Thursday, 19 December 2013

Eye Spy.

Having written about the wonders and marvels of the 3D printers, this next post really shows the  step up in terms of using printers for something other than printing out words and images.

It is hard, I believe to categorise this part of the body as equipment, but it plays an essential role for day-to-day living.

 A Cambridge University team has had a proof of principle piece of work published in the journal Biofabrication, which explains the preliminary trials of using printers to print new cells for the eyes to try and treat sight loss.

Being in the early stages of research, the team have shown that an inkjet printer (the type that most of us use at home, or in the office) can be used to print 2 types of eye cells: glial and ganglion cells. The experiment was carried out on adult mice, and once printed the cells were able to survive and grow in a growth medium. These cells are used in the body to transmit information from the eye to the brain, and helps to protect neurons. 

The team next plan to try and print rods and cones; which are light sensitive photoreceptors. This could be a really interesting field of research and possibly could help many get their sight back, or even help to retain what little sight they have left. 

Currently the experiment is still waiting for the go ahead in terms of human trials. But from what I have read it seems a promising start.

Explorer Fact: you actually see upside down but it is your brain which turns the image the "right" way round.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

What is science?

This post is a bit of a diversion from my normal factual take on scientific news. But I was thinking:

 What actually defines science?

 Is it the inclusion of facts and figures? Hypotheses and theories? The ability to think and analyse something that no-one else before has questioned?

Generally speaking, the majority of scientific discovery builds upon what has gone before. For example, Mendeleev didn't just coin the periodic table from thin air he worked from all the other basic predecessor tables, and then reworked the places for the elements to sit to match their characteristic properties.

It seems that science isn't only about 'discovery' but it is also about looking at something through fresh eyes and in a way that makes you stop and question a theory and dive a little deeper.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Metal Racers.

Being bound to a wheelchair, is obviously not thought of by many of us , but for a number of people it is a stark reality of life. Most users of wheelchairs, don't let being confined to 4 wheels stop them on their daily tasks, but sometimes it is the intricate driving of the chair itself which can be an issue.

A new, 'fashionable' piece of technology has been developed, where a magnetic stud is inserted into the tongue (so it resembles the traditional tongue piercing) and the wheelchair is controlled by the user flicking their tongue in the direction which they want to travel. (It acts a  bit like a game joystick controller.) The signal from the 'stud' is transmitted to a smartphone app which controls the wheelchair.

11 people who were paralysed from the waist down undertook an obstacle course full of twists and turns and it was their task to use the new 'stud' to direct their journey along the path. Once they had completed the course using the 'stud', a steering rival was used as a comparison and this was the 'sip-and-puff' method of propagation, where direction is controlled via breathing into a straw.

Obviously this new wheelchair controlling 'stud', actually requires the participants to have their tongue pierced, which for some people in their line of career, or lifestyle may be deemed as unacceptable or it just may not be to their liking.

However due to the tongue, like the hands and feet being able to make very fine movements, it could potentially be a starting point for some sort of device for implementation onto the tongue which does not require a piercing being necessary.

Maybe some sort of chemically thinned nano-plaster with the mechanism of the stud inside, may be the next level?


Just a shout out to all my readers to say a BIG thank you! The Science Tree has officially reached 1000 pageviews!!! Whooo!
Time to bring out the Fireworks!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

A Genomic Giant.

After hearing about the news yesterday, and being a biochemist in training, I have had no doubt in my mind that today's blog post will be dedicated to a man who helped to carve the way for genomics as we know and recognise today. Frederick (Fred Sanger) this one is for you.

Born August 13th 1918 in Gloucestershire, Sanger excelled in academia for most of his early life, gaining at place at the prestigious St John's College, Cambridge where he studied natural sciences. He continued on at Cambridge to successfully gain a PhD in 1943, with the thesis 'The metabolism of the amino acid lysine in the animal body'.

What Sanger is most known for is his considerable research towards genomics and consequently has received 2 Noble prize Awards to indicate this. He won 1 prize alone for his work on the protein insulin in 1958 and he shared his second prize in 1980 with Walter Gilbert for their contribution for determining the base sequence of nucleic acids.

in 1992, The Wellcome Trust and the MRC founded a building in the honor of Fred and named it after him 'The Sanger Institute', where it now stands proudly in Hinxton, close to Fed's house. The building was in fact opened by the great man himself on October 4th 1993.

Explorer Fact: Sanger was the only person to be awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry twice, but he was the fourth person to be awarded a second prize either alone or in tandem with someone else.

R.I.P  Friedrick Sanger 1918-2013

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Wildcats everywhere!

I've always been a huge fan of cats, big and small, and this new finding has gotten me very excited.

A new fossil skull  has been unearthed in the Himalayas, Tibet to be precise. The fossil is believed to be around 4.1-5.95 million years old. The discovery has been published by US and Chinese paleontologists. It was thought that the extinct cat is a relation to the big cats we know and love today, and their territories overlap a little. To show the relation between this fossil cat's skull, and the modern day big predators the species of the extinct cat was named panthera blytheae, where the big cats of today are in a family called pantherinae. 

The skull wasn't the only fossil piece Dr Tseng, Juan Liu and their team discovered; they found over 100 bones deposited along a riverbank. And now all the pieces are undergoing more testing on morphology and genetic ancestors, to give a clearer picture into the mammal behind the bones.

So the next time you look at your little domesticated feline, think about their big wildcat ancestor which was found on the river bank in Tibet and see the wildcat within!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The hunter's obsession.

Ever since the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick, Watson and Franklin, everyone has wanted to unlock the DNA code for the human genome, and this was successfully done, via the human genome project. However, what geneticists in the UK wish to achieve using 100,000 volunteers, almost makes all of these other DNA achievements look small and inconsequential in comparison.

