101 episodes

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

Science in Action BBC

    • Science
    • 4.5 • 255 Ratings

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

    Africa’s oldest burial

    Africa’s oldest burial

    Analysis of the 78,0000-year-old fossil of a Kenyan boy reveals he was likely buried with care and attention, the body wrapped and laid to rest supported on a pillow. Maria Martinon-Torres, of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, and a team from Kenya and Germany used techniques from paleontology and forensic science to reveal his story from the fragile remains.

    A promising malaria vaccine is to enter trials which could lead to it being used globally to vaccinate children. Merheen Datoo, Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, explains malaria vaccines have been in development for 100 years. Research from these helped covid vaccine development and the success of covid vaccines may now help to speed up the rollout of malaria vaccines.

    Covid vaccines may also help to treat those who have symptoms of long covid – a range of immune system issues that develop sometimes months after the initial infection. Yale University immunologist Akiko Kawasaki is embarking on a research project to assess the impact. If you’d like to take part, have yet to be vaccinated, and live in Connecticut in the US, email covidrecovery@yale.edu.

    And in India scientists are calling on the government to make all data on Covid more widely available. At present Indian bureaucracy means statistics on infection rates, variants and recovery are not distributed widely. Science journalist TV Padma says greater access to the data could help more scientists come together to work on solutions to India’s Covid crisis.





    (Image: An artist’s interpretation of Mtoto’s burial Credit: Fernando Fueyo)



    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Julian Siddle

    • 28 min
    Melting glaciers, warming coffee and a Dragonfly on Titan

    Melting glaciers, warming coffee and a Dragonfly on Titan

    When Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins – who passed away this week – looked down on the earth from lunar orbit during those days in 1969, he saw more ice and a smaller liquid ocean than you would see today. Of the 200,000 glaciers outside of the polar and Greenland ice sheets, their melting in the last two decades accounts for about a fifth of the sea level rise we are also seeing. Thus according to a paper published this week in the journal nature by, amongst others Bob McNabb of Ulster University who describes to Roland how and why these numbers are more certain than others before. As fellow earth observation expert Anna Hogg adds, the work synthesises years of data from almost half a million images of glaciers taken from space, and provides our best handle yet on our accelerating loss of this finite and dwindling natural feature.

    Researchers at Kew in the UK and in Sierra Leone have rediscovered a species of coffee plant once thought lost. As Marnie Chesterton reports, climate change threatens many coffee crops around the world as the most popular variety – arabica – needs cool high altitude conditions which are going to become more scarce. But after a long and arduous search, the researchers have discovered a more resilient variety that might not only save the morning brew for many, it may even prove agriculturally and even economically transformative for some African economies.

    And whilst many of us watch the antics of NASA’s Martian helicopter, Ingenuity, as it whizzes across the distant plains of “Wright’s Field” aerodrome on Mars, some are watching with more trepidation than others. In 6 years’ time, Zibi Turtle, Principle Investigator of NASA’s Dragonfly mission, hopes to launch a much larger octocopter drone to Titan, moon of Saturn. As she describes to Roland, the challenges are huge, not least because dragonfly will carry all its instruments on board as it hops around, finding new landing sites autonomously. And communicating with Earth will take a whopping hour each way.



    (Image: The lunar module, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, ascends back up to the command module with Michael Collins. It is often said that Michael Collins is the only human, living or dead, who is not in this photograph.
    Credit: Michael Collins / NASA)

    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    • 37 min
    Exponential increase in Indian covid cases

    Exponential increase in Indian covid cases

    As Covid cases surge almost beyond belief in India, how much is to do with social distancing, and how much to do with the mutations to the original virus?

    Ramanan Laxminarayan talks to Roland from Delhi about ways in which the huge second wave could and could not have been predicted and avoided. Suggestions of the latest variant to make the headlines, B1.617, have got virologists such as Ravindra Gupta working hard to identify the clinical significance of the latest combinations of mutations.

    In the journal Science, Stephen Chanock of the US Cancer program reports work with colleagues in Ukraine looking at the long footprint of radiation dosing from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, 35 years ago this week. In the first of two papers, they find a definite footprint of radiation damage accounting for the many sad cases of thyroid cancer in people alive in the region at the time. But in another study, they looked at whether any higher level of mutations could be detected in the germlines of children conceived subsequently to parents who had experienced radiation in the disaster. While the parents' own health is often affected, 35 years on, thus far their offspring show no widespread elevated levels of disease, as was commonly expected.

    And in the week that the world witnessed a guilty verdict delivered in the trial for the murder of George Floyd in the US, David Curtis of the University of Utah and colleagues report in the journal PNAS a study that suggests the widespread media coverage of acts of racial violence, including deaths at the hands of police, leads to poorer mental health in Black Americans. As the BBC’s Samara Linton reports, the study involved google search data over five years up to 2017, and nearly 2.3 million survey respondents.

    Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Reporter: Samara Linton
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    • 47 min
    Rolling out the vaccines faster

    Rolling out the vaccines faster

    Two weeks ago several G7 leaders called for an international treaty on Pandemic Preparedness for the future. This week 175 prominent leaders called for lifting the IP on vaccine design. And former UK PM Gordon Brown called on the G7 to finance vaccines for the world in the next two months. But are there technical difficulties that limit the pace of manufacture?

    Anthony McDonnell is an economist at think tank Centre for Global Development who has been looking at the problem since last year. He suggests, amongst other things, one limit is the human expertise in manufacturing these brand-new technologies, with another being a level of vaccine nationalism that is seeing a lack of exports of components involved in manufacture.

