Did you know there are 200 million insects for each human on the planet? This October, Horizon delves into the mysteries of this diverse set of creatures and their seemingly infinite survival skills. We talk to researchers about why it's vital to maintain the diverse range of insect species, find out how robots and ants can work together to solve problems and explore how the superpowers of bugs could be put to use for humans.
Herbivorous insects are estimated to be responsible for destroying one-fifth of the world's total crop production annually, but a new, natural approach to pesticides that turns insects' taste and smell preferences against them could help reduce this toll.
Insects have to cope with a wide range of environmental factors in order to thrive – disease, drought and habitat changes. Scientists hope that studying insect biology and behaviour could help humans cope with problems from climate change to disease control, shift work and even jet lag.
To many people, they are merely creepy-crawlies to be swatted away or avoided, but the planet we live on is dominated and run by insects, argues Professor Alexey Solodovnikov, curator of the beetle collection at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. He believes more must be done to understand and protect this hugely diverse group of animals.
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.