A ‘crappy’ PhD: my journey into microbiome research

When people ask me what I do, I usually blurt out a bit of jargon along the lines of “I study the microbiome seeding process in the fetal gut and the immune and metabolic consequences of disruptions to this process”. Most people blink at me and then move on to another topic of conversation. I don’t respond in jargon because I have poor scicomm skills, I do it because, if pressed, I’d have to admit that “I study the microbiome seeding process in the fetal gut” translates to “I spend my days digging through freshly excreted baby poop for bacteria” – which is a fairly unglamorous response.

So why on earth have I chosen such an unglamorous PhD? My background is in obstetric (pregnancy) research, and after my masters I decided to take a year off to travel. Before I left for my year abroad, I was lucky enough to catch a presentation by Kjersti Aagaard (a leading microbiome/pregnancy researcher) on the human microbiome.

A microbiome is a community of micro-organisms (bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, protozoa), the space they inhabit, and they conditions surrounding them. Essentially it’s a micro-ecosystem – a teeny tiny universe in itself. When we talk about the human microbiome we are referring to the teeny tiny universe of microbes that exist on and in our bodies. Most of these microbes inhabit our guts, where they play an enormous role in our health. Until recently, the sheer number of microbes and their importance in the functioning of our bodies has been overlooked. But the development of better and more affordable metagenomic technologies (that is, technology for sequencing DNA, which allows us to precisely identify different species of bacteria) has ushered in the “microbiome revolution” throughout the past decade. Increasingly we’re recognising the vital role our gut microbiomes play in our health and the way in which modern lifestyles can disrupt the finely tuned relationship we have built with our resident microbes over the millennia. Importantly, our gut microbiota protect us from invading pathogens, produce key nutrients, control our metabolism, influence our behaviour, and calibrate our immune system.

The “microbiome revolution” has seen a rapid spike in microbiome related research following a leap forward in metagenomic technology

The “microbiome revolution” has seen a rapid spike in microbiome related research following a leap forward in metagenomic technology. Graph produced by Lisa Stinson.

 

I was enthralled by Kjersti Aagaard’s presentation. Throughout my year of travel, news about the human microbiome kept popping up and grabbing my attention. It seemed that the human microbiome was being pinpointed as a culprit for every imaginable human ailment from obesity to asthma. So when I returned to Perth to begin my PhD, it was obvious to me that I had to study the microbiome. Coming from an obstetric background, my first thought was to study the vaginal microbiome. So I launched myself into writing a literature review and quickly hit a wall. I wanted to include a paragraph about the origins of the vaginal microbiome (when and from where is it acquired?). But no one seemed to be able to answer this question. The prevailing dogma stated that the vaginal microbiome and all other human microbiomes are established at birth when a baby passes through its mother’s vagina. But if this were true, what about Caesarean delivered babies? No one had ever demonstrably proven that babies were sterile until birth and acquired a big dose of microbes as they pass through the birth canal. In fact, there were a handful of studies saying the opposite – that neither the fetus nor the womb was sterile at all. I knew then that I had found my PhD project.

My literature review revealed that not only is the fetus seeded with maternal microbes before birth, but these microbes have a role to play in shaping the fetal immune system and preparing it for life outside the womb. Considering the enormous role our gut microbes play in health and disease, I decided to study the establishment of the fetal gut microbiome. Unfortunately for me, this means a life centred on collecting and analysing baby poo for the next 3 years. The very first poo that a baby does (called ‘meconium’) can act as a proxy for the gut contents of the baby before it was born. Other researchers have already established that meconium is not sterile, so I’ll be adding to this knowledge by comparing the meconium microbiomes of babies from normal healthy pregnancies to those from pregnancies complicated by an infection in the womb (called ‘chorioamnionitis’). I’m hoping to find out if a pathological infection can interrupt the normal microbiome seeding process, and if so, if this would have immune and/or metabolic consequences for the child.

