Scientists peer at the inner clock

Circadian clocks are found across all higher species, controlling daily rhythms of behaviour and physiology. The clocks are thought to tick by the continuous creation and degradation of clock proteins in a 24 hour cycle. The principle clock in humans is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is governed by Period genes (Per1, Per2).

Recent research by The University of Manchester and The University of Cambridge has dispelled the previous theory that in mammals Per 2 is let in to the cell nucleus by a ‘gate’ from the outer cytoplasm. Previous studies in fruit flies had shown that Per2 builds up in the cytoplasm until it reaches a critical level at which point the gate would open, allowing it to enter the nucleus.

It is this movement from cytoplasm to nucleus that dictates the tempo of the fly’s body clock.

According to Professor Andrew Loudon from The University of Manchester, this gated mechanism found in flies does not happen in mammals. Instead, the protein moves from the cytoplasm to the nucleus straight away.

Professor Loudon said:

“We have discovered that the level of the per2 builds up in the nucleus and it is this build-up of protein that gives the clock its rhythm.

 

This is an important advancement in  our understanding of the body clock at the cellular level.

 

As new insights into how our body clocks function are discovered, drugs are being developed which will  effectively target the mechanism responsible for circadian imbalances.

 

We think that this non-gated system is likely to be susceptible to drug intervention – but clearly more work is needed on that front.”

Disorders of the circadian clock, ranging from jet-lag, through shift-work to sleep disorders associated with ageing, dementia and psychiatric illness have a major impact on our health.  This work went on to show how particular drugs affect the behaviour of the clock proteins and could provide a first approach to developing suitable therapeutics to treat sleep disorders.


The work was funded by the MRC and BBSRC.

Further references:

Andrew Loudon’s group page

Michael’s Group page

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 40: Andrew Almond

This week we are featuring Dr Andrew Almond who was recently nominated for the BBSRC innovator of the year award. Find out why by reading this Tuesday Feature.


 

Please explain your research to the general public in about ten sentences or less.

Our research is focussed on understanding the biological function of sugars. Sugars are a major calorific component of food but can also be fibrous structural materials that hold cells together. In plants the major structural material is cellulose, which binds cells and gives physical strength. In humans more complex proteoglycans, which are present between every cell throughout the body, are the basis of a similarly-functioning glue-like material. This glue, or extracellular matrix, can have many forms and functions, such as rigid bone, shock absorbing cartilage, elastic heart valves and the complex structure of the brain. Proteoglycans are rich in large sugar polymers, which absorb water and salts, allowing our bodies to maintain their physical condition and hydration.

We have pioneered research aimed at resolving the microscopic configuration of the sugar polymers from proteoglycans, in order to understand their function and to aid development of synthetic biocompatible materials. This has involved detailed computational modelling and state-of-the-art experimental techniques to test the computer models. Due to the complexity of the sugars polymers and their close interaction with water, we have had to employ very fast computers and novel algorithms to study them; we pioneered the application of ultra-parallel graphics processing units (GPUs) to this problem (initially invented to meet the very intensive processing required for realistic action in video games).

How does your research benefit the general public?

Our basic scientific research is aiding development of novel biocompatible materials that can be used in transplants, prostheses and medical devices. The new discoveries that we are making could also pave the way for new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another aspect of our research is the technology that we develop. One piece of technology, directed toward accurately measuring the microscopic shape of drugs, was spun out of The University of Manchester into the start up company C4XDiscovery.

C4XDiscovery is focused on optimising the design and development of medicines and partnering with the pharmaceutical sector to generate better, safer products. C4XDiscovery was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2014, valuing the Company at £31m. The Company is located in central Manchester and has over 20 highly-qualified employees. It is applying its technology to discover new drugs to treat addiction, diabetes and chronic inflammation and taking them through to clinical trials in partnership with the pharmaceutical sector. The Company is a significant new addition to the UK bio-economy, particularly within the North of England, and will ultimately benefit patients.

How did you first become interested in your research?

