This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Monday Presentation: Using Twitter as a Postgraduate Researcher

I'm moving house, so no time to write a Monday Science post this week. Instead, here's the talk I gave last Friday entitled 'Using Twitter as a Postgraduate Researcher'. If it looks familiar, it should, as I've posted it here before. But this one is NEW! and DIFFERENT! and features fewer TERRIBLE JOKES! It's also better thought through. Comments, as always, welcome.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Monday Science: Brains and Blue Icing

It is said that when a sense is lost, particularly that of sight, remaining senses are heightened. This is true not only in those individuals who could once see — although they do have better spatial awareness — but also in people who were born blind, since these individuals have been shown to have accelerated brain processing ability in the regions responsible for the remaining senses. But how can the brain do this? How can it intrinsically know things it can no longer directly determine in the ways it was built to do?

Fruit flies similarly have the ability to continue to perceive their environment in times of sensory loss. For example, they can determine the nutritional value of food, even when their ability to taste has been impaired. Now, a study in Nature Neuroscience has uncovered details as to how this might be possible.

Flies that are incapable of tasting — by means of genetic mutation in the taste receptors around its mouth and proboscis — actively select easily digested sugars over harder to stomach compounds. After all, they still need to eat well. This ability is particularly strong during times of starvation, so the researchers looked deeper to see if this was to do with sugar levels in the haemolymph, the liquid that circulates around the insects’ body, something akin to blood plasma. They found that starved flies were no longer able to choose between glucose and agar, or different kinds of glucose, if their food was supplemented with a chemical that prevents the passing of glucose from the gut to the haemolymph. Just to check that this wasn’t because the chemical was messing everything up and the flies were just off their food completely (and who can blame them, on a diet of agar and chemicals), they repeated the experiment using agar and fructose, which differs chemically and isn’t prevented from passing into the haemolymph. This time the flies chose the fructose.

On top of this, flies that have had their ability to taste restored, but are still chemically unable to absorb glucose into their haemolymph, actively choose the sweetest foods they can find, even if those sugars are the hardest to digest and therefore the worst nutritional option. They’re like toddlers presented with the option of cake with blue icing, or Ryvita and hummus - sweetest wins, regardless of whether it's any good for them.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Monday Science: The Happy Birthday DNA Show

TWO weeks ago I attended the Communicating Your Science workshop organised by the Genetics Society and held at Chicheley Hall, a country mansion owned by the Royal Society. The workshop focused on storytelling, communication in interdisciplinary research, scientific writing, publishing, business and radio broadcasting. I absolutely loved it. As part of this, we were challenged by The Naked Scientists crew to create a 15 minute radio show, with less than 24 hours notice, to be recorded as live with no interruptions. Above is a link to the show my group created, which just so happened to be recorded on 25th April 2013, the 60th anniversary of the Watson and Crick paper in which the structure of DNA was revealed. We were allowed some pre-recorded segments, which is where I feature along with our vox pops from 'the streets of Milton Keynes' (actually the staff in the venue, hence the tweeting birds in the background). Consequently I had no live vocals so I took on the role of show producer, gesticulating silently to signify timings, panic and relief when it was all over!

Disclaimer: as this was done so quickly, the science in it may not be completely accurate. It was more for the experience of putting a show together than for complete accuracy.