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BBC Radio 4 - Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

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

BBC Inside Science

  • First human drawing, Cycling genes, Oden Arctic expedition, Hello World
    A new discovery of abstract symbolic drawings on a rock has been found in the Blombos Cave, about 300 km east of Cape Town in South Africa. The fragment - which some say looks a bit like a hashtag - puts the date of the earliest drawing at 73,000 years ago. As archaeologist Chris Henshilwood tells Adam Rutherford, the discovery is a "a prime indicator of modern cognition" in our species. Nearly half the human genome contains genes that regulate what your organs should be doing at a specific time of day, This has enormous potential importance to the efficacy of drugs - what time of day you take them could be a real issue. John Hogenesch from Cincinnatti Children's Hospital has been studying the genes that cycle with our daily lives. His new database of cyclic genes could help plan the best timing for a host of therapeutic interventions Physicist Helen Czerski has been in the Arctic for the last five weeks, aboard the Swedish research vessel and ice breaker Oden. As the expedition comes to a close we hear about the team's attempts to elucidate the driving forces behind the unusual weather patterns around the North Pole. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it's mathematician Hannah Fry's new book, Hello World: How to be human in the Age of Machines. You can hear extracts from it on Book of the Week on Radio 4 all this week too. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

  • Complexity in Biology
    Adam Rutherford takes the show to Dublin this week, to wrestle with great matters of biological complexity. Trinity College Dublin has organised a mass gathering of some of the world's leading researchers in the life sciences to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most influential series of lectures in the 20th century. The talks were delivered by the celebrated physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1943 who applied his mind to a fundamental biological question: what is life? Some of his ideas were an influence on Francis Crick as he worked on the structure of DNA. Seventy five years on, Adam is joined by four of the many scientists delivering their own lectures this week. They tackle subjects of complexity in biology, ranging from the origin of complex life, the increasingly messy structure of life's evolutionary tree, the functioning of the human brain as a network of many component parts, and the place of neuroscience discoveries in the building of artificial intelligences. The guests are: Nick Lane, evolutionary biochemist at University College London, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary geneticist of the University of California Santa Cruz, Danielle Bassett, physicist and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvannia, Murray Shanahan, artificial intelligence researcher at Imperial College London and Google's DeepMind The podcast version ends with a question and answer session with the show's audience who include a surprise celebrity guest. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

  • Electronic brain probe; Rural stream biodiversity; Arctic weather research trip; Science book prize
    Scientists have shown how an electronic gadget, implanted in the brain, can detect, treat and even prevent epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is usually treated using anti-epilepsy drugs, but can cause serious side-effects. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, are aiming to create something more specific to the part of the brain with the problem. Professor Malliaras tells Marnie Chesterton about the unique properties of this new implant, which could be used for a range of brain-related conditions from Parkinson’s tremors to brain tumours. Many of Britain’s cleaner urban rivers are home to levels of biodiversity not seen for decades. But rural rivers, even in places without pollution, tell a different story. Up in the hills of central Wales, just north of the Brecon Beacons, lies the Llyn Brianne observatory and its surrounding system of beautiful streams. Professor Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University has been taking stock of the dwindling number of specialist invertebrates and the subtle ways the decline is happening which points to an extinction crisis that has gone unnoticed. Marnie Chesterton checks in with bubble physicist Dr Helen Czerski. She’s part of a team of researchers aboard the icebreaker Oden research vessel, which is trying to understand arctic weather patterns and how the contents of open water between ice flows influence cloud behaviour. It’s a race against time to gather data before any water refreezes as the arctic winter approaches. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it’s the turn of materials scientist Mark Miadownik, His new book “Liquid: The delightful and dangerous substances that flow through our lives” is about fluids and how their particular properties allow life to flourish. Presenter Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne

  • Cavendish banana survival; Guillemot egg shape; Unexpected Truth About Animals; Tambora's rainstorm
    The last banana you probably ate was a type called Cavendish. But this, our last commercially viable variety is under severe threat, as the fungus, called Tropical Race 4, is laying waste to swathes of Cavendish banana plants across China, Asia and Australia. Recently, scientists & horticulturalists gathered in Istanbul to discuss the best ways to fight the threat. Professor James Dale from the Institute of Future Environments at the University of Queensland has been conducting successful field trials in previously infected areas with impressive results. Could gene editing provide the solution? The extraordinary shape of the guillemot egg is one of ornithology’s great mysteries. This seabird lays something twice the size of a hen’s egg, which looks a bit like an obelisk, blue, speckled and weirdly elongated at one end, with almost flat sides. There have been a handful of theories to explain why it’s evolved. Professor of behaviour and evolution Tim Birkhead, at the University of Sheffield shows in his new research that the answer lies in allowing the birds to successfully breed on the steep slopes of cliff ledges. Marnie Chesterton meets the next in Inside Science’s series of writers shortlisted for the very prestigious Royal Society’s Book Prize : Lucy Cooke, zoologist, author and broadcaster discusses The Unexpected Truth About Animals which flies the flag for some of the lessons learnt from mistakes made in understanding animal behaviour. Could the Tambora volcanic eruption in April 1815 be responsible for Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo? A rain-soaked battlefield in June 1815, stopped Napoleon deploying his military might although many have questioned how a volcano could have such an effect on the weather so soon. How was it to blame for a Belgian rainstorm just several weeks after the end of the eruption? Dr Matt Genge from Imperial College, in a new paper out this week, says the answer lies in the phenomenon known as electrostatic levitation. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne

  • Capturing greenhouse gas, Beating heart failure with beetroot, Why elephants don't get cancer, Exactly - a history of precision
    Researchers have found a way to produce a naturally occurring mineral, magnesite, in a lab, that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, offering a potential strategy for tackling climate change. They've accelerated a process that normally takes thousands of years to a matter of days, using panels made from tiny balls of polystyrene. Gareth Mitchell meets Ian Power of Trent University in Ontario who led the research. Could this be a viable technology for tackling global warming and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What if something as natural as beetroot - or specifically defined doses of beetroot juice - could help alleviate cardiovascular disease and improve the pumping function of failing hearts? That's the idea behind a major trial underway at the Barts Heart Hospital and Queen Mary University in London. Amrita Ahluwalia, co-Director of the William Harvey Research Institute and Christopher Primus a specialist in heart failure, are interrogating the natural nitrates in foods like beetroot and how they could be beneficial to our cardiovascular system. Cells in our bodies can go wrong and end up proliferating into cancers. Intuition might say the bigger something is, the more cells it has and thus, greater is its risk of developing cancer. But elephants have somehow re-awakened a gene that kills cells that could be cancerous before they have time to cause any damage. Vincent Lynch of the University of Chicago has been looking at the genetics that keeps these giants virtually, immune which could hold clues for tackling cancers in humans. And we hear from Simon Winchester, the next in our series of interviews with the shortlisted authors for this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Exactly, is an intriguing history of precision, the search for ever greater engineering accuracy and how it changed the world. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Adrian Washbourne.