300 episodes

Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

BBC Inside Scienc‪e‬ BBC

    • Science
    • 4.5 • 201 Ratings

Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

    Blue carbon; inside Little Foot's skull; reading locked letters

    Blue carbon; inside Little Foot's skull; reading locked letters

    With global warming continuing to increase at an alarming rate, we need all the help we can get to lock up the carbon that we’ve released into the atmosphere. Fortunately, plants have evolved to do just this, but there’s a whole class of plants that often get forgotten: the mangroves and seagrasses that grow between land and sea, which are among the planet’s most effective carbon sinks. Gaia Vince talks to Fanny Douvere, head of the marine programme at UNESCO, about its new report that shows the importance of blue carbon locked up in its marine World Heritage Sites. And Professor Hilary Kennedy, of Bangor University, explains why seagrasses are so effective at locking up carbon.

    Roland Pease reports on the secret journey made by one of the most valuable of human fossils, Little Foot, from Johannesburg to Oxfordshire, where it was scanned at the Diamond Light Source facility – one of the most powerful X-ray machines in the world. He talks to some of the main players about the hush hush voyage, and what they’re hoping to discover.

    There are few things more intriguing than an unopened letter, but what about one from 300 years ago? The Brienne Collection is a Postmaster's trunk containing more than 2000 letters sent to the Hague between 1680 and 1706, and more than 600 are still unopened. In the days before envelopes, people used elaborate folding techniques to secure letters, even tearing off a bit of paper and using that to sew the letter shut, effectively locking it. It makes reading those letters very tricky indeed, especially as antiquarians don't want to risk opening them. Instead, researchers hatched a plan to scan the letters in their untouched, still folded state, and generate a 3D image of their insides of such detail it could be used by an algorithm to unfold it virtually. David Mills from Queen Mary University London tells Gaia about how he used a microtomography scanner to peek inside the unopened letters.

    Presented by Gaia Vince.

    • 30 min
    Good COP Bad COP, Shotgun Lead Persistence, and Featherdown Adaptation

    Good COP Bad COP, Shotgun Lead Persistence, and Featherdown Adaptation

    On Thursday, The UN Environmental Programme published a report called Making Peace With Nature. It attempts to synthesise vast amounts of scientific knowledge and communicate “how climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution can be tackled jointly within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals”. But it also offers clear and digestible messages that governments, institutions, businesses and individuals can act upon. Concluding BBC Inside Science’s month-long look at some of the challenges ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year, and its sister biodiversity meeting in China, Vic speaks with the report’s co-lead Prof Sir Robert Watson FRS and the Tyndall Centre’s Prof Rachel Warren, also a contributing author. Can all the ills of the natural world really be tackled at once?

    Game-shooting, for sport and food, has traditionally used the toxic metal lead for ammunition. In other parts of the world its use has been banned for the dangers to the human food chain and to the pollution in natural environments, and even deaths of wildfowl from poisoning. But not so in the UK. A year ago, as reported on Inside Science at the time, the shooting community announced a voluntary five year transition period to alternative shot materials. But researchers including profs Rhys Green and Debbie Pain from Cambridge University have discovered that a year on, little seems to have changed. Gathering game sold for food across the UK, they found that all but one bird in their sample of 180 contained lead shot.

    Meanwhile, up in the Himalayas, Smithsonian scientist Dr Sahas Barva was enjoying the scenery on a cold day off in 2014 when he saw and heard a tiny Goldcrest, thriving in temperatures of -10C. Wondering how such a tiny thing could keep its body insulated, he decided to investigate feathers, and utilizing the huge numbers of specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection he found some striking commonalities in the thermal properties and adaptations of birds everywhere. The higher up they live, the fluffier their coats.

    Presented by Victoria Gill

    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in association with The Open University.

    • 30 min
    Nasa's Perseverance - will it pay off? And spotting likely hosts for future pandemics.

    Nasa's Perseverance - will it pay off? And spotting likely hosts for future pandemics.

    On Thursday 18th Feb 2020 Nasa’s Perseverance Rover is due to touch down – gently and accurately – in the Jezero crater on Mars. Using similar nail-biting Sky Crane technology as its predecessor Curiosity, if successful it will amongst many other things attempt to fly the first helicopter in the thin Martian atmosphere, and leave small parcels of interesting samples for future missions to collect and return to earth. Unlike previous Martian landings of course, there are no mass-landing parties to be held because of Covid.