The UK Personal Genome Project requires a brave 100,000 people who are willing to have their genome mapped, analysed and potentially shared with the rest of the world. The aim of this project, is to have a greater understanding into genetic diseases and diseases which come with age such as Alzheimer's and Type II diabetes.

The head of the US version of the project, Professor Church said that analysing such a large number of genomes can really help to lead to advances in studying disease and give a real insight into the genetic disposition some people have to certain diseases..

A project which is so personal can have a large effect on the participant, particularly as anonymity cannot be guaranteed. Those willing to take part will have to pass several tests to ensure that they understand the consequences of having their genetic data on show for the rest of the world.

Although this would be a magnificent step in the journey DNA discovery and sequencing could take, it could potentially have serious consequences on the participants like:

  • finding out about a genetic disease which they or their parents were unaware about having or being a carrier for.
  • potentially losing their current relationship or future relationship, via the discovery of a potential disease.
  • participants being targeted by insurance companies.
  • other companies cloning parts of their DNA without permission.
  • DNA copies being used to aid with crime.
Obviously, these are all worse case scenarios, but they are all possibilities with the current technological advances. 

But should the advantages always outweigh the negatives even if the negatives could be as harmful to the participant as those listed?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

I've heard that one before...

It has often been said that babies in the womb have the ability to listen and even respond to their mother's voice and other external noises. However scientists from the cognitive brain research unit at Helsinki University, have transposed this idea to another level.

A study using 24 pregnant women in their last trimester was carried out. 12 expectant mothers were asked to play the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to their foetus' for 5 days each week, whilst the other 12 did not (so they could act as a control). Once the babies were born the scientists played the same version of the nursery rhyme to all 24 children and measured their brain activity via electroencephalography.

The results showed that the babies who were exposed to the melody as foetus' had a stronger electrical response to the music than those who did not hear the ditty before birth. This indicates, that babies are extremely able to learn information at an early age and also have the ability to retain information for a long period of time; suggesting that time in the womb can act as a valuable opportunity to help babies develop.

Explorer Fact: According to this study the babies still respond to music played to them in the womb up to the age of 4 months!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Skinny Love.

Skin is a weird one. It stretches as we grow, it is self healing, it's waterproof and it keeps us from falling apart (which is the main reason why I love it!).

But in all seriousness, our skin is something short of a masterpiece!

Skin is the largest organ of all mammals. It is not made of just singular layer; there are several different layers all with distinct properties and functions to carry out. As we are humans, I am going to focus on the human skin.

The main functions of human skin are to provide protection from the external environment; to aid in the control of our core body temperature; to allow us to feel our environment and gain information from touch receptors; and finally for the storage and synthesis of vital vitamins (like the synthesis of vitamin D from UV light).

The layers which make up the human skin are the Epidermis, Dermis and the Subcutis. The main role of the Epidermis is to form a basic protection to outside microbes and pathogens and to give a waterproof layer to our bodies. The layer below the Epidermis, is the Dermis. The Dermis, is made mainly from connective tissues such as collagen, elastic and reticular fibres. It bears the strain placed upon the body and acts as a sort of cushion layer. The subsequent layer, the Subcutis' main function is to act as a linker from the skin to the the bone and muscle below.

Skin also comes in a wide range of colours and this is thanks to a little pigment called Melanin. The main role of Melanin is to absorb UV light emitted from the sun. Melanin can be traced back to the Amino Acid Tyrosine. So what does Melanin actually look like? Well from under a microscope it looks like a very small brown freckle with a diameter of less than 800nm. As Melanin's main role is to protect from the sun, it is obvious that those with a darker skin tone are more protected from the sun than those with fairer skin. However as an amazing adaptation, with the exposure to sun, the amount of Melanin, increases in the skin (giving the appearance of a tan).

So the next time someone pokes you, remember that it is your marvellous skin which is acting as a barrier from such an external force, and marvel in the wonder of skin, and think SKINNY LOVE!

Explorer Fact: The Epidermis is made of 5 different layers: Stratum corneum, stratum lucidum, stratum granulosum, stratum spinosum and the stratum basale.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Print me 3D

The average household printer which the majority of us own can only handle the two dimensional world; which for our normal printing needs is sufficient enough. However for others living in a 3D world with a 2D printer just really isn't enough and so they have taken printing to a whole other dimension.

The concept of 3D printers, is not really revolutionary as they have been around for a few years but these printers were more used for printing materials such as plastics. However, the Amaze project has completely rehauled this method and seeks to develop new printable metal compounds which are stronger, lighter and cheaper than their traditional counterparts. 28 institutions, comprising of companies, universities and businesses have teamed up to achieve their goal of printing metallic rocket and plane pieces, in a bid to try and reduce waste, carbon emissions and save money. 

The main metal they are excited about is an alloy of tungsten and they unveiled a prototype of this on Tuesday at London's Science Museum. This alloy has the incredible property of being able to withstand temperatures of up to 3,000C.

As you read this blog, factories are being set up in 6 countries including the UK, to help and develop the industrial supply chain.  So far the only part to be printed has been a 2m section of an aeroplane wing. 

Who knows, maybe this development in technology will lead us to eventually being able to print, complete customised planes, trains and cars.  But is this a good development for the industry? An industry rife with job losses and deficits? It is a possibility. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Oh how Noble!

I'm not really one to write about Physics, but I feel that this accolade deserves to be written about.

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert will both share this year's Physics Noble prize for the discovery of the Boson particle. This particle was first referred to in the 1960s where they tried to explain why even the most basic points of the Universe will still carry mass, but it was not until 2012 when the Large Hadron Collider was used and the particle (The Higgs Boson) was finally discovered at CERN.

