Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Martian Trailer

Linking this mainly because of the quote "I am going to science the Sh*t out of this". Definitely need to try and use that one at work today.
I'd probably urge people who haven't read the book to avoid the trailer though as it essentially spells out the entire plot in 3 minutes. I'll get around to doing a review of the book as it has Biology sh*t in it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pint of Science 2015!

I'm out of hibernation to let you know that the Pint of Science festival will be upon us all from the 18th May. Combining two of my favourite things - science and beer!
Events are occurring all over the world so have a look to see if there's anything happening in your area.

Last year was a lot of fun so I decided to get involved with the Bristol group again. As you can see, there are a wide-range of topics being covered so there's hopefully something for everyone.
I might be biased but let me draw your attention to some talks I'm involved in this year. I decided to go outside my comfort zone and help with talks not solely focused on biology. Part of the reason for this was that I was jealous of not being able to see  talks that caught my attention last year. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like my own field but I often find the other disciplines more curious - especially for general consumption (I'm not a physicist or material scientist!). So by getting involved in the Planet Earth talks, I knew I'd get to see something different.

On Monday 18th May, we have "Extreme Earth", where we have two experts discussing Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Why does molten rock come out of the earth in the first place? Are we any closer to accurately predicting "big" earthquakes? These are just some of the questions the speakers are hoping to answer. No one likes Mondays. so this is the perfect excuse to brighten the day - along with a great excuse to have a drink.

Tuesday's "Really Wild Show" promises to be an eye-opener on many levels. I have to admit I'm not a fan of wasps but it looks like Dr Seirian Sumner may be able to convince me they are anti-heroes if her tease of "Monarchies, Rebellions and wasps with ideas above their station" is any indication of the presentation itself. Then we have a talk that should put Wally/Waldo to shame as Professor Innes Cuthill discusses animal camouflage, how it works and how we can use it for art and military purposes. I've seen some of these slides and they look excellent - I really can't wait to hear them being discussed in full.

The final night on Wednesday is "climate change" - something we hear about a lot but often with a focus on the politics rather than the science. These talks will discuss the science of global warming and how studying previous climate change (the Earth has never been static with regards to climate) can inform future events and uncertainties.

So if you have time next week, we'd be happy to entertain you and if, for some reason, these talks don't win you over feel free to check out some of the other themes and talks on offer. I can see the benefits of mixing and matching topics too!

Plug over, back to getting everything ready.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Control Freak

A BBC documentary with controls! Always worth highlighting!

The truth about...your medicine cabinet

A one hour documentary looking at the effectiveness of over-the-counter drugs in the UK.
There were several demonstrations looking into the effectiveness of cough medicines (just use honey and lemon) and indigestion treatments (they work but watch what/how you eat) but the control experiment in question was looking at deep heat vs cold creams for muscle injury/recovery. They were actually looking at whether ice vs warm baths help aid muscle recovery (of current interest to me as I have a jogging-related muscle problem)

To do this the presenter had 15 people do the same assault course. 5 of them took a 15 minute hot bath and another 5 took a 15 minute ice-cold bath. Then they followed them over the next few days measuring different factors for assessing muscle pain/recovery. The key thing was that the remaining 5 people didn't take a hot or cold bath after exercise.
The results highlighted the importance of the negative control as hot and cold treatments had virtually the same effect. Those who didn't use either showed significantly poorer recovery. If the negative control had looked the same as the hot/cold treatments we could have concluded neither treatment has an effect but now we know hot/cold treatment is better than nothing!

It's not the perfect experimental set up but I think for a TV show this is the right level and the results hopefully showed casual viewers why the control was important.

The presenter hosted an episode on sugar vs protein diets with his identical twin last year so he clearly likes to get the concept of controls across. Although it seems his twin wasn't taking part in the experiments this time. I guess they decided a higher "n" value was more important than controlling for genetic variance :P

The show itself was surprisingly quite interesting It was somewhat disturbing how many ailments are focused on treating the symptoms when adjusting your diet would prevent them happening in the first place eg diet can solve the need for vitamin supplements and indigestion remedies. It does concern me how we (and I know I'm guilty of it) look for an easy fix rather than a long term beneficial solution. Stubborness, I guess.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tell me, Flies, tell me, sweet little Flies

I've had this song stuck in my head all day. Simply replace "lies" for "flies" and the song in its entirety is worryingly apt for my research. Give it a go and then I'll give you some context.

I finally managed to delete a gene using CRISPR! So I've been waiting 11 days to see what the homozygous mutants look like.

