Immunology wars: a billion antibodies

3 minutes

The Tibetan research of Herbert Benson

7 minutes

Why time seems to fly as you get older

4 minutes

The comet

3 minutes

Drawn & recorded: Chemirocha

3 minutes

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How our bodies can create billions of defences against disease with just 20,000 genes

How is the human body able to produce antibodies to mount a defence against any attacking microorganism – even those it’s never encountered before? After all, our mere 20,000 genes seem woefully inadequate to produce the billions of different antibodies necessary to fight every possible disease. The problem stumped researchers for decades until the Japanese scientist Susumu Tonegawa discovered the key to our incredible adaptive capacity for fighting contagions – an accomplishment that earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1987. The answer, explored in this brief animation from Nature, lies in recombination-activating genes (RAGs) – DNA-‘shuffling’ enzymes that can create proteins capable of fighting any foreign invader.

Video by Nature

Animator: Dog & Rabbit

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How a scientific attempt to demystify Buddhist meditation yielded astounding results

In 1981, Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, set out to study the ancient meditation practices of Buddhist monks on the Tibetan Plateau. With the Dalai Lama’s blessing, Benson spent roughly a decade in remote regions of the Himalayas in northern India researching an especially intense technique known as tummo, as well as the physiological effects of other advanced forms of meditation. Rather than debunking the seemingly tall tales of advanced practitioners capable of raising their body temperatures to dry cold, wet sheets around their bodies, Benson’s work actually confirmed and expanded upon these anecdotes. In particular, by tracking vital signs and body-heat output during meditation sessions, Benson found that these monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves. In 2013, a second study conducted on advanced Tibetan tummo meditators by Maria Kozhevnikov, a cognitive neuroscientist the National University of Singapore, corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualisation and specialised breathing.

This extended trailer for the UK filmmaker Russ Pariseau’s feature documentary Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD relays portions of Benson’s landmark research, which ultimately signalled a seismic shift in how Western science views Buddhist meditation. Simultaneously, the material makes evident the disparate ways that Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists understand the self.

Director: Russ Pariseau

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Time seems to accelerate as we get older, but there’s a tested way to tap the brakes

Most adults seem to agree that the older you get, the quicker time flies by. This feeling might, on its surface, seem like one of life’s more enigmatic qualities. But according to the US neuroscientist David Eagleman, there’s actually a pretty straightforward scientific explanation for this phenomenon: habitual situations require much less of our attention than novel ones and, as we age, we become much more likely to be fixed in our routines, and much less likely to encounter anything out of the ordinary. So, as Eagleman suggests in this animation from BBC Ideas, if you want to pump the brakes on your experience of time, try pursuing new experiences – large and small.

Video by BBC Ideas

Animator: Peter Caires

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How the Rosetta space probe brings a distant comet into vivid focus

In 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) sent the Rosetta space probe to explore the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, located beyond the asteroid belt, more than five times the Earth’s distance from the Sun. In 2014, the orbiter finally reached the comet, and a lander touched down on its nucleus – a first in human history – where it briefly gathered data before losing battery power. In this video, the Austrian filmmaker and photographer Christian Stangl pays tribute to Rosetta’s historic journey, digitally enhancing some of the 400,000 images released by ESA after the mission to create a remarkably vivid and visceral tour of the alien astral body.

Director: Christian Stangl

Composer: Wolfgang Stangl

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How an American country music pioneer entered African mythology

In 1933, the US country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers died of tuberculosis. Just 35 years old and at the peak of his career, his demise left a legacy of a life and career unfinished. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s Drawn & Recorded series, which tells little-known stories from the annals of modern music history, recounts the improbable story of how, in death, Rodgers would go on to inspire not just luminaries of American music, but also the Kipsigis peoples of the Rift Valley in Kenya – whose folk music found its way back to the US decades later. 

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

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How our bodies can create billions of defences against disease with just 20,000 genes

How is the human body able to produce antibodies to mount a defence against any attacking microorganism – even those it’s never encountered before? After all, our mere 20,000 genes seem woefully inadequate to produce the billions of different antibodies necessary to fight every possible disease. The problem stumped researchers for decades until the Japanese scientist Susumu Tonegawa discovered the key to our incredible adaptive capacity for fighting contagions – an accomplishment that earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1987. The answer, explored in this brief animation from Nature, lies in recombination-activating genes (RAGs) – DNA-‘shuffling’ enzymes that can create proteins capable of fighting any foreign invader.

Video by Nature

Animator: Dog & Rabbit

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