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Discovery podcast

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Explorations in the world of science.

 

#299

Surprising symmetries

Two eyes, two arms, two legs - we are roughly symmetrical on the outside, but inside we are all over the place! We just have one heart, which is usually on the left, one liver on the right, one spleen and one appendix. "Why is that?" wonders listener Joanne. Our science sleuths discover that being symmetrical down the middle - at least on the outside - is by far the most common body plan across the animal kingdom. Professor Sebastian Shimeld from the University of Oxford takes us on a journey into the deep evolutionary past, to uncover how two-sided body structures first emerged in ancient worm-like creatures, and why this layout eventually proved so useful for swimming, walking and flying. Garden snails turn out to be a surprising exception – their shells coil in one direction and on just one side of their body. Professor Angus Davison from the University of Nottingham tells the tale of his international quest to find a romantic partner for Jeremy – a rare left-coiling snail who could only mate with another left-coiling snail! Dr Daniel Grimes from the University of Oregon unfolds the delicate mechanisms by which an initially symmetrical embryo starts to develop differently down one side, and everyone puzzles over the mystery of the left-handed 'mirror molecules' - so called L-amino acids - which turn out to be the building blocks of every living organism. A curious case indeed! ... Read more

6 hrs Ago

27 MINS

27:50

6 hrs Ago


#298

The weird waves of wi-fi

We use wi-fi every day, but do you know how it works? “Is it waves and science or just some mystical magical force?” wonders listener Abby. Well, our science sleuths are on the case. To help them navigate the strange realm of electromagnetic waves they are joined by Andrew Nix, Professor of Wireless Communication Systems from the University of Bristol. He explains why your wi-fi router won’t heat up your baked beans, but your microwave will. Andrea Goldsmith, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Princeton University, also joins to reveal how these waves are crammed full of 0s and 1s- whether that's a pic of your pets or a video chat with pals. And finally, how do you get the best wi-fi at home? Dr Rutherford, it turns out, has made some rookie errors. Listen out for our top tips so you don't make them too! ... Read more

09 May 2022

27 MINS

27:38

09 May 2022


#297

The Mystery of the Teenage Brain

‘Why are teens prone to risky behaviour?’ asks Dr Mark Gallaway, ‘especially when with their friends?’ 13 year old Emma wonders why she’s chatty at school but antisocial when she gets home. And exasperated mum Michelle wants to know why her teens struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Swirling hormones and growing bodies have a lot to answer for but, as Professor of Psychology from the University of Cambridge Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains, there’s also a profound transformation going on in the brain. Hannah and Adam discover how the adolescent brain is maturing and rewiring at the cellular level and why evolution might have primed teens to prefer their peers over their parents. Frances Jensen, Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells us how all these brain changes can impact social relationships. And Dr Rachel Sharman, a sleep researcher from the University of Oxford, reports the surprising findings from her sleep study tracking 100 teenagers around the UK. ... Read more

02 May 2022

27 MINS

27:47

02 May 2022


#296

Wild Inside: The Ocean Sunfish

Ben Garrod and Jess French get under the skin of Mola mola the world's largest bony fish to unravel this bizarrely shaped predator's ability to swim to a huge range of depths. Producer Adrian Washbourne ... Read more

25 Apr 2022

27 MINS

27:38

25 Apr 2022


#295

Wild Inside: The Burmese Python

Ben Garrod and Jess French delve deep inside the predatory Burmese Python to examine its extraordinary body plan that enables it to catch, constrict and consume huge prey whole. Producer Adrian Washbourne ... Read more

18 Apr 2022

27 MINS

27:26

18 Apr 2022


#294

Wild Inside: Jungle royalty - the Jaguar

Wild Inside embarks on something we hardly ever witness – a look inside some of nature’s most wondrous animals. Its a rare chance to delve deep into some enigmatic and very different wild animals – from a reptile, to a mammal to a fish – unravelling the intricate internal complexity inside three of the most amazing animals ever to evolve. What makes the ultimate predator? What are the keys to successful survival in an ever-changing environment? Whilst we’ve gained a lot by observing their behaviour from the outside, to truly understand these animals, we need to look at what’s on the inside too. Ben Garrod, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement at the University of East Anglia, together with friend and expert veterinary surgeon Dr Jess French, open up and investigate what makes each of these animals unique. During each animal post mortem, they’re joined by experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour as they put these enigmatic animals under the knife. Along the way they reveal some unique adaptations which give each species a leg (or claw) up in surviving in the big wild world. The series begins with one of the truly exotic loaners of the cat family – which at just over two metres long, covered with beautiful gold and black rosette markings, is pure jungle royalty - the greatest of the South American big cats - the Jaguar Part 2: One of the largest predatory reptiles - the Burmese Python whose extraordinary singular body plan has enabled nearly 4000 species of snakes to succeed in inhabiting nearly every part of the planet, Part 3 : The largest bony fish you might never have heard of – the bizarre looking Oceanic Sunfish which is being spotted increasingly in UK waters Presenters: Prof Ben Garrod, Dr Jess French Producer: Adrian Washbourne ... Read more

