260 episodes

The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

Science In Action BBC World Service

    • Science
    • 4.5 • 300 Ratings

The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

    The roots of fentanyl addiction

    The roots of fentanyl addiction

    Fentanyl is a powerful morphine substitute, but it is also incredibly addictive – millions struggle with weaning themselves off it. And of the 600,000 drug deaths worldwide each year, the World Health Organisation estimates 80% are due to opioids in general, with synthetic opioids like fentanyl being a growing part of the problem. New work with genetically manipulated mice suggests that fentanyl affects two parts of the brain, one associated with the high, but also another that regulates fear. This knowledge could aid in the development of treatments to reduce addiction to the opioid.
    Early developers: Long before a developing implants into a mother's uterus, in fact as the fertilised egg divides for the first time into a pair of cells, which line becomes the future baby and which will become the 'life support' system of the placenta has been decided. Embryologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz explains why this early unfolding of the genetic programme is important, and why it's taken so long to discover it.
    Getting through pregnancy is only the first step in a person’s life. Surviving childhood, particularly for our old stone age ancestors, was the next challenge. And a new study looking at children’s teeth found at ancient archaeological sites gives clues as to why our ancestors fared better than the neanderthals around them during the last ice age.
    Supersense: twitching hairs on some caterpillars turn out to be early-warning sensors feeling the electric field of an approaching wasp, giving the potential prey precious moments to hide or escape death. Biophysicist Daniel Robert explains the challenge of seeing the electric world of insect hunters and hunted.
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Jonathan Blackwell
    Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
    (Image: Fentanyl. Credit: Isaac Lee via Getty Images.)

    • 30 min
    Aurora Bore-WOW-lis

    Aurora Bore-WOW-lis

    They were the best northern and southern lights in decades, but why? And what’s next? We hear from astrophysicist Steph Yardley about the solar maximum, geomagnetic storms and atmospheric spectaculars.
    Also, the impossible heatwave in the Philippines made possible by global warming – the analysis of a continent-spanning climate extreme by the World Weather Attribution collaboration.
    Getting close up to raging tornadoes in order to fill in the big gaps that remain in the science of their development.
    And the tale of the lizard’s tail, and how it could lead to safer buildings in the future.
    (Photo: The aurora borealis, also known as the 'northern lights’, are seen over The Roaches near Leek, Staffordshire, Britain, May 10, 2024. Credit: Carl Recine/Reuters)
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Jonathan Blackwell

    • 31 min
    Changing blood types and whale grammar

    Changing blood types and whale grammar

    Could future blood transfusions be made safer by mixing in a new bacterial enzyme? Every year 118 million blood donations need to be carefully sorted to ensure the correct blood types go to the right patients. Prof Martin Olsson, of Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues in Denmark have published a study that suggests an enzyme made by bacteria in our gut could edit our blood cells to effectively convert type A, B and AB to type O. This would be a step towards a universal blood type that could be given to any patient.
    Papua New Guinea’s Naomi Longa is a “Sea Woman of Melanesia”. She works to train local women from the Kimbe Bay region of the Coral Triangle to dive, snorkel, navigate and use AI to monitor the coral reefs there. She is winner of this year’s Whitley Award, and tells us why it is socially and scientifically useful to get locals - specifically females - involved in conservation efforts there.
    Data scientist and roboticist Prof Daniele Rus of MIT has been using Machine Learning to decipher structure in a vast swath of Sperm Whale song data from Dominica. They have discovered a set of patterns and rules of context that seem to govern the way sperm whales structure their distinctive sets of clicks. The next step? See if we can decode any semantic content…
    Also, 200 years after Beethoven’s 9th symphony premiered, science says its composer couldn’t hold a beat. A cautionary tale of the hubris of genetic data miners, Laura Wesseldijk describes to Roland how she and her collaborators designed the paradoxical study to point out the limitations of finding any sort of “musical genius” genes with contemporary techniques.
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield
    Production Coordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
    (Image: Two Sperm Whales, Caribbean Sea, Dominica. Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl via Getty Images)

    • 31 min
    Crossover infections

    Crossover infections

    As bird flu is found in US farm cats fed on raw cow’s milk, chimpanzees are observed eating infected bat dung instead of vegetables. There is a constant threat of infections crossing from species to us and also from species to other species, particularly because of what we do. That is, after all, what happened to start the pandemic.
    We hear about the ongoing struggles of the Chinese virologist who broke his instructions in China in order to share the first COVID genetic data.
    And a strange tale of how tobacco growing might provide bat viruses a path into other species.
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield
    Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
    Image: Cows on an American cattle farm (Credit: Adam Davis/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

    • 27 min
    An armada for asteroid Apophis?

    An armada for asteroid Apophis?

    Friday, April 13th 2029 – mark it in your calendar. That’s the day an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will fly past Earth, closer than some satellites. Don’t worry – it will miss, but it’ll will pass so close to Earth that it will be visible to the naked eye of 2 billion people, particularly in North Africa and Western Europe.
    Roland Pease this week attended the Apophis T-5 Years conference at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, meeting astronomers scrambling to get missions up to the object to learn what kind of threats such asteroids might pose to us in the future and to discuss the science of planetary defence.
    NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX, a follow-on to OSIRIS-REx, will study the physical changes due to the gravitational forces from the Earth as it closely passes us by. But will there be an armada of spacecraft sent to monitor Apophis? The European Space Agency hope to gather support for their own mission, RAMSES.
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Jonathan Blackwell
    Image Credit: JPL/Caltech

    • 26 min
    Unexpected black hole in our galaxy

    Unexpected black hole in our galaxy

    A black hole just discovered in our Milky Way galaxy, weighing 33 times the mass of the Sun, and dating back to near the time of the Big Bang, gives new clues to the origins of this dark astronomical mysteries. And dancing with a Sun-like star in our galactic neighbourhood, it offers a great opportunity for astronomers to take a detailed look in coming years, as astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore of Cambridge University tells the programme.
    Presenter Roland Pease has headed to the lab of Professor Ludovic Orlando in Toulouse, France where they are extracting ancient DNA from horses as part of a project called “Horsepower” - to reveal how our prehistoric ancestors tamed and domesticated these powerful animals (long after cattle and sheep) and in the process helped shape the extraordinary history of the first states of China and Mongolia.

    And a deep look into the mechanisms of addiction – showing how drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, hijack the neuronal pathways that had evolved to drive our innate needs such as eating and drinking. Roland hears from psychiatrist Eric J. Nestler of the Friedman Brain Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, how this could one day improve addiction treatments.
    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Jonathan Blackwell
    Production Coordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
    (Image: An artist's impression shows the orbits of the most massive stellar black hole in our galaxy, dubbed Gaia BH3, and a companion star. Credit: European Southern Observatory via Reuters)

    • 31 min

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5
300 Ratings

300 Ratings

burnbizzle ,

Excellent podcast and great host

This is an excellent podcast with great topics and well hosted. It’s nice when the host covers the topic with enough knowledge to ask intelligent and insightful questions that allows the key elements to be covered. Keep up the good work!

blindGuyJoe ,

Thanks for a GREAT show!

Thanks Roland for a GREAT presentation & thanks to the producer for a GREAT podcast!

mondomando🍺 ,

Beat all around

Best all around science show out there. I’ve been listening since the start and I never cease to be amazed at our world. I’m glad the Covid coverage is minimised now though.

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