasons for this syndrome with Shanna Kowalsky from Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

How much should drugs for Covid !9 cost? Remdesivir which has shown promise against the virus has been priced at over $2000 for a course of treatment, but Drug price analyst Andrew Hill says the cost of production is actually below $10.

And how about some really alternative energy? Marion Cromb at Glasgow University has run an experiment to simulate a spinning black hole. In theory a rocket sent to an equivalent real black hole could use its rotation as a power source


(Image: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Record+high+temperatures+%E2%80%93+in+the+Arctic
access_time11 months ago
A record summer temperature in Siberia is an indication of major changes in the Arctic climate. Changing weather patterns there have a knock on effect for other parts of the planet says Climatologist Steve Vavrus

Chile appeared to get Covid-19 under control, but in reality the virus was spreading uncontrollably through poor areas, As we hear from our correspondent in Santiago Jane Chambers, the lockdown has tightened but cases continue to rise.

And could mass testing using new saliva tests help control or even end the epidemic? Epidemiologist Julian Peto tells us about his plan which is designed to contain the virus within individual households and stop community spread.

Experiments to investigate dark matter have produced some tantalising results, Physicist Laura Manenti says it’s not confirmation of detection, but potentially close.

(Image: Rural Scene in Verkhoyansk. Credit: Dean Conger/Corbis via Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Covid+-19+hope+for+severe+cases
access_time11 months ago
A multi arm trial testing a range of drugs has shown that readily available steroids can be lifesaving for people severely ill with Covid-19. Max Parmar, head of the UK Medical Research Council’s clinical trials unit says the trial design, where many potential drugs can be tested against the same controls, is key to producing results quickly.

As it spreads around the world SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. But what does this mean? These mutations are part of a natural process and some researchers are finding they make no real difference to patient outcomes so far, but others are concerned the virus may become more dangerous. Neville Sanjana from New York University has been running lab tests on the mutant virus.

Measles mutated from an animal virus, developing the ability to jump from cattle to human around 2,500 years ago. Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute tracked its origins using preserved lung samples from centuries old measles victims.

Covid -19 has become a magnet for conspiracy theorists. A common unfounded claim is that the virus was deliberately manufactured. During the boredom of lockdown such ideas have taken off online, with conspiracy videos receiving millions of views. We speak to scientists who have been targeted, and become the subject of this online misinformation.


(Image: Doctor examines Covid-19 virus patient. Credit: Getty Images)


Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Food+security%2C+locusts+and+Covid+-19
access_time11 months ago
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic efforts to counter massive swarms of locusts across East Africa have continued. In many places this has been very effective, killing up to 90% of locusts. However, the threat of repeated waves of locusts remains says Cyril Ferrand, who leads the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Resilience Team in East Africa.

Conversely West Africa is unaffected by locusts and with a block on imports local producers have seen demand grow for their produce, an unusual positive effect from the pandemic according to Sandrine Dury from the French agricultural research agency CIRAD.

We examine the potential for a second wave of coronavirus as many countries relax lockdown measures, businesses reopen and mass protests take to the streets. Epidemiologist Carl Bergstrom is interested in working out which of these movements is likely to have the most impact.

And from South Africa, how radio telescope engineers there have turned their hands to developing new ventilators appropriate for regional needs.



(Image: Desert locust. Credit: Reuters)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
The+medical+complexity+of+Covid+-19
access_time11 months ago
Autopsies show Covid 19 can affect the brain and other organs. Pathologist Mary Fowkes from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found the signs of stroke - unusually in young people, as well as a disruption of the immune system throughout the body.

And studies of heart stem cells show these can be killed by the virus. Cell Biologist Stefanie Dimmeler from the University of Frankfurt says this finding could prove useful in providing treatment and preventative medicine.

A massive research project in China has identified over 700 different types of coronavirus carried by bats, some of these obscure virus sequences are thought to have already jumped from bats to human and animals such as pigs. In a similar way to SARS-CoV-2 they present a potential threat as a source of future pandemics says Peter Daszak from the EcoHeath Alliance which conducted the research in collaboration with Chinese scientists.

And is there racism in the way people with Covid -19 infections are categorised? It’s an issue which concerns toxicologist Winston Morgan from the University of East London. He says as race is a social construct it’s an inappropriate measure to use when trying to work out who is vulnerable to the virus.

(Image: Illustration showing the virus structure of SARS-CoV-2. Credit: CDC HO via AFP / Getty)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Brazil%E2%80%99s+Covid+chaos
access_time11 months ago
The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment.

A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of infection is not necessarily direct person to person transmission says investigator Richard Lessells from the University of KwaZulu Natal.
And from London a study in a hospital with many Covid patients at the height of the pandemic supports the South African findings; Researchers found viral particles on surfaces and in the air says Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College.

An early warning system for outbreaks of the virus or second waves may come from analysis of sewage, Jordan Peccia from Yale University analysed waste from his local sewage treatment works and found peaks in concentrations of the virus in the sludge occurred a few days before increases in hospital admissions.


(Image: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wear face masks as they demonstrate against quarantine and social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors to combat the new coronavirus outbreak and demand military intervention. Credit: SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
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