Science news and highlights of the week
Covid- 19 – Good news on immunity
Tests on patients for up to 8 months following their infection with SARS- CoV-2 suggests an immune response can persist. Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf at the La Jolla Institute in California are optimistic this could mean vaccines would also confer long lasting immunity.
An analysis of samples from Kenya’s blood banks by Sophie Uyoga at the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Programme reveals far more people in Kenya contracted the virus than was previously know. The figures mean Kenya has similar levels of infection to many European countries.
And a study of mosquitoes by Louis Lambrechts of the Pasteur Institute in Paris reveals why Zika, a virus originating in Africa is much more prevalent in other parts of the world.
We also look at the future of the Nile. Ethiopia is building a massive Dam which will have consequences for Sudan and Egypt who are reliant on the Nile’s waters says hydrologist Hisham Eldardiry from the University of Washington, Seattle.
Every year, Western Afghanistan is hit with a fierce 120-day wind, and listener Hamid wants to know what causes this phenomenon? He’s from the city of Herat, where what starts as a gentle breeze in the morning can pick up to become a dangerous gale just a few hours later, devastating buildings and causing power outages.
The BBC’s Abdullah Elham in Kabul tells us the country has plenty of other ‘friendly’ wind but this one is considered ‘fierce’. CrowdScience talks to Professor Amir Aghakouchak to discover more about the phenomenon, and learns about the pollution problems Herat’s summer storm causes in neighbouring Iran. But it’s not all bad news. Professor Lorraine Remer explains how NASA used satellites to map how wind transport Saharan sand almost half way round the world, fertilising the Amazon rainforest.
[IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images]
Covid-19 defeats US Marines
The WHO is working with China to try and pinpoint the source of SARS- COV-2. Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says there are lessons we can learn from the investigation she led into the original SARS outbreak back in 2003. That inquiry revealed how SARS had spread from bats to humans via civet cats.
A Covid-19 vaccine claims to be 90% effective. It uses genetic material, messenger RNA. Daniel Anderson of Harvard MIT Health Science tells us about the huge potential of mRNA to provide treatments for many medical conditions.
However, rolling out such a vaccine globally faces a huge range of economic and practical obstacles as ethicist Nicole Hassoun of Binghamton University explains.
And a unique experiment shows despite a vast range of precautions including being isolated US Marines have contracted Covid -19. Stuart Sealfon, Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai Hospitals says this study shows we need testing to be integrated more thoroughly into everyday life and that many of the precautions we currently use may not be enough to prevent transmission.
We all feel pain on a regular basis; when we stub a toe, break a bone or even experience heartbreak. Bebeto from Cameroon wants to know how to cope with a pain in his wrist that just won’t go away. Does a positive mindset help? Or perhaps meditation? Marnie Chesterton speaks to psychologists and neuroscientists to find the answers.
We hear from two people with very different experiences of pain. Lucy has fibromyalgia and experiences pain all over her body every day. While Stephen has a rare genetic condition which means he doesn’t feel physical pain at all. But they both argue that pain shouldn’t always be unwanted. Perhaps we need to embrace and accept our pain in order to beat it.
(Image: Credit: Getty Images)
Coronavirus spreads from mink to humans
All the farmed mink in Denmark are to be killed. Around 17 million. This is because they have SARS COV-2 coronavirus circulating among them and some humans have contracted a new strain from the animals. The scientific detail is sketchy, but Emma Hodcroft at Basel University pieces together a picture of what this means for tackling the virus.
Typhoon Goni and hurricane Eta are two very powerful tropical cyclones. But the way these storms are recorded differs by geographical location and recording style. We speak with Kerry Emanuel, a professor at MIT in Boston, USA.
The magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the Mediterranean last Friday (30/10/20) was 70 miles away from the city of Izmir, but despite this, there was devastating loss of life due to collapsed buildings. Earthquake engineer Eser Çaktı from the Turkish University of Boğaziçi, and Tiziana Rossetto from University College London talk us through the damage.
Migratory arctic animals are a weathervane for how the world is coping with climate change. Scientists have now pulled together monitoring data for these species’ movements into one accessible bank. Sarah Davidson tells us how this can help us understand the impact of Arctic climate change.
CrowdScience listeners come in all shapes, sizes and ages. This episode is dedicated to our younger listeners who, as we’ve learned before, are experts at asking those superficially obvious questions that for parents, are anything but easy to answer. To start off with, Sylvia, asks why elephants are so big? As we hear from our expert – mammals were at one time, much larger – so perhaps the question should be, why aren’t they bigger? We investigate what drives body size in the animal kingdom.
Presenter Marnie Chesterton, together with our ‘cub’ reporter Arlo, goes in search of the most brilliant scientific minds to respond to a slew of other queries. Shambhavi, from Singapore wonders why humans have five digits on each hand? And Benni from California asks why dogs don’t get sick when they drink from muddy puddles? Do dogs have some amazing ability to fight off viruses and bugs?
Beyond the confines of our planet, we’ve also got a question from Olivia, from Sydney, Australia, who regularly contemplates the universe: what is the biggest object in it she wonders? Marnie and her experts do their best to solve these mysteries.
(Image: Credit: Getty Images)
Osiris Rex stows asteroid material
Last week NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission successfully touched down on asteroid Bennu’s crumbly surface. But the spacecraft collected so much material that the canister wouldn’t close. NASA systems engineer Estelle Church tells Roland Pease how she and the team back on Earth performed clever manoeuvres to remotely successfully shut the lid.
