In June, against a backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, a climate emergency and an uncertain future, Horizon takes a look at anxiety. Are we becoming more anxious? What do we really know about the condition and who suffers from it? And how can we best treat it? We speak to anxiety disorder expert Professor David Baldwin about when anxiety turns from a normal response into a long-term problem and what we know – and don’t – about why this happens. We take a look at one particularly vulnerable group – teenagers – to understand how anxiety affects them and how they can best be treated. We explore the link between anxiety and our awareness of bodily sensations to understand, for example, why breathing can calm the mind, and we also talk to the researchers who believe the key to improving anxiety therapies is to look at how different people respond when under threat.
The fact that teenagers worry isn’t necessarily a concern – it’s when the adolescent brain amplifies and distorts a simple worry that mental health problems can arise. As scientists aim to unlock why teenagers get anxious, and how infancy and upbringing are implicated, early intervention strategies are being refined to redirect harmful thoughts and teach adolescents to read the emotions of others – a crucial way to keep their own distressing feelings in check.
Stressful situations can cause anxiety, our body’s natural response to stress. But feelings of apprehension can also be accompanied by physical effects such as rapid breathing, increased heart rate and nausea. How our brain perceives these physical changes – in particular, breathing – could be key to better understanding anxiety disorders and treating them.
Tracking the brain’s reaction to virtual-reality-simulated threats such as falling rocks and an under-researched fear reduction strategy may provide better ways of treating anxiety disorders and preventing relapses.
Short-term anxiety is a normal response to stress, but more needs to be done to understand and treat longer-term anxiety disorders, which affect the lives of millions of people across Europe and impose a significant economic burden on society, according to Professor David Baldwin, head of the mental health group at the University of Southampton, UK.
By 2050, the world's population will be an estimated 9.7bn people, up from today’s 7.7bn. To feed this growing population whilst also protecting the climate and biodiversity, our food system needs to change dramatically. In May, we look at what sort of future food system we want and how to get there. We speak to sustainability expert Prof. Peter Jackson about how lockdowns have exposed our reliance on fragile supply chains, and what needs to happen to shape a more sustainable food system. We look at the smart farming solutions that are being explored to support food producers, and urban experiments from tackling food waste to strengthening organic, local production to see how these efforts can be scaled up to make a big difference. And we investigate insects – a protein-rich food and feed source – and the efforts behind mainstreaming what is still a niche science.
With the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, in April Horizon takes a step back to look at some of the challenges around sudden outbreaks of emerging diseases. We speak to virologist Prof. Marion Koopmans about the likelihood of future outbreaks of new diseases, what causes them and how to spot them before they appear. We speak to scientists who are helping to develop tests for Covid-19 to understand the challenges in coming up with an accurate and detailed diagnostic test for an entirely new disease. We talk to people working on coronavirus treatments about how to shorten the normally lengthy process of drug development. And we look into why diseases suddenly jump from animals, such as bats, into humans and the particular challenges of spotting and responding to these types of outbreaks.
In our continuing search for other life in the universe, one place has always looked promising – Mars. It is a rocky planet like Earth, orbiting the same star, and at a distance where water could have been present on the planet.
Moving more goods by water could reduce pressure on roads and cut emissions, yet Europe’s shipping industry is held back by labour shortages. Automated shipping – which would work in a similar way to self-driving cars – could help expand capacity but safety and regulatory hurdles remain.
The red planet may be our best bet for finding out whether we’re alone in the universe.
Reducing crew numbers onboard ships could overcome labour shortages and increase shipping levels.
Metagenomics can help us spot emerging diseases such as coronavirus, says virologist Marion Koopmans.