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?