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- 04/19/17--06:59: _Opinion: How ‘fruga...
- 04/19/17--16:57: _Cambridge named as ...
- 04/19/17--17:11: _Scientists discover...
- 04/20/17--00:46: _#EarthOptimism: Rec...
- 04/20/17--09:06: _Opinion: Worthless ...
- 04/24/17--08:15: _Study identifies hu...
- 04/24/17--08:52: _Caterpillar found t...
- 04/26/17--03:52: _Opinion: We need to...
- 04/26/17--23:07: _Discarded History e...
- 04/28/17--01:45: _University of Cambr...
- 04/28/17--07:41: _#ICYMI - Trump’s Fi...
- 04/28/17--08:30: _One Hundred Days of...
- 04/29/17--06:18: _Measuring ripples i...
- 05/03/17--04:28: _Opinion: Neuralink ...
- 05/04/17--00:52: _Extending weight lo...
- 05/04/17--02:00: _Re-imagining King L...
- 05/04/17--08:57: _Cambridge spin-out ...
- 05/04/17--16:01: _Living in a poor ar...
- 05/04/17--10:07: _Study highlights gr...
- 05/05/17--03:51: _The Royal Society a...
- 04/19/17--06:59: Opinion: How ‘frugal innovation’ can fight off inequality
- 04/19/17--16:57: Cambridge named as a centre for the UK Dementia Research Institute
- Asian rhino have long been hunted for their horns. However, numbers in Kaziranga National Park in India have increased from less than 500 in the sixties to over 2,500 today thanks to strong conservation protection.
- India completed the world’s largest solar park in September last year. In January this year, China unveiled one 30% bigger.
- Europe's large carnivores are making a comeback: Sustainable populations of brown bear, Eurasian lynx, grey wolf, and wolverine persist in one-third of mainland Europe, with many populations increasing.
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has reduced by two-thirds since its peak in 2004. Forest conservation has thus prevented 3.2 Gt of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere.
- A release earlier this year brought to 35 the number of scimitar-horned Oryx – declared Extinct in the Wild in 2000 – that are now free-ranging in Chad, with the first wild birth this century just reported.
- Marine Protected Areas now cover over 5% of the world’s oceans – up from around 1% just a decade ago.
- Restoration of key forest corridors in Brazil has helped the wild population of the endangered golden lion tamarin grow from 200 to more than 3,200 individuals in three decades.
- 04/28/17--01:45: University of Cambridge looking for first professor of innovation
- 04/28/17--07:41: #ICYMI - Trump’s First Hundred Days
- 04/28/17--08:30: One Hundred Days of Trump
- 04/29/17--06:18: Measuring ripples in the cosmic web
- 05/04/17--02:00: Re-imagining King Lear in today's India
- 05/04/17--10:07: Study highlights growing significance of cryptocurrencies
- 05/05/17--03:51: The Royal Society announces election of new Fellows 2017
- Professor Krishna Chatterjee, Metabolic Research Laboratories, Department of Medicine
- Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Department of Genetics
- Professor Mark Gross, Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics
- Professor David Owen, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research
- Professor Lawrence Paulson, Computer Laboratory
- Professor David Rubinsztein, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research
- Professor Andrew Woods, BP Institute
- Dr Andrew McKenzie, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
- Professor John David Sutherland, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
- Dr Roger Williams, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Inequality is the defining social, political and economic phenomenon of our time. Just 1% of the world’s population now holds over 35% of all private wealth, more than the bottom 95% combined. Bad as this may seem, trends suggest that the situation will only get worse. Addressing it will involve multiple strategies working together, but one which is less well understood is how simple, affordable solutions to people’s problems can make a genuine difference from the bottom up.
One way of measuring inequality is known as the Gini coefficient. It gives us a useful and straightforward number between zero and one, where zero represents perfect equality where everyone has the same income, and one expresses the maximum of inequality. In the countries which make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the Gini was at 0.28 in the mid-1980s, but increased by 10% to 0.31 by the late 2000s.
Inequality is a global problem. In the form of absolute poverty, it exists across countries. About 4 billion people – more than half the world’s population – live on less than US$9 a day. But inequality is also a problem within countries. By the late 2000s, income inequality measured by Gini had risen in 17 out of the 22 OECD countries – in Finland, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden and the US, it increased by more than 4%.
Inequality is also a problem that exists on both the demand and supply sides of the economy. On the demand side: large numbers of people are excluded from the fruits of the economic process as they lack access to basic healthcare, education, nutritious food, and clean energy. This is largely an emerging world problem, but it is also increasingly a problem in the developed world.