11 Apr 2022

27 MINS

27:19

11 Apr 2022


#293

The Evidence: War trauma and mental health

War and conflict turns lives upside down and millions of adults and children witness atrocities, lose loved ones and often lose their homes and even their countries. The psychological and emotional suffering can continue long after the immediate threat to their life has gone. One in every five people touched by war – that’s 20% - will have a mental health problem that needs help and one in twenty or 5% will be severely affected. As the humanitarian crisis deepens in the Ukraine with millions under bombardment and ten million people forced from their homes, Claudia Hammond and her guests explore the evidence behind the mental health interventions that do take place around the world: do they work and are they reaching the people who need them? Two Ukrainian psychiatrists tell Claudia about the psychological support they’re trying to coordinate for their traumatised fellow Ukrainians. Dr Iryna Frankova is also a psychologist and she’s chair of the ECNP Traumatic Stress Network and with colleagues she’s helped to launch a new downloadable chatbot which offers information and psychological first aid. Dr Orest Suvalo from the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University is in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and he’s been trying to coordinate care for fleeing citizens as they arrive at the city’s railway station. Claudia’s panel includes Bill Yule, Emeritus Professor of Applied Child Psychiatry at Kings College, London, who pioneered evidence-based interventions for children caught up in war and trauma (he’s one of the founders of the Children and War Foundation set up in the 1990s during the wars in the Balkans); Professor Emily Holmes from the department of psychology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden who uses the power of mental imagery to reduce traumatic, intrusive memories or flashbacks (she’s been using these techniques to develop treatments for refugees who have fled war and conflict) and Dr Peter Ventevogel, psychiatrist and medical anthropologist and senior mental health officer with UNHCR, the refugee agency at the United Nations. And Dr Kennedy Amone P’Olak, Professor of Psycho-traumatology at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa joins from Uganda, where he’s tracked the mental health of hundreds of the children and young people who were abducted and recruited by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Phil Lander and Emma Harth ... Read more

02 Apr 2022

50 MINS

50:54

02 Apr 2022


#292

The Life Scientific: Steve Brusatte on the fall of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals

Steve Brusatte analyses the pace of evolutionary change and tries to answer big questions. Why did the dinosaurs die out and the mammals survive? How did dinosaurs evolve into birds? If you met a Velociraptor today you’d probably mistake it for a large flightless bird, says Steve. His intense interest in T. rex, Triceratops and all the other dinosaur species developed when he was a teenager and continues to this day. More recently, however, he’s focussed on the long history of mammals. For hundreds of millions of years, our mammalian ancestors remained small. Most were mouse-sized. None were bigger than a badger. Steve studies how, when an asteroid collided with earth 66 million years ago, the mammals got lucky. All the big dinosaurs were wiped out and only the small ones with wings survived. (Birds are dinosaurs, by the way). Within half a million years, mammals of all shapes and sizes had taken over on planet earth. Sabre-toothed flesh eaters, cow-sized plant guzzlers and a host of other warm blooded placental animals evolved alongside the badger sized burrowers. Steve talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his life and work, including the recent discovery of an incredibly well-preserved Pterosaur on the Isle of Skye, a place he likes to call Scotland’s Jurassic Park. Producer: Anna Buckley ... Read more

28 Mar 2022

27 MINS

27:24

28 Mar 2022


#291

The Life Scientific: Shankar Balasubramanian on decoding DNA

Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is responsible for a revolution in medicine. The method he invented for reading, at speed, the unique genetic code that makes each one of us who we are, is ten million times faster than the technology that was used in the human genome project at the turn of the century. What’s more, it can be done much more cheaply than before and on a desktop machine. And it’s transforming healthcare, by helping us to understand the genetic basis of many diseases (particularly cancers) and to develop new diagnostic tests, medicines and personalised treatments. ‘ DNA has never failed to keep me excited and curious’ says Shankar, winner of the highly prestigious 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He didn’t set out to create a game-changing technology or to make a lot of money. He just wanted to understand the DNA double helix in the greatest possible detail; to reveal how it worked, molecule by molecule. And he still rides a rickety old bicycle to work in Cambridge. Image ©University of Cambridge ... Read more

