[In Our Time] Free Radicals

Free Radicals

01/11/2018 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=57897965
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p06qh39x.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the properties of atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron, which tend to be more reactive, keen to seize an electron to make it a pair. In the atmosphere, they are linked to reactions such as rusting. Free radicals came to prominence in the 1950s with the discovery that radiation poisoning operates through free radicals, as it splits water molecules and produces a very reactive hydroxyl radical which damages DNA and other molecules in the cell. There is also an argument that free radicals are a byproduct of normal respiration and over time they cause an accumulation of damage that is effectively the process of ageing. For all their negative associations, free radicals play an important role in signalling and are also linked with driving cell division, both cancer and normal cell division, even if they tend to become damaging when there are too many of them.


Nick Lane
Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London

Anna Croft
Associate Professor at the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nottingham


Mike Murphy
Professor of Mitochondrial Redox Biology at Cambridge University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2018-11-13

I have forgotten far too much chemistry and this episode was a nasty reminder of that.

This was also a terrible medium in which to teach chemistry, and I’m impressed that the episode managed to be as clear as it was.

But in general, listening to this while on a highway drive was not a great way to absorb anything (unlike fats absorbing Vitamin E, heh).

Anyway. I think this needs some Wikipedia reading (at least!) on radicals to follow. I am not really interested in the application of free radicals to health, but getting back into the extremely basic chemistry of what makes a radical a radical, yes.

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