On the supply side, large numbers of people are excluded from the economic process because they are shut out of employment in high-value-adding industries which rely heavily on skills and technology. This is largely a problem in the developed world where globalisation and tech have hollowed out manufacturing, but it is a problem in some developing countries too.
My work over the last decade leads me to believe that an important part of the battle against inequality lies in what could be termed frugal innovation. Simply put, it is about applying human ingenuity to create faster, better and cheaper solutions for more people in core areas such as financial services, health, education and energy. We can call it “frugal” because this is not about massive state-level or corporate investment, but it is about developing and delivering affordable technologies and ideas to meet basic needs at scale. This has the potential to address both supply and demand side aspects of inequality.
On the demand side, developing these frugal solutions across sectors promises to include large numbers of people currently without access to affordable financial services, education, and healthcare. Indeed, such a frugal revolution is already taking place in emerging markets in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. In India, such solutions in healthcare are bringing free or highly affordable services to large numbers of people in areas as diverse as cataract and heart surgery and prosthetics. Across the country, Devi Shetty has applied medical and management principles to reduce the cost of heart surgery to US$1,200 while maintaining global quality standards. He wants to get the price down to US$800.
In Africa, an earlier telecoms revolution is now driving a second generation of frugal solutions in key sectors such as financial services. M-Pesa, an SMS-enabled service that enables unbanked people to send and receive money though their mobile phones, has empowered over 25m Kenyans (many of whom have small businesses) to improve productivity and gain access to revenue-generating opportunities. Such mobile based payments are in turn driving affordable market solutions in areas such as solar lighting for those living beyond the reach of the electricity grid.
Similar frugal solutions in clean cookstoves, medical devices, transport, pharmaceuticals, sanitation, and consumer electronics are positioned to drive growth in Asia and Africa over the next few decades, helping to raise millions out of absolute poverty in the process.
On the supply side, frugal innovation offers the possibility of generating more high value adding employment for more people, particularly in Western economies. Big corporations are increasingly lean and no longer hire the large numbers of people they did in the past. And so entrepreneurship is more than ever a key driver of growth, both in terms of output as well as in generating employment. Young people entering the workforce can no longer expect to be job takers; increasingly, they are expected to be job makers.
Luckily, they are now more empowered to do so: small teams of people can set up new companies and achieve scale in ways that weren’t possible before.
Technologies such as cheap computers, sensors, smartphones, and 3D printers are enabling such teams to invent and prototype in ways that were only available to large corporations or government labs in the past. This in turn has given rise to the maker movement where budding inventors can tinker in Make Spaces and Fab Labs with other like-minded people and develop solutions to problems they face in their communities. Ideas that have come out of Tech Shops and Make Spaces include the Embrace Baby Warmer and Simprints, a biometric device to manage medical records in the field in developing countries.
If these “makers” wish to commercialise their solutions, they can crowdfund the capital needed, outsource the manufacturing, list their products on amazon.com to help with distribution and use social media to spread the word. Indeed, such “maker spaces” could well morph into the high tech, local, sustainable factories of the future, delivering high value adding, creative manufacturing opportunities to cities where 20th-century polluting manufacturing has been systematically weakened over the last few decades, and where lost jobs in those sectors have sharpened inequality.
While most politicians and policy makers fulminate and flounder in their attempt to deal with rising inequality worldwide, a quiet frugal revolution is already addressing the problem right before their eyes. The state need not be a bystander. Now is the time for governments to sit up, take notice and spur this revolution on. Doing so could help save their societies and economies before it is too late.
This article has been co-published with the World Economic Forum.
With inequalities set to get worse, it’s time to take radical action, says Jaideep Prabhu, Director of Centre for India & Global Business, Cambridge Judge Business School, writing for The Conversation. Could the answer lie in the ‘frugal revolution’ that is already under way?
The UK DRI is a joint £250 million investment into dementia research led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) alongside founding charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. Established in response to the Government’s 2020 Challenge on Dementia, the DRI’s mission is to find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent and care for people with dementias, a group of neurodegenerative disorders which include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
The selection of the UK DRI centres marks a significant investment for the institute, with total funding for the foundation programmes and resources awarded to the centres reaching £55 million, which the centres will supplement with over £20m worth of co-investment.
Bringing together world-leading expertise across the spectrum of dementia research, and maximising the benefit of cutting-edge facilities and skills, the newly announced centres join University College London (UCL) which was the first centre to be announced as the location of the DRI headquarters in December 2016, alongside the announcement of UK DRI Director, Professor Bart De Strooper.
