BBC Factual has announced a range of Science programming for BBC Two and iPlayer with Chris Packham confirmed to front new blue-chip series Evolution, a third series of The Secret Genius of Modern Life, Horizon: Secrets of the Brain as well as Disease X.

Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science, says: “In a world where we’re bombarded with non-stop news and social media awash with misinformation, good science programmes aren’t just important, they’re a joyful inspiration. I’m continually amazed and delighted by the work of British scientists and their international colleagues in these programmes: whether working tirelessly to prevent the next pandemic, engineering extraordinary tech to transform our lives, studying the inner workings of our minds, or exploring the origins and endless variety of life on Earth, there’s something for everyone. It’s thrilling to bring our viewers such a range of stories and specialisms, especially with this stellar line up of British presenters; some of the best science communicators on the planet.”



Last year, Chris Packham told us the story of the planet we call home in Earth – one of the highest rating series on BBC Two in 2023. Now he’s tackling an even more ambitious subject in a major new blue-chip science series: Evolution.

All the incredible diversity of animal life sprang from a single organism. Every animal, no matter how weird, is related to every other. And behind each species is an incredible story of the millions of generations that gave rise to it – every animal we know and love today sprang from creatures that looked nothing like it. In this landmark series Chris Packham is going to unravel five of these remarkable stories, to reveal how animal life became so diverse and beautiful and to discover the secrets of Evolution.

Each episode opens with an iconic animal, finely tuned through millions of generations of evolution. For example, the bat whose ultrasonic hearing makes it one of the deadliest hunters on the planet. Or the peacock, with its magnificent feathered display, the spectacular pinnacle of sexual selection. Or the kangaroo, impressively leaping across the outback thanks to adaptations, not to its legs, but to its teeth.

To reveal the incredible forces that created these evolutionary phenomena, Chris will take viewers back in time into our planet’s past, along the myriad branches of the tree of life. On the way, we’ll also meet some of the bizarre creatures that died out: the crocodiles with hooves like horses, millipedes the size of cars, or bizarre sea creatures that were a cross between crabs and sharks. And we’ll follow the fingerprints that evolution has left on all life today, from the viruses that helped brains evolve, to the hiccups that are remnants of the first air breathing fish.

Thanks to the latest research, and advances in genetic analysis, each episode can now take us back further than ever before and tell these extraordinary stories in astonishing new detail. Cutting edge CGI will bring millions of years of evolution alive and reveal how it took a single spark of life and turned it into the interconnected web of ecosystems that cover our globe. We’ll discover the moments when life hung in the balance and the extraordinary twists and turns along the way, when threats from climate change to invading species and global extinctions have put life on the line.

Evolution, a 5×60’, is a BBC Studios Science Unit production, with NOVA and GBH for PBS and the BBC and co-produced by The Open University. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual and the Commissioning Editor is Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science. The Executive Producers are Andrew Cohen and Rob Liddell, the Executive in Charge for PBS is Diana El-Osta and for Nova the Executive Producers are Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt. Global Distribution will be handled by BBC Studios.

Horizon: Disease X

In this ambitious landmark documentary, virologist Dr Chris van Tulleken sets off on an international hunt for the source of the next global pandemic.

‘Disease X’ is the name the World Health Organisation gives to the yet-to-be discovered virus most likely to cause the next pandemic. We don’t know what it is, what it looks like, or how it will spread. But many believe it has the potential to be bigger and deadlier than Covid-19 or anything else we’ve seen before.

Every pandemic in modern times has come from a Disease X or a novel strain of flu. Covid-19 is the most recent example, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. Our only defence is to try to get ahead of it, and identify where it will come from and what it will be – before it’s too late.

With millions of undiscovered viruses currently present in the world, this Horizon Special will follow Chris as he travels the globe to meet the scientists racing to prevent the next pandemic. During his high-stakes investigation, Chris will speak to leading experts in the fields of virology, epidemiology, vaccinology and public policy around the world. He’ll examine why new viruses are emerging at an increased rate, reveal the hotspots where they’re most likely to appear, and profile the most concerning new disease outbreaks.

There is hope: Chris will also meet the pioneering teams who, since the Covid-19 pandemic, have continued their work in the science of preparedness and prevention. He’ll visit their cutting-edge research labs and outbreak monitoring facilities in the UK and abroad, and shine a light on their tireless work to keep us all safe.

Horizon: Disease X, a 1×60′ for BBC Two and iPlayer, is made by STV Studios, co-produced by The Open University. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual and the Commissioning Editor is Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science. The Executive Producer is Craig Hunter.

The Secret Genius of Modern Life – Series III

Why did a WWII pilot’s cold sandwich give us the Air Fryer revolution of today? How did a thirsty student in the 1980s create a smart doorbell revolution ? And who is the Formula 1 hero who made our motorways safer? To blow your mind with the answers to all this and more – Professor Hannah Fry is back with a brand new series of The Secret Genius of Modern Life.

Hidden in plain sight all around us are amazing innovations. Technology that’s been perfectly engineered to make our lives better, but which we barely even stop to consider. With behind-the-scenes access to tech innovators like Ring, Bosch and Philips, not to mention a ride on the UK’s newest (and fastest) roller coaster, Hannah takes a deep dive into everything from the physics of fear that explains how roller coaster loops thrill us, to the 17th century chicken incubator that led to the fridge thermostat of today. In this series she tears apart our modern world to find the extraordinary stories behind the everyday objects we take for granted.

The Secret Genius of Modern Life, a 5×60’ series for BBC Two and iPlayer, is made by BBC Studios Science Unit, co-produced by The Open University. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual and the Commissioning Editor is Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science.The Executive Producers are Paul Overton and Eileen Inkson.

Horizon: Secrets of the Brain

As we stand on the brink of the age of AI where technology might one day outstrip human intelligence, Professor Jim Al-Khalili unravels the mysteries of arguably the most complex object in the cosmos: the human brain. Secrets of the Brain is a groundbreaking 2×60’ Horizon special that takes a deep dive into cutting edge neuroscience, as Jim explores the inner physics of the brain and how it has been shaped by the laws of nature.

From ancient marine animals to modern humans, Secrets of the Brain investigates the evolution of the brain over hundreds of millions of years. Our brains contain a remarkable story, forged in a cauldron of planetary catastrophes, epic conflicts, death, sex, kinship, and love. How did the physical conditions on planet Earth drive the evolution of this most remarkable of organs? That is the central question this series will try to answer.

Among many new discoveries, Jim will find out: how vicious prehistoric predators gave us “left and right brains”; how warm-bloodedness evolved and shaped the brain’s ability to remember: crucial for finding food; how when worms huddle together, they use the same chemicals as we do when we fall in love; and how competition, friendship, nurturing, playfulness, song, and laughter helped evolve our brains.

Jim solves puzzles with chimpanzees, snorkels with sea anemones, undergoes state-of-the-art brain scans, and interviews leading experts—all to tell the story of how the brain evolved as never before.

Horizon: Secrets of the Brain, a 2×60’ for BBC Two and iPlayer, is made by Furnace TV, co-produced by The Open University. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual and the Commissioning Editor is Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science. The Executive Producer is Paul Sen. The project is supported by the Norwegian Academy of Science and the Kavli Foundation.

Jon Creamer

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