Science & Medicine
Two years ago Japanese scientists discovered a type of bacteria which has evolved to feed on PET plastic - the material from which fizzy drink bottles are made. It was isolated at a local recycling centre. An international team has now characterised the structure of the plastic-degrading enzyme and accidentally improved its efficiency. Adam Rutherford spoke to Professor John McGeehan of the University of Portmouth who led the team and talks about where the discovery may lead. Bill Gates Pledges Billions to Fight Malaria The Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates, has announced new funding from his foundation and other donors to try to halve the number of deaths from malaria. Mr Gates said that the money would be used to improve the bed-nets that help to combat the spread of the disease and to provide digital tools to enable much better targeting of where the nets are needed. He spoke to BBC’s John Humphrys. The Bajou Diving People The Bajou people can dive for several minutes at a time, hunting for food for their families. Now scientists’ writing in the journal Cell, have found that they can do this because their spleen is approximately 50% larger than in non-divers. This adaptation allows the divers to release more oxygen carrying red blood cells from the spleen when under water. Roland Pease spoke to the first author Melissa Ilardo who was inspired to look into the basis of their skills having witnessed the Bajau at work. Beds from Mattresses Roland Pease visits the greenhouses at the University of Sheffield in the UK, where PhD student Harry Wright and Professor of Physical Chemistry, Tony Ryan are turning old mattresses into bedding material for plants – they are also testing them in a Jordanian refugee camp. Bringing Schrodinger's Cat to Life Schrodinger's cat is the one that is famously alive and dead. At the same time. Impossible! Roland Pease meets the quantum scientists hoping to bring one to life in the laboratory. Not a real cat, to be fair. But large biomolecules, viruses, even bacteria, that can exhibit the quantum duality parodied in the paradox first described by one of the fathers of quantum physics. Because if they succeed, they may learn something about the interface between the quantum world, and the human world we live in. The Double Helix Fifty years after its 1968 publication, Adam Rutherford speaks to biologist and historian Matthew Cobb and science writer Angela Saini to discuss the place of James Watson's compelling and controversial memoir in the annals of popular science writing. His account of the discovery of the DNA's structure was unlike any science book that had come before. Does it stand the test of time and what of its blatantly sexist treatment of the gifted X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin? Her work was crucial to Crick and Watson's 1953 model of the DNA molecule. (Picture caption: Labourer sorting out plastic bottles for recycling © Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images) The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from science journalist and editor at the Economist Jason Palmer Producer: Adrian Washbourne
In case you missed this episode on the Playing with Science channel…We look to the future of soccer and prepare for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as we investigate Beyond Sports VR technology and the new Adidas Telstar 18 with hosts Gary O’Reilly, Chuck Nice and Beyond Sports CEO Jeffrey Saunders and physicist John Eric Goff. Photo Credit: © 2018 BEYOND SPORTS BV.
This week, Chuck Nice asks Neil deGrasse Tyson fan-submitted questions on a range of topics we couldn’t answer in other episodes. Now extended with a session of “Neil’d It” – where Neil and Chuck comb Internet comments to see if the science is right. (Adult Language). NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free. Photo Credit: Ben Ratner.
Schrodinger's cat is the one that's famously alive and dead. At the same time. Impossible! Roland Pease meets the quantum scientists hoping to bring one to life in the laboratory. Not a real cat, to be fair. But large biomolecules, viruses, even bacteria, that can exhibit the quantum duality parodied in the paradox first described by one of the fathers of quantum physics. Because if they succeed, they may learn something about the interface between the quantum world, and the human world we live in. Presenter/Producer: Roland Pease Credit: Harald Ritsch/Science Photo Library
A special preview of the new podcast Death in Ice Valley. An unidentified body. Who was she? Why hasn’t she been missed? A BBC World Service and NRK original podcast, investigating a mystery unsolved for almost half a century. Episode One was released on 16 April 2018 and new episodes will be released every Monday. Search for Death in Ice Valley wherever you find your podcasts.