Although my undergraduate degree was in physics I had the ‘mis’-fortune of living with medical students. This led to many interesting discussions and an appreciation that biology is perhaps more poorly understood than other sciences at a reductive level. Furthermore, while mathematics and physics has already had a major impact on biology, for example, x-ray crystallography of DNA and proteins, it appears clear that they will have an increasingly important role to play. Multidisciplinary science is in my opinion the only way that we will really get to grips with biology, which appears to be vastly more complex than atoms and galaxies.

Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you?

When I was younger, probably like most people, I was mainly inspired by TV presenters. I was fascinated by nature and astronomy and used to watch and marvel at documentaries by David Attenborough and Patrick Moore. As I got older, and had access to science books and magazines, I became interested in the work of Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Since the nineties, when I was a PhD student at the old Victoria University, the growth and improvement in research and teaching facilities in Manchester has been huge, including many new state-of-the-art buildings. Furthermore, the University has one of the, if not the, most supportive and reasonable technology transfer offices in the UK. These environmental factors have been a tangible aid to spinning out a company and performing the world-class research that underpinned it.

What do you do outside of work?

Long distance running and equity trading, when I get a chance!

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 27: Edward Bains

Edd joined the Faculty in September this year and his new broadcast will be out soon – so what better way to introduce him than a Tuesday Feature. Enjoy!


Briefly explain your role here in the Faculty.

I’m a digital media intern with the Faculty of Life Sciences. It’s my job to create the Life Science Broadcast – a series of regular short films about the exciting research that goes on in FLS. I do everything from coming up with the initial ideas and contacting academics, to recording interviews and cutaway footage. I then edit it all together and then finally market the finished product to the public. I also assist with the running of the Faculty’s social media channels, in particular our Instagram and the new Snapchat account.

How does your role benefit the general public?

By publicising the research done in the Faculty, I help facilitate a  better understanding of science to the general public. It’s vital in this day and age that scientists engage with the public and aren’t just hidden away in their labs. Science is of such huge benefit to society and people should be made aware of this, otherwise it’s easy for people to think of scientists as living in ivory towers cooking up Frankenstein’s Monster. My job also helps raise the profile of the Faculty and the University as a whole, which is important for ensuring that it continues to attract research funding and draws in students.

How did you first become interested in the life sciences?

I guess I first got into the life sciences and biology when I was about 12 years old when I adopted an orangutan with the WWF. Since then I’ve been passionate about animals and the environment and conserving our natural world. This motivated me to do a degree in biology at Manchester. My degree gave me a great insight into some fascinating topics within the life sciences such as microbiology, stem cell research and climate chance. I also went on an amazing field course to Costa Rice in my second year. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after university but I saw this internship being advertised and it sounded really appealing to me.

Do you have any heroes? Who inspired you?

*Don’t say David Attenborough, Don’t say David Attenborough*

I guess within the life sciences (and not David Attenborough) it would be Charles Darwin. He wasn’t just a brilliant biologist but was also a really great human being. Outside of the life sciences, I guess some of my heroes would be Stephen Fry and Ian Hislop. Oh and Mulan. Was she real? Saving China was pretty heroic

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Since starting my internship, I’ve learnt loads of new skills and got loads of great experience in all aspects of photography and film making and using professional editing software. I’ve also learnt a lot about marketing, running social media campaigns and the digital media environment in general. Thinking more broadly, I’ve been developing my capacity for teamwork and being creative and proactive at work. I hope this internship will be a great first step towards a career in media.

What do you do outside of work?

Outside of work, I love to keep active, going to a gym or running most evenings. I’m currently watching the Apprentice and Homeland and I’ve just started a really good new show on Netflix called Narcos. I’m really interested in politics and music and I love going to gigs and festivals. Other than that, I enjoy things like cooking, reading and going out with my friends. And I’m about to start yoga!

Tuesday Feature Episode 26: Max Drakeley

Max is a recent graduate from The Faculty of Life Sciences and is now working as part of the Biological Sciences Review (BSR). Read below about how he first got interested in science and how the BSR is helping to teach the next generation of scientists.


What is your role here in the Faculty?