    So Vic Gill invites you to join her and current Curiosity and future Rosalind Franklin (ESA’s 2023 Rover) team scientists in nervously awaiting the signal of success.

    Dr Susanne Schwenzer was so tense during Curiosity’s final approach in 2012 that she managed to draw blood from her own hand from clutching her mobile phone too hard. BBC Inside Science expects nothing less this time round. Dr Peter Fawdon has been part of the team seand examining the landing site for ESA’s Martian lander and Rover, currently slated to launch in 2022. The project has had a complicated history, having been delayed several times. But with so much at stake, it’s worth getting right.

    Meanwhile, at Liverpool University, computer scientist Dr Maya Wardeh and virologist Dr Marcus Blagrove have been collaborating to see if Machine Learning and AI can help predict which mammalian species are more likely to harbour the next big coronavirus. Pitting traits and genomes, species similarities, lifestyles and ecosystems of mammals and viruses, they highlight in a paper published in Nature Communications some of the potentially most potent combinations where different coronaviruses could meet and spawn a new breakout. Not just looking for the more quotidian viral mutations the world is increasingly and unfortunately aware of, they have been looking instead for those species where something called homologous recombination between two different viruses, producing a third completely novel type, may occur. It turns out there are many possibilities beyond just bats, which are highly suspected of being the crucible in which SARS-CoV2 was smelted.

    To spot whatever comes next we should keep an eye on camels, rabbits, palm civets and even hedgehogs, according to the algorithm.

    Presented by Victoria Gill
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in Association with the Open University.

    • 49 min
    Meeting Mars, Melting Ice, Ozone on the Mend Again, and A Sea Cacophany

    Meeting Mars, Melting Ice, Ozone on the Mend Again, and A Sea Cacophany

    Victoria Gill and guests discuss the signs and symptoms of melting ice and anthropogenic climate warming, illicit CFC production and the racket we make in the seas.

    As two robotic missions from UAE and China arrive at Mars , and a third from NASA arrives next week, UK astronaut Tim Peake talks of the international collaboration in Mars research that is to come. And continuing BBC Inside Science's look at some of the issues facing COP26 delegates to Glasgow this autumn, Victoria is joined by cryosphere scientist Dr Anna Hogg,

    Anna studies – sometimes from space - how polar and Greenland ice sheets are melting and shifting as our climate warms. But those giant volumes of ice and concomitant rising sea levels might not be the only threat to people’s lives. It may be that the recent deadly flash flood in India was a result of a swiftly melting Himalayan glacier.

    The Montreal treaty - prohibiting the production of CFCs to allow the man-made polar hole in the Ozone layer identified back in the 1980s to repair - has long been cited as the classic example of an effective international agreement to protect earth's environment. But just a few years ago in 2018 Luke Western and colleagues identified not just that CFC production was suddenly and unexpectedly rising, but that it was mainly emanating from an area in eastern China. It was speculated then that their use in foams for buildings was happening illicitly on a large scale. This week, they happily announce that those emissions seem to have ceased, and that the target of a healthy ozone layer is back on track.

    The oceans are, since man first took to the waves, a noisy place. In a comprehensive paper published last week in the journal Science Carlos Duarte and colleagues describe how huge an impact the many anthropogenic noises that echo for miles across the sea beds have on virtually all aquatic life. He argues that it is one stressor, rather like CFCs, that we could and should take swift and effective action to address, that the time for that is ripe, and that doing so will see a swift rebound in many aquatic ecosystems. Humans are not naturally adapted to hear the noise underwater, but to illustrate the point, co-author digital artist Jana Winderen has made an acoustic demonstration for your benefit, of quite how noisy neighbours we are

    Also, for listeners on BBC Sounds, the BBC's Roland Pease gives an update on where and how scientists think the covid-19 epidemic began, after a WHO team of scientists report on their recent mission to Wuhan and the infamous market. As Roland and WHO delegate Peter Daszak surmise, we still don't quite know, but it wasn't in a lab.

    Presented by Victoria Gill
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in Association with The Open University.

    • 41 min
    Putting a number on biodiversity

    Putting a number on biodiversity

    Ahead of the COP summit in Glasgow at the end of the year, this week an important study was published that attempts to enumerate the value of biodiversity in the economics of humankind. Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta's review makes it clear how essential and yet vulnerable it is.