    Professor Trudie Lang heads the University of Oxford’s Global Health Network, and looks at health research across the world. She says in most countries there is no lack of public health or infrastructure potential for rolling out the vaccines, if only the supply existed.

    The volcano that erupted explosively on St Vincent last week has led to many thousands of people being evacuated. Dr Joan Latchman of the University of West Indies Seismic Research Centre - who has monitored Caribbean volcanos for several decades - describes from Trinidad how the layers of ash mean recovery will take a long time, even if the explosions and pyroclastic dangers subside reasonably soon. Back in The UK, Prof Jenni Barclay and colleagues are examining rocks from the early part of the eruption, before the explosive phase began, to see if there are clues in the microstructure that could provide clues to the future.

    And how do our brains so quickly tell a scream of delight from a scream of horror? Or of pain? Prof Sascha Frühholz of the University of Geneva has written in the journal PLOS Biology this week about work looking at how we identify the nature of different human screams. One finding is that we perceive joy quicker than fear..



    (Image: Getty Images)

    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    • 45 min
    On the trail of rare blood clots

    On the trail of rare blood clots

    On Wednesday the EU’s EMA and UK’s JCVI announced a suspected correlation between vaccination and an extremely rare type of blood clot. Prof Sabine Eichinger is a co-author of a new paper suggesting a link with vaccination or the immune response to Covid vaccination and suggests the name VIPIT for the condition. One of her patients died at the end of February having presented with a rare combination of symptoms – blood clots and a low blood platelet count. Sabine tells Roland the dots they have managed to join in the story so far.

    Scientists at Fermilab in the USA posted four papers and announced an exciting development in particle physics that might lift the curtain on science beyond the Standard Model. Their measurement of something known as g-2 (“gee minus two”, just fyi), by measuring with phenomenal accuracy the magnetic properties of muons flying round in circles confirms a 20-year old attempt at a similar value by colleagues at Brookhaven. At the time, it was breathtaking but suspicious. Muons, rather like heavy electrons, don’t quite behave as the Standard Model might have us believe, hinting at fields and possibly particles or forces hitherto unknown. Dr. Harry Cliffe – a member of the LHCb team who found something similarly weird two weeks ago - describes the finding and the level of excitement amongst theorists worldwide.

    Superfans around the world have learned to speak fluent Klingon, a fictional language originating from Star Trek. In a quest to understand the science behind these languages often dismissed as gobbledygook, Gaia Vince has been speaking to some of the linguists responsible for creating these languages. It’s time for her to relax the tongue, loosen those jaw muscles and wrap her head around the scientific building blocks embedded in language and what languages like Klingon tell us about prehistoric forms of communication.

    Meanwhile, primatologist Edward Wright of the Max Plank Institute has been hanging out with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and recording the sound of their “chest clapping”. As he describes in the journal Scientific Reports his work confirms what scientists have long suspected - that the famous gesture - often portrayed in films - is a measure of size and strength - allowing communication in the dense, tropical forests in which the animals live.



    Image: Platelets, computer illustration. Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Science Photo Library via Getty Images

    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    • 33 min
    Post-Covid outcomes after release from hospital

    Post-Covid outcomes after release from hospital

    After last year’s first wave of covid-19 in the UK, individuals who had been discharged after hospitalisation suffered higher rates of coronary and respiratory disorders, and even diabetes subsequently over 140 days. As Dr Ami Banerjee of University College London explains, out of 48,000 cases, patients who had had acute covid-19 were four times more likely to be readmitted and 8 times more likely to die. Ami’s team suggests in their paper published in the British Medical Journal that diagnosis, treatment and prevention of post-covid syndrome needs an integrated approach.

    In France, researcher Xavier Montagutelli describes how his team has observed that unlike the original virus, some of the newer Variants of Concern can infect mice in laboratories. They do not show serious illness, but nevertheless host the virus in their lungs. Whilst infection is unlikely in natural environments and not yet observed in the wild, it does show how the viral variants can extend the host range, perhaps leading to more opportunities for mutation. But this finding, posted as a pre-print, also perhaps represents an avenue for deeper gene-specific research that has not so far been possible.

    Over in Colombia, Monica Carvalho of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute describes her team’s findings regarding the origins of the diversity and habitat of rainforests in south America. Looking at leaf fossils and pollen grains from 60 million years ago, they have found significant differences between the forests of the dinosaurs, and the ones we see today. As they write in the journal Science, it all changed when the Chixulub meteor hit the Gulf of Mexico and the global lights went out. The rainforests that grew back were simply not the same.

    But much further back in time, some billion years ago, the forests of the world that were changing the chemistry and making seas inhabitable allowing complex multicellular life, consisted of pencil-lead sized algae quietly photosynthesizing in the shallows of an ocean in what is today remote Canada. Katie Maloney of University of Toronto Mississauga spotted fossils of just these when out on a field trip in Yukon territory. Publishing in Geology Magazine this week, her eagle-eyed finds shed light on this crucial epoch in life history of which there are scant fossilized remains.

    Image: Rainforest canopy
    Credit: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    Presenter: Roland Pease
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    • 36 min

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5
255 Ratings

255 Ratings

etherdog ,

Great science podcast

I am so glad the BBC gave Pease a chance.

Irving679 ,

My favorite science podcast

I like to listen to this podcast while commuting to my work at the lab to get myself excited about the nitty gritty of science. They do a bunch of short interviews per episode on science that’s still a work in progress instead of just celebrating people after they have had an established career. They are great at interviewing people and pick a wide variety of guests.

1000laurie ,

Thank you!

Sadly my government can’t clearly (truthfully) tell me the scientific benefits/risks & how safe/effective convalescent plasma is. This episode was clear & scientific. So happy I can rely on the BBC.

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