NASA’s latest exoplanet hunting mission is due to launch this week. It will look for Earth-like planets closer to home than the previous Kepler exoplanet mission. By looking at stars hundreds of light years away, rather than thousands, scientists will be able to use ground based telescopes to learn more about rocky planets. Roland Pease talks to Professor Sara Seager from MIT who is the Deputy Science Director on the TESS Mission. Brain Surgery While Wide Awake We hear extraordinary story vet Adam Tjolle who found out he had a brain tumour, following a scan when he had a cycling accident. The low-grade glioma – nicknamed his second brain – grew inside his head, very slowly, for ten or even twenty years. Adam is a friend of presenter Claudia Hammond and together they decided to keep a record of his journey – before and after his life changing surgery. Internet Health Report 2018 Mozilla’s annual Internet Health Report is a detailed overview, reflecting its volunteers’ research into internet shutdowns, net neutrality, corporate dominance and online misinformation. Gareth Mitchell talks to the author of the report, Solana Larsen. Tasmanian Devils at Greater Risk of Cancer Scientists writing in the journal Cancer Cell say they have identified the sources of two transmissible cancers that are killing Tasmanian devils, and threatening the survival of the species. It appears the cancers originated in two different animals – one male and one female. The team is now looking to see if new human cancer treatments will work in the Tasmanian devil population, as Elizabeth Murchison from the University of Cambridge explained to Roland Pease. More on Brain Surgery While Wide Awake Claudia Hammond speaks to her friend Adam Tjolle after his life changing brain surgery. Raising Eyebrows Our ancestors bore a very prominent brow ridge, which scientists think was a symbol of dominance. Modern humans, however, have lost this ridge in favour of a flatter forehead - but why? Adam Rutherford asks Dr Penny Spikins from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. (Image caption: Nasa’s TESS, shown here in a conceptual illustration, will identify exoplanets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system – credit Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center) The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science reporter Bobbie Lakhera Producer: Katy Takatsuki
Our show from historic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY concludes with further investigation into the intersection of science and morality. Featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugene Mirman, skeptic Michael Shermer, Rev. James Martin, SJ, Michael Ian Black, and Whoopi Goldberg. (Adult Language.) NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free. https://www.startalkradio.net/all-access/startalk-live-at-kings-theatre-science-and-morality-part-2/ Photo Credit: Elliot Severn.
In case you missed this episode on the Playing with Science channel… You can break the rules of the game, but you can’t break the rules of physics. Chuck Nice and Gary O’Reilly investigate the physics and psychology of cheating, with physicist John Eric Goff and sport psychologist Dr. Leah Lagos.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution of George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son Robert (1803-59) to the development of the railways in C19th. George became known as The Father of Railways and yet arguably Robert's contribution was even greater, with his engineering work going far beyond their collaboration. Robert is credited with the main role in the design of their locomotives. George had worked on stationary colliery steam engines and, with Robert, developed the moving steam engine Locomotion No1 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. They produced the Rocket for the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1829. From there, the success of their designs and engineering led to the expansion of railways across Britain and around the world. with Dr Michael Bailey Railway historian and editor of the most recent biography of Robert Stephenson Julia Elton Past President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology and Colin Divall Professor Emeritus of Railway Studies at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Barbara McClintock’s work on the genetics of corn won her a Nobel prize in 1983. Her research on jumping genes challenged the over-simplified picture of chromosomes and DNA that Watson and Crick’s discovery has all too often been used to support. During the half century that she worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory she became something of a living legend, a pioneer in a time when women weren’t expected to take much interest in science. In that story, she made a profound discovery that her male colleagues dismissed for years, leaving her out in the cold until they finally realized that it was true and granted her a belated Nobel Prize. Philip Ball tells the story of Barbara McLintock's life and work, from her early preference for sports, for solitude, and for intellectual life, that disturbed her parents, to her meticulous research on corn. In conversation with her recent biographer, Dr Nathaniel Comfort of Johns Hopkins University, he explores the facts and the fictions that grew up around her. Philip Ball talks about the legacy of her discovery of jumping genes with Professor Greg Hannon of the Cancer Research UK Institute at Cambridge University, who spent 25 years working in the McLintock Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor. Picture Corn Cobs, Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/GettyImages)
