Thursday, April 28, 2016 5:00pm
Genetically modified Bt crops have been hailed as one of the success stories of GM crops. Cotton, maize and soybeans which have the ‘insecticide gene inserted’ are thought to be responsible for increases in global agricultural productivity of US$78 between 1996 and 2013. But now farmers are starting to see crop pests developing resistance to the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin. It’s one of the evolutionary arms races that nature is so famous for. But now scientists at Harvard University are harnessing evolution in the lab to fast-track themselves to a new generation of the insecticidal toxin.
Cricket songs get higher as the temperature rises – Crickets ‘sing’ to attract mates and ward off rivals. The problem is lots of other insects make noises for the same reason. So how does the cricket make sure other crickets can hear him? He broadcasts on a particular frequency. But, as tree crickets make sound by rubbing their wing cases together, when the temperature rises during the day, their muscles twitch faster and the sound gets higher. New research shows that they can tune the sound back to the correct frequency.
On Science in Action, we like phenomena, especially ‘ephemeral phenomena’ – strange things that pop up, then disappear. Like ice sails - oddly beautiful structures you may come across if you’re lucky enough to be walking along one of the glaciers streaming in slow motion off the Karakoram mountain range spanning the borders between Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan. Ice sails are huge sail-shaped chunks of ice, only found in this region and only found between certain altitudes. Now scientists have worked out how they are made and why they are so unusual. It’s important as it tells us about how the glaciers works and these glaciers provide a lot of drinking water for a lot of people.
Wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
In the 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear accident, what has happened to the wildlife in the 30Km exclusions zone?
Pink glow worms and 3 new species of snail have been discovered in the unlikely ‘concrete jungle’ that is Los Angeles. All thanks to an army of citizen scientists searching for and reporting the wildlife in Southern California. The work is part of the new Urban Nature Research Center launched by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and they say it’s “the largest urban biodiversity study in the world.”
(Photo: A cotton field waits to be harvested on BTC farm which raises 1000 acres of cotton, 80% of which is genetically modified (GM) Bt, Roundup Ready cotton. © Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Presenter: Jack Stewart
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Thursday, April 21, 2016 5:16pm
It seems that early dinosaur precursors to birds that had beaks rather than teeth gave them the advantage to survive the meteor crash almost 66 million years ago. Seed eaters were able to survive the nuclear holocaust-like conditions.
Why are the Gray whales that visit the San Ignacio lagoon, off the coast of Baja California in Mexico, friendly enough to stroke? No one knows, but it is thought they visit the shallow lagoon to give birth because their predators, killer whales, can't hunt in the turbid conditions.
Closer to home than the moon is a section of the atmosphere called the thermosphere that is poorly understood. A European project called QB50 plans to change this, by sending 50 small satellites, known as CubeSats, into orbit this summer.
Most of them will sport sensors that can probe the properties of the upper atmosphere. The group building these sensors is led by UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey in the UK, which will build 14 spectrometers. These will analyse the relative proportions of different types of particles in the thermosphere. Marnie Chesterton finds out how scientists cope with the challenge of building their gadgets but smaller and lighter.
Testing Vehicle Emissions
Testing pollution levels from vehicles in the lab, does not reflect the real picture on the roads. So scientists are "sniffing" the exhaust and filming cars and buses in real life to get a better picture of pollution.
(Photo: Illustration of dinosaur bird. Credit: Danielle Dufault/PA)
Thursday, April 14, 2016 5:12pm
The CDC has announced that the Zika virus is linked to birth defects. A growing body of evidence has led the scientists to this conclusion. We look at new research that shows that the Zika virus can significantly damage the developing brain. As doing experiments in the developing baby’s brain is impossible, this team of researchers used models that mimic embryonic brain development in the lab. They infected their human brain models with Zika virus and found that most of the very early brains died within days, while 40% of more mature brain models showed reduced growth. They compared these models to ones which had either no Zika infection and to ones infected with Dengue virus – both developed as expected. The authors are now looking to carry on their work to see how Zika virus affects different stage of embryonic brain development.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Dolphin Deaths
A four-year study of newborn and fetal dolphins found stranded on beaches in the northern Gulf of Mexico shows these stranded ceteceans died of different causes than baby dolphins found elsewhere. The study, reported in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, identified substantial differences between fetal and newborn dolphins found stranded inside and outside the areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The work is part of an investigation into an ‘unusual mortality event’ that involved mainly bottle nose dolphins in the area between 2010 and 2014. The baby dolphins found were significantly smaller than those stranded in previous years or elsewhere and also showed lung abnormalities – quite simply they never took their first gulp of breath – so they either died in the womb or very shortly after birth. The research adds to work published last year which showed that juvenile and adult dolphins who died in the same period and location had died of either adrenal gland problems or lung disease like pneumonia.
Bat-Sound Library Tracks Biodiversity
Scientists have compiled the biggest known library of bat sounds in an effort to identify and conserve rare species. International researchers recorded more than 4,500 calls from about half of Mexico's 130 bat species. The audio library allows bat calls to be identified automatically, helping to monitor any changes in biodiversity.
