Adam Rutherford meets a new creature created by American scientists - the spider-goat. It is part goat, part spider, and its milk can be used to create artificial spider's web. It is part of a new field of research, synthetic biology, with a radical aim: to break down nature into spare parts so that we can rebuild it however we please.
In nature, living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle. Many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance. Uniquely, three brother cheetahs band together to bring down a huge ostrich. Aerial photography reveals how bottle-nosed dolphins trap fish in a ring of mud, and time-lapse cameras show how the Venus flytrap ensnares insect victims. The strawberry frog carries a tadpole high into a tree and drops it in a water-filled bromeliad. The frog must climb back from the ground every day to feed it. Fledgling chinstrap penguins undertake a heroic and tragic journey through the broken ice to get out to sea. Many can barely swim and the formidable leopard seal lies in wait.
For 10,000 years or more, humans created new plant varieties for food by trial and error and a touch of serendipity. Then 150 years ago, a new era began. Pioneer botanists unlocked the patterns found in different types of plants and opened the door to a new branch of science - plant genetics. They discovered what controlled the random colours of snapdragon petals and the strange colours found in wild maize. This was vital information. Some botanists even gave their lives to protect their collection of seeds. American wheat farmer Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel peace prize after he bred a new strain of wheat that lifted millions of people around the world out of starvation. Today, botanists believe advances in plant genetics hold the key to feeding the world's growing population.
The jungles of the sacred city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka are home to 33 identified troops of toque macaques and one man. This is the extraordinary story of Dr. Wolfgang Dittus, a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution who, over decades, has tracked and documented the lives of thousands of monkeys, revealing a complex society that is in many ways like our own. His journey is captured through his own words, footage he's taken over the course of 50 years, and his interactions with the scrappy, cheeky monkeys he's dedicated his life to.
2018 • Nature
From earthquakes to tsunamis to volcanic eruptions, natural disasters are both terrifying and fascinating - providing endless fresh material for documentary makers. But how well do disaster documentaries keep pace with the scientific theories that advance every day? To try and answer that question, Professor Danielle George is plunging into five decades of BBC archive. What she uncovers provides an extraordinary insight into one of the fastest moving branches of knowledge. From the legendary loss of Atlantis to the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, Danielle reveals how film-makers have changed their approach again and again in the light of new scientific theories. While we rarely associate Britain with major natural disaster, at the end of the programme Danielle brings us close to home, exploring programmes which suggest that 400 years ago Britain was hit by a tidal wave that killed hundreds of people, and that an even bigger tsunami could threaten us again.
In the third episode, Iain discovers the remarkable impact of just one plant: grass. On the savannah of South Africa he sees how grass unleashed a firestorm to fight its greatest enemy, the forests. He shows how cutting your finger on a blade of grass shows us how it transformed life in the oceans. In Senegal, he meets the cleverest chimps in the world. And, in the ruins of the oldest temple on Earth, he tells the extraordinary story of how grass triggered human civilisation.