21 Mar 2022

27 MINS

27:48

21 Mar 2022


#290

Tooth and Claw: Wolves

We look at wolves and the programme is a little different, because the predator we’re talking about is very much a predator of our imaginations. Wolves are the spirit of the wilderness, but they also symbolize the darker side of human nature, and many myths and legends surround the wolf from all around the world. Our fear of the wolf may be primeval, but it is still very much alive and well. The idea that wolves could be reintroduced in Scotland led to headlines about the British Queen's pet corgis being eaten… So today, as well as hearing about the real animals, we ask why wolves occupy this special place in our imagination, and whether the real and the imaginary overlap with Dr Elizabeth Dearnley, a folklorist and writer based in Edinburgh and Dr Giulia Bombieri from the Museum of Science in Trento, Giulia works with the Life WolfAlps project, tracking and protecting Italian wolves. Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald Picture credit: Giulia Bombieri ... Read more

14 Mar 2022

27 MINS

27:18

14 Mar 2022


#289

Tooth and Claw: Army ant

The army ant might be small enough to squash under foot but, make no mistake, it’s a formidable predator. When they club together in their thousands they are a force to be reckoned with. Picture a tiger, comprised of hundreds of thousands of tiny ant-sized units, prowling through the forest and you start to get the idea. They’ll take down anything in their path, from spiders and scorpions to chickens that can’t escape them. There are even grisly stories of African army ants attacking people. But this predator has its uses too - they can be used to stitch wounds and offer a house cleaning service too. Dr Dino Martins, Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, and Lecturer at Princeton University, and Daniel Kronauer, Associate Professor studying complex social evolution and behaviour at the Rockefeller University in New York. Producer: Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Photo credit: Daniel Kronauer ... Read more

08 Mar 2022

27 MINS

27:04

08 Mar 2022


#288

Tooth and Claw: Venomous snakes

Adam Hart discovers why rattlesnakes make good mothers and how deadly their venom is. There are over 600 different species of venomous snakes around the world with fearsome fangs delivering deadly venoms. Up to a third of the world’s population lives in fear of snakes, but are these reptiles misunderstood? And while Adam living in the UK where there are very few snakes, finds them fascinating, we shouldn’t forget that an estimated 7,400 people every day are bitten by snakes, and somewhere between 220–380 people die as a result. That’s around 2.7 million cases of venomous snake bites, and between 80,000 and 140,000 deaths a year - mostly in poorer communities in the developing world. But with habitat loss and persecution rife, do snakes have more to fear from us than we do from them. Perhaps we should change from Tooth and Claw to to fangs and scales as we dive into the world of snakes with Dr Emily Taylor, Professor of Biological Sciences at California State Polytechnic State University - she’s a specialist in rattlesnakes and their maternal skills and Hiral Naik, the Africa programme manager for Save the Snakes currently studying for a PhD on snake behaviour at University of Witwatersrand Picture credit: Hiral Naik ... Read more

