Dissected: Getting under your skin

foot dissection2Broadcaster: BBC4

Year: 2016 (originally 2014)

Genre: Documentary

Hand (episode 1) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95314
Foot (episode 2) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/91909

Review by Eunice Muruako

In two hour-long episodes, presenter George McGavin (Glasgow University) delves beneath the skin to expose the anatomy of the human hand and foot. The series sheds light on the various functions of the hand and foot by identifying the muscles, tendons and ligaments responsible for movement, and how the human anatomy compares with that of other animals.

Episode 1: Hand The dissection of the donor arm begins in the forearm to expose the muscles which give power to the hand for gripping and the tendons which attach each muscle to the bones in the fingers. The surgeon demonstrates how the tendons motion in the hand by tugging on the tendons to cur the fingers. The structure of the hand can be changed with heavy use – the X-ray of a frequent rock climber shows that the cortical bone (the hard outer layer of the skeleton) is thicker than in a non-climber the tendons and pulleys are also thicker, this allows their hands to maintain a firmer grip. Continue reading

Tackling tuberculosis (Countryfile)

cowtbBroadcaster: BBC1
Year: 2016
Genre: Magazine

URLs: (full episode) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0D9D7D7F
Clip 1 (6:43): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23517
Clip2 (6:16): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/23518

The BBC’s rural affairs programme Countryfile (first broadcast on 9th October 2016) looked at ongoing issues with TB infection cattle populations. The topic was covered in two sections. The first focuses on the current tests for TB infection. The second looks more closely at the science being used to develop new tests and better vaccines against TB. Continue reading

Cattle surrogacy (Countryfile)

The specialist "embryo flushing" team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.

The specialist “embryo flushing” team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2014

Genre: Documentary, Magazine

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/264545

A seven-minute clip from the popular BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile, looking at “embryo flushing” a modern IVF-based method that is replacing traditional selective breeding on many farms.

Embryos are removed from a pedigree cow using a saline flush and she is later fertilised by a bull in the traditional manner. The quality of the harvested embryos can be examined at the on-farm laboratory and the best placed into other non-pedigree cows. In this way it becomes possible for the cow with desirable characteristics to be the biological mother of perhaps six calves at one time. As the technique gains in popularity, the specialist can transfer as many as 1500 embryos in a year.

Other applications of this approach include being able to breed using the best genetic stock from around the world, and allowing for deep freezing of embryos as a safeguard against some catastrophic outbreak. The approach was recently used to re-introduce 100 long-horn cattle into Australia.

What Darwin Didn’t Know

Why should sterile termites work so hard for the good of the colony?

Why should sterile termites work so hard for the good of the colony?

Broadcaster: BBC 4

Year: 2009

Genre: documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/302634

Review by Will Channell


What Darwin Didn’t Know (90 mins) is a BBC Four documentary presented by Armand Marie Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology at Imperial College, London. The 90 minute show looks at how over the past 150 years ‘Darwinian evolution’ has become a bedrock of evolutionary biology, despite changing rather dramatically since Darwin’s original theories in On the Origin of the Species.

The programme has two dimensions;  a look back to Darwin and the origins of his theory, and then at the application of the revised theory in contemporary research. The programme manages to introduce complex topics and demonstrate them in ways any viewer can understand. The content is applicable up to and including undergraduates. Continue reading

Domestication of dogs (Horizon)

Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive

Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive

Broadcaster: BBC 2


Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/142609

Review by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)

This 8.5 minute clip is taken from Horizon: The Secret Life of Dogs and gives an overview of a long-term breeding experiment of Silver foxes in Siberia. The clip demonstrates some of the extraordinary changes that simple selective breeding (in this case for non-aggression) can make over a few generations and as such provides a model of how domestication may have taken place. It also highlights some of the side effects of this breeding programme (e.g. colour changes) which show remarkable similarity to some domestic dog characteristics.

As well as natural section I also teach artificial selection. There are a number of discussion points that can potentially come out of the clip. Firstly the power of simple selective breeding and that not all changes are due to GM! Secondly it illustrates that these genes are already in the population. As some foetuses were swapped reference can also be made to the nature v nurture argument.  I think it also could be used to in ethical discussions.

WARNING: There is a word of caution, however, as the foxes are kept in conditions people may find distressing.

Adaptation in action (Life)


Notice that the side of the chameleon nearest the sun goes dark, whilst the other side is white

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2009

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/135053

Reviewed by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)

This short clip (1 min 20 seconds) taken from the BBC series Life features the Namaqua Chameleon.  At first sight a chameleon is an odd creature to find in the desert and that’s exactly the point. The clip is a good visual example of how species are adapted to their environment and here the chameleon’s colour-changing ability is used to good effect.

I use this clip within a more general discussion of homeostasis and so the Namaqua Chameleon is one example in series of behavioural, physiological and physical adaptions to maintain body temperature (the Warm up – Marine Iguana is another one I use). So I ask questions like ‘why is the chameleon black in the morning and grey later on in the day?’ which leads on to some physics and further discussion of external regulation of body temperature.


Great Crested Newts v Developers (C4 News)

A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt

A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt

Broadcaster: Channel 4

Year: 2015

Genre: News

URL http://bobnational.net/record/295355

The conflict between housing and infrastructure development and protected species such as the Great Crested Newt are often mentioned in the news. On this occasion, C4 News correspondent Tom Clarke visits Dorset prompted by concerns that changes to the European Habitats Directive might be watering down protection of endangered species.

Cuckoo migration (Today)

Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years

Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years

Broadcaster: Radio 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Radio, interview

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/293228

A four minute interview with Chris Hewson from the British Trust for Ornithology about satellite tracking of a cuckoo, also called “Chris”, over the past four years. Chris (the cuckoo) has visited 28 countries in that time and has made four journeys over the Sahara. Prior to this project, very little was known about the migration of cuckoos which are a species in serious decline. Cuckoos seem to all congregate in the Congo, but get there via two different routes – via Italy or via Spain. It appears that going via the Spanish route is much more perilous to the birds.

More details of the BTO project can be found on their website (this link).

Digging the Fire Ant Way (BBC Breakfast)

Ants used a different technique to dig if the

Ants used a different technique to dig if the “soil” was course or fine grained

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2015

Genre: Magazine, News

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/294025

A nice little piece of research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, in which researcher filmed ants digging in tubes filled with glass beads of different sizes. They found that the ants were able to adapt their digging style dependant upon the conditions. Interesting in its own right, there is nonetheless the obligatory “translational research” spin, suggesting the potential impact of this work in developing fire and rescue services.

There are two related but slightly different videos currently on the BBC news website: this link which includes more experimental footage; this link shows some robots that have been programmed using insights from ant research.

Big Cats v Farmers in Namibia

British zoos have paid for GPS collars to learn more about leopards and cheetahs in Namibia

British zoos have paid for GPS collars to learn more about leopards and cheetahs in Namibia

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2015

Genre: Magazine

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/292506

This 3 minute package from BBC Breakfast (30th April 2015) looks at efforts to protect leopards and cheetahs in Namibia from farmers who consider their livestock to be under threat. Chester and Colchester Zoos have paid for GPS collars to track the big cats and learn more about their lifestyles. The research is uncovering the fact that some cattle DO get attacked, but in relatively small numbers. Farmers are (hopefully) being persuaded to stop shooting and trapping the big cats, and adopt other protective strategies instead – including “alarm donkeys”.

A version of this story is also currently on the BBC website.