Podcast

Science in Action

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

Episodes

  • Brazil’s Covid chaos

    May 28 2020

    The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment. A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of inf...more

  • Covid-19 vaccines

    May 21 2020

    There are more than 100 different Covid-19 vaccine trials currently going on. We look at which seem to be the most promising with Helen Branswell from Stat News. And we examine a very old idea, using antibodies from one virus – in this case Sars, to counter another virus Sars-CoV-2 , which causes Covid-19. Davide Corti from Vir Biotechnology says a version of these antibodies offers potential for both vaccination and treatment. Race and Covid-19, there seems to be a link between ethnicity a...more

  • Loosening lockdown

    May 14 2020

    How is Covid -19 spread? Who is most at risk and what are the circumstances under which it is most likely to be transmitted? These questions need answers for the implementation of effective and safe strategies to end lockdown. We look at what research is showing. And if you have to go back to work what’s the best way to protect yourself, how should we be using face coverings for example? There are lessons from research on fluid dynamics. Also key is reducing the rate of infection, the R numbe...more

  • Covid -19 new hope from blood tests

    May 07 2020

    Research from New York examining the blood of people who have recovered from Covid – 19 shows the majority have produced antibodies against the disease, The researchers hope to soon be able to establish whether this confers long term immunity as with more common viral infections. And Research in Berlin and London has identified biomarkers, minute signs of the disease which may help clinicians identify who is likely to develop severe symptoms and what kind of treatment they might need. Mutatio...more

  • Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19

    Apr 30 2020

    Remdesivir a drug eventually rejected as a treatment for Ebola seems to have aided recovery in a trial with more than a thousand Covid -19 patients. Researchers are cautious but hopeful; a leading health official in the US has made comparisons with the impact of game changing drugs used to treat HIV. In contrast an organisation researching the mechanisms by which bat coronaviruses infect humans has had its funding cut following criticism from President Trump. A scheme to help manufacture vent...more

  • Presidents and pandemics

    Apr 23 2020

    President Trump has repeated unfounded claims that scientists created Covid-19 in a lab. Rigorous scrutiny of the genetics of the virus reveals no evidence for such a claim. And Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is at odds with his own health advisors – splitting public opinion and action over lockdown measures needed to control the virus. We also look at why Covid -19 seems to be associated with so many different symptoms, from diarrheal infections to complicating kidney disease, to heart attack...more

  • Italy, getting Covid-19 under control

    Apr 16 2020

    Italy is beginning its first tentative steps towards ending its lockdown. These are small steps, opening a few shops in areas where virus transmission has seen big falls. Part of the reason for this controlled strategy is that there are real concerns over a potential resurgence of the virus, Around the world there are now hundreds of trials on drug treatments for Covid-19. Results so far are mixed, with antivirals developed for Ebola and HIV showing positive signs, but antimalarial drugs, cham...more

  • Covid 19 - the threat to refugees

    Apr 09 2020

    Massively over crowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has seen numbers grow from 5 to 20 thousand in a matter of months. Hundreds of people share taps and toilets, there is little chance to implement measures designed to stop the spread of covid 19. So far the camp has not been hit by the epidemic, but aid agencies fear for the most vulnerable in the camp. Covid 19 jumped from bats to humans, possibly via another wild animal. A study of zoonotic diseases has identified many o...more

  • Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins

    Apr 02 2020

    Nigeria has seen a small number of Covid -19 cases, largely spread amongst the most affluent, people who travel abroad, However there is concern about the potential of the virus to spread to overcrowded slum areas. In such conditions social distancing measures would be difficult to enforce. What are the alternatives? The US now has the majority of cases of the virus, New York has been heavily hit, medics have developed an app to help understand the spread of Covid 19 in the community. The a...more

  • The science of social distancing

    Mar 26 2020

    The strong social distancing policies introduced by China seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of Covid 19. Without any effective drug treatments, reducing our number of contacts is the most effective way to prevent viral transmission. We also look at the similarities been policies in Russia and the US on how best to deal with the virus. In both cases there are contradictions and disagreements between medical professionals and politicians. And a warning from Polio, how vaccines...more

  • Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?