How are scientists looking for the trail of the novichok nerve agent used in the Salisbury attacks? Roland Pease speaks to Steven Drielak a “hotzone” forensics expert, who explains the techniques he would use when investigating environmental chemical crimes. Formula 1 Innovations Formula 1, the epitome of a glamour sport, is driven by technology, design and innovation where the slightest variation can make the difference between a championship winning car and not. But away from the track, F1 teams have been investing money, time and skill into ideas that could benefit from their expertise. Jack Meegan reports. Whalesong Under the Ice Beneath the Arctic sea ice, in the blanket of January's polar night, bowhead whales most prefer to sing. While the songs of humpback whales have long received the most attention, it turns out that their baleen cousins could have a far greater repertoire. A study of a bowhead population near Svalbard has shown that their musical calls may be as varied as those of songbirds. This would make them unique among whale populations, and possibly even mammals. Bees, Forests and Paternity Tests Bees drop pollen during flight and that pollen sometimes lands on trees and their fruit. Professor Shalene Jha follows this pollen trail to discover bees’ travel patterns. Using genetic and genomic techniques, she is able to establish the fruit’s ‘father’ and therefore discover where a bee has travelled. Roland Pease hears more. Genetic Testing for Inherited Forms of Cancer Genetic testing for inherited forms of cancer was pioneered in the UK by Professor Sir John Burn. He tells Professor Jim Al-Khalili how he helped to put the north eastern city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the research map – after becoming one of the first British doctors to champion the study of genes in medicine back in the 1980s. A Holocaust Survivor’s Digital Doppelgänger Eva Schloss’s story of surviving the Holocaust has now been preserved through an interactive exhibition. Schloss recounted the facts of her survival to over a hundred video cameras, which photographed her from all angles, and logged her patient answers. The recordings were used to develop an artificial Eva Schloss, housed inside a screen. Lauren Hutchinson’s report includes an interview with Eva Schloss. (Photo caption: Police officers in protective suits and masks collect samples near the scene where former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were discovered after being attacked with a nerve-agent - credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images) The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos Producer: Adrian Washbourne Editor: Deborah Cohen
How do we know if we’re right or wrong? Investigate the intersection of science and morality with Neil Tyson, Eugene Mirman, author Michael Shermer, Rev. James Martin, SJ, and comedians Michael Ian Black, and Whoopi Goldberg. Recorded live at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY. (Warning: Adult Language). NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: https://www.startalkradio.net/all-access/startalk-live-at-kings-theatre-science-and-morality-part-1/ Photo Credit: Elliot Severn.
In case you missed this episode on the Playing with Science channel… We’re taking you to the extreme! Hosts Chuck Nice and Gary O’Reilly investigate the psychology of the extreme sports athlete with adventure journalist Jim Clash, neuroscientist Dr. Heather Berlin, and extreme sport psychologist Dr. Eric Brymer.
One hundred years ago D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson published On Growth and Form, a book with a mission to put maths into biology. He showed how the shapes, forms and growth processes we see in the living world aren’t some arbitrary result of evolution’s blind searching, but are dictated by mathematical rules. A flower, a honeycomb, a dragonfly’s wing: it’s not sheer chance that these look the way they do. But can these processes be explained by physics? D'Arcy Thompson loved nature’s shapes and influenced a whole new field of systems biology, architects, designers and artists, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Presented by Phillip Ball. Picture: Corn shell, Getty Images
Having flu or pneumonia increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke for a few days or weeks after the infection according to a new study. For many years doctors have noticed a connection. But new research has now linked specific microbes to the heart attacks and strokes – using data from Scottish hospitals. Claudia Hammond spoke to Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Nerve Agents The nerve agent that has made a Russian ex-spy and his daughter seriously ill in the English town of Salisbury has been traced to the front door of their home. That came to light earlier this week in the continuing investigation into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. But what do we now know about the deadly nerve agent – novichok - and others like it? Hamish Bretton-Gordon a former commander of the UK Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment tells Roland Pease when deadly chemical weapons of mass destruction first appeared. 