Science in Action

Science in Action

United States

Jack Stewart and guests discuss the latest science research and news stories from all over the world.


7 Exoplanetary System Found  

A planetary system containing 7 planets orbiting a nearby dwarf star, 39 light years away has been discovered. It’s suspected that a number of these exoplanets are Earth-sized, rocky and exist at a temperature range of 0-100 degrees. Ancient Microbes in Crystal Cave Penny Boston was one of a group of scientists granted access to some scientifically special crystal caves. The researchers have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico - and revived them. The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago. Project Premonition Microsoft’s Project Premonition has devised a way of trapping mosquitoes and quickly analysing the DNA to find out the species, the diseases they may be carrying and the host animals they may have bitten. Picture: This artist's concept is one interpretation of what it could look like. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Reduction in Arctic Ice  

The Arctic sea ice should be reaching its maximum extent about now, but following a continuing trend and unusually warm weather at the North Pole, the growth of sea ice has stopped. What will this mean for ice cover in the Northern hemisphere summer? Are we heading for an ice free Arctic sooner than we thought? India Launches 104 Satellites India has created history by successfully launching 104 satellites on a single mission, overtaking the previous record of 37 satellites launched by Russia in 2014. Observers say it is a sign that India is emerging as a major player in the multi-billion dollar space market. First Live Birth Evidence in Dinosaur Relative The Achosaurs are the animal group that contain dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds, and all examples of this group, extinct and alive today, lay eggs. Or so we thought! When scientists uncovered the fossil of a Dinocephalosaurus with what looked like the bones of an embryo in its belly, they were surprised. Dinocephalosaurs are a long-necked, marine reptile living 245 million years ago. Ebola Virus Super Spreaders With over 28,000 confirmed or suspected cases and more than 11,000 deaths, the recent West African Ebola virus outbreak was unprecedented. But why was the epidemic so immense and what lessons have we learned? Using outbreak records, researchers have been able to model the spread of the virus through communities, and their work reveals that the vast majority of transmissions were seeded by a surprisingly small number of infected individuals. Although the reasons for 'superspreading' are unclear, the scientists hope that their findings can help prevent future outbreaks from being so widespread. Alien Species A plant or animal in the wrong place gets called an alien species. A new report looking at the movement of plants and animals around the world gives details of the introduction of alien species over the past 500 years. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the rate of alien introductions increased over the past 40 years. Picture: Extent of Arctic sea ice in September 2016 versus the 1981-2010 average minimum extent (gold line). Credit: NASA Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Clueless about Martian Atmosphere  

NASA’s rover Curiosity reached 1600 Sols on Mars last week. Since it landed in 2012, we’ve been bombarded by discovery after discovery on the Red Planet. But are we any closer to solving the conundrum of a warm planet with a faint young Sun? 3-4 Billion years ago, our Sun was only 70% as bright and warm as it is today, yet there is evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars around this time. Ideas about the sort of Martian atmosphere needed for this to occur, never seem to fit the geological observations. And the latest analysis of the sediment in Gale Crater is not helping to solve the problem either. Carbon Dioxide Fermentation More news on harnessing the special abilities of microorganisms which don’t live by using oxygen but have different metabolisms for converting carbon dioxide to make biofuels. These microbes which, like plants, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or methane - so called C1 carbons - because they have only carbon atom – as their food. By bolting these microbial fermenters onto the waste pipes of industrial processes such as steel foundries, researchers think they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make fuel. Artificial Pollinators With bees and other insect pollinators under threat from disease, pesticides and intensive agriculture, could technology provide a helping hand? A discarded ionic sticky gel was the inspiration for Japanese scientists to create tiny remote-controlled drone pollinators. They used the sticky gel to coat horsehairs on the drone. This allows the pollen from one flower to be lifted up carefully and then deposited on the next flower. Helium If you look up the element helium, one of the first things you’ll read is that it’s the most unreactive element in the periodic table. It’s so stable, that helium that’s used by astronomers as a golden standard to measure the chemical signatures of other planets. But now, chemists here on Earth have forced Helium to react with sodium. Under immense temperatures and pressures the Russian and US team have created Na2He. Understanding Phobias New work monitoring fear in the brains of volunteers using MRI scanners is helping us understand phobias. People who are scared of spiders – arachnophobes – have been shown flash pictures of spiders to encourage the subliminal, sub conscious part of the brain deal with the fear. Picture: This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left)., Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

