Why is the modern world making us ill? In this issue, Horizon examines the emerging field of exposomics, which looks for answers in the hidden world around us.
Chronic diseases such as cancer and asthma are on the rise in the developed world, and researchers are zeroing in on the elements in our environment that are to blame.
Horizon speaks to the research projects involved in the EU Exposome Initiative which are assessing the exposure of over 100 000 EU citizens to potential health risks in their surroundings, and finds out how the air inside modern offices could be playing havoc with our health.
We also learn about a study seeking to establish the effects of environment on life expectancy by comparing the health of adult twins, and discover why being too clean could give your children diabetes.
In our September issue, we interview Dr Chris Wild, the cancer scientist who first proposed that the best way to tackle chronic disease would be to study the totality of non-genetic factors that we are exposed to. He explains why more international research collaboration in the field is needed.
Over the last few decades buildings have become cleaner, leaner and increasingly air-tight, spurred on by a drive for energy efficiency. Now, however, scientists are showing that poor ventilation and indoor pollutants are not only linked to discomfort and decreased productivity, but also to allergies and respiratory disorders.
The EU is making important progress in researching the links between environment and disease, but the field needs more collaboration from the rest of the world, according to its pioneering researcher Dr Chris Wild, director of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Parents may one day feed high-strength bacteria to their kids in order to stop them from developing early onset diabetes, after research showed that over-hygienic environments are leading to a rise in incidences of the disease.
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.
In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside MoMA PS1, a contemporary art centre in New York City. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. It was a captivating sight, but the truly impressive thing about this building was not so much its looks but the fact that it had been grown.
Bilingual people can effortlessly switch between languages during everyday interactions. But beyond its usefulness in communication, being bilingual could affect how the brain works and enhance certain abilities. Studies into this could inform techniques for learning languages and other skills.
Live mycelium networks, capable of information processing, could be used as building materials.
Researchers are investigating whether bilingualism enhances certain cognitive abilities.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.