Saturday, 25 December 2010

SOS: Save our Science - Last minute Christmas

Now that Christmas is drawing to a close our thoughts turn exuberantly towards the January sales. Blowing all of our new gift vouchers and our remaining money on last minute impulse buys. The good news for all of us is that we may be able to blame these rash choices on our genes.

Impulsivity is described as doing something without foresight, and understanding it has major implications for a range of psychiatric disorders as well as explaining what will be going on in the high street over the next few weeks. Impulsive behaviour is very complex and under the control of many genes. It has many aspects, most especially reduced inhibitions, but also including reduced attention span, limited awareness of consequences and inappropriate responses to rewards. Impulsive behaviour is also known to be inherited in some cases. This new study shows that it is possible to identify the genes involved in this behaviour.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

tMoL: Nucleus

The brain of the cell. It is one of the most well known elements of an animal cell, and is common to all higher organisms (eukaryotes – animals, plants,fungi), as with most structures inside a cell it does not occur in bacteria (prokaryotes). Most DNA in a cell is found in the nucleus, it is the storage centre for all of the information to make more cells. The nucleus is also full of proteins which control which genes are active in a cell and help to pack all of the DNA into such a tiny space. This is how cells are able to become specialised to a specific function, by controlling which genes are active.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lab 1: Only the Nose Glows (The reality)

I’m back home for Christmas and all done with my first rotation. I’m going to start writing it all up tomorrow, 7000 words in 4 weeks. So it seemed like a good time to write a post about what I’ve actually been doing over the last 9 weeks.

I’ve been trying to find out what makes olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from neural crest stem cells (NCCs). This means I’ve been looking at which genes are active in these cells at different points in development. The information from an active gene is converted into a messenger molecule (mRNA) and this information is then used to construct a protein, which has a specific role within a cell. mRNA and proteins can be coloured using specific markers.

Friday, 17 December 2010

SOS: Save our Science - Save our Salmon

This is a story that's been going for a long while. The concerns over the effects of fish farming on wild fish populations. Also it's nice to take the science outside for a change. This new research is quite interesting and was well reported. Although the actual findings still need a lot of work.

A sudden population crash in wild salmon during 2002 caused mass panic for the authorities in Canada. This coincided with closer monitoring of farmed salmon, and resulted in the blame being placed on parasites transferred from farmed fish. The phenomenon has drawn the attention of many researchers and a new study appears to show that although there is transfer of parasitic sea lice between farmed and wild salmon it cannot be responsible for the decline in population.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

SOS: Save our Science - Inside Endometriosis

I wrote this after reading the BBC article about the same paper. The work was very poorly explained, and the findings were completely mistranslated. However, this time the original paper was pretty good, although filled with statistics (Bleh!)

All women hate periods, but a small percentage have it much worse than others. They suffer from endometriosis; severe pains and poor fertility throughout their reproductive life. The illness is often passed down through families, so must be partially dependent on genes. A new study has identified where some of these genes may occur.

Monday, 13 December 2010

tMoL: The Meanings of Life - Boxes, little boxes

I’m creating this section as a means for me to blog without having to put in too much effort. In each post I’m going to pick one of the many words and acronyms developed by academics to confuse everyone else, and explain it for everyone to understand, and provide you with a few useful little facts. The first few are going to be pretty easy, words that come up in the media all the time. Words that everyone has heard and probably knows the meaning of but not necessarily some of the more interesting bits.

Cell – I want to start with cells because they are an important part of my work, they are generally most active and undergo the most changes during development. They are also the basis for life and are generally the start point of most discussions of the evolution of life (although actually there was a lot of good stuff before that, which tends to get overlooked). Also I will be talking about them to local school children in a few months and hopefully this will help me to organise some of my ideas.

This time it's personal - A quick look at life beyond labbing (including pictures of DNA cake)

This has been sat on my computer since Friday and I've been meaning it post it, but got distracted by other things. It seems appropriate to post it now as I had quite a non-worky day, I had loads of end of term things to finish off, and managed to catch up with old friends both at lunch and at dinner.

Also, if anyone hasn't seen it, I wrote a post for the Lab Rat a few days ago. 

Last night was the lab Christmas dinner, so I thought I’d follow it up with a piece on the social side of my life. It is true that biological research can be quite demanding in terms of time. Sometimes you just have to be in the lab late night, early morning or at the weekends, to make sure the animals or cells you are working with stay healthy and to collect data. Thus it is very important to balance this with a healthy social life, something I have not always be great at.

Friday, 10 December 2010

SOS: Save our science - Good Science or good publicity?

So this is the second part of my ramblings, and probably the most important bit. This part is all about accurately reporting on science in the media. I’m going to write about science stories that have got people talking, the ones that actually make it into the mainstream. I’m going to write about them in a pragmatic (and possibly occasionally cynical) manner that cuts to the truth of the matter without all the overblown revolutionary claims that are usually applied to these stories.

It seems appropriate to start with this one; I should say before I begin that I do strongly believe in NASA and hope they get the shuttle program back on track soon. But as far as overblowing things goes, I thought this was pretty good.

(Ed. Since this whole story is rapidly collapsing into random mud slinging I would like to point out that this post was written to highlight the way in which science can be distorted by the media, and is not meant as a personal affront to anyone directly involved).
Good science or good publicity?

Good Publicity

Big news! NASA has found aliens living in California (like we didn’t already know) and everyone is getting excited that we’re not alone in the universe. But is it really that big a deal, or has NASAs publicity department just been very clever in distracting everyone from the fact they still haven’t managed to get the shuttle off the ground?

To start with, I’m going to assume that the science underlying all of this is actually correct, and we’ll look at the actual implications and meanings of such a discovery and how it can be blow out of all proportion by the press. Later, I will briefly look at why this work seems to have very little sound scientific foundation and does not really demonstrate anything important.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Lab 1: Only the Nose Knows


This is the idea that started it all. Telling you all about the different research that I get to do as a PhD student. This post is all about the first lab I'm working in, I started here in early October and have just over a week left until I leave. It's been really a lot of fun, although it did take me a few weeks to really get back into doing work after a very long summer vacation. But the personal stuff can come later. I want to start with the overview. This is the explanation of why I'm doing the project, the stuff I tell people who ask about my work.

(Ed. If anyone's interested, the lab I'm in just released the paper which preceded my project showing that olfactory ensheathing cells are from the neural crest. We also made it into New Scientist.)

Cells from the nose that COULD cure stroke or paralysis! Crazy, right? That’s what I thought too, but it does seem to be true. Cells which guide nerves from the nose into the brain, when transplanted to damaged regions of the spine, help the nerves there to grow through the scar tissue and reconnect with the proper targets.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Small beginnings

Hey! Well, since this is my first post I guess I'd better introduce myself and what I'm trying to do here. For now you can call me Ret, I'm here to give you an inside view of modern biological research. I'm an avid believer in communicating biology to everyone. The point of this blog is to introduce biology to everyone, in a way that is clear and easy to understand. To dispel some of the bad reputation research has gained over the years.

I am a 23 year old, first year PhD student. I am at the University of Cambridge studying animal development; how an adult animal is formed from a fertilised egg. This is a very popular field of study, especially since the advent of stem cell research. I will also be your guide to the "Cambridge bubble" hopefully giving you some idea what it's actually like here on the inside, and showing you some of the things that go on here, besides working. Personally I spend a lot of time dancing and baking.