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20
JAN

Ecological grief

As the earth experiences more extreme weather, and wildlife is dying, from corals, to insects to tropical forests, more people are experiencing ecological anxiety and grief. Science journalist Gaia Vince has been reporting on the growing crisis across our planet’s ecosystems and has met many who are shocked and saddened by the enormity of the environmental changes taking place. She talks to scientists and medics working at the frontline of environmental change and hears that despite being expected to distance themselves from what’s happening they are affected emotionally.

Ashlee Consulo of Memorial University on the Canadian island of Labrador and Courtney Howard, a doctor in Yellowknife, tell Gaia about their experiences of living and working with indigenous peoples in areas where temperatures are rising rapidly and the ice is melting.

Steve Simpson of Exeter University and Andy Radford of Bristol University are both professors of biology who have watched coral reefs become devastated by climate change. Recently they wrote a letter to the journal Science headlined Grieving environmental scientists need support to raise awareness of the issues researchers are facing.

And Gaia visits the aquarium at the Horniman Museum in London where Jamie Craggs is trying to breed corals for future generations.

Picture: Greenland Inuit hunter, Credit: Earl Grad/Getty Images
30
DEC
2019

Alexis Carrel and the immortal chicken heart

Philip Ball tells the story of Alexis Carrel, the French surgeon who worked to preserve life outside the body and create an immortal chicken heart in a dish. His quest was to renew ageing flesh, repair and rebuild our bodies and keep them healthy far beyond the usual human lifespan. In the early twentieth century his science was pioneering but his mission to achieve eternal life was underpinned by a dark and terrifying agenda. Carrel was a racist who advocated eugenics to preserve the superior civilisation of the West.

Philip Ball discusses the history and cultural impact of the tissue culture techniques developed by Carrel with social historian Professor Hannah Landecker of the University of California at Los Angeles. And he finds out about the legacy of Carrel's research from Dr Madeline Lancaster of Cambridge University, one of the pioneers of the growth of brain organoids from stem cells; small clusters of neurons and other cells, rather like mini organs no bigger than a dried pea.

Picture: Raw chicken heart, Credit: Arina_Bogachyova/Getty Images
16
DEC
2019

Ignaz Semmelweiss: The hand washer

Lindsey Fitzharris tells the story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the hand washer. In a world that had no understanding of germs, he tried to apply science to halt the spread of infection. Ignaz Semmelweis observed that many young medical students at his hospital in Vienna went directly from an autopsy, still covered in contaminated dead flesh, to attend pregnant women. Could this be the reason for such high maternal mortality rates from conditions like puerperal fever? Believing that the disease was caused by “infective material” from a dead body, Semmelweiss set up a basin filled with chlorinated lime solution in his hospital and began saving women’s lives with three simple words: ‘wash your hands’. He was demonised by his colleagues for his efforts, but today, he is known as the “Saviour of Mothers.”

Lindsey Fitzharris discusses some of the common myths surrounding the story of Semmelweiss with Dr Barron H. Lerner of New York University Langone School of Medicine. And she talks to Professor Val Curtis, Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the amount of hand washing by medical staff in hospitals today.

Picture: Victorian boy washing his hands in a stream, Credit: whitemay
25
NOV
2019

Robin Dunbar

Maintaining friendships is one of the most cognitively demanding things we do, according to Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. So why do we bother?

Robin has spent his life trying to answer this deceptively simple question. For most of his twenties, he lived with a herd of five hundred gelada monkeys in the Ethiopian highlands. He studied their social behaviour and concluded that an ability to get on with each other was just as important as finding food, for the survival of the species. Animals that live in large groups are less likely to get eaten by predators. When funding for animal studies dried up in the 1980s, he turned his attention to humans. and discovered there’s an upper limit to the number of real friends we can have, both in the real world and on social media.
18
NOV
2019

Katherine Joy

Katherine Joy studies moon rock. She has studied lunar samples that were brought to earth by the Apollo missions (382kg in total) and hunted for lunar meteorites in Antarctica, camping on ice for weeks on end and travelling around on a skidoo.