As winter draws on in the North, and people spend more time indoors, there’s considerable debate about the conditions in which SARS-Cov2 is more likely to spread. Princeton University’s Dylan Morris has just published research exploring the coronavirus’s survival in different humidities and temperatures.
Indian agriculture in some areas uses vast amounts of water. Dr Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar has discovered that this irrigation, plus very high temperatures, is causing not just extreme discomfort amongst the population but also more deaths.
In the 1930s serious dust storms over several years ruined crops and lives over a huge part of Midwest America. The dustbowl conditions were made famous by the folk songs of Woodie Guthrie and in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath. Now a study in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that levels of dust have doubled in the past twenty years. Roland Pease asks researchers and farmers if they think the dust bowl is returning.
We’ve probably all got a friend who sings along wildly out of tune - or maybe you are that person. But why are some of us apparently tone deaf, while others can hold a melody? Can you train yourself to sing in tune, or is it mostly down to raw talent?
These musical questions, from CrowdScience listeners Jenny and Anastasia, certainly struck a chord with us. Anastasia loves to sing but her friends tell her she’s off-key - or that “a bear trod on her ear,” as they say in her native Russia. Is it possible for her to improve her singing voice, and what are the best ways of going about it?
Both musicians and scientists help us tackle these questions, and explain what’s going on in our ears, brains and throats when we try to sing the right notes. We learn about congenital amusia, a condition which makes it almost impossible to tell if you’re in tune or not, and attempt to tease out the relative influence of our genes and our environment when it comes to musical ability.
(Image: Getty Images)
Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid
Science in Action talks to Nasa researcher Hannah Kaplan who is part of the team for the space agency’s sampling mission to the asteroid Bennu. Mission scientists were overjoyed this week when the probe Osiris Rex momentarily touched the asteroid and sucked up some of the sand and grit on its surface.
What might we learn when the sample is returned to Earth in three years' time? There is some not-such-good news about a theory about immunity to the pandemic coronavirus, and medical researchers in the UK announce the world’s first study that will deliberately infect volunteers with the novel coronavirus. The so-called challenge study is planned to begin in London in January. The purpose is to speed up the quest for effective Covid-19 vaccines but will it be safe for the participants? And there’s a new green chemistry breakthrough for tackling the world’s plastic waste crisis.
And All living things are related to each other, from elephants to algae, e-coli to humans like us. Within our cells we hold genetic information in the form of DNA or RNA. But despite viruses sharing these molecules, many scientists don't consider them to be 'life'.
Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, but some can insert their DNA into a host to pass genes sideways through the branching tree of life. As a result, viruses’ relationship with life is.... complex.
Two of our listeners had viruses on the mind, so they sent in the same question to CrowdScience. Senan from Singapore and Melvin from South Africa want to know how viruses began to see if this can tell us whether they shared a common ancestor with humans.
To dig into this complexity Marnie Chesterton speaks with an expert on Koala genetics – Dr Rachael Tarlinton. Koalas are in the middle of tackling a retroviruses, a type of virus that plants DNA into our cells as a reproduction strategy. Her research could reveal why humans life has so much viral DNA within our genomes.
Marnie speaks with a computational biologist Professor Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, who has found a new way to trace the family tree for billions of years using proteins common to all life on earth, and speaks with Professor Chantal Abergel who paints a picture of how viruses went from being the losers of evolution, to being highly successful parasites of cells.
(Image: Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid. Credit Nasa)
Covid -19 mortality
Why is there such a range in the number of deaths from Covid -19 between countries? A study of the data across 21 industrialised countries reveals a wide discrepancy. Preparedness and the point at which countries went into lockdown were key factors says Epidemiologist Jonny Pearson- Stuttard
Recurring illnesses which show up sometimes months after a Covid -19 infections are being more commonly reported. The Uk’s National Institute for Health research has launched a major initiative to better understand this long term effect of the disease, Candace Imison tells us more.
And another reported case of Covid 19 reinfection raises questions about widely held beliefs on immunity Microbiologist Sarah Pitt helps us separate the science from the fiction.
We also take a look at a black hole as it swallows up a star or at least at what’s detectable. Katy Alexander has trained radio telescopes at this distant event.
Curious CrowdScience listeners have suddenly been struck by the oddity of their behaviours. Elise ponders why she blushes. Thankfully, listener David is a vascular surgeon and knows a thing or two about blushing, as he performs operations on people debilitated by constant red-dening. He has some answers for us, but asks why did blushing evolve?
In the past, red cheeks have been linked to necrophilia, repressed cannibalism, and even a de-sire for men to experience menstruation! Thankfully, research has come a long way since then, as blushing experts Peter de Jong and Corine Dijk explain.
Scientists believe that it evolved as a nonverbal signal to show someone you’re sorry or that you care about what they think. This would have important for our survival in the group, en-suring we didn’t get into a fight or get kicked out the group.
Anand Jagatia gets to grips with blushing and other bodily behaviours – including a question from Thai listener Nitcha who wonders why we yawn as well as a question from Mohamed in Ghana and Biana in Trinidad and Tobago who both asked why people scratch their heads when they think. To answer these questions, Anand’s joined by yawning researcher Andrew Gallup and Sophie Scott as well as body language expert Blanca Cobb.
[Images: Getty Images]
Molly Bentley from a Big Picture Science misrepresents the actions being taken by the American president and seems to be drawing on her own political affiliations in her biased assessment. People in the U.K. be aware that Bentley does not represent the views of all Americans concerning the job being done by Trump.