Peter Evans investigates stories behind cutting-edge scientific research.

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Peter Evans reports on how the fabric of life is woven with numbers.

Animal Personality20141210

Professor Adam Hart explores the newest area in the science of animal behaviour - the study of personality variation within species as diverse as chimpanzees, wandering albatrosses, sharks and sea anemones. What can this fresh field of zoology tells us about the variety of personality among humans?

We are all familiar with the variety of temperament and character in the dog, Canis lupus familiaris, but this is the product of selective breeding by humans over generations.

A more surprising revelation is that up and down the animal kingdom, Nature favours a mix of personality types within a species. Oxford ornithologists working in nearby Wytham Woods have discovered that in a small bird species such as the Great tit, both bold and shy individuals prosper in different ways. The same applies to hermit crabs and sea anemones in the rock pools along the South Devon coast. In these creatures, scientists see a stripped down equivalent of the Extraversion-Introversion dimension of human personality. In sharks, researchers have discovered that there are sociable individuals and others who prefer their own company.

Human personality is generally tested with questionnaires. Animals have to be assessed by more indirect, arguably more objective methods. Techniques range from squirting rock pool creatures with syringes of water to pushing a blue spacehopper with a stick towards a nesting Wandering Albatross.

The commonest personality trait identified so far in non-human animals is Extraversion-Introversion. In primates, personality variation is more multidimensional. Psychologists have agreed on five fundamental dimensions of human personality - Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism and Conscientiousness. Among different monkey and ape species, primatologists have documented variation in 3 or more of these traits. In fact, in chimpanzees, they have discovered the Big Five plus an additional personality dimension which we humans lack, fortunately.

Adam Hart asks if how relevant the recent discoveries in animal personality research are to understanding the nature of personality in people, and whether this is an aspect of human nature which is still undergoing evolution.

Adam Hart is an evolutionary ecologist and Professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

Can Maths Combat Terrorism?20141217

Dr Hannah Fry investigates the hidden patterns behind terrorism and asks whether mathematics could be used to predict the next 9/11.

When computer scientists decided to study the severity and frequency of 30,000 terrorist attacks worldwide, they found an distinctive pattern hiding in the data.

Even though the events spanned 5,000 cities in 187 countries over 40 years, every single attack fitted neatly onto a curve, described by an equation known as a 'power law'.

Now this pattern is helping mathematicians and social scientists understand the mechanisms underlying global terrorism.

Could these modelling techniques be used to predict if, and when, another attack the size of 9/11 will occur?

Producer: Michelle Martin.

New Space To Fly20141203

As our skies become more crowded Jack Stewart examines the long awaited modernisation of air traffic control. With traffic predicted to reach 17 million by 2030 more flights will mean more delays. For many a new approach to controlling flights is long overdue since aircraft still follow old and often indirect routes around the globe, communication between the ground and air is still by VHF radio, and any flexibility is heavily constrained by a fragmented airspace operated by many national authorities.

Jack Stewart examines how aviation technologists have come up with a radical solution: it enables pilots once airborne, to choose their own route. "Free Routing ", it's argued, will allow more direct flights, no planes to be caught up in holding patterns, reduced fuel emissions and flights departing and arriving on time. Crucially, free routing will enable a tripling of flights than currently we're capable of controlling.

But will the ability of pilots to choose their own routes increase the risk of collision? Researchers argue it will in fact produce even safer skies. Jack Stewart visits NATS air traffic control centre that annually looks after the safety of over 2 million over British airspace to hear how such a system could evolve.

Jack finds out how free routing could work from the engineers at Indra UK - who're trialling such a system in airspace controlled by the NATS Prestwick air traffic control centre. In a new approach they're turning "reactive" air traffic control into a more strategic approach with computer designed flight trajectories utilizing much of the currently underused satellite navigation that is fitted on modern aircraft. It will enable aircraft to be safely spaced closer together and at the same time predict potential "conflicts" of spacing much further ahead of the routes being taken, leaving less room for human error.

And as automation begins to play a greater role in all aspects of flight planning and control is the era of pilotless planes moving a step closer?

Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

The End Of Moore's Law?
The Rosetta Mission20141112

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko reaches its most dramatic moment on 12th November. BBC News correspondent Jonathan Amos will cover the event for a special edition of Radio 4's 'Frontiers' programme.

In August, the Rosetta spacecraft was the first to go into orbit around a comet; its images of the extraordinarily rugged landscape of this 4 kilometre space mountain of ice and space dust have already left everyone awestruck. Previous missions have been fleeting fly-bys.

If all goes well on the 12th, the orbiting mothercraft will release a small robotic probe, named Philae, to fall and land on the cometary surface. If the lander makes it safely, it will be the first to sample and analyse directly the make-up of a comet, and photograph a comet's landscape from an explorer's eyeview.

The 'ifs' are big though. After several hours' descent under the comet's miniscule gravitational pull, the probe might just bounce off the surface or crunch into a boulder or cliff. Only after putting Rosetta into orbit around Comet C-G did the mission's scientists discover the treacherous nature of the terrain to which they are sending their probe. The lander is calculated to make contact with the comet at human walking speed but if its anchoring harpoons and the drills in its feet don't work, Philae will be lost in space.

Jonathan Amos will be presenting 'Frontiers' from mission control at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany on the day of the landing. By the time the programme goes to air, we should know whether the probe made it.

The probe's deployment is not the final stage of the Rosetta mission. The mothercraft will accompany Comet C-G for the next year as both approach the Sun and then turn back out into deep space. Rosetta will be making measurements all the way as the comet's icy nucleus heats up and produces its great tail of gas and dust. Flying Rosetta as the comet becomes florid will also be a tricky business.

Comets are widely believed to be made of material unchanged since the planets came into existence, 4.5 billion years ago. They represent the original stuff of which planets were built. The Rosetta orbiter's and lander's findings may well tell us whether comets brought water and life's chemical ingredients to get life started on Earth. Jonathan talks to mission scientists and other comet experts about why they want to study comets in such detail and what Rosetta should tell us about comets in their own right as the most spectacular and most enigmatic objects in the solar system.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

Vagus Nerve20141126

Stimulating the vagus nerve can help people who have epilepsy that isn't controlled with drugs. Now some researchers think a similar approach could have positive effects against inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's. Gaia Vince reports on this new field of research.

Virtual Therapy20141224

Series exploring new ideas in science.

0101Nature's Nuclear Dumps1998040819980816

The atomic industry is studying naturally occurring radioactivity in the hope that it will help us develop safer NUCLEAR-waste disposal.

But is this valuable science or simply a cynical propaganda exercise?

0102Rainforest Crunch1998041519980823

The destruction of the world's rainforests is thought to be one of our most pressing environmental problems, but some scientists are beginning to think that the damage might not be so serious after all.

0103Telltale Tremors1998042219980830

A Greek physicist claims that he can predict earthquakes.

Are his critics motivated by science or envy?

0104Chill Out1998042919980906

It has always been thought that injured adults and babies should be kept warm, but it now seems that deliberately cooling them improves their chances of survival.

0105Some Of Our Universe Is Missing1998050619980913

Unless scientists can find nearly ten times more matter than we currently know about, we may have to abandon modern physics.

0106 LAST1998051319980920

Is antibiotic resistance really threatening our health?

0201Gm Foods And Safety19990526

Fears about GM foods have rocked the country during the last few months.

In the first of a two-part special, Peter Evans examines how genetically modified foods are tested for safety and looks at the sophisticated technologies trying to identify any potential problems.

0201Out Of Sight... Into Mind19990120

Peter Evans investigates the curious phenomenon known as blindsight, in which an unsighted person can be shown to react accurately to events before their eyes even though they insist they did not see a thing.

0202Fast-track Evolution19990127

Peter Evans examines the growing evidence which suggests that, contrary to Darwin's theory of evolution, what happens to us during our lives can affect the genes we pass on to our children.

0202Gm Foods - An Ancient Science19990602

`GM Foods - an Ancient Science'.

Maize, wheat and many other crops are the products of genetic experiments from the dawn of civilisation.

In the second of a two-part special, Peter Evans reports on how our knowledge of human history is being changed by new research into this early form of genetic engineering.

0203End Of The World19990609

`End of the World'.

How will the world end? Will we roast ourselves inside a shroud of greenhouse gases? Will we be cut down by a plague of super bugs? Jez Nelson asks the experts.

0203The Big Bang Is Still Happening19990203

Exploding stars viewed from a mountain-top in Chile show the Big Bang is still happening.

Peter Evans pieces together what this means for our expanding universe.

0204Digging Deep19990210

Deep sea mining may sound like the stuff of James Bond films, but spectacular discoveries in the ocean near Australia could prove the catalyst for a technological revolution.

Peter Evans investigates.

0204They Seek It Here, They Seek It There19990616

The race is on for one of the biggest prizes in NUCLEAR physics.

Peter Evans reports on the international chase for the heaviest element ever.

Element 114 does not even exist in nature, but if discovered, it may provide science with many unusual and exotic properties.

0205New Life - The Undiscovered Biosphere19990623

`New Life - the Undiscovered Biosphere'.

Peter Evans joins geophysicist Paul Johnson and his colleagues as they go in search of new life forms deep below the ocean floor.

0205Noise - Good Vibrations19990217

Peter Evans hears how adding more noise can improve your quality of life.


Peter Evans reports on a tantalising hypothesis - that we are not alone.

Geologists now believe that there is a substantial biological community with unknown life forms living deep beneath the ocean.

0206 LASTA Dangerous Leap19990224

Peter Evans investigates why AIDS and BSE only became dangerous when they were transmitted from their original hosts to another species.

AIDS came originally from chimpanzees and does them no harm; the agent which causes BSE became dangerous only when it moved from sheep to cows.

0207Body Banks19990707

`Body Banks'.

Growing tailor-made tissues and organs ready for transplant has long been the stuff of science fiction, but recent developments may be about to change all that.

Peter Evans reports on attempts to harness special types of cells to produce endless supplies of living tissue.


Scientist have shown that men's and women's brains are wired in different ways.

It all starts before birth - awash with testosterone, the male brain begins to grow differently.

Peter Evans investigates what the neurological differences mean for behaviour.

0301The Genius Within2000021620000326

Peter Evans asks if every human being possesses untapped superhuman talent akin to the extraordinary artistic abilities exhibited by autistic savants.

0302Chasing The Wave20000223

New stories from the cutting edge of science.

`Chasing the Wave'.

Mysterious ripples from deep space could open a new window on many of the universe's most cataclysmic events.

As technology comes close to finally detecting elusive gravitational waves, Peter Evans examines the impact a new network of observatories could have on our map of the cosmos.

0303The Coming Of Phage20000301

New stories from the cutting edge of science.

`The Coming of Phage'.

Peter Evans investigates the use of bacteriophage therapy.

Using specific viruses (phages) to target infection by harmful bacteria has been pioneered in Eastern Europe with huge success.

As effective antibiotics continue to dwindle, do phages provide the answer to man's attempts to stay one step ahead of the microbe?

0304All Gas And20000308

`All Gas and 'Gators'.

Frozen gas at the bottom of the sea and alligators in the Arctic Circle.

Peter Evans finds about the newly discovered greenhouse-gas attack from beneath the waves that melted the poles and changed the course of evolution 55 million years ago.

0305Fixing Genes20000315

`Fixing Genes'.

Peter Evans finds out what GENE THERAPY experiments have achieved and what the future may hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

American regulators are questioning where this research should be going following the death last year of a young man who was taking part in a GENE THERAPY trial.

0306 LAST20000322

Peter Evans explores post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects many people who have witnessed disasters.

The flashbacks and nightmares can sometimes be treated by drugs, but Evans talks to a Boston psychiatrist who believes that understanding how the body responds to trauma can lead to better treatments.