3D Printed Prosthetic Limbs 3D printed prosthetic limbs are helping a Jordanian hospital treat Syrian war refugees. Gareth Mitchell talks to Safa Herfat from MSF about replicating the project elsewhere. Why Bear Cubs Are Spending Longer With Their Mothers Brown bear cubs living in the forests of Sweden are spending longer with their mothers. Baby bears stay by their mother's side until they are aged two-and-a-half - an extra year compared with a few decades ago, according to a study. Adam Rutherford spoke to Joanie Van de Walle of the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada and Andreas Zedrosser from the University of Southeast Norway. They were part of the team that has been watching these bears for more than thirty years. Chronic Pain Doctors are using a new form of spinal cord stimulation or neuromodulation to help patients with chronic back pain. Every year 1 in 10 adults is diagnosed with chronic pain which is pain that lasts for longer than three months. A small electrical field is delivered to the spine via a wire - to modify the pain signals the body sends to the brain. Now doctors in London have altered the frequency of the electrical impulses to try and reduce any side effects. Bobbie Lakhera went to see an operation in action. The Future of Food Increasing urbanisation and changing diets mean that we’re going to have to get more adventurous in our dining habits. Either that or food production needs to jump some 60 percent by 2050 to stop us all going hungry. That’s why a restaurant in London is trying to make one food source more palatable. It is offering diners jellyfish, and as Marnie Chesterton reports, one way they will persuade you is by immersing you in a multi-sensory experience. Circadian Light When working or studying, some people resort to a strong cup of coffee to perk themselves up. But new research suggests better lighting might also help. Scientists monitored what happened to staff when they improved the lighting in gloomy US Embassy offices in Iceland and Latvia – where there is little daylight during the winter months. They found that people felt perkier with more powerful, blue-white lights. Claudia Hammond spoke to Dr Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State. (Photo caption: Man having chest pain – credit: Getty Images) The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Health and Science reporter Helen Briggs Producer: Katy Takatsuki
Now serving seconds! Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice mix up a pot of Galactic Gumbo, now with an extra helping of more Cosmic Queries. Ingredients for this cosmic dish include the Big Bang, string theory, the expansion of the universe, antimatter, aliens, asteroids, and much more! NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free. Find out more here: https://www.startalkradio.net/all-access/extended-classic-cosmic-queries-galactic-gumbo/ Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgements: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla).
In case you missed this episode on the Playing with Science channel… Investigate the money, minds, and madness of the NCAA with hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice. Featuring bracketologist Chris Dobbertean, author Andrew Zimbalist, neuroscientist Heather Berlin, and sport psychologist Leah Lagos. Photo Credit: 3dfoto/iStock.
The UK has one of the highest recorded rates of acid attacks in the world, nearly 500 cases in 2016. Most of the victims are men and most have corrosive liquid, typically acid or bleach, squirted into their faces while they are being mugged for their phone, bag or car. Andrew Keene was attacked in London last year while he sat in his car, and blinded by a robber who then drove off in his car. He's had five operations, including two corneal grafts, to try to restore the sight in his right eye. Dr Mark Porter talks to Andrew at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, where sight-saving eye surgery was pioneered over sixty years ago. This hospital set up the UK's first Eye Bank for donor eyes and it is from these donations that eyes, damaged like Andrew's, are repaired using grafts. Mark hears about the shortage of donated corneas which mean long waiting lists for eye surgery and Eye Bank head Dr Nigel Jordan tells him they're having to import donor eyes from the USA to meet demand. BBC News anchor George Alagiah has gone public with the news that his bowel cancer has come back three years after it was diagnosed at an advanced stage. He has questioned why screening starts at different ages in different parts of the UK. If he lived in Scotland where the bowel cancer screening programme starts at 50, up to 10 years before the rest of the country, he would have been screened earlier and his cancer might have been picked up earlier, making it easier to treat. Inside Health's Dr Margaret McCartney discusses the complexities involved in rolling out national screening programmes and tells Mark why there's a difference in Scotland and the rest of the UK about the starting age for bowel screening. Until a couple of years ago, children who were born without a limb, or those who lost a limb after illness or injury, could get a traditional prosthesis, or artificial limb fitted, but it was a limb of the most basic kind which would enable them to walk, but not to run or do sports. But thanks to money released into a special fund by the Department of Health in England, for the last 18 months these children have been fitted with the high-tech futuristic-looking prostheses - racing blades - that allow them to run, jump and compete in all sorts of activities and sports. Mark visits a paediatric rehabilitation clinic at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore and meets the children who are benefiting from these new activity blades.
