Monday 25 March 2013

Triassic Marine Reptiles

Check out this video about the types of reptiles that were found in Triassic seas over 200-250 million years ago. In today's seas reptiles are relatively rare but you can still find marine iguanas, turtles and sea snakes.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Synapse science news #15

Too busy to keep track of all the science news during the week? Don’t fear Synapse is here. Check out this week's news.

The Fatter the Better: what it takes to be a polar bearAs sea ice is lost from their habitat polar bears are having to rely on their fats reserves because they can no longer hunt seals, based on 10 years of data from an article recently published in the Journal of Animal Ecology

Our next icy targetAfter the rovers success on mars the next target is being eyed up: Jupiter's icy moon Europa. It is thought there could be an underground ocean with the potential for life. However landing could be lethal with Jagged blades of ice potentially covering the equatorial area of Europa. Read more here.

One Giant Happy Squid Family These huge cephalopods that live in the deep ocean were thought to be from 8 different species, but results from DNA sequencing form 43 samples indicates they are all one species. Find out more.

What does your phone activity say about you?Mine probably very little - but apparently it is the new way to catch gangs in Italy. New technology called LogAnalysis makes it easy to visual the activity, and helped show how there was a flurry of activity amongst gang members before a crime but crucially none during. More information.

New publication from UoB includes how plants tell chloroplasts the time of day. Click here.

Crocodile Dundee would not be best pleased an alligator received a prosthetic tail this week. Find out more.

Mary Melville and Louisa Cockbill

Sunday 17 March 2013

Brain Awareness Week

by Julie Lee

From the 11th to the 18th of March, At-Bristol held its annual 'Brilliant Brains Week'. The event is supported by Bristol Neuroscience, and is helped along by volunteers from a variety of backgrounds: undergraduates, postgraduates, neuroscientists, psychologists, and so on. Over 50 volunteer experts take part from around Bristol, including from University of Bristol, University of the West of England, and local NHS hospitals. At-Bristol's event is part of The Dana Foundation's 'Brain Awareness Week' (BAW). BAW is a global event which celebrates the brain through week-long public awareness events for families, schools, expanded to over 2800 partners in 82 countries.

Brain Awareness Week with volunteers from @Bristol
'Brilliant Brains Week' at At-Bristol is geared for older children, with three main 'activity stations' for children to experience throughout the week. Visitors have the opportunity to make a neurone out of pipe cleaners, try the 'Stroop' interference task (timed!), and draw sections of the brain on swimming caps to take home. In addition, on some days there is a 'Live Science' lab with a dissected pig's brain, which visitors are allowed to look at and even touch. Some tiny visitors were so enthusiastic about the real pig's brain that they poked it out of shape. All in the name of science! There are some 'passive' brain-related exhibits, such as a 'Neurobot' that lights up at a handshake and pulls back at a thumb pinch. Visitors can guess at the size of various mammal brains using play-doh, then weigh the 'brains' to test their predictions. Finally, there are some models of brains around the museum floor, as well as a real human brain in a case.

The children, even the young ones, were interested in learning about the three-pound lump inside their heads. Some of them had a surprising amount of knowledge already about the lobes in the brain. Whatever their initial knowledge base, every child, some holding pipe cleaner neurones, walked away having learned something new about the brain. All in all, a successful mission.

Saturday 16 March 2013


Bristol University student Emily Milodowski with Dr Elaine Ostrander and Dr Gus Aguirre

On Saturday 9th March, the founder of Metro Bank, Vernon Hill and his wife Shirley presented the International Canine Health Awards, the largest veterinary awards in Europe, to three deserving individuals at a ceremony held at this year's Crufts Dog Show. These awards were launched last year to recognize and reward innovative researchers, veterinary scientists and students who are making an impact on the health and wellbeing of dogs, and transforming our understanding of human diseases.  Dr.Elaine Ostrander, Dr.Gus Aguirre and a student, Emily Milodowski, who were nominated by their peers and contemporaries, were presented with prizes to a combined value of £60,000 for their pioneering work in veterinary sciences. Bristol University student Emily Milodowski , has been chosen as the winner of the Student Inspiration Award.The awards were judged by a panel of representatives from the veterinary profession and the world of scientific research.

Emily's major interests at the moment are canine gastroenterology as well as bacteria and important changing features of bacteria such as the development of antibiotic resistance. Her research first started with a Summer Research Scholarship from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) looking at bacterial involvement in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs - the role of bacteria has previously been disputed in this disease, with many believing that IBD results from activation of the immune response in the gut for unknown reasons and that the bacteria (if involved at all) might then take advantage of damage that is there already. Her findings suggest that there was an association between Campylobacter and diagnosis of inflammation, and hopefully this will be researched further. This work on the prevalence and distribution of this bacteria, in the canine intestine, has led to Emily being awarded the £10,000 prize to fund her future work.