0401The Time Of Our Lives20000517

Peter Evans examines the fast-moving field of chronobiology.

Now that we know where our biological clocks are located, can we learn to control them? The newly discovered mechanisms underlying our 24-hour body rhythms could hold the key to shifting hunger pangs, altering the time when a baby is born or reducing the risk of an early-morning heart attack.

0402A Chimp Off The Old Block20000524

`A Chimp off the Old Block'.

Peter Evans meets the scientists who are exploring the genes that separate us from apes, with whom we are genetically extraordinarily similar.

In fact 98.4 per cent of our genes are identical to those of chimps.

What is so special about the 1.6 per cent of the genome that make us different?

0403Space: The Lost Dimension20000531

Peter Evans investigates the claims of some scientists that there is another dimension in space beyond the three which are currently known.

0404Sensitive Minds20000607

`Sensitive Minds'.

Teenage mood swings and rebellious urges are often blamed on raging hormones.

But the truth may lie in the brain itself, as researchers now believe that adolescent minds still have many physical changes to make in developing good judgement and self control.

Peter Evans examines new evidence for this crucial phase of brain development.


In the light of the continuing controversy about mobile phones, as well as the news that a NUCLEAR facility doctored its records, Peter Evans examines recent studies suggesting that exposure to low levels of radiation is actually beneficial to us.


Peter Evans reports on one of the most ambitious spacecraft ever conceived, which examines the afterglow of the fireball from which the universe was born and looks set to reveal the universe's shape, origins, size and destiny.


Peter Evans examines new research into the quest for an artificial heart.


Peter Evans examines new research suggesting that mind could play a key role in influencing our immune system.


Peter Evans examines the evidence for the existence of unusual infectious agents called prions, which appear to cause BSE and variant CJD, and asks if there will ever be a treatment for these fatal diseases.


Peter Evans discovers how observations of planets outside our solar system are challenging conventional wisdom about how planets form.


Peter Evans talks to Bill Ditto of the Georgia Institute of Technology about his plans for a supercomputer based on leech nerve cells, a life-support system for living tissue, and sophisticated silicon electronics.


Peter Evans reports on evolution's biggest puzzle, how species come into being.


Peter Evans follows the efforts of scientists at the European Laboratory for NUCLEAR Physics, who have been given one month in which to firm up evidence that they have discovered one of the great prizes in their field, the Higgs particle.

If they fail, the current experiment will be dismantled and American scientists will start up something bigger and better.


Peter Evans investigates the birth of a brand-new science, as physicists seek to achieve what the economists seem unable to do: tame the money markets, using tools taken from NUCLEAR physics and the study of turbulence.


Peter Evans meets the scientists who are working towards a future in which SURGEONS can repair wounds perfectly, with no unsightly scars and no need to go back for repeat skin grafts on burns.


Peter Evans discovers that the gift of perfect pitch is far more commonplace than previously thought, and that scientists studying it are having to reassess how memory works.


Peter Evans unravels the mystery behind protein folding, the mechanism by which newly created proteins in our bodies become fully functioning machines with a huge number of roles.

Researchers now believe that understanding this process holds the key to treating and preventing diseases like Alzheimer's and CJD.

0605Black Holes20010523

Peter Evans examines how new observations of black holes, which are being discovered throughout space, are revolutionising ideas of black hole activity and look set to answer some of the most fundamental questions in physics.


Peter Evans asks why tuberculosis is so hard to beat, as it hits the headlines once more, despite the BCG vaccine and treatment with antibiotics.


Peter Evans examines research which is succeeding in controlling the growth of new blood vessels, offering a new means of halting cancer and a new way of combating heart disease.


Peter Evans unravels new observations from the Hubble space telescope of exploding stars and a mysterious form of repulsive gravity called dark energy.


Peter Evans explores how research into the brain's ability to recover after trauma could one day be turned into therapy for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.


Peter Evans looks at the latest attempts to understand why we are here and why the universe did not destroy itself after the Big Bang.


Peter Evans reports on the scientific and technical issues surrounding human cloning.


Peter Evans finds out about research into a gene involved in the development of speech and language, and hears how such research might also explain how language evolved.

0801Drug Addiction20020501

More than a million people in the US alone are addicted to cocaine.

Peter Evans looks at the effects of drug abuse upon the brain and asks whether the damage is irreversible.

0802The First Stars20020508

in the universe expired long before astronomers saw them, but research is gradually revealing their secrets.

Peter Evans reports on key moments in cosmic history.

0803What Happened To The Woolly Mammoth?20020515

Peter Evans investigates the demise of such giant creatures as the mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger and asks if a single deadly virus was responsible.


Peter Evans investigates new brain imaging techniques uncovering the processes underlying human emotion, and their possible application in treating psychiatric disorders.

0805Animal Magnetism20020529

Peter Evans investigates the apparently innate magnetic compass used by migrating birds and fish to navigate vast distances.

0806 LASTThe Underground Telescope20020605

Peter Evans examines the latest research into particle physics carried out using a highly sensitive telescope to detect neutrinos released from the sun during NUCLEAR reactions.


Peter Evans investigates the science of dreaming.

New technological advances enable us to understand how dreams are created, but what remains a mystery is why we dream.

0902Killer Bacteria20020925

Frontiers this week investigates a new theory which suggests that some bacteria are quite harmless until they come into contact with humans.

It's only once they're inside us that they're transformed into highly contagious killers and then given the ability to infect thousands of others.

As Peter Evans discovers, this evidence comes from a recent study of the cholera microbe - which seems to develop the ability to elude eviction and wreak maximum damage once inside a human host - and whose behaviour could also explain why many famous epidemics - both past and present spread with such explosive and lethal rapidity.

Researchers also believe that the plague could behave in the same way.

Current vaccines against cholera are far from perfect.

They tend to work well for healthy travellers from industrialised countries who are visiting areas where cholera is a risk.

Unfortunately, the vaccines are not effective at protecting the people who are at risk on a daily basis - the poor who live in unsanitary conditions in South America, Africa and southern Asia.

However, by understanding the mechanism responsible for cholera's hyperinfectivity, future vaccines may be able to protect everyone.

Join Peter Evans to find out how this new evidence could help develop more effective vaccines against cholera.

0903Bird Brains20021002

Peter Evans talks to psychologists and zoologists about the intelligence of birds, following a recent report of a crow fashioning a tool to extract food from a bucket.

0904Super Volcano20021009

Peter Evans investigates one of the planet's largest volcanic systems.

Yellowstone National Park is essentially a huge volcano waiting to erupt.

0905Leaving The Sea20021016

540 million years ago, all life on earth was under the sea.

But as life on land became possible, a few pioneers took their first steps out of the oceans.

Peter Evans investigates.

0906 LASTBeyond The Human Genome20021023

The human genome project is the beginning of a technological revolution.

Peter Evans investigates the medical benefits expected to accrue from the explosion in genetic knowledge.

1001Alzheimer's Disease20030416

Peter Evans talks to Professor Steven Rose about new medical research which may eventually enable us to reclaim lost memories and combat illnesses such as Alzheimer's Disease.

1002Gravity Probe B20030423

In 1916 Einstein first put forward his general theory of relativity.

Now nearly 90 years later physicists are finally getting ready to put Einstein to the test.

Gravity Probe B is a satellite containing some of the most precise measuring devices ever built.

It has been more than 40 years in the making, cost over 600 million dollars, and has needed to invent a dozen completely new technologies, including the roundest object on the planet, in order to make it happen.

Not only has the financial investment been huge, but it has been a life times work for many of the scientists involved, including Francis Everitt, the chief scientist on the mission, who has dedicated 42 years to Gravity Probe B and hopes this year will finally see his life's work come to fruition with the launch of the probe.

This extraordinary experiment, is set to reveal once and for all whether Einstein's brilliant predictions about the nature of the Universe, were in fact correct.

But as the September launch date draws nearer, NASA has just ordered a last minute review on the project, and its very survival hangs in the balance.

Peter Evans visits Stanford University, the home of Gravity Probe B, to find out how this extraordinary experiment came to be, why it has taken so long, and why the plug may be pulled at the last minute.

The project has had some of the greatest minds in physics working on it, but just why has it taken nearly 90 years to get even close to testing Einstein's landmark theory?


The robin in the garden and the roast chicken on the dinner table are just the latest stages in the evolution of dinosaurs, say fossil experts.

Peter Evans examines their latest evidence in the form of spectacular feathered dinosaur fossils from China that are fuelling a debate on the origins of feathered flight.


Although almost blind, army ants deploy pheromones so effectively they can create traffic lanes running to and from their nest.

Peter Evans investigates ants' extraordinary ability to self-organise when he meets scientists who take their inspiration from ant organisation.

From traffic flow to systems analysis to robots, ants are influencing the way we solve problems.

Some are now wondering whether ants will eventually give us insights into other emergent properties, in particular how the neurones in our brain combine to produce intelligence.


Plasmodium falciparum is a deadly malarial parasite.

Transmitted by mosquito, it is responsible for more than a million deaths every year.

Peter Evans hears from biologists, geneticists and entomologists as he unravels the complex story of the parasite's long relationship with humans.

So powerful was its impact that our genes mutated to provide a degree of immunity.

Ironically, those genetic changes created a population overly prone to various forms of anaemia, especially thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia.

1006 LASTGlobal Warming And The Sun20030521

Peter Evans reports on a group of Danish Scientists who believe that global warming is caused by variation in the activity of the sun.

1101Hunter, Gatherer, Musician?20031022

When archaeologists unearthed a bone flute in a cave in southern Germany, it provided evidence that man had been making music for at least 40,000 years.

But how much further back in time do mankind's musical abilities stretch? In the first of a new series of Frontiers, Peter Evans reviews the archaeological, physiological and psychological evidence for man's innate musicality.

Some archaeologists argue that hunter gatherers were using music more than a quarter of a million years ago, to foster a sense of emotional empathy within the group.

Others suggest that musicality has been a part of our repertoire for more than two million years - ever since our species learned to walk on two feet.

1102Optical Tweezers20031029

Light is taken for granted.

It illuminates our world, and - via photosynthesis - it provides plants with their energy source.

But light has other, less well known but equally valuable uses.

At the nano-scale, the combination of attractive and repulsive forces in a concentrated beam of laser light is sufficient to grab and hold tiny particles.

Scientists are now harnessing these extraordinary 'optical tweezers' to investigate the behaviour of matter at a nano-scale.

In the process, they are also learning about the fundamental properties of light itself.

Peter Evans talks to scientists in America, Britain and Hungary who are using 'optical tweezers' in a variety of different fields.

Justin Molloy at the National Institute for Medical Research is using optical tweezers to investigate single strands of muscle.

Others, like Pàl Ormos at the Biological Research Centre in Hungary, are using light to build and drive tiny 'lightmills' that one day might provide motive power for a 'lab on a chip'.

These are early days for 'optical tweezers' but, as Peter Evans discovers, it's a technology with the potential to become one of science's more versatile tools.

Its unique ability to cut and reassemble biological material without damaging cells suggests uses in surgery, embryonic testing, and the manipulation of genetic material.

1103Giant Creatures Of The Sea20031112

The Blue Whale is not only the largest creature on the planet, it is also the largest creature to have ever lived on the planet.

This year a true sea monster was caught in Antarctica - a colossal squid.

Peter Evans investigates how these huge animals are able to support such a large size, and what else might be lurking in the depths of the ocean.

1104Galaxy Formation20031119

The evolution of giant star assemblies such as our own Milky Way remains a mystery.

Peter Evans joins astronomers in the search for galaxies of the past.

1105Gene Therapy20031126

The first successful human GENE THERAPY trial in FRANCE in April 2000 was hailed as a medical breakthrough.

