Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. We discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely.
Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. The lead scientist, Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London, talks about the discovery and what she hopes to explore when a satellite telescope called ARIEL is launched by ESA in around a decade.
The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the second most disabling neurological disorder in the world and in people under the age of 50, it is the single most disabling medical condition. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that so many listeners have got in touch wanting help with their headaches. Peter from Germany askes what happens in his brain when he’s got a migraine, whilst Nika from Germany has found that changing lifestyle has dramatically reduced hers but she’s not sure why. What’s the link between diet, exercise and migraines, Nika wonders? Meanwhile, Judy from USA wants to know if there’s a cure, as her son gets chronic migraines and she wants to know what the future looks like for him. We investigate some of the latest research in headache and migraine research to find some answers.
(Photo: A set of five embryo-like structures in a microfluidic device developed in the lab of Jianping Fu. Image credit: Fu Lab, Michigan Engineering)
New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Researchers ask people living in the area or nearby to send them samples of dust or soil before the radioactive clues therein decay beyond recognition. Also, a near miss between an ESA satellite and a SpaceX Starlink module in crowded near space strengthens the case for some sort of international Space Traffic Management treaty, whilst in the arctic circle, melting permafrost is disinterring the graves of long-dead whalers.
Sociable, lively, outgoing people are highly valued in certain cultures - think of the stereotype of the hyper-confident American. And there’s even evidence that extroverts all over the world tend to be happier. But are the positive qualities that quieter types can bring to society being ignored or under-appreciated? And couldn’t introverts be just as happy as extroverts, if only they lived in a more accepting culture? We probe the links between happiness, personality and culture, and find out what makes introverts happy.
(Photo:Tell-tale radioactive isotopes could still be in dust on cars near the site of the blast. Credit: Humonia/iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Nanotube computer says hello
A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s.
Satellites have transformed our lives, giving us digital communications, navigation and observations of Earth, and even an artificial place to live above the atmosphere: The International Space Station. But, would more of these satellites and stations help us get back to the Moon, as well as further into the solar system? What else would astronauts need for living beyond Earth? We ask the engineers working on the possibilities – from communications satellites that could transform lunar missions to a brand new moon-orbiting space station: The Lunar Gateway.
These technologies could help humans get back to the Moon, and perhaps one day to Mars, for hopefully reduced costs – but funding missions beyond our planet still isn’t going to be cheap. Why might we need deep space-based infrastructure, and how could it help humanity back here on Earth?
(Photo: The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)
Amazonian fires likely to worsen
As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, new pictures back from the surface of asteroid Ryugu thanks to Germany’s MASCOT lander, part of the Japanese Hyabusa2 mission, give insights into the clay from which the solar system was originally formed, and Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers.
Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to carry out certain tasks, from hanging out the washing to writing a job application. How can we best motivate ourselves? And how can we avoid procrastination? Listener Moses in Uganda wants to find out. Anand Jagatia puts science to the test as he trains and participates in an open water swimming race which Marnie Chesterton has kindly volunteered him for.
(Photo: Wildfires in Amazon rainforest. Credit: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future.
Wyoming Dinosaur trove
The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere in the US which scientists reckon could keep them busy for many years. Jon Amos got to have a tour and even found out a tasty technique to tell a fossil from a rock.
Researchers at Cornell University’s Carla Sagan Institute report their work thinking about detecting alien life on distant planets orbiting other stars. Around 75% of stars are of a type that emits far more dangerous UV than our own sun. What, they argue, would a type of life that could survive that look like to us? Well, just maybe it would act like some of our own terrestrial corals, who can protect their symbiotic algae from UV, and in doing so, emit visible light. Could such an emission be detectable, in sync with dangerous emergent UV flares around distant suns? The next generation of large telescopes maybe could…
Jinsoo Kim and David Perry of Harvard University tell reporter Giulia Barbareschi about their new design for a soft exosuit that helps users to walk and, crucially also to run. They suggest the metabolic savings the suit could offer have numerous future applications for work and play.
Listeners Mark and Jess have been watching TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. It's an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood and depicts a dystopian future where many have become infertile. The remaining few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced into child-bearing servitude. Why so many have become infertile isn’t clear but the series hints at several possible causes, from radiation to environmental pollutants.
All of which got Mark and Jess wondering… What could cause mass infertility? Would we descend into a political landscape akin to Gilead? Award-winning author Margaret Atwood has left a paper trail for us to follow in the pages of her novel. There’s a ream of possible causes, and so Marnie Chesterton investigates which ring true.
(Photo: Volcano Anak Krakatoa. Credit: Drone Pilot, Muhammad Edo Marshal, ITB university in Bandung, Indonesia)