So my role is editorial assistant with the Biological Sciences Review, which is an A-level magazine that tries to take cutting edge scientific research and make it understandable to A-level students who have just come out of GCSE. Because BSR is aimed at A-level students, it’s a great way of getting really good research down into the general public.  I basically try to coordinate the publishing team, the editing team and the authors who are sending us their articles. I try to make things run very smoothly. I do a little bit of proof-reading myself too.

How does BSR help the general public?

The way the BSR helps the public is by making science understandable for A-level students. I used to read it when I was at school and it really helped me to decide to do a neuroscience degree at university. It’s great at getting kids involved in science and developing an understanding that you wouldn’t get in the class room.

How did you first become interested in Science?

Well I did cognitive neuroscience as an undergraduate and that was based on the fact that I read an Oliver Sacks book (The man who mistook his wife for a hat) which really got me into the psychology and the neuroscience side of things. I guess I knew I wanted to do neuroscience at university after that.

Have you got any science heroes? Who inspired you?

Other than Oliver Sacks? A standard cliché science hero is David Attenborough. I always used to love his documentaries when I was growing up. It really made me want to go into the media side of things back when I was younger. Blue Planet certainly blew my mind – it was the thing that got me into scuba diving and made me really want to go do deep sea diving. So yeah, David Attenborough would be my science hero.

How has working/studying here in Manchester helped you?

I did a science communication final year project which really helped me build my writing and editing skills because you have to do a lot of writing in your final year. I wrote a BSR article and this really helped me hone my skills and taught me how to really get a decent article ready for publication. That helped me get the job I am currently doing and it allows me to understand what the authors are going through when they’re trying to write things. A lot of the feedback the editors give back to the authors is really useful.

What do you do outside of work?

Outside of work I’m a major ice-hockey player. I’ve always played ice-hockey throughout my time at university. At the moment I’m playing for Blackburn Hawks which takes up both my days at the weekend. I also train during the week. Other than that, I like music, chilling out with friends and that sort of thing.

Student Placement: The door creaks back open – week 3

The latest blog post from our placement student George Campbell studying frogs in Colombia!

frogtastic blog

We complain about temperamental weather in England but even we don’t have it quite as extreme as it is here, it seems. Last night there was thunder, yesterday it was boiling hot and the night before it was torrential rain. Right now it’s cold but 5 minutes ago it was T-shirt & shorts weather…I keep getting reminded that Pamplona only has two seasons: wet and dry. So far they only have one though: random, and I guess this is where being a Brit comes in helpful as you naturally have to leave the house prepared for any and every possibility.

The town of Pamplona from the Universities viewpoint during the day:

DSC00382DSC00383

And later that night:

DSC00396DSC00397

Neither photos really do justice to either the weather at its best or worst, which had my landlady praying to god that the roof holds out. It did.

Anyway, that’s the British conversation starter of…

View original post 1,375 more words

Tuesday Feature Episode 16: Andrew Loudon

For episode 16 of our Tuesday Feature, we are joined by Faculty Scientist Professor Andrew Loudon. Professor Loudon is one of the world’s leading experts in body clocks and circadian rhythms. He is the Beyer Professor of Animal Biology here in Manchester. It is for his work on clocks that he was recently awarded a fellowship to the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences. Who better then to star in this week’s Tuesday Feature!


Explain your research for the layman in ten sentences or less.

I’ve been interested all my life in biological clocks – timing systems in biology. I got into this by studying seasonal breeding animals in their natural environments. Their behaviour is very strongly driven by clock based processes. My initial interest came from studying hormone cycles and the mechanisms that control the activation and suppression of reproduction in wild animals. Then, around about 20 years ago, I came particularly interested in some of the genetic mechanisms that were being unravelled for the circadian clock. So I’ve maintained an interest in annual cycles and seasonal breeding but more recently in circadian mechanisms with a very strong interest in genetics.

Andrew loudonHow could your research benefit the people reading this blog?

