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12/06/2009

Duration:
27 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 13 June 2009

Ask people what is the biggest challenge humanity will face in the future and you’ll often get the answer ‘climate change’. But some researchers believe there could be another threat – just as large – and that is, antibiotic resistance. The pills and jabs we rely on to fight relatively common diseases are becoming less effective as the bacteria which cause them develop resistance to antibiotics we’ve relied on for decades. This could mean a huge backwards step for medicine. Research in UK has just shown a new way to kill bacteria – a molecule grown in the lab, which targets DNA and kills bacteria cells. It’s completely different to the way that conventional antibiotics work. We find out if it can help the global fight against antibiotic resistance.

Sometimes science really does demand action and some researchers have to go to extremes to get data - drilling an ice core in the Greenland ice cap for example. We hear about new research which is gathering more information about what’s happening to Nitrogen in our atmosphere. As we so often hear, burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. But it can also increase the releasing of nitric oxides into the air which can lead to smog and acid rain. The ice cores are a bit like a fingerprint of what the atmosphere was like around them when the ice was formed and is a clever new way to figure out how levels of emissions are changing.

The cactus, wonderfully adapted to arid areas, important to local peoples, but scientist fear they are suffering badly from human activities. The problem is we do not know how big the threat is. The Global Cactus Assessment aims to change that. It’s been underway for a year now, and the researchers behind it have just held their first workshop and tell us what they have found out.

Storms out at sea are causing the Earth to vibrate to such an extent that it can be picked up by sensors designed as Earthquake detectors. Traditionally these vibrations have been seen as a nuisance by scientists trying to study earthquakes, because they obscure the signals they’re looking for. Now scientists have realised that they could be a very useful source of information – telling us more about storms out at sea and helping increase our understanding of the climate.

That noise from crashing waves might only be detectable by earthquake monitoring equipment, but there other sources of sound underwater that can be a lot more obvious. Human activities again – this time from the oil and gas industry – might be affecting the behaviour of sperm whales. Scientists are trying to work out to what extent. They focused on foraging behaviour, as looking for food occupies around 75 per cent of the time of sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

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