Posts from the ‘bbc’ Category


An Interactive Simulation to Count Alien Worlds

Enrico Fermi famously asked, in his paradoxical analysis of the likely existence of extraterrestrial life, “Where is everybody?” If there are a certain (large) number of planets in the universe that are habitable, then a subset of these (also a large number) should be inhabited. Any civilization that formed, given enough time, could develop the means for interstellar communication or travel.

So yeah, “Where is everybody?

Years later, Frank Drake developed a precise equation to calculate the likely number of inhabitable worlds within range of observation or communication from Earth. Well, it’s as precise as you define it, anyway, given that the variables that go in are just that – variable. Things like how long it would take a civilization to develop communication, how long said civilization would last, how many stars and planets are estimated to exist … just the basics.

It’s called the Drake Equation, and thanks to the stupendous folks over at BBC Future, you can go tweak the equation with an interactive tool! Click here to start defining your galaxial parameters and see how many civilizations you think should exist.

I’m getting some pretty big numbers . . !

(via BBC, tip o’ the SETI dish to Russ Creech)

Played around with this some earlier, definitely worth checking out. It’s important to remember that the Drake Equation is an approximation and many factors that we’re a little unsure about go into it.

On the other hand, even setting most of the variables very low results in several billion planets with life on them. We should be able to develop interstellar communication in a manner that is observable and understandable within our lifetimes..right? Please?

The things we are able to create naturally, without any synthetics, is incredible. It saved this young girl from having to have major surgery, removing important tissue from elsewhere, and risking disorders in lower limbs.

Ten-year-old’s vein is regrown from her own stem cells


Playing God – A BBC Documentary About Genetic Engineering (Watch full online)

With great power comes great responsibility. Join Adam Rutherford in this full-hour exploration (The whole thing! Online!) of the progress and perils of our ability to cut and splice the very fabric of life on command.

“Life itself has become a programmable machine.”

That statement is a bit of an exaggeration, maybe, but certainly genes, DNA, etc. (the stuff that life is made of) can be synthesized, cut and glued back together with such ease these days that a first-week undergrad can do it (even without help from a seasoned veteran biologist such as myself). You could do it in your garage if you wanted. And where the genetic engineering of yesterday was all about putting a gene or two from one organism into another (like this paper, the precursor to Monsanto’s methods), the ease and cheapness of manipulating the tools of synthetic biology create an infinite pool of possibilities for completely human-designed life forms. 

Rest easy, though. When it comes to completely synthetic life, we are still looking at a field in its infancy. Although smart dudes like Craig Venter have succeeded in creating a completely synthetic bacterium, it is an enormously difficult, sensitive and expensive thing to do. I really can’t emphasize how difficult it is, actually. But now is the time, in the early days of meaningful synthetic biology, as prices drop and methods improve, to ask ourselves what is appropriate and what is not.

This will be a global question, and a difficult one. For every drought-resistant strain of wheat that allows us to feed millions of starving children, we can not create another seed monopoly that promotes irresponsible use of herbicides. How do we ensure that the methods used to make plastic-producing bacteria are not the same methods that can produce dangerous bioterrorism strains? How do you feel about having “biohackers” able to order genes and bacteria at will, maybe around the corner from where you live?

Scientists will need to have open discussions. Nonscientists will have to be part of that discussion. This documentary is a must-watch for anyone who wants to know where the future of synthetic biology is headed.

(via EvolutionDocumentary)

I would just like to take a moment to say how disappointing it is that CNN’s website has an entertainment tab, but no science. I understand it pays the bills, but really? Even the BBC makes the effort to have a science/tech section.

Edit: The BBC has a “future” tab instead of science/tech and it looks great!