Well in the context of circadian biology, there’s an awakening interest in the way in which this field can contribute to medicine at multiple levels. One of the most obvious applications is so called chrono-therapy. This is where you try to deliver drugs or therapeutic treatments to patients at the optimum time of day. That’s a non-trivial business. There are a number of drugs for instance that have to be delivered at a particular time of day. Probably most people know about statins and some people take low-dose aspirin – those sorts of drugs are really not effective at the wrong time of day.

This is the tip of the iceberg and there are a large number of other pharmacologies that would be much better if they were adapted so that they were highly potent, one time of day drug. We would then not have to expose the body to a continuous high dose of this drug throughout 24 hours when we really have to only expose the target tissues for a matter of 2-3 hours.

I think there’s likely to be a very large amount of interest in this area. There’s evidence now that pharmaceutical companies are finally waking up to this and it has been led very much by university based scientists around the world.

How did you first get interest in body clocks?

As I said earlier, it relates to my original studies of the reproductive biology of wild animals. My PhD actually was in territorial and sexual behaviour. That’s what introduced me first to hormones. I was studying wild animals. Rather like Springwatch, I was out there at 4 o’clock in the morning with my binoculars for several years. My animal was a small species of deer (the Roe deer) and I spent several happy years tracking deer in the wild doing endocrinology and taking tissues samples from them. My background is really in behavioural sciences and then I moved very quickly in my 20’s to endocrinology, the study of hormones, and then as I’ve indicated, I moved into areas such as genetics.

Have you got any science heroes? Who inspired you?

Of course I’ve been around a while so I’ve got quite a few. I’ve been fortunate to work with and interact with terrific people. I guess one of the early mentors was a wonderful man called Roger Short who was a reproductive biologist. He had a huge impact in the UK on developing the field of reproductive sciences and endocrinology. He then moved to Australia. He’s still alive and I keep in touch with him, he’s well in to his 90’s now. Then another colleague in the United States who I worked with when I was over there, Michael Menaker, who is kind of the grandfather of all biological clock researchers around the world. All of the key people seem to have interacted with him; he was an absolutely wonderful man – a terrific insight into biology generally. I guess other colleagues like Joe Takahashi, who is really quite a friend, has been extremely helpful to everyone in the field and has taken a major lead in pioneering new genetic approach to how biological clocks and timing processes operate generally.  It’s quite a long list, but there’s three there for a start! Without these people in science, life would be so much duller.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester has got the major asset that it is very large and yet it is possible to interact at multiple levels in different disciplines without the enclaves and territorial/departmental structures that you find in some of the older Universities.  The thing that attracted me to Manchester and the reason I came here, to be quite blunt, was the animal facilities which are unique. They are very well run and the head of the animal facility has been extremely accommodating to myself and all of the other circadian workers in allowing us to kind of take over the facilities and put lots of equipment in there to allow us to monitor the behaviour of the animals. That really was very important to me because I’m very focused on studying the behaviour of animals and seeing how they operate in real time. I don’t just study cells and tissues so obviously that’s important.

More recently, the growing alliance between the Life Sciences and medicine has been extremely important and is very much the future of all of us. I’ve been working very closely for the last 10 years or more with a good friend and colleague called Professor David Ray in the medical faculty and we have a lot of very exciting science going on together.  Manchester is a great place to be – it offers a great opportunity to undertake science across multiple levels with lots of different colleagues and disciplines.

What do you do outside of work?

I’m a keen woodworker and furniture maker. I turn wood. I also fly fish and I’m a life-long, passionate motor cyclist. I have several motorbikes including one very large one and I haven’t fallen off it recently! All of those hobbies have one common feature which is that they require an enormous amount of concentration. If you let your concentration drop in any of those activities the result is chaos. Especially, if you’re motorcycling particular! It’s kind of relaxing to have to concentrate on something different. Those are the kind of things that I do when I’m not working.


Thank you again Andrew for a thoroughly enjoyable Tuesday Feature. Good luck for your induction to the Academy on July 1st and we hope it all goes well! 

Tuesday Feature Episode 12: David Brough

On the back of Gloria’s glowing recommendation, we decided to track down David Brough who is a research fellow within the Faculty. In this episode you’ll get to find out about David’s research into inflammation and how Manchester has helped him as a young researcher.


