Kathriona Devereux: 5 new things I learned from new TV science series

The new series of 10 Things to Know About began this week on RTÉ - and Echo columnist Kathriona Devereux is one of the presenters
Kathriona Devereux: 5 new things I learned from new TV science series

Kathriona Devereux, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin,  and Jonathan McCrea of meeting Irish researchers working at home and internationally on projects that affect all our lives. for Caroline Delaney

THE beauty of science, and why I love my job as a producer and presenter of science TV shows, is that new knowledge is constantly being created so I’m regularly surprised to learn something new.

This is the tenth year in a row I spent my summer driving the byways and highways of Ireland in pursuit of the latest cutting edge science from Irish researchers. The new series of 10 Things to Know About is airing on RTÉ1 for the next five weeks and is covering topics ranging from blood to seaweed, from geohazards to gut health.

I’ve been snorkelling in seaweed forests, swimming in the Forty Foot, paddling in Salthill and eating delicious bread in Westport to bring audiences fascinating science stories.

Here are the top five new things I learned from the series. I do hope you tune in to learn more.

1) There is antimicrobial resistant bacteria in our bathing waters

I spent a day in Salthill in blazing sunshine listening to the remarkable discovery by NUI Galway researchers about the presence of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria in Irish bathing waters.

The intense heat was making me want to take a dip in the cool Atlantic but learning that our bathing waters harbour a bacteria called CPE that is resistant to most of our antibiotic armoury kept me from taking the plunge.

Once scientists realised that these bacteria were in bathing waters, and had most likely got there from runoff water contaminated with human and animal faeces, a spin-off project looked at whether committed sea swimmers had been colonised by AMR bacteria. The final results are expected in the coming months but the knowledge that our waters have been affected by the misuse of antibiotics that enables bacteria to adapt and become resistant to our medicines was sobering.

We have so much to do to restore our natural environment from the pressures created by human activity.

2) The realities of coastal erosion

In Wexford I visited a lovely man called Brian Barry whose family have farmed the land near Rosslare harbour for generations. This part of the country is particularly susceptible to coastal erosion and Brian has lost 40 acres of his original 70 acre farm.

It was shocking to stand at the cliff edge and know that 30 years earlier the land had stretched out to sea a further half a mile.

That cliff edge is now noisy with the sound of diggers and dump trucks constructing enormous coastal protections along the shoreline. The Rosslare to Dublin train line is now within 100m of the cliff edge and without intervention that critical piece of rail infrastructure would be in the sea.

Seeing the extreme changes that have happened to Brian’s farm within his lifetime made me think about what the future holds for Ireland in terms of sea level rise, storm surges and the other issues climate change will bring to our coastal communities.

3) Small blood clots are a big factor in Covid

At the start of the pandemic doctors noticed in post-mortems studies of Italian patients that the lungs of these patients were full of small blood clots.

Patients with Covid experience blood clotting throughout the body but these micro clots in the lungs are very unusual and scientists believe the micro clots are the key to why Covid-19 is different to severe influenza pneumonia and why there are so many deaths.

Researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland are trying to understand these microclots to find better treatments for patients with acute Covid and those suffering from long Covid.

4) Our couches, mattresses and soft furnishings in our homes release chemicals

Persistent Organic Pollutants (or POPs) are a group of chemicals that don’t degrade easily and persist over long periods of time.

One of the most common POPs in houses, cars and other buildings are Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) which are used on mattresses, car seats and the casing around electrical equipment.

Another common POP is Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) which can be found in stain repellents used on materials like couches or carpets. Because these chemicals persist over long periods of time, they can be harmful to our health and the health of the environment.

However despite mandatory application of flame retardants to many of our household items NUI Galway researchers found that the levels of POPs were low in a human biomonitoring study and that levels have decreased from a 2012 study, which shows that the chemicals that have been banned in recent years are less and less prevalent and that banning them is working. Researchers did notice, however, that one of the chemicals that is being used to replace a banned chemical was found in all samples and at high levels perhaps suggesting the banned chemical list needs updating.

5) Let food be thy medicine

After my family and friends, food is my next great love. Spending a day with Karen O’Donoghue owner of the Happy Tummy Company (and a Cork woman transplanted to Westport by way of London) learning how to make her so-called ‘Magic Poo Bread’ was fascinating, and delicious.

After extensive research into gut bacteria O’Donoghue created a bread to nourish and restore her gut health. Within two weeks of eating her new recipe O’Donoghue’s lifelong IBS symptoms disappeared and she has launched a business to bring this bread to more people - through education and hands-on workshops and through her recently launched bread subscription service.

This is not a sliced pan type of loaf but a form of preventative medicine and many people who have suffered from IBS, and other ailments, have found it transformative and are willing to pay the hefty price tag of €25.

Find out more by watching 10 Things To Know About, RTÉ 1, Mondays 8.30pm.

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