Discovery

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2014063020140701 (WS)

Explorations in the world of science.

20140915

Explorations in the world of science.

2014092220140923 (WS)

Explorations in the world of science.

20140922

Explorations in the world of science.

Ageing And The Brain2014062320140624 (WS)
20140630 (WS)

Do our mental powers really decline in old age?

Geoff Watts investigates the latest thinking about our brain power in old age. He meets researchers who argue that society has overly negative views of the mental abilities of the elderly - a dismal and fatalistic outlook which is not backed up by recent discoveries and theories. Geoff talks to professor Lorraine Tyler who leads a large study in Cambridge (CamCAN) which is comparing cognition and brain structure and function in 700 people aged between 18 and 88 years old.

He also meets scientists and participants involved in a unique study of cognition and ageing at the University of Edinburgh. It has traced hundreds of people who were given a nationwide intelligence test as children in 1932 and 1947. Since the year 2000, the study has been retesting their intelligence and mental agility in their 70s to 90s. The Lothian Birth Cohort study is revealing what we all might do in life to keep our minds fast and sharp well into old age.

One new and controversial idea holds that cognitive decline is in fact a myth. A team in Germany, led by Michael Ramscar, argues that older people perform less well in intelligence and memory tests because they know so much more than younger subjects and not because their brains are deteriorating. Simply put, their larger stores of accumulated knowledge slow their performance. Their brains take longer to retrieve the answers from their richer memory stores.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Explorations in the world of science.

Anaesthesia2014070720140714 (WS)

How do general anaesthetics work in the body?

General anaesthetics which act to cause reversible loss of consciousness have been used clinically for over 150 years. Yet scientists are only now really understanding how these drugs act on the brain and the body to stop us feeling pain. Linda Geddes reports on the latest research using molecular techniques and brain scanners.

Linda visits the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre where William Harrop-Griffiths, president of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, tells her about the discovery of agents that knock us out. And, as an operation takes place in the Royal United Hospital in Bath, professor Tim Cook explains the role of the anaesthetist.

Linda also talks to professor Nick Franks of Imperial College, London, about his research into how anaesthetics work at the level of the cell. Irene Tracey, professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, discusses how her fMRI scans of people as they slowly undergo anaesthesia have revealed how the brain switches off. Professor Steven Laureys, head of the Coma Science Group at Liege Universiy in Belgium, explains how understanding anaesthesia can help coma patients and what it tells us about the difficult question of human consciousness.

Anaesthesia2014070720140708 (WS)

Linda Geddes explores the latest research into how general anaesthetics work in the body.

General anaesthetics which act to cause reversible loss of consciousness have been used clinically for over 150 years. Yet scientists are only now really understanding how these drugs act on the brain and the body to stop us feeling pain. Linda Geddes reports on the latest research using molecular techniques and brain scanners.

Linda visits the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre where William Harrop-Griffiths, President of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, tells her about the discovery of agents that knock us out.

As an operation takes place in the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Professor Tim Cook explains the role of the anaesthetist.

Linda talks to Professor Nick Franks of Imperial College, London, about his research into how anaesthetics work at the level of the cell. Irene Tracey, Professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, discusses how her fMRI scans of people as they slowly undergo anaesthesia have revealed how the brain switches off. Professor Steven Laureys, Head of the Coma Science Group at Liege Universiy in Belgium, explains how understanding anaesthesia can help coma patients and what it tells us about the difficult question of human consciousness.

Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part Ii2014082520140826 (WS)

The world needs new antibiotics: drug companies don’t want to make them. What to do?

Infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs that used to kill them. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. There is little in the development pipelines of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies got out of antibiotics as their attention switched to much more lucrative daily medicines for chronic diseases. Public funding on antibiotic research has also withered.

Now that the gathering crisis of antibiotic resistance is becoming recognised by politicians, what are the options? Roland Pease explores how business, academia and governments might work together to avert a return to the medical dark ages.

Image Credit: Hospital scientist inspects an unidentified culture in the Microbiology Department of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part Two2014082520140901 (WS)

The world needs new antibiotics: drug companies don’t want to make them. What next?

Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part Two2014082520140901 (WS)

Infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs that used to kill them. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. There is little in the development pipelines of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies got out of antibiotics as their attention switched to much more lucrative daily medicines for chronic diseases. Public funding on antibiotic research has also withered.

Now that the gathering crisis of antibiotic resistance is becoming recognised by politicians, what are the options? Roland Pease explores how business, academia and governments might work together to avert a return to the medical dark ages.

