Sunday, 23 November 2014

In my sights!

It has a been a while since the last post I have done, it's been a crazy few months, however I am happy to say I am well on my way to becoming a pro at Western blotting.

This week several stories have caught my eye and all of them I find rather interesting.

Doctor, Doctor I have the worst headache, it feels all wriggly.
A 50 year old man, went to his doctor complaining of severe headaches and being able to smell odd odours. His headache went on for years, consequently doctors gave him numerous brain scans to try and pinpoint the cause of his ache. What perplexed the doctors were the ring-like patterns viewed in his brain scans, which moved between each time an MRI scan was taken. The doctors took to a more invasive procedure and found a worm wedged in the man's brain, more specifically in his temporal lobe. The worm was identified as a tapeworm called Spirometra erinaceieuropaei which is indigenous to amphibians and crustaceans. The origin of the man's 4 year problem, was a trip to China.

So kiss me...
A kiss is something which we share to show our affection and our love or lust with someone special, but feelings are not all that is shared. Dutch scientists have run an experiment to count the number of bacteria transferred between people in a 10 second lip lock. The scientists took samples from the volunteers' tongues and saliva directly before and directly after 21 couples kissed. They then got 1 person from each couple to drink a pro-biotic drink. After the 2nd kiss the scientists could detect the number of bacteria transferred from the drinker to the non-drinker. The number was found to be 80 million.

We're lighting up the sky tonight
David Romp from the University of California, has found that for every 1C rise in the world's temperature, the likelihood of lightening strikes will increase by 12%.

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it's Gecko-man
Geckos are well known for their adhesive pads, which helps them cling to nearly every single surface.A team at Stanford, have created, what can only be described as 'Spiderman' gloves. The gloves are pads which are made from silicon and are covered in many tiles called microwedges. These tiles, harness the same force which holds geckos to ceilings: Van der Waal's forces. Although these forces a relatively weak, when together, they are very strong. Consequently when an 11 stone man wore these pads and proceeded to climb a glass wall he did not fail once out of the hundreds of times he attempted scaling the sheer face.

I'm keeping an eye out, for any other eye-grabbing stories.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Let's Review

I'm 1 month into an industrial placement year at a major pharmaceutical company, and I am so happy that I seized this opportunity! I've already learnt a number of different techniques, and how to use many many machines and how to even present scientific findings. I am loving every single minute of being a real scientist discovering mechanisms and such.  I can imagine doing this as a real job once I graduate!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

You give me fever!

We all know that mosquitoes are rather annoying and have a habit of ruining our fun when on holiday. However, although they are the most annoying of all insects (in my opinion), they are not just holiday ruiners,; they can also act as vectors for some terrible diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Both of these illnesses are a major problem in the developing world and also within the developed world as well.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the epicenter of dengue fever, researchers have released thousands of dengue fever carrying mosquitoes (Aedes) infected with the  Wolbachia bacterium. This bacterium suppresses dengue fever within the mosquito and consequently the fever cannot be transmitted to humans.

In more detail, it is the bacterium Wolbachia which prevents the dengue fever virus from replicating within the mosquito and it also has another effect on the reproductive system of the mosquito. Via wolbachia's effects, it will mean that mosquitoes carrying dengue fever will become fewer and so the levels of the disease will also decrease proportionally.

This method has already been trialed in Australia and within 10 weeks of release the levels of Aedes mosquitoes with Wolbachia became predominant, and this is the plan which the researchers hope to replicate in Rio.

This study is a great example, of how modifying an organism can benefit the human population, whilst not having an impact upon the natural flora and fauna of the environment.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

I'm a real scientist.

As of 1 and a half weeks ago, I started an industrial placement at a major pharmaceutical company. This is really exciting and will help me consolidate my knowledge and learn more than I could possibly know from following a university course.

Already my pipetting skills have become better and I feel comfortable working around reagents not found in a university lab. I can't wait to look back at myself in a year, and see how much I have grown not only within myself but also within an industrial environment.

I feel like a real scientist!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

We are Golden.

In year 9 when a substitute teacher was asked by the class 'why is maths so important?', he simply replied 'Because maths is everywhere. In what we do, in the skies and on the ground. In nature and in nuture'. My sub was right (of course!) and this is demonstrated through my favourite decimal number, which has a rather Godly name:- The Divine Proportion.

