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Rinderpest destruction, Noise and birdsong, Science as entertainment

Dr Adam Rutherford and guests on the recent destruction of Rinderpest virus stocks, a study showing how noise confuses songbirds, and a tickle of BBC2's The Family Brain Games.

Rinderpest – Sequence and Destroy
Last week the UK’s Pirbright Institute announced that it had destroyed its remaining stocks of the deadly cattle virus Rinderpest. This repository was one of the biggest remaining stores of it since it was announced in 2011 that vaccines had eradicated it in the wild. Dr Michael Baron, amongst others, has been arguing for years that because we can now obtain a full sequence of such viruses, we no longer need to run the risk of such scientific samples ever being released, through accident or malice. As such, for Pirbright at least, the rinderpest virus that once killed millions of cattle and starved similar numbers of humans now only exists as a digital memory.

Oi, You Singin' at My Bird?
The delightful song of the European Robin is actually a fierce territorial warning between males that functions to avoid costly mismatched conflict. In fact, the complexity of the song seems to represent the fitness of the singer. Gareth Arnott of Queen’s University in Belfast talks about his investigation into whether noise – including anthropogenic noise interferes with this life-or-death conversation. It sounds like it does.

Science as Entertainment
All this week and next BBC2 is hosting a new programme called The Family Brain Games. The games are designed not to test merely general knowledge or conventional measures of IQ, but rather a functional, communicative sort of intelligence that competing families display amongst themselves as a team. But can this sort of nuanced science be properly communicated on TV? Host Dara Ó Briain and neuroscientist Prof Sophie Scott discuss the ins and outs of making science entertaining.

Presenter: Adam Rutherford
Producer: Alex Mansfield

Available now

36 minutes