Each centre will be led by an associate director and up to four programme leaders who will lead the centre’s foundation programmes. The centres have been awarded a total of 20 professorships and seven fellowships in the foundation phase, to build momentum in the institute. The centres have a biomedical focus, and care research will also be integrated into the institute next year.
The Cambridge centre will be led by Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who added: “We are very excited about the opportunity for Cambridge to be part of the UK DRI. Our centre on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus will focus on interdisciplinary science, building on our University’s strengths across research areas from chemistry and biophysics through to cell biology of neurodegeneration.”
Professor Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK DRI, said: “The shared vision between the centres will be at the heart of the DRI’s success, and this creativity at the borders will lead us to truly understand dementias and how they progress. We selected the centres based on innovative, excellent science, evidence of strong leadership, the alignment of goals with the DRI as a whole, and the ability to grow and collaborate as the institute gathers pace.
“An overarching theme from the University of Cambridge was the excellence of its science. Professor Mallucci’s energy and commitment to the cause was clear and I am confident she will drive successful interactions not only between her team’s programmes but with the wider DRI.”
Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “Dementia affects millions of people around the world, but through greater understanding we can make significant steps forward to improve lives.
“Today’s announcement of the institute’s centre locations demonstrates the UK’s existing wealth of knowledge and research expertise, and the leadership role we can take in developing new treatments to tackle this disease. This is exactly the type of project our Industrial Strategy will build on to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global science.”
Following the announcement of the centres and their foundation programmes, recruitment will soon begin to establish a number of a core programmes. The institute is seeking talented researchers from around the world, from a wide variety of fields, to fill knowledge gaps in dementias and enrich expertise. Visit the UK DRI website here for more information.
Adapted from a press release by the Medical Research Council
The University of Cambridge has been announced as one of the centres that will form the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) alongside Cardiff University, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London.
Misfolded proteins build up in the brain in several neurodegenerative diseases and are a major factor in dementias such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as prion diseases. Previously, the team found that the accumulation of misfolded proteins in mice with prion disease over-activates a natural defence mechanism, ‘switching off’ the vital production of new proteins in brain cells. They then found switching protein production back on with an experimental drug halted neurodegeneration. However, the drug tested was toxic to the pancreas and not suitable for testing in humans.
In the latest study, published today in Brain, the team tested 1,040 compounds from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, first in worms (C.elegans) which have a functioning nervous system and are a good experimental model for screening drugs to be used on the nervous system and then in mammalian cells. This revealed a number of suitable candidate compounds that could then be tested in mouse models of prion disease and a form of familial tauopathy (frontotemporal dementia - FTD), both of which had been protected by the experimental - but toxic - compounds in the team’s previous studies.
The researchers identified two drugs that restored protein production rates in mice – trazodone hydrochloride, a licensed antidepressant, and dibenzoylmethane, a compound being trialled as an anti-cancer drug. Both drugs prevented the emergence of signs of brain cell damage in most of the prion-diseased mice and restored memory in the FTD mice. In both mouse models, the drugs reduced brain shrinkage which is a feature of neurodegenerative disease.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who led the team from the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit in Leicester and is now based at the University of Cambridge, was today announced as one of the five associate directors of the UK Dementia Research Institute. She said: “We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We could know in 2-3 years whether this approach can slow down disease progression, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders.
“Interestingly, trazodone has been used to treat the symptoms of patients in later stages of dementia, so we know it is safe for this group. We now need to find out whether giving the drug to patients at an early stage could help arrest or slow down the disease through its effects on this pathway.”
The research was funded by the MRC and Professor Mallucci was also funded by a grant from Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.
Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC, said: “This study builds on previous work by this team and is a great example of how really innovative discovery science can quite quickly translate into the possibility of real drugs to treat disease.”
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer's Society, said: “We’re excited by the potential of these findings. They show that a treatment approach originally discovered in mice with prion disease might also work to prevent the death of brain cells in some forms of dementia. This research is at a very early stage and has not yet been tested in people - but as one of the drugs is already available as a treatment for depression, the time taken to get from the lab to the pharmacy could be dramatically reduced.”
Halliday, M et al. Repurposed drugs targeting eIF2α-P-mediated translational repression prevent neurodegeneration in mice. Brain; 20 April 2017; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awx074
Adapted from a press release by the Medical Research Council
A team of scientists who a few years ago identified a major pathway that leads to brain cell death in mice, have now found two drugs that block the pathway and prevent neurodegeneration. The drugs caused minimal side effects in the mice and one is already licensed for use in humans, so is ready for clinical trials.
A failure to celebrate conservation successes means we miss vital opportunities to convince the public of “real and practical solutions” they can engage with, says a leading conservationist.