The number which is in fact referred to by all manner of fanciful names (the golden ratio, the divine section, the golden proportion etc.) is represented by the Greek letter Phi and in numerical terms is 1.6180339887...

The ratio appears in architecture, art, music and nature. Adolf Zeising, a German psychologist found that the golden ratio was expressed in the stems of plants and in the number of veins on the leaves.

Explorer Fact: It has been found that the proportions of the human body all fall within the ratio of Phi. For example your height divided by the distance between your belly button and the ground equals (roughly) Phi.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Pulling Teeth.

Teeth have always fascinated me. The little pearly chompers in our mouths help us to speak, chew, show our feelings and give structure to our faces. As we know, we are born with 2 sets of teeth: milk teeth which start to sprout at 6 months old and fall out around the age of 6/7 and are replaced by the adult teeth which we have for the rest of our lives.

On average, most adults have 32 teeth comprising of 8 incisors, 4 canines, 8 premolars, 12 molars and 4 wisdom teeth. I use the word average, as some people do not have wisdom teeth either through dental choice, or they just have not grown through.

picture of a skull with both
adult and baby teeth still intact.
Astonishingly a 17 year old boy called Ashik Gavai has had 232 teeth removed from his mouth this week. This is 7 times the amount of teeth found in the average adult mouth.  The 17 year old had a swelling on the right hand side of his face, in the area of his lower jaw.  He sought medical help and was referred to the JJ hospital where his condition was found to be complex odontoma (where there is a mass of dental tissue (e.g. enamel, dentin or cementum) found as little toothlets in the lower jaw), and he was operated upon. All of the odontoma was removed and there will be no permenant damage to the structure, shape or function of his lower jaw.



Explorer Fact: there are 2 types of odontoma: compound and complex.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Mooning Around.

Upon gazing out of the living room window and looking up into the deep navy night sky, I noticed that the celestial body, which we have known to love, the moon, looked rather different. It was much bigger and looked much brighter than normal. Intrigued I looked into the cycles and phases of the moon and discovered that this phenomena was due to a super moon.


A beautiful supermoon above the Washington Monument.
A super moon occurs when the moon appears as either a full or new moon in the sky whilst coinciding with being in as close as a position to Earth as possible during it's elliptical orbit...thus the moon will look bigger and brighter!

The term super moon was coined in 1979 by Richard Nolle, however it's technical name is perigee-syzygy. When a moon is a super moon it is positioned roughly 357,000km away from the Earth, and so is 14% larger and 30% brighter than when the moon is at it's furthest position from the Earth (406,000km).

Super moons occur fairly regularly and a maximum of 3 super moons can occur within 1 full moon cycle. Meaning that every 14th moon is irregular and super!!


Explorer Fact: the next super moon is the night of August 10th.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

From me to you.

Transplants (allogenic transplants (transplants from 1 person to another)) are a marvellous medical way of prolonging the life of people struck down by certain debilitating diseases; extending their life for a considerable number of years and often giving them a 'second shot' at life. However transplants are very difficult to carry out and their success rests upon a variety of factors such as: matching blood types, matching HLA groups and MHC classes, and the viability of the organ itself (is it not damaged, free from disease, etc.).

The most poignant factor of all is the distance between the donor and the recipient. This is because as soon as an organ is taken out of the body, it is cut off from the blood supply and all of the nutrients passed through the blood, and consequently the organ begins to die slowly, cell by cell, until it is placed back into a body environment and connected to a blood supply. Consequently the further away the donor and recipient are away from each other, the greater the chance of the organ becoming damaged due to lack of blood supply and nutrients and dying through hypoxia, and the organ being unable to be used and consequently "wasted".

Therefore many new techniques have been tested to try and preserve the organ on its journey to its new 'home'. Recently American researchers have tried the technique of supercooling. Supercooling reduces the temperature of the organ to around -6C. This slows down the metabolic rate of the cells within the organ (it will use up the nutrients contained within it much more slowly). This was tested on rat livers. The results showed that the rat livers could be preserved in a viable state for up to 3 days, which is a 3 fold increase on the 24 hours which is currently adhered to. The hope is that the experiment will be progressed into trials onto a human liver, which is significantly heavier and larger than the rat liver, which could suggest that the temperature for cooling needs to be lowered accordingly.