A fantastic quote taken from the secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, really sums up the importance of the recognition of the work done, by these 2 physicists "This year's prize is about something small that makes all the difference". Not only does phrase sum up the importance of the Boson particle but it also recognises many other scientific breakthroughs.

Generally now, everything developed or discovered is microscopic yet the possibilities they hold can be breathtaking and could potentially make the world of difference.

Explorer Fact: Both Physicists are over the age of 80. Francois is 80 and Peter is 84! Which means they first touched about the Particle when they were merely in their early 30s.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Awake the sleeping babies.

The prospect of having children, is something which most women yearn for. You could say this has been developed from a young age with the playing of 'families' and 'babies', however for some women the future of having a baby is unattainable. This could be due to a number of reasons, the main, due to early menopause.

Doctors in the the US and Japan have developed a technique to 'reawaken' eggs in women who have undergone early menopause. A small group of 27 women were used in this study. The selection criteria was that the women had to have become infertile at the age of 30 due to having insufficient eggs, causing them to run out of eggs, before they have started a family and leading to infertility.

The US and Japanese teams attempted to reactivate any remaining follicles in the ovaries. They removed the ovaries and sliced them into fragments, they then proceeded to add a chemical which inhibits egg development. The ovary fragments were then inserted back into the fallopian tube, and the women were administered with a hormone therapy treatment. The follicles began to develop in around 8 of the women and so the eggs were removed and taken through the stages of normal IVF treatment.

The eggs then gave rise to an actual baby and another baby is also expected shortly. This study, is ground-breaking and could help with other forms of infertility, once the technique has been developed further.

This technique could help to expand the population of the world and continue the baby boom, we here in the UK have experienced year on year!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Myths of Science.

Science is a particularly tricky subject, and as such there are many "Urban Legends" floating around. Here are just a few, which I found rather amazing, and proved what I had been told to be rather wrong.

Dogs sweat through their tongues.
Dogs mainly sweat through their paws, but they help to regulate their body temperature via panting. And via panting, their tongues are exposed.

That the blood in veins is blue.
Blood is always red due to the presence of haemoglobin. Veins carry deoxygenated blood which is infact a deep rich red. Veins actually look blue due to the fat under the skin only being able to absorb low-frequency light, this then only allows the highly energetic blue waves to pass through the dark red vein and be reflected back to us: which is why we see veins as blue.

That humans only have 5 senses.
We do have the 5 senses we are all taught about in primary school (sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing). But we also have several more; the senses of balance, acceleration, the position of our body in space, pain and temperature relative to external conditions.

After being in the bath for a long time, we get wrinkly due to osmosis.
This is actually an evolutionary advantage, as the wrinkles on our fingers and feet actually help us to grip slippery surfaces with ease. (Try this out in the bath tub!)

Holding a toad will give you a wart.
The knobbly bits on the toad, which were assumed to be warts are just their markings, and the virus which produces warts in humans is specific to humans. Meaning that you are unable to catch it from a toad or any other animal.

So are any urban science myths true?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The humans of the future.

Whilst doing some research, I came across a most surprising article, describing what humans were expected to look like in 102013. Firstly I wouldn't even know how to say this year out loud: ten twenty thirteen or a hundred and two and thirteen, either way it's a long long way from now.

The most surprising part of this article was the picture included. According to Nickolay Lamm we will have large, buy eyes with rather prominent foreheads with a pigmented skins tone. Lamm spoke to Dr Alan Kwan who guided his illustration. Kwan is an expert in computational genomics from the Washington University. 

Obviously to gain these features, one would have to assume that our environment would act as the main selection pressure in determining what changes happen to the human physique. Changes in the air and the light around us (becoming either brighter or dimmer) will affect our facial features, most probably our skin and eyes (size, colour and shape). Moreover it has also been predicted that the size of our head will continue to grow, and has been doing so since the Middle Ages, in order to accommodate our growing brain size. 

I guess this is an interesting topic really. To think about what we would look like in the future. I just hope humans don't  end up looking like Animé cartoon characters, although that would be rather interesting. But who knows what the future will hold, maybe we will all just morph into 1 uniform look or maybe we will turn into these weird bug-eye creatures.

All I know for sure is that I don't want to be there when this happens, it would be horrifyingly scary to witness!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Martian Four

Ever wanted to colonize a new land all by yourself (with some help from others)? Lay down the laws and decide how you and everyone around you should live?

If the answer is YES, maybe you should have applied for the one way trip to Mars.

The Mars One mission organizers in partnership with the entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp has set about trying to find a team of volunteers, who would be willing to be blasted into space in 2023 and leave everything they have grown to love behind. The trip to Mars, isn't really a trip, but more  a 1 way flight, as vehicles coming back from Mars haven't been developed yet. (which really raises queries as to what would happen in a case of emergency).

202,586 people have applied for this mission by explaining why they are perfect to go to the Red planet. However, I believe that the role of the team will not be purely for their own entertainment. They will more than likely be looking to extend our current understanding of the solar system and our universe whilst they live on the planet.

Out of the 202,586 applicants, it will be narrowed down to 24 Mars One astronauts, and finally an elite group of 4 will be chosen to be the first human inhabitants of Mars.

The total cost of this project is expected to reach £4 billion. The committee aim to gain back the money by launching a reality TV programme, following the 4 astronauts who touch-down on Mars. 

Personally, I don't think that this is such a great idea. Obviously, from having people actually living on the planet, we would be able to gain invaluable knowledge not only about Mars but also the rest of the solar system, but I feel that the astronauts haven't been considered as real people but more as humanoid versions of the Mars Rover; as contingency plans for emergencies seem rather underdeveloped.

It will be a historical first in colonising another planet, but what else other than scientific gain will be attained?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Another Branch!

I've decided to extend The Science Tree to another media site: TWITTER! Follow @thesciencetree for latest science news stories and #sciencethursdays.