Writing in the journal Oryx, Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Cambridge, argues that any progress risks being reversed if we “let drift the many gains that the conservation movement is making”.
Progress redefines what we consider normal, he says, as in the case of the smoking ban or rights for women. Such “positive shifting baselines” even extend to the green shoots of nature’s recovery through conservation – from birdlife in the UK’s Avalon marshes to monkeys in Brazilian forests.
However, Balmford says conservation improvements can quickly get taken for granted. When combined with the seemingly endless torrent of bad news about nature, he believes the overall effect can render people hopeless.
“If we forget where we’ve come from, we risk allowing things to slip backwards,” he writes, pointing to examples in the UK and US where early species recoveries have already led to official sanctioning of hunting and culling of partially restored populations.
In an effort to shift the balance towards celebrating and reinforcing success, Balmford and colleagues from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative are organising Cambridge University’s contribution to a day of global action. #EarthOptimism will promote a much more positive outlook on the future of the natural world.
Taking place on 22 April, Earth Day, #EarthOptimism summits are being coordinated across more than 20 cities including Washington, London, Dallas and Helsinki. The Cambridge event features an open invitation to hear ‘Stories of Hope’ from noted naturalists such as legendary primatologist and University alumnus Jane Goodall, and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.
There will also be a ‘Solutions Fair’, with interactive examples of the choices everyone can make in their lives to take positive actions for the planet: from more sustainable eating to smart purchasing.
“Many of us want to make a difference, but lack credible information about how we can have real impact,” says Balmford. “Empowering people with practical suggestions is key to understanding we are all part of the solution.”
Sir David Attenborough, for whom the new conservation campus building at Cambridge is named, will also be in attendance at Cambridge #EarthOptimism.
“While we cannot ignore the threats to nature, there are a growing number of examples of improvements in the health of species and habitats, along with benefits to human well-being, thanks to conservation action,” said Attenborough.
“But conservation cannot succeed through experts alone. The decisions that we all make in our day-to-day lives are critical for its success.”
Balmford has long argued for the importance of celebrating conservation victories. In 2012, he published a book, Wild Hope, which collected examples of good news from the natural world.
“You have to show people that their actions can change the world,” he says. “You will never motivate people by just giving them bad news.”
In the latest article, Balmford highlights recent reasons to be slightly more cheerful: restored corridors of Brazilian forests leading to a rebound by tiny monkeys called golden lion tamarins; giant pandas no longer categorised as Endangered; and protected areas helping to rebuild fish stocks in the Amazon.
Cambridge #EarthOptimism will feature more good news from nature, including resurgent seabirds and harmonious human-jaguar coexistence.
However, Balmford warns that such progress can fall victim to complacency if people are not aware of and championing these positive changes.
In the UK, he flags the resurgence of some raptor species such as the red kite – down to under forty birds in the 1960s – and the common buzzard. This partial recovery has already led to legalised culling of buzzards, to protect the economic interests of a shooting industry that annually releases millions of non-native game birds into the countryside.
Similarly, in the US limited recovery of wolf populations – still at less than 2% of historic levels – has led to some states delisting wolves as endangered, opening the animal up to hunting.
“If as a result of positive shifting baselines we fail to remind ourselves and others of where we would be without conservation, the progress we have made risks being reversed,” says Balmford.
“Overturning the huge declines that nature is now experiencing will take a long time, and require fundamental shifts in our behaviour. But if we learn from the successes that conservation has already achieved, we can buy ourselves and the world around us much more time for those changes to take place.”
Cambridge conservationists will unite with colleagues across the globe on Earth Day this Saturday to lionise environmental victories and show there is cause for hope – the decisive component in the fight to save disappearing biodiversity.
The Paris Agreement commits nations to limiting global warming to less than 2˚C by the end of the century. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, to meet such a massive challenge, societies will need to do more than simply reduce and limit carbon emissions. It seems likely that large scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere may be called for: so-called “negative emissions”.
One possibility is to use waste material from mining to trap CO₂ into new minerals, locking it out of the atmosphere. The idea is to exploit and accelerate the same geological processes that have regulated Earth’s climate and surface environment over the 4.5 billion years of its existence.
Across the world, deep and open-pit mining operations have left behind huge piles of worthless rubble – the “overburden” of rock or soil that once lay above the useful coal or metal ore. Often, this rubble is stored in dumps alongside tiny fragments of mining waste – the “tailings” or “fines” left over after processing the ore. The fine-grained waste is particularly reactive, chemically, since more surface is exposed.
A lot of energy is spent on extracting and crushing all this waste. However, breaking rocks into smaller pieces exposes more fresh surfaces, which can react with CO₂. In this sense, energy used in mining could itself be harvested and used to reduce atmospheric carbon.
