biology, Explainer, genetic modification, Science, science news, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday science stories 13/08/17

An absolutely fascinating account about human breast milk, which turns out to be an incredibly sophisticated substance full of beneficial microbes, antibodies and even cells. Made me feel a lot less abnormal about my still-breastfeeding 2 1/2 year old!

Genetically modified salmon have been approved for human consumption in Canada These fish continuously produce growth hormone so they reach maturity (and hence marketability) much sooner. I wouldn’t be worried about eating it, but I do have some concerns about escapees – would they potentially out-compete wild salmon?

What should you buy if you have the cash to spare? Time, apparently, as opposed to things. Buying time makes you happy. This is the link to the actual scientific paper, hence a bit dry, but it’s not hugely technical.

Finally, this week’s featured image shows the FlyPi, a 3D printed fluorescent microscope system based on a Raspberry Pi computer system that has been developed by the Baden lab here at Sussex University. They can be built for less than 100 Euros, compared to the 1000s that even a basic microscope usually costs. Website includes link to the original paper, with full technical detail, and other resources.

 

 

 

News, science news

Should we really stop taking antibiotics when we feel better?

You probably saw all that fuss in the news a few days ago about a study in the BMJ which concluded that you shouldn’t take the full course of antibiotics – or at least, that was what was reported. I was immediately suspicious that this was one of those stories that the press spins wildly out of all proportion. So let’s see what the actual study has to say…

Continue reading

biology, evolution, Science, science news

Human evolution continues to get more complicated

A good, if slightly technical article in the Guardian today here, about the ever-contentious split between modern humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals. The evidence for interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals added up quite convincingly after the initial surprise discovery, probably shortly after the “Out of Africa” migration around 75,000 years ago. This article reports on results from sequencing mitochondrial DNA, which is only transmitted through the female line, suggesting there was some interbreeding between 413,000-270,000 years ago, a staggeringly long time ago. This is way before the main migration out of Africa by modern humans, and not that long after the split between the Neanderthal and Homo sapiens lineages from their common ancestor around 500,000 years ago. It seems that there may have been smaller migrations before our species successfully established itself outside of Africa.

I’ve written about human evolution before here, which gives an overview of some of the more recent findings about our relationships with other hominids. This new finding really strikes me again how migration is a defining feature of our species; it may well have been so for other hominids too. Maybe this is why our ancient relationships are just as mixed up as our modern ones.

biology, Science, science news

A glowy frog (and an apology)

Yes. I know. I disappeared. What happened? Term happened, is what. I’ve been flat out since the end of January and it’s only now easing off. I am aiming to spruce up the site and get going on posts over the spring/summer. I am hoping that next year will be less frantic as I will not have to write most of my lectures from scratch, or be taking a qualification at the same time…then again, maybe the apocalypse will have arrived by then (I’m feeling a tad pessimistic at the state of the world/my country this morning).

I’ll post something more substantial in the next few days. In the meantime, something to brighten your day (pun intended) – a fluorescent frog:

Fluorescent frog

Researchers have found the first fluorescent frog, the delightfully named South American polka dot tree frog. Fluorescence isn’t as common in terrestrial animals as aquatic ones, and it’s never been found in an amphibian, so this is very surprising. Moreover, the molecules responsible for the effect are quite unlike those seen in other fluorescent animals – they are in fact more similar to those seen in plants.

Fluorescence is distinct from bioluminescence, in which organisms generate their own light via chemical reactions (meaning it can happen in the dark). Fluorescence means that they absorb light at one wavelength and emit it at another, longer one. Will alien life have fluorescence? Possibly, although I think bioluminescence is more likely.

Biological therapy, biology, genetic modification, medicine, News, Science, science news

A successful first for gene therapy

Who would like to hear some really good news? Thought so. One of the promises of the molecular biology and genomics revolutions was that gene therapy – replacing defective, disease-causing genes with functioning ones, or otherwise treating these diseases by genetic means – would become a reality. Even, optimistically, something commonplace. Like so many things, however, it has proved more complicated than hoped, and those longed-for treatments elusive. There has never been a therapy of any kind that alters the disease progress of a neurodegenerative disease – until now. Continue reading

biology, genetic modification, Science, science news

Artificial carbon fixation

Probably most of us are aware that plants take sunlight and use it to “fix” carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere into sugar compounds by the process of photosynthesis. In fact, natural photosynthesis removes about 100 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. The natural release and absorption of CO2 is balanced – but humans are releasing over 30 billion tonnes per year on top of that, which is increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere and causing global warming; this exceeds the ability of plants to remove it. But what if we could find a way to make carbon fixation more efficient? Now, a team of researchers have done just that. Continue reading