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OU on the BBC: BBC Inside Science - Nobel prizes and fungi

Updated Monday 6th October 2014

This year's Nobel prizes and fungi are the focus of BBC Inside Science this week.

In BBC Inside Science, Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

On this week's programme:

Nobel Prizes 2014:
 
The annual Nobel Prizes for physiology or medicine, physics and chemistry were announced this week. What do you think about the winners this year? Use our comments facility below to share your views.
 
The Nobel prize for physiology or medicine has been awarded to UK-based researcher Prof John O'Keefe as well as May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser who discovered the brain's "GPS system". They discovered how the brain knows where we are and is able to navigate from one place to another. Their findings may help to explain why Alzheimer's disease patients cannot recognise their surroundings.
 
The 2014 Nobel prize for physics has been awarded to Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura in Japan and the US, for the invention of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs). This enabled a new generation of bright, energy-efficient white lamps, as well as colour LED screens.
 
The 2014 Nobel prize in chemistry has been awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner for improving the resolution of optical microscopes. This type of microscope had previously been held back by the presumed limitation that obtaining a better resolution than half the wavelength of light would be impossible. But the laureates used fluorescence to extend the limits of the light microscope, allowing scientists to see things at much higher levels of resolution.
 
GUAGE:
The UK has a database for the amount of greenhouse gases we emit each year - usually measured in Gigatonnes of carbon. It's compiled by adding up emissions from various individual sources, be it a coal-fired power station or a wetland bog. This amount is used worldwide, but it is an estimate. A project called Greenhouse gas UK and Global Emissions, or GAUGE, is - for the first time - verifying these estimates by measuring what's in the atmosphere on a much larger scale.
 
Genetics and Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is globally the fastest growing chronic disease. The World Health Organisation estimates more than 300 million people are currently afflicted, rising to more than half a billion by 2030.
 
It might seem on the surface to be a disease with a simple cause - eat too much & exercise too little - and the basic foundation is a relative lack of the hormone insulin. But as with most illnesses, it's much more complicated, not least because a large number of disease processes are happening all at once.
 
In 2010, a particular gene variant was associated with around 40% of Type 2 diabetics - not directly causal, but this so-called 'risk variant' increases the chance of developing the condition if you have the wrong lifestyle. Research published in the journal Science Translational Medicine this week identifies a drug called yohimbine as a potential treatment to help Type 2 diabetics, one that targets this specific genetic make-up.
 
UK Fungus Day: October 12th is UK Fungus Day, a chance for us to celebrate these cryptic, often microscopic, but essential organisms. Usually hidden away inside plants or in soil (or if you're unlucky, in between your toes), fungi have largely been growing below scientists' radars for centuries. Mycologists still don't know anything close to the true number of fungi that exist on the planet.
 
About a hundred thousand have been formally identified, but it's estimated that anywhere from half a million to ten million species may exist. This dwarfs, by several orders of magnitude, how many mammals there are on Earth. And, increasingly, we're realising quite how crucial fungi are to the functioning of our ecosystems. Head of mycology at The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Bryn Dentinger, explains how valuable fungi really are.
 
Want to share your views on any of the topics discussed in the programme? Use the comments function on this page or talk about the programme on Twitter using the #insidescience hashtag. 

Listen to Inside Science

Tune in to BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 9 October at 16:30 to listen to this week's programme. More information and a link to listen again later will be available from the BBC's Inside Science pages.

 

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