Working at the forefront of the second wave of lunar exploration, she studied remote sensing data from Europe’s first mission to the moon, Smart 1 which launched in 2003 and data from many subsequent missions. She tells Jim Al-Khalili why she believes the moon is the most exciting destination in our solar system and explains what it can tell us about the long history of planet earth.

Beneath the magnificent desolation of the moon’s surface, multicoloured rocks contain vital clues about the history of our solar system. Every crater on the moon is evidence of a collision and the chemistry of these rocks tells us when these collisions took place. Katherine’s research supports the idea that a period known as the late heavy bombardment was a particularly turbulent time. Could the late heavy bombardment explain the origin of life on earth?
11
NOV
2019

Sir Gregory Winter

In an astonishing story of a scientific discovery, Greg Winter tells Jim Al-Khalili how decades of curiosity-driven research led to a revolution in medicine.

Forced to temporarily abandon his work in the lab when a road rage incident left him with a paralysed right arm, Greg Winter spent several months looking at the structure of proteins. Looking at the stunning computer graphics made the pain in his arm go away. It also led him to a Nobel Prize winning idea: to ‘humanise’ mouse antibodies. A visit to an old lady in hospital made Greg determined to put his research to good use. He fought hard to ensure open access to the technology he invented and set up a start up company to encourage the development of therapeutic drugs. It took years to persuade anyone to fund his Nobel Prize winning idea that led to the creation of an entirely new class of drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies. In 2018, the market for these drugs, which include Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Herceptin for breast cancer, was worth $70 billion.
04
NOV
2019

Turi King

When a skeleton was unearthed in 2012 from under the tarmac of a car park in Leicester in the English East Midlands, Turi King needed to gather irrefutable evidence to prove that this really was the body of Richard III, England's infamous medieval monarch.

Under the microscope was not only the king's genetic identity, but his entire reputation. Was Richard a ruthless villain, as depicted by Shakespeare? Or did the incoming Tudors spread 'fake news' to besmirch his name? As presenter Jim al-Khalili discovers, clues in his skeletal remains have helped to solve some of these mysteries, and reveal the real Richard III.

When she was young, Turi King wanted to be the next Indiana Jones. Her love of archaeology led her to study genetics so she could use ancient DNA to solve historic mysteries.

She tells Jim how genetic testing, of both the dead skeleton and his living relatives, provided the vital evidence they needed to identify Richard III. But first, she had to extract his DNA, by pulling out one of his teeth.

Main Image: Turi King Credit: Jonathan Sisson
28
OCT
2019

Plastic pollution with Richard Thompson

A Professor of Marine Biology who was not particularly academic at school, Richard Thompson went to university after running his own business selling greetings cards for seven years. When the rest of the world was waking up to the harm caused to marine life by larger plastic items, such as plastic bags, he searched for tiny fragments of plastic, some no bigger than a human hair; and found them in oceans and on beaches all over the world. He has spent decades studying the harm these micro-plastics might cause to marine life and is concerned. His work on plastics in cosmetics led to a UK ban on micro-beads in shower gels and exfoliating scrubs. And he advised government to ban single use plastic bags from supermarkets. Rather than demonize plastic, however, he believes we need to learn to love it more. Often plastic it is the best material for the job. Now we need to make sure that all plastic products are designed so that they can be easily recycled at the end of their useful life.

Picture: Plastic water bottles pollution in ocean, credit: chaiyapruek2520/Getty Images
21
OCT
2019

Protecting heads in sports

The death last week of boxer Patrick Day, four days after he was stretchered out of the ring in a coma, is the latest reminder of how vulnerable sportsmen and women are to traumatic brain injury. During the latest Ashes series the Australian batsman Steve Smith was temporarily retired for one test after being struck on the helmet by a bouncer. The current World Cup Rugby has been affected too, with Welsh fly half Dan Biggar withdrawn from a game against Uruguay having received head injuries in two previous matches.