The overall outcome desired from this experimental trial is that it could open the doors for the possibility of worldwide organ transplants and donations- between those in different countries. This would greatly increase the number of available organs and donors, but also it will also increase the number of those in need of that crucial organ. In the UK the number of donors is much lower than the number of people who require an organ and consequently a transplant list is drawn up and it works on the basis of those most in need and those closest to the donor will receive the organ.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Wild Pets.

This idea has always left me in awe; the idea of people keeping undomesticated animals as pets at home. I'm not talking about feeding a squirrel or a wayward goat and calling it theirs. I am speaking about the desire to have a wild animal such as a tiger, lion, chimp or orangutan to show off with. The reason why this talking point stuck with me so much was because as I was lost in an animal hashtagged instagram hole, I came across a picture of a male orangutan behind bars.

The orangutan had such a sadden look its face staring out between the bars of a cage, and the quote which went alongside really hit me and it hit me hard. 'This is what happens to a cute little pet baby orangutan when they grow up into a big, handsome but dangerous adult.  If he has been in captivity too long before arriving at a rehab center, he can’t really learn the skills to live in the wild, and is destined for a sad life behind bars.  Please don’t keep orangutans as pets.  Let them live in the wild!'  (taken from the natgeo instagram page).

I guess people want to keep wild animals as pets as they look nice and cuddly, and not like the average dog or cat until they reach the age of maturation and grow (up). Consequently their owners can no longer afford or cope with an adult animal, which may weigh or be stronger than the average human, and so is considered dangerous. I don't know whether it can be considered a good or bad thing but they have to be given to either a zoo or a reserve, as these animals brought up in captivity are incapable of surviving in the wild. 
image taken from Flickr.  An orangutan family at Singapore zoo.

In my opinion wild animals are exactly that, wild, and should be left there to roam free and not face a life restrained or behind bars, solely for our enjoyment.

As the image, which struck me was from an orangutan, I thought I would share with you some orangutan based information.


Orangutans are native residents of the Borneo and Sumatran rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia. Compared to many of the apes, these hairy orange creatures spend the majority of the time swinging through the trees.  However, the orangutan falls prey to tigers, clouded leopards, wild dogs and crocodiles. Orangutans themselves eat a variety of food, such as bark, termites, bird eggs and fruit.


Explorer fact: Orangutans can blow raspberries (so cute!!)



Thursday, 19 June 2014

Scientific prowess.

So, this summer marks the end of my second year at university studying biochemistry. It has been a rollercoaster, I love biochemistry, but at times, it doesn't love me that much. I only have 1 year left, of my course which I actually find quite sad, but I have an 15 month break til I have to face it ( 3 months of holidays and then 12 months of an industrial placement with a major pharmaceutical company) again. But that isn't what this post is about. It's about methods to boost your scientific prowess.


As a 'baby' scientist, I am always told that at this time of my life experience is EVERYTHING! Which is true, as learning something in theory is completely different to actually being hands on and dealing with the practical element. Consequently, there is always a strive to gain this hallowed experience, to try stand out from the BSc crowd. I would say that my university is very good at helping our faculty cohort to attain industrial year placements and summer internships, and so I know at least 20 people, who are currently on a internship or preparing for a placement, which will truly help to boost their CV. Obviously as I said it's great to do a placement, but it's not essential especially if research is not the field which you intend on entering.


I've had this blog for almost 2 years tomorrow, and it was mainly to share my enthusiasm and interest in science with the world, to make it more tangible for those who maybe find it hard to understand, or just plain boring, and I feel I may be getting there slowly but surely. The Science Tree, has been a great way to prove to employers that I am a biochemist, but I am also interested in a wider area other than just biochemistry. It's certainly (I think) helped me to stand out from other candidates...


....butI think the most important thing is to enjoy what you do, and I do!!! I love my course, my uni, but most importantly I love The Science Tree, and will keep on posting for eons to come! (Hope you guys are ready for that!)


Explorer Fact: the science tree is 2 tomorrow!



Monday, 16 June 2014

Money on my mind.