Could you please explain your research, for the layman, in ten sentences or less?

David Brough holding the Love Life Sciences board.So I work on a process called inflammation which is our body’s response to danger. Unfortunately, sometimes during disease this inflammatory response makes the disease worse. I try to understand these processes to see if we can identify new ways to treat disease.

How does this research benefit the person reading the blog?

So my research is really basic and is at a fundamental level, but hopefully discoveries that I make will, in the future, translate to human benefit. The research I do, for the people reading this blog, will hopefully, in 10, 15, 20 years’ time will have informed some of the treatments or practices to treat inflammatory disease. Inflammatory disease encompasses very common, mainstream disease: Cardiovascular disease, inflammatory skin diseases such as ‎Psoriasis or brain diseases such as stroke or Alzheimer’s disease.

How did you first get interested in inflammation?

I was always very interested in science and biology and I was always interested in basic mechanisms in biology which could contribute to disease. It was during my PhD that I became interested in inflammation. Inflammation is a great area to work in – particularly the processes I work on because there’s so much biology we don’t understand and it is directly relevant to people of all ages because it’s a major contributor to disease processes. It’s easy to understand and justify the reasons for studying these inflammatory processes.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

I was always very interested in stories of scientific discovery such as the discovery of DNA and Penicillin. My scientific heroes have always been scientists who have made great breakthroughs. However, there hasn’t really been any one particular person who I inspired to be.

How has working in Manchester helped you?
As a young researcher, Manchester has been a supportive environment and I have great colleagues in my department. They are people who have complimentary research interests and I have been able to work effectively and collaborate well. There have been a lot of opportunities to develop my career.

What do you do outside of work?

When I’m not working here, I have two children who keep me very busy. I do various sports – I’m involved in martial arts and I am a jujitsu instructor, which I do several times a week.


Thank you David for sharing a bit more about your research and your role in the Faculty! Come back next week for another exciting look at some of the people who are involved with the Faculty of Life Sciences.

There’s strength in flexibility

Faculty Scientists have made an important discovery about how cells change the strength of the connection between one another to match the various needs of the body.

The team, led by Dr Lydia Tabernero and Prof David Garrod, looked at desmosomes – structures that help to bind two cells together. Specifically, they looked at the desmosomes that are present between two cells in the heart and two cells in the skin.

Desmosomes are known to be specialised for their strong adhesion and this is what allows tissue cells to stick together despite the rigours of everyday life.  However, under different situations, like embryonic development and wound healing, these connections would need to become ‘weaker’ in order to allow cells to move and grow. Until this point, scientists have been unable to determine how the desmosomes were able to change their adhesiveness.

Cell AdhesionsThe team found that the ‘adaptive strength’ of desmosomes is achieved by special proteins which protrude from the cell. These proteins are the ‘sticky’ points which connect two cells together. They found that the proteins were much more flexible than was previously thought, allowing cells to change the strength of the bond between one another.

To study the role of desmosomes, the team extracted these special proteins to see what they consisted of. They used a combination of different techniques which allowed them to build a computer model of the molecules that make the connections between the cells. They found that the molecules were much more ordered in stronger adhesions than in weaker ones. The molecules were able to change their level of organisation because of their flexibility.

Dr Tabernero comments:

“What is really fascinating about desmosomes is that they become weaker during wound healing and embryonic development, and this weakening is necessary to allow cells to move. In contrast, desmosomes are very strong in adult tissues, particularly in skin and heart. It has been incredibly difficult to work out how they do that but our findings shed new light on this.”

Professor David Garrod has studied desmosomes for decades. He says there are exciting implications for these findings:

“This is the first time that any structural information has been reported for desmosome adhesion. Understanding these cell junctions will be important for future biotechnology applications. We also hope our research will contribute to studies into wound healing, cancer and embryonic development.”

The paper “Cadherin flexibility provides a key difference between desmosomes and adherens junctions” was published in PNAS on April 28th 2015.