13 days later (because the food isn't so great) and...

They look absolutely fine.

Bugger. I'll have to wait a few days to see whether they are fertile and a few more until they possibly drop dead or start behaving oddly. Chances are they don't have anything wrong with them which means I'll have to start poking around a little more.

There are several options - a sensible one is to do some genetic interactions with candidate genes (that have a phenotype when mutated) obtained from an interactome I obtained. The caveat there is that it's an interactome for the human protein and not the fly one. Ideally make a mutant phenotype better/worse when adding my mutation to the mix.

Another option is to look a lot closer. Based on expression data there seems to be an enrichment in hemocytes (sort of fly macrophages) and the Central Nervous System. Given I share lab space with experts on hemocyte function and behaviour it seems like it's worth a quick look in that direction. The central nervous system I can delve into with simple things like "is there a difference in size/appearance" but I'd also probably hope to see things go wrong with the flies as they get older.

Anyway, there's a bit of work to be done yet until I find a solid lead. Now I have the mutant I may as well at least establish that it conclusively does nothing before moving on.

So yeah - no, no, no you can't disguise. Tell me Flies.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Biology on the Box

A round up of some Biology shout-outs on TV

Episode 5 of "Fortitude" name-checked PCR several times, as well as making claims like "the DNA never lies". I guess it doesn't if there's no cross-contamination. We also got to see a gilson pipette, which is always a joy. They also claimed that it takes 7 years for every atom in our body to be replaced - although a quick google suggests there's a huge variation in the time it takes for that to happen.
An earlier episode mentioned "Apex" predators too so the writer of the show clearly reads or watches popular science documentaries/journals.

Speaking of documentaries, there was a great repeat of BBC4's "rise of the continents" hosted by Ian Stewart. I missed it the first time around but it was a real gem as each episode was dedicated to a continent (Australia, Africa, Americas and Eurasia) and charted its history. There were loads of things I'd never heard of - such as cratons and Stewart is able to explain things simply without being patronising (although the director unfortunately insisted on having "sherlock"-style thought process/montages). But what does this have to do with biology, I hear you ask? Well, the neat thing about the show is that it linked continental events with evolution such as whales evolving thanks to a shallow sea that once existed in North West Africa. Or how India meeting Asia resulted in the extinction of 50% of the planet's species. There were quite a few others and it highlighted how tightly the environment affects life on the planet - something we'd do well to remember!

The last one doesn't really have anything to do with biology but the partial eclipse in the UK was fun to watch (albeit indirectly thanks to the fear mongering/are people really that stupid of staring at it). It still always strikes me as an incredible co-incidence how on a planet that contains the only known life capable of appreciating it - just happens to have a moon that is the right size/distance from the sun to cause an eclipse. The odds must be minuscule. Maybe the universe just wanted to be appreciated? So, it had nothing to do with biology but it was nice to see people being interested in science indirectly. I suspect most just wanted a selfie or get caught up in the hype but I figure most people will have at least asked what an eclipse was and maybe some of them watched the entertaining "stargazing live" show and learnt quite a bit more. Small steps :)
They had a great segment pointing out that even if astrology worked then it's a month out of date and some people are actually born in the ignored 13th zodiac sign - Ophiucus. I like it when science tries to beat mysticism with its own logic. If you want to check your star sign try it here. Turns out I'm really a Pisces which suits me far better - in fact I'm convinced Astrology is based in fact. Better check what I'm supposed to do for the rest of the weekend.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Science Songs

I have to give a lab meeting tomorrow so quick and easy song it is.

I picked this one because a scientist needs to keep their eyes wide open to spot/connect/interpret potential results. They should also be sceptical and demand to see things with their own eyes every now and then!

Monday, 23 February 2015

With Great Power comes never having to wait for the centriguge/vortex again

The Flash TV show has many flaws when it comes to portraying super-speed (usually the fact that if his speed was always as fast as it is sometimes depicted he'd be unstoppable or the that he can apparently hear faster than the speed of sound) but there's one thing in the intro that rings true if he's a scientist - he uses his super speed to vortex (possibly centrifuge) samples by hand.

It's what I'd be doing. I'd also be using it to sort flies super fast (taking care not to smash them) and better yet homogenise those 24 wrist-destroying Fly DNA samples in a row. Although I guess with super speed the 2 minute spin time would be interminable - although I could always be setting up a massive PCR experiment in that down-time.
Basically if I had that power crime-fighting would have to wait until I had a more secure income than science.