Science Senior Correspondent Daniel Clery regales host Sarah Crespi with tales about the most important work to come from 57 years of research at the now-defunct Arecibo Observatory and plans for the future of the site.
Sarah also talks with Toman Barsbai, an associate professor in the school of economics at the University of Bristol, about the influence of ecology on human behavior—can we figure out how many of our behaviors are related to the different environments where we live? Barsbai and colleagues took on this question by comparing behaviors around finding food, reproduction, and social hierarchy in three groups of animals living in the same places: foraging humans, nonhuman mammals, and birds.
DNA clues point to how dire wolves went extinct, and a round-up of the main impacts of Brexit on science.
In this episode:
00:45 Dire wolf DNA
Dire wolves were huge predators that commonly roamed across North America before disappearing around 13,000 years ago. Despite the existence of a large number of dire wolf fossils, questions remain about why this species went extinct and how they relate to other wolf species. Now, using DNA and protein analysis, researchers are getting a better understanding of what happened to these extinct predators.
In December, a last minute trade-deal between the UK and EU clarified what the future relationship between the two regions would look like, after Brexit. We discuss the implications of this trade-deal for science funding, the movement of researchers, and data sharing.
Over the course of the pandemic, scientists have been monitoring emerging genetic changes to Sars-Cov-2. Mutations occur naturally as the virus replicates but if they confer an advantage – like being more transmissible – that variant of the virus may go on to proliferate.
This was the case with the ‘UK’ or B117 variant, which is about 50% more contagious and is rapidly spreading around the country. So how does genetic surveillance of the virus work? And what do we know about the new variants? Ian Sample speaks to Dr Jeffrey Barrett, the director of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, to find out Coronavirus – latest updates See all our coronavirus coverage.
Freelance journalist Gabriel Popkin and host Sarah Crespi discuss what will happen to ash trees in the United States as federal regulators announce dropping quarantine measures meant to control the emerald ash borer—a devastating pest that has killed tens of millions of trees since 2002.
Instead of quarantines, the government will use tiny wasps known to kill the invasive beetles in hopes of saving the ash. Sarah also talks with Pavel Chvykov, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about the principles for organizing active matter—things like ant bridges, bird flocks, or little swarms of robots.
We kick off our first episode of 2021 by looking at future trends in policy and research with host Meagan Cantwell and several Science news writers. Ann Gibbons talks about upcoming studies that elucidate social ties among ancient humans, Jeffrey Mervis discusses relations between the United States and China, and Paul Voosen gives a rundown of two Mars rover landings.
In research news, Meagan Cantwell talks with Leda Kobziar, an associate professor of wildland fire science at the University of Idaho, Moscow, about the living component of wildfire smoke—microbes. The bacteria and fungi that hitch a ride on smoke can impact both human health and ecosystems—but Kobziar says much more research is needed.
Our last episode of the year is a celebration of science in 2020. First, host Sarah Crespi talks with Online News Editor David Grimm about some of the top online news stories of the year—from how undertaker bees detect the dead to the first board game of death. (It’s not as grim as it sounds.)
Sarah then talks with Online News Editor Catherine Matacic about the Breakthrough of the Year, scientific breakdowns, and some of the runners-up—amazing accomplishments in science achieved in the face of a global pandemic. Finally, Book Review Editor Valerie Thompson joins Sarah to discuss highlights from the books section—on topics as varied as eating wild foods to how the materials we make end up shaping us.
A video game provides players with insights into pandemic responses, giant pandas and our annual festive fun.
In this episode:
01:02 Balancing responses in a video game pandemic
In the strategy video-game Plague Inc: The Cure, players assume the role of an omnipotent global health agency trying to tackle outbreaks of increasingly nasty pathogens. We find out how the game was developed, and how it might help change public perception of pandemic responses.
The first of our festive songs, we head back to July this year, and the launch of three separate space missions to the red planet. Scroll to the transcript section at the bottom of the page for the lyrics.
12:54 Research Highlights
Giant pandas roll in piles of poo to keep warm, and how different bread-baking styles have led to distinct lineages of baker’s yeast.
The field of psychology underwent a replication crisis and saw a sea change in scientific and publishing practices, could ecology be next? News Intern Cathleen O’Grady joins host Sarah Crespi to talk about the launch of a new society for ecologists looking to make the field more rigorous.
Sarah also talks with Andrew Storfer, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, Pullman, about the fate of the Tasmanian devil. Since the end of the last century, these carnivorous marsupials have been decimated by a transmissible facial tumor. Now, it looks like—despite many predictions of extinction—the devils may be turning a corner.
How water chemistry is shifting researchers’ thoughts on where life might have arisen, and a new model to tackle climate change equitably and economically.
In this episode:
00:46 A shallow start to life on Earth?
It’s long been thought that life on Earth first appeared in the oceans. However, the chemical complexities involved in creating biopolymers in water has led some scientists to speculate that shallow pools on land were actually the most likely location for early life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has massively shifted the scientific landscape, changing research and funding priorities across the world. While this shift was necessary for the development of things like vaccines, there are concerns that the ‘covidization’ of research could have long-term impacts on other areas of research.
The Hayabusa2 mission successfully delivers a tiny cargo of asteroid material back to Earth, and a team in China claims to have made the first definitive demonstration of computational ‘quantum advantage’.
Limiting carbon emissions is essential to tackling climate change. However, working out how to do this in a way that is fair to nations worldwide is notoriously difficult. Now, researchers have developed a model that gives some surprising insights in how to equitably limit carbon.
Staff Writer Meredith Wadman and host Sarah Crespi discuss what to expect from the two messenger RNA–based vaccines against COVID-19 that have recently released encouraging results from their phase III trials and the short-term side effects some recipients might see on the day of injection.
Sarah also talks with researcher Xing Chen, a project co-leader and postdoctoral scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, about using brain stimulation to restore vision. Researchers have known for about 70 years that electrical stimulation at certain points in the brain can lead to the appearance of a phosphene—a spot of light that appears not because there’s light there, but because of some other stimulation, like pressing on the eyeball. If electrical stimulation can make a little light appear, how about many lights? Can we think about phosphenes as pixels and draw a picture for the brain? How about a moving picture?