Another day, another nappy

Another day, another nappy…

It’s a daunting task that’s thrown me into the deep end of microbiology and metagenomic technologies (areas which I previously had zero experience in), but I have a supportive and knowledgeable team of supervisors and mentors behind me. And even though I sometimes find myself digging through dirty nappies thinking “why am I doing this to myself?”, deep down I really enjoy it. Ultimately I’m doing this to answer questions that I couldn’t find the answer to anywhere else. My rather unglamorous passion for poop has come from pure scientific curiosity. So my crappy project really isn’t all that crappy after all.

Lisa Stinson

University of Western Australia

@lisafstinson

https://microbiomemusings.wordpress.com/

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Is this PhD my dream Job?

I love cows, dairy cows to be exact, and that’s not meant to sound weird at all, I promise… I am doing my dream job, but the first Monday back after the Christmas break was still the hardest.

I am currently studying a PhD in dairy cow nutrition. I specifically look at faecal matter, poo, crap, excrement, sh*t (insert your own slang where appropriate). I am interested in what a dairy cow really thinks of her diet, and seeing how she can’t tell me, I have to dig a little deeper. Most people assume (rightly) that milk yield from dairy cows determines her opinion on her fodder: more food eaten means more milk. However, I want to know what her endocrine system thinks and what affect does that have on digestion. Faecal samples provide a medium where I can measure things like stress, intake and digestion. It’s complicated, ground breaking stuff! Or at least that’s what I am telling myself ;).

poo laura

Getting out of bed that first Monday morning back, was not easy. I had so much data to analyse, lab work to do, papers to write and goodness knows what else. Christmas break was an actual break, as I figured the last 9 months of my PhD are going to be break free.

I can’t moan, thinking back to my first year of my PhD (I’m a third year now), I had a non-working methodology – therefore no results and a general hated for life. Nothing in my former education could have prepared me for the rollercoaster of the first year of my PhD. This PhD stress is a far cry from the relatively stress free world of my bachelor’s degree in Animal science, my masters degrees, oh and my job (which I did for 2 years).

A PhD throws you from every high to every low and back again.

Image: Jorge Cham, The Stanford Daily

Image: Jorge Cham, The Stanford Daily

My job got me a piece in the newspaper... the perks of my unglamorous job ;)

My job got me a piece in the newspaper… the perks of my unglamorous job 😉

Do I regret anything? Not at all, with every low comes a high, and scientific highs are addictive. Getting methods working, seeing results, writing papers, and attending conferences all around the world. They are just some of the addictive traits of PhD life. All this whilst potentially making a scientific difference – there is no better way of to wind a week away. That’s what got me out of bed that first Monday after Christmas, remembering I am very lucky to be studying a PhD and to be making a difference in the dairy world. Not many can say that…

Of course, it still took a few coffees to get me going, and of course, they were made with only the best of British milk, from the best of the British bovine Ladies :).

 

 

I am now into February and not much has changed, bar my stress levels, they seem only to go up. I am making progress though, and I celebrate the little victories often… it keeps you sane, oh and gin… that helps too.

Laura

The University of Nottingham

@laurajaynetenna

 

News Round-Up January 2016

Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

The start of the year is always a busy one, with having to settle back into work/studies and coming to terms with the fact that the next major holiday is months and months away (weep), so hence this post will be a whole month’s news round up instead of a weekly news round-up. We shall get back to the weekly news round-ups next week! Until then, enjoy what January had to offer…

This month’s news

The mummified remains of “Ötzi the Iceman” were originally found in the Austrian alps in 1991, but continue to provide fascinating insights into the lives of the Chalcolithic Europeans. These Europeans lived during the Copper Age, the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 3000-5000 years ago. The most recent study to focus on Ötzi has revealed that, at the time of his death, he had a strain of the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria in his stomach. H. pylori is linked to severe inflammation in the digestive system and can lead to certain cancers. However, it does not match the strain which currently tends to inhabit European stomachs. The authors suggest this may reveal new findings concerning human migration patterns at the time and, while the discovery is exciting, caution must be taken when drawing conclusions from a single data point.

sn-iceman

In further human evolution news, there may be links between Neanderthals and our immune systems. Comparisons between human (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthal genomes has suggested that some of our immunological genes came from interbreeding with Neanderthals. These genes – known as the Toll like receptor family – are important for our innate immune system, which initially mounts a defensive response to pathogens. The innate immune system is also largely involved in allergic responses. So, thank our predecessors for our ability to respond to infections rapidly, but you can also silently curse them next time your hay fever acts up!