How Bird’s Beaks Evolved  

It’s relatively easy to understand the natural selection pressures on the Galapagos finches which led to the evolution of a diverse range of beaks which so intrigued Darwin. Each species evolved a beak size and shape perfectly suited to the food most available to them. But what about the evolution of bird beaks over the entire group? From the flip-top bin beaks of pelicans, to the fine sword-like Scimitar bills and the spoon-shaped Spoon-billed sandpiper – when did these species diversify from their bird-like dinosaur ancestors 150 million years ago? A new study harnessing the deductive power of the public sheds light on the whole process. Antarctic Meteorites A new project to search for meteorites in Antarctica has been announced. Meteorites can tell us so much about the formation of the Solar System. They can be found all over our planet. But the best place to look is Antarctica. They’re black, so they show up on the white ice; the region is protected, so they haven’t already been poached and the conditions are suited to preserving these space rocks. But the best bit, is the way ice moves in a conveyor-like action, it draws the meteorites from the centre of the frozen continent to the edges, often collecting at the edges of mountain ranges. The Evolution of Invasive Behaviour Understanding how invasive species move in the environment is important in helping us mitigate the damage they can cause. In order to do this, it would be helpful if invading species dispersed through an environment at a constant rate. But nature is nothing if it’s not complex! A new study looking at beetles moving around a board-game like set up in the laboratory has shown that individuals at the edge of an invading colony readily evolve to be better at dispersing. The effect is quite variable, but this snowball effect makes understanding how organisms disperse in a new environment all the more difficult. Picture: Bird beak montage, credit: Dr. Paul F. Donald Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Fiona Roberts

Making Metallic Hydrogen  

For more than 80 years, it has been predicted that hydrogen will adopt metallic properties under certain conditions, and now researchers have successfully demonstrated this phenomenon. Theoretically, metallic hydrogen will have many qualities important in the realm of physics, including high temperature superconductivity and super-fluidity, which could hold valuable implications for solving energy problems. Human/Animal Chimeras Efforts to grow the first embryos containing cells from humans and pigs are proving more challenging than anticipated. Human/animal chimeras are not without controversy. However, supporters say they can offer insights into early human development and disease onset and provide a realistic drug-testing platform. And they may also someday provide a means of growing human cells, tissues, and organs for regenerative medicine. The Falklands Island Wolf Scientists unravel the mysterious natural history of the Falklands Island Wolf. It was first spotted and described by Charles Darwin. The now extinct ‘wolf’ is thought to be an ancestor of a jackal-like creature which crossed the shallow, sometimes frozen sea from South America. Image of diamond anvils compressing molecular hydrogen. At higher pressure the sample converts to atomic hydrogen, as shown on the right. [Credit: R. Dias and I.F. Silvera] Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Ice Crack Will Shut Down Antarctic Base  