Image Credit: Hospital scientist inspects an unidentified culture in the Microbiology Department of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

Antibiotics Resistance Crisis2014081820140819 (WS)

Why our antibiotics are failing. Is this the end of modern medicine?

The discovery and harnessing of antibiotic drugs in the mid twentieth century led some medics to predict the end of infectious diseases. But the bacteria fought and continue to fight back, evolving resistance to many of the drugs that used to kill them. Public health officials warn that without new drugs, medicine will return to the days where ‘a cut finger on Monday leads to death of Friday’. Without protective antibiotics to keep infections at bay, scores of standard surgical operations and chemotherapy for cancer will become too risky.

Roland Pease looks at scientific issues behind the gathering crisis. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. Are there any others in the pipeline?

Image Credit: Hospital scientist inspects an unidentified culture in the Microbiology Department of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Biosafety2014090820140915 (WS)

As mistakes involving deadly pathogens come to light, what lessons will be learnt?

Cosmology2014081120140818 (WS)

Have astronomers really found gravitational waves from the Big Bang?

In March astronomers in the BICEP2 collaboration announced they had found gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But now the evidence is being questioned by other scientists.

Dr Lucie Green reports on the debate and asks if scientists can ever know what happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed.

Image copyright: Steffen Richter, Harvard University

Cosmology2014081120140812 (WS)

Have astronomers really found gravitational waves from the Big Bang as announced in March?

In March astronomers in the BICEP2 collaboration announced they had found gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But now the evidence is being questioned by other scientists. Dr Lucie Green reports on the debate and asks if scientists can ever know what happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed.

Driverless Cars2014061620140623 (WS)

Jack Stewart meets the engineers who are building vehicles that drive themselves. He has a ride in Google's driverless car, which has no steering wheel and no pedals. Google's Chris Urmson explains the company's approach to autonomous vehicles.

Jack visits Stanford University's driverless car project where professor Chris Gerdes shows him Shelley, an automated Audi that races around a track at speed as well as a human driver. Chris is collaborating with a philosopher to explore some of the difficult questions around autonomous vehicles, such as who is liable if there's an accident. Is it the human or the car? And ,Jack meets Josh Swirtes whose company, Peloton, is linking trucks together with the idea that they should have fewer accidents.

(Photo: Jack Stewart in Stanford's University X1)

Jack Stewart meets the engineers inventing vehicles that drive themselves.

Janet Hemingway2014063020140707 (WS)

Janet Hemingway on malaria and the coming of insecticide resistance with Jim Al-Khalili

Janet Hemingway, the youngest woman to ever to become a full professor in the UK, talks about her career at the frontline of the war on malaria. Whilst many researchers look for vaccines and treatments to this global killer, Janet's approach, as a trained entomologist, has been to fight the mosquito - the vector - which transmits the malaria parasite.

Image: Janet Hemingway, BBC Copyright

Mum And Dad And Mum2014090120140902 (WS)
20140908 (WS)

Rebecca Morelle examines how children could be born with DNA from three people.

Alana Saarinen is a thirteen year old girl who lives with her mum and dad in Michigan, USA. She loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because every cell in Alana's body isn't like mine and yours; Alana is one of a handful of people in the world who have DNA from three people. The BBC's Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle explores how more children like Alana could be born. The UK is looking to legalise a new technique which would mean more children with DNA from three people could be born. This irreversibly changes the human genetic code, and would also eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. This programme examines the safety and health implications of this new science. For some it is controversial. For those who have these specific genetic diseases, it is the way they could have their own healthy child. The UK is playing a pioneering role in developing the technique, called mitochondrial replacement, and Parliament are expected to vote on legalising it soon. If that happened, the UK would be the first place in the world to make the process legal. But despite that, there are a small number of children in the world, like Alana Saarinen, who have DNA from three people already. Although a small sample, they could answer some of the questions people have, such as will they be healthy, do they feel like they have three parents and would they like to trace the donor one day in the future?

Producer: Charlotte Pritchard.

Patients Doing It For Themselves2014100620141007 (WS)

Vivienne Parry explores how patients are taking control of their own treatment.

Patients Doing It For Themselves20141006

Patient power is on the rise. But is it rising too far? Frustrated by the time it takes to develop new drugs, the ethical barriers to obtaining clinical data or the indifference of the medical profession to obscure diseases, patients are setting up their own clinical trials and overturning the norms of clinical research.