The hashtag of #sciencethursdays will tell you when the latest blog post has been posted, and a link will be provided to the appropriate blog post on here.

Keep Exploring!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

'Ear 'Ear

Imagine being able to fit onto the nail of a thumb. Everything about you would be miniaturised. This is the case for the one of the world's smallest frog the Gardiner's frog.

This little amphibian can reach the size of 11mm (1.1cm) long once matured, but are born only 3mm in length. The males are slightly shorter than the females and grow to a maximum of 8mm. These miniature frogs are at a threatened level and are marked as vulnerable by conservationists.

The amazing thing about this frog is that it does not have an middle ear. The middle ear was thought to be crucial in hearing, as this is the part where the eardrum vibrates and previously the frog was thought to be deaf. This initial belief was dismissed via a new behavioural experiment.

The frogs produce a high pitched squeaking, which scientists recorded. They then played back the recording to the wild frogs and observed their behaviour. The wild frogs responded to the squeaks, which proved that they were able to hear.

Next was to find out how the ear less frog was able to hear a sound without the presence of an eardrum. The research team from the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles produced simulations in trying to predict how the frog's head responds to the sound waves. They played sounds at the same frequency as the frog's own calls, and found that the mouth of the frog resonated like an ear drum, amplifying the sound. Furthermore it was found that these frog's had thinner layers of tissues between their mouths and inner ear, which allowed sound waves to be passed much more easily between the 2.

Although this is an great discovery and it leads us to understand the anatomy of the Gardiner's frog some more; one would have thought that being in a colony, the frogs must have needed to communicate between each other, and consequently they would have been able to respond to the calls which they make and subsequently there would have been a premise for the development of a new technique of hearing without the presence of a middle ear.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Atomic number 115.

The periodic table is a very familiar sight to scientists and non scientists alike. The modern day periodic table was first produced in 1869 by Dimitri Mendeleev, who arranged elements according to their atomic number. The highest atomic number in the current periodic table is 103, however this could all be about to change.

A new element with an atomic number of 115 has been presented alongside new groundbreaking evidence. This element had first been discovered by Russian scientists in 2004, but is still awaiting verification 9 years on, by the chemistry and physics governing bodies.

The new evidence was presented by a Swedish team this year, and it explains the element's high radioactivity levels and consequently it's extremely short half life. A half life is the time taken for an element to decompose, and the new element 115, has a half life of less than a second.

Although this new element has not yet been verified it is in good hands with the GSI research unit in Germany who have discovered 6 other new elements previously.

This could potentially mean that a new periodic table may be required soon, but first this new element needs to be verified and gain a name.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Prehistoric Cook.

When we cook, many of us decide to jazz up the flavour of our food by adding a few spices. The idea of adding a bit more spice to our lives is not something which stems from recent times, it could be said that being a bit of a culinary whizz runs in the family: our prehistoric family.

As soon as the phase prehistoric is mentioned, I happen to think of bumbling cave people, dressed in leopard print, wielding either a spear or a club, and with back combed, unruly hair not a person who is able to season their food, to gain the maximum flavour in order to enjoy their meal to their fullest potential.

However, Dr Hayley Saul from The University of York led a research team who discovered the remains of garlic mustard on the surface of shards of pottery from Denmark and Germany. The shards were carbon dated between 5,800 and 6,150 years ago. Alongside the residue of garlic mustard, evidence of fat residue from meats and fish were also found, suggesting the usage of the mustard to be purely for flavour as it contains little to no nutritional value.

This has not been the first case of seasoning discovered to be in use during prehistoric times, as coriander was found to be used in Israel 23,000 years ago. But it is a first in regards to prehistoric Europe.

So the next time, the word prehistoric is mentioned do not think of the bumbling cave person, instead imagine the people who first used spice to season their food.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Where are they? Over Hair!

The idea of tracking animals has been in force for many years. The information gained from such a tracking mechanism, enables scientists and conservationists a first hand look into the life of the particular animal and the many journeys which it undertakes in it's life. Generally the sort of animals tracked are fairly large, so birds, turtles and sharks are animals which initially spring to mind.

But in a world's first; ants are going to be tracked.

1,000 Hairy Wood Ants have been fitted with radio transmitters( on the top of their exoskeleton abdomens) via the use of a special adhesive. The Northern Hairy Wood Ants have a near threatened status and are found mostly in the north of England in the Peak District and up on the Yorkshire Moors.

The ants will be tracked with their whereabouts and what they are carrying. The evidence collected could be used to understand how ants communicate and travel between their various nests.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The big 5-0!

Explorers, we made it!

Happy 50th post to The Science Tree.

I started this blog to encourage more people to enjoy science and to spread my passion for a subject I have enjoyed studying and will continue to enjoy studying for the rest of my academic life. So I don't see this blog as a task, I instead see it as a way to share my love for a subject with others. Even if 1 person reads my post it makes me happy to know that, I shared some aspect of science with them.

Explorer 50 fact: 50 is the sum of 3 consecutive square numbers.
2nd Explorer 50 fact: an ant can lift 50x its own weight

Stop! Burger Time

I know that it's not the usual day for posts, but this caught my eye and I thought I must share it with you guys.

A test-tube burger has been created in London, and eaten by people at a press conference. 

Scientists from Maastricht univeristy took stem cells from a cow and then differentiated them into muscle cells and allowed them to grow into strips and made a burger from them.

This burger research cost £215,000, and I guess some would say this new development in growing edible things from a Petri dish could potentially help to end world hunger.

Tasters of the burger said it had the taste and feel of a regular burger, but was leaner and had less fat and hence was less juicy. Obviously this lab-grown version of a meat beef burger is going to be unable to replace the traditional burgers which we have grown to love. But it does show the understanding which scientists have about stem cells and the capability of producing food without using vast areas of land and generating a lot of greenhouse gas. So maybe, just maybe, this could be a new frontier for food production.

