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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

  • Sanchi oil tanker, Gut gas-monitoring pill and Chimpanzee portraits
    After the Sanchi oil tanker collided with another ship it discharged its cargo of 1 million barrels of condensate oil. This could cause one of the biggest oil disasters in 25 years. What is condensate, can it be cleaned up and how toxic to marine life is it if large amounts of it leak or the tanker sinks? Adam talks to Simon Boxall from Southampton Oceanography Centre. A long-held belief that babies look more like their fathers is being put to the test by scientists at St Andrews University. They are launching an on-line citizen science experiment asking members of the public to see if they can tell from a group of chimps which are the close relations. Geoff Marsh takes the test and talks to researcher Cat Hobaiter about why it might be advantageous for a baby primate to look like its father more than its mother and what they hope to learn from humans' ability to recognise chimp family trees. A new swallow-able, electronic pill that sniffs out the gas produced in your gut could be the answer to accurately diagnosing and distinguishing between ailments of the gut. The gastrointestinal tract is hard to access so when something goes wrong, conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, lactose intolerance and over production of bacteria. can be hard to distinguish from one another and so accurately diagnosed. Professor Kourosh Kalantar Zadeh from RMIT in Melbourne explains why his device, which senses gases in the gut and transmits its findings back to a smartphone in real time,, is more accurate and less invasive than current breath tests or endoscopies and colonoscopies. And Janet Kelso answers listener questions on human evolution and why modern Europeans still carry Neanderthal DNA.

  • Tabby's Star, Space 2018, Mosquito sounds, C diff and food additive link
    Adam Rutherford talks to astronomer Tabetha Boyajian at Louisiana State University about the wierd star that's perplexed astronomers since its discovery two years ago. KIC 8462852 has the unique habit of intermittently and sometimes dramatically dimming and then brightening. Some scientists even suggested vast alien megastructures around the star might be the explanation. After twenty months of almost continuous observation, Professor Boyajian has much more information about what the star is doing. But the big mystery hasn't gone away. BBC News science correspondent Jonathan Amos joins Adam to share some highlights in space exploration for the coming 12 months. Zoologists and engineers at the University of Oxford are developing an app that identifies one species of mosquito from another by analysing the sounds their rapid wing beats make. Graihagh Jackson visits Marianne Sinka at the Zoology Department to listen to her collection of mosquito songs. Did the widespread introduction of the food additive trehalose fuel the emergence of epidemics of virulent Clostridium difficile in hospitals from the early 2000s? Microbiologist Robert Britton tells Adam about the evidence his team has gathered and published this week in the journal 'Nature'.

  • Ancient DNA and Human Evolution
    Twenty years ago, a revolution in the study of human evolution began. A team in Leipzig in Germany successfully extracted DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal man who died about 40,000 years ago. Thirteen years later, the same group unveiled the first complete genome sequence of another Neanderthal individual. Last year, they announced they'd retrieved DNA from much oldest archaic human bones, more than 400,000 years old. Adam Rutherford talks to Svante Paabo, the scientist has led these remarkable achievements. Professor Paabo and his colleague Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute of Biological Anthropology in Leipzig discuss the genes in many European people alive today that originated in Neanderthals and were passed to modern humans when the two species interbred. Adam also speaks to Johannes Krause who worked on the Neanderthal genome project in Leipzig but is now director of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History. His latest research adds a new layer of intrigue and complexity to the relationship between our species and Neanderthals in deep time. David Reich at Harvard University focuses on using ancient DNA to uncover the ancestry and movements of modern human hunter-gatherers in Eurasia from about 50,000 years to the Bronze Age, a few thousand years ago. Population movements occur on a cinematic scale, he says. (Podcast only). The revelations of ancient genetics would not be possible and meaningful without the traditional disciplines of palaeoanthropology and archaeology. Adam goes to Gibraltar to seek the perspective of Clive Finlayson who leads excavations there as director of the Gibraltar Museum. Gibraltar is the most concentrated site of Neanderthal occupation in the world. As well as remains of a young Neanderthal child last year, the Rock's caves have also recently yielded the first example of Neanderthal cave art.

  • Antisense RNA therapy, Fossils vs Trump, Printing mini-kidneys, Electric eel power
    Promising results from a small clinical trial of Huntingdon's disease patients have led to RNA-directed therapy such as antisense RNA being hailed as possibly a turning point in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Adam Rutherford discusses this class of drugs with Heidi Ledford of Nature News. At the beginning of the month, Donald Trump decreed that two national monument landscapes be drastically down-sized. Strict protections against exploitation were removed from vast tracts of land bearing some of the world's most important fossil bearing strata. President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, Professor David Polly explains why his organisation is now suing Trump. At Harvard University, bioengineers are growing parts of functioning kidneys in small chips using a form of 3D printing. Jennifer Lewis' lab is doing this to learn how kidneys function and explore the possible therapeutic applications of the mini-kidneys-in-a-chip. Roland Pease visits the team at work. The electric eel can deliver a 600 volt shock, from a stack of electrically charged cells along the length of its body. Inspired by the eel's biology, Michael Mayer and his colleagues at the Universities of Fribourg and Michigan have now created their own version of its electric organ with the help of jelly babies and clever origami. In the future, it could power devices in the human body.

  • The Future of Coral Reefs, Little Foot, Arthur C Clarke
    Oxford is hosting the European Coral Reef Symposium this week. Climate change is seen as the number one threat to the future of coral reefs. Adam talks to Morgan Pratchett of James Cook University about the two recent coral bleaching events that hit the Great Barrier Reef, and to Barbara Brown of Newcastle University about the potential for coral species to adapt to warmer seas. After twenty years of excavation and preparation, the most complete fossil skeleton of an Australopithecine has been unveiled to the public in South Africa. Its discoverer Ron Clarke explains its significance for understanding human evolution. December 16th is the 100th anniversary of Arthur C Clarke. Science writer Marcus Chown and cultural journalist Samira Ahmed join Adam to discuss Clarke's visions and works of science fiction.