    Mar 19 2020

    In Italy the entire population of a small town was tested for Covid 19. Of those infected, one in three people with no symptoms had the virus. And from China researchers found many people carried the virus – even before authorities there began tracking its spread. The findings suggest vulnerable people may contract the virus from those without symptoms. And we’ve news of a breakthrough - new tests looking at Covid 19 antibodies, These should help provide a picture of developing immunity to the ...more

  • Covid -19 how infectious is it really?

    Mar 12 2020

    Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why. And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner. Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dip...more

  • Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change

    Mar 05 2020

    Attributing Australia's bush fires, a major study says man-made climate change was a big driver – making the fires at least 30% worse than they would have been if natural processes were the only factors. We look at preparations for coronavirus in Africa. Although cases there are currently lower than in much of the rest of the world a major training initiative is taking place to spread awareness amongst medics across the continent. We ask why Horseshoe bats in particular carry coronaviruses, an...more

  • Tracking coronavirus spread

    Feb 27 2020

    The appearance of Covid -19 in Italy and Iran surprised many this week. As the virus continues to spread we look at ways to contain it. Australia’s fires have burnt around 20 percent of the countries woodlands, what are the implications for the recovery of those ecosystems? And what is the link between the world’s super rich and deforestation? Unsurprisingly it’s money. And we hear about the unexpected cooling effects of hydroelectric dams. (Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Co...more

  • CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak

    Feb 13 2020

    Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself. And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise...more

  • Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?

    Feb 06 2020

    Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material. East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather patt...more

  • Understanding the new coronavirus

    Jan 30 2020

    Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus. We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available. We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine hi-tech solutions designe...more

  • New Coronavirus

    Jan 23 2020

    The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread. Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the out...more

  • Mount Taal volcano

    Jan 16 2020

    An experimental satellite called Aeolus, named after a Greek god of wind, which takes daily global measurements of the wind patterns throughout the depth of atmosphere has improved weather forecasts. ESA’s Anne-Greta Straume explains how it works. The dramatic eruption of the island volcano Taal in the Philippines was a spectacular picture of the plume of ejecta punching a hole in overlying cloud cover. Nearby towns have been blanketed with dust, fissures have appeared in the ground and there ...more

  • Australia’s extreme fire season

    Jan 09 2020

    2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, a major factor behind the bush fires which have been far worse than usual. We look at the patterns of extreme weather that have contributed to the fires but are also linked to floods in Africa. And the way in which thunderstorms have helped to spread the fires. The armpit of Orion is changing. The star Betelgeuse is dimming some claim this is readying it for a major explosion others are more sceptical, we weight up the arguments. And an Iron Age ...more

  • Adapting California

    Jan 02 2020

    Roland Pease is joined by California based science Journalist Molly Bentley as we examine the impact of earthquakes and fires. California has experienced both in the last year - What’s it like to live with a constant threat from these extreme events? We also take a look at NASA’s plans for a new mission to Mars – to look for signs on life. Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC

  • Gaming climate change

    Dec 26 2019

    The latest round of climate negotiations, COP25, have ended without agreement on many fundamental issues. We join researchers from Perdue University in the US who have developed a role-playing game to encourage climate negotiators and others to take a long-term view. Key to this research project is the concept of tipping points, where an environment changes irreversibly from one state to another. This is accompanied by the loss of ecosystems - for example, the widespread melting of Arctic sea ic...more

  • Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption

    Dec 19 2019

    We have the latest from a year long investigation into the causes of the December 2018 Indonesian Tsunami. And we get a look at the first pictures from the Mayotte undersea volcano, which emerged earlier this year off the coast of East Africa. (Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle

  • White Island volcano eruption

    Dec 12 2019

    This week’s programme comes from the world’s largest earth sciences conference, the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Roland Pease talks with Diana Roman of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC about the tragic White Island volcanic eruption in which at least eight tourists died. Aurora Elmore of National Geographic and Arbindra Khadka of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu Nepal discuss the state of Himalayan glaciers and climate change. Robert Hazen of the Carneg...more

  • CRISPR babies scandal – more details

    Dec 05 2019

    Extracts from unpublished papers on the methods used by a Chinese scientist to genetically modify the embryos of two girls reveal a series of potentially dangerous problems with the procedure and ethical shortcomings. We look at the mechanism behind the formation of our facial features and how this is linked to our evolution, scrutinise the impact of current emissions on global climates and see why lithium, used in batteries and medicines, is now a potentially widespread pollutant. (Photo: He...more

  • New malaria target

    Dec 02 2019

    Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again. We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library Presente...more

  • Politics and Amazonia’s fires

    Nov 21 2019

    This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs. Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change. Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to e...more

  • Australia burning

    Nov 14 2019

    Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change? A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was. Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower And a hologram produced from sound waves. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Peas...more

  • Climate in crisis

    Nov 07 2019

    Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further. (Image: Tourists wear...more

  • Wildfires and winds in California

    Oct 31 2019

    The Santa Ana in the south, and the Diablo in the north, are winds that are fuelling the terrible fires raging in California this week. They’re also blamed for bringing down power lines that sometimes start the fires. Roland Pease talks to Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research NCAR who has been developing a highly detailed model to forecast how wind, mountains, and flames interact during a wildfire. The glaring gaps in human genetics are in Africa – much overlooked because...more

  • Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?

    Oct 24 2019

    A quantum computer has performed a calculation considered impossible for conventional computers, but how meaningful is the result? As our guest reveals, this quantum state can be hugely significant and garbage – at the same time. Also we look at a new method of gene editing, which avoids cutting up DNA, get to grips with where the worlds worms live and watch elements being created in distant solar collisions. (Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google) Pr...more

  • Malaria's origins and a potential new treatment

    Oct 17 2019

    A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia. How did one of them jump species and why did humans became its preferred host? And from Antarctica we hear about a potential new treatment for malaria found in a deep sea sponge. Also, why improved monitoring is changing our perceptions of earthquakes and the story of an endangered Polynesian snail. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Grou...more

  • From batteries to distant worlds

    Oct 10 2019

    Nobel prizes this week went to a range of discoveries that you might be familiar with, in fact you might be using one of them right now – the lithium ion battery. The scientists credited with its Invention got the chemistry prize. And the tantalising prospect of life on other planets plays into the physics prize win. And we also see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis (Picture: Illustration of the Earth-like exoplanet Kepler-452b and its parent star Kepler-452. Credi...more

  • Drought likely to follow India’s floods

    Oct 03 2019

    India has experienced some of the worse monsoon weather in years, but despite the extreme rainfall climate models suggest a drought may be on the way, with higher than average temperatures predicted for the months following the monsoon season. We also hear warnings over the state of the world’s aquifers, with water levels in many places already low enough to affect ecosystems. We examine the consequences of two historic eruptions. How Indonesian volcano Tambora changed global weather and why p...more

  • Global climate inaction

    Sep 26 2019

    This week’s IPCC report on the state of the world’s climate looks very much like their earlier reports on the subject. The document cautiously expresses a picture of a future with greater climate extremes. Activists are frustrated by the lack of action. We look at why the scientific message is often hampered by politics. Fish could provide micronutrients to the world poor, but as we’ll hear this would need a major shift in commercial fishing practices globally. Baby bottles from thousands of ...more

  • South East Asia choking - again

    Sep 20 2019

    Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started. In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated ...more