28 Feb 2022

27 MINS

27:03

28 Feb 2022


#287

The Evidence: Drug-resistant superbugs

Today, Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts focus on what’s been called “the silent pandemic”, the threat to modern medicine of anti-microbial resistance or AMR. Infections are increasingly resistant to live-saving drugs like antibiotics and many believe the very future of modern medicine is hanging in the balance. In a series produced in collaboration with Wellcome Collection, this edition of The Evidence is recorded in front of a live audience in the Reading Room at Wellcome in London. Just last month, a new global study covering 204 countries and territories published in The Lancet reveals the scale of AMR to human health. The number of lives lost is double previous estimates. The latest data reveals 1.3 million deaths caused directly by resistant infections in just one year, 2019, and five million more deaths were linked with AMR. The figures are shocking, especially because one in every five deaths were in children, under five years old, with the highest number of deaths in Western Sub-Saharan Africa. But this is a pandemic that threatens everybody, wherever they live. Everly Macario a public health researcher from Chicago in the United States shares her family’s story: the death of their 18 month old son, Simon, to a drug-resistant strain of the bacterial infection MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The loss of Simon spurred Everly to campaign against the mis-use of antibiotics, particularly in agriculture and farming, which contributes to the rise in AMR. Leaders in the global fight against AMR join Claudia to discuss the threat to human health and address the paradox that while AMR claims millions of lives, so many die each day because they can’t get access to basic, life-saving drugs like antibiotics. And Wellcome Collection’s Research Development Lead, Ross Macfarlane, delves into the archives and shares the warning from the inventor of the first antibiotic, penicillin, Alexander Fleming as he accepted his Nobel Prize in 1945, that mis-use would lead to resistance developing. The new super drug was destined to spawn the new super bug. Claudia’s guests include the UK Special Envoy on AMR, Professor Dame Sally Davies; the World Health Organisation’s Assistant Director General for Anti-Microbial Resistance, Dr Hanan Balkhy; Senior Research Manager for Drug Resistant Infections at Wellcome, Dr Janet Midega and the Director of ReAct Africa, Dr Mirfin Mpundu. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Anand Jagatia and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Duncan Hannant and Emma Harth ... Read more

26 Feb 2022

49 MINS

49:56

26 Feb 2022


#286

Tooth and claw: Spotted hyena

Cursed as a worthless scavenger and cast as villainous cowardly sidekicks in Disney’s The Lion King, the spotted hyena is one of the world’s most misunderstood of all predators. It may scavenge at night on a giant rubbish tip on the outskirts of Mekelle in Ethiopia, but it earns it’s top predator status when it takes down its prey in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Adam Hart and guests polish up the spotted hyena’s tarnished reputation. Professor Kay Holekamp, a behavioural ecologist at Michigan State University, and Chinmay Sonawane, a biologist at Stanford University in California Picture: Spotted Hyena puppies and adult male with each other in Masat Mara, Credit: Manoj Shah/Getty Images Producer: Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart ... Read more

21 Feb 2022

27 MINS

27:25

21 Feb 2022


#285

Deep sea exploration

UCL oceanographer Helen Czerski explores life in the ocean depths with a panel of deep sea biologists. They take us to deep ocean coral gardens on sea mounts, to extraordinary hydrothermal vent ecosystems teeming with weird lifeforms fed by chemosynthetic microbes, to the remarkable biodiversity in the muds of the vast abyssal plains. Helen's guests are Adrian Glover of the Natural History Museum in London, Kerry Howell of Plymouth University and Alex Rogers, scientific director of REV Ocean. They discuss the dramatic revelations made by deep ocean explorers in just the last forty years, and the profound connections that the deep sea floor has with life at the Earth's surface. They also consider the threats to the ecosystems down there from seabed mining and climate change. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Black smoker hydrothermal vents, Credit: Science Photo Library ... Read more

14 Feb 2022

37 MINS

37:22

14 Feb 2022


#284

A new space age?

In 2021, Captain James Kirk, aka William Shatner, popped into space for real for a couple of minutes, transported by space company Blue Origin's tourist rocket New Shepard. Elon Musk's Space X ferried more astronauts and supplies between Earth and the International Space Station, using its revolutionary reusable launchers and Dragon spacecraft. On Mars, the latest Nasa robot rover landed and released an autonomous helicopter - the first aircraft to fly on another planet. This year promises even more. Most significantly Nasa plans to launch the first mission of its Artemis programme. This will be an unmanned flight of its new deep space vehicle Orion to the Moon, propelled off the Earth by its new giant rocket, the Space Launch System. Artemis is the American space agency's project to return astronauts to the lunar surface and later establish moon bases. China also has a similar ambition. Are we at the beginning of a new space age and if so, how have we got here? When will we see boots on the Moon again? Could we even see the first people on Mars by the end of this decade? Dr Kevin Fong convenes a panel of astronautical minds to discuss the next decade or two of space exploration. He is joined by Dr Mike Barratt, one of Nasa's most senior astronauts and a medical doctor, based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; Dr Anita Sengupta, research associate professor in Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California; Oliver Morton, briefings editor at The Economist and the author of Mapping Mars and The Moon. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Artist concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration, Credit: NASA/MSFC ... Read more

07 Feb 2022

42 MINS

42:05

07 Feb 2022


#283

African science, African future

Professor Tom Kariuki has spent his career battling for science in Africa, both as a leading immunologist and as the former director of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa. Now, as the world comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic and a global movement for social justice, could this prove an opportunity for the transformation of African science? Tom talks to leading scientists in Africa about the successes they have achieved as well as the profound challenges they face, from the complexities of international funding to keeping the lights on. He asks who African science belongs to and benefits, and what needs to happen if its future is to be prosperous. (Photo: A team of scientists in a lab. Credit: Getty Images) ... Read more