Neanderthals-diginean3

In some slightly stranger insect-related news, to confirm that praying mantises do see in 3D and to create a system to confirm the same in other insects, scientists from the UK and France have created 3D glasses for insects. The glasses are similar to the red-green plastic system that was commonly used in the 80’s and 90’s for movies, but different colours were used. Since insects’ eyes are sensitive to different wavelengths than human eyes, the authors used green and blue plastic lenses instead of the traditional red and blue. While this is a strange set-up for sure, maybe it will help us learn more about insect vision in the near future! The images are pretty cool to look at too…

Newcastle University research into 3D vision in praying mantises by Dr. Vivek Nityananda. Pic: Mike Urwin. 151015

Newcastle University research into 3D vision in praying mantises by Dr. Vivek Nityananda.
Pic: Mike Urwin. 151015

Explaining the evolutionary origins of life is still an active pursuit by biologists, but we now have more insight into how life became multicellular. In order to become a multicellular organism, some form of organisation is required. For this, cells take advantage of some structures involved in cell division, the mitotic spindles. These are fibres which are involved in separating the chromosomes (or DNA) of cells when they replicate and divide. Recent work has helped to explain how this complex system was adapted into a system to help organise multicellular life. A single mutation seems to be responsible, for co-opting this system of cellular organisation into one for organismal organisation. The article is rather technical, but is an excellent example of evolutionary modifications.

Unravelling multicellularity

Scientists have always been interested in the diversity of lifeforms on Earth, and this month a new interesting puzzle was discovered. Often, the same genetic background can result in many different body forms (called phenotypic plasticity), but this worm puts other phenotypically plastic organisms to shame. It produces five different forms from the same genes! The worms are often found in figs, and now we know they have five different physical forms depending on which species of fig they inhabit.

Five in one

Antibiotic resistance is a problem our news digests have covered before, and this issue continues to concern scientists and medical professionals the world over. Nanoparticles are tiny particles which have been considered for use against bacteria previously, but they have some issues: they are not cell selective. So, if you were to treat a patient with specific nanoparticles that can ‘destroy’ foreign cells, they would also destroy their own cells, which is of course not a good way to treat a bacterial infection. Recent work, however, shows promise in designing more specific nanoparticles to specifically target bacterial cells and leave our own healthy cells undamaged. Hopefully nanoparticles can be added to our arsenal against bacterial infections some time soon!

Nanoparticles help target antibiotic resistant bacteria

We all probably know by now that we are host to many organisms apart from ourselves, from beneficial bacteria, to mites in our eyelashes. But maybe you haven’t given much thought to who you share your house with? Well, these scientists were curious about what might be lurking about the average house. They surveyed 50 different houses in California and found a remarkable diversity of Arthropods (the Phylum which includes insects), with up to 200+ species in a single house! But don’t worry, the most abundant arthropods found were all completely harmless.

You're never really home alone...

At school, we all learned that lizards and other reptiles were cold-blooded, that is, they need to absorb heat from their environment as they do not produce their own bodily heat like humans do. But, I guess we also all learned that, at some point in life, that there is always an exception to every rule. Well, we’ve finally found the exception to the cold-blooded lizards. The Tegu lizard, native to South America, has been found to produce some bodily heat in certain seasons. We don’t know how they do this yet, but it has been suggested that they increase the activity of certain organs, like the heart or the liver, to produce extra heat during the breeding season. The more in depth we study nature, the more strange and fascinating it gets!

Warm Blooded Reptiles

Our final news story for the month is potentially very exciting for age-related blindness. Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a gradual blindness that progresses with age, and current treatments only manage to slow the decline in vision. We know which gene is responsible for this condition, but so far, efforts to restore the function of this gene have not been very successful. Some new work making use of CRISPR gene editing technology may provide some hope however. Previous gene therapy efforts have focused on introducing some separate functional copy of the gene in question, but often this replacement copy degrades over time and the therapeutic effects go with it. With CRISPR, we can take out the defective copy of the gene, and replace it with a functional copy which will last longer and prevent disease progression. However, this work has only been done in rats, and CRISPR technology is currently not approved for therapeutic applications in human tissue. Besides that, CRISPR is also embroiled in a copy-right dispute at the moment, so it may be a while before we know if this can be applied in a clinical setting.