  • Embryoids from stem cells

    Sep 12 2019

    Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the Univers...more

  • New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion

    Sep 05 2019

    An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Researchers ask people living in the area or nearby to send them samples of dust or soil before the radioactive clues therein decay beyond recognition. Also, a near miss between an ESA satellite and a SpaceX/Starlink module in crowded near space strengthens the case for some sort of international Space Traffic Management treaty, whilst in the arctic circle, melting permafrost is disinterring the graves of long-dead ...more

  • Nanotube computer says hello

    Aug 29 2019

    A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s. (The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)

  • Amazonian fires likely to worsen

    Aug 22 2019

    As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, new pictures back from the surface of asteroid Ryugu thanks to Germany’s MASCOT lander, part of the Japanese Hyabusa2 mission, give insights into the clay from which the solar system was originally formed, and Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Wildfi...more

  • Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse

    Aug 15 2019

    Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future. Wyoming Dinosaur trove The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere ...more

  • Keeping tabs on nuclear weapons

    Aug 08 2019

    The US has withdrawn from a historic nuclear disarmament treaty. However the verification of such treaties has been under scrutiny for some time as they don’t actually reveal the size of nuclear stockpiles. New methods of verification and encryption should allow all sides to be more confident on who has what in terms of nuclear stockpiles. Can carbon capture and storage technology help reduce atmospheric Co2 levels? The answer seems to be yes, but at a considerable cost. And we go for a cold ...more

  • The snowball effect of Arctic fires

    Aug 01 2019

    Wildfires are an annual phenomenon across the arctic region, but this year they are far more intense than usual, we look at the drivers for these extreme fires and the consequences, in particular long term environmental change across the region. We visit Naples which is built on a super volcano. A new analysis is designed to help predict when it might erupt. We hear from young scientists around the world on their hopes for the future and hear about the discovery of a new potentially earth lik...more

  • The human danger – for sharks

    Jul 25 2019

    A global project tracking sharks through the deep oceans has found they are increasingly facing danger from fishing fleets. Sharks used to be caught accidentally, but now there is a well-established trade in shark meat and fins, which the researchers say is reducing their numbers. We look at how tourists might be a useful source for conservation data, And we meet one of the planets smallest predators, is it a plant is it an animal? Well actually it’s a bit of both. (Photo: Tiger shark. Cred...more

  • The moon landing and another big space anniversary

    Jul 18 2019

    It’s 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide. We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there? One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scien...more

  • 'Free' water and electricity for the world?

    Jul 11 2019

    Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages. A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present i...more

  • Analysing the European heatwave

    Jul 04 2019

    The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely. And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many? (Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Present...more

  • Is climate change driving Europe’s current heatwave?

    Jun 27 2019

    As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change. However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens....more

  • Iran’s nuclear plans

    Jun 20 2019

    Iran’s nuclear programme is at the centre of a political row, with the country suggesting it could increase uranium production to above the levels permitted under an international agreement. We look beyond the rhetoric, discuss Iran’s covert history of nuclear development and ask scientifically what this latest move involves. Fish are no respecter of international borders and when it comes to spawning, research reveals up to $10bn worth of potential fish stocks move between different political...more

  • South Asia heatwave and climate change

    Jun 13 2019

    South Asia has experienced a heatwave where the monsoon has been delayed and temperatures have reached over 50 degrees. Despite this the extreme heat has led to far fewer fatalities than previous heatwaves; we look at why that is. Research into the origins of almonds shows they were domesticated in Asia before spreading worldwide. It’s a bitter sweet story, with sweet varieties being selected over bitter ones. In fact the bitter ones contain poisons which can kill.. As with almonds cannabis ...more

  • US foetal tissue research ban

    Jun 06 2019

    The US has withdrawn funding for scientific research involving foetal tissue. Scientists point to the lack of feasible alternatives to using foetal tissue – which comes from embryos donated to scientific research via abortion clinics. They say the move to halt this kind of research will have a negative impact on the ability of US medical institutions to develop new treatments for a range of diseases from diabetes to cancer. More controversy from the ‘Crispr babies ‘ scandal – with a new anal...more