All I know is that I for one will be sticking to the regular burgers, until this new frontier has been fully explored.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

We're running WILD!

They say safety in numbers is useful when in the wild. How about if you were bred in captivity and then released into the wild? I'm rather sure that safety in numbers would still be applicable.

However I'm more interested in the development of spatial awareness.

A study was carried out with 1 year old salmon fish. They were raised in either a plain tank or a tank filled with all the things that fun-loving fish enjoy, like pebbles, weeds and other plants (this is the 'enriched' environment). The salmon who grew up in the 'enriched' environment had a better ability to navigate themselves out of a maze compared to the salmon who were raised in the empty tank.

This study links into previous studies of mammals who were born into captivity and it shows that by having stimulation in their immediate environment apparently has increased their chance of survival when released into the wild! Although this was initially discovered in mammals, this has been a fishy first!.

The nitty-gritty science results of the study was that the fish in the 'enriched' environment exhibited changes in the mRNA in their brains, which is linked to spatial awareness.

This can provide a crucial turning point for the conservation of fish, allowing their environment to be tailored to increase their chance at surviving in the wilderness.

So if you happen to find an egg or a small animal that you want to hand rear, be sure to create a stimulating environment for it to grow up in; so that when it is released into the wild, it will be able to fend for itself like a real life wild thing.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Happy Birthday!

Happy 93rd birthday to Rosalind Franklin, the woman who alongside Crick and Watson, helped to determine the double helical structure of DNA.

Sadly, Franklin, was not acknowledged with a Noble Prize like the others, as she died before their work was recognised, and was unable to be awarded the prize posthumously.

However, here at The Science Tree, Rosalind's work will never be forgotten. So Explorers when anyone mentions the words: DNA, double helix, Crick and Watson. Be sure to add one more equally important word: Franklin.

Happy Birthday Rosalind.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Suit of Invisibility.

Even if you haven't watched Jaws, I think we are all familiar with the fact that Sharks are attracted to the splashing of swimmers and surfers bobbing along the surface of the water. The fact that they also explore new things with their mouths, also increases their chance of biting as they are being purely inquisitive.

2 new wet suits have been unveiled from Scientists from the University of Western Australia alongside SAMS (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems). These wet suits will hopefully act as a sort of 'invisibility' device, to render swimmers and surfers to blend in with their oceanic background.

It has been recently discovered that Sharks are in fact colour blind, and 1 of the suits camouflages the wearer against the water (the Elude suit), and the other suit copies nature's warning signs by being striped (the Diverter).

Hopefully these new suits will help to change Western Australia's nickname name of 'Shark Attack Capital' for the better. Although these suits have not yet been tested, there are plans to test the suits with Great White Sharks in South Australia and South Africa this summer.

There are big expectations from these suits. So hopefully soon they will be on sale, and will help to save the lives of many a surfer.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wait, just a...second?

The familiar phrase 'wait a sec.'. could potentially be redefined.

Stop, the clocks! 

Scientists have developed a new clock which is far more accurate than the clocks in use now, thus altering the length of time periods (seconds, minutes and hours) as we know it.

The current clocks are atomic. They expose caesium atoms to microwaves causing them to swing back and forth at regular intervals. This type of clock has been the most accurate method of time keeping since the 1960s.

The new clock on the block is the optical lattice clock, which loses 1 second every 300 million years, which makes it 3 times more accurate than the current time keeping method. This new clock uses light to excite strontium atoms causing them to vibrate.

So this means that if humans could live for millions of years, instead of falling a second behind every 100 million years, we will lose a second every 300 million years.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The wonderful Mrs Curie.

Mrs Curie also known as Marie Curie, was an absolutely amazing scientist. She didn't just stick to 1 type of science, but she was a high achiever in not only Physics but also Chemistry.

Marie was the first woman to win a Noble Prize ever, not only this but she was the only person to win the prize in 2 fields. In 1903 she shared her first noble prize with her husband Pierre Curie and fellow physicist Henri Becquerel. Marie, finally got a Noble prize all to herself in 1911 for her work in Chemistry.

Among some of her discoveries, Marie Curie discovered the elements radium and polonium. Moreover she and her husband helped to solidify the knowledge of radioactivity.

Curie was a brilliant scientist and consequently numerous locations around our globe are named after her. Although Curie lived a glittering life, I guess you could say she died as a consequence of her research. She died on July 4th 1934 from pernicious anaemia, a condition thought to have been contracted from her long term exposure to radiation.

So add the 4th of July to your science calendar so we can celebrate the life of the wonderful Marie Curie.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A robot in space.

In August this year, Japan are sending a little robot called Kirobo into space. His mission is to communicate with the other astronauts on the International Space station.

Kirobo was designed by Dentsu alongside Toyota with the help of the University of Tokyo. the robot is voice activated and basically an enhanced artifical person. All of this technology and cuteness is packed within a height of 1 foot. Kirobo can recognise emotions and body language and can also respond correctly. Which is pretty amazing considering he is effectively a mass of chipboard and wires and electricity.

Who knows what having a robot in space will lead to?! 

It could potentially open the door to a new frontier of having robots for human companionship, or more likely for robots to be used in technical and laborious jobs.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

5 fingered thunder.

I don't know about you, but I actually quite enjoy clapping my hands in response to a good performance, and generally some crowds are more noisy than others.

According to a Swedish study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Interface, it has been discovered that clapping is in fact contagious.

It has been recognised that it is not the quality of the performance which determines the length of the applause but it is the group dynamic of the people in the audience. Apparently it only takes 1 or 2 people to begin clapping for an applause to ripple through the audience and likewise it takes only a few people to stop clapping in order to stop the applause in its tracks.

