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.
This month, Horizon explores the global challenge of biodiversity loss. Many experts believe we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, where human-caused factors such as land use and pollution are causing a decline in biodiversity – something that threatens the future of our own species. We speak to British ecologist Professor Georgina Mace about how bad the situation is and what we can do about it. We explore marine ecosystems, where species relocation outpaces that of terrestrial populations, and examine how we can help these environments adapt. We also look into the link between food insecurity and biodiversity degradation, and find out what’s in store for bees – our pollinators. Finally, we investigate the services nature provides for people – from cleaning our water to acting as a carbon sink – and ask whether putting a value on natural capital could help save it.
Fifty years after humans first set foot on the moon, Earth’s only permanent natural satellite is back in the news with China’s successful landing on the moon’s as-yet-unexplored far side. This month, Horizon looks at how Europe is contributing to moon research. We hear from the European Space Agency’s director of human and robotic exploration about their plans to send a robot and then humans to the lunar surface in the 2020s, and speak to the scientists trying to fill the holes in our understanding of how the moon was formed. We also hear how we could solve the puzzle of where water on Earth originated by analysing volatile substances from the moon, and take a look at the methods and facilities being developed to protect precious extra-terrestrial samples from human contamination.
Nearly 100 years ago scientists developed a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Today, there are 10 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths from the disease every year. Increasingly, these cases are becoming difficult to treat as the bug that causes the disease can be resistant to antibiotics. However, several new TB vaccines are under development and there is growing optimism that a new vaccine will emerge, says Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, UK. This could save millions of lives, she said, but more work is needed to reassure the general public that vaccines are safe and effective.
Forests have a special magic for many of us. Steeped in folklore and fantasy, they are places for enchantments, mythical creatures and outlaws. But if they are to survive into the future, they may also need a helping hand from science.
Tuberculosis is the most common cause of death from an infectious disease.
Computer modelling will also help optimise management techniques.
Entrepreneur Nicklas Bergman on the European Innovation Council.