Naked Scientists Podcast

Naked Scientists episode

Mon, 9th May 2016

Phosphorus: Essential to All Life But Are We Running Out?

Carrots (c)

If you’ve followed environmental stories over the years, you’ll know this tune.
Scientists have long been singing off the same songbook when it comes to fossil fuels, deforestation and pollution. But drum not often banged is the dwindling supply of phosphorus. It’s is an essential element for all life. It makes up our DNA and all organisms need it for energy. It cannot be replaced, there is no synthetic substitute. In other words, without phosphorus, there is no life. This week on the Naked Scientists, we investigate whether we're running out of phosphorus for fertiliser and what we can do about it by getting ourselves knee deep in human sewage... Plus in the news, we’ll learning how to hide a secret message with a fizzy drink, we’ll be getting up close and personal with the cuddle chemical oxytocin and why Monday's Mercury transit was so exciting!

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In this edition of Naked Scientists

Full Transcript

  • 01:02 - Ketamine: dream depression drug?

    Party drug ketamine has been villainized by the media but a new study has revealed how it treats symptoms of depression...

  • 04:37 - How to hide a top secret message

    Scientists have demostrated how to hide a secret message using everyday liquids, like cola, wine or coffee. We went undercover to find out.

  • 09:51 - Myth: The cuddle chemical

    It’s been described as the ‘hormone of love’ and is said to be responsible for keeping couples loved up but is that true? Kat investigates.

  • 15:45 - Scientists build world's tiniest robot

    Can you imagine a robot that’s one hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair?

  • 32:05 - The phosphorus famine

    You need phosphorus to live and we're running out. When will we start to see supplies dwindle and is there anything we can do?

  • 38:24 - Getting to the root of the shortage

    Phosphorus is needed for crops to grow, so could we breed plants that don't need it? Or use bactieria to unlock more from the soil?

  • 44:27 - Sewage: the answer to our prayers?

    When we flush the toilet, we are disgarding a valuable source of phosphorus. Could we use our poo as fertilister?

  • 51:28 - The perfect storm

    In 2050, we'll hit 'peak phosphorus' just when our population is at its highest and demand for food will be high. What can we do?

  • 54:37 - Would we be able to detect an alien message if we got one?

    The question that I have is if we received an accidental message from space that was encrypted would we be able to recognize it, and would we be able to realize that it was encrypted? I say accidental because I would assume that an intended message would be clear text, but an ...



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