Three years on, Peter Evans assesses the current state of gene therapy.

1106 LASTRnai20031203

is a molecule capable of switching off potentially harmful genes.

Scientists are hailing it as the most powerful medical discovery since antibiotics.

Peter Evans investigates.


The World Health Organisation has labelled it a global epidemic.

One in three British adults suffers from this condition and the numbers in children are rising at an alarming rate.

It's estimated that by the year 2020, this will be the single biggest killer on the planet.

This is no killer virus, or pathological bacteria.

This terrifying phenomenon, which is causing widespread alarm among the medical community, is obesity.

In the first of a new series, Peter Evans examines our evolutionary past and our consumer-hungry present to find out how and why we've got so fat.


They make up nearly a fifth of all life on the planet and live in some of the most extreme habitats on earth, and yet most people have never heard of the archaea.

These microscopic organisms are found in the craters of volcanoes, in hot sulphorous springs and even under the ice sheets of antarctica.

Peter Evans investigates these most unusual life forms and talks to the scientists who think they may answer some fundamental scientific mysteries.

Could the archaea tell us what life on other planets might look like, or even uncover the cause of some terrible and little understood diseases?

1203Predicting Behaviour20040414

Our ability to predict other people's behaviour is key to getting on in the world, and empathising with others.

But is it acquired or innate and how does it really work? Peter Evans unveils new brain research which provides new insights into how we put ourselves into other people's shoes to work out what their next intentions might be and how it could offer new clues to the development of a range of psychiatric conditions.

1204Future Ocean20040421

The Great Rift Valley is a huge gash cut into East Africa, extending 3000 Km from Malawi in the South to the Red Sea in the North.

It's wonderful scenery.

But for anyone with a geological turn of mind, the fascination of the African Rift Valley is what's going on beneath it.

It could be that this is where the next new ocean on the earth is forming.

In Frontiers this week, Peter Evans meets the geologists who are getting underneath this part of Africa to learn how new seas appear.


Peter Evans meets a range of researchers who are exploring how positive emotions affect our performance, our perception of the world and our ability to fight disease.

1206What Lit The Fuse For The Big Bang?20040505

The idea of our Universe that it could begin, and then inflate to such gigantic proportions by starting out totally empty has dominated cosmology for decades.

But ever since the Big Bang theory burst into being, it has had to be revised and updated under the weight of evidence found by observers.

Peter Evans weighs up a radical new theory - suggesting that the Big Bang was one initiating event in an eternal cycle of bangs with no apocalyptic end of time.

1207 LASTCatching The Cheats20040512

Cheating in sport is not a new phenomenon.

What is new is the lengths that some athletes will go to win a medal.

The THG scandal has highlighted the sophistication and scientific know-how that is now going into illicit drug making, and the win at any cost philosophy.

From designer steroids, to the threat of genetic therapy to improve muscle mass, some athletes will go to terrifying lengths to beat the system and win the money and the glory.

But behind every sport doping scandal, lies a team of dedicated and determined scientists whose mission it is to catch the cheats.

Peter Evans talks to the scientists at the frontline, battling to stay one step ahead of the unscrupulous few, and keep sport clean.


is our body's first line of defence against injury and infection, but this healing response is being discovered in a host of apparently unrelated diseases from cardiovascular disease to cancer.

Peter Evans examines the latest research into this hottest area of medical research which looks set to offer new and much simpler ways of warding of some of our most challenging diseases.

1302How Did The Moon Form?20041027

The most favoured theory - of a cataclysmic impact on our planet - that's dominated scientific thinking for over a quarter of a century, has always had its critics.

But the final piece of the jigsaw may just be in place.

Peter Evans weighs up new research into the giant impact theory,which could be the most complete picture yet, and offer far reaching proof that the universe is full of hidden areas where life might flourish.

1303Memory Loss20041103

happens for all sorts of reasons, and its impact can be devastating.

Peter Evans investigates current research into brain chemistry, which one day might help us reinstate memory processes when they fail.

Long-term memory is critical to our ability to function as human beings.

But we also need to understand why the brain chooses to store some memories and discard others.

Is it in our interest to remember everything?

1304Ionic Liquids20041110

25 years ago Ionic Liquids were just being talked about.

Now, these liquids are providing chemists with a green alternative to solvents used in chemical processes.

They are molten salts - a mixture of positive and negatively charged molecules that are liquid at low temperature.

There are up to a billion different combinations and so the possibilities for use are endless.

Peter Evans finds out how they work, and how they can make a greener future for the chemical industry.

1305Atmospheric Dust20041117

It's estimated that at any one time, there are millions of tons of dust suspended in the atmosphere, but scientists are unsure what influence it has on the Earth's climate and weather systems.

On the one hand, pesticides and disease-causing microbes have been found mixed in with the dust.

On the other hand, dust feeds the phytoplankton that extract carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Peter Evans talks to geographers, oceanographers, environmentalists and climate modellers about atmospheric dust, one of the least understood, and most contradictory, components of the Earth's atmosphere.

1306 LASTFlu20041124

It's that time of year again, when the hankies come out and the sniffles begin.

But, as scientists around the globe will testify, you underestimate the Influenza virus at your peril.

The 1918 Flu pandemic killed more people than all the wars of the last century put together, and scientists fear we may be on the brink of another global disaster.

The consequences, they say, of a new global outbreak could be devastating.

Giving particular cause for concern is the latest version of the virus to emerge in Thailand and Vietnam, and the race is on to keep this wily organism at bay, before it outfoxes us once again.

1401The Earth's Core20050406

houses the most powerful dynamo imaginable.

It produces a giant magnetic field that keeps Earth a living planet and protects us from deadly radiation sweeping through the solar system.

Peter Evans meets the ambitious teams of researchers who are racing to recreate the Earth's core in their labs with giant rotating spheres of molten metal, in the hope of unlocking its mysteries and to predict what the future really holds for the protective force around our own planet.


People with nerve or limb injuries may one day be able to command wheelchairs, prosthetics and even paralysed arms and legs by thinking them through the motions.

As researchers overcome the technical and biological hurdles to begin the first human trials, Peter Evans examines how capturing brain output could allow fully paralysed patients to interact with the world.

1403Risky Business20050420

Peter Evans explores the nature of risk.

Why do some humans continually pursue ever greater thrills, despite the dangers?

1404Acid Oceans20050427

Atmospheric warming grabs the headlines but what effect are greenhouse gases having on our oceans? Peter Evans investigates.

1405Human Evolution20050504

Some scientists now believe that human evolution has ceased, we are as advanced as were ever going to get.

We have become so clever at adapting our environment to suit our needs that we no longer need to evolve, we simply invent tools to do new tasks for us.

But over millennia humans have adapted to disease and genetic resistance has appeared in some populations.

The programme asks whether this process of adapting to disease is still going on and presents some new findings which have wide-reaching implications for classical evolutionary theory.

1406 LASTTheory Of Everything20050511

For hundreds of years, physicists have believed that the laws of the Universe could all be underpinned by a single theory.

Great scientists such as Maxwell and Einstein worked on this idea, but nearly a century later, we are still no closer to the ultimate theory of everything.

This grand theory would tie up all we know about the laws that govern our Universe, and answer some of the biggest questions in science, such as what happened before the big bang, the nature of dark matter, and even the inner workings of a quark.

Peter Evans talks to the scientists at the forefront of this research, racing to discover this holy grail of physics.

1501The Nature Of Frontiers20051109

To celebrate its 100th edition, the programme looks at the nature of scientific discovery and how new scientific frontiers begin and develop.

With insights from some of the countries leading science figures, Peter Evans explores the role chance discovery, trends, maverick scientists and technology all play in creating new scientific frontiers.


On the surface of nearly every cell throughout our bodies is a slender protuberance - a cilium.

They have been long thought of as a useless evolutionary vestige - destined to go the same way as our tailbone and wisdom teeth.

But as Peter Evans discovers, new research is proving that these tiny antennae are essential to normal development and health, and look set to revolutionise the way we understand and treat some of our most challenging diseases - from obesity to the commonly inherited polycystic kidney disease.

1503Artificial Life20051123

Life may not be sacred after all.

Bioengineers are beginning to re-design the genetic code to see if they can create new artificial microbes.

They could be used to detect toxins or repair tissues or a host of other functions that do not exist in nature.

Peter Evans examines the latest developments and moral implications behind the emerging new field of synthetic biology.


Peter Evans visits the SETI Institute in California, to meet the researchers whose mission has been to scan the heavens for signals from other intelligent beings.

With the building of an impressive new radio telescope, dedicated to SETI's cause, the search has just stepped up a notch, with some predicting that, if he is out there, we could be picking up ET's message in the next 25 years.

1505Carbon In Forests20051207

Peter Evans visits two forests of the future where scientists are fumigating the trees with carbon dioxide.

By simulating the atmosphere of the year 2050, the researchers hope to find out how forests will fare under the greenhouse effect.

Can forests lessen the impact of global warming, or will they make it worse?

1506 LASTHuman Cooperation20051214

Peter Evans reports on a new debate over human kindness and co-operation which is raging between anthropologists, economists and evolutionary biologists.

There are few species of animal as cooperative and altruistic as Homo sapiens.

It is argued that our helpful nature has allowed us to colonise every corner of the planet.

But how did we evolve to be such generous creatures when natural selection favours self-interest?

1601The New Antibiotics20060510

With growing fears about the spread of drug-resistant infectious diseases such as MRSA, Frontiers hears from scientists looking for new ways to defeat the super-bugs, by preventing bacteria from communicating with each other.

Will this provide an answer to what one concerned researcher calls the post-antibiotic apocalypse which hospitals around the world might soon be facing?

1602Time Perception20060517

It flies when we are having fun, drags when we are bored, and we never seem to have enough of it.

Peter explores how humans perceive time, and why our own internal clocks seem so often to vary from the relentless tick tick tick of the clock on the wall.

1603The Solar System20060524

Its been 30 years since the last moon missions, and 30 years since scientists last got their hands on solid samples from space - until now.

Peter Evans looks at the extraordinary new space missions that have collected particles from the sun, and from a comet at the far reaches of our solar system.

What will these incredible particles tell us about the evolution of our sun and planets, and how it all began?

1604Anthropogenic Climate Change20060531

Peter Evans meets climatologist Professor Bill Ruddiman whose views about climate change have divided scientific opinion.

Bill believes that in the millennia before the Industrial Revolution, Neolithic farmers produced increased amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane.

When Bill addresses the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, his anthropogenic hypothesis of climate change comes under close scrutiny from fellow scientists.

1605Stem Cells20060607

have the potential to develop into all the tissues that make up the human body.

If we can understand how to control their development, stem cell therapies could be used to renew tissue damaged in chronic conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease, heart disease and osteoarthritis.

This week, Peter Evans investigates the current state of stem cell research, and asks if some of the claims made for stem cell therapies have been premature.

1606 LASTClean Coal20060614

As concerns grow about the long-term security of gas and oil supplies, attention is turning back to coal.

At one time regarded as a dirty and inefficient fuel, new technologies are improving its cleanliness and efficiency.

Coal currently meets one-third of the UK's electricity needs and will play a key role in satisfying global energy demands in the decades ahead.

Peter Evans explores the science and technology that aims to transform coal into a fuel fit for the twenty-first century.

1701Vegetative State20061115

Researchers in Cambridge recently published a scientific paper stating that they had identified significant brain function in a patient in a vegetative state.

Peter Evans discusses the significance of these findings - if machines can pick up electrical brain activity in such patients, might it be possible to utilise the technology to communicate with them?

1702Mars Rovers20061122

Peter Evans takes a look at the extraordinary success of NASA's Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Originally launched with a life expectancy of around three months, this feisty robotic duo continue to bring new information about conditions on Mars three years later.