A DIY clinical trial sounds like a joke – and a dangerous one at that. But as Vivienne Parry discovers, it's real and on the rise as greater access to medical data allows more patients to play research scientists and medics at their own game.

Patients lie at the very heart of clinical research – without them there is none. Yet they come way down the food chain when it comes to transparency about their own health, blinded as they usually are to what pills they're taking and whether they are actually doing them any good. Even after the trial is published they're left with little understanding of whether the treatment could work for them and licensing is usually years away. So it's perhaps hardly surprising that patient networks have sprung up to redress the balance. Much of this current patient led research now takes place through online communities, with activists and the articulate ill demanding more say in their treament.

Vivienne Parry looks at some examples of patient led research which have challenged the medical establishment. She also asks how far can this go: should patients be prevented from experimenting with proceedures or drugs that might kill them ?

Image: BBC Copyright

Preventing Disease In Animals2014092920140930 (WS)

Melissa Hogenboom hears about new genetic techniques to combat disease in our livestock

Preventing Disease In Animals20140929

Diseases devastate livestock around the world. The deadly strain of bird flu for example continues to devastate livestock around the world and remains a threat to human health, especially in developing countries.

Scientists at one of the world’s leading genetics institutions - the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, are using a cutting edge technique called genome editing, which they say could soon bring disease resistant animals to market - and quickly. They are close to making disease resistant birds but they are aware that GM animals are still a long way from entering the market in Europe.

Similar research is going on in cows for TB resistance, but here instead of genetically modifying they are cross-breeding which may take ten or more generations to complete.

Melissa also hears about a team creating a frozen bio-bank of bird stem cells - cryopreserving them so that they could one day resurrect entire breeds. This technique could provide hope against losing these valuable genes forever.

Producer and presenter: Melissa Hogenboom

Image: BBC Copyright

Professor Sir Michael Rutter2014072820140804 (WS)

Professor Sir Michael Rutter has been described as the most illustrious and influential psychiatric scientist of his generation. His international reputation has been achieved despite the fact that as a young doctor, he had no intention of becoming a researcher, nor interest in becoming a child psychiatrist. In fact he became a world leader as both.

His career has spanned more than five decades and is marked by a remarkable body of high-impact research and landmark studies. The theme running through all his work has been child development, on the subtle interplay between nature and nurture and on the factors that make the difference between a child flourishing, or floundering.

Evacuated during World War Two, to a Quaker family in the USA, Mike Rutter tells Jim al-Khalili about the impact this move, aged seven, had on him. He describes the inspirational teachers who persuaded him that research and clinical work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, was for him, and he admits that an early mentor insisted he mustn't receive any formal training in child psychiatry, something he hasn't received to this day!

He was awarded this country's first ever professorship in child psychiatry in 1973 and he's credited with founding the field of developmental psychopathology. This involves the study, over time, of normal and abnormal child development. He's currently Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at King's College, London and still a practicing child psychiatrist.

An early breakthrough was his discovery that autism, or inifantile psychosis as it was then known, had a genetic basis, something barely suspected at the time.

Beautifully designed studies of populations over time followed, many of them landmark studies still cited today. They established the framework for studying and investigating mental illness in the community. The Isle of Wight Studies (1964-74) surveyed the mental health of children living on the island and for the first time in such research, children themselves were directly interviewed and questioned. Before this, Mike Rutter tells Jim, the assumption had been that what children thought and said didn't really matter.

In the 1970s, the Fifteen Thousand Hours study, delivered ground-breaking evidence about the combination of factors that affected the performance and behaviour of children in inner city secondary schools. Findings from this study were included by both the Labour and Conservative parties in their 1979 election manifestos.

"Maternal Deprivation Reassessed" was Mike Rutter's challenge to John Bowlby's hugely influential theory of maternal attachment. It was described as "a classic in the field of childcare" and it transformed the debate about the relationships that help babies to flourish.

His fascination with the underlying reasons why and how children vary in their ability to weather and cope with adversity, led to the growth of resilience science. For more than 40 years Mike Rutter, "the intellectual father", has led this field of study.

His name is particularly associated with "natural experiments" and one of the best known is the English Romanian Adoptees study that he set up in the early 1990s and still runs today. The children being followed are those rescued from the orphanages of Nicolai Ceausescu and adopted by families in this country. Because of the appalling conditions many of these babies and toddlers experienced in Romanian institutions, Professor Rutter understood that tracking and studying them as they grew up in loving homes here, would provide important insights into how early deprivation affects childrens' development.

