Coronavirus outbreak in China; Genetic diseases in Amish communities and getting an Egyptian mummy to speak
With news reports moving as quickly as the virus may be spreading, the latest coronavirus outbreak which is thought to have started in Wuhan in central China is fast becoming a global health concern. Adam Rutherford speaks to BBC Inside Science's resident virologist Professor Jonathan Ball from Nottingham University, who says one of the most urgent things to do is to find out where the virus came from, and what animal it jumped to humans from.
The Anabaptist Amish communities are some of the fastest growing populations on the planet. They came to the US from the Swiss-German border in the 18th and 19th centuries and have maintained their plain, simple community-minded way of life. Partly because they all descended from the same geographical area and partly because they tend to marry within their own communities, they can suffer from a particular spectrum of genetic disorders. Professor Andrew Crosby and Dr. Emma Baple from Exeter University have been studying these diseases, including a number new to medicine, and in return they are helping the Amish to understand and treat some of these debilitating diseases.
He may currently sound more like a sheep baa-ing, but in a proof of concept experiment, Professor David Howard, an electrical engineer at Royal Holloway University of London, has been able to scan, 3D print and electronically reanimate the vocal tract of Nesyamum, a 3000 year old Egyptian mummy. The eventual hope is to recreate his tongue and try to get him to sing.
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Reproducibility crisis in science; Aeolus wind-measuring satellite; electric cars
Science is built upon the idea that results can be verified by others. Scientists do their experiments and write up their methods and results and submit them to a journal that sends them to other scientists, who check them and if they pass muster, the study gets published for further scrutiny. One of the keystones of this process is that results can be reproduced. If your results can’t be replicated, something is amiss. Over the last few years, particularly in the field of psychology, many high profile findings have not been reproduced. Now, the same problems that have plagued psychology are spilling over into other areas. This week, a study showed that ocean acidification does not significantly alter fish behaviour, as had been reported several times before. Adam Rutherford discusses the crisis with Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at Manchester University.
ESA’s Aeolus mission was launched in August 2018. It’s one of the European Space Agency’s Earth Explorer satellites. The Aeolus satellite uses lasers to monitor the wind by firing an ultraviolet laser beam into the atmosphere and catching the light’s reflection as it scatters off molecules and particles carried along in the air. It was planned to be very much a proof of principle mission, testing the science, with longer-term plans for a whole constellation of wind monitoring satellites. But Aeolus has performed so well in the tests that, unusually for meteorological science, the results are now considered robust enough to be inputted into the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts models.
The UK is aiming to phase out conventional combustion engines in favour of more energy-efficient, less polluting electric vehicles by 2040. In response to a listener’s question on the cleanliness of these machines, BBC Inside Science reporter, Tristan Varela, conducts an investigation in the streets, garages, and laboratories of London. He finds that electric cars are relatively clean in the UK, where energy generation from renewable sources has recently overtaken fossil fuels. However, sales of new electric cars are still heavily outweighed by large, fossil fuel hungry, SUVs. But some people are instead converting existing cars to make their vehicles more environmentally-friendly.
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Australian bush fires; Veganuary and LIGO
2019 was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia. The Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode weather systems, plus existing drought conditions, all primed the continent for the horrific fire season currently raging in the east and south east of the country. Climate scientist at the University of New South Wales Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick is in no doubt global warming played a role in making these the worst fires in recent history. Making matters even worse is that the ferocity of the bush-fires is creating its own weather. Nicholas McCarthy at the University of Queensland studies fire-induced weather and he explains how this can help spread the fires further.
January is also Veganuary, a chance for you to try being vegan for 31 days. The reasons for giving up animal products in your diet are varied, from reducing your carbon footprint to not eating animals and getting healthy. Reporter Geoff Marsh is interested in the evidence in favour for and against a vegan diet.
A signal in April 2019 picked up by the LIGO Livingston Observatory has been confirmed as the gravitational ripples from a collision of two neutron stars. LIGO Livingston is part of a gravitational-wave network that includes LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), and the European Virgo detector.
Producer - Fiona Roberts
The hidden history in our DNA - Part 2 - Travel and Culture
Our genomes are more than just an instruction manual for our bodies. They are maps, diaries, history books and medical records of our and our ancestor's lives...if you know how to read them. In the second part of BBC Inside Science's special, series, Adam Rutherford, UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists discover how travel and even culture of our ancestors can be decoded in our DNA today.
The hidden history in our DNA - Part 1 - Sex and Disease
Our genomes are more than just an instruction manual for our bodies. They are maps, diaries, history books and medical records of our and our ancestors' lives.....if you know how to read them. In this programme and the next Adam Rutherford is joined by UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists who are cracking these genomic codes to tell the human story. This week they explore how sex and disease over the past few thousand years has left indelible marks on our DNA.