This is one of the four themes of a new £8.6m research programme launched by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council, which will investigate new ways to reverse emissions and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The process we want to speed up is the “carbonate-silicate cycle”, also known as the slow carbon cycle. Natural silicate rocks like granite and basalt, common at Earth’s surface, play a key part in regulating carbon in the atmosphere and oceans by removing CO₂ from the atmosphere and turning it into carbonate rocks like chalk and limestone.
Atmospheric CO₂ and water can react with the silicate rocks to dissolve elements they contain like calcium and magnesium into the water, which also soaks up the CO₂ as bicarbonate. This weak solution is the natural river water that flows to the oceans, which hold more than 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere. It is here, in the oceans, that the calcium and bicarbonate can recombine, over millions of years, and crystallise as calcite or chalk, often instigated by marine organisms as they build their shells.
Today, rivers deliver hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon each year into the oceans, but this is still around 30 times less than the rate of carbon emission into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel burning. Given immense geological time scales, these processes would return atmospheric CO₂ to its normal steady state. But we don’t have time: the blip in CO₂ emissions from industrialisation easily unbalances nature’s best efforts.
The natural process takes millions of years – but can we do it in decades? Scientists looking at accelerated mine waste dissolution will attempt to answer a number of pressing questions. The group at Cambridge which I lead will be investigating whether we can speed up the process of silicate minerals from pre-existing mine waste being dissolved into water. We may even be able to harness friendly microbes to enhance the reaction rates.
Another part of the same project, conducted by colleagues in Oxford, Southampton and Cardiff, will study how the calcium and magnesium released from the silicate mine waste can react back into minerals like calcite, to lock CO₂ back into solid minerals into the geological future.
Whether this can be done effectively without requiring further fossil fuel energy, and at a scale that is viable and effective, remains to be seen. But accelerating the reaction rates in mining wastes should help us move at least some way towards reaching our climate targets.
Could waste material from mining be used to trap CO2 emissions? A new £8.6 million research programme will investigate the possibilities. Simon Redfern (Department of Earth Sciences) explains, in this article from The Conversation.
The study, published today in Nature Genetics and led by researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge and other scientists in the international ReproGen consortium, also found new genetic evidence linking earlier timing of puberty to higher risk of several cancers known to be sensitive to sex-hormones in later life, including breast, ovary and endometrial cancers in women, and prostate cancer in men. These influences remained after controlling for body weight, which is important as body weight itself influences both the timing of puberty and the risk of some cancers.
Dr John Perry, Senior Investigator Scientist from the MRC Epidemiology Unit and senior author on the paper, says: "Previous studies suggested that the timing of puberty in childhood was associated with risks of disease decades later, but until now it was unclear if those were circumstantial observations, for example secondary to other factors such as body weight.
“Our current study identifies direct causal links between earlier puberty timing itself and increased cancer risk. This link could possibly be explained by higher levels of sex hormones throughout life, but we need to do more work to understand the exact mechanisms involved. We aim to understand these disease links and thereby contribute to the prevention of diseases in later life."
The timing of puberty varies widely between individuals but tends to run closely within families. Earlier puberty timing may have advantages for some adolescents, for example for boys who engage actively in sports, but it appears to have largely negative effects on later health, such as higher risks of heart disease and some cancers.
By performing detailed assessments of genetic variants across the whole genome in 329,345 women, comprising data from 40 studies in the ReproGen consortium, UK Biobank, and consented 23andMe customers, this study identified 389 independent genetic signals for age at puberty in women. This observation was then confirmed in a further 39,543 women from the deCODE study, Iceland. Many of these genetic associations were also found to influence age at voice breaking, a comparable measure of puberty timing in men.
These findings shed light on the mechanisms that regulate puberty timing. Dr Perry adds: "These newly identified genetic factors explain one quarter of the estimated heritability of puberty timing. Our findings highlight the remarkable biological complexity of puberty timing, with likely thousands of genetic factors, in combination with numerous environmental triggers, acting together to control the timing of this key transition from childhood to adult life.”
Dr Ken Ong, also from the MRC Epidemiology Unit and joint senior author on the paper, says: "One of the more remarkable findings concerns the role of certain types of genes called imprinted genes, which are only active in your body when inherited specifically from one parent but not the other. We identified rare variants in two genes, which both lower the age of puberty when inherited from your father, but have no effect when inherited from your mother. This is intriguing as it suggests that mothers and fathers might benefit differently from puberty occurring at earlier or later ages in their children."