Emily became very interested in how bacteria interact with the immune system of dogs, and how certain bacteria can cause disease in some dogs, while other dogs that are exposed remain apparently perfectly healthy. This led on to Emily looking at wounds and wound infections, because chronic wounds and infections are currently a very topical area of research where it is possible to analyse interaction between the bacteria and canine host. It is increasingly apparent from the emergence of antibacterial resistance in human medicine that clinicians need to start targeting which patients are likely to need antibiotic treatment, and which patients will be fine. It is also important to identify features of bacteria which are important in these interactions and which may be suitable candidates for using in the development of antibacterial vaccines. While antibiotic resistance does not occur to the same extent in veterinary medicine as it does in the human field, it is a very interesting and important field to begin to advance, and to continue to encourage the responsible use of antibacterials in veterinary practice before resistance problems emerge. 

Emily's recent project on wound infections was part of her intercalated degree in Cellular and Molecular Medicine - for which she was awarded a Scholarship by the Wellcome Trust. The award is called the 2012 Intercalated Award from the Wellcome Trust Clinical Veterinary Research Training Programme. This project entailed looking for differences in bacteria isolated from wound infections and those carried by normal, healthy dogs. Differences in the genes that each bacteria have are compared and by finding out which genes are most common in bacteria that cause disease, it is hopefully possible to identify risk factors which can then be used to identify those dogs that are more likely to develop wound infections after surgery, simply by looking at the bacteria that they carry on their skin. 

Emily's fund will allow her to take this research further and look at how long after surgery these "dangerous" bacteria begin to colonise the surgical wound site. This might help us to see when it is best to use antibiotics in treating infections. Further to this, Emily wants to look at whether certain bacteria are able to interfere with and prevent normal wound healing, which would cause wounds to breakdown and persist as chronic wounds. Chronic wounds are difficult to manage and treat and represent serious health and welfare issues to dogs. 

The research will also look at how different dogs have different responses to the same bacteria in wounds, and similarly if you look back at IBD, there are certain breed predispositions to IBD, for example the German Shepherd, or Shar-pei. Research may include the effects of different diets. Future work may also start to look at identifying ' at risk ' breeds, possible breed predispositions to infection in general, because the function and control of the immune system is determined , in part, by genetic factors ,this may consequently further improve the way that veterinary clinicians can appropriately and effectively implement the best treatments. This research can also be extrapolated to human health, given how closely we interact with dogs, we are exposed to the bacteria that dogs carry and vice versa. Considering the problem of antibiotic resistance in human medicine, any research into improving approach to treatment of bacterial infections, including possible vaccine ideas, is likely to be helpful in some way.

by Stephanie Presdee

Many congratulations to Emily from the Synapse team.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Weird and Wonderful: The Immortal Jellyfish

Chris Turner

You’re growing old, fragile and, perhaps worst of all, wrinkly. If only you could go back to being a baby, and grow up all over again. This might sound like a curious fantasy but for one member of the animal kingdom it’s just part of life.

Turritopsis nutricula is the Immortal Jellyfish. As a member of the Hydrozoa class, it has two stages within its life cycle: the polypois and medusoid stages. In polyp form these jellyfish are grouped together in colonies, with several polyps connected in a tree-like manner by a series of tubes called hydrocauli. These polyps are little more than mouths, terrifying mouths covered in vicious, stinging tentacles. It’s certainly comforting to know they’re less than one millimetre tall. The medusa stage is the larger, sexually mature form sizing up to a slightly underwhelming 4.5 mm. It’s a more conventional jellyfish shape with around 100 stinging tentacles trailing below a bright red stomach.

Unlike all other Hydrozoans, the transformation from polyp to medusa isn’t a one way street for Turritapsis. When conditions are unfavourable the jellyfish is able to use cells from certain tissues to revert back, with its bell and tentacles deteriorating in exchange for hydrocauli. This ability to reverse metamorphose means that the jellyfish is biologically immortal. With this extraordinary trait it isn’t much of a surprise to hear that this species is quickly spreading across the oceans. According to Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute we’re seeing ‘a worldwide silent invasion’. Let’s hope they don’t get much bigger.

Did you know Synapse featured The Immortal Jellyfish in issue 3 of our print magazine? It made it onto the front cover!