299 episodes

Explorations in the world of science.

Discovery BBC

    • Science
    • 3.0, 1 Rating

Explorations in the world of science.

    Human Genome Project's 20th Anniversary

    Human Genome Project's 20th Anniversary

    Adam Rutherford celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary scientific endeavours of all time - the Human Genome Project.

    Its scope and scale was breath-taking, set up to read every one of the 3 billion nucleotides, or letters of genetic information, contained within the DNA in every cell of the human body. It took seven years, hundreds of scientists, cost almost $3 billion and, amazingly, came in under budget and on time.

    Adam reflects back on that momentous time with Ewan Birney, Director of the European Bio-informatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Twenty years ago, he was a PhD student working on the project, in the months leading up to the first draft.

    The Human Genome Project underpins many branches of science, from human evolution and synthetic biology to forensic genetics and ancestry testing. But a key motivation for the project was to alleviate human suffering. While the ‘cures’, hyped by the media back in 2000, were not realistic our understanding of disease has been revolutionised.

    Adam talks to Cancer Research UK Scientist, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from Cambridge University, who explains why the sequencing of the human genome has been so crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Human Genome Project is also playing a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kenneth Baillie has been treating critically ill patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary since the pandemic started. As the Lead on GenOMICC, a global collaboration on genetics and critical illness, he has joined forces with Genomics England and the NHS, to pinpoint genetic signals in these patients to help identify the best treatments.

    Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts

    Picture: DNA Genetic Code Colorful Genome, Credit: ktsimage/Getty Images

    • 26 min
    Brian Greene

    Brian Greene

    Brian Greene studies the universe at the largest and smallest scales imaginable. When he was just twelve years old, Brian wandered round Columbia University in New York looking for someone to teach him mathematics, with a letter of recommendation from his school teacher. While his mother wanted him to make money, his father encouraged Brian to pursue his passion, which was trying to understand the nature of the universe.

    He studied physics at Harvard University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. While at Oxford he learnt about a bold new Theory of Everything which predicts that the universe is made not of particles but rather tiny strings which vibrate in multiple dimensions. Now a Professor at Columbia University, he has worked on string theory ever since.

    He talks to Jim Al-Khalili about the rise and fall of string and superstring theory and why when he first started to think about what would happen to the universe at the end of time, he experienced a feeling of ‘hollow dread’.

    • 27 min
    Jane Goodall

    Jane Goodall

    Jane Goodall, aged 86, reflects on the years she spent living with the wild chimpanzees in Gombe in eastern Tanzania and tells Jim Al Khalili why she believes the best way to bring about change is to ‘creep into people’s hearts’. Jane shot to fame when she appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1963 and appeared in a documentary film directed by Orson Welles. Her ground breaking observations introduced us to the social and emotional lives of wild chimpanzees and changed our view of what it is to be human. Images of her younger self play wrestling with baby chimps make Jane feel slightly apprehensive now but at the time she didn’t give it a second thought. However, she did take care to protect her young son. Seeing distressing footage of chimps who were living in captivity, she gave up fieldwork to become an activist, working to liberate chimpanzees that were being used for medical research or sold for meat or as pets, and setting up chimp sanctuaries for animals that were no longer able to live in the wild. For the last thirty years, she has campaigned gently but relentlessly to protect wild animals and wild places, touring the world and performing on stage in front of huge audiences. Her global youth programme, Roots and Shoots has inspired and empowered millions of people to understand and respect nature, leading some to call her ‘the mother Theresa of the environment’. A label she dislikes.

    Producer: Anna Buckley

    Photo credit: the Jane Goodall Institute / By Bill Wallauer

    • 27 min
    Bed

    Bed

    After a long journey, there’s nothing nicer for Katy than climbing into her own bed. It’s often the first major purchase we make when we grow up and leave home.

    Its significance was not lost on our ancestors. The bed was often the place where societal attitudes to sleep, superstition, sex, and status were played out, sometimes in dramatic form.

    So where did the bed come from, and what can this everyday object tell us about ourselves?

    A sleeper in early modern times believed that sleep was akin to death, with the devil waiting to pounce after darkness. So bed-time rituals were performed at the bedside and wolves’ teeth were often hung around the sleeper’s neck. Iron daggers were dangled over the cradles of infants at night to prevent them from being changed into demon babies.

    While we may have outgrown a fear of the devil, sleep expert and neuroscientist Prof Russell Foster fears the modern-day obsession that’s disrupting our sleep – our mobile devices. His advice? Prepare your bed for a good night’s sleep and defend it with a passion.

    Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner, and Prof Sasha Handley, expert on Early Modern History and sleep during this time.

    Producer: Beth Eastwood.

    Picture: Bed, Credit: Igor Vershinsky/Getty Images

    • 26 min
    Covid-19: Recovery

    Covid-19: Recovery

    Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world.

    Our panel of experts discuss how many people make full recoveries but others are finding that life hasn’t yet returned to normal months after infection. In India and Sweden, clinics are being set up to follow survivors of the virus and doctors are discovering that people are having difficulties assimilating what happened to them. And we hear about how three generations of one Spanish family all survived and how they are all recovering differently, including the 96 year old grandmother.

    On the panel are Seema Shah, Professor of Medical Ethics at North Western University, Professor David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Soo Aleman from the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, Dr David Collier, Clinical director of the William Harvey Clinical Research Centre, Queen Mary University of London and Dr Netravathi M, Professor of Neurology at the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuroscience in Bangalore in India.

    The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection.

    Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel
    Editor: Deborah Cohen

    • 50 min
    Toilet

    Toilet

    You may call it the toilet, the loo, the privy, the potty, the can or even the bathroom, but whatever you call it, this everyday object has its roots in Bronze Age Pakistan. It even had a seat!

    But how did the toilet come to be? Given one third of the world’s population still live without one, how much is our embarrassment around toilet habits to blame? And what scientific developments are underway to help make them truly universal?

    Water and Sanitation Expert, Alison Parker, from Cranfield University believes part of the solution lies in a waterless toilet which creates ash, water from the waste it receives, and the energy it needs to operate, from the waste it receives.

    Even in the UK, we don’t always have access to a toilet when we need one. Over the past decade, the number of public conveniences has dropped by a half, leaving older people and the disabled, who may need easy access, unable to leave their homes. Raymond Martin, Managing Director of the British Toilet Association, hopes to stop our public conveniences going down the pan.

    Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner.

    Producer: Beth Eastwood

    Picture: Bathroom/Getty Images

    • 27 min

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