Felix R. Day, Deborah J. Thompson, Hannes Helgason et al. Genomic analyses identify hundreds of variants associated with age at menarche and support a role for puberty timing in cancer risk. Nature Genetics; 24 April 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3841
The largest genomic analysis of puberty timing in men and women conducted to date has identified 389 genetic signals associated with puberty timing, four times the number that were previously known.
Scientists have found that a caterpillar commercially bred for fishing bait has the ability to biodegrade polyethylene: one of the toughest and most used plastics, frequently found clogging up landfill sites in the form of plastic shopping bags.
The wax worm, the larvae of the common insect Galleria mellonella, or greater wax moth, is a scourge of beehives across Europe. In the wild, the worms live as parasites in bee colonies. Wax moths lay their eggs inside hives where the worms hatch and grow on beeswax – hence the name.
A chance discovery occurred when one of the scientific team, Federica Bertocchini, an amateur beekeeper, was removing the parasitic pests from the honeycombs in her hives. The worms were temporarily kept in a typical plastic shopping bag that became riddled with holes.
Bertocchini, from the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (CSIC), Spain, collaborated with colleagues Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry to conduct a timed experiment.
Around a hundred wax worms were exposed to a plastic bag from a UK supermarket. Holes started to appear after just 40 minutes, and after 12 hours there was a reduction in plastic mass of 92mg from the bag.
Scientists say that the degradation rate is extremely fast compared to other recent discoveries, such as bacteria reported last year to biodegrade some plastics at a rate of just 0.13mg a day.
"If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable," said Cambridge's Paolo Bombelli, first author of the study published today in the journal Current Biology.
"This discovery could be an important tool for helping to get rid of the polyethylene plastic waste accumulated in landfill sites and oceans."
Polyethylene is largely used in packaging, and accounts for 40% of total demand for plastic products across Europe – where up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills. People around the world use around a trillion plastic bags every single year.
Generally speaking, plastic is highly resistant to breaking down, and even when it does the smaller pieces choke up ecosystems without degrading. The environmental toll is a heavy one.
Yet nature may provide an answer. The beeswax on which wax worms grow is composed of a highly diverse mixture of lipid compounds: building block molecules of living cells, including fats, oils and some hormones.
While the molecular detail of wax biodegradation requires further investigation, the researchers say it is likely that digesting beeswax and polyethylene involves breaking similar types of chemical bonds.
“Wax is a polymer, a sort of ‘natural plastic,’ and has a chemical structure not dissimilar to polyethylene,” said CSIC’s Bertocchini, the study’s lead author.
The researchers conducted spectroscopic analysis to show the chemical bonds in the plastic were breaking. The analysis showed the worms transformed the polyethylene into ethylene glycol, representing un-bonded ‘monomer’ molecules.
To confirm it wasn’t just the chewing mechanism of the caterpillars degrading the plastic, the team mashed up some of the worms and smeared them on polyethylene bags, with similar results.
“The caterpillars are not just eating the plastic without modifying its chemical make-up. We showed that the polymer chains in polyethylene plastic are actually broken by the wax worms,” said Bombelli.
“The caterpillar produces something that breaks the chemical bond, perhaps in its salivary glands or a symbiotic bacteria in its gut. The next steps for us will be to try and identify the molecular processes in this reaction and see if we can isolate the enzyme responsible.”
As the molecular details of the process become known, the researchers say it could be used to devise a biotechnological solution on an industrial scale for managing polyethylene waste.
Added Bertocchini: “We are planning to implement this finding into a viable way to get rid of plastic waste, working towards a solution to save our oceans, rivers, and all the environment from the unavoidable consequences of plastic accumulation.”
A common insect larva that eats beeswax has been found to break down chemical bonds in the plastic used for packaging and shopping bags at uniquely high speeds. Scientists say the discovery could lead to a biotechnological approach to the polyethylene waste that chokes oceans and landfills.
Without hardware, there is no science. From Hooke’s microscope to the Hubble telescope, instruments are modern science’s platforms for producing knowledge. But limited access to scientific tools impedes the progress and reach of science by restricting the type of people who can participate in research, favouring those who have access to well-resourced laboratories in industrial or academic institutions.
Scientists in developing countries, grassroots community organisations, and citizen scientists can struggle to obtain and maintain the equipment they require to answer their own research questions.
The result of this exclusion from participation is that scientific research becomes ever more elitist as a small number of people decide what the worthwhile and valid projects are. For example, the relative neglect of many tropical diseases and agricultural research on African subsistence crops demonstrates that local concerns in areas with limited scientific resources are often not sufficiently addressed by global science.
