Are biofuels the hope of the future or another threat? A visit to the Millennium Seed Bank. Doubts over Thailand’s HIV vaccine. Chimps display their culture. And why surfing the net is good for you.
BIOFUELS – THE HIDDEN COST
Running your car on fuel made from sugar cane and maize looks like a good idea in principle. Biofuels were supposed to save both the world economy when oil ran out and the environment because they are carbon neutral. But as pristine rainforest was cleared to make way for new crops, doubts began to emerge. A United Nations report warned that we have to consider the hidden ecological impact of biofuels and now scientific research reveals that indirect hazards could affect biodiversity and global food security and lead to huge rises in greenhouse gas emission. Jon talks with Jerry Melillo, senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who fears that biofuel production could double the amount of land under cultivation and warns about the impact of nitrogen oxide on the climate.
MILLENNIUM SEED BANK – SAVING THE SPECIES
Amid widespread worries about biodiversity, a wild pink banana became the 24,000th species to get a spot in the Millennium Seed Bank run by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The project, involving 54 countries, has now banked 10 per cent of the world’s wild plant species and aims to reach 25 per cent by 2020. Martin Redfern from our science team meets the scientists racing to collect and safely store our botanical heritage.
HIV VACCINE – SOME HOPE
The results of an in-depth review of the biggest HIV vaccine trial were revealed at a conference in Paris this week. But although it has been shown to have a modest effect – protecting a third of recipients in Thailand – doubts about the shot remain. BBC science reporter Matt McGrath dropped by the Science in Action studio to explain the lingering reservations and why immunisation is still years away, and may never emerge at all.
CHIMP CULTURE & THE HONEY TRAP
In the Budongo and Kibale forests of Uganda, two related troupes of chimpanzees have been figuring out how to get at honey trapped in a fallen log left by researchers. The Kibale chimps use sticks, as they do when reaching for hard-to-get water, while the Budongos use sponges made from chewed leaves. University of St Andrews’ doctoral candidate Thibaud Gruber describes a day in search of primate culture in Uganda while his colleague, Professor Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard and author of 'Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human', tells Jon how this research ties in with our own evolution.
For those of you who spend far too much time surfing the internet, some good news at last. You haven't been wasting your time after all. A study presented to the Society for Neuroscience found that, at least in older adults with no experience of the internet, spending time online – exploring Wikipedia or simply using a social networking site – boosts brain function. Dr Gary Small from the University of California was in the BBC Los Angeles studio to tell us more.