Peter talks to the NASA scientists behind these hardy machines and finds out how they are inspiring future robotic missions to the red planet and beyond.

1703What Dinosaurs Remain To Be Discovered?20061129

Peter Evans meets the dinosaur hunters who believe we are entering a golden age of discovery, as new species are identified every week.

1704Invisibility Cloaks20061206

Peter Evans talks to researchers who have engineered an entirely new material that can make objects virtually undetectable.


Listen to the latest Girls Aloud single, or Bob Dylan album, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that everyone hears the same thing.

But neuroscientists have discovered that if you played the same tune to 20 people, one would hear a drastically different version.

Peter Evans looks at 'amusia', which affects around 4% of the population.

Just as people with dyslexia have difficulty reading, people with amusia can't process music.

They can't sing in tune, recognise melodies, dance in time or enjoy music.

Scientists are trying to work out what's happening inside their brains and if it can be cured.

1706 LASTGeo-engineering20061220

Peter Evans looks at some of the biggest engineering projects ever imagined.

A growing number of scientists think that it is too late to avoid global warming through cutting carbon emissions, and that we urgently need alternative strategies for cooling the Earth.

From a plan to put a trillion mirrors into space, to global fleets of solar-powered ships spraying seawater into clouds, he explores some stop-gap solutions to this global malfunction.

Hair-brained schemes or Earth-saving solutions?


Peter Evans explores the study of ageing and longevity, one of the most exciting areas of current scientific research.

He finds out how a better understanding of the ageing process has opened up a new field of medicine.

Future possibilities include the prevention of heart disease, Alzheimer's and cancer, thus extending the human lifespan by several years.

1802The Gamma Ray Skies20070516

Scientists are finding more sources of very high energy gamma waves, opening a new window on the universe.

What causes these cosmic explosions and what do they tell us about our galaxy?


Peter Evans pays tribute to Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, who was born 300 years ago.

The Swedish scientist is credited with developing the system of nomenclature for all plants and animals that is still used today.

Peter explores how the science has evolved over the centuries and how advances in genetics have transformed the work of a taxonomist.


Peter Evans recalls the discovery 20 years ago of materials that conduct electricity without loss at relatively high temperatures.

A Nobel prize went to the scientists responsible and huge technological advances were promised, such as high-speed levitating trains and super-efficient power generators.

But after the excitement has died down, are these high-temperature superconductors living up to expectations?


Peter Evans investigates recent advances in brain scanning technology which can reveal some of our innermost thoughts, predict our intentions and even know when we are telling the truth.

These techniques are being used by commercial companies for marketing and lie detection.

1806 LAST20070613

Contemporary scientific evidence for climate change was published 30 years ago.

Peter Evans asks why it has taken so long for the problem to be generally recognised, and explores how accurate the early predictions were.


Andrew Luck-baker describes efforts to sequence Neanderthal DNA.

Although Neanderthals became extinct soon after modern humans began to colonise Europe, some interbreeding may have occurred.

If paleogeneticists can reconstruct a complete Neanderthal genome, they might be able to identify specific genes common to both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Such a breakthrough would throw light on the broader process of human evolution.


Philip Ball takes a look at a new wave of medical inventions that could revolutionise the way we receive treatment, including digital plasters that allow doctors to monitor their patients from anywhere in the world and a computer chip designed to mimic the workings of the pancreas.

The true frontier could be a personalised DNA chip for every patient.


Andrew Luck-baker visits NASA to hear about the continuing importance of the Hubble Space Telescope to space science, and meets the astronauts who are preparing for a mission to repair and upgrade its cameras.

Since its launch in 1990, the telescope has revolutionised our understanding of deep space, but the equipment is beginning to show its age.

1904Green Ships20071212

Air pollution from ships kills thousands every year, according to one recent study.

They are an unseen source of greenhouse gases and worldwide demand is growing.

Gareth Mitchell examines attempts to introduce environmentally friendly technology to the industry.


Serious criminal cases seem to increasingly hinge on scientific evidence.

Helena Kennedy QC, Angela Gallop of LGC Forensics and chief constable Tony Lake debate how far forensics can be relied upon to deliver justice and what can be done to protect the courts from bad science.

1906 LASTDisgust20071226

Scientists argue that a universal disgust of bodily fluids exists for disease prevention.

But new research has identified a link between moral revulsion and a physiological reaction in the body.

Is this down to evolutionary selection? Claudia Hammond investigates.

2001* Mission To Mars20080505

Early next year, six Russian cosmonauts will simulate a mission to Mars, spending 500 days confined in an imitation spacecraft.

Richard Hollingham reports from the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, where he meets trhe cosmonauts and scientists behind the project.

2002Energy Harvesting20080512

A heartbeat, a washing machine or even a passing train all produce vibrations that can be turned into electricity.

Gareth Mitchell meets the scientists trying to harvest energy from unlikely sources.

Although microgeneration will never replace traditional power stations, the electronics revolution means that more and more of us will come to rely on small pieces of equipment requiring comparatively little power.

2003Antarctica * *20080519

Gabrielle Walker joins scientists from the British Antarctic Survey on board HMS Endurance to look at the effects of climate change.

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet.

On mountainous James Ross Island, scientists have been drilling an ice core that should reveal how the climate has changed there in the past and what might happen in the future.

Further south, on the Pine Island Glacier, new measurements show that the ice is accelerating, threatening a substantial part of the Western Antarctic ice sheet with collapse and raising world sea levels.

Is this just part of a natural cycle or is global warming accelerating?

2004Coral Reefs *20080526

Andrew Luck-baker visits the Pacific islands of Palau to witness the mass spawning of the coral reefs.

One of nature's great marvels, this event sees billions of eggs and sperm released into the water each spring, by the light of the full moon.

Andrew joins the marine biologists who are trying to protect and restore the planet's reefs from widespread destruction, and who are taking their inspiration from this extraordinary event.

2005Medicines For Children20080602

Graham Easton draws on his experience as a doctor and a father to reveal why medicines for children lag behind adults.

Many of the drugs that are given to children have never been properly tested on them to make sure they are safe and effective.

New European laws, however, are forcing companies to recruit babies and children into trials.

The UK government has committed twenty million pounds to kick-start the process.

2006 LASTAmphibian Collapse? *20080609

One third of amphibians globally are threatened with extinction.

Sue Broom investigates the mysterious disease that's killing frogs, newts and salamanders across the world.


In the first of a new series, Sue Broom talks to the food industry and academics who are making use of the quirky physical laws of the extremely small to create 'nano foods'.

Scientists are able to manipulate particles at the nano scale, changing the way that food tastes and feels, and even improving its nutritional content.

Sue examines whether or not nanoparticles are safe to eat, and considers what impact, if any, they might have on the environment.

2102The First Forests20081027

Reporting on new discoveries that reveal how the first forests transformed the planet 380 million years ago.

The latest fossil finds include strange leafless trees and entire petrified, wooded landscapes.

These first forests had a profound impact on our planet's atmosphere and the course of animal evolution.

What is more, they may be able to tell us about what to expect as we change today's atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

2103Lunar Transient Phenomena20081103

Andrew Luck-baker investigates the mystery of fleeting patches of bright light over areas on the Moon.

A new project is deploying robotic telescopes to try and establish the truth about these lunar transient phenomena, or TLPs, with some believing them to be gas eruptions from lunar volcanoes or escaping via fractures made when the Moon was struck by an asteriod millions of years ago.

Some even speculate that the gases could be useful to astronauts who may colonise the Moon in years to come.

2104X-rays For Peace *20081110

Adam Hart-davis visits the SESAME X-ray project in Jordan, where Palestinian works alongside Israeli, Cypriot alongside Turk, and Egyptian alongside Iranian to bring cutting-edge science to a fractured region.


Gareth Mitchell investigates whether or not desalination is the answer to global water shortages.

He visits water companies in Spain and the UK that are investing substantial sums of money in desalination technology, and also considers the views of critics of desalination, who cite the high levels of energy it requires and the waste caused by leaky pipes.

2106 LASTAlgae20081124

Richard Hollingham investigates the scientific and environmental uses of algae.


Marine scientists are investigating ways of capitalising on its ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and exploring the potential for creating algae-derived fuels as an eventual alternative to fossil fuels.

He hears from scientists who argue for the mass production of algae, believing that it could eventually replace petroleum-based fuels, polymers and plastics.


Sue Nelson goes behind the headlines to find out how alcohol affects our health.

The impact of drink on our health is rarely out of the news, but information can be confusing.

Latest studies link even moderate drinking to an increased risk of cancer, while others claim alcohol reduces heart disease.

Sue talks to experts in the field and learns that despite links to cancer being known for 100 years, understanding the actual mechanisms in the body remains under-researched and under-funded.


Richard Hollingham investigates if bacteria in the atmosphere can influence the weather and meets some of the scientists who are working in what has been called 'bioprecipitation'.

He talks to David Sands from Montana University, who coined the term, and visits labs in Avignon and London where researchers are trying to understand more about the impact of bacterial particles on our weather.

If the complexities of bioprecipitation can be unravelled, it might be possible to turn the process to our advantage and use these extraordinary bacteria to encourage rainfall in drought-affected regions of the world.

Richard Hollingham investigates if bacteria in the atmosphere can influence the weather.

2203Origins Of Childhood20090622

Andrew Luck-baker asks why humans, unlike other primates, have such a long childhood.

Chimp infants can look after themselves when they are weaned, but young humans have to rely on their parents for years.

What advantages does a long childhood bring to us as a species?

2204Stem Cells20090629

Sue Broom catches up on progress in stem cell research.

She talks to leading scientists in the field and finds out when treatments and cures from our own bodies could become a realistic prospect.

Stem cells have long held the promise to cure diseases such as heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, sickle cell anaemia and type 1 diabetes, as well as repair damaged tissue from injury such as spinal cord damage.

But are they ready to be tried in humans?

2205Nuclear Fusion20090706

Gareth Mitchell asks if nuclear fusion could at last be close to generating energy.

Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of alternative energy.

It is clean, green and could supply limitless energy to the world, but despite decades of research in some of the most expensive science facilities in the world, it has remained an elusive goal.

Scientists working at a new experimental facility in California are set to use giant laser beams to try and initiate nuclear fusion.

If it works, nuclear fusion could become a real solution to our energy needs.

If nuclear fusion could be made to work commercially, the energy released will be of stellar proportions; this, after all, is the process that powers the Sun.

The total energy that could ever be created using wind, wave and solar power is ridiculously small by comparison.

Nuclear power, which is generated by fission not fusion, requires uranium - which will run out - and, of course, generates radioactive waste.

Gareth witnesses the start of a new era of nuclear fusion experiments.

He finds out just how difficult it was to build a facility where this kind of experiment could take place and double checks that there is no danger of starting a hydrogen bomb.

He also asks, if they can get nuclear fusion to work in this experimental setting, how long it will be before this process could supply the world with the energy it so desperately needs?

2206 LASTSynthetic Biology20090713

Richard Hollingham investigates the practical and moral questions raised by synthetic biology.

He meets some of the scientists who are designing 'new life' and visits the new Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial College, London.

Richard talks to biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter, whose research team has recently transformed one species of bacteria into another by gene transplantation.

He also discusses some of the moral and ethical issues raised by the creation of synthetic life, and asks if a new regulatory framework is needed that both protects the public and provides scientists with unambiguous boundaries for their work.

2301The Placenta20091116

is the baby's life support system, but much is still not known about how it works and how to help when things go wrong.

The charity Tommy's has created the UK's first placenta clinic in Manchester.

Sue Broom meets the patients hoping that the scientists in the labs there can discover why the placenta can fail to implant or produce the wide blood vessels crucial to the baby's growth.

Sue Broom visits the UK's first specialist placenta clinic in Manchester.

