This week the UK Health secretary raised concerns over a new variant of SARS- CoV-2 currently spreading across Europe. Viruses mutate all the time so it’s no surprise that a new form of the one causing Covid -19 would emerge. However, virologist Ravi Gupta who analysed the new strain says we need to be weary in case future strains mutate in ways that could overcome vaccines.
Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki is part of a team looking at the impact of Covid -19 on our immune system. Her research has uncovered autoantibodies linked to infection with the virus. These are responsible for a number of autoimmune diseases. The finding goes some way to explaining the symptoms seen by some people long after a Covid -19 infection.
And how clever are ravens? According to behavioural scientist Simone Pika at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in many ways they are up there with chimps or young children. She found they performed well in tests designed for primates.
Following the dinosaur destroying meteor strike where was the best place for life to develop a new? Geologists, David Kring and Tim Bralower, think they’ve found the answer hidden in plain sight.
CrowdScience listener Simon has a problem. He’s always bumping into things, dropping tools and knocking stuff over. And he’s sick of it. He wants to know what is going on. Was he born like this? Or is it contagious? And most importantly, can he doing anything about it or is he going to be the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’ for the rest of his life?
Host Anand Jagatia gets on the case, investigating the complex coordination needed for the simplest movements, like throwing a ball and catching it. With help from Dr Andrew Green, an exercise physiologist from Johannesburg University, he delves into our secret “sixth sense” – proprioception, which helps us locate our limbs without looking. Anand discovers that an easy task, like kicking a football, needs multiple parts of the brain to coordinate in order to work smoothly. Assistant Professor Jessica Bernard from Texas AMU studies the brain, particularly the cerebellum, a part that controls smooth movements. Dr Bernard explains how tiny glitches and larger lesions in different parts of the brain can make us clumsy in different ways. And how we use our thinking powers to stay balanced; a reason why, as your memory goes with old age, you’re more prone to falling over.
Our listener is not alone. Around the world, there is an under- diagnosed condition that affects millions of us. Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia is a motor coordination condition that affects 5% of the global population. As Professor Amanda Kirby from the University of South Wales and CEO of Do-It solutions explains, if you can’t tie shoelaces, catch a ball and your handwriting is awful, there’s a chance that you have DCD. There’s a large genetic component, so you are likely to come from a clumsy family.
There’s no cure for DCD/Dyspraxia but all of us are capable of becoming better at a chosen task, and there’s a common pathway to mastery, whether that’s bike mechanics or open heart surgery. Professor Roger Kneebone is the author of Becoming Expert, and he talks to Simon about possible solutions to clumsiness, including accepting and living with it.
[IMAGE: Getty Images]