The Big Compost Experiment; Using AI to screen for new antibiotics; Science of slapstick

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Composters - we need you! Or rather materials scientists at UCL, Mark Miodownik and Danielle Purkiss, need you to take part in their Big Compost Experiment. Launched back in November, the team asked members of the public to fill in an online questionnaire about their composting and recycling habits. With special reference to plastic packaging labelled as 'compostable', they want you to see whether your compost bin at home can break down these products. Despite starting in the coldest season, where compost production really slows down, they've had some success. To take part, go to https://www.bigcompostexperiment.org.uk/ One particular infectious disease (Covid-19) is dominating the headlines, but it's by no means the only one we should be concerned about. There's an infectious disease crisis that is longstanding, and one of the most significant threats to global health. It’s the on-going antibiotic resistant crisis. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria evolve resistance very quickly, and because of overuse of antibiotics, we’ve effectively driven the evolution of many disease causing bacteria to be resistant to our best antibiotics, thus rendering them redundant as drugs. On top of that, we haven’t found any new classes of antibiotics for many years. And the cost of developing new drugs is very high – billions, and the financial incentive for developing antibiotics is low. So this is a perfect storm. A new study this week shows a glimmer of light in the quest to find new antibiotics, via artificial intelligence. Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, explains how the new drug Halicin was found and the promise it holds as a new antibiotic. Slapstick is one of the most universally appreciated comedy styles. The physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr Bean so popular has transfixed and entertained generations. But how has it endured the test of time? Why do we enjoy seeing characters in pain? Or is it something deeper rooted that it tells us about the human condition? Laughter is a social action – we do it to show we understand a joke and to signal to people that we get along with them. 'Told By An Idiot' is a theatre company exploring the divide between comedy and tragedy who are currently performing a slapstick style show about the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had been his understudy. Hannah Fisher has been to see the show. Producer - Fiona Roberts

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