Producer: Fiona Hill

Image: Professor Sir Michael Rutter, BBC Copyright

Rosetta Mission Arriving At Comet2014080420140805 (WS)
20140811 (WS)

Orbiting and landing on a comet. The most daring science space mission ever?

On 6th August, the space probe Rosetta ends its 10 year journey and arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If all goes well, Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a comet. The European Space Agency probe will then accompany the comet until December 2015, studying the 4 kilometre-wide lump of ice and rock dust at a level of detail far surpassing any previous comet flyby.

In the words of Rosetta scientist Joel Parker, “Previous comet missions have been one-night stands, Rosetta will be there for a long term relationship.”

Rosetta will stay with 67P as it heads towards and around the other side of the Sun. Rosetta will be watching everything at close quarters as the comet heats up and produces the classic gas and dust comet tail.

In the final weeks of approach, the Rosetta team have realised this is going to be an even more interesting mission than they had supposed. In the middle of July, the probe’s camera revealed the bizzare shape of the comet’s nucleus. It appears to be formed of two objects joined together. Some have described it as having the shape of a toy duck.

In November, Rosetta will send a small robot lander, Philae, down onto the comet’s surface – another hugely ambitious feat, given the feeble gravitational pull of the comet and its complex shape. Philae could bounce off into the void if its trajectory is not quite true and its on-board harpoons fail to secure it to the comet’s icy surface.

Discovery looks ahead to the mission’s key moments and big science questions with planetary scientists and members of the Rosetta science team:

Professor Ian Wright - principal investigator (PI) for the lander’s Ptolemy instrument,

Professor Monica Grady - planetary scientist at the Open University, UK.

Matt Taylor, project scientist on Rosetta

Dr Joel Parker - deputy PI for Rosetta’s Alice spectrometer

Dr Holger Sierks - principal investigator for Rosetta’s Osiris camera

Dr Stephan Ulamec - project scientist for the lander Philae (German Space Agency)

The big questions for Rosetta include: did comets bring water and the essential ingredients for life to the early Earth?

Presented and produced by Andrew Luck-baker

Image Credit: Rosetta and Philae at Comet, European Space Agency

Swarming Robots2014071420140715 (WS)
20140721 (WS)

Adam Hart on how insect and cell structure research is helping develop swarming robots

Adam Hart looks at how new developments in understanding insect behaviour, plant cell growth and sub cellular organisation are influencing research into developing robot swarms.

Biological systems have evolved elegant ways for large numbers of autonomous agents to govern themselves. Staggering colonies built by ants and termites emerge from a decentralized, self-governing system: swarm intelligence. Now, taking inspiration from termites, marine animals and even plants, European researchers are developing autonomous robot swarms, setting them increasingly difficult challenges, such as navigating a maze, searching for an object or surveying an area. At the same time, an American team has announced that its group of robots can autonomously build towers, castles and even a pyramid.

Adam Hart reports on the latest developments in controlling groups of robots, and asks why models taken from the behaviour of social insects such as bees, ants and termites may be far more complex than previously thought. He also delves deep into the cells of plants looking at how the physical and chemical triggers for plant growth might be useful in robot design.

Image: Presenter Adam Hart with ‘Swarmbots’ at Britain’s Surrey University, BBC Copyright

Trauma At War2014110320141104 (WS)

Explorations in the world of science.

Trauma: The Fight For Life2014102720141028 (WS)

How modern trauma medicine evolved from conflict and catastrophe to help save lives

Dr Kevin Fong explores the development of modern trauma medicine and discovers how the lessons from conflict and catastrophe have equipped us to deal with even the worst disasters, providing a system that could save lives that would otherwise have been lost. First of two programmes.

What Has Happened To El Nino?2014072120140722 (WS)
20140728 (WS)

What is making this year’s predicted El Nino so hard to forecast?

At the start of 2014 meteorologists warned of a possible El Nino event this year. The portents were persuasive – a warming of the central Pacific much like that which preceded the powerful El Nino event of 1997. But since then the Pacific climate system seems to have stalled. What’s going on? What are the prospects for an El Nino to develop later this year? What impacts might it have? Roland Pease delves below the Pacific surface to find out what drives El Nino cycles, the most powerful single climate fluctuation on the planet, and asks the experts why it is so hard to forecast. “The year started with a bang,” one expert tells Discovery - will it end with a whimper?

(Photo: Burned swamp forest in Kalimantan. Credit: Florian Siegert, RSS GmbH)