Series 2: Prog 8: 25/05/08

Adam Walton visits a newly-formed research institute in Aberystwyth which is tackling some major global issues: climate change, disease, land use and feeding the world's ever-expanding population.

Sunday 25th May at 5.03pm

(Repeated Wednesday 28th May at 9.30pm)

This week the Science Cafe is on the road as Adam visits a research and teaching institute in Aberystwyth which is aiming to become a key player in tackling some of the major global issues of the 21st century: climate change, disease, sustainable land use and feeding the world's ever-expanding population. The newly created Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is the UK's largest group of scientists and support staff working in this discipline.

Feeding the World

Providing enough food for the planet's population has always been a key challenge but in the last few months it's become front page news as food riots and protests over the price of rice have broken out in Egypt, Mauritania, Bangladesh and several other countries. Similarly, terrible natural disasters like Cyclone Nargis in Burma have long-term effects on local food and water supplies. Adam meets the Institute's Director, Prof. Wayne Powell to find out how research at IBERS could provide solutions to these problems.

Fuel From Grass

Another key issue at the moment is the cost of fuel. As the price of petrol and diesel rockets to an all-time high there's renewed interest in biofuels. At IBERS researchers are investigating the feasibility of a biofuel derived from the humble perennial ryegrass. Across the world there's a lot of interest in biofuels derived from maize but the team at Aberystwyth believe that ryegrass is a far better option because it can be grown on land that's not suitable for food crops. Adam talks to Dr Ian Donnison who leads the research team.

Defeating a Killer Disease

Adam also meets Karl Hoffmann, Professor of Parasitology at IBERS who's developing a vaccine for a disease which infects around 200 million people across the world at any given time and which causes an estimated 200 000 deaths every year. The disease is caused by a parasitic worm and its called schistosomiasis. Prof. Hoffmann's work is focusing on the proteins which are released by the parasite's larvae as they burrow through human skin.

Ancient Buttercups

Adam's meets his final guest this week in a field full of buttercups. Dr. John Warren is a plant ecologist who's asking the public to count the number of petals on buttercups in their local meadows. The creeping buttercup can reproduce vegetatively with one plant growing as an offshoot of another. This means that in well-established meadows some plants can trace their 'lineage' back several hundred years. But as they get older mutations begin to appear and the number of petals on each flower varies from the usual five. John's Great British Buttercup Survey involves counting the number of petals on a hundred creeping buttercup flowers and e-mailing him the results.



The Great British Buttercup Survey

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