2302Dark Matter20091123

British physicists are about to start the next phase of their search for dark matter.

Sue Nelson joins them down the UK's deepest mine and asks why they need to set up their experiment underground.

Sue Nelson joins scientists down a mine on their search for the elusive dark matter.

2303Population Growth And Global Warming20091130

Ahead of the 2009 Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Geoff Watts chairs a special Frontiers debate on one of global warming's most contentious issues - population growth.

Delegates in Copenhagen will address how to reduce greenhouse gases, blamed for warming the planet.

But in focusing on energy production, is there a factor that is being ignored because it is too controversial - the sheer numbers of us on the planet? Geoff and guests grapple with the complex issues surrounding population and climate change.

If there is a relationship, what can be done about it?

Joining Geoff on the panel are:

John Guillebaud, Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health at University College London

David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow in Human Settlements at the International Institute for Environment and Development

Karen Newman, Co-ordinator at the Population and Sustainability Network.

Geoff Watts explores the relationship between global warming and a changing population.

Geoff Watts explores the complex relationship between global warming and a changing global population.

He debates the scientific arguments with a panel of guests.

2304Gm Crops20091207

Negotiators at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen are hoping to agree a new global climate treaty to limit greenhouse emissions.

Richard Hollingham discusses the way biotechnology can help us develop new crops able to withstand harsher growing conditions.

He talks to some of the biotech companies that want the European Commission to relax its attitude towards GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

He also talks to the European Commission about its policy on GM products.

Crops genetically adapted for climate change need to be drought and pest resistant and able to thrive in poor quality soil.

They also need to provide improved yields.

These crops are controversial, especially in Europe.

Historically, European legislators have taken a very cautious attitude towards genetically modified food and animal feedstuff.

Currently, the European Commission permits the import of genetically modified cotton, maize, oilseed rape, soybean and sugar beet for human and animal consumption.

So far, the European Commission has issued a single licence permitting one variety of GM maize to be grown in Europe.

At present, there are about 50 GM products awaiting approval from the European Commission, of which 19 are for cultivation.

The companies that produce biotech crops want the EC to relax its moratorium on new product approvals.

Apart from the obvious commercial opportunities, they argue that if Europe relaxes its attitude towards GM crops, developing nations will be more likely to accept them too, and it is the developing nations that will be most affected by climate change.

In that sense, Europe is becoming a crucial battlefield as companies lobby to get new crops licensed for cultivation.

There is still huge opposition within Europe to genetically modified crops.

But is climate change beginning to alter the terms of the debate? If the world is to sustain its current population levels at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to cultivate traditional crops, have we now reached the point when Europe needs to take a more tolerant attitude towards the cultivation of GM crops?

Is now the time for Europe to allow widespread cultivation of genetically modified crops?

2305Dna Analysis Of Asylum Seekers20091214

The Border Agency is part way through its Human Provenance Pilot Project, trialling suggestions that DNA and isotope data can test asylum seekers' credentials.

But scientific experts in these techniques say the science cannot deliver.

Gerry Northam investigates.

Gerry Northam explores proposals to check asylum seekers' credentials using DNA analysis.

2306 LASTEarthquakes In Southeast Asia20091221

Five years after the great Indian Ocean tsunami, a further two powerful earthquakes in September 2009 reminded us that the region remains at risk.

Roland Pease reports on scientists' attempts to evaluate the danger and prepare for future emergencies in southeast Asia.

2401Acts Of Creation20100721

The creation of an artificial cell by scientist and entrepreneur Craig Venter shows what synthetic biology is capable of.

But others want to go much further - recreating life from scratch, or redesigning it at the most fundamental level.

In his Harvard Lab, Nobel laureate Jack Szostak is forcing strands of DNA's cousin RNA to compete with each other in a Darwinian struggle for existence.

At Manchester University, John Sutherland is seeing whether the raw materials of biochemistry can form themselves in the kinds of puddles that might have existed on Earth 4 billion years ago.

Some experts think it's only a matter of years before living synthetic cells will be grown out of inanimate starting materials - a simulation of the origins of life on the young Earth.

Science writer Adam Rutherford asks what it will mean to us when it happens.

Producer: Roland Pease.

What will it mean to us once scientists are eventually able to recreate life from scratch?

2402Carbon Detectives20100728

: Richard Hollingham meets the scientists trying to track our carbon emissions.

International climate treaties are entirely based on national declarations of greenhouse-gas emissions.

But there is at present no independent way of testing those declarations.

National carbon accounts are carefully audited --- but so were the financial accounts of Greece, one expert notes, wryly.

On the other hand, once exhaust fumes have gone into the atmosphere, who knows where they go.

Richard Hollingham meets the researchers who are trying to develop a network of tracking stations that can monitor greenhouse emissions, using a suite of chemical fingerprints.

They have already shown that one key gas is on the increase, when national reports said it was being controlled.

And although much of the expertise is in Britain, the UK government is deliberately dragging its heels some say, in supporting the network.

Producer: Roland Pease

2403Future Vaccines20100804

The middle of the last century was a boom time for vaccine makers.

Many common diseases, especially of childhood, began to resemble a distant memory.

Researchers and manufacturers were eyeing up a shopping list of future targets.

But then things went wrong.

Some diseases proved much more complex.

Litigation prompted by real or imagined side effects began to worry the drug companies.

Profits started to slide.

Many manufactures got out of the business.

The best idea ever for preventing disease seemed to be going nowhere.

That's now changed.

Advances in biotechnology and the advent of a couple of new, commercially successful vaccines have injected a new confidence into the industry.

In spite of repeated failures to deal with two of the highest profile diseases, malaria and HIV, vaccine researchers have rewritten their shopping list.

This now includes not just the traditional targets - the classic infectious diseases - but even some types of cancer, autoimmune disease and smoking!

Geoff Watts reviews past ups and down of vaccine making, and explains why its fortunes have now changed.

Examining the enterprise in commercial as well as scientific terms, he investigates whether the commerce and the science of vaccine development are likely to confront new hurdles - or if the future really does offer the prospect of hitherto unattained levels of immunity, a new golden age for vaccines.

PRODUCER: Martin Redfern.

2404Hydrogen For Transport20100811

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells promise pollution free transport as their waste product is water.

The idea of using hydrogen has been around for decades but has not so far gone much beyond a few experimental projects.

Gareth Mitchell explores if hydrogen can ever realistically replace oil as the fuel for mass transport.

So far there have been a number of demonstration projects of buses in a number of European cities, including London and Oxford, and at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

But now there is an increasing interest in using hydrogen.

Gareth visits researchers in Birmingham and in Germany who have designed fuel cells that are already powering cars that can travel for 100 miles at up to 50 mph.

He discovers that there is a growing network of hydrogen stations around the world and many of the German based manufacturers are working on vehicles that are powered in full or partly by fuel cells.

Does hydrogen have a future?

Producer: Deborah Cohen.

Gareth Mitchell asks what happened to hydrogen cars.

2405Muscle Wastage20100818

We're all familiar by now with being told to "use it or lose it" when it comes to certain aspects of our health and bodies, and never more so than for muscles.

But in this edition of Frontiers, Vivienne Parry hears how new research in to muscle wastage is turning the accepted view on its head.

Startling results from a large-scale study have seen elderly peoples' muscles completely rebuilt through diet and exercise.

The detailed molecular pathways within muscles are beginning to be understood well enough for drug companies to target new ways of replacing what is lost, offering hope to the many thousands of people in Britain who suffer from muscle wastage due to illness or ageing.

Producer: Sue Broom.

Vivienne Parry reports on new research into tackling muscle wastage.

2406 LASTGraphene - The New Wonder Material20100825

Discovered in Manchester just a few years ago, graphene is an atomically thin form of carbon that looks set to transform technology.

In the short time it has been known, graphene has been found to be among the toughest of materials, has almost no resistance to electricity, is chemically inert, impermeable to gases, almost completely transparent...

Potential uses include the ultimate in nano-electronics, touch screens, hydrogen storage for zero-emission cars, solar panels, DNA sequencing, ultracapacitors for the next generation of electric cars, chemical sensors...

Roland Pease reports on a new form of carbon that looks set to transform technology.

2501Cancer Treatment20101103

Is a new personalised drug for skin cancer a new revolution in cancer medicine? In the first of a new series of Frontiers, Geoff Watts finds out about a new cancer drug that has had dramatic results in a previously almost untreatable type of skin cancer.

Based on our knowledge of the human genome, he finds out how the drug works and what hope it offers for the future of cancer medicine.

The molecule, PLX 4032 made headlines earlier this year when it was shown to dramatically shrink tumours in people with a type of skin cancer whose prognosis was previously very poor.

Melanomas can be treated successfully by surgical removal if they are caught early enough but once tumours have spread to other parts of the body, or become metastatic melanoma is notoriously hard to treat.

The current chemotherapy treatment hasn't been improved on since the 1970s and only shrinks tumours in 10 - 15% of patients.

But is a new, experimental drug set to change this? In initial clinical trials, the molecule, sometimes called PLX4032, sent a wave of excitement through the cancer community both for oncologists, doctors and their patients,when it was shown to dramatically shrunk tumours in 80% of patients who had a particular gene mutation.

The drug isn't on the market yet, and is still going through the process of more clinical trials but it could, once trails are finished spell a sea change in the treatment of this kind of skin cancer.

But could this kind of drug also pave the way for more personalised medicine in the treatment of other, more common cancers?

The drug is the result of an ongoing effort by scientists since the sequencing of the human genome to understand the molecular and genetic underpinning for all cancers.

In 2002 Professor Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute discovered that a particular gene, BRAF is mutated in more than half of malignant melanomas and is responsible for the cancer's growth.

And it was this knowledge of the genetic basis for this particular cancer which led to the search for a drug to target it and ultimately, 5 years later to the creation of PLX 4032.

But is it enough to know the gene in involved in a particular cancer, to then find a drug that can successfully target it? Unfortunately it's not that simple.

Not all genes will have suitable drugs, many cancers become resistant to the drugs that were once effective and drug discovery is a time consuming and expensive process.

This drug has already shown signs of resistance as is by no means a cure.

But as more cancer genes are identified and the mechanisms for resistance understood will these hurdles, one day, be overcome?

What will this mean for treatment, ultimately? Some scientists hope we could soon see the day when routine sequencing of cancer genomes will ensure a patient's treatment is tailored to the mutations present.

Will we by the end of this decade be using the genome sequence as the natural diagnostic for cancer and is the sequencing of the human genome finally fulfilling its promise?

Producer: Pam Rutherford.

Is a new personalised drug for skin cancer set to revolutionise cancer medicine?

2502After The Volcano20101110

In April this year, air traffic across most of North West Europe was grounded by a cloud of abrasive ash from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.

This was the first time in the era of jet flight that such an eruption has coincided with wind patterns to take ash into such busy airspace.

But volcanologists say it will not be the last.

Tracey Logan investigates what is being done by geologists and meteorologists, engineers and aviation experts to ensure that they are better prepared for the next eruption.

Producer Martin Redfern travels to Iceland with a team of geophysicists as they measure the rise of magma under the crater of Askja, one of the biggest volcanoes in central Iceland and finds out what they can do to predict the timing and severity of the next 'big one'.

Producer: Martin Redfern.

Tracey Logan asks if scientists are ready for the next Icelandic volcanic eruption.


are all around us.

Some are man-made, others occur naturally.

Because they're so tiny - one nanometre is one millionth of a metre - nanoparticles can only be seen through an electron microscope.

Nanoparticles have unique physical properties, and scientists are currently looking for ways to exploit these characteristics.

Nanoparticles are currently used in medicine, in food, in clothes and cosmetics.

In the future, nanoparticles could also be used to help improve energy generation and storage.

They might also help us remove contaminants from polluted water.