CRISPR may help prevent eye degeneration

 

We hope you enjoyed this month’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-Up December 7th – 13th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

In a rare find, palaeontologists in Scotland have stumble upon some sauropod footprints. The area where the footprints were found is thought to have been a lagoon in the Middle Jurassic – another dinosaur footprint was found in the area also. This marks the largest discovery of dinosaur footprints in Scotland, and adds to what we already know about Sauropods.

Nessie-

Malaria can be a large problem in certain areas of the world, and it is likely to spread with global warming, so control methods will be vital in the future. Since it is spread by specific mosquitoes, many strategies are aimed at reducing mosquito populations in malaria-prone areas. CRISPR (a new, promising gene-editing technology, and a technology which has been in our news quite a lot recently) has been used for the first time to cause heritable sterility in female mosquitoes. The technique was more than 90% effective, and models indicate that it would be a possible strategy to control wild populations of mosquitoes.

Credit: CDC

Credit: CDC

Turning differentiated cells back into stem cells is possible in some cases, but some problems still remain. It has not been possible to return all cell-types back to the pluripotent stage (a cell capable to turn into any other cell-type), but recent findings about epigenetic mechanisms may pave the way for improvements in this area. A central pathway in chromatin remodelling can be manipulated in order to return more cells to this “ground state”. Hopefully this advance will be useful not only in research, but also in regenerative medicine.

Easier pluripotent stem cells-

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 30th- December 6th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

Ultrasound imaging is used in many different biological and medical contexts (eg. pregnancy) to image deep into non-transparent tissues. But due to the properties of biological tissues, ultrasound images do not have high resolution. However, French researchers have found a method to improve this resolution in vascular scans. By injecting microbubbles of gas and stacking many thousands of low-quality images, they produced ultrasound images with microscopic resolution of blood vessels and capillaries in rat brains. The small bubbles are good contrast agents in ultrasound, and there is hope that this technique will become useful in clinical settings.

Credit: C. Errico et al

Credit: C. Errico et al

The CRISPR/Cas9 system has recently emerged as an efficient way to edit DNA, but there are some problems with non-specific (i.e. off-target) effects. The system works by creating a “guide-RNA” strand attached to the Cas9 enzyme, which then binds to the target DNA and cuts the DNA double-strand. From this point, it is possible to delete, insert, or change the target region. However, the binding domain of the Cas9 enzyme has a majority positive charge, so occasionally Cas9 will bind to non-specific areas of the genome and cut at these non-specific areas. A team of scientists has developed a new Cas9 protein where many of the positively charged amino acids in the binding domain of Cas9 were exchanged for neutral ones. Hopefully the future of genome editing is even easier thanks to this work!

Improved CRISPR

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

PhD Life Trips: My Brazilian Experience

In September, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of fellow Environmental Scientists on a trip to the beautiful Brazil! The group consisted of three academics and three very over-excited PhD students. The aim of the trip was to set up collaborative work with a University in the North Federal Rural University of the Amazon (URFA) based in Belem. Additional academics, who had previous links with the University of Nottingham, also attended the meetings in Belem facilitating a great collaboration between three Universities in inter-disciplinary areas.

Acai seeds are a waste product in Brazil. While in Brazil, we discussed producing charcoal from Acai and exploring the potential positive benefits on soil.

Acai seeds are a waste product in Brazil. While in Brazil, we discussed producing charcoal from Acai and exploring the potential positive benefits on soil.