Higher death toll not due to evolving Ebola virus

Faculty scientists have completed computer analysis of the deadly Ebola virus which has shown that it has not evolved to become any more deadly since its first outbreak almost 40 years ago.

Ebola Virus

The surprising results show that whilst the virus has undergone a high number of genetic changes, the virus has not become any more virulent. The findings, published in the journal Virology, help prove that the higher death toll in the current outbreak is not because of a change in the way the virus infects humans.

This may prove to be extremely useful. Professor David Robertson says:

“The fact that Ebola isn’t changing in a way that affects the virulence of the disease means that vaccines and treatments developed during this current outbreak have a very high chance of being effective against future outbreaks. It also means that methods to successfully tackle the virus should work again, so hopefully in the future an outbreak can be stopped from spreading at a much earlier stage.”

The team used a computational approach, developed by PhD student Abayomi Olabode, that was previously used to analyse changes in the HIV-1 virus. The major advantage of using a computer-based approach is that research can be carried out in a very quick and safe way – something that is vital when studying viral epidemics. Importantly, this type of modelling can be done in real time, meaning that scientists can better react to deadly diseases as they happen.

Viral outbreaks, such as Ebola, need to be continually monitored for any change, including those that make the virus less potent. If symptoms are less severe, there is a greater chance that the virus will go unidentified. Infected individuals can spread the virus more widely throughout a population, making it harder to trace those who have been exposed to it and ultimately causing more deaths. Professor Robertson comments:

“This level of surveillance will only become more essential in the fight against contagious illness as we live in an increasingly globally connected society.”

On the results of the study, Professor Tony Redmond, from the University’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute says:

“These are very important findings and emphasise that the spread of the virus in this outbreak owed as much to factors within the human community than within the virus itself.”

It is now thought that computer approaches like this one used to study Ebola will become the standard way to look at viral epidemics in the future.

What I learnt this week part 2 (Guest blog by Elinor Bridges)

Elinor BridgesHello again everyone. I hope it’s been a good week, and not too stressful for those with deadlines. For me, it’s been another week of exploring the weird and wonderful world of living things, a few of which shall feature in this blog. Once again, I have whittled down everything I have learnt this week to the most interesting (and sometimes amusing) nuggets of information.

Life isn’t Fir
I am currently taking part in a community project which involves volunteering at the university’s experimental gardens – also known as ‘The Firs’. This was going swimmingly, despite constantly looking over my shoulder for frogs, which I have an irrational and uncontrollable fear of. Then, as I had dreaded, a green blur in corner of my eye alerted me to the presence of one of the little croakFrog for blogers. While mildly traumatised by the event, I was unharmed. Unfortunately, many people do not face the same fortunate fate upon encountering amphibians – some frogs contain toxins that can be very dangerous.

As explained as part of the Drugs: from Molecules to Man module I am taking, the molecule responsible for making some amphibians best avoided is epibatidine. Epibatidine binds to a certain type of receptor in the nervous system, called the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, and prevents proper control of parts of the nervous system. Additionally, it stops pain sensation from being felt, so the molecule can act as a painkiller. Due to this, epibatidine is a starting point for the development of some painkilling drugs.

Gut flora is for life, not just for Christmas
I have always had mixed feelings about being born the day after Boxing Day. It’s a nice uplift when everyone is miserable about Christmas being over, but it also means everybody is busy and any restaurant I should visit may not have had stock deliveries, leaving half of the menu temporarily defunct. Despite this, it’s my birthday and I’m stuck with it, just like the gut flora that was also bestowed on me at birth.

E. ColiAs was explained to me in Microbes, Man and the Environment, everybody has around a kilogram of bacteria living inside their body. A lot of this bacteria survive in the GI tract, and this is known as the gut flora. Your gut flora is determined by several factors and, surprisingly, is unique to each individual. The first factor that determines the types of bacteria in your gut flora is one of the first things humans ever experience: birth. How you were born affects your gut flora for the rest of your life. For example, if you were born by caesarean section, the first bacteria you were exposed to would have been very different to that of a natural birth. Your gut flora also depends on your diet – vegetarians generally have very different bacteria to those who eat meat. The interesting thing about this is that it’s very difficult to change your gut flora. If you go from eating meat to being a vegetarian, it can take as long as a year for any change in your gut flora to occur.

