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

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News Round-up November 30th- December 6th

biosci-phd-web-withtext.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

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Lucky Cullen

Kingston University

@LuckyCullen