Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth.
Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19 around China and beyond.
Dr Catherine Nakalembe, of the University of Maryland and East Africa Lead for NASA Harvest explains how she uses data collected by satellites to find out where crops are thriving and where they are not. She also talks about how this technology can alert countries to approaching locust swarms.
And Professor Moriba Jah of University of Texas at Austin, tells Roland why he’s concerned about the amount of space junk that’s orbiting the earth and why so little is being done about controlling satellite launch and disposal.
A lovely day out in the countryside can be blighted when swarms of midges or mosquitos invite themselves to the party. A CrowdScience listener in New Zealand has noticed that, when sand-flies come a-biting, she and her daughter are targeted, while her husband and other daughter escape unharmed. She wants to know why some, but not all of her family become bait for insect bites. CrowdScience delves into a world of smells, called semiochemistry, which explores the aromas one animal uses to attract or repel another. Does our attractiveness as a blood meal to insects come down to what we wear, what we’ve eaten or is it all in our genes? Host Marnie Chesterton discards the DEET and bravely offers herself up as a meal for mozzies, in a quest for answers.
(Image: Artist response to NASA Harvest discussion at AAAS Credit: Lorenzo Palloni)
CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself.
And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise drug targeting and potentially save lives.
We also look at how social science is helping to improve the health of people reliant on woodstoves for cooking, and we unearth a huge impact crater hidden in plain sight.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Many of us will at some point in our lives be confronted with the disease – either by falling ill ourselves or through a family member or friend. For CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton, the diagnosis would change her life.
The range of cancer symptoms and mortality rates vary considerably. Not all cancers are fatal and in some cases, cancer ends up more like a chronic debilitating disease, resulting in patients eventually dying from some other condition. This has got listener Gill in Scotland wondering – why do we call all cancers, cancer? And when did doctors first realise that all cancers are part of the same problem?
First described by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and later coined by the Greek physician Hippocrates as “karninos”, the Greek word for “crab”, cancer is ominously absent from medical literature until the late 19th century. Throughout history it has puzzled, infuriated and enticed doctors and scientists to push medical science to its breaking point. Archaeologists have recently discovered that the ancient Egyptians had a term for cancer and that remedies they used then contain compounds that are found in modern chemotherapy.
As we uncover the science and history of cancer, presenter Marnie Chesterton takes us on a journey through her own experience of living with and beyond the diagnosis and we examine the promise of future treatments.
Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material.
East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather pattern across the Indian Ocean, made more extreme by climate change, links the rains in Africa with the heatwave in Australia.
New features of The Northern Lights have been discovered thanks to an analysis of photos on Facebook by physicists in Finland. Amateur sky watchers pictures reveal previously unnoticed forms in the light display.
And we look at the search for properties of sub atomic particles, why a small device might be better than the enormous ones used so far.
Today, once-fatal diseases like the plague, sepsis, or cholera can be treated simply and quickly with a pill. These tiny tablets hold compounds that can fix illnesses, and most people don’t think twice about taking an asparin for a headache.
Modern medicine looks nothing like the plants that many of them are derived from. But there must have been a moment, when the first humans decided that a particular plant, fungus, or mineral might cure them of an upset stomach, or infected wound. Right? That’s what listener Andrew Chen wondered, so he emailed CrowdScience to find answers.
Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with an archaeologist, a botanist, an ethno-pharmacologist, a zoologist and a historian to uncover the story of early human experimentation with ‘drugs’ from plants, fungi, animals and minerals.
The history of humans is full of illness and poor health, and it seems we’ve always tried to fix this. Anand discovers the connection between food and medicine while making tonic water from scratch with Kim Walker at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, and tastes the daisy-like Chinese herb that was first used thousands of years ago, and then – once tested - became one of the best modern drugs for treating the world’s most deadly infectious disease.
Listener Andrew’s inspiration came from a previous episode of CrowdScience ‘Who were the first farmers?’ and so we return to expert anthropologist Cheryl Makerewicz who tells us about the ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers and pastoralist communities. With Jaap de Roode, Anand discovers that conscious thought isn’t a pre-requisite of medical discovery, and historian Vivienne Lo explains how written word helped to standardise generations of medical knowledge in East Asia. Previously medical knowledge had been irrevocably linked with shamanism, magic and spirituality, but with modern medicine this changed – but today there is still much we can learn from ancient forms of knowledge, Christophe Wiart explains how his science focuses of discovering what plants tribal people in east Asia have used for centuries to cure their ailments. These early methods may help us combat new diseases today.
(Image: Scientists are at work as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Understanding the Wuhan coronavirus
Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus.
We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available.
We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine hi-tech solutions designed to speed up the process of drug development.
And CrowdScience heads to Freetown, Sierra Leone for a panel debate in front of a live audience to answer listener questions about how artificial intelligence is helping tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Anand Jagatia is joined by regional science experts to explore how robots, drones and big data are transforming sectors such as agriculture, health and governance. Could clever machines help eradicate invasive species? Will block chain IDs eventually replace physical documents? And while this technology is heralded as a force for change we’ll ask whether fears of an AI takeover are unfounded?
(Image: Medical staff member helps a couple at a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread.
Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the outbreak. This week’s edition is very much a snapshot of what we know or knew about this virus on the afternoon of Thursday January 23rd 2020.
Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event.
Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time, as we’ve heard before on CrowdScience. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist. So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed?
Presenter Marnie Chesterton finds out by meeting experts who are already preparing for the remote but real possibility of the biggest disaster we could face. It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies. How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface? Marnie heads into an underground bunker near the remote Scottish coast to find out if hiding out is a viable survival option. Now a museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, formerly RAF Troywood, is one of a network of nuclear shelters built by nation states during the Cold War. And she hears about one of the combined space agencies most ambitious projects yet: NASA and ESA’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission to crash an impactor into an asteroid’s moon to find out whether we could knock any potentially problematic collisions off-course well before Earth impact.
(Image: Wuhan Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market. Credit: Getty Images)