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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 2 November
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 2 November 2006
The Bird Island Research Station (plus seal) (credit: British Antarctic Survey)
The Bird Island Research Station, South Georgia (credit: British Antarctic Survey)

Pathogen evolution

Scientists have hit upon a cheap and easy screening method to rapidly identify the genes that enable pathogenic bacteria to evade immunity in animal species, from insects to humans. This has implications for vaccinations and treatments as well as biopesticides.

It’s estimated that insects have been around for almost 400 million years, allowing plenty of time for them to evolve into the millions of different species we see today. It’s also allowed the bacterial pathogens that infect them to evolve more and more different ways of doing this.

Molecular biologist at the Univerity of Bath, Dr. Nick Waterfield and Richard ffrench-Constant, Professor of Molecular Natural History at University of Exeter, explain to Quentin how they’ve found the particular pathogenic genes that are actively involved in infection.

By observing which genes of the pathogen Photorhabidus are involved in infecting Tobacco Hawk Moth caterpillars, they have isolated the ‘virulence factors’ which appear to be the same in many other pathogens.

It could provide clues into how, worryingly, pathogens can jump from one species to another, including to humans, as well as giving us some ideas about how to create effective vaccines.

Keeping cool

In the past, most household fridges used environmentally damaging chemicals, such as CFCs, as refrigerants. Although there are now replacement chemicals, the search is still on for better, more efficient ways to stay cool in the kitchen. Quentin hears about some of the latest ideas.

Keeping cool is something which occupies Graeme Maidment’s time. As Professor of Mechanical Engineering at London’s South Bank University he is researching energy efficiency, from keeping commuters’ cool on the London Underground to using the power of the sun to chill food.

William Ray is a Sustainable Energy Engineer for the British Antarctic Survey. He has just finished work on The Bird Island Research Station, where up to ten scientists live and work. With the average temperature at zero, reaching minus 20 at times, he has to ensure that the cold is kept outside.
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