Explorations in the world of science.
The Life Scientific: Giles Yeo
Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work.
The power of night
Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s nocturnal inhabitants to understand why it pays to stir once the sun goes down.
She examines some of the extraordinary nocturnal adaptations from the largest group of mammals, the bats, to the mysterious long fingered lemur, the Aye Aye, to hear why the dark has proved evolutionarily advantageous. In an increasingly crowded planet, could future survival for many diurnal animals depend on a nightlife?
Producer Adrian Washbourne
Picture: Honey Badger, Credit: Cindernatalie/Getty Images
The power of one
We humans are a supremely social species, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us into solitary confinement.
It feels like an unnatural, regressive move, that goes against our collective nature. So why do some species embrace the power of one? And how do they make a success of a solo existence?
Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s biggest loners - from the Komodo Dragon, to the Okapi and the Black Rhino - to explore the lure of solitude.
Producer: Beth Eastwood
Picture: Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, Credit: Jiri Hrebicek/Getty Images
The power of celibacy
You might think that sex is essential for life, but you'd be wrong!
Lucy Cooke travels to the Hawaiian island of Oahu to meet a community of mourning geckos - self-cloning sisters who have done away with males altogether.
An array of reptiles, amphibians and fish, along with a host of spineless wonders, from snails to spiders, can reproduce without sex. It's what biologists call parthenogenesis, from the Greek meaning “virgin birth”.
Many, like the mourning gecko, make great “weed” species. They're explosive opportunists capable of rapidly colonising new territory, as they don’t need to waste energy finding a mate. But without the mixing up of genes, that sex with a male provides, they are less able to adapt and change.
So sex pays if you don’t want to go extinct.
Yet there is one self-cloning sister that defies that theory - the Bdelloid Rotifer. Living for millions of years and comprising over 450 species, these microscopic water dwelling creatures have conquered the planet. They get around the drawbacks of no sex, by stealing genes, and escape disease by desiccating and then coming back to life.
Producer: Beth Eastwood
Picture: Female Komodo dragon at London Zoo, Credit: Matthew Fearn/PA
The Evidence: The Shapeshifting Virus
News that at least three new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in three separate continents have sent a chill throughout the scientific community. All viruses mutate but the speed and scale of the changes and the fact they occurred independently, is seen as a wake-up call.
Genetic sequencing in South Africa first raised the alarm about the version of the virus that was racing through populations in the Eastern and then Western Cape.
Scientists at the country’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, KRISP, were struck by the sheer number of genetic mutations, many of which were on the all-important spike protein. This is where the virus binds to human cells and where neutralising antibodies, our immune system’s defences, also mount their defence. Any changes there, researchers knew, could be bad news.
Genetic sequencers in the UK also identified a new lineage which shares just some of the mutations in the South African variant. Named B.1.1.7 this version tore through populations in the South East of England and is now the dominant strain throughout the country and beyond. Latest estimates suggest is between 30 and 50% more infectious, although exactly how it is more transmissible is still being worked out.
In Brazil too, news earlier this month of another troubling variant, the P.1. tearing through populations in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, where so many were infected in the first wave of the pandemic. Like the version identified in South Africa, this variant also has mutation called E484K on the all-important spike protein. This could make the virus better at evading antibodies, with huge implications for re-infection rates and the new vaccines.
Claudia Hammond and her expert panel consider what the new shapeshifting virus means for the global goal of herd immunity and an end to the pandemic. And they answer your questions. Please do keep your virus queries coming in to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question could be included in the next programme.
Claudia’s guests include Dr Richard Lessells, infectious diseases specialist from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and part of the team that identified the South African variant; Dr Muge Cevik, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and a member of the UK’s expert committee NERVTAG (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group); Dr Shane Crotty, Professor for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at la Jolla Institute for Immunology, University of California San Diego in the USA and Dr Margaret Harris from the World Health Organisation in Geneva.
Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Donald McDonald and Tim Heffer
When US health expert sighed last week that science could now speak again, his sense of relief was shared by many scientists. Since the start of the Trump administration, experts inside the US government's science agencies, and those outside working with them have felt their efforts sidelined. From the coronavirus effort to international relations and the border wall, Roland Pease hears from some of those who have felt shut out of the nation's science conversation these past four years.
Presenter: Roland Pease
Picture: U.S. President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security, credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Thought-provoking topics presented. An amazing programme! Thanks! :)
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