Currency, is a rather peculiar system which we use to purchase items. The exchange of metal discs and paper rectangles account for the value of an object. Throughout history, the one staple in currency has been the coin, made from bronze, lead, brass, nickel, gold and silver, and more recently the paper notes have come into fashion. However currency has really taken a turn into the technological era with the introduction of the bitcoin.

Termed as a decentralised ritual currency, the bitcoin has taken the web by storm. It of course has pros and cons.

Pros
It has a lower fee imposed by credit card processors at a rate of 2-3% which makes sense as to why numerous companies are moving towards the digitised currency (Expedia is a company which, justthis month   has started to accept the bitcoin as payment).
Cons
The main issue is that the bitcoin can be used for illegal activity, moreover like any currency they can be stolen. Unlike money which, I guess can be reimbursed- with the bitcoin you cannot get your 'money' back.

Although many see the bitcoin as a currency it is not accepted as a real currency by economists but is viewed more as a medium of exchange and a unit of account.  I'm not sure as to the cost of a bitcoin to the dollar recently, but in its lifetime it has fluctuated between $50-$266, which I suppose is not too positive it it trying to make a name for itself as a universal currency.

Personally, I would like to see the bitcoin accepted as a currency to be used solely online, as it may potentially help to boost the world's economy, however, until it is controlled (ie. an exchange rate is devised, and it's monetary worth is decided) I don't think it has the ability to rival the Dollar, the Pound, or the Euro (yet).

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

In my sights!

After slaving away at my second year exams for the past 2 months, I am back and finally free! Hurrah! Even though I have been busy revising, there have been a couple of interesting developments and findings which have caught my eye.


  1. The first was that 2 sets of mono twins were born within a week of each other at the same hospital; The Akron General Medical Centre in Ohio. The first set Jenna and Jillian were born on May 9th and the second set JaNiya and Amaya were born on May 15th .These babies are identical twins and share the same amniotic sac and placenta. They are very rare, and the birth of mono-mono twins like these only occurs once in every 10,000 pregnancies.
  2. The world's smallest pacemaker was fitted in England, in Southampton General Hospital. A pacemaker is a device which electronically regulates the heartbeat and keeps it beating at a 'normal' rate. The device fitted was around 1/10th the size of the normal model, which speaks volumes for the intricacy of the pacemaker, and the technology required to create this implement and moreover the difference it could make to the quality of patient life and the ease of recovery after major surgery.
  3. I think it is always fascinating to know where the vegetables and fruits that we consume come from (where they grow! Be it a bush or a tree or underground) . The fruit which never ceases to amaze me is the prickly fruit, the pineapple! It grows on a pineapple bush! A bush! (sneaky Explorer Fact).

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dear Readers,

I apologise for the sparsity of posts recently, I am currently battling my way through a minefield of biochemistry, immunology and virology exams. I will be free from this peril in 3 weeks, where I have some glorious posts lined up for you.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Having a 'Whale' of a time?

I like many children of this era, have been taken for family day trips, school trips and after school kids club trips to zoos and aquariums to see the exotic animals which are not indigenous to England. As  a child you look in awe and wonder at these magnificent creatures that are before your very eyes, without truly seeing the glass container they are confined to; or the cage bars that keep you safe; the prison these animals are confined to.

It wasn't until my last trip to the zoo at age 14, did I see the sadness of zoo. The facade of wonder, had been lost, and instead I saw a single path worn through the grass of an enclosure, where a white tiger traveled the same line, back and forth, looking sad and forlorn. It was that day I vowed to never set foot in a zoo again.

I had never really categorized aquariums in the same way, but I think that is because they seemed to be more free (maybe it was the aspect of water and the sheer size of the tanks).

image taken from Flickr
But this week I watched a documentary called Blackfish, and it focused on Orcas (killer whales) kept in captivity. The documentary journeyed through the distressing capture methods; the way the killer whales were housed for long periods of time; the way they were trained to do 'behaviours' (jumping out the water and touching a ball etc.); and the way they bred these animals for captivity.

It was truly heartbreaking documentary which focused on the trainers and whales alike and the consequences of working together for each of the duo.

I would recommend this documentary for everyone to watch, as it really makes you question the humanity of keeping animals in captivity.

Explorer Fact 1: As of June 2013, there are 45 captive Orcas and out of these 45, 32 were born in captivity.
Explorer Fact 2: Tilikum is the 1st surviving Orca which is a grandfather.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Is it fate?