Whilst in Brazil, the first thing that struck me was the different approach to research. Many of the Brazilian academics and post-docs couldn’t understand why we wanted to work in collaboration with them, other than the obvious: getting to visit Brazil!! The trip to Brazil was especially exciting for me as the concept on which I base my PhD project, biochar, originated from ancient Amazonian farming practises where charcoal is added to soils to improve fertility. So working with Brazilians on the topic really brought out the geek in me! The local academics loved the enthusiasm, but couldn’t completely relate. I learnt that the agricultural sector faces a lot of social issues. There are the huge companies, such as Monsanto, which dominate the market in the South and are trying to penetrate the North, where farming is seen more on a sustenance level. The North struggle with a reduced capacity for farming due to protection of the rainforest therefore reduced land. The reduced capacity, sustenance levels and pressure from corporations means farmers in the North are reluctant to make any changes to their tried and tested farming practices. Any additions or changes to the farming traditions in the North need to be 100% beneficial due to the heavy reliance on local farms for food. While in Brazil, my understanding of the extent to which locals depend on farming massively increased, putting into context the impact of my own PhD work.

While in Belem I was asked to present my work on soil remediation through biochar amendment to soils, and after seeing the enthusiasm for biochar in the area, I was excited to present my ideas! The language barrier made the presenting difficult, but thankfully a postdoc was on hand to act as translator. The academics then presented suggestions or potential oversights within our projects which, although slightly daunting, turned out to be extremely beneficial. The presentation was given in a fairly relaxed manner allowing the Brazilian academics and postgrad students to be critical without being intimidating. The feedback as extremely useful to really get me thinking and highlighted the importance of having clear aims in order to develop the impact of my work. After the presentations we enjoyed the sun set over the amazon with a beer: I definitely felt I deserved it due to the interrogation after my presentation!
Overall I found the trip extremely interesting as I got to observe first hand how different education, farming and economic systems work globally! It was also great to see the potential impact my work could be having, a long way down the line… The key drive for sustainability in Brazil was brilliant and is something the UK agricultural industry could learn a thing or two from. The country values the magnificence of the rainforest and understands that any newly developed technologies need to respect and maintain the forest. Brazil. It was an absolute pleasure and I have no doubt I will be back- as long as I can string together a few quid for the air fare!

The amazing Amazonian sunset

The amazing Amazonian sunset

Rosie Brian

The University of Nottingham

@dodgy_biology

The Start of my PhD: Take 2

The week before my return date I was a nervous wreck.

I thought to myself: “I need to get psychologically and physically prepared”, so I made myself a first-week plan as well as a plan for the subsequent 3 months. However, when I revisited this, I realised, as per usual, I was extremely optimistic and my first week could have easily been a months work. Thursday evening of the week before quickly arrived, and I received a phone call from my supervisor setting a meeting for Monday. This call really lifted me and I was very excited.

Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t last very long, and by Sunday I became very nervous again. As always, my Mum knew exactly what to say to calm me down. She told me nothing is in my control tomorrow and the only thing I can do is go in with a positive mind, so I did. This was important, as I really dislike not being in control of my life, but for me finding the courage to let go of the things that I cannot change has been a massive achievement.

Monday16th of November 2015: the day that I have been waiting for, for what seemed like an eternity. I woke up at 6am for a 10.30am meeting, which is the earliest time I have seen in a very long while. The commute was different from usual; road layouts had changed and I feared I did not know the way despite travelling to Kingston for over 4 years. The mind games had truly kicked in. After an hour drive came the task of finding a parking space, at which point I was so fatigued i did not know how I was going to get through the day.

As I entered the University I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. A lot had changed since I was last here in the summer (just 4 months ago). There was a new shop in reception, the canteen had been refurbished and there was a lot of new faces. I walked into my supervisor’s office and it was the first time in a long while that I thought things are going to be ok, especially after a good cup of tea.

I know a lot of PhD students have problems with their supervisor. Some may have reduced contact with their supervisor or at the other end of the scale, have an overbearing supervisor. I have been so lucky to have a supervisor like mine, he has been so understanding and at no point did I feel pressurised to return. I have just felt supported throughout a very hard time.

During this meeting my second supervisor and Lab Manger were present and it was agreed that I should have a phased return to work. It was decided that I would start back with a two-day week and, to my surprise, I would not start any lab work until January. That was my first-week lab plan and my monthly plans down the drain…

So what was the plan? I would produce a review paper to ease me back into to the scientific field with a publication aim date for the end of December. I was devastated to not be able to go in the lab but realised, this was the best option for my recovery and I could focus on something and get myself ready for January.

