Latest issue


The plant kingdom is full of fascinating organisms that are responsible for much of what keeps life going. Join us to find out just what’s going on under the surface of the weird and wonderful world of plants. Quick confession: we couldn’t possibly hope to cover the entire plant kingdom in a single issue, so we’ve focused mostly on flowering plants.

Previous issues

Immune System

The immune system is what keeps us healthy in spite of the many organisms and substances that can do us harm. In this issue, explore how our bodies are designed to prevent potentially harmful objects from getting inside, and what happens when bacteria, viruses, fungi or other foreign organisms or substances breach these barriers.


What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you read the word population? Most likely it’s the ever-increasing human population on earth. The term population isn’t just used to describe humans; it includes other animals, plants and microbes too. In this issue, we learn more about how populations grow, change and move, and why understanding them is so important.


Proteins are polymers of amino acids, and they do all sorts of incredible things. They give structure to living things, carry messages and molecules around our bodies, support the immune system and catalyse chemical reactions, and they are used widely in industry and medicine too. In this issue, we explore proteins and discover how they are involved in all kinds of processes in humans and other organisms.

Number Crunching

Statistics can seem daunting, but don’t panic! This issue shows how we can use maths to understand more about the world around us. Join us as we explore how to use stats to summarise data, see whether our figures are significant and put our findings into context, so we can make decisions based on evidence rather than opinion.

Inside the Brain

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2017***

The brain is one of our most fascinating organs. Developments in technology and medicine mean that doctors and scientists can examine our brains in more ways and more detail than ever before, all without having to open up the body. In this issue, we find out more about how imaging research has changed the way we can look inside the human brain.

Careers From Biology

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2017***

This issue of ‘Big Picture’ is a bit different from usual. We’ve scoured the UK to find people to tell us what they spend their working lives doing. We hear how biology – and the transferable skills developed through studying and doing science – plays a part in their careers today.

The Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts

Each issue of ‘Big Picture’ comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered. We've brought together the best of the fast facts from our first 14 issues – plus a few more for good measure – in a fun little book, with over 50 Fast Facts sorted into eight themes. Use them in project work, as part of lessons or even just to astound your friends.

Exercise, Energy and Movement

***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2016***

All living things move. Whether it’s a plant growing towards the sun, bacteria swimming away from a toxin or you walking home, anything alive must move to survive. For humans though, movement is more than just survival – we move for fun, to compete and to be healthy. In this issue we look at the biological systems that keep us moving and consider some of the psychological, social and ethical aspects of exercise and sport.

Food and Diet

***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2016***

Humans, like all living things, cannot survive without food. For many of us, though, food is about so much more than sustenance. Culture, identity, religion, relationships, mood, fashion, pleasure – what we choose to eat touches on many aspects of our lives. In this issue, we look at what drives us to eat, what happens to food once we’ve eaten it, and what impact our dietary choices have on not only our health and wellbeing, but also that of others across the world.

The Cell

***Articles reviewed and updated in September 2015***

The cell is the building block of life. Each of us starts from a single cell, a zygote, and grows into a complex organism made of trillions of cells. In this issue, we explore what we know – and what we don’t yet know – about the cells that are the basis of us all and how they reproduce, grow, move, communicate and die.


***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2015*** 

We look at the different ways in which people understand addiction, and ask why there isn’t one widely accepted definition. We explore the efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat additive behaviour, whether it’s related to substances such as alcohol, or activities such as gambling.

Genes, Genomes and Health

***Articles reviewed and updated in December 2014*** 

Mind-boggling progress has been made in our ability to sequence a genome accurately and quickly, and in our ability to process and understand the huge amount of data that sequencing produces. What do these developments mean for each of us – our health, our identity, and the world we live in – now and in the future?

Influenza special issue

***Articles reviewed and updated in January 2015***

This special issue, first published at the height of the H1N1 swine flu epidemic, looks at the nature of influenza today, drugs and vaccines that can fight it, how it compares to previous strains, and what international and national bodies are doing about it. Half the length of a regular ‘Big Picture’, it is packed full of interesting information and topical features.

Music, Mind and Medicine

***Articles reviewed and updated in July 2014***

It is hard to imagine a world without music. Most of us hear some form of music every day, and it is a powerful trigger of emotional memories. Even so, music remains one of life’s great mysteries. How can it have such a powerful impact? And what exactly is music?

Health and Climate Change

***Articles reviewed and updated in October 2014***

The Earth’s climate is changing. In fact, it has always been changing. What is different now is the speed of change and the main cause of change – human activities. This issue asks: What are the biggest threats to human health? Who will suffer as the climate changes? What can be done to minimise harm? And how do we cope with uncertainty?

How We Look

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2014***

What do we mean by ‘normal’? Why do we take the form we do? Why do we do so much to change what nature has given us? What might we look like in the future? This issue looks at the remarkable interplay between the biology that sculpts our form and the culture that interprets, embellishes and adapts this form.

Drug Development

***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2014***

Although they provide immense benefits, drugs aren't a perfect solution: they can be expensive, they only help a proportion of patients, sometimes they harm us, and we’re not very good at taking them as we should. Join us as we investigate what part pharmaceuticals play in modern life and ask where might we go in the future.


***Articles reviewed and updated in January 2015***

One of the reasons that infections are so frightening is the speed with which they can kill. Doctors dealing with human cases of avian flu in the Far East have seen their patients worsen dramatically and die within a day. Add to that the fear of the new and unknown, and emerging infections can seem truly terrifying. This issue asks how we can stop new diseases emerging or re-emerging infections getting out of hand, and how we balance individual rights with the need to protect public health.


***Articles reviewed and updated December 2014***

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” wrote biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1973. Today, the general principles of Darwinian evolution have been widely accepted by many, but some remain sceptical. This issue, published at the height of the intelligent design debate, seeks not to explain why evolution is ‘true’ (indeed, many other publications do that), but rather explain the concept of evolution and explore why, despite the evidence, not everyone believes it.


***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2014***

The human brain may be the most complex structure in the universe. It is so powerful that it is attempting to understand itself, through research. New techniques have opened up ways of exploring the brain. These techniques are shedding light on the very essence of human life – how we feel, think and act. Join us as we investigate the world of thought.

Sex and Gender

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2014***

Are men more rational than women? Females more caring than males? Alleged differences between the sexes can generate heated debate. In this issue, we explore the biological basis of sex differences and the relationship between sex and gender. As well as covering the science of sex determination, we look at attitudes towards masculinity and femininity, and ask whether sex is truly a useful way of categorising people.


***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2014***

Dealing with things smaller than 100 nanometres (for comparison, a human hair is 80,000 nm wide), nanotechnologies are an exciting prospect. Yet while many agree they are the future, questions about safety still remain for some nanotechnologies. From nano-hype to nano-nonsense, this issue sifts sense from speculation.


***This issue has been archived***

This is the era of the expanding waistline. Over the past few decades we have been steadily piling on the pounds. Newspapers warm of an ‘obesity timebomb’, but why is obesity such a problem? And who should be doing something about it? In this issue, we investigate the interplay between science, medicine and society, and people, institutions and politics.