Some people know instantly what career they want to pursue from the time they can speak, others know in primary school, and then there's the rest of us plundering our way through adult life with a rough idea of what area we want to excel in.

I didn't always know that I wanted to be a scientist or a biochemist. I went through phases of wanting to be a vet, a doctor and everything in-between but it was when I stumbled upon the fascination of Biochemistry during a year 12 biology lesson on mitosis. Consequently, here I am 2 years into a biochemical degree and loving every single minute of it (even the minutes spent learning the chemical structures and functions of obscure compounds).

Some may say it's fate....but I share my birthday with DNA day! 

It is a day which is commemorated as the day that Crick, Watson and Franklin published their first findings about the structure of DNA in Nature in 1953. Although this day celebrates that monumental publication in 1953, it has only been properly observed since 2003 by the National Human Genome Research Institute, and has been acknowledged by several organisations world-wide


Happy DNA day!


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Half moon, Full moon...Total Eclipse!

In the early hours of this morning at 4.53AM (GMT), The Americas were blessed with a magnificent sky show, when the moon changed colour, due to the Earth's shadow falling upon it. The moon went through a cornucopia of hues from orange, through to blood red, right onto brown. This spectra, known as a total lunar eclipse lasted for almost 3 hours.

A lunar eclipse happens when the moon moves behind the Earth and falls into its shadow. This can only ever occur if the moon, Earth, and sun are all completely aligned (in that order); and can only ever happen when the moon is completely round (a full moon).

Picture of the stages of a total lunar eclipse. (image taken from Flickr)
A lunar eclipse can be viewed in many different areas of the world as long as the moon is present. Unlike a solar eclipse which lasts a few minutes, a lunar eclipse lasts for several hours, providing watchers with all the time in the world to take a couple of beautiful snaps.

Like many natural events, the lunar eclipses are embroiled with mythology. In Egyptian dynasties, people thought the moon disappeared due to a large sow swallowing it and the Mayans thought that a Jaguar ate the moon.

One could say that lunar eclipses are fairly common and occur at least biannually. However total lunar eclipses like that witnessed in The Americas this morning are relatively rare.

Explorer Fact: A further 3 more eclipses will occur this year

  1. a solar eclipse-29th April
  2. a total lunar eclipse-8th October
  3. a partial solar eclipse- 23rd October

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Withdrawn.

The bid to understand and create stem cells is very current and is a very desirable piece of knowledge many a biologist and geneticist would like to know. New articles and papers are always sprouting up, with innovative findings, which claim to shed light on the amazing properties which these cells have the ability to perform.

An article in Nature, was published in January and it reported that dipping cells in acid could convert them into stem cells. The author of this piece Prof. Teruhiko Wakayama has revoked his findings and has said that 'it is no longer clear what is right'. His findings have not been discredited, but they are currently under intense scrutiny, due a number of mistakes which have been been found throughout the article.

There are 2 different types of stem cells; adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells. These cells all have a potency to differentiate into specialised cell types. There are many different therapeutic treatments which rely on stem cells- like bone marrow transplants. Furthermore many new technologies are being developed to help treat cancer, Parkinson's disease, spinal chord injuries and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As stem cells are only present in the human body in finite amounts, it is a race to find ways to harvest more stem cells, or alter the integrity of normal somatic cells to produce stem cells.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lighting up the sky.

The Auroras are a natural phenomenon which have been described about as far back as Roman times. A story I heard growing up was about an emperor who was in battle and thought Rome was burning, so he rushed back home only to realise it was the sky; dancing with coloured light casting a reddish-orange glow over the city he so loved.

The word Aurora is Latin and means sunrise, but it is also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn. There are 2 kinds of auroras, the Borealis and the Australis. The Borealis is known as the Northern Lights and mainly appear as a green glow occasionally tinged red. The appearance of the Borealis is generally around the equinoxes, and look like curtains due to the magnetic field lines which arise within them due to the polarity of The Earth. The Australis appears in the Southern hemisphere around the poles, and is essentially the same as the Borealis.

Auroras are formed via ions released from the Sun. The Earth's magnetic field traps the ions and it is the collision between the Sun's ions and the Earth's atmospheric molecules which cause the release of energy which is visualised as light (the auroras). It is the Earth's magnetic field which causes the appearance of the rippling effect associated with The Lights.

