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Science
LEADING EDGE
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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Leading Edge brings you the latest news from the world of science. Geoff Watts celebrates discoveries as soon as they're being talked about - on the internet, in coffee rooms and bars; often before they're published in journals. And he gets to grips with not just the science, but with the controversies and conversation that surround it.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 5 December
PRESENTER
GEOFF WATTS
Geoff Watts
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Thursday 5 December 2002
Zebras

The ‘Zebranet’

Do zebras in the African bush have a pattern of migration or do they just move around in a random fashion across the year? Tracking animals’ precise movements and understanding how they behave as a community in the field are key questions for Zoologists and Conservations trying safeguard the habitats of wild animals in Africa. But their shy nature and sheer numbers makes them notoriously difficult to study.

To make this task a little easier, scientists at Princeton University in the United States have come up with Zebranet – a radio collar which not only collects information on the wearer’s movements but also spies on the movements of it’s collar-wearing neighbours. In the first ever trial of the Zebranet next year in Kenya, twenty five zebras will be fitted with collars in the wild. When two collar-wearing zebras cross paths, that encounter is registered in the collars by mutual radio communication. As the zebra moves around, the collar is able to memorise each and every encounter it has with other zebras. It also tracks the zebra’s position via global position satellites.

What’s most ingenious about the zebranet collar is that it can spy on its neighbours. Not only does the encounter get logged in the wearer’s collar, it can also pick up historical information on what zebras in it’s path have been up to - where they’ve been, who with and how often. So, as the zebras roam about the landscape a complete history of their different encounters is built up in the memories of each collar. So, rather than having to track each animal in the group, the collars of just one or two animals will give the zoologist information on the social networking of the entire group. It’s just a question of dialling into the collar and downloading the stored information.

Before putting the Zebranet to the test on the zebra in Africa, Geoff Watts met up with Zoologist Dan Rubenstein who’s about to test-drive it on its tamer cousin, the horse. Dan also plans to track the elusive movements of nocturnal animals like the Hyena, which only emerges from its burrow after dark. And in the future, by adding motion sensors to the collar, he hopes to eavesdrop on their dietary habits, by recording when an animal stoops its head to eat and drink.

Mouse Genome Sequenced

Scientists in the publicly funded Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium have nearly pieced together the entire 2.5 billion chemical 'letters' of the mouse genetic code. Geoff Watts finds out why an animal that’s so apparently different from us on the outside is so critical to understanding the nature of human disease.

A new approach to tackling TB

International public health experts met in London this week to brief parliamentarians on the worsening tuberculosis situation in Britain -- TB rates are skyrocketing in some London boroughs and exceed levels in parts of the third world. Geoff Watts talks to Scientist John McKinney who’s studying the disease to come up with a better way of tackling the disease.

What's the future for Science and TV Drama?

Like every profession these days, science takes PR seriously. It usesfestivals, popular books and public lectures to get the message across that physics is fun. The organisation Euro PAWS (Public Awareness of Science), is a Europe-wide organisation promoting science to the public. Recently it’s been exploring television drama as a medium to promote a positive image of science. Leading Edge Reporter, Ali Ayres, went along to their recent meeting in London, which brought together TV script writers, producers, directors and scientistswith the purpose of generating new ideas for science-based TV drama. Is science drama too dry for today’s television audiences, or can it draw them to the edge of their seats?
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