This week’s programme presented by Adam Rutherford

Deadly wildfires have been raging in southern Europe for two weeks now, attracting media attention as they burn. This week, scientists have made some worrying predictions about how climate change is going to make the fires burn harder and further, more on that later. We spoke to some of the scientists that are trying to measure and control the spread of wildfires right now. One thing that doesn’t grab the headlines is that the effects of forest flames burning out of control are far more significant in the developing world.

We also talk to the researchers who have looked at the impact global climate change could have on the wildfire rate in the USA by 2050 – wildfires could double. Normally, the media covers the wildfires that ravage California, often threaten the homes of Hollywood stars, but the new data suggest that as climate change drives temperatures higher, so the frequency of wildfires will follow - with big consequences for the level of pollution caused.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the major breakthrough in the genetics of human disease. Cystic Fibrosis is a devastating condition that attacks the lungs and other parts of the body: it’s one of the most common genetic diseases, particularly in people of European descent. Studying CF families over generations had shown that it was probably caused by a single genetic fault in their DNA, but what that fault was remained a mystery. The struggle to discover the Cystic Fibrosis Gene had become a high stakes international race between top scientists.

The team that won was lead by Drs. Francis Collins and Lap-Chee Tsui in North America, and it was front page news. The discovery was heralded as opening the door for correcting the mistake in the DNA inside each affected cell in CF patients - the new medical science of Gene Therapy. The breakthrough promised much, but where are we now with Gene Therapy?

Studying DNA doesn’t just help us understand how we are built and how we can treat diseases, it also tells us about our deep past. And in this case we’re not even looking at human DNA. Barley has been one of the major sources of food throughout human history. A new study combining genetics with archaeology has revealed that an unusual type of barley was the mainstay of farming produce in a small region on the Nile for over 3000 years. And it could tell us something about the future of agriculture in a warming world.

Normally around the Nile, farmers have historically grown 6-row barley, that’s barley with 6 rows of seeds on its ear. What the archaeologists found was unusual, a now extinct, 2-row barley in the settlement – used by farmers from different cultures over 3000 years.

Some of the oldest and largest trees in Yosemite National Park in the US are vanishing. Species like the towering sequoias can be over 2000 years old – but they may not survive much longer.
The Yosemite area is one of the best protected forests, so the concern is that the problem could be even bigger elsewhere.

So who or what is to blame for the disappearances? To solve the mystery scientists are starting an ambitious project to tag every tree in one area of the forest – and to come back to and monitor them for generations.

They’re spending several weeks camped out deep in the park in California – Science in Action’s Jon Stewart donned his knapsack and joined them.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Sun 2 Aug 2009 03:32 GMT

Gravitational Waves

'Ripples' from black holes detected

Gravity and ripples in the fabric of space time - what do these mean for us?