    Trees play a large part in the biosystems of the planet, and replanting them is often touted as a solution to many of the carbon challeneges of the next century. But a paper and forthcoming conference hosted by Kew points out just how carefully reforestation - let alone afforestation - must be conducted.

    Kew tree expert Kate Hardwick tells Victoria about their 10 golden rules of planting trees.

    In a forest in Borneo, trees have been planted that will extract the high levels of Nickel from the local soil. It is hoped that the biomass from the trees can then be used to harvest the nickel. It is an attempt to commercialize successfully the dreams of "phytomining" - finding specific crops or traits in plants that can act to "hyperaccumulate" minerals and metals from soils. BBC Inside Science's Harrison Lewis reports how, after some intrepid botany, the idea might just now be bearing heavy fruit.

    But finding the plants that do some of what you want them to does not mean they should be planted just anywhere. Lulu Zhang from United Nations University in Dresden, Germany tells Victoria about the Chinese experience of a few decades ago when the Black Lotus tree seemed to be just the ticket for newly foresting huge areas of China to stabilize and neutralize soils. Unfortunately, nobody realized how thirsty the monocultured forest would be, and the thirsty trees deprived the area of much of the rainwater from humans and agriculture.

    Meanwhile this week scientists have published work looking at how even the noise from traffic on the roads can disrupt animal behaviour. Chris Templeton of Pacific University in Oregon has been studying how some bird's cognititve abilities can be affected. And Adam Bent describes work at Anglia Ruskin University into how crickets' mating choices can be adversely affected by recordings of the A14 near Cambridge.

    Presented by Victoria Gill
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in association with The Open University

    • 41 min
    Next Gen Covid Vaccines; Man's Oldest Bestest Friend; Bilingual Brain Development

    Next Gen Covid Vaccines; Man's Oldest Bestest Friend; Bilingual Brain Development

    A year after the first SARS-Cov2 sequences were received in the vaccine labs, Dr Alex Lathbridge and guests look into ongoing development and what next year's booster shots might be like.

    Prof Robin Shattock's team at Imperial College are still working on their vaccine technology - called 'Self Amplifying RNA' or saRNA. A little bit behind their well financed corporate colleagues, this week they announced that instead of pressing ahead with a phase III trial, they will instead look to developing possible boosters and alternative targets just in case more and more serious mutations happen. But as Prof Anna Blakney explains from her lab at University of British Columbia, the possibilities of saRNA don't stop with coronaviruses.

    Researchers in the journal PNAS report this week a new theory as to when and where dogs were first domesticated by humans, and suggest that they accompanied the first humans across the Bering straight into America. Inside Science's Geoff Marsh has a sniff around.

    And Dr Dean D'Souza from Anglia Ruskin University describes in Science Advances work he has done looking at certain kinds of development in children who grow up in bilingual households. His work suggests a slightly faster and keener observation of detailed changes in visual cues, and that this seems to be a trait that survives into adulthood.

    Presented by Alex Lathbridge

    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in Association with The Open University

    • 35 min

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5
201 Ratings

201 Ratings

TiffanyDesiree ,

Favorite science podcast

This is a must-listen podcast. I enjoy all the different hosts and contributors, but Marnie is excellent.

brainzmatter ,

Yes, where is Adam?

Marnie is good, but Adam is why I tune in.

Update 17 May- Have I missed an announcement? Is Adam on leave or has he left the program?

June 12 - Is Adam ever coming back? Why has there been no announcement? Not the same show anymore. Unsubscribed for now and will keep reading Adam’s books.

So...somehow I missed that Adam had Covid! Bad case as well. Terrifying. Then he was back and now he’s gone again. I can’t keep up. I just hope he is well. The new guy sounds a lot like Adam, but now it’s someone different every week. I give up. There is nothing distinct about this program anymore. The same topics are covered elsewhere with more experienced presenters. This podcast has gone from five to two stars.

jmz1421 ,

Excellent science podcast

One of my favorite science podcasts. Covers all kinds of research areas, with a suitable level of technical detail. I’m looking forward to when there is less covid coverage! Adam Rutherford is great, if you like him as a presenter you should check out his books on genetics; he narrates the audio editions.

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