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.
Robots won’t replace doctors any day soon, but they can already help medical professionals do amazing things. This month, Horizon looks at how robots will someday perform remote physical and ultrasound examinations so doctors can make a diagnosis from a distance, and medical avatars for elderly people that help them stay fit and safe. Plus, we see how computer games could make young people lead healthier lifestyles and how to give self-help apps more scientific merit.
How will we have enough food to feed another 2 billion people by the middle of this century without destroying our planet? Agriculture is already one of the biggest contributors to climate change. This month, we hear from scientists designing disease-resistant crops using gene editing, packing more calcium into finger millet, and resurrecting ancient crop varieties to offset the sector’s environmental impact. Plus, we hear from Dr Manoj Dora about so-called lean agriculture, which is looking to make agriculture more sustainable by eliminating waste from the production process.
Using off-the-shelf technology and innovative economics, lightweight helium balloons have started carrying remote-controlled laboratories to the edge of space and back, offering the business case for new types of science missions.
Floating research laboratories are reaching the fringes of space.
Automated and connected devices can save lives.
EU firms should be brought within ‘innovation ecosystems’ to develop breakthrough technology, according to Prof. Luke Georghiou.