31 Jan 2022

27 MINS

27:10

31 Jan 2022


#282

The Evidence: Africa, the pandemic and healthcare independence

In a special edition of The Evidence, Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts focus on Africa, on how the more than fifty countries on the continent, home to 1.3 billion people and the most youthful population in the world, have fared, two years into the pandemic. African scientists have been key players in the global response, sequencing variants of the virus and sharing this vital information with the world. But there’s been huge frustration and anger on the continent about the way Africa has, yet again, found itself at the back of the global queue for life-saving tests, treatments and vaccines. The sense that the global health system isn’t set up to deliver for Africa has prompted what’s been described as unprecedented solidarity, and galvanised calls for increased healthcare independence, self-sufficiency and a new public health order for the continent. This includes plans to manufacture the vaccines, medicines and tests that Africa needs to increase its health security in Africa for Africa. In The Evidence, the head of the World Health Organisation in Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, tells Claudia it has been “extremely devastating” to watch history repeating itself (just like the HIV pandemic and the millions of African lives lost because they were unable to access life-saving antiretroviral medication) as international solidarity faltered and Africa struggled to access vital supplies. The Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal (along with centres in South Africa and Rwanda) has a key role in pan-African plans for increased health sufficiency. Yellow Fever vaccines have long been made here but the plan is that later this year, mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 and eventually for other diseases like Lassa and Rift Valley fevers, will be manufactured at this and other sites. Institute head Professor Amadou Sall, a virologist and public health specialist says producing vaccines, medicines and tests will reduce the dependency of Africa on the global community and increase health security. Dr Yodi Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance and WHO Special Envoy to the Access to Covid Tools Accelerator, the ACT-Accelerator, says the pandemic has laid bare a failure of global political leadership, where a life in Lagos has been viewed as worth less than a life in London. The equity gaps in access to the tools needed to fight Covid-19, she says, must be closed, and there are hopes that a high level global conference, “Port to Arms: Africa Responds – Vaccine Equity, Delivery and Manufacturing”, in Abuja, Nigeria, in February, will lead to a renewed commitments to vaccinate the world and end this pandemic. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineer: Donald McDonald and Tim Heffer ... Read more

29 Jan 2022

50 MINS

50:17

29 Jan 2022


#281

The venomous vendetta

Whilst watching a documentary about some poisonous frogs, Curio Janni in Amsterdam, started to wonder what would happen if a frog licked itself or another frog of the same species. She asks Dr Adam Rutherford and Professor Hannah Fry to investigate whether an animal would react badly to a toxin it itself produces? In essence 'can a venomous snake kill itself by biting itself?' Of course the answer is complicated, but the sleuths know exactly who to ask. Steve Backshall, award-winning wildlife explorer, best known for his BBC series 'Deadly 60'. Author of 'Venom – Poisonous Creatures in the Natural World'. Steve has been bitten, stung and spat at by a plethora of venomous creatures during his career. He also studied the first known venomous newt - the sharp-ribbed newt - a creature that has sharpened ribs that when it's under attack, it will squeeze its body force those ribs out through its skin, coating them in venom, which is then delivered into the mouth of an attacker. Professor Nick Casewell, studies venomous snakes and their impact on humans. He works on treatments for snakebites at the Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Snakebites have a huge impact on communities in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. It's now been reinstated as one of the most serious neglected tropical diseases by the World Health Organisation. Traditional treatments - antivenins - can be expensive, difficult to access and don't always work - Nick is looking into alternative medicines to treat snakebite victims. Dr. Ronald Jenner is Principle Researcher in the Comparative Venomics group at the Natural History Museum's Life Sciences, Invertebrates Division and co-wrote the book ‘Venom -the secrets of nature's deadliest weapon.’ He explains the evolutionary arms race between venomous predators and their prey and poisonous prey and their predators. He explains how resistance to venom has evolved and how venom has evolved to be more or less powerful over time, answering another Curio - Scott Probert's question on the evolution of venom. Christie Wilcox wrote 'Venomous – How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry'. She studied the molecular basis of lionfish venom. Christie describes how venom and immunity to venom works at the molecular level. ... Read more

24 Jan 2022

27 MINS

27:20

24 Jan 2022