The fact that your gut flora can’t be changed can be somewhat unfortunate. The bacteria help you to digest the food you eat into products for absorption, and some people’s gut flora are better at this than others. Having gut flora which break down more carbohydrates can be a big factor in weight gain. The result of this? Don’t just blame a few extra pounds on the burgers – it might be because of your bacteria!

 

So, there are the two most interesting things I have learnt this week. I am delighted to find that I have a good reason to be scared of frogs, even if I am more concerned about their slimy skin, unpredictable hopping, and beady little eyes. I hope you found the story of your gut flora interesting – I find it rather comforting to know that you’re carrying a kilogram of tiny little friends with you that will never change. I look forward to seeing you next time, where biological anecdotes and rather awful puns shall continue to abound.

What I learnt this week part 1 (Guest blog by Elinor Bridges)

Elinor BridgesHello everyone – I think introductions are in order. My name is Elinor and I am a first year undergraduate on the Biology with Science and Society degree. The only first year undergraduate, in fact – so hopefully I will be able to impart a different perspective on the life sciences. I will be writing a short series of weekly posts based on what I’ve learnt in the previous week. Now the formalities are out of the way, prepare to find out what I have discovered this week…

Students have varying standards of hygiene

While unsurprising, there is some interesting scientific and historical debate surrounding that statement. During my Bodies in History: An Introduction to the History of Medicine seminar, we were discussing a lecture given by the infamous Sigmund Freud.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Freud changed the field of psychology entirely with the development of psychoanalysis. But how, I hear you ask, does this relate to student cleanliness?

Well, Freud treated patients of hysteria. He believed that repressed memories could manifest themselves into the physical Sigmend Freud courtesy of Max Halberstadtsymptoms shown by hysterical patients, and these memories could be drawn out by hypnosis. One woman treated with this technique, Anna O, was a hysterical patient who suffered extreme thirst yet was unable to drink.

Under hypnosis, she revealed that when she was younger, she witnessed a companion let a dog drink out of a glass of water. Anna was disgusted by this, yet repressed her anger for fear of upsetting her friend.  Freud and his colleague believed that this was the cause of the symptoms she experienced. The focus of our discussion rested with one word: why?

Some believed that it was because letting a dog drink out of a human’s glass is unhygienic. At that time, Anna would have been recipient of new information claiming that germs were everywhere and spread disease. Increasing emphasis on the importance of cleanliness may have caused her to feel such a great level of disgust.

Others took a different angle. They believed the Freudian approach was simply wrong, because a dog drinking out of a glass isn’t such a terrible thing. This, of course, begged another important question: is letting a dog drink out of a glass unhygienic? The resulting vote was inconclusive.

I thought of another joke, but it was a bit cheesy…

It’s a pretty standard viewpoint that letting bacteria and fungus into our food is a bad thing. However, many things we eat and drink actually require these microorganisms to turn the raw materials into delicious consumables. As lectured about in the Microbes, Man and the Environment module, microbes are particularly important in cheese making. Hopefully you haven’t got any nearby, because this actually sounds pretty disgusting….

Camembert of Normandy - image courtesy of NJGJCamembert is a popular French cheese with a soft, creamy interior, but how does the inside come to be that way? This is where it gets a little icky. After being cut into rounds, a mould called Penicillium camemberti is added to the surface of the cheese. This grows over the surface into a large structure of fungal branches called a mycelium. As the fungus spreads, it releases enzymes which break down the proteins and fats in the cheese. This partially liquefies the inside of the camembert, giving a soft texture.

While this is rather interesting, I would not recommend mentioning this if served camembert at a dinner party. It’s not very polite to tell the host that they’ve served partially digested fat surrounded by a nice coating of mould!

 

On that note, this concludes the most interesting things I have learnt this week. Hopefully you have learnt something new too, whether it be that Freudian psychology was rather odd, or that some mould is actually delicious. See you next week!