How do we prepare for the distant future? Helen Keen meets the people who try to. If our tech society continues then we can leave data for future generations in huge, mundane quantities, detailing our every tweet and Facebook 'like'. But how long could this information be stored? And if society as we know it ends, will our achievements vanish with it? How do we plan for and protect those who will be our distant descendants and yet may have hopes, fears, languages, beliefs, even religions that we simply cannot predict? What if anything can we, should we, pass on? Picture: Filing cabinets, Credit: fotofrog
The number of young people who smoke is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa while rate of take-up of the habit by youth is falling in Europe and North America. Africa's tobacco trend was a key issue of concern for experts at the recent World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town. Doctors dread the consequences for Africa's young smokers as lung disease caused by tobacco will be exacerbated by the region's high HIV and TB rates. One describes the situation as 'a perfect storm'. Hannah McNeish reports from Cape Town. Data Scraping The story of how Cambridge Analytica had scraped Facebook data in its attempt to influence voting behaviour has been reported widely this week. Andrew Steele, a medical researcher at the Crick Institute in London, explains how data mining or scraping actually works and how it is used by many scientists to find ways of improving human health. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch After three months collecting 3 million bits of rubbish from an area in the ocean the size of Iran, researchers now estimate there are 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating around what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch lies between California and Hawaii. The next step: cleaning it with a 600 metre floating boom, starting this summer. Roland Pease speaks to chief scientist Laurent Lebreton. Saving the Northern White Rhino Genetic treatments could help save the northern white rhino. Only two females remain in the world following the death of the last male this week. Jan Stejskal, director of international projects at Dvr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, which technically owns the three rhinos, arrived in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya early this week, as the keepers prepared to take precious tissue and semen samples from Sudan before euthanising him, to be used in future attempts at artificial fertilisation. He spoke to Roland Pease about how scientists want to use IVF and stem cell techniques to try to conserve the subspecies. Mobile Clinic From Kenya to South Africa - and to one of the country's poorest regions - rural Kwazulu Natal - where scientists are about to launch one of the most ambitious medical research projects ever in sub Saharan Africa. Rates of both HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis are extremely high here - about 30% of the population is HIV positive and TB is the cause of 30% of all deaths. So from May staff from the Africa Health Research Institute will be taking mobile clinics around the region with the aim of screening 50,000 people. Claudia Hammond spoke to the Institute's Director Deenan Pillay. Drone Technology The latest drone hardware has been unveiled at an aviation show in Belgrade. The technology is designed to fly for 24 hours and can be used for surveillance or communications uses. Before the unveiling, Gareth Mitchell managed to get a sneak preview of some of the machines from Petar Matunovic and Milos Matejic of the company CTT, which stands for Composite Technology Team. And finally….following a question from a listener, we find out whether anything in the universe stands still. Professor Steve Biller, a physicist at Oxford University says it’s all relative. Or rather, it’s all about relativity. He explained to Marnie Chesterton how, if you can travel as fast as the speed of light, everything stands still. The Science Hour was presented by Marnie Chesterton with comments from Claire Ainsworth. Producer: Katy Takatsuki (Photo: An African boy smoking a cigarette. Credit: Chris Hondros Getty Images)
Climate change, solar sails, GMOs, the moon’s rotation, volcanism and more – Join Bill Nye and Chuck Nice as they answer questions live from the Sirius XM studio. They also discuss Bill’s new documentary “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” (Previously recorded.) NOTE: StarTalk All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: https://www.startalkradio.net/all-access/bill-nye-live-from-sirius-xm/ Photo Credit: Ben Ratner.
In case you missed this episode on the Playing with Science channel… This week hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice are getting into your head when they investigate neuropriming and VR technology training in sports with Brett Wingeier, co-founder of Halo Neuroscience, and Michael Casale, Chief Science Officer at StriVR.