Changing blood types and whale grammar

Changing blood types and whale grammar

BBC World Service

About this episode

Could future blood transfusions be made safer by mixing in a new bacterial enzyme? Every year 118 million blood donations need to be carefully sorted to ensure the correct blood types go to the right patients. Prof Martin Olsson, of Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues in Denmark have published a study that suggests an enzyme made by bacteria in our gut could edit our blood cells to effectively convert type A, B and AB to type O. This would be a step towards a universal blood type that could be given to any patient.

Papua New Guinea’s Naomi Longa is a “Sea Woman of Melanesia”. She works to train local women from the Kimbe Bay region of the Coral Triangle to dive, snorkel, navigate and use AI to monitor the coral reefs there. She is winner of this year’s Whitley Award, and tells us why it is socially and scientifically useful to get locals - specifically females - involved in conservation efforts there.

Data scientist and roboticist Prof Daniele Rus of MIT has been using Machine Learning to decipher structure in a vast swath of Sperm Whale song data from Dominica. They have discovered a set of patterns and rules of context that seem to govern the way sperm whales structure their distinctive sets of clicks. The next step? See if we can decode any semantic content…

Also, 200 years after Beethoven’s 9th symphony premiered, science says its composer couldn’t hold a beat. A cautionary tale of the hubris of genetic data miners, Laura Wesseldijk describes to Roland how she and her collaborators designed the paradoxical study to point out the limitations of finding any sort of “musical genius” genes with contemporary techniques.

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Alex Mansfield
Production Coordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

(Image: Two Sperm Whales, Caribbean Sea, Dominica. Credit: Reinhard Dirscherl via Getty Images)