The Big Compost Experiment; Using AI to screen for new antibiotics; Science of slapstick
Composters - we need you! Or rather materials scientists at UCL, Mark Miodownik and Danielle Purkiss, need you to take part in their Big Compost Experiment. Launched back in November, the team asked members of the public to fill in an online questionnaire about their composting and recycling habits. With special reference to plastic packaging labelled as 'compostable', they want you to see whether your compost bin at home can break down these products. Despite starting in the coldest season, where compost production really slows down, they've had some success. To take part, go to https://www.bigcompostexperiment.org.uk/
One particular infectious disease (Covid-19) is dominating the headlines, but it's by no means the only one we should be concerned about. There's an infectious disease crisis that is longstanding, and one of the most significant threats to global health. It’s the on-going antibiotic resistant crisis. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria evolve resistance very quickly, and because of overuse of antibiotics, we’ve effectively driven the evolution of many disease causing bacteria to be resistant to our best antibiotics, thus rendering them redundant as drugs. On top of that, we haven’t found any new classes of antibiotics for many years. And the cost of developing new drugs is very high – billions, and the financial incentive for developing antibiotics is low. So this is a perfect storm. A new study this week shows a glimmer of light in the quest to find new antibiotics, via artificial intelligence. Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, explains how the new drug Halicin was found and the promise it holds as a new antibiotic.
Slapstick is one of the most universally appreciated comedy styles. The physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr Bean so popular has transfixed and entertained generations. But how has it endured the test of time? Why do we enjoy seeing characters in pain? Or is it something deeper rooted that it tells us about the human condition? Laughter is a social action – we do it to show we understand a joke and to signal to people that we get along with them. 'Told By An Idiot' is a theatre company exploring the divide between comedy and tragedy who are currently performing a slapstick style show about the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had been his understudy. Hannah Fisher has been to see the show.
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Coronavirus questions; HMS Challenger and ocean acidification; Sean Carroll's quantum world
Adam Rutherford is joined by Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, Jonathan Ball, to help answer some of your questions on the latest coronavirus outbreak. Will it become endemic, and once infected and recovered how long are we resistant to the virus? And can face masks and alcohol hand gels help prevent infection?
In the 1870's the scientific research ship, HMS Challenger, sailed all the world's oceans measuring sea temperatures, ocean depths and sampling the geology of the seabed. But it's the seawater samples, containing microscopic zooplankton, preserved for 130 years which intrigued climate scientist Dr. Lyndsey Fox. She has been measuring the thickness of the shells of Foraminifera - tiny single-celled organisms - as a way of measuring how much the ocean has acidified over time. The shells are made of calcium carbonate, that is much harder to accrete when the pH drops.
Theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll is very good at explaining the unexplainable. He chats to Adam about his latest book - Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Ordnance Survey - Britain's 220-year-old tech company; Launching synthetic voices and personality test
For the past 220 years, Ordnance Survey have been mapping Great Britain with extraordinary accuracy. But as Gareth discovers when he visits their HQ in Southampton, GB's master map is not a static printed document. It's a 2 petabyte database which is updated up to 20,000 times a day. This adds up to 360 million updates a year. Since the development of the theodolite and the first detailed map in 1801 of the county of Kent, Ordnance Survey have used cutting edge technology, not only to map our lands, but to manipulate, understand and ask questions of the geography of our natural landscapes and built environment.
Voices on the train, public address announcements at the station, automated telephone banking, Alexa and Siri. We are surrounded by electronic voices. But very little research has been done of how we respond to synthetic speech. To investigate the impact of artificially generated voices in our lives, BBC R&D together with our favourite acoustic engineer, Professor Trevor Cox of the University of Salford, has just launched a study. The Synthetic Voices and Personality Test, is an online test we want you to take part in. Please go to https://voicestudy.api.bbc.co.uk and have a listen
Presenter Gareth Mitchell
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Solar Orbiter launch; Mutational signatures in cancer; paleo-oncology
The latest space mission to the Sun is due to launch on Sunday. SolO, the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter, will loop around our star in an elliptical orbit, sling-shotting around Venus. Professor Richard Harrison at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has been on the mission from its conception, he details the instruments and what they're hoping to discover about the Sun and its impact on space weather back here on Earth.
If chemicals in cigarette smoke or exposure to UV light played a role in causing a cancerous tumour, we can now see this evidence in the DNA. These and other causes of cancer are being catalogued by a huge international study revealing the genetic fingerprints of DNA-damaging processes that drive cancer development. Professor Mike Stratton, is director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and author of one of many papers released in Nature and associated journals this week that detail the results of the Pan-Cancer of Whole Genomes Consortium.
Cancer is not a modern disease. Evidence in bones and remains reveal our ancient ancestors also suffered. Dr. Kate Hunt is a paleo-pathologist studying paleo-oncology, a very specific, very recent branch of archaeology, looking through ancient burial sites, artefacts and literature for signs of cancer.
Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Coronavirus update, Typhoid Mary and 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica
With the recent coronavirus outbreak spreading around the world, and concerns about people being infectious before they exhibit any symptoms. Professor of Virology at Nottingham University Jonathan Ball explains infection rates, quarantines and why he's worried about it spreading to the developing world.
'Alice in Typhoidland' is a new exhibition in Oxford recording how that city dealt with typhoid. It’s called that after one of its 19th century residents, Alice Liddell (the girl after whom Alice in Wonderland was named). Her father Henry Liddell was the Dean of Christchurch College and together with his friend Henry Ackland was instrumental in closing off Oxford's open sewers and thereby combating some of the causes of the disease. The exhibition also explores the fate of Typhoid Mary – one of the most famous asymptomatic disease carriers in history.
Exactly 200 years ago, 30th January 1820, at 3:30 local time, the continent of Antarctica was spotted for the first time by a British expedition captained by Edward Bransfield, on the Merchant Ship The Williams. But they weren’t the very first: 3 days earlier - on 27 January - a Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev spotted what is now known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf. The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is spearheading celebrations. Camilla Nichol is its CEO and she describes the history of the icy continent and how it's become the protected scientific reserve it is now.
Producer - Fiona Roberts