In this edition of Frontiers, Richard Hollingham investigates how a better understanding of the properties of nanoparticles is helping researchers develop some novel medical treatments.

He talks to Dr Simon Holland at GlaxoSmithKline about research into using nanoparticles to deliver therapeutic agents to precise locations in the body.

Richard also visits MagForce, a German research company, that's developing a novel therapy using heated nanoparticles to destroy brain cancers.

These are beneficial developments, but as scientists find more and more uses for nanoparticles, concern's growing about the possible cumulative impact of so many microscopic particles in our environment.

Because they are so tiny, nanoparticles can easily be absorbed through our skin or when we breathe.

The behaviour and characteristics of nanoparticles change according to their size and density, so it's very hard to predict what longer-term effects they might be having.

Producer: John Watkins.

Richard Hollingham asks if legislation to control nanoparticles is adequate.

2504Artificial Meat20101124

At a time when we're being told how much of the world's greenhouse gas production is being created by livestock, what better moment to consider progress in developing synthetic alternatives.

It may sound like a joke, but there's a lot of serious science underpinning the enterprise.

Geoff Watts travels to Maastricht in Holland to look at, but not eat, the artificial meat that Professor Mark Post and his team have produced in the lab.

Producer: Sue Broom.

Would you eat artificial meat, grown in the lab? Geoff Watts investigates.

2505The End Of Moore's Law?20101201

Ever smarter, faster and cheaper silicon chips have driven the computing revolution but many believe this rapid pace of technological change is about to grind to a halt.

We take it for granted that mobile phones today do as much, or more, than the cumbersome personal computers we bought just a decade before.

But many industry insiders believe silicon chip manfacturers are about to hit the buffers.

And without the hardware to support them, computers may not continue to evolve at the astonishing rate to which we have grown accustomed.

Arranging transistors,a thousand times smaller than a human hair, on a silicon chip isn't easy but the ability to manipulate such miniscule entities is just one of the challenges chip manufacturers are facing and it's probably not the most serious.

When transistors are smaller than this, silicon starts to lose the very properties that make it so useful for building logic circuits.

"It's like having light switches that are made from soggy pieces of pasta.

They just don't work" says Rich Howard.

In 1965, Intel employee Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors that manufacturers could fit on a silicon chip would double every two years.

At the time a naive and rather glib remark that has since become known as Moore's Law and has driven the rapid pace of technological change that we've witnessed over the last four decades.

But now even Moore himself is clear: this dramatic rate of progress must soon come to an end.

Roland Pease asks if this is really the end for Moore's Law, or is there something new around the corner to fuel the next technological step to smaller and faster devices.

Producer: Anna Buckley.

Is it the end of the road for the computer revolution? Roland Pease investigates.

2506 LASTEpigenetics20101208

Adam Rutherford asks how much of our lives' experiences, such as diet and pollution, is passed onto our children, as well as our genes.

These changes are called epigenetic.

Throughout our lives our genes become changed by the environment - by things such as our diet, radiation, pollution and smoking.

These events have consequences for our health.

The view from classical genetics was that we don't pass on any of these defects onto our children.

When we reproduce, the genes in our eggs and sperm are wiped clean.

In the 1980s there was the realisation that a child's genes are not always stripped of the experiences of its parents.

In other words, what parents do in their lives can be passed onto their offspring.

In the last few years, there has been a massive increase in the amount of research into what's called epigenetic inheritance.

This year scientists have announced that work in rodents has shown that poor diet and parental neglect can be seen in the genes of their offspring.

Another piece of research in rats, published in Nature, demonstrated that if fathers had a high fat diet, their daughters can develop a form of diabetes, even though they themselves weren't overweight or eating a high fat diet.

This means that the fathers' sperm had been irrevocably altered by what they had been eating.

And there are some studies in humans that suggest that epigenetic effects are at work.

These are retrospective studies, as it is impossible to control the lives of people in same way as researchers can with laboratory rodents.

Researchers have been following the outcome of the women who were pregnant during the prolonged famine in Holland at the end of the Second World War.

Girls born to these women have been found to have twice the usual risk of developing schizophrenia.

The lack of food produced changes in the mothers' DNA which could have caused changes in the brain of the daughters.

Producer: Deborah Cohen.

Do our children inherit the impact of our life experiences as well as our genes?

2601Human Microbes20110601

Our body is the playground for around 100 trillion microbes, hiding in our mouth, nose, guts, skin and genitals.

In the first in a new series of Frontiers, Geoff Watts visits the Human Microbiome Project in the US, where they're sequencing the genomes of bacteria which live on our body.

Our microbes help us digest food in our stomach, produce natural moisturisers on our skin and synthesise vitamins in our intestine.

"We need to start thinking of ourselves as super-organisms," says Dr Julie Segre, senior investigator at the US National Institute of Health.

"This is the second genome - the bacterial genomes as well as the human genomes, all of that is part of the true genetic content of a human."

The Human Microbiome Project aims to catalogue 3,000 microbes on our body and sequence their genes.

The theory is that we have co-evolved with our microbes in order to defend our bodies against pathogens.

Geneticists are aiming to find out what constitutes a healthy microbial community, and what happens when the group is invaded by 'bad' bacteria.

Geoff also talks to a group of scientists from MetaHIT - a European project which concentrates on the human gut.

They have found that we all fall into one of three distinct types, depending on the dominant group of bacteria living there.

New research has suggested that pathogenic microbes could be implicated in a whole host of diseases, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, arthritis and autism.

"We may find there are new links between the human microbiome and diseases that today we don't think of having any underlying microbial component," says Claire Fraser-Liggett, Director of the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland.

The hope is that this research may pave the way for more personalised treatments which could help get our bacterial communities back on the right track.

Producer: Michelle Martin.

In a new series, Geoff Watts investigates the bacteria flourishing on our bodies.


Disease resistant chickens may be the first genetically engineered farm animals to reach the supermarket.

Scientists in Scotland and Cambridge have produced poultry that can stop bird flu from spreading and are working on complete resistance to infection.

The same technology can be used for pigs, sheep and cattle for a range of diseases.

Sue Broom reports on the current state of the science of genetically engineered farm livestock and the ethical concerns that surround them.

Producer, Erika Wright.

Sue Broom meets the scientists using GM technology to control animal disease.


30,000 are dead or missing following the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Like the Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, the events of March 11 remind us of the destructive forces that can lurk in the deep ocean.

But while waves of up to 40 metres height pummelled the Japanese coast line, as happened in Sumatra 2004, Japan was prepared, and had defences and emergency routines in place.

How well did they work? This was the first ever test of such engineered defences and rehearsed evacuations.

The death toll was much lower than in the Indian Ocean, but great sea walls crumbled under the assault of the powerful ocean waves, and whole towns were still washed away.

Roland Pease reports from Japan on the lessons learnt from the recent tsunami.


Large numbers of seismologists fear the recent earthquake in Japan reveals greats gaps in their science.

Attention in the country has focused on the threat to Tokyo and to the south, where danger still lurks; but experts admit they underestimated the danger to the north, where the quake and tsunami struck in March.

If even the Japanese experts, the best prepared in the world, can get it wrong, what other dangers is seismology missing? Roland Pease investigates from Japan.

What's wrong with earthquake science? Roland Pease investigates.


On 28th June 1911 an explosion erupted in the sky over the Nakhla region of Alexandria in Egypt.

A chunk of rock, about the size of a football, had broken away from the surface of Mars several million years ago.

It floated around the Solar System until eventually the Martian rock was pulled into our planet's gravitational field.

When it fell to Earth a century ago, eyewitnesses saw an explosion high in the atmosphere, as the meteor split into dozens of fragments which hurtled towards them and were buried up to a meter deep in the ground.

Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, looks at the legacy of the Nakhla meteorite.

These precious rocks are now being used by scientists to ground-truth data sent back from Spirit and Opportunity - the two rovers currently exploring the Martian surface.

Over 100 yrs after it landed, the Nakhla meteorite could hold the key to the ancient history of Mars, answering questions about the presence of water and the possibility of microbial life on the Red Planet.

Producer: Michelle Martin.

How a meteorite that landed on Earth 100 years ago is helping astronomers explore Mars.

2606 LASTAgeing And Telomeres20110706

Is there a test for how long you will live? If you believe what you read in some newspapers recently, perhaps the answer is yes.

Recent media coverage of an intriguing area of ageing research suggested that measuring the ends of your chromosomes can tell you when you will die.

Andrew Luck-baker looks at the science behind the headlines by talking to leading scientists at an international meeting organised recently by the Swedish Society of Medicine.

Chromosomes are topped and tailed by special protective structures known as telomeres.

During the course of our lives they become shorter.

When they erode to a critical length, cells die or shut down.

The shortening of telomeres is considered by many scientists to be a key mechanism of ageing, and means of measuring the rate at which the body is ageing.

Different people lose the telomere length at different rates.

In population studies, short telomere length has been linked to reduced longevity and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, dementia and cancers.

Environmental and behavioural factors such as smoking, not exercising, obesity, chronic stress and lower social class also linked the erosion of the chromosome caps.

The biotech company, Life Length, set up by Spanish scientists, was the first to offer telome length tests to members of the public at the end of last year.

In a few months, another based in the USA plans to do the same.

The company in California, Telome Health, was co-founded by Professor Elizabeth Blackburn who shared the Nobel prize for Medicine in 2009 for her early research on telomeres.

Neither firm claims to predict when you will die but they do believe their tests offer valuable medical information and could help in the prevention and treatment of diseases of old age.

So why are many other researchers dubious about the value of telomere measurements for individual patients?

Producer: Andrew Luck-baker.

Is there a test for how long you will live? Controversies in cutting edge ageing research.


For six months, CERN scientists guarded the best kept secret in science - that they'd seen tiny subatomic particles called neutrinos breaking the universal speed limit.

The measurements were at the boundaries of scientific techniques - the discrepancy was just 10s of nanoseconds; parts of their apparatus barely ran at that speed.

For six months they checked and then re- checked again every step of their analysis.

And still the result held up.

When the results were finally released at the end of September, the headline writers had a field day.

Nothing sells copy like proof that Einstein was wrong.

But fellow researchers at CERN were less excited.

The overwhelming belief was that there still remained some hidden error.

And for those who ran the experiment, the dreadful concern that sooner or later that error could turn up, and their triumph might become the stuff of mockery.

And the next day the investigations continued.

Roland Pease meets the scientists who have staked their reputations on the result, on the critics who think they can spot the mistake, and the theoreticians who think they can explain it all.

Producer: Roland Pease.

Did CERN scientists really break the universal speed limit? Roland Pease investigates.


The last untouched realm of life on the Earth is about to be opened up for scientific exploration.

These are the subglacial lakes of Antarctica - vast, dark bodies of prehistoric water, which have been sealed under kilometres of ice for hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

Andrew Luck-baker looks at the science and the ambitious plans behind their exploration.

Russian scientists are poised to penetrate the largest, Lake Vostok, with a conventional drill next January.

They have been drilling their way towards the lake top for several years now, located at their research station where the lowest temperature ever measured on the planet was recorded, -90 degrees C.

But the British may beat them when it comes to profound discoveries about subglacial lakes.

In December this year, a UK team will set up its own extraordinary ice 'drilling' operation, three kilometres above Lake Ellsworth on the other side of the frozen continent.

Lake Ellsworth is roughly the size of Lake Windermere.

The UK's audacious plan entails melting a narrow 3.5 kilometre long hole into that lake with a jet of near- boiling water.

The scientists will deploy a probe into the depths of the hidden lake to take readings and samples from top to bottom.

This stage of NASA-style mission is scheduled for December 2012.

It involves scientists and engineers from the British Antarctic Survey and a number of British universities.

