BBC Inside Science
Lab origin theory of SARS-Cov2; gene for obesity; dark matter map; rock art in Scotland
Thursday, 3 June
Sars Cov2, as the Covid19 coronavirus is called, probably began as the vast majority of new diseases do, when an animal virus infected a person – perhaps in a market or farm. There’s a large animal market in the city of Wuhan that sold wild as well as farmed animals, and studies have shown that different species of animals can infect each other with coronaviruses on their journey to market. But there’s also a possibility that the virus originated in one of two government laboratories in Wuhan. After all, we know that other viruses have escaped from labs, including the original Sars virus, which escaped multiple times from different Asian labs. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, discusses with Gaia Vince why the lab leak theory is again in the news.
We know that obesity runs in families but because parents and children live in the same environment and eat the same food it is difficult to tease out how much of this relationship is inherited genetically. Researchers at Cambridge University have been working with the Children of the 90s cohort of people based in Bristol, and they’ve have found that a mutation in a single gene drives obesity in some families. The gene in question is called MC4R. Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, who is one of the researchers, explains that the mutation is remarkably common and has a significant impact on individuals, from an early age.
Last week, researchers released the biggest and most detailed map of how matter and dark matter have spread across the universe since the Big Bang. The problem, is that the dark matter is more smoothly distributed than expected according to Einstein’s theory. Some are now saying physics is broken. Was Einstein wrong? Astrophysicist Catherine Heymans, who is a Dark Universe expert, and has just been appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the first woman to hold the role, talks about the implications of the new map of dark matter and her plans to encourage the public to appreciate the night sky.
For the first time figurative rock art over 4000 years old has been discovered in Scotland. Up till now all that’s been found have been marks such as cups and rings. The new images are detailed portraits of deer, with antlers, on a capstone of a burial mound, or cairn, in Kilmartin Glen on the west coast. It’s a well-studied archaeological site but the rock art hadn’t been spotted before. Gaia asked Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at Historic Environment Scotland, about who may have produced this art.