The British Antarctic Survey will evacuate all their researchers from the Halley VI base at the start of the Antarctic winter for safety reasons. This will be the first time experiments looking at the Ozone hole and measurements of the extreme environment will be put on hold. The reason? A big chasm is opening up on the Brunt Ice Shelf where the Ice Station is situated. Seeing the Wind The soon to be launched, Aeolus satellite, will monitor wind speed and direction for the entire Earth. By firing UV laser light into the atmosphere and measuring the light reflected off molecules in the air, the spacecraft will be able to build up a global picture of wind patterns. This is something that has been missing from weather models and could improve predictions in the future. Volcanoes in Art The Bodleian Library in Oxford is putting on an exhibition showing the remarkable accounts they have in their archive of volcanoes around the world, and through time. Measuring Rainfall in the ‘Green Sahara’ 5-11,000 years ago, the Sahara in Africa was green with plant life. Wobbles in the Earth’s rotation about its axis meant that the monsoon covered what is now a vast desert. We know this from ancient lake sediments and archaeological finds. But new work looking at deposits of ancient leaf wax buried in sediment under the ocean is giving clues as to how much rain fell, turning the desert into an oasis. Picture: Massive rift in the Larsen C ice shelf on Antarctic Peninsula on 10th November 2016, credit: NASA/Maria-Jose Vinas

Huge Area of Peatland Found in Congo  

Peat is important. Made from decades of partially rotted plant material that builds up in wet conditions. This soil type is essential for locking carbon away from the atmosphere. Peatlands cover 3% of the Earth’s land cover, yet they lock up a third of the world’s carbon. The majority of peatland is found in cool latitudes. But scientists recently found a huge area of peat in northern Congo in Africa. This lowland peatland is one of just three regions found in the tropics, and locked up in its depths are clues to the past climate in a very understudied part of the world. Predicted Red Nova Astronomer Professor Laurence (Larry) Molnar at Calvin College in Seattle and his students have made a rare prediction of when stars will explode. After an undergraduate student spotted a pulsating star, and observed the pulses getting quicker, the team claim to have calculated when the binary star system KIC 9832227 might collide creating a massive Red Nova explosion which will be visible by the naked eye in the night sky in 2022, give or take a year. Science Storytelling The science of climate change is growing exponentially. No individual can hope to read every scientific paper or article on the topic. So how do they and we on Science in Action decide which pieces of work merit more attention? Unsurprisingly how well a paper is written has a huge bearing on which peer-reviewed publication warrants more of our attention. Climate change scientists should take note that; recent research into this topic has found that, papers written in a more narrative, storytelling, style make it to the top of the pile. Picture: Peat samples from the Congo, Credit: Simon Lewis Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Fast Radio Bursts  

Incredibly short bursts of radio waves from 3 billion light years away have only recently been detected. Their origin is unknown. Now scientists have found one of these Fast Radio Bursts that repeats itself. So they tuned their telescopes on this tiny patch of night sky, and have now detected faint smudges of light as well as the radio waves. The incredible distances these waves travel is indicative of a massive event happening three billion years ago. The speculation is that it could be energy from an active galactic nucleus, a black hole at the centre of a galaxy far away, or a baby magnetar – a neutron star with a massive magnetic field. Schistosomiasis and River Dams Schistosomiasis is a tropical disease caused by infection by blood flukes, or worms. 800 million people in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world are at risk of schistosomiasis The parasitic worm spends part of its lifecycle in freshwater snails, it is then released into the water where human infection takes place. The disease is treatable, but the problem is that reinfection rates are very high. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to safe, clean water is limited. Scientists studying the ecological impact of the Diama Dam on the Senegal River in West Africa found that infection rates for Schistosomiasis increase dramatically in the region around the dam. The reason? Macrobrachium spp. prawn populations are drastically reduced by damming rivers – they basically can’t move up and down the river – and it’s these prawns that eat the freshwater snails that harbour the parasite. The finding points to prawn restoration as an ecological solution for reducing human disease. Vera Rubin American astronomer Vera Rubin died, aged 88, on Christmas Day. Vera pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. By uncovering the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves, she found evidence of the existence of dark matter. Moving Magnets Moving scientific equipment can be a logistical nightmare. Sensitive and delicate instruments need care in packing and transporting. But what happens when you need to move a giant magnet when its 30,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, and 15 meters in diameter, weighing 700 tonnes? This is exactly what scientists working on the G minus 2 Experiment at the Fermi Lab in Chicago had to deal with, when the Muon Magnet they needed was in New York State. Picture: Very Large Array Used To Detect Fast Radio Bursts, Credit: AFP/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