Likewise, public concerns and desire for transparency around technology can also be ignored. Research on fracking has received $137 million from the United States Department of Energy. But despite vocal concerns about water pollution, no affordable technologies have been developed for communities to use to monitor their own air or water, even though access to the relevant data from industry is difficult. Locking science inside ivory and industry towers restricts what it can look like.
The open science hardware movement challenges these norms with the goal of providing different futures for science, using hardware as a launching point. It argues that plans, protocols and material lists for scientific instruments should be shared, accessible and able to be replicated. The fact that a lot of modern scientific equipment is a consumer product that is patented, not supplied with full design information and difficult to repair also blocks creativity and customisation.
For example, open source project Oceanography for Everyone recently crowdfunded an open conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) instrument out of frustration with the lack of low-cost instrumentation available. CTD instruments are the workhorses of oceanography research, and usually cost thousands of dollars. Oceanography for Everyone’s model achieves comparable data but costs US$300 to build, and the plans are public on GitHub. Think of OpenCTD like a really nice shirt. You could buy one for $40, or if you don’t have enough money but you do have a sewing pattern and some time, you could purchase the fabric for $5 and make it yourself, and even customise it to your needs and tastes.
Lower cost is only one goal of open science hardware. CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, pioneered an Open Hardware License to enable large-scale, open collaboration on projects. One of these, White Rabbit, is an electronic controller for precise synchronisation of signals across vast distances. White Rabbit ensures that some of the world’s largest particle accelerators are coordinated. But it’s also freely available to anyone, and has found new uses in designing smart electricity grids.
Equality or equity?
Instruments such as OpenCTD and White Rabbit are built on the premise of equality, the idea that everyone should have access to scientific tools. Yet the ability to access such tools is only half the story: it doesn’t address the acute disparities in who is creating science in the first place. And these are enormous. In 2015, The Guardian reported that Africa produces just 1.1% of global scientific knowledge. And recent data from UNESCO indicates that only 28% of researchers globally are women. Women do not represent 50% of scientists in a single country in the world.
Attempting to address this problem, several feminist laboratories create and use open science hardware. For example, the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) is a feminist marine pollution lab in Newfoundland, Canada. And the GynePunks are a group of bio-hackers at the forefront of DIY gynaecology, based in Barcelona.
These labs are not merely bringing more women and trans scientist-inventors into science-as-usual. They prioritise equity rather than equality, recognising that when people start from fundamentally different social, economic, educational and political positions, treating everyone the same does not overcome those differences. In doing so, they transform science in terms of how research priorities are chosen and articulated, what kinds of knowledge is considered valid, and, of course, how scientific tools are made and distributed.
Beyond the lab
Particularly valuable work is being done by groups attempting to move science out of the lab and into places and frameworks where it would not usually occur.
For example, Public Lab is a US-based environmental science community founded by frustrated citizens on the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. Getting accurate, timely and public high resolution data about local damage was impossible due to flight restrictions over the spill area and satellites are too far away to provide the same level of detail. So citizen scientists stitched together photos from cheap cameras suspended from helium balloons. The tools are open and accessible, and the research is done by and for local people without science degrees.
Likewise, the work of Lifepatch, an Indonesian citizen initiative in art, science, and technology which uses low-cost methods and open tools such as webcam microscopes, is deeply rooted in Indonesian collective culture. The questions of basic, daily life and everyday needs have driven projects with local communities on river water quality, bio-recovery of soils altered by volcanic eruptions and safe fermentation practices in collaboration with local academics.
All of these projects demonstrate the value of science grounded in specific places, complex local traditions, ethics, contexts and research questions, rather than a universal science that works the same everywhere for everyone. We need to push science towards communal, bottom-up, and collaborative practices; away from territorial, proprietary, institutional, Western-dominated and individualistic practices.
This has significant implications for where science happens, who is involved, and as a result, the types of knowledge that can be produced. Open science hardware is about creating new futures for science.
Max Liboiron, Professor of Geography and Environmental Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Jenny Molloy, Coordinator, Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative, University of Cambridge
Science doesn't work the same for everyone everywhere - there are huge disparities in access to scientific hardware, and in gender and minority representation in labs. In this piece from The Conversation, Jenny Molloy (Department of Earth Sciences) and Max Liboiron (Memorial University of Newfoundland) look at some of the initiatives around the world which are attempting to level the playing field for scientists.
Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo opens to the public on April 27 and provides a unique and unparalleled window into the daily life of men, women and children at the centre of a thriving city over the course of a millennium.
From the 9th to the 19th century, the Jewish community of Fustat (Old Cairo) deposited more than 200,000 unwanted writings in a purpose-built storeroom in the Ben Ezra synagogue. This sacred storeroom was called the Genizah. A Genizah was a safe place to store away any old or unusable text that, because it contained the name of God, was considered too holy to simply throw out.
