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  • 259. New human cases of bird flu; Sail away to Alpha Centauri; Sea slugs hunt in packs

    #259More people in the US are getting bird flu. Though numbers are small – just five new cases, all mild – every new case is a reason for concern. How and why is it being transmitted – and how is it being monitored?What if you could make a sailboat that’s pushed not by wind, but lasers? Breakthrough Starshot is a mission attempting to send a spacecraft to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, using such a lightsail. While lightsail designs have been too expensive and unworkable so far, a new prototype is looking promising.Climate change is threatening a key part of the global climate system. The Atlantic Meridional Ocean Circulation (AMOC) system transports heat and salinity between the tropics and the poles. Scientists have ongoing concerns about its stability, but it’s now showing signs of potential collapse much sooner than expected. And if it does shut down, the knock-on effects would be drastic.What makes a planet a planet? Defining this is what knocked Pluto off planetary status, but now one researcher has proposed a new set of criteria. Is the new method useful – and does it change which objects are considered planets?Believe it or not – sea slugs hunt in packs. A species of sea slug has been seen ganging up on brown sea anemones to avoid its poisonous tentacles. How are they capable of teaming up like this?Hosts Rowan Hooper and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Grace Wade, Alex Wilkins, Madeleine Cuff and Sophie Bushwick.To read more about these stories, visit

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  • 258. Woolly mammoth jerky; Google simulates the origin of life; food without farming

    #258Fancy a bite of woolly mammoth jerky? A beef-jerky-like fossil of this prehistoric creature has been discovered – a metre-long piece of skin still covered in hair. And the most amazing thing is that the entire genome has remained intact, giving more insight into these creatures than ever before. Could this help bring woolly mammoths back to life?There is a way to make butter not from cows, not from vegetable oils or even microbes, but from pure carbon. And if you want a climate friendly way of producing a delicious spreadable fat, this may just be it. A company called Savor is using a process that can convert captured CO2 or natural gas into fatty acids. The origin of life is a huge scientific mystery: how can something so complex emerge from inert and random molecules? Well, Google has created a simulation to figure this out. The company has used computer code to recreate the random ‘primordial soup’ of early Earth, with results that might baffle you. When mammals breastfeed, calcium is stripped from their bones to make the milk, but their bones don’t get significantly weaker. How does that work? Well, a new, bone-strengthening hormone found in mice may have finally solved the long-standing mystery – and could benefit human health.Plus: How our pupils change size with every breath; how cosmic rays could help protect financial markets; and how ancient Denisovan DNA may have helped the people of Papua New Guinea adapt to their environment.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Corryn Wetzel, Madeleine Cuff, Matthew Sparkes and Grace Wade.To read more about these stories, visit
  • 257. World’s Oldest Ritual; Quantum Wi-Fi; Report from the Arctic

    #257Two extraordinary findings have been unearthed about our ancient ancestors. The first is a discovery from a cave in Australia – evidence of what could be the world’s oldest ritual, practised continuously for 12,000 years. And the second is the discovery that the world’s oldest evidence of storytelling may be even older than we thought.We may be able to mine for nickel using flowers. The method is much more sustainable than traditional mining and is actually being used by some companies. Is it enough to turn mining green?Quantum communication is going wireless. The new chip responsible for this quantum Wi-Fi is a huge step forward for the technology and could speed up the creation of safer, unhackable internet networks.From onboard a kayak roaming the Arctic Ocean, Rowan Hooper brings a report from his trip to Svalbard, where he saw first-hand the retreating glaciers that have been melting rapidly due to climate change. As these glaciers disappear, soil is being exposed for the first time. What impact is this having on the landscape? Rowan speaks to arctic biogeochemist James Bradley of Queen Mary University, London.Plus: The first non-human animal to perform medical amputations; giving the moon a time-zone; and how eggshells can help regrow broken bones.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests James Woodford, James Dinneen, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Rowan Hooper and James Bradley.To read more about these stories, visit
  • 256. Even more powerful gene editing than CRISPR; first moon samples from the far side; dangerous new mpox

    #256A new gene editing technique may be more powerful than CRISPR. Bridge editing is still in its infancy, but could be revolutionary for its ability to more specifically target gene substitutions. This method of altering DNA may let us create single treatments for gene mutations across large groups of people – something even CRISPR can’t do.China’s Chang’e 6 spacecraft has returned to Earth with samples from the far side of the moon – the first ever. Hear what the samples may tell us about this hard-to-study part of the lunar surface, plus what China is planning for its next big exploration missions.A dangerous new strain of mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, has been identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A thousand cases have been reported since September and several hundred people have died. What makes this strain so dangerous and can it be kept under control?A fossil has been discovered that is thought to be a Neanderthal child who had Down’s syndrome. It’s estimated the child lived to at least 6 years old and may have received extra care from the community – more evidence that Neanderthals weren’t as brutish and unfeeling as thought.Plus: The kind of paper that’s most likely to give you a papercut; AI being trained to perform elegant chess moves; a creepy robot made with human skinHosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Michael Le Page, Leah Crane, Alexandra Thompson and Chris Simms.To read more about these stories, visit
  • 255. Why some people never get covid-19; Chimps using herbal medicines; Largest ever Maxwell’s demon