State of the Climate 2016  

2016 started at the peak of a powerful El Nino event, and with memories of the Paris Climate agreement freshly reached in 2015, both of which helped set the stage for the way climate and discussions about climate played out this year. It ended with speculation about how a Trump presidency might change the political stage, the Paris agreement ratified and the certainty that this year has been the warmest at least in the historical record. Science in Action concludes the year with an overview of the state of the climate, and what the prospects are for future climate change. Taking part: Dr Richard Betts, of the UK Met Office Professor Ralph Keeling, of the University of California San Diego Dr Friederike Otto, of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute Dr Ted Scambos, Senior Scientist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center Professor Corinne Le Quere, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, University of East Anglia Dr Autun Purser, Alfred Wegener Institute Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen

Creatures of the very deep  

Octopuses that live 4 kilometres beneath the sea surface have been discovered by German and American marine scientists. Their habitat is found in desolate plains that are littered with metal-rich nodules that have precipitated over the millennia from sea water. And that’s the problem – because the area is attractive to submarine prospectors for the precious metals they could harvest there. And that could disturb the delicate deep-ocean ecological balance. Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven describes the discovery and explains the issues. Migrating insects Trillions of insects migrate over southern England every year – moving north in the spring and south in the autumn. These mighty migrations were tracked down using radar and high-flying experimental balloons. The University of Exeter’s Jason Chapman explains. Prehistoric Porridge Pots Broken shards of pottery discarded in the Libyan Sahara 10,000 years ago, when the area was lush and green, carry tell-tale traces of plants that were once cooked by the primitive inhabitants. Roland Pease visits the Bristol University Labs of Richard Evershed and Julie Dunne to hear how they uncovered the origin of what could be the oldest example of bubbling cereal porridge. Inuits’ genetic gift The ability of Inuit to survive the harsh conditions of the polar north may be attributable to an inheritance left to them tens of thousands of years ago, when their ancestors interbred with Denisovans, the mysterious hominid relatives discovered in Siberia a few years ago. University of California, Berkeley’s Rasmus Nielsen relates the genetic detective story. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Deborah Cohen (Image: Caspar the octopus. Credit: Jason 2 ROV team.)

Europe’s Coldest Decade  

In the midst of the Little Ice Age, winter temperatures plummeted even lower in the extraordinary decade of 1430-1440. Rivers, lakes and coastlines froze over year after year. Seeds perished, flocks dwindled, famine ensued, and soon minorities and witches were being blamed for the miserable conditions. Historian Chantal Camenische and Kathrin Keller of Bern University look into what may have been the worst decade in European weather in almost a millennium. Solar Armageddon In the depths of the cold war, a solar storm nearly triggered a nuclear holocaust, by jamming the radar systems the superpowers used to monitor their enemies’ manoeuvres. Solar physicist Dolores Knipp has been unravelling the story of the space-weather experts who halted the nuclear escalation. Chicxulub, the end of the dinosaurs New evidence was presented this week at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in San Francisco, from the drilling project that tapped into ground zero of the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. BBC’s Jonathan Amos reports on the first hints of the asteroid that did the killing, and on the first signs of life that occupied the new crater in its immediate aftermath. Tiddlers on the Roof Imperial College planetary geologist Matt Genge shows Roland Pease the tiny micrometeorites Norwegian space enthusiast collected from the rooves of his home country. 500 specks of cosmic dust recovered from 300 kilogrammes of muck. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald Image: A Winter Scene @ J. Paul Getty Museum

Do Martian Rocks Contain Signs of Life?  