Between them, the projects could discover unique forms of microbial life which are adapted to a combination of extreme cold, crushing pressure and no light.

The findings may reveal the limits at which life can exist and the tricks it has evolved to survive there both here on Earth and on other planets.

The projects will also act, it is argued, as tests for technologies for seeking for extraterrestrial life on ice-encrusted water-moons such as the planet Jupiter's Europa.

The British programme will also drill into the muds and sands at the bottom of Lake Ellsworth and bring samples back to the surface.

Those sediments promise to give us a much clearer picture of what climate conditions would bring about the collapse of Antarctica's great ice sheets and resulting catastrophic global sea level rise.

The sediments should contain information about this because they themselves formed when Antarctica in that region was too warm to host a thick ice sheet.

The engineering effort behind the project is daunting.

The project will set up a powerful boiler on the ice surface in a place where the air temperature is routinely at -20 degrees C.

That initially involves transporting 60 tonnes of hardware and 55 tonnes of diesel fuel 300 kilometres through the icy Ellsworth Mountains.

Part of the cargo is a length of hose 3500 metres long.

Once it is all assembled and the team is ready to go, it will take them about 3 days to melt a 30 cm wide hole to the top of the lake.

Then they'll have just 24 hours to lower a probe (and another coring device for taking sediment samples) down the hole into the lake water and down about 100 metres to the lake bottom.

The probe will sample the water as it descends and grab mud off the bottom in its search for extreme adapted microbes.

It then has to be hauled back more than 3 kilometres up to our world before the shaft in the ice freezes up.

As for the Russian project, Lake Vostok is the size of Lake Ontario, 1000 metres deep and is under 4 km of ice.

It's been isolated under ice for maybe 20 million years.

The most interesting time-encapsuled life-forms are likely to be there.

Last February the Russians had to stop 30 metres short of the lake top because of bad weather and drilling snags.

Using a more standard drilling technique, the drilling gets trickier as you go deeper.

Although the Russians may break through into Vostok's water this year, they won't retrieve any samples.

According to their plan, they'll do that the following year and will only get a glimpse of life forms in the lake's upper reaches.

Producer: Andrew Luck-baker.

Exploring Antarctica's subglacial lakes for new lifeforms and future sea level rise clues.


When leptin failed to be a wonder solution to obesity, this hormone produced by fat cells, disappeared from the headlines.

Twenty years on scientists now believe leptin is critical to how the body works, regulating appetite, the immune response, inflammation and depression.

Vivienne Parry investigates.

Producer: Erika Wright.

Vivienne Parry explores the crucial role the hormone leptin plays in the body.


An increasing understanding of genetics has uncovered new targets for antiviral drug treatments.

Although still in the very early stages scientists claim they may be able to develop drug treatments which can be used against a range of viruses.

At present antiviral drugs are very specific, usually attacking just one virus.

However the research which Kevin Fong examines in this edition of Frontiers suggests 'broad spectrum antivirals', drugs capable of curing all viral infections from the common cold to HIV may be with us in a few years time.

If the claims are true such drugs could revolutionise medicine dealing a blow to viruses in much the same way as the invention of antibiotics did to bacterial infections over the last century.

Producer: Julian Siddle.


Kevin Fong looks at new techniques to cure all viral infections.


Why don't we all get depressed? The short answer is that most of us do - and, paradoxically, there may be good reasons, rooted in our evolutionary past, for this.

But depression comes in all degrees of severity, and only a minority of us get clinically depressed: a state which is not only more intense than ordinary everyday gloom and despondency, but less obviously adaptive.

In Frontiers, Geoff Watts explores the origins of depression and efforts to find new treatments.

The latest research is looking into the brains of those who never get depressed, those who seem to have a natural resilience.

Could these hardy individuals hold the key to preventing depression taking hold in the first place?

The notion that milder forms of depression may be helpful emerged a little over a decade ago, prompted by the observation that this state of mind is so relatively common.

The claim is part of a more general attempt to explain the kinds of illness we suffer from by reference to our evolutionary history.

Natural selection is pretty good at adapting organisms to function effectively in their environments.

If depression is a regular feature of our state of mind, so the argument goes, maybe it's serving some useful purpose.

It could be a bit like pain: something we don't like, but which has a biological value.

The father of this theory is the American psychologist Randolph Nesse, who believes that mild depression deters you from wasting energy pursuing unattainable goals, and encourages you to disengage from them and turn instead to something else.

At first hearing the idea sounds fanciful.

But since Nesse put forward the hypothesis, at least one study seems to have confirmed its plausibility.

So much for mild depression; but what of the more severe forms that don't so much prompt sufferers to reconsider their goals as drive them to give up entirely? Why, ask researchers, if mild depression is an adaptation, can it become so destructive so easily? Can this destructive form of depression be understood and prevented?

One helpful clue towards a better means of doing so can be found in the biology of people who experience huge amounts of stress, yet show no signs at all of depression.

They have what is known in the trade as "resilience", and a research group in Manchester is trying to understand what it is and why it works.

Is it a specific brain process? A variation of brain chemistry, a set of genes or all three in combination with specific life experiences? If something specific in people with resilience can be uncovered and then targeted, might we be able to prevent other people who face major life stress from succumbing to this debilitating disease?

Producer: Rami Tzabar.

Geoff Watts explores the origins of depression and efforts to find new treatments.

2706 LAST20111207

Flying at many times the speed of sound has been an elusive goal of aeronautical engineers for many years.

Gareth Mitchell looks at how near we are to achieving hypersonic flight.

Producer: Julian Siddle.

Gareth Mitchell ask how near we are to achieving hypersonic flight.

2801Transit Of Venus20120530

First of another series of programmes looking at new frontiers of scientific discovery. Astronomer Marek Kukula from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich explores the scientific implications of the forthcoming transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, a rare astronomical event that will not occur again until 2117. Previous transits have helped establish fundamental facts about our solar system, including the distance and relative positions of all the planets that orbit our sun. But now, the forthcoming transit in June 2012, the last this century, will help planet hunters searching for other worlds across the galaxy (exo-planets). As Marek discovers, technology now makes it possible to pinpoint not only a planet's mass, size, and distance from its star but we can also establish whether it has an atmosphere and what that atmosphere might consist of and therefore whether it could theoretically support life. Thanks to the next transit event, the search for another Earth has taken a bold step forward.

Marek Kukula explores the forthcoming transit of Venus across the face of the Sun.

2802Engineering Flu20120606

Two teams of virologists found themselves at the heart of bioterrorism maelstrom late last year when their studies on mutant bird flu were suppressed by US authorities. While security experts feared the reports were recipes for bioweapons of mass destruction, the researchers argued they held important lessons for the threat of natural flu pandemics developing in the wild.

Now the authorities have backed down and the reports have been released, Kevin Fong hears how tiny variations in the genes of bird flu can completely change the behaviour of the pathogens. And whether deliberate genetic manipulation in the lab can replicate the natural genetic variations occurring in farms around the world.

In 2009, the new strain of H1N1 flu emerged from a few villages in Mexico to infect the world in weeks. What experts fear is that a simple genetic change to H5N1 bird flu could allow it to spread as fast, but with far deadlier consequences. They argue that by identifying dangerous variants in the lab first, we'd be better prepared with vaccines ahead of the danger.

Producer Roland Pease.

2803Artificial Photosynthesis20120613

Chemist Andrea Sella explores the current race to do photosynthesis better than nature ever achieved. In just a few hundred years mankind has burnt fossil fuels which had taken natural photosynthesis billions of years to create.

Now, around the world hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on the race to develop a robust, cheap and efficient way to turn water and the light from the sun into new fuels we can use. At a time when politicians everywhere debate the economics and climatic burdens of future energy needs, such a "Solar Fuel" would be a genuinely novel alternative energy.

Producer: Alex Mansfield.


Gene therapy - repairing malfunctioning cells by mending their DNA - offers an elegant solution to diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, caused by a single flawed gene. It's a very simple concept to describe - cut out the bad gene and insert a 'normal' gene - but it's this process that's proving to be so difficult and time consuming. Since the first human study began in 1990 the field has struggled with various technical challenges and set-backs. But over a decade on, researchers are beginning to report successes in treating several devastating diseases. Geoff Watts finds out some of the new techniques for gene therapy, and discovers how these are now being used in a trial of a new method of gene therapy for cystic fibrosis.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.


Could creating "blood" in the laboratory make infections passed on through blood transfusions a thing of the past? Vivienne Parry investigates.

The drive behind the quest for creating a blood substitute was originally from the US Military - during the Vietnam war a clean, reliable and portable alternative to donor blood would have helped to save many lives. Donated blood can only be kept for a limited time, needs refrigerating and has to be cross matched according to which ABO group people belong to. The "universal donor" - O negative blood - can be used on accident victims before a match is found. But it's in very short supply and often many units of blood are required.

The history of creating blood has had a chequered past - with some products abandoned because of side effects and others proving too costly to produce. One analysis of clinical trials on blood substitutes in 2008 revealed a higher incidence of heart attacks in patients who'd been given them, compared with those who received human blood.

Some scientists have tried using the pigment found in oxygen-carrying red blood cells - haemoglobin. This molecule is normally packed into the cells, so that it can "grab" oxygen breathed in by the lungs and release it in minute capillaries, providing the body with the oxygen needed to survive. But "free" haemoglobin is toxic to the body - presenting researchers with a technical challenge.

Another approach has been to grow human red blood cells from cells extracted from umbilical cords - known as blood pharming. But with the average blood transfusion containing 2.5 million million red blood cells the scale of production would have to be enormous. A special cocktail of growth factors coax these stem cells into becoming red blood cells just like those the body produces naturally.

Producer: Paula McGrath.

2806 LAST20120704

Gareth Mitchell meets the engineers who will transform the way we fly around the world. At Liverpool University they are designing helicopter plane hybrids and even flying cars. And is this the time for the return of the airship?

Editor: Deborah Cohen

2901Future Of Particle Physics20121107

Finding the Higgs boson on July 4th was the last piece in physicists' Standard model of matter. But Tracey Logan discovers there's much more for them to find out at the Large Hadron Collider. To start with there is a lot of work to establish what kind of Higgs boson it is.

Tracey visits CERN and an experiment called LHCb which is trying to find out why there's a lot more matter than anti-matter in the universe today. Dr Tara Shears of Liverpool University is her guide.

Tracey also talks to physicists who are hoping to find dark matter in the debris of the collisions at the LHC. Scientists know there's plenty of dark matter in the universe, from its effects of galaxies, but they don't know what it is. Tracey discovers that this fact isn't offputting to the particle physicists.

2902Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?2012111420121224 (WS)
20121225 (WS)
20121230 (WS)

In the UK today, male life expectancy is 78 years old, whereas women will on average live four years longer.

Evolutionary biologist Dr Yan Wong looks at the latest evidence suggesting that where ageing is concerned, men seem to be at a genetic disadvantage. From research on ancient Korean eunuchs to laboratory fruit flies, new studies seek the answer to why males across the animal kingdom live faster and die younger.

So, is the gender gap here to stay?

(repeated in the World Service Discovery slot as: Why Do Women Outlive Men?)

Why do women live longer than men? Dr Yan Wong explores new theories on gender and ageing

Baby girls born today in the UK can expect to live to 82 years old, whereas boys on average will die 4 years earlier.


Humanity's impact on the Earth is so profound that we're creating a new geological time period. Geologists have named the age we're making the Anthropocene. The changes we're making to the atmosphere, oceans, landscape and living things will leap out of the rocks forming today to Earth scientists of the far future, as clearly as the giant meteorite that ended the Age of the Dinosaurs does to today's researchers.

Science writer Gaia Vince looks at the impact of these planetary transformations from the perspective of geological time. When was the last time comparable events happened in Earth history, and are what are the key marks we're making on the planet that define the Anthropocene?

