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CCR5 Mutation Effects, The Surrey Earthquake Swarm, Animal Emotions

Dr Adam Rutherford discusses the pros and cons of a mutation in the CCR5 gene, the cause of earthquakes in Surrey, and emotions in animals with primatologist Frans de Waal.

Some people have a genetic mutation in a gene called CCR5 that seems to bestow immunity to a form of HIV. This is the mutation which controversial Chinese scientist Jianqui He tried to bestow upon two baby girls last year when he edited the genes in embryos and then implanted them in a mother. A paper in the journal Nature Medicine this week uses data from the UK Biobank to look at the long term health patterns associated with this gene variant. It suggests that whilst the HIV-1 immunity may be considered a positive, having two copies of the gene also comes with a cost. It seems that it may also lower our immunity to other diseases and shows in the database as a 21% increase in mortality overall. Author Rasmus Nielsen talks about how important this gene is to evolutionary biologists trying to find signs of natural selection in humans. Adam discusses the ethical implications of the research with Dr Helen O’Neill.

The Surrey Earthquake Swarm
Over the last year several small earthquakes have been detected in one part of Surrey. Many have surmised that these may be caused by oil drilling taking place nearby, but it might be simpler than that. So the British Geological Survey has been monitoring the region. Roland Pease joined Imperial College seismologist Steven Hicks out in the countryside inspecting his detectors to find out more.

Mama’s Last Hug
Frans de Waal, one of the world’s leading primatologists talks to Adam about his latest book, and the difficulties we as human observers have with studying emotion in animals. Prof de Waal coins a neologism ‘anthropodenialism’ to describe the belief that emotions in animals are incommensurable with human experience. He thinks most mammals, and certainly primates, experience pretty much the same emotions as we do, for similar reasons. Feelings, however, are a different matter.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

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38 minutes