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BBC World Service - Science in Action

Science in Action

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

Science in Action

  • Omicron, racism and trust
    South Africa announced their discovery of the Omicron variant to the world as quickly as they could. The response from many nations was panic and the closure of transport links with southern Africa. Tulio de Oliveira who made the initial announcement and leads South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation tells us this is now having a negative effect on the country, with cases rising but vital supplies needed to tackle the virus not arriving thanks to the blockade. Omicron contains many more mutations than previous variants. However scientists have produced models in the past which can help us understand what these mutations do. Rockefeller University virologist Theodora Hatziioannou produced one very similar to Omicron and she tells us why the similarities are cause for concern. Science sleuth Elisabeth Bik and Mohammad Razai, professor of Primary Care in St George’s University in London have just been awarded the John Maddox Prize for their campaigning investigations in science. Elisabeth is particularly concerned with mistakes, deliberate or accidental in scientific publications, and Mohammad structural racism in approaches to healthcare. Laura Figueroa from University of Massachusetts in Amhert in the US, has been investigating bees’ digestive systems. Though these are not conventional honey bees, they are Costa Rican vulture bees. They feed on rotting meat, but still produce honey. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Vaccination centre in South Africa administering Covid-19 vaccine after news of Omicron variant. Credit: Xabiso Mkhabela/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

  • Deliberately doomed dart
    DART is a space mission designed to hit a distant asteroid and knock it slightly out of orbit. It’s a test mission, a pilot project for a way of potentially protecting the earth from a stray asteroid. We hear from mission coordinators Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin, both from the Applied Physics Labs, APL, of Johns Hopkins University. A new kind of Covid-19 vaccine has successfully undergone preliminary tests. Tuebingen University’s Juliane Walz tells us about how it hopes to stimulate a longer lasting protective effect against the virus than current vaccines. And Haley Randolph of Chicago University sheds light on how our ancient ancestors’ exposure to viruses influences our susceptibility today. Historian Robert Schulmann gives us an insight into the significance of research notes by Albert Einstein and Michele Besso. Sold at auction in France the notes give an insight into the collaboration between the two scientists which led to much of what we now understand about the fundamentals of physics. Image: NASA's DART Spacecraft Launches in World's First Planetary Defense Test Mission Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle

  • The end for coal power?
    The political message from the COP meeting was a fudge over coal, but what does the science say? Surprisingly India seems to be on track to switch away from coal to renewables. We explore the apparent contradiction with Lauri Myllyvirta of the thinktank Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Also a synchrotron for Africa, how such a project would give a boost to scientific development across the continent, with Marielle Agbahoungbata from the X-tech Lab in Seme City in Benin. Moriba Jah, who leads the Computational Astronautical Sciences and Technologies Group, at the University of Texas, in Austin, tells us what he saw when an exploding Russian satellite sent a shower of debris into the path of the International Space Station. And the animals that carry SARS-Cov-2, an analysis from Barbara Han of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York shows there are many more than previously thought. Image: A coal-fired power station in Nanjing in east China Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle

  • Bambi got Covid
    Up to 8 percent of deer sampled in studies in the US were found to be infected with the SARS-Cov-2 Virus. Suresh Kuchipudi from the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Penn State University in the US says what they are seeing is a mixture of human to deer and deer to deer transmission of the virus. There is concern that its presence in animal reservoirs could lead to a new form of the virus emerging. Tropical forests and spread of zoonotic diseases And as the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow draws to a close we ask how global policy on climate will impact the spread of zoonotic disease. Spill over of possible pandemic pathogens from animals to humans occurs with the destruction of tropical forests in particular and can expose people to previously unknown zoonotic diseases such as Covid 19. Aaron Bernstein from the Coalition to Prevent Pandemics at the Source says healthcare initiatives designed to reduce the potential spread of such diseases need to be designed to work in tandem with conservation and climate change impact reduction initiatives, essentially tackling both problems simultaneously. LED lighting Researchers in South Africa are looking into ways of making LED lighting both cheaper and more efficient. This should help reduce energy consumption, a prerequisite for effective policy on climate change. In addition, as Professor Odireleng Martin Ntwaeaborwa tells us, the technology now has many applications in places where access to electricity is limited, including South Africa which currently has regular power outages. Personalised medicine And personalised medicine based on our genes took a further step forward this week. Richard Scott, Chief Medical Officer for Genomics England discusses new findings which reveal the genetic basis for a range or rare diseases. Image: Bambi, lobbycard, 1942 Photo by LMPC via Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle

  • Jet fuel from thin air
    Scientists in Switzerland have developed a system which uses solar energy to extract gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air and turns them into fuels for transport. So far they have only made small quantities in experimental reactors, however they say with the right investment their alternatives to fossil fuels could be scaled up to provide a climate friendly way to power transport, particularly aviation and shipping. We speak to Aldo Steinfeld and Tony Patt from ETH Zurich and Johan Lilliestam from the University of Potsdam. And what will rises in global temperature mean where you live? An interactive model developed by Bristol University’s Seb Steinig shows how an average global rise of say 1.5C affects different regions, with some potentially seeing much higher temperatures than others. Dan Lunt – one of the contributing authors to this year’s IPCC report discusses the implications. We also look at racism in science, with problems caused by decisions on the naming of ancient bones more than 200 years ago. As more is known about human evolution, the way we classify the past seems to make less sense says Mirjana Roksandic. And the issue of colonialism looms large in the international response to conservation. Its legacy has been discussed at COP26 and as Lauren Rudd, author of a new study on racism in conservation tells us, this hangover from colonial times is limiting the effectiveness of current conservation initiatives. Image: President Biden and his wife travelling to the G20 summit in Rome and COP26 in Glasgow. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle