Thursday, 31 December 2015

Stuff from the UoN in 2015

University of Nottingham 2015 news items that have caught NSB's attention.....


Apr 2015 : Caterpillar killing fungus may offer pain relief
Scientists at The University of Nottingham are exploring the painkilling potential of cordycepin, a compound found in cordyceps mushrooms, which are widely used in Chinese traditional medicine, thanks to funding from Arthritis Research UK.

Cordyceptin is found in the cordyceps mushrooms, which parasitically infect and then kill certain types of caterpillar. The mushrooms have been widely used in Chinese medicine for some time.

Dr Cornelia de Moor and her team at the UoN have been given a three-year grant of £260,000 from ArthritisUK to investigate cordycepin as a new type of painkiller for osteoarthritis, a common joint condition that affects more than eight million people in the UK.

Director of research and prpgrammes at Arthritis Research UK, Dr Stephen Simpson, said: “Dr de Moor’s research is certainly novel, and we believe may hold promise as a future source of pain relief for people with osteoarthritis. There is currently a massive gap in available, effective, side-effect-free painkillers for the millions of people with arthritis who have to live with their pain every day, so new approaches are very much-needed.”

To get a feel for the trajectory of this research, check out this press release from 2013.

You can read more about the rather grim way the Cordyceps mushroom kills off its caterpillar host here.


May 2015 : Insects as a food security solution
A series of research grants have been given to UoN researchers led by Prof Andy Salter to investigate the possibility of using insects, and insects derived products as food sources - both for people (think "cricket flour") and for farmed animals such as fish (where conventional fish oil foods are unsustainable).

The researchers already have a flying start (gettit?) with their existing links to commercial insect rearing companies such as Entofood in Malaysia and Monkfield in the UK.

You can read a report on the viability of insects as animal feed here. It puts the issue in context very early on with the comment :

"Meat production is already responsible for 18% of the 36 billion tons of ‘CO2 -equivalent’ greenhouse gases the world produces every year, and it takes 33% of all the arable land to produce enough feed for them. At the same time, therapidly expanding aquaculture industry is competing for feed inputs with other livestock - particularly the demand for fish meal which, if we carry on as we are, is likely to outstrip supply very soon"


Jul 2015 : Dr Clare Burrage awarded the Maxwell medal and prize

The Maxwell medal and prize is presented annually by the Institute of Physics for "outstanding contributions to theoretical physics, mathematical or computational physics."

The winner in 2015 was won by Dr Clare Burrage (see also here) with the IOP commenting that “Dr Burrage has pioneered the development of searches for dark energy in terrestrial laboratory experiments and astrophysical observations."

Dark Energy is a form of energy which is hypothesized to permeate all of space, tending to accelerate the expansion of the universe.

You can read more about the kinds of tests that Dr Burrage has been investigating in articles at Quanta, New Scientist and Science Daily.

Oh, and by the way, the NS article points out that one possible manifestation of Dark Energy could result in the universe experiencing a “big rip” as increasingly fast expansion tears apart the universe, starting with galaxy clusters and ending with atomic nuclei.

No pressure, then....


Aug 2015 : Helicobacter pylori's secret weapon

The disease causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) (and which was only discovered in 1982) burrows into the mucus of the human stomach and adheres to the stomach wall to resist being "flushed out" of the human body. It is present in about 1 in 2 humans, but does not cause problems for the large majority of these people.

Fascinating research from experts in the UoN School of Pharmacy who, together with AstraZeneca R&D, have figured out that actual mechanism that the bacteria uses to adhere to the wall, and this may pave the way to developing drugs that can combat the bacteria is disease is caused.


Oct 2015 : Britains forgotton slave owners
Katie Donington, Research Associate on the Antislavery Usable Past and Co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights talks about documentary Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.

As part of the measures taken to end slavery in the Caribbean, the British government agreed to pay the slave-owners £20 million compensation [£69.93 billion in 2013 pounds!!] for their ‘property in people.’. The bureaucratic record associated with this provides a database of some 46,000 claimants, of whom around 3,000 lived in the UK and is a valuable insight into their lives, times and views.