Auroras come in a wide range of colours, and this is dependent upon altitude. Red only occurs at the highest altitudes, green is apparent at the lower altitudes and the blue colour is occasionally seen at the lower part of the lights (the bottom of the curtains).

Explorer Fact: Last week the Northern lights were visible in some of the Southern Counties of Britain (Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk and Kent).

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Mr Melonhead

I was doing some reading about whales, when I came across this little fella. He looked so happy, I thought I must write about him!

The Beluga whale is 1 of 2 members of the Monodontidae family and it shares this family with the unicorn of the sea, the Narwhal, and it is the only member of the genus Delphinapterus. The whale has a conservation status of near threatened; yet they are one of the most commonly kept whales in captivity due to their gentle and expressive nature.

The Beluga whale is found mostly in the Arctic, around the shores of North America, Greenland and Russia. It has a fairly wide diet, and tends to feast upon fish, crustaceans and deep-sea invertebrates.

In appearance the Beluga whale does not look like a 'normal' whale, it is all white in colour, and lacks a dorsal fin. Moreover it also has a large bump on its head, which is called 'the melon'. It is this 'melon' which allows the Beluga to use echolocation in order to locate other Belugas through sheet ice. Belugas vary greatly in size and can range from the size of a dolphin to the size of a small blue whale. They also have a lot of blubber and when well fed are almost spherical!

Although Belugas are able to see above water, their eyesight is not too great, however as their eyes have cone and rod structures, it is thought that they could potentially see in colour. These whales do not have a sense of smell, but they do have a highly developed sense of touch and they actually crave physical contact from other whales.

Explorer Fact: Beluga females give birth to a calf once every 3 years, with the gestational period being an average of 12-14 and a half months.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The tale of a much loved little giraffe.

Little Marius, was a 2 year old giraffe, who hailed from Copenhagen zoo. The zoo could not keep Marius, as when he matured there would have been a risk of in-breeding, giving rise to possible mutations in their giraffe population. 

An online petition was signed with thousands of signatures urging the zoo not to destroy this gentle giant. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which has a specialised giraffe house, and which had room to cope with a new male in the sanctuary, offered to take Marius. But instead they were turned down and the Copenhagen zoo, killed Marius with a bolt gun and invited visitors of the zoo to watch a dissection of his body. 

Marius' body is expected to be used for research and to feed some of the carnivores at the zoo.

Hundreds of people have taken to the internet to campaign against the death of Marius, with animal activists stating that his death was barbaric and calling the zoo unethical. 

So why didn't Copenhagen zoo want Marius to be rehomed? I for one, would have been willing to have kept Marius, as did many other zoos who offered.

Explorer fact: the joints that look like knees on the front legs of a giraffe are in fact wrists. It is the back legs which have the hinged joint.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Ole' Blue eyes.

I don't know what you imagine/ think of when you visualise a caveman. Generally I picture someone who is tall, dark and extremely hairy. Alongside this dark image, I believe I assumed that cavemen would have dark brown eyes (not sure why? maybe to match the dark hair), but recently this conceptual idea has been disproved and it has been found that some cavemen had dark skin and blue eyes.

A Spanish team began working upon a pair of skeletons found in the caves of the Cantabrian Mountains in 2006. After the skeletons had been carbon dated, it was believed that the skeletons dated back 7,000 years ago and belonged to 2 thirty-something year old men. DNA from one of the skeletons was extracted from a molar, this was possible due to the well preserved nature of the skeleton due to the cool surrounding in the cave. The skeleton's entire genome was mapped and the man was identified as a modern European living before the Neolithic revolution.

Upon analysing the genome, the man  was found to have allele traits which produced darker skin than modern Europeans have now days, and more astonishingly the man was also found to have blue eyes. Suggesting that the transition in eye colour came before the transition to paler skin tones. The genome of the neolithic man was compared to modern-day Europeans and it was found that the caveman's genome is most similar to people living in Sweden and Finland.

So rethink your image of a caveman, he may not have been particularly tall, and have brown eyes, but 2 things scientists know for sure, is that some cavemen were dark-skinned with blue eyes.

