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01/03/2012

Scientists have discovered how a type of worm appears to be able to 'live forever'; What scientists know about the Schmallenberg virus; Historical climatology and space archaeology

Immortality – in worms!
A paper has just been published detailing a type of worm that is able to avoid the aging process, and therefore, presumably, live forever – although as the researchers will admit it is hard to test that claim when we only have finite lives ourselves! Dr Aziz Aboobaker from the University of Nottingham in the UK has been working with planarian worms, one type of which reproduces asexually, they do not need two parents to make an offspring, they just split in two, and seem to regenerate forever. So does this mean human immortality is just around the corner? We spoke to Dr Aboobaker in the lab, where he was in the middle of running another experiment. He told us the worms are unique.

Schmallenberg virus
Farmers in Northern Europe are on alert, as a new disease seems to be spreading amongst sheep flocks. Schmallenberg virus first appeared in Germany, and has spread to the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the UK. There is no cure or vaccine for the Schmallenberg virus, and it has the potential to affect cattle and goats too. It seems to attack the nervous system and leads to stillbirths, or deformities. Professor John Fazekerley, the Director of the Institute of Animal Health, in the UK, explained that there is still some really basic science to be done in increasing our understanding of the virus.

Ancient Baghdad weather
When we look to the future, we often rely on information from the past. Extrapolating forward from historical records can give us an idea of what to expect. Climate records can give us a baseline when we are trying to understand what is happening at the moment. Unfortunately accurate records have not been kept for very long. Our ancient ancestors did not deploy weather stations, so climate scientists use things like tree rings or ice cores, so called paleoclimatology. Now scientists are finding that they can use documents kept by ancient civilisations and in this month’s magazine Weather they report doing that in Iraq, giving them information going back 1,000 years. Our BBC environment correspondent Richard Black has been following this.

Space archaeology
Sometimes all traces of ancient civilisations are lost to us, along with everything we can learn from them. But the latest technology is helping to uncover remains of tombs, settlements, and even Egyptian pyramids. Professor Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist from the University of Alabama spoke at a meeting of some of the biggest names in science, technology and design, known as TED in California this week and took the time to meet up with Science in Action.

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Sun 4 Mar 2012 00:32GMT

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