Stephen Hawking Backs Interstellar Travel Project
Stephen Hawking is backing a project to send tiny spacecraft to another star system within a generation. A $100m (£70m) research programme to develop the computer chip-sized "starships" was launched by the billionaire Yuri Milner, supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Tilapia Lake Virus
Scientists have identified a new virus that kills tilapia. Tilapia are a freshwater fish that provide a cheap source of protein to many people in the developing world as well as being heavily imported into the United States. It is known in the Middle East as St. Peter’s Fish as it is believed to be the fish that Jesus used in the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The research published in the journal mBio – the open access journal of the American Society for Microbiology – shows that the tilapia lake virus has struck populations in Israel, Ecuador and Columbia. The scientists have developed diagnostic tools to recognise infection and are now working on a vaccine to stop the virus from spreading.
(Photo: Children with birth defects from the Zika virus. Credit: Getty Images)
Thursday, April 7, 2016 4:00pm
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest natural living structure on earth and home to more than one thousand five hundred species of fish. But rising sea temperatures and this year’s powerful El Niño have caused the worst mass bleaching event the reef has ever seen. A recent aerial survey of its northern - and most pristine section - found that 95% of the top corals are now severely bleached. Scientists are still trying to find out where the south boundary of the bleaching even is. Our reporter Laura Hampton is on Lizard Island - a research station two hundred kilometres north of Cairns - to see first-hand how bad the situation really is.
Bialowieza Forest Threat
The Bialowieza forest in north east Poland straddles the border into Belarus. It’s a World Heritage Site, because it is the only lowland primeval forest in Europe – some estimates say it has been there for as long as 10, 000 years. It is home to 20,000 species of animals and plants, many of which are now extinct elsewhere in Europe, and the forest’s long history without human intervention makes it the most important in the northern hemisphere. Used as a hunting ground for kings and tsars, it has been protected for centuries, but now the Polish government has announced plans to increase logging in the forest. Concerned scientists have spoken out against the plan and written to the journal Nature outlining their very serious concerns. We speak to one of the authors Dr. Przemyslaw Chylarecki from the Institute of Zoology in Warsaw.
Kite Runner Fossil
A 430 million-year-old sea creature apparently dragged its offspring around on strings like kites. Reported in the journal PNAS, the many-legged, eyeless, 1cm animal is not directly related to any living species.
Project To Drill Into 'Dinosaur Crater' Gets Under Way
A joint UK-US-led expedition has got under way to drill into the Chicxulub Crater off the coast of Mexico. This is the deep scar made in the Earth's surface 66 million years ago by the asteroid that scientists believe hastened the end of the dinosaurs. They hope to learn more about the scale of the impact, and the environmental catastrophe that ensued.
Pig Heart Kept Beating In Baboon For Over Two Years
Scientists say they have kept a pig heart alive in a baboon for more than two years. They report their work in the journal Nature Communications, where they describe using a combination of gene modification and immune-supressing drugs to prevent rejection.
British scientists who have set up a network of penguin-monitoring cameras in Antarctica are asking the public to help them carry out their research. The Oxford University team is launching a new version of their ambitious project, PenguinWatch, in order to monitor and conserve Antarctica's penguin colonies.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
A new film about the Indian maths genius Srinivisa Ramanujan is due to be released in the UK – we discuss his life and work and how some of his theories are yet to be explained.
Presenter: Jack Stewart
Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz
Main Image: The Great Barrier Reef, NASA satellite image taken 06 August, 2004. (Credit HO / AFP / Getty Images)
Thursday, February 11, 2016 3:00pm
Scientists have announced a revolution in astronomy: LIGO – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory – has recorded signals of the gravitational waves resulting from two black holes colliding. Gravitational waves are tiny ripples in space time, which Albert Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity over 100 years ago. Large bodies like black holes warp space-time around themselves, and when they collide, the distortions of the collision ripple outward at the speed of light. LIGO consists of two giant detectors, each eight kilometres in length, one in Louisiana and one in Washington State. The detectors are like microphones listening to the Universe, sensitive to waves coming in from all directions. Professor Sheila Rowan explains why this discovery is equivalent to developing an entirely new sense, allowing astrophysicists to “hear” the universe for the first time.
Horses Know When You Are Angry
Domestication has enabled horses to distinguish human emotions, a new study shows. When the horses were shown pictures of angry human faces, they tended to look at them with their left eye – which is associated with perceiving negative stimuli.
Neanderthal DNA May Influence Depression
Homo sapiens migrating out of Africa first mingled with Neanderthals around 50,000 years ago. A new study has identified Neanderthal genetic variants that may be responsible for conditions like depression, blood clotting and tobacco addiction in modern humans.
Pond Slime Bacteria Act Like Tiny Eyes
Biologists have solved the riddle of how a bacterium senses light and moves towards it. The entire organism acts like a tiny eyeball, focusing light on the far side of the cell.
Light Flashes Could Stop Jet Lag
Sleeping in front of a strobe light could help people realign their internal clock after travelling across time zones. Researchers found that an hour of flashlight therapy shifted volunteers’ day-night cycle by up to two hours.
Climate Change Affects Transatlantic Flights
Air travel is an increasingly popular mode of transport, with thousands of planes up in the air at any given time. According to estimates, aviation contributes around two percent to global carbon dioxide emissions, adding to global warming. New research shows that this is actually a two-way street, with climate change also affecting planes’ travel times. Rising temperatures will accelerate the jet stream – a strong, high-altitude wind that travels across the Atlantic – leaving westbound flights battling stronger headwinds. Dr Paul Williams has calculated that this will cause planes on transatlantic routes to spend an extra 2,000 hours in the air, using up $20 million worth of extra fuel and increasing emissions even further.
(Photo: Artist’s impression of two black holes colliding © Nasa)