In this edition of Discovery, Roland Pease talks to engineers at Imperial College and Loughborough University using the latest techniques to understand the dynamics of blows to the head, and to improve helmet protection. And to experts and Rugby players at Swansea University seeking to make precision measurements of real-life head movements with the help of gum shields stuffed with electronics.

Picture credit: Mazdak Ghajari
14
OCT
2019

Early diagnosis and research

James Parkinson described a condition known as the “shaking palsy” over 200 years ago. Today there are many things that scientists still don’t understand explaining why diagnosis, halting the progression or finding a cure for Parkinson’s can seem elusive. But how close are researchers to developing better treatments?

Better understanding seems to suggest that Parkinson’s is not one condition but several, with different causes and symptoms in different people. Many researchers think that early diagnosis and greater recognition of the non motor symptoms such as loss of smell, sleep disorders and depression is to be encouraged, while others say without effective treatments then there are ethical issues to consider.

Jane visits a brain bank and sees the changes in a Parkinson’s brain that causes many of the symptoms and she takes a test which examines the sense of smell. Could this be a new tool to identify early stages of the condition?

Plus repurposing of existing drugs, i.e. drugs that have been developed for one condition but being tested in another are having promising results in Parkinson’s and genetic studies are leading to a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved in PD which in turn is leading to new therapies.

Picture credit: Smelling hops, Ales-A/Getty Images
07
OCT
2019

Exercise

Can exercise help people living with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative condition, with symptoms such as loss of balance, difficulty walking and stiffness in the arms and legs.

Jane Hill travels to the Netherlands to meet Mariëtte Robijn and Wim Rozenberg, coaches at Rock Steady Boxing Het Gooi and co-founders of ParkinsonSport.nl, a unique sports club ran 100% by and for people with Parkinson’s. It doesn’t take long before a transformation begins to take place in the gym.

Boxing is popular in the US as well, says Professor Lisa Shulman, Director of the Parkinson’s Centre at the University of Maryland. She has been encouraging her patients to exercise for the last 25 years.

Results from over 200 studies suggest that exercise is a good way to empower people as well as having physical benefits such as delaying disability.

In Ghana many people receive a late diagnosis. Sheila Klufio a physiotherapist at Korle Bu Hospital in Accra works with people to help them deal with some of the more common symptoms such as freezing when walking so they feel more confident to go out.

And it seems all types of exercise can help, Alan Alda and Michael J Fox both box, ballet dancing is popular, walking, cycling and Tai Chi have benefits and it’s never too late to start.

Picture credit: Wim Rozenberg at Wimages.nl
30
SEP
2019

Living with Parkinson's

BBC newsreader Jane Hill knows all about Parkinson’s. Her father was diagnosed in t1980s and lived with the condition for ten years — her uncle had it, too. She’s spoken about the dreadful experience of watching helplessly as the two men were engulfed by the degenerative disease, losing their independence and the ability to do the things that they once enjoyed. “I remember feeling how cruel Parkinson’s is.

The number of people living with Parkinson’s disease is set to double over the next few decades as we all live longer; it is the only long-term neurological condition that is increasing globally.

In this series Jane Hill looks at what it means to be given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and the reality of living with the condition. She and her cousin Steve remember how their fathers adopted a British stiff upper lip at a time when there was little awareness. In contrast she meets highly successful comedy writer Paul Mayhew Archer, whose reaction to his diagnosis was to create a one-man show exploring the lighter side of living with Parkinson’s.

Actors Michael J Fox and Alan Alda both discuss the early symptoms of the disease and their diagnosis.

Most people are diagnosed in their sixties but Dutch blogger Mariette Robijn talks about accepting a life changing diagnosis in her forties.

Picture: Dopaminergic neuron, 3D illustration. Degeneration of this brain cells is responsible for development of Parkinson's disease, Credit: Dr Microbe

Presenter: Jane Hill
Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald

30 episodes

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