Gaia explores the distinctive fossil record we will leave behind on the planet. Leading biologists and palaeontologists say this that will mark out the Anthropocene as a distinctive chapter in Earth history - on a par with the evidence of the mass extinction which took out the dinosaurs and launched a geological era 65 million years ago. "This time, we are the asteroid," says Berkeley's Antony Barnosky. Extinction rates around the world are approaching those estimated for times in the deep past when most species became extinct.

Far future fossil hunters may also discover a weirdly large number of large-sized fossil mammal species bones in the rocks of our times. Even more unnaturally, they come from just a tiny handful of species and they will be in the strata across every continent- a geological representation of billions of domestic livestock and the billions of people they fed.

Some of our cities may also be preserved as 'artificial' layers of rock in the geological record. They will be like no other strata before in the history of the Earth. But what would a fossilised metropolis - with its concrete and glass buildings and underground train tunnels and sewers - look like in ten million years?

2904Brain Machine Interfaces20121128

Can reading the mind allow us to use thought control to move artificial limbs?

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis, is one of the world's leading researchers into using the mind to control machines. One of his aims is to build a suit that a quadriplegic person can wear and control so that he or she can kick a football at the opening of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. His lab is working on ways of providing a sense of touch to these limbs so that the prosthetics feel more like a part of a person's body and less like an artificial appendage.

Geoff Watts visits Nicolelis' laboratory to see just how near we are to achieving his aim on the football pitch.


The ENCODE project recently announced that much of our genome is not junk, in other words with no function. Adam Rutherford reports on the significance of this major discovery. Does it help us understand what makes us human or which diseases we may develop in the future?

2906 LASTForensic Phonetics20121212

Many crimes are planned, executed and sometimes gloated over using mobile phones. And the move to digital means that recordings are cheap and easy to make for the criminals themselves, as well as for their victims and witnesses.

Ranging from death threats left on voicemails and hoax 999 calls to fraudulent calls to banks and conversations between terrorists, phoneticians analyse the minute acoustic components of the human voice to determine not only what was said but, but to create a profile of the culprit or work out if a suspect's voice matches the voice in the criminal recording.

In the UK alone, forensic speech scientists are called upon by police forces to analyse recordings in over five hundred criminal cases each year.

While it's not possible to identify a unique 'voiceprint', as it is with fingerprints and DNA, speech scientists are developing new ways of teasing out the distinctive characteristics in human speech to improve their abilities to make a particular speaker stand out from the crowd.

And using a recent ingenious discovery by a Romanian Scientist, the Police and phoneticians can now decipher whether a digital recording has been tampered with and pinpoint, to the exact second, when it was recorded.

Rebecca Morelle looks at some of the new research in this growing area of forensics, including the impact of balaclavas on the credibility of ear witness accounts and whether it's possible to distinguish hoax distress 999 calls from genuine ones.

It's a field that's been pivotal in high profile cases, including the conviction of John Humble as the hoax caller claiming to be The Yorkshire Ripper, and identifying the mystery cougher who tried to defraud the gameshow 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'.


When President Obama recently complained, that although "we can identify

galaxies light years away, study particles smaller than an atom... we

still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that

sits between our ears" - he called on scientists to unravel the

trillions of neural connections inside our brains that make our minds work.

Some researchers are already doing that - trying to understand the brain

by starting to build one. At Reading University, at the newly

constructed Brain Embodiment Laboratory, researchers plan to connect

cultures of living human neurons to robots to give meaning to their

neural activity. At Georgia Tech, Atlanta, neuroengineer Steve Potter

agrees that cultured neurons not connected to the outside world suffer

sensory deprivation. His neural arrays descend into spasms of epileptic

activity when left alone. When plugged in, they can control machines

across the planet.

"I believe these cultures are half-way to having a mind," says Potter.

"Wired up to listen to their own outputs, they could be self aware."

Other researchers are building brains from inanimate materials - using

tendrils of silver, silicon and sulphur that spring into life like

activity when wired up to electricity. At Stanford University, plans are

afoot to meld them with living neurons - perhaps to enhance our thought


These devices can learn, remember and process information - but do they

think? Can these scientists really build a brain? And what would it tell

us about ours if they could?


England's chief medical officer recently warned that within twenty years, the spread of antibiotic resistance may have returned us to an almost 19th century state of medicine. Infections following routine operations will be untreatable and fatal because so many common bacteria will have acquired immunity to all the available antibiotic drugs.

The vast majority of the antibiotics we rely upon today were developed between the 1940s and 1970s. There has been no new class of antibiotic for 25 years.

A radically different approach to dealing with bacteria would be stop them from communicating and coordinating their attacks, rather than trying to kill them. The bugs would be rendered harmless and much less likely to develop drug resistance.

This is the hope of researchers who are working on an aspect of bacterial life known as Quorum Sensing.

Bacteria may just be single-celled organisms but microbiologists now realise they have a kind of social life. They need to cooperate and coordinate their attacks on the bodies they infect.

Many kinds of bacteria only become dangerous to us when they sense that their numbers are high enough. Only when they 'know' that there are enough of them to overwhelm human defences, do they release their toxins and cause illness and death.

They monitor the number of their fellow bugs by sensing the concentration of a message molecule which they all manufacture and secrete into the environment. It's a rudimentary form of communication which many bacteria use to synchronise their activities.

In Frontiers, Geoff Watts talks to scientist and doctors who are exploring this phenomenon in disease-causing bacteria, and trying to devise ways of interfering with the microbial communications. One line of thinking is the development of drugs which stop the microbes from either 'talking' or 'hearing' the chemical messages.

Another more radical idea is to treat infected patients with doses of the kind of bacteria causing the illness - except that the 'medicinal' bugs would be ones that would subvert the communication system and bring the infection to an end. At least, that is the theory.

3003Whatever Happened To Biofuels?20130626

They were seen as the replacement for fossil fuels until it was realised they were being grown on land that should have been used for food crops. But now there is serious research into new ways of producing biofuels, from waste materials, from algae and from bacteria.

Gaia Vince takes to the water of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland where Professor Matthew Dring and Dr Karen Mooney from Queens University, Belfast, are experimenting in growing algae that could be turned into fuel. She visits Professor Alison Smith's algae lab at Cambridge University. Graham Ellis from Solazyme in California explains how his company has already made fuel from algae that has been sold at the pumps and powered a plane, in a mixture with conventional fuel. And Professor Nick Turner at Manchester University and Professor John Love at Exeter University talk about how they are manipulating bacteria to make diesel.

3004Plate Tectonics And Life20130703

Earthquakes are feared for their destructive, deadly force. But they are

part of a geological process, plate tectonics, that some scientists say

is vital for existence of life itself. Without the ever-changing land

surfaces that plate tectonics produces , or the high continental masses

raised above sea level by earthquake activity, planet Earth would

atrophy into a lifeless mass like our neighbour Mars. But why is Earth

the only planet with plate tectonics? And when did they start. The clues

are so faint, the traces so ephemeral, that researchers are only now

beginning to find tentative answers. And extraordinarily, some say that

life itself has changed the forces in plate tectonics, and helped to

shape the world.

3005Crossrail - Tunnelling Under London20130710

Tracey Logan goes underground to find out how Crossrail is using the latest engineering techniques to create 26 miles of tunnels below London's tube network, sewers and foundations and through its erratic, sometimes unpredictable geology. She finds out about the latest science being used in Europe's biggest engineering project.

London sits on a varied geology of deposits of fine-grained sand, flint gravel beds, mottled clay, shelly beds which are sometimes mixed with pockets of water. This sheer variety has presented a challenge to London's tunnel engineers since the early 1800s.

Tracey goes on board one of the huge, 150 metre long, 1000 tonne tunnel boring machines as it makes its way beneath London's Oxford Street. At depths of up to 40 metres it can negotiate London's complex geology with incredible precision and can instantly adjust the pressure it applies at the cutting head to ensure there is no ground movement above.

Its precision engineering means it also follows a route which avoids the many existing foundations, sewers, and the tube network, sometimes travelling just centimetres past the London underground tunnels.

Tracey also finds out how unexploded ordnance from World War II still has to be carefully accounted for while digging beneath the capital.

The tunnel boring machines operate nearly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and so even has an onboard kitchen and bathroom facilities for the 20 or so operators who make up its 'tunnel gang'.

3006 LASTOxytocin20130717

The hormone oxytocin is involved in mother and baby bonding and in creating trust.

Linda Geddes finds out if taking oxytocin can help people with autism become more sociable.

Linda Geddes asks if taking the hormone oxytocin can make people more sociable.

3101Gut Microbiota20131113

What is it about the microbes in our guts that can have such an impact on our lives?

The human gut has around 100 trillion bacterial cells from up to 1,000 different species. Every person's microbiota (the body's bacterial make-up) is different as a result of the effects of diet and lifestyle, and the childhood source of bacteria.

Scientists are learning more and more about the importance of these bacteria, as well as the viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tracts. Without them, our digestion, immune system and overall health would be compromised.

Adam Hart talks to researchers who are discovering how important a balanced and robust gut microflora is for our health. And he asks how this can be maintained and what happens when things go wrong.

3102The Power Of The Unconscious20131120

We like to think that we are in control of our lives, of what we do, think and feel. But, as Geoff Watts discovers, scientists are now revealing that this is just an illusion.

A simple magic trick reveals just how limited our conscious awareness of the world is, and how easy it is to fool us.

So if our conscious brain can cope with so little, what is responsible for the rest? Science is starting to reveal the crucial role of a silent partner inside our heads, that we are completely unaware of - our unconscious.

In this programme, Geoff enlists the help of not just brain scientists, but a conjuror and a musician to reveal the pivotal role the unconscious plays in pretty much everything we do, think and feel. This new-found knowledge is enabling scientists to harness its powers for both medical and military benefit.

The crucial role of our unconscious, and how scientists are now harnessing its powers.

3103Self-healing Materials20131127

Quentin Cooper takes a look at the new materials that can mend themselves.

Quentin Cooper takes a look at the new materials that can mend themselves. Researchers are currently developing bacteria in concrete which, once awakened, excrete lime to fill any cracks. In South America you can choose a car paint that heals its own scratches. And there are even gold atoms which can migrate to mend tiny breaks in jet turbine blades.

Engineers normally design things so the likelihood of breaking is minimised. But by embracing the inevitability of breakage, a new class of materials which can mend cracks and fissures before you can see them may extend the lives of our cars, engines, buildings and aeroplanes far beyond current capability.


A hundred years since the first synthetic fertilizers, Prof Andrea Sella looks at efforts to reduce our dependence on the legendary Haber process.


Geoengineering is a controversial approach to dealing with climate change. Gaia Vince explores putting chemicals in the stratosphere to stop solar energy reaching the earth.

3106 LAST20131218

Are you a lark or an owl? Are you at your best in the morning or the evening? Linda Geddes meets the scientists who are discovering the genetic differences between larks and owls.

3201Driverless Cars20140604

Most traffic accidents are caused by human error. Engineers are designing vehicles with built in sensors that send messages to other cars, trucks, bikes and even pedestrians, to prevent collisions happening. The idea is to make the vehicles react to whatever's going on faster than the human drivers. Jack Stewart drives around the university town of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, in some of the many vehicles that are fitted with experimental devices in the world's largest connected vehicles project.

Jack also visits Stanford University's driverless car project. And he asks the public whether they are ready to hand over control of their vehicles to computers.


Geoff Watts investigates the latest thinking about our brain power in old age.

He talks to 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.

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.

Geoff also talks to the neuroscientists and participants involved in an 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.


Gaia Vince looks at the future of power transmission. As power generation becomes increasingly mixed and demand increases, what does the grid of the future look like?


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.

3205Swarming Robots20140702

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.


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.