More info also here and in a Wiki Article here.

Very touched by the words of William Cowper who wrote:

"We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free. They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein."


Oct 2015 : Climbers cut carbon capture
Clever and adventurous researchers from the UoN and other institutions have performed a remarkable study on the effects of woody climbing plants — called lianas — on the tree growth in tropical forests.

Tropical forests store nearly 30 per cent of global carbon and contribute to 40 per cent of the global carbon sink but Lianas have drastically increased in both numbers and bulk in recent decades, and are restricting tree growth and even killing trees by their tangling presence.

To try and quantify the effect the researchers marked out an area of the Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Panama into 16 squares with 80m sides. Then they cut down the lianas in 8 of the squares and monitored tree growth in the area for three years.

The researchers found that the study plots with lianas collected 76% less carbon in woody biomass over the experimental period because of reduced tree growth and increased tree death. The team calculated that lianas could potentially reduce long-term storage of carbon in tropical forests by one-third or more.



Oct 2015 : Funding for gel that mimics human breast tissue
A £417,000 research award has been given by from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) to a UoN team led by Dr Cathy Merry in the School of Medicine.

The team is developing a gel that will match many of the biological structures of human breast tissue and allow cancer research to be performed with reduced need for animal testing.

Dr Merry has recently joined the UoN from the University of Manchester, which is where the hydrogel technology was originally developed. The two groups will continue to work together on the technology.

You can read more about reserch aimed at reducing the need for animal testing here


Nov 2015 : Companion animal ethics book
A new book, written by Dr Sandra Corr, Peter Sand√łe and Clare Palmerby is the first book to comprehensively cover the complex ethical issues of living with companion animals such as cats and dogs.

Sounds like a fascinating topic, but disappointing that this (presumably) publicly funded research, which has so much relevance to the general public, is not more accessible without shelling out at Amazon. The University of Nottingham


Dec 2015 : Rebecca Dewey takes part in the "Pairing Scheme"
Research Fellow in Neuroimaging at the University of Nottingham, Rebecca Dewey, a research fellow in Neuroimaging, took part in annual Royal Society "Pairing Scheme" where academics spend time with MP's (in this case Lilian Greenwood) and civil servants. The scheme research scientists with a behind-the-scenes insight into how policy is formed and how research can be used to make evidence-based decisions. It also gives parliamentarians and civil servants the opportunity to investigate the science behind their decision-making processes and improves their access to scientific evidence. The over-arching aim of the scheme is to build bridges between parliamentarians and some of the best scientists in the UK.

You can find out more about the scheme, including case studies, here.

An important scheme to have at a time when believers in the efficacy of sugar pills can influence health policy and when MEP's can deny the existence of man made climate change.

Spookily, this meshes very nicely with a UoN news item from earlier in the year, entitled "Why Academics should engage with the media" which includes a genuinely helpful 20 point list of things to consider.

No 12 blew my mind.


Dec 2015 : Cumbrian Flooding
Dr Simon Gosling writes on the causes and reaction to recent flooding in Cumbria. NSB particularly noted the comments on how the Environment Agency weighs up the pros and cons of different flood prevention strategies :
"The Environment Agency aims to provide the best possible protection for a community that can be justified technically and economically, and which actually fits within the community. So, whilst flood defence walls several meters high could be constructed along the banks of a river, it would in turn prevent people from enjoying the river and the space it offers during the larger part of the time when the river is not in a state of flood – factors that make such areas attractive places to live. The Environment Agency consider factors such as risk of loss of life, potential physical and economic damage, and hydrological models that show the behaviour of floods, to decide where to prioritise the planning and construction flood defences."

Also information on previous "weather extremes" in "weather extremes" blog.


Dec 2015 : Monitoring the Climate Change Talks
Prof Brigitte Nerlich, and Dr Warren Pearce have been part of a team monitoring the Climate Change Talks - check out their blog here.

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