I would like to thank everyone for their support and cooperation, especially my supervisor and lab manager. I always set myself high expectations but sometimes, the reality is that I am not ready. I suppose I better get writing…

writing-cartoon1

Lucky Cullen

Kingston University

@LuckyCullen

News Round-up November 23rd-29th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

The Tardigrade genome was sequenced and found to contain more foreign genes than any previously sequenced animal genome. Tardigrades are extromophiles, meaning they can survive in conditions that would kill most organisms (they’ve even survived the cold and radiation of space!). It is thought that these wondrous little creatures pick up this foreign DNA when they dessicate (which helps them survive extreme conditions), in a similar way to Bdelloid rotifers. Since Bdelloids also dessicate to survive unideal conditions, there is a possibility that horizontal gene transfer is more common among extremophilic animals than previously thought.

Tardigrades!

A new immunotherapy method may change how Type I Diabetes is treated in the future, and may even help prevent the progression of the disease. Since Type I Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, the new approach targets the regulatory T (T-reg) cells of the immune system. In affected patients, the T-reg cells target the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas and destroy them, meaning that Type I diabetics need to inject insulin daily to combat this lack of insulin production by their bodies. By replacing the T-reg cells in a patient, researchers have prevented diabetic symptoms in early-onset patients and the slowing of the disease progression was also observed. Hopefully, further trials will continue to show promise.

New Diabetes Treatment (1)

 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 15th-22nd

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

Amphibians around the world have been fighting against fungal infection for years, but a new multi-pronged approach may be the key to getting rid of this disease. Chytrid is a white fungus, which kills amphibians and presents a big problem for frog populations world-wide. In the successful approach to eradicating this infection, scientists disinfected the environment and treated tadpoles of the Mallorcan midwife toad over a period of seven years. Extension of this approach may be crucial for saving frogs in different habitats around the world.

Chytrid

Antibiotic resistance is a huge issue for modern medicine. This week, news emerged that bacteria in China have developed resistance to the final group of antibiotics used when all else fails. This is particularly concerning as these traits are easily transferred between bacteria, meaning we have no more “last line of defence” against bacterial infections. This is a big blow to modern medicine – but all is not lost. Scientists are constantly developing new types of antibiotics and hopefully we can continue bringing these to clinical standards!

Antibiotic Resistance (1)

Animal models are important in studies involving human health, and the zebrafish might be helping to clear up the trade-off between tissue regeneration and cancer. Many animals can regenerate tissues and limbs if they are injured or removed, but this capability is severely limited in humans, with only very mild regeneration possible in very specific cases (e.g. the liver). By introducing a human tumour-suppressor gene into zebrafish, scientists were able to repress the regenerative capabilities of the fish. This supports the idea that humans have reduced their regenerative abilities as a trade-off for being more resistant to cancer development. This information could be useful in the treatment of cancer and in assisting healing and possibly even regeneration of serious injuries.

Credit: T Murakami

Credit: T Murakami

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92

News Round-up November 8th-14th

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Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.

This week’s news

Farmers living near big cats may not need to worry about loss of livestock, so long as the local ecosystem is balanced. Wild big cats seem to prefer wild animals to farm animals, and will only hunt the latter if food is otherwise in short supply.

Big Cats

Researchers have been trialling the use of antibodies to treat Alzheimer’s in humans, but recent studies in mice question whether this is a feasible treatment. The author’s found that the antibodies break up the amyloid-beta plaques, the protein build-up that causes Alzheimer’s, but the release of this protein can over-stimulate neurons until they die.

Alzheimer's drug causing more harm than good-

Nanoparticles hold some hope for cancer treatments in the future, especially for individually tailored treatments, but these can be difficult and expensive to produce. Algae can be genetically modified to produce nanoparticles, and this can help reduce the production cost for potential future cancer treatments.

Credit: Wikipedia user Wipeter

Credit: Wikipedia user Wipeter

 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!

Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira

Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92