A researcher in this study has said that there is a strong social pressure to start clapping and an equally strong  pressure to continue clapping until another person has initiated the termination of the applause.

So the next time clapping appears to be appropriate, be bold and either initiate the clapping or be the first person to rest your hands.

Be the clapping trendsetter.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

DNA's day in court.

Should DNA have a right to be owned? Well, the US Supreme Court has said no.

The courts have ruled that human genes themselves cannot be given a patent, however artificially copied DNA (cDNA) can be claimed on the grounds of intellectual property. Obviously DNA cannot be physically owned as it originates from a natural source, so no-one technically has rights to it, as it belongs to everyone equally. In contrast, cDNA has the ability to be patented as it does not occur naturally.

There have been grumbles from the biotechnological industry; they believe that a ban like this has the ability to affect any investments in gene therapies and research opportunities. (I guess that gene technology has a lot of money in it.)

This ruling has been a long time coming, having first started in 2009 with the question of whether companies should have the right to patent genes. However Universities and medical research firms have had the right to hold intellectual property over human genes for the past 30 years!

So in a nutshell:

  • DNA--> can't be patented
  • cDNA--> can be patented 

Explorer fact: around 40% of the human genome is already patented.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The elusive gene of the tiger.

The joy about zoos, is going to see the animals which you have read about in books. I would say once you have been to 1 zoo, you have been to them all! However in some situations, there are specialised species like the white Bengal tiger which is a rare genetic variant of the normal orange Bengal tiger sub-species.

These tigers can be found in their natural environment, the wild but they are far more common in captivity, where they are inbred to maintain the distinctive white coat colour. As a consequence of inbreeding, many of these captive white tigers have genetic mutations, or trouble with sight and hearing due to the loss of pigmentation.

The Peking university has reported in the journal of Current Biology, the genetics of a family of tigers in the Chimelong Safari Park. This study included both white and orange tigers. The study pinpointed the pigment gene SLC45A2. This gene inhibits the production of the red and yellow pigment, but the gene for black pigmentation remains unaffected and the stripes are still produced.

This genetic discovery is hoped to lead to their reintroduction into the wild under a conservation programme. It would appear that white tigers are more vulnerable than their counterpart Bengal tigers, where they are targeted for trophy hunting. All the white tigers which were shot were mature adults and suggests that these tigers are able to survive without their fitness being compromised.

So maybe, there will be more white tigers roaming free through the wild soon.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Who said gold was at the end of the rainbow?

We have all heard that if you follow the rainbow and arrive at the end, there will be a pot of gold waiting for you. Obviously, this is not true (if that were the case, we'd all be millionaires!). However what awaits in the deep may be of value.

The UN International Seabed Authority (ISA) has published it's first plan on extracting small mineral-rich nodules from the sea bed. This "idea" has been thrown around for many a year, however with the recent  developments in technology and the rising prices for the gems and precious metals, it has become a more feasible plan.

I suppose in some ways this could be beneficial to a country and help to boost their economy, however the irreversible damage which will be carried out upon the sea bed, really needs to be considered. Much of our oceans have not yet been explored and so we may be potentially affecting an animal's habitat and more importantly we could be forcing an animal or coral reef into extinction purely on the greed of humans!

The ISA has stated that they will be issuing 17 licences for seabed extraction, with at least 7 more to follow. ISA claims that any profit made from the selling of the minerals will be donated to developing countries. Although the donation of profit is a good gesture, it could actually be making matters worse. The degradation of the seabed could affect the footfall of tourists who travel to countries and small islands to experience the exquisite marine life. So the saying 'all that glitters is not gold' is apparently true, our oceans may be full of priceless gems and metals but they are also home to some amazing creatures and beautiful plants.

Should the price of gemstones and metals outweigh the precious organisms of our seas?

It's been hectic

Hi Readers. Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I have been so busy what with exams that have been happening over the past month. But I am back and ready to explore some more! Are you?

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Plaster me in!

That moment, when you slice your finger with the knife you were using to cut the carrots, or the day when you fell over in primary school and badly grazed your knee. Either way the First Aid kit is the first thing to reach for, and a plaster would be the first thing to hand.

Plasters not only protect the cut from any invading pathogens in the air, but it also helps to keep the wound moist for better healing. However, the DREADED moment always  occurs when washing your hands or going in the shower....The plaster always tumbles off and falls into a heap leaving a very fragile piece of skin exposed. Which, frankly hurts so much, when water splashes onto the wound.

Well, if this has happened to you, fear no more!

American scientists have designed a new form of plaster based upon the action of the parasitic worm Pomphorhynus laevis. The plaster is expected to be used (at the moment) specifically for burns patients. The 4 x 4 cm patch has essentially a bed of fine needles, which when applied to the body can attach to the skin, up to 3 times stronger than the regular plaster, which uses a sticky adhesive. Not only is this beneficial  but the scientists also think they could use the spikes for therapeutic purposes to administer medication subcutaneously.

Additionally, once the new spiked plaster is removed it inflicts less trauma on the tissues than the regular adhesive counterparts. Making it a very practical advance in pharmacological treatments.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Father of IVF has sadly died

The great trailblazer in the world of In vitro fertilisation (IVF), Sir Robert Edwards has sadly passed away, on 10th April 2013.

Edwards, has helped to bring joy to many families across the world, by developing the technique of IVF which has helped to create over 4 million "test-tube" babies. Edwards along with Patrick Steptoe devised the technique of fertilising an egg with a sperm outside of the body.

