Last week, we promised we’d tackle your coronavirus and associated Covid 19 questions and you came up trumps. So this week we’re be talking about the latest from the lockdown, why there are bottlenecks in the testing system, how long the virus lives on your door handles and whether your dog can spread coronavirus. Joining us to answer your questions are Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, and BBC Radio Science presenter and reporter Roland Pease.
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people to ‘stay at home’. How stringent is the UK’s lockdown compared to other countries, and is it likely to be effective?
The only real way we can know about the incidence and prevalence of the coronavirus is to test. Listener Andrew in Didcot wants to know more about testing and when antibodies appear in us. We discuss how the current testing system works, and why there are limitations on testing.
One question that lots of scientists have been asking is: can people with mild or no symptoms spread the coronavirus? And so we delve into the evidence for asymptomatic spreading.
Listeners Eleanor and Andy have been wondering about passing the virus from person to surface to person. Roland Pease looks into the virus’ survival on surfaces and elsewhere, and asks how that might be affecting spread.
Finally, reporter Geoff Marsh tackles a quandary facing dog owners: Is it safe to walk your pet? Can dogs spread the virus?
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producers: Fiona Roberts and Jennifer Whyntie
TB vaccination to replace culling in badgers; Neil Shubin on the wonders of evolution
The government have announced that the controversial cull of badgers across England will begin to be phased out in the next few years. It will be replaced by vaccinating badgers for bovine TB. The cull is intended to cut tuberculosis in cattle and has killed at least 100,000 badgers since 2013. TB in cattle is a severe problem for farmers and taxpayers, leading to the compulsory slaughter of 30,000 cattle and a cost of £150m every year.
However culling is thought to have failed because frequent trading of cattle and poor biosecurity on farms severely hampering efforts to tackle the crisis. Expert and ecologist Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, the research division of the Zoological Society of London, who has been trialling vaccinations for the past few years in Cornwall explains to Marnie Chesterton why it is highly desirable to move from culling to vaccination of badgers. Plus they discuss the parallels between this and the coronavirus outbreak in humans.
Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin at the University of Chicago, is also the author of the best-selling book on evolution – ‘Your Inner Fish’. In his new book, out this week, ‘Some Assembly Required – Decoding four billion years of life from ancient fossils to DNA’, Neil revisits the topic of evolutionary development and explains to Adam how we have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multi-billion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention.
Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer – Fiona Roberts
Biology of the new coronavirus
Adam Rutherford explores what makes the new coronavirus so effective at making us ill.
Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, explains the structure of the virus and how it gets into our lungs. Evolutionary virologist at Cambridge University, Dr Charlotte Houldcroft talks to Adam about how labs are detecting the virus and how they are studying the way it mutates to understand how it's moving around the world. Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology at UCL, tells Adam how bats live with coronaviruses, but they don't get sick. She says the reason they have moved from bats to humans is because we have taken them out of their natural habitat into places like the wet markets of East Asia. Sarah Gilbert at Oxford University explains how her team is developing vaccines, and Jonathan Ball looks at work to repurpose existing drugs that may be used as treatment for Covid-19.
Banning lead shot for hunting; UK Fireball Network and Extremely thin gold
We have known for centuries about the toxic properties of lead, and we have known since at least 1876 that birds die of lead poisoning when they eat lead gunshot (which they do, thinking its grit). To address this, in 1999, the use of lead ammunition in England was restricted. These Regulations prohibit the use of lead ammunition in certain habitat (predominately wetlands) and for the shooting of all ducks and geese, coot and moorhen. However compliance with these Regulations is low. And what about other animals (game birds and game animals) hunted with lead ammunition? It’s only been since 2008 that it’s been demonstrated that that animals shot with lead were a risk to the health of people who ate them. Tiny particles of the toxic metal remain in the meat and are consumed. Children are especially vulnerable to lead toxicity, which causes problems with brain development. Leading Cambridge conservation scientist Professor Debbie Pain, has been studying lead in the environment for her entire career. So it’s good news to her that, 8 of the main UK shooting organisations have voluntarily agreed to ban lead shot for all live quarry by 2025. But is a voluntary ban is enough? And what are the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) doing to monitor and manage the problem?
It can be a real treat to watch a meteor shower in the night sky and you can consider yourself lucky if you get to witness a fireball streaking through the atmosphere. But what the scientists in the Global Fireball Observatory really want is to find these fist-sized extra-terrestrial meteoroids where they land on Earth. One of the Fireball UK Network’s leaders, Luke Daly at the University of Glasgow, explains how, if we know where in the Solar system these rocks came from and we can analyse their make-up, we can learn a lot about how our Solar System was made. However surprising few of the 5000 tonnes of meteorites that land on our planet every year are retrieved. Most are sand-sized grains and many fall in the sea. But even tracking down these precious rocks on land is extremely difficult. So the Network has a suite of cameras watching the sky, and together with some clever number-crunching algorithms, they can track these events and narrow down where to search. But they still need the good citizens of Britain to help find them. If you want to get involved (and this is a good one for schools to take part in) email UKFM@Imperial.ac.uk or follow @fireballsUK on Twitter.
We are fast learning that elements at the nanoscale have vastly different properties than they do in the form we can observe them. It’s proving to be a rich field for changing the properties of materials, and inventing new substances that might be of use in medicines, in electronics, and much more. Inside Science’s Maddie Finlay went to meet Stephen Evans from the University of Leeds, where they have been tinkering with a substance that definitely doesn’t glister even though it’s gold.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
The Big Compost Experiment; Using AI to screen for new antibiotics; Science of slapstick
Composters - we need you! Or rather materials scientists at UCL, Mark Miodownik and Danielle Purkiss, need you to take part in their Big Compost Experiment. Launched back in November, the team asked members of the public to fill in an online questionnaire about their composting and recycling habits. With special reference to plastic packaging labelled as 'compostable', they want you to see whether your compost bin at home can break down these products. Despite starting in the coldest season, where compost production really slows down, they've had some success. To take part, go to https://www.bigcompostexperiment.org.uk/
One particular infectious disease (Covid-19) is dominating the headlines, but it's by no means the only one we should be concerned about. There's an infectious disease crisis that is longstanding, and one of the most significant threats to global health. It’s the on-going antibiotic resistant crisis. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria evolve resistance very quickly, and because of overuse of antibiotics, we’ve effectively driven the evolution of many disease causing bacteria to be resistant to our best antibiotics, thus rendering them redundant as drugs. On top of that, we haven’t found any new classes of antibiotics for many years. And the cost of developing new drugs is very high – billions, and the financial incentive for developing antibiotics is low. So this is a perfect storm. A new study this week shows a glimmer of light in the quest to find new antibiotics, via artificial intelligence. Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, explains how the new drug Halicin was found and the promise it holds as a new antibiotic.
Slapstick is one of the most universally appreciated comedy styles. The physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr Bean so popular has transfixed and entertained generations. But how has it endured the test of time? Why do we enjoy seeing characters in pain? Or is it something deeper rooted that it tells us about the human condition? Laughter is a social action – we do it to show we understand a joke and to signal to people that we get along with them. 'Told By An Idiot' is a theatre company exploring the divide between comedy and tragedy who are currently performing a slapstick style show about the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had been his understudy. Hannah Fisher has been to see the show.
Producer - Fiona Roberts