As the clocks go back this October, Horizon takes a moment to look at the 24-hour rhythms that govern life. We talk to scientists trying to alter the internal clocks of our cells to help fight obesity and diabetes, and others working out the best time for each patient to take medicines. We also learn how tobacco plants can change their body clocks in a last-ditch attempt to survive when they’re threatened by predators or food scarcity.
The anti-tumour properties of chemotherapy drugs could work twice as well if you take them at times when the body is most receptive, but that means different timetables for different people, according to researchers working to understand how to use the body’s daily rhythms to make medicine optimally effective and reduce unpleasant side effects.
Sleeping, eating and even going to the bathroom, our bodies are clearly affected by the time of day. But the cycle of the moon could also have impacts on our biological functions, according to Professor Kristin Teßmar-Raible, at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, Austria, who is leading LUNAR.CLOCK, a project funded by the EU's European Research Council exploring how the moon affects marine organisms.
Keeping calorie-burning brown fat cells running throughout the day rather than allowing them to switch on and off, possibly via tablets or injections, could help our bodies cope better with a modern day abundance of food, according to researchers who are investigating the link between the body clock and obesity.
Plants can override their own body clocks in times of stress, hijacking their programmed activities in a last-ditch attempt to survive, according to researchers who believe their work could change the way we think about internal timing.
The construction industry has a heavy carbon footprint, accounting for some 40% of global emissions, and yet, as the world’s population grows, demand for housing and building is only soaring. We kick off 2021 by looking at how the construction sector can become greener and some of the radical solutions required. We speak to sustainable architecture expert Dr Catherine De Wolf about the need to design recyclable buildings and how that will require a fundamental restructure of the way the construction industry works. We look at nearly zero energy wooden homes and investigate whether this material can help us kick our concrete habit – concrete being the most used substance on Earth. We home in on techniques to make cement greener and piezoelectric to light up spaces with the addition of vegetable waste, and at how self-healing building materials can prolong the life of civil infrastructures. And we explore the promise of fungal architecture to see whether structures grown from fungus can green the way we build.
In December, as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to create a precise 3-D map of a billion objects in the Milky Way releases its next tranche of data, we take an in-depth look at what we know – and what we don’t – about our home galaxy. We speak to astrophysicist Prof. Ralf Klessen about why it might enhance our understanding of the Milky Way to consider it as a constantly evolving ecosystem rather than studying different parts in an isolated way. We speak to scientists who are trying to image the centre of the galaxy, which is hidden from view behind giant dust and gas clouds, and we explore the latest research into how stars are formed. And finally, we find out what the galaxies surrounding the Milky Way can tell us about our home system.
As the first coronavirus vaccines started to be rolled out at the end of a tumultuous 2020, UK officials unexpectedly endorsed stretching the gap between the first and second vaccine dose by up to three months – an approach also considered by other countries.
There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide and about 50 eruptions occur each year. But it’s still difficult to predict when and how these eruptions will happen or how they’ll unfold. Now, new insight into the physical processes inside volcanoes are giving scientists a better understanding of their behaviour, which could help protect the 1 billion people who live close to volcanoes.
Pragmatic or dangerous – what do the experts say?
Better predictions of volcano behaviour could protect people and infrastructure.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.