The process itself involves monitoring a woman's (the mother's) ovulation patterns and then removing multiple eggs from her ovaries. Sperm is then collected from the father, and both the sperm and egg are placed into a fluid in the laboratory. This then allows the sperm to fertilise the egg (or eggs). The woman's menstrual cycle is then monitored and the fertilised egg is inserted into the woman's uterus where it will later hopefully develop into a successful pregnancy.

8 years after the development of the technique, Louise Brown was born in 1978, becoming the world's first test tube baby.

Edwards was awarded the Noble Prize in 2010 for his work in the development in IVF and then the following year he was awarded a knighthood for his services to human reproductive biology.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Absolutely vaccinating!

The standard vaccinations which we have all had the 'joy' of experiencing since the age of 2 months, contain either an inactive but live form of the pathogen or the dead empty shell of the pathogen. Our body responds to this intruder by producing lymphocytes and memory cells, combating this pathogen; then when we catch the disease later in life, we are now immune (due to the B-memory cells) and do not express any symptoms as a consequence. Although this is a safe method of vaccination, scientists at The Pirbright Institute have managed to produce a more stable and entirely synthetic alternative to live vaccines.

The vaccine is being generated for the disease foot-and-mouth, which is a devastating disease which hit the UK in 2001, and caused billions of pounds worth of damage to the economy and decreased the agricultural productivity.

A virus has a protein shell and genomic RNA which enables it to replicate inside the host and its cells. The scientists have managed to reinforce the protein shell making it stronger and hence more stable.

The main benefit of this new vaccine is its' stability which means it will be able to be kept out of the fridge for several hours, at temperatures up to 56C without thermally denaturing.  Potentially this could be a critical factor in seeing the administration of this type of vaccine to the developing nations.

Explorer Fact: Foot-and-mouth disease is a picornavirus

Thursday, 7 March 2013

You can ring my bell.

What device does practically everyone in the world have?

 Check your pockets.

 It's a phone!!

With the movement in technology, telephones have become smaller and more portable, and now they are not even solely telephones anymore. They are able to surf the Internet, send messages to other people and perform most of the operations a computer can.

It was this very day, 7th March 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first ever American patent for the telephone. Although, this invention, really took off in the 19th century, Bell himself refused to have one in his own personal study.

Bell originally thought that multiple reeds were needed for communication, however upon the plucking of a single reed by his coworker, Thomas Watson, Bell on the receiving end of the wire, heard the string pluck, which indicated only a singular string was necessary. This device led to the 'gallows' sound powered telephone that could transmit muffled sounds rather than distinct speech.

A few days after Bell had his patent granted, he tried his invention using a liquid transmitter which was very similar in design to Gray's. Consequently even in the present day Bell is thought of as having "stolen" the telephone from Gray, although he refrained from using Gray's device in public after March 1876.

The telephone: what a No-bell idea.

Thursday, 28 February 2013


My whole basis behind creating The Science Tree was to share something which I believe I have a passion for with others, if I could inspire or interest just 1 person it would make me happy, and I would feel like I had succeeded in my goal.

Ever since, I was young, I loved reading and learning about animals, or the human body or even certain aspects of the dreaded subject Physics, but it wasn't until I entered sixth form, when I really felt inspired by my Chemistry and Biology teachers and through extra reading.

Science is a hard topic to study especially to a higher level, as often as a youngster you are taught a very,very simplified version, and then gradually the difficulty mounts as you grow (you could say it's directly proportional!). However I have always kept up this passion, and now I study Biochemistry at university. If I can get there so can you too! (You just have to believe in yourself)

The main point behind this post, is a thank you to all the Explorers who have ever read a post I've written as it such a great encouragement, and I will try and find more interesting things to discuss with you.

You are also my inspiration to continue exploring the ever-expanding realm of the sciences.

The Explorer
PS. happy the determination of the chemical structure of DNA day!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

You light up my life

Do you know the scene from Pixar's Finding Nemo, when Dory and Marlin get the mask stuck on the face of the giant fish which lights up or have you you ever heard of the glow worm?

This mechanism of 'lighting up' and 'glowing' is called bio-luminescence and is rife in the depths of many an ocean and in our skies. Not only are the lights used for attracting prey but it is also thought to prevent the predator from becoming prey.

Bio-luminescence unlike normal luminescence is a form of cold light emission, where less than 1/5 of the light energy produces heat. A vast majority of deep-sea creatures have this ability to illuminate themselves in the blue and green spectrum as it is these wavelengths which are able to travel through the water most effectively. in comparison non-marine bio-luminescence is less widespread with the most known kinds belonging to the glow worm and the firefly.

Many organism have been adapted to 'light up' for several different purposes: counter illumination camouflage (where the organism matches the overhead light), mimicry, the attraction of mates, distraction of a predator, repulsion, communicative purposes and for navigational reasons.

Scientists now, are trying to find a way to harness bio-luminescence and use it in the biotechnological field; with the possibly of the creation of trees which glow in the dark, reducing the need for overhead streetlamps, or Christmas trees which do not require lights, thus helping to decrease the number of fires related to electrical faults.

Just remember humans are not the only organism with all their lights blazing!

Explorer Fact: in Europe dried fish skins were used before the invention of the Davy safety lamp, as they would give off a weak glow.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Love Science

As today, is Valentine's Day (Happy Valentine's Day!) it seems appropriate to focus on the emotion, love. Obviously there are different intensities to the feeling, there is the milder form of admiration, want, or full on passionate lust, however it seems that all these different kinds, have the same basic origins.

Love, is not a very well understood emotion and it thought to have a basis in evolution. As human infants are the only organism to completely rely on their parents for such a prolonged period of time (18 years) it was seen that love helps to promote parental support and form closer knit bonds, between child and parents.

The neurological aspects of  love can be found via carrying out neurological studies. The chemicals involved in the feeling of love are: testosterone,oestrogen  dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. All of these drugs help to display the characteristics of sexual behaviour, the attractive portion of a relationship and the want to form long term bonds.