When the Mars rover Spirit recorded rocks in the Gusev crater back in 2007. It detected small lighter-coloured lumps. Geologists think these could be fossilised stromatolites in the form of opal. Back on Earth, these structures are made by films of blue-green algae and other microbes. Now, a decade later, geologists have found very similar features in the highland deserts of northern Chile, which have bacterial structures in them. Which all go to make compelling reasons to go back to the Martian crater in 2010. 100 Women As part of BBC 100 Women 2016 we’re asking the question is the internet sexist? Only 15% of Wikipedia editors are women and less than 15% of notable profiles are of women. Half of the BBC’s 100 women over 3 years still do not have a Wikipedia page. Science in Action reporter, Tracey Logan, has a go at editing Wikipedia pages for notable female scientists – Frances Micklethwait and Rachel McKendry - as part of a Wiki Editathon. Photo: Surface of Mars @ NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cornell University Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

More Evidence that Lucy Climbed Trees  

Detailed analysis of the fossilised bones of the 3.18 million year old hominin, known as Lucy, show she may have walked upright, but she still spent a lot of time climbing trees. Measuring the strength, and dimensions, of Australopithecus afarensis’ arm and leg bones, using high-powered CT scans, and comparing these to chimpanzees and modern humans, the team at University of Texas in Austin, show Lucy was more Chimpanzee-like in anatomical structure than modern humans. Batteries from Radioactive Waste Given that 1 gram of waste radioactive carbon contains as much energy as one billion AA batteries, why not harness this? This is exactly what scientists at the University of Bristol have been doing. They have been making diamonds out of the waste carbon from Magnox reactors, wrapping them in non-radioactive diamond and harnessing the electron flow to make batteries which could last thousands of years. Bats and Birds For the first time, nest-hole cameras have captured two different types of animals using the same nest hole. Noctule bats and Common starling chicks are bunking up in the same hole. Is this down to a shortage of suitable nesting holes? Or are they happy to share warmth and protection? Mongoose Cooperation Dwarf mongooses are a noisy lot. They communicate with different squeaks within their pack. Some calls are used by pups to beg for food, others let the rest of the group know that sentinels are guarding them, and alarm calls can spell out threats from different predators. Researchers at the University of Bristol have been in Africa teasing mongoose packs with rubber snakes to try and understand why when one mongoose calls ‘snake’ only his closest friends in the group respond. Image: A sculptor's rendering of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis, © Dave Einsel/Getty Images

A Skin Patch to Listen to a Broken Heart  

A soft electronic skin plaster has been developed that can capture the detailed sound of valves opening and closing in the heart. It could help monitor heart murmurs in people with defective hearts. When the patch is placed on the throat however, it can help gamers give clear voice commands in a noisy room. When the PIG Lifted Off The Pine Island Glacier, or PIG, flows into the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica. It a huge mass of ice pushing into the sea, that has been melting at an alarming rate. The PIG was once pinned to the seafloor by an underwater ridge. When it melted off this ‘anchor’, the warmer water was able to get under the ice and increase the melt rate. New work by the British Antarctic Survey has been looking at when this accelerated melting started. Turns out it was as recently as the mid 1940’s. It’s All in the Poop Dung beetles that live on cow pats have been shown to help stop the lifecycle of parasitic worms that infects cows. Experiments using artificially-made cow pats, some with and some without dung beetles has shown that the industrious insects clear up 30% of parasite infections. (Image: A cow-pat)

