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The Science Hour

Podcast The Science Hour
Podcast The Science Hour

The Science Hour

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  • Have we got it wrong on Omicron?
    Studies using swabs from coronavirus patients seem to contradict earlier findings from cell cultures which showed Omicon replicated faster than earlier variants. As Benjamin Meyer from the centre for Vaccinology at the University of Geneva, explains there may be other reasons why omicron is spreading faster not just how quickly it reproduces. Predicting how the pandemic will develop is not possible, however predicting what individual mutations in the virus may develop and the impact they might have individually and collectively is getting closer, Cyrus Maher and Amalio Telenti of the biotech company Vir, have developed a way to model potential future viral mutations which they hope will now be used by many scientists worldwide looking to understand the virus. There are concerns that other viruses may be on the rise, bird flu in particular, which as Nicola Lewis of the Royal Veterinary College explains is now spreading to part of the world where it is not usually seen, and infecting other animals as well as birds. And we’ve news of a massive collection of nests – at the bottom of the sea, Deep sea Ecologist Autun Perser describes how he found them in Antarctica. Also, Are big heads smarter? We live in a world where bigger is often seen as better - and the size of someone's brain is no exception. But a listener in Nairobi wants to know, does size really matter when it comes to grey matter? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton is on a mission to find out if the physical attributes of our head and brain can tell us anything about what's going on inside. We certainly thought so in the past. In the 1800s, phrenology – determining someone’s characteristics by their skull shape – was very fashionable and curator Malcolm MacCallum gives us a tour of the extensive phrenological collection of death masks and skulls in Edinburgh’s anatomy museum. It's a 'science' that's now been completely debunked. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that over our evolutionary history, human brain size has increased dramatically alongside our cognitive capabilities. But is it the whole story? Rick Potts, Director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian tells of the point in time when human brains expanded the most; a time when the climate was changing, resources were unreliable and the intelligence to be adaptable might mean the difference between life and death. Adaptability is also key to Professor Wendy Johnson’s definition of intelligence, although she points out that IQ test, flawed as they are, are still the best predictor we have for intelligence… and that, yes, there is a weak correlation between having a larger head, and doing better at IQ tests. Why is that? We don’t know, says Dr Stuart Ritchie from KCL. According to him, neuroscientists are only in the foothills of understanding how a physical difference in the brain might underpin a person’s psychology. But researching this could offer valuable insights into how our amazing brains work. (Image: Getty Images)
    1/16/2022
    57:34
  • CORBEVAX – A vaccine for the world?
    Now being produced in India CORBEVAX is grown in yeast in a similar way to several other widely available vaccines. The technology used to make it is far simpler and much more readily available than that used to produce mRNA vaccines. In theory, CORBEVAX could be produced cheaply in large quantities and go a long way to addressing the problems of Covid19 vaccine availability globally. It was developed by a team from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas including Maria Elena Bottazzi. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are thought to have emerged in repose to the use of antibiotics, however, the discovery of a superbug living on the skin of hedgehogs has challenged this view. The superbug is thought to have been living with hedgehogs long before antibiotics were discovered. Jesper and Anders Larsen at the Danish State Serum Institute in Copenhagen explain. Modifying viruses, using them to infect or kill pest organisms is an attractive proposition. However, there are concerns over what might happen when they are released, particularly over their ability to mutate and evolve says Filippa Lentzos from Kings College Department of Global Health and Social Medicine in London. And The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew have released the names of over 200 new species of plants and fungi discovered last year. Mycologist Tuula Niskanen and botanist Martin Cheek tell us more. Also... “I’m bored!” We can all relate to the uncomfortable - and at times unbearable - feeling of boredom. But what is it? Why does it happen? And could this frustrating, thumb-twiddling experience actually serve some evolutionary purpose? CrowdScience listener Brian started wondering this over a particularly uninspiring bowl of washing up, and it’s ended with Marnie Chesterton going on a blessedly un-boring tour through the science and psychology of tedium. She finds out why some people are more affected than others, why boredom is the key to discovery and innovation, and how we can all start improving our lives by embracing those mind-numbing moments. (Image: Getty Images)
    1/9/2022
    57:32
  • Omicron – mild or monster?
    Studies from South Africa and the UK suggest Omicron may be a mild infection for the majority of people. Hospital admissions are down when compared with other variants. However, the virus is replicating at a much faster rate than earlier variants and is able to overcome vaccines to some extent. Cases studies so far have mainly been in young people. There is concern over what will now happen as Omicron spreads across Europe and the US where there are older unvaccinated populations. Anne von Gottberg from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases tells us what early results from studies there show and discusses the implications. Typhoon Rai in the Philippines led to the loss of many lives and even destroyed buildings designed to resist such extreme weather events. Could more have been done either to predict the ferocity of the typhoon or to prepare for its impact? Liz Stephens, Associate Professor in Climate Risks and Resilience from the University of Reading discusses these issues. Beavers are making a comeback – in the Arctic. Their activity in engineering the landscape, building dams, and changing water courses is so widespread it can be picked out by satellites. However, this is not entirely welcome says Helen Wheeler Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin University. who has been working with local people concerned about the beavers impact on their livelihoods. And the James Webb telescope is finally launching. Heidi Hammel, who has been involved in the project for over 20 years tells us what it’s all about. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – CrowdScience has covered a lot this year. And what better way to see out 2021 than to look back at a few of our (and your!) favourite things? Great questions are right at the top of the team’s list – especially with the way that for every one we answer, five more appear in our inbox! So for a festive treat, Marnie asks the crew to answer three of them. What's the sun's role in our sense of direction? Why are we so uncomfortable with other people’s sadness? And why does listening to the radio make us sleepy? (Or is it just too much eggnog…?) From our favourite listener advice on how to keep your Christmas lights untangled to why cold swimming could activate your Vagus nerve, tune in for new questions and more CrowdScience favourites to light up your holiday season! Presented by Marnie Chesterton and many members the CrowdScience Team – Melanie Brown, Marijke Peters, Caroline Steel, Hannah Fisher, Samara Linton and Anand Jagatia. Produced by Sam Baker for BBC World Service. Featuring: • Haneul Jang, post-doctoral researcher, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology • Juliet Rosenfeld, psychotherapist and author of The State of Disbelief: A Story of Death, Love and Forgetting • Mathias Basner, professor of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania (Image: Getty Images)
    12/26/2021
    1:00:49
  • Omicron’s rapid replication rate
    A study from Hong Kong university shows Omicron replicates 70 times faster than two earlier variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Virologist Malik Peiris, explains how tests using cells from the wind pipe showed the dramatic difference, which supports observations of increased transmission. In contrast Omicron replicated less well than other variants on cells from dep in thre lung – offering some possibility that it may produce mild infections. Tornados in the US do not normally occur in December. The one which swept across Kentucky and 3 other states was fuelled by weather patterns likely to have been influenced by long term climate change says Geographer James Elsner of Florida State University. The Parker Solar probe continues its mission of flying closer and closer to the sun. Results just published show what the data the probe picked up when it dipped into the surrounding plasma. NASA’s Nicky Fox is our guide. And how many legs does a millipede have? Until now not as many as you might think. Entomologist Paul Marek of Virginia Tech reveals the Australian specimen with more legs than ever seen before. As many of us gear up for the annual Christmas feast, some of you may be wondering how to eat everything before it goes off. It’s a great question, as the UN puts global food waste at a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes a year – that’s one third of all edible produce being thrown in the bin. So this week the team investigates listener Peter’s query about what makes some fruit and vegetables rot faster than others. Preserving food used to be about ensuring nomadic populations could keep moving without going hungry, but these days some things seem to have an almost indefinite shelf-life. Is it about better packaging or can clever chemistry help products stay better for longer? A Master Food Preserver explains how heat and cold help keep microbes at bay, and how fermentation encourages the growth of healthy bacteria which crowd out the ones that make us ill. Presenter Datshiane Navanayagam learns how to make a sauerkraut that could keep for weeks, and investigates the gases that food giants use to keep fruit and veg field-fresh. But as the industry searches for new techniques to stretch shelf-life even further could preservatives in food be affecting our microbiome? Research shows sulphites may be killing off ‘friendly’ gut bacteria linked to preventing conditions including cancer and Crohn’s disease. (Image: Omicron variant (B.1.1.529): Immunofluorescence staining of uninfected and infected Vero E6 cells. Credit: Microbiology HKU/BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
    12/19/2021
    1:03:10
  • Can the weather trigger a volcano?
    Which came first the volcano or the rain? Volcanic eruptions are known to influence global climate systems, even leading to the cooling of the planet. However local weather conditions can also influence the timing and ferocity of volcanic eruptions. As volcanologist Jenni Barclay explains rainwater can contribute to volcanic instability and even increase the explosiveness of eruptions. Syria has been experiencing civil war for more than 10 years. Many people have left including many of the country's scientists. We speak with 3 exiled Syrian scientists Shaher Abdullateef, Abdulkader Rashwani, and Abdul Hafez about their current work, which involves working with other academics and students in Syria sometimes remotely and sometimes directly. New findings from Chile reveal an unknown Tsunami emanating from an earthquake there in the 1700s. Historical records mention other ones, but not this one. Geoscientist Emma Hocking found the evidence in layers of sand. And we discuss the development of tiny robot-like structures made from frog cells, they can move and build other copies of themselves. Sam Kreigman and Michael Levin explain how. And, Life is full of choices, from the mundane (like what to wear today) to the critical (how should we deal with the pandemic?). So how can we make the best decisions? That’s what listener David wants to know. To investigate, Caroline Steel learns how being smarter doesn’t necessarily make you a good decision maker. She speaks to researchers about the importance of ‘gut feelings’ – and how certain people with no intuition whatsoever can struggle to make choices. She also learns why it’s easier to give advice to other people than to follow it yourself, and how we can work together to make the best decisions in a group. (Image: Eruption of Semeru. Credit: Getty Images)
    12/12/2021
    1:09:33

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