So what's your definition of love?

Explorer Fact: Biologist Jeremy Griffith defines love as being unconditional selflessness.

Thursday, 7 February 2013


A new nature documentary Africa, has been hitting our television screens over the last few weeks, enlightening us, and making us emotional when we follow the lives of some of Africa's greatest animals. However, these great animals, like the lion, elephant and rhino all, face the stark possibility of being poached and their hides, tusks and horns, being sold on the black market.

According to recent statistics it appears, that the most prolific poaching occurring in Africa is to elephants. Over 11,000 elephants have been killed by poachers ONLY in Gabon since 2004, for their tusks which are traded to Asia, for use as jewellery or in medicines. Gabon is a home, to nearly 40,000 Forest Elephants, and when you look at the figures for those killed, the reality is that it is a quarter of them ave been murdered. Although Gabon are trying to prevent these poachers, the national reserves are such large expanses that it is hard to catch, let alone find these poachers. And to make things even harder, the poachers aren't even from Gabon themselves, they are from neighbouring countries like Cameroon and The Democratic Republic of Congo.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

You've Higgs the jackpot!!

Professor Peter Higgs, one half of the duo who identified the Higgs-Boson particle is inspiring Scottish pupils in secondary school. He is launching The Higgs Prize which will act not only as inspiration to the next generation but also support the future for science. His prize is open to those who excel in Physics, and is said to launch on Tuesday, in order to coincide with Scotland showcasing it's scientific prowess.

Part of the Higgs prize, aside from the name, will allow the winner to take a trip to the science headquarters of the world, CERN and view experiments and speak to world-renowned scientists.

Personally, as a young scientist myself, I feel that this is a brilliant decision, as it will allow children to aspire not only to excel in science but also to see the 'bigger picture' of how scientists actually work and develop theories. Moreover, it can act as a springboard, helping them and us in the future to succeed in discovering new aspects in all fields of modern day science. However this prize should not just be kept in the realm of Scotland, it should be rolled out across all secondary schools in the UK and Ireland.

Explorer Fact: The Higgs-Boson particle is generally referred to as 'The God particle'

Sunday, 27 January 2013

What the Tapir is it?

To compare the Tapir to a list of some of the weirdest looking animals in the world, it is definitely up there with the best of them. In some regards due to its stature is is similar to a pig, but then it has a long snout which is like a shortened elephant's trunk. Although the Tapir seems to be a jumble of different animal parts, it is a relatively gentle creature with a kind face.

As the Tapir is not that well a known animal, it is not surprising that all 4 species (the Brazilian Tapir, the Malayan tapir, Baird's Tapir and the mountain Tapir) are classified as either endangered or vulnerable and several other species have already become extinct!

Tapirs are long mammals which a length of around 2 metres long and they stand at around 3 ft high. Their feet is something to look at with interest as they do not have the same number of toes on their front and hind legs; on the front there are 4 toes; and on the back there are 3, which aids in their travels though muddy and soft ground. The most 'strange' feature on the Tapir is that of its snout. The Malayan species has the longest whilst the Brazilian have the shortest, and they use these snouts for sniffing the air looking for mates and food. The Tapir has brilliant hearing which compensates for its lack of good eyesight which is caused by corneal cloudiness.

So the next time, you are asked what your favourite animal is, or if you want your naturalistic knowledge to be on par with the great British Legend  David Attenborough, spare a thought to the odd little Tapir, with its snout and non-matching toes.

Explorer Fact

The gestation of a Tapir is 13 months. When baby Tapirs are born they have a coat of stripes and spots, and as they get older their coat changes to a more uniform brown/ black colour (depending on breed). They can live up to the ripe old age of 30.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

I'm sticking with you.

The automsomal recessive disease of Sickle Cell Anaemia is known as being a serious life debilitating disorder, which has a tendency to affect those where Malaria is rife. It is caused by a single base point mutation in the Beta globin chain at the 6th position of the Haemoglobin molecule where the Glutamic Acid amino acid is replaced with a Valine. This substitution causes the protein chains to precipitate out of the Red Blood Cell and become sickled as a result.

Now this mechanism is thought to be useful in combating cancers. American researchers have used mice to test this theory. In the space of 5 minutes, the sickled cells began to 'stick' to the blood vessels near the de-oxygenated areas of the tumour. These cells deposit a very toxic residue which causes tumour cell death. The researchers are rather hopeful about this breakthrough and hope that it could be directed towards the treatment of breast and prostate cancer, once more trials have been carried out.

So it appears that some diseases which may negatively affect the body, has the ability to be used for the greater good and help to prevent the spread and growth of certain cancers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The science of the piano

As an avid piano player for many years, I enjoy bashing away on the ivories. I've heard that music has of course links to maths, what with the proportions and the staves and the notes. It makes sense but I've never really thought about the physics behind the piano. What actually makes the sound, how it resonates and the actual mechanism which occurs between pressing the key and a magnificently rich tone being heard.

So a bit of background, the piano is one of the most widely played instruments in the world, and it actually dates back to quite a long time ago. The name piano, is actually shortened from the word pianoforte which is a conjugation of the Italian words piano and forte which translated respectively mean quiet and loud.

When the piano key is hit it raises the wippen which pushes the jack against the hammer roller. At the same time the damper is raised and the hammer hits the wire causing it to vibrate and hence resonate. When the key is let go of the damper falls back onto the wire silencing it and stopping the vibration. Like guitars the pitch of the piano can be altered and this is to do with the strings; the length, width and tension of the strings all affect pitch.

So the next time you sit down to play Fur Elise or Baa Baa Black Sheep, think about the chain reaction which flows from your finger and through the piano and back to your ears. It really is something quite magical and awe-worthy.