Exciting Geology of Chicxulub Crater  

The results from drilled geological samples of the Chicxulub crater have just been published. The crater off the coast of Mexico is thought to have been made by a meteor striking the Earth 66 million years ago. The strike and resultant ‘sterilisation effects’ on the planet are thought to play a major role in the demise of the dinosaurs. Core samples from the inner ring of the crater show that the impact was massive. Rocks from over 20 km down were brought up to the surface. Oldest Ice This week marks the start of a three stage mission to drill for the oldest ice cores on Earth. The current oldest ice-cores reveal what the climate was like 800,000 years ago. But scientists from 10 European countries, including the British Antarctic Survey, want to drill further back in time to 900,000 to 1 million year old ice. This is because they think these ice-cores might hold atmospheric clues as to why the periodicity of ice ages switched from 40,000 year cycles to 100,000 year cycles. Insects and LED Light Annoying biting midges are less attracted to LED light than they are to the older "incandescent" lights. Researchers think this could be due to the heat output of older lights being higher than the modern, energy efficient LED lights. Red Light and Bees Red light can help cure bumblebees. Researchers found that shining, very long wavelength, red light on bumblebees, reverses the damage to the cell’s energy mechanism caused by neonicotinoid pesticides. Animal-free Food A group of Chilean scientists are on a mission to change the way that we make food and reduce the impact of animal faming on the environment in the process . The researchers have set up a company that uses artificial intelligence to find a way to replicate animal-based products like milk, yoghurt, cheese and mayonnaise, using plant based ingredients. Picture: Recovered core from the Chicxulub impact crater, credit: @ECORD_IODP Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Record-breaking Air Pollution in Delhi  

This week there were reports that the pollution, from car exhaust, crop burning, wood fires and Diwali fireworks, had reached record dangerous levels in Delhi in India. Scientists attempt to discover why particulate pollution is so bad in the city and what can be done about it. Leprosy in Red Squirrels Many of the endangered red squirrels in the UK have been found to be infected with, and suffering from Leprosy. And genetic analysis of the bacterium has shown that the form of leprosy is the human form, which infected people in Europe in medieval times. Professor Anna Meredith at the University of Edinburgh wants to know whether other red squirrels in Eurasia also have the debilitating disease. Seabirds sniff out plastic Plastic pollution in the sea gives off a smell that attracts foraging birds. This discovery could explain why seabirds that use smell to hunt for food, such as petrels and shearwaters, ingest plastic, causing injury or death. Floating plastic provides a substrate for algae to grow. The algae are fed on by plankton, and the process produces a chemical which attracts seabirds, who feed on the fish and other animals feeding on the plankton. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts Picture: Delhi schools close due to extreme levels of air pollution © Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Italian Earthquakes Are Part of a Sequence  

Geologist Ross Stein talks Roland through the geology behind the latest series of earthquakes in Italy. What connects them? And what danger still lurks? Ebola Virus The recent West African Ebola virus outbreak was the largest ever seen. With over 28,000 human infections, never before had this virus had such an opportunity to adapt to humans from its natural animal host. Several studies had shown that the virus was evolving but none had assessed if this had altered the way the virus behaved. Two international teams of researchers independently studied the effects of mutations that occurred in the Ebola virus surface protein – the protein it uses to gain entry into a cell – to investigate whether any of these changed its ability to infect humans. Countershading Lots of animals are dark on top and pale underneath. This colouration is called ‘countershading’. It’s long been hypothesised that it evolved to help the animal camouflage its shape. Helping it hide from predators, or if they’re a predator, they can hide from the prey they’re creeping up on. But this theory hasn’t really been tested experimentally, until now. With the help of painted cardboard tubes and willing woodland birds, researchers at the University of Bristol have shed light on this phenomenon. Volcanic Ash Cloud Back in 2010 silence descended in the skies over Europe when 107,000 flights were cancelled because Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The resultant ash cloud cost the aviation industry 1.35 billion Euros. But now another Icelandic volcano, Katla, which is much bigger than Eyjafjallajökull is showing possible signs of an imminent eruption. IF Katla erupts and produces an ash cloud and IF the weather conditions means it blows over busy European airspace, how well will the airline industry cope? Picture: Destroyed basilica St Benedict (R) and the town hall (L) in the historic center of Norcia, on October 31, 2016, taken a day after a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit central Italy, credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