    #255Why do some people seem to be naturally immune to covid-19? We may finally have the answer and it’s to do with differences in the way immune cells function. Will the finding help us predict who’s immune and who isn’t – and more?Artificial intelligence is being used to tackle the problem of clearing mines from enormous swaths of Ukraine. Russia has scattered vast amounts of ordinance across Ukraine, tearing up agricultural land and leaving behind chemical contamination. The clean-up operation could take 700 years to complete in total. AI is helping Ukraine to work out where to start.Chimpanzees are herbal medicine enthusiasts: when sick, they seem to seek out specific plants. But how effective are the plants they’re swallowing at actually dealing with illness? Wild chimps in Uganda’s Budongo Forest are helping researchers to understand the practice.Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment that involves a tiny imp, was once thought to disprove the second law of thermodynamics. Now researchers have built a real-life Maxwell’s demon that is not only the largest of its kind so far but could be used to discover new drugs and clean CO2 from the air.Plus: Leeches can jump and we’ve finally seen them do it; why cashew nuts could help us decarbonise shipping; and do the methane seas of Saturn's moon Titan have waves that erode their shorelines?Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Alexandra Thompson, Matthew Sparkes, Sam Wong and Alex Wilkins.To read more about these stories, visit
  • 254. Elephants have names for each other; conspiracies and doppelgangers with Naomi Klein; an ancient galactic weather report

    We know elephants are smart, but it seems we’ve only scratched the surface in understanding their intelligence. It turns out African elephants seem to have unique names for each other – maybe even nicknames. If it’s true, humans would no longer be alone in this practice. A team has been analysing their rumbly greeting calls using AI. Is this a hint that we’ve been wrong about other animals, too?It’s a weather report like no other: two to three million years ago, the protective bubble called the heliosphere that surrounds the sun and the planets crashed into a galactic cloud. This left Earth exposed to the radioactive particles of interstellar space for as long as ten thousand years. And it could even have impacted evolution.Naomi Klein won the Women’s Prize for nonfiction this week for her book Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World. Rowan Hooper speaks to Naomi following the win, as the pair dig into the strange confluence of the alt-right and wellness influencers, why conspiracy theories have become so widespread and how grifters and charlatans are exploiting the uncertain times we live in.Astronauts have been sending biological samples like blood and faeces to a new space “biobank”. It’s all in an effort to better understand the impact of space travel on human health. As a bonus, read Clare’s story on the ‘vomit comet’ here.And if you’ve ever completed a game of New Super Mario Bros. – congratulations, you’re smarter than a supercomputer. A new study shows supercomputers don’t just find it hard to analyse the game, but actually impossible. But why?Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Michael Le Page, James Woodford, Clare Wilson and Matthew Sparkes.To read more about these stories, visit to New Scientist CoLab here:
  • 253. Why we should drill a massive hole in the moon; banning fossil fuel advertising; how to stop being lonely

    #253The moon may hold the answer to a decades-long physics conundrum – all we need to do is drill several kilometres into its surface. For years, physicists have been searching for protons that fall apart or decay into other particles, but they’ve always come up empty handed. So why do they think they might find them on the moon? A new update on the state of the world’s climate has not brought cheery news. A report looking at 2023 has revealed the world is warming at a record rate – with estimates suggesting we may blow past our 1.5oC temperature goals in just five years. As the UN Secretary General calls for urgent action, we hear about calls to ban fossil fuel advertising, just as ads for smoking were banned in the past. If you ever feel lonely… you’re not alone. Social connections are hugely beneficial for our health. But many of us aren’t reaping their full therapeutic benefits, often due to our own misconceptions about social situations. But researchers are on the case, with simple tools and tricks to help us connect better to other people. David Robson shares some actionable tips, as he discusses his new book The Laws of Connection: The Scientific Secrets of Building a Strong Social Network.Five children born deaf have gained the ability to hear in both ears after receiving a new gene therapy. The groundbreaking treatment targets a gene called otoferlin, which is defective in some people with deafness – and the results are very encouraging.It’s been uncovered that as many as 1 in 6 people who come off antidepressants end up with severe withdrawal symptoms, like mood swings, anxiety and headaches. Why a better understanding of these symptoms could help people make more informed choices about their use and how to safely stop.Plus: Boeing launches its Starliner capsule to the International Space Station with two Nasa astronauts aboard; and SpaceX’s performs its fourth test launch of Starship – the largest rocket ever built.Hosts Rowan Hooper and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Alex Wilkins, Madeleine Cuff, Michael Le Page and Clare Wilson.To read more about these stories, visit Clare Wilson’s award-winning story about DNA testing here: