Bovine TB and badger culling, Shrimp hoover CSI, Shark-skin and Turing
The Bovine TB Strategy Review has just been released. It contains a review of the science and offers advice and guidance to Government ministers on how to eradicate this costly and hard to manage disease in cattle. Controversially it does not include the results from the on going badger culling trials in the West of England and it states that the majority of disease transmission is from cow to cow. But it addresses the efficacy of skin TB tests and repeatedly states that the long-term aim is to end culling badgers and moving to vaccination or other non lethal methods to control the disease reservoir in wildlife. Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, who ran the Randomised Badger Culling Trials in 2007, thinks the report is mostly a good thing. She praises the advice to find alternatives to killing British wildlife, but explains to Adam Rutherford that trialling vaccinations for badgers after culling could be problematic.
Monitoring the health of estuarine and coastal water ecosystems usually relies on the expensive and time-consuming practice of catching fish to get a view on the health of entire ecosystem. New methods are starting to be used called Environmental DNA sampling, using DNA barcoding techniques. As everything sheds fragments of DNA into the environment, by sampling water or sediment, you can use High Throughput DNA analysis, using special probes to pull out and identify the species you want. It’s a lot quicker and cheaper, but you still have to deal with problems of collection, filtration and contamination. But Professor of Conservation Genetics, Stefano Mariani at the University of Salford, has found an even better way. He's recruited the European brown Shrimp, which eat everything, are found everywhere and can do all the filtering and storing of the DNA for him. All Stefano has to do is catch the shrimp and analyse their stomach contents to get a picture of what is in the environment.
PhD student at Sheffield University, Rory Cooper explains to Adam how mathematical patterns that Alan Turing worked on late in his career are found in abundance in the natural world. The genetic mechanisms of switching on cellular processes that lead to feather or hair emergence have now been found in the formation of shark scales. The pattern relies on genes to switch on a function, such as feathering, but diffuse out to surrounding cells and switch the function off, leading to a uniform, spaced out pattern. As shark species split off from other vertebrates around 420 million years ago, it therefore proves that Turing’s pattern is recycled through other vertebrates.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Oldest cave picture; the Anthropocene under London; a new scientist for the £50 note
What could be the oldest figurative cave paintings in the world have been found in a cave complex in remote Borneo. A reddish orange depiction of an animal that could be a Banteng (wild cattle found in the region) is at least 40,000 years old.
Humans are now the greatest force in shaping the surface of the Earth. We now move more than 24 times as much rock, rubble and sediment than all the world’s rivers. Dr Anthony Cooper of the British Geological Society has been weighing this anthropogenic global force. Closer to home, Adam Rutherford speaks to Professor Colin Waters at the University of Leicester, about the weight of human-created rubble he’s found under the City of London.
When the new polymer £50 note is introduced in around a year’s time, it’ll have a scientist on the reverse. Industrialist Matthew Boulton and engineer James Watt will step aside for a British scientist nominated by the public. Sarah John, Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, explains the rules to Adam and science experts, Emily Grossman and Alice Bell debate the merits of some of the more popular front runners.
Repairing potholes, Ozone hole, Internet of hives, Drugs from fingerprints
Potholes are one of the biggest frustrations to any road-user, but why do they keep occurring? Following Philip Hammond’s announcement of £420 million for councils to tackle potholes, Malcolm Simms, Director of the Mineral Products Association’s Asphalt & Pavement group, explains how potholes form and why they continue to occur. Alvaro Hernandez of Nottingham University chats to Marnie about new solutions he is investigating to improve our roads and reduce the number of potholes.
Roland Pease meets John Able and Professor Simon Potts, to discuss the value of ‘big data’ – in this case, for honeybees. Using a ‘buzz box’ to detect conditions inside and out of the beehive, this data can be transmitted to the cloud and used to keep track of beehive health. This is termed the ‘internet of hives’ and provides a huge amount of high quality data to discover the key indicators of beehive health.
Back in the 1980s, the world discovered that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, which protects the earth, and us, from being fried by the sun’s rays. The 1987 Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFCs, and as we stopped emitting them, the ozone layer started to recover. But there are other gases like carbon tetrachloride that destroy the ozone layer and are also restricted. But Dr Matt Rigby, an atmospheric chemist from Bristol University, has been discovering that there are still sources of carbon tetrachloride.
Testing for illicit drugs usually needs a blood or urine sample, but now it can be done from a sweaty fingerprint. And not only on a living suspect, but on a corpse. Adam Rutherford speaks to the developer of this smart chemistry , University of East Anglia’s David Russell.
Science and Brexit, Antibiotic livestock growth promoters, Bepicolombo goes to Mercury
How might Brexit affect UK Science? Why is feeding a 'last resort' antibiotic to farm animals not a good idea? Why is space probe Bepicolombo going to Mercury? Adam Rutherford is your host.
This week, leading British and European scientists wrote to the British Prime Minister and European Commission President. They expressed their concerns about the potential impact if there is a no-deal departure by the UK from the European Union. We hear from one of the signatories Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and from UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah.
Roland Pease reports on the use of the medically valuable last-resort antibiotic, colistin, as a growth promoting substance in agricultural livestock feed in India. He speaks to infectious disease consultant Abdul Ghafur in Chennai, India and microbiologist Tim Walsh at Cardiff University.
The space probe Bepicolombo has begun its 7 year voyage to the planet Mercury. Suzie Imber of the University of Leicester and David Rothery of the Open University tell Adam why the journey will take so long and why Mercury is such an intriguing planet, worthy of exploration by this new probe.
Old Dogs and Physics in Space
How far back can we trace the ancestry of dogs? For just how long have they been following us around? The answer is for a very long time - long before humans settled down and developed societies. Scientists in France have been looking at ancient dog DNA to try and work out whether people tamed and domesticated local dogs as they migrated across the planet, or brought dogs with them. The answer tells us much about the relationship - or rather lack of it, between early farmers and the hunter gathers they replaced throughout Europe.
And how many Bosons can you fit in a rocket? As they are rather small particles the answer will be quite a lot, but a team from Germany has succeeded in making a form of mater known as the Bose Einstein Condensate in a small rocket which they launched into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Potentially the success of their experiment could lead to new ways of detecting gravitational waves in space.
Back on earth a group of ‘A’ level students have been looking at or rather listening to data from space, and published a scientific paper on their observation of a solar storm. In a unique partnership with university physics researchers, information on electromagnetic waves around our planet has been turned into audible data. The keen ears of the students identified events that had not previously been detected.
And how incriminating is your washing machine? Digital forensics, the unpicking of the data trails on our digital devices, from phones to TV tuners, even baby monitors and washing machines are now playing a part in criminal investigations, not just cases involving online fraud or cybercrime, but any investigation looking at what suspects were doing and when. A digital trail can act as evidence for time and place.