Halloween Science  

Strains of bacteria have been found lying dormant in our blood. These have been linked to diseases such as heart attacks, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s thought that excess iron in the blood, triggers the bacteria to wake up and produce a protein that alters the clotting ability of the blood, exacerbating or even causing these conditions. Spiders Spiders are remarkable creatures. We’ve all heard about how incredibly strong their silk is. But it’s the water spider’s diving bell that’s currently intriguing scientists. The spiders spin a bubble of silk with a unique protein-gel coating, which has special gas-permeable properties, allowing the air-breathing spider to spend time underwater. Could this be a new kind of silk that could be copied in the lab? Fresh Blood Is fresh transfusion blood better than stored blood? After over 40 studies that have failed to adequately settle the issue, finally a study from McMaster University in Canada looking at the outcomes of over 30 thousand transfusion recipients have found that there is no significant difference to whether patients receive fresh or (up to 42 days) stored blood. Stealing Spider Venom For the first time, a virus has been found to have ‘stolen’ genes form a higher organism. The WO virus is a bacteriophage. It attacks Wolbacchia bacteria that infect Black Widow spiders. In order to break out and spread from both the bacterial and the spider cells, the virus has assimilated the spider’s genes for making venom. Mind-control bugs It’s now becoming well-known that the billions of bacteria, viruses and fungi - our microbiome - in our guts play an important role in our health. But did you know these bodily hitch-hikers also affect our mental health and emotions? Scientists are now trying to harness this interaction to make ‘psychobiotics’ – treatments based on beneficial bacteria that can alter your brain through your gut. Picture: Halloween Pumpkin, Credit: Fiona Roberts Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Fiona Roberts

Has the Latest Mars Lander Failed?  

At the time of transmission, the European Space Agency still have no contact with the Schiaparelli Mars lander Banning HFCs In 1985 scientists reported that there was a depletion of the amount of ozone in the stratosphere, and that there was a giant hole of ozone above the Antarctic. Ozone - a form of oxygen absorbs most of the UV radiation from the sun. The cause of the hole was the release of chemicals used in refrigeration, and in expanding foams – halons, freons and Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. As a result, the Montreal Protocol, dictated that CFCs were systematically phased out, and as a result, the hole is recovering. CFCs were replaced with HFCs – hydro fluorocarbons, which have little effect on Ozone. But they are potent greenhouse gases. The latest update to the Montreal protocol has just taken place in Rwanda, and now HFCs are on the banned list too. So what’s the alternative? New Cell Atlas It may be a surprise to discover that we don’t know how many cell-types we have in our bodies. The Human Cell Atlas project is a huge international consortium aims to identify every single one and map them across the body – the medical benefits could be huge. Picture: Artwork: The retrorockets should have fired for about 30 seconds, credit: ESA Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Fiona Roberts

The Earliest Birds Probably ‘Quacked’  

The oldest fossilized remains of a syrinx, a bird’s equivalent of a voice box, has been described. The remains of the extinct bird specimen (Vegavis iaai), which lived about 66-68 million years ago, were found on Antarctica - confirming that the syrinx had evolved at the time of the dinosaurs. Drilling the ‘Dinosaur Crater’ Scientists have obtained remarkable new insights into the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. They have been examining rock drilled from the Chicxulub Crater that the 15km-wide asteroid, dug out of what is now the Gulf of Mexico some 66 million years ago. Stratolites Many of us would love to go into space but, almost 60 years after the dawn of the space age, very few can afford it. But there might soon be a cheaper option. BBC Future Space Correspondent, Richard Hollingham, reports from Tucson, Arizona, where a balloon company is planning to fly tourists high into the stratosphere and also take on services provided by satellites - such as communications and weather forecasting - with 'stratolites'. Wooden Skyscrapers New ways to engineer and build with wood, a huge demand for housing and concerns about the high carbon cost of steel and concrete mean architects and engineers are looking to sustainable wood to build our high rise buildings. Picture: The fossil syrinx is from an extinct species related to ducks from the late Cretaceous of Antarctica, Credit J. Clarke/UT Austin Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Fiona Roberts

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