Explorer Fact: Eye colour can change. In babies with European descent their eye colour can change up to the age of 1 years old. Generally it changes from a light colour to a darker shade of green, hazel or brown, although some remain blue.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Purple as a tomato.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for quite a number of years now, and they range from grapes to types of meat. And we all consume them (mostly) quite happily as the modification is done to make the food a better quality or to make fruit look a certain way or store for longer. However not much genetic modification has been done to the colour of foods. Is it because we will be put off eating food which is a different colour to what is expected? Or is it because we will be unable to recognise what it actually is?

Tomatoes are red, well you thought they were red but the John Innes Centre in Norwich have developed tomatoes which are purple. They are purple as they contain a gene from another plant (a snap-dragon) within their genome. It is this gene which activates a process which allows the tomato to start developing anthocyanin, which gives it the purple colour.

It is thought that the darker pigment will go to give these tomatoes the same health benefit as blueberries as they are an antioxidant and are believed to fight cancer. Currently theses super purple tomatoes are being grown in Ontario, and the first shipment of purple tomato juice is bound for Norway.

Would you munch one of these GM tomatoes?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Why birds take formation.

It's a summer evening, and the sun is just setting leaving a beautiful sunset on the horizon, and you see a flock of birds migrating to someplace else, in that well known V shape. No matter if they are turning left or right they still rigidly keep to the V shape.

 For many years the reasoning behind the flock formation was unknown, but now scientists from the Royal Veterinary College have fitted data loggers to a flock of rare birds (Ibis') as they were being trained to migrate following a microlight plane.

It seems that when in formation a bird positions itself in such a way, in relation to the other birds in the formation so that it gives them the best aerodynamic advantage. They do this in order to make the most of the air moving upwards from the bird in front of them (this is called upwash, and is created when a bird flies forward and the air is pushed downwards beneath its wings). Moreover all the birds in the formation do not beat their wings in time with each other but instead flap them to get the upwash from the bird in front. So they are all slightly off time with each other. This helps the birds to be as efficient as possible which is a necessity when they have to migrate long distances.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

That was so last year!

What with this post being the first Science Tree post of the new year (2014!!), it only seems appropriate to take a look back at the top 5 events which have happened in science last year.

The top 5 countdown

5. The discoverers of the Higgs-Boson particle were awarded the Nobel Prize for 'postulating the existence of a particle which gives mass to all others'. Amazingly legendary Physicist Stephen Hawkings said it would have been more astonishing and beneficial to Physics if the particle hadn't been found!

4. Chewing popcorn whilst watching the adverts at the start of the film in a cinema, has been found to confer an "advertising-immunity" to us. When we read something in our mind (not out loud), it is read by a little voice, known in the physiological world as 'inner speech'; and it is this voice when we watch adverts which practices imprinting the brand name in our mind; so we remember the logo or the sign for a particular brand. By eating popcorn this does not happen and so....we are less receptive to advertising.

3. Ever had trouble with your memory? Well these mice certainly did. They were 'lucky' enough to have a false memory implanted into their mind, via the manipulation of single neurons. The neuroscientists engineered brain cells in the hippocampus (the part responsible for memory) to express a gene called channelrhodopsin, and a Pavlov type of experiment was carried out on them. They were allowed to explore a cage and when given an electric shock a blue light was shone on them which activated the gene. The following day the mice were put in a different chamber and a blue light was shone on them and they got scared, even though they were not shocked and in a completely different chamber. The mice had recalled their 'memories' from the previous day of the first chamber.

2. We have heard of a test-tube baby, but 2013 was the year of the test-tube burger(!) generated from cow muscle stem cells and grown in a lab. The burger was sampled for the first time on live TV. Thoughts on the burger were mixed but it took Maastricht University 3 months to grow the cells, whilst it took food critics minutes to consume.

1. Little Connor Levy was the first US child to have his entire genome scanned for genetic abnormalities via the use of Next-generation sequencing. This method of scanning reads each individual letter checking for anything which could lead to disease or abnormal chromosomes which could have increased the chance of his mother miscarrying. Obviously it was a success as little Connor is alive and kicking in the US of A!

So that was a whirlwind whistle-stop roundup of some of the best science news last year had to offer. Hopefully this year holds just as many, if not as captivating and ground-breaking events and breakthroughs as last year had to offer.

Happy 2014 Explorers!