The languages we speak and how we speak them are an integral part of our identity, shaping not only how we see the world but also how people see us. In January, Horizon puts language under the spotlight, kicking off the month with a look at Europe’s minority languages and how to preserve them. We also delve into the social and cognitive aspects of language use, finding out how accents arise and how they affect people’s perception of the speaker, and discovering how ageing affects linguistic capacity in bilingual people – and vice versa. We also speak to researchers looking into the language impairment dyslexia and potential options for early diagnosis.
Most children are able to learn language almost effortlessly. But for those with communication disorders such as dyslexia, mastering their native tongue can be a challenge. Researchers are exploring how links with noise, language and motion could help diagnose problems earlier and pave the way for better treatment.
Europe’s minority languages have been squeezed by nation-building, urbanisation and the ‘lingua francas’ of the internet, according to Professor Anneli Sarhimaa, specialist in Northern European and Baltic languages and cultures at the University of Mainz, Germany. But one lesson she has learned from researching the fate of the Finnic language Karelian, spoken in Finland and north-western Russia, is that digital media can also help revitalise them.
Seven years after scientists successfully managed to adapt a gene editing system used by bacteria into one that can be easily used in labs to edit human genes, we take a look at some of the emerging applications and ethical issues of CRISPR-Cas9. We talk to the head of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies about whether the simplicity and low cost of CRISPR means that there is potential for misuse and what should be done about this. We find out how scientists have used CRISPR to create cows lacking two sugars that trigger the human immune system, leading to hopes of longer-lasting heart valves for transplant patients and healthier red meat. And we speak to researchers who are using CRISPR to improve other gene editing technologies.
On December 17th, the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS telescope will blast into space to take a closer look at some of the potentially habitable planets we’ve found beyond our solar system. Ahead of its launch, Horizon takes an in-depth look at what we already know about such exoplanets and what’s still to learn. We speak to Dr Michaël Gillon, who in 2017 was instrumental in discovering a system of seven Earth-like planets outside our solar system, about the diversity of the thousands of exoplanets we’ve found so far and next steps for research. We talk to scientists who are trying to understand the structure of Super-Earths – planets up to 10 times the size of Earth – by recreating elements of planetary cores in their labs, and others who are trying to understand how different planetary systems formed in the first place. Finally, we delve into one of the most important conditions for life to exist on exoplanets – their atmospheres – and find out how scientists are trying detect the biosignature gases that indicate the presence of life.
Scientists have cloned a genetically engineered bull which they hope will help heart valve transplant patients lead better quality lives and benefit people with red meat allergies.
Europe changed dramatically during the Bronze Age, with huge population shifts generally ascribed to the rise of new metal technologies, trading and climate change. But scientists believe that there may have been another reason for this social upheaval – the plague, possibly transported by, or on the back of, newly domesticated horses.
Removing immune-stimulating sugars should also help people with red meat allergies.
Newly domesticated horses may have increased the spread of disease.
Dr Michaël Gillon on what's next for exoplanet science.