But when the room was opened in the late 19th century, alongside the expected Bibles, prayer books and works of Jewish law – scholars discovered the documents and detritus of everyday life: shopping lists, marriage contracts, divorce deeds, a 1,000-year-old page of child’s doodles and alphabets, Arabic fables, works of Muslim philosophy, medical books, magical amulets, business letters and accounts. Practically every kind of written text produced by the Jewish communities of the Near East throughout the Middle Ages had been preserved in that sacred storeroom.
Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Genizah Research Unit and co-curator of the exhibition, said: “This colossal haul of writings reveals an intimate portrait of life in a Jewish community that was international in outlook, multicultural in make-up and devout to its core; a community concerned with the very things to which humanity has looked for much of its existence: love, sex and marriage, money and business, and ultimately death.
“The Genizah collection is undeniably one of the greatest treasures among the world-class collections at Cambridge University Library. We have translated most of these texts into English for the first time – and most are also going on display for the first time, too. With Discarded History we hope to make this medieval society accessible and recognisable to a modern audience.”
Among the highlights going on display in Cambridge are the earliest known example of a Jewish engagement deed (Shtar Shiddukhin, from 1119), showing the complex legal relations that existed around marriage, the oldest-dated medieval Hebrew manuscript (a Bible from 9th century Iran) and an 11th century pre-nuptial agreement where the groom, Toviyya – who clearly had a bad reputation – was forced to make a series of promises about his future behaviour.
In the presence of witnesses, he declares that he will avoid mixing with the wrong sort, for the purposes of ‘eating, drinking or anything else’. He also states that he will not spend one night away from Faiza, unless she wants him to, and that he will not buy himself a slave girl, unless Faiza agrees.
The existence of the Cairo Genizah was first brought to the attention of Western scholars by the fearless and intrepid travellers Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson in 1896. The twin sisters, devout Presbyterians who had inherited a great fortune, returned to Cambridge from a research trip to Egypt and Palestine. They brought with them a treasure lost for a thousand years: a page from the original Hebrew book of Ben Sira, accumulated along with thousands of other documents in the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
Cambridge lecturer Solomon Schechter was so excited by the sisters’ remarkable discovery that he raised the money to travel to Old Cairo to see for himself what the Genizah held – although not before swearing the twins to secrecy about the nature of their discovery, lest a rival scholar from Oxford be alerted to their existence.
Upon arrival in Cairo, the Chief Rabbi of Egypt gave Schechter permission to take whatever he liked. Schechter declared that he ‘liked all’, and shipped almost 200,000 manuscripts back to Cambridge.
The material that arrived in Cambridge, packed in wooden crates, dates from a period when 90 per cent of the world’s Jews lived in Islamic lands. The broadly tolerant regime under which they lived contrasted with the usually harsher treatment meted out to Jews in Western Europe. The documents paint a picture of economic stability and social growth. Cheques for goods ranging from wax candles to lemon sherbet pay testament to the variety and richness of the 200,000 documents in Cambridge’s possession – almost all of which have been conserved to avoid any further damage to the priceless collection.
“Women and children are invisible in most archives – especially those from medieval times,” added Outhwaite. “But through our collections, myriad individual voices can be heard through children’s copy books, prenuptial agreements and books of magic spells.
“A broad brush picture of the medieval Middle East as a crucible of cruel oppression or, conversely, an interfaith utopia does not do justice to the eye-level history recorded in these sources. Life, for the culturally rich and socially conscious citizens of the medieval Middle East, was more complicated, sophisticated and interesting than that.
“The Cairo Genizah speaks vividly of the community’s links to other lands and other faiths. Its fragile contents, brown with age when Schechter acquired them, give us a picture of life that includes piracy and human trafficking to the intimate drama of domestic life. We can read about ancient cures for headaches and see school teachers complain bitterly about children’s unruly behaviour, just as they do today. It’s this richness that makes the Genizah unique.”
Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo opens to the public on April 27, 2017 and runs until October 28, 2017. Entry is free.
Treasures from the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts – chronicling 1,000 years of history in Old Cairo – have gone on display in Cambridge today for a six-month-long exhibition at Cambridge University Library.
The University of Cambridge is to appoint its first professor of innovation, funded by an inventor with more than 400 patents to his name.
Thanks to a generous philanthropic donation of £2.5million from Dr John C Taylor OBE, one of the most successful British inventors of the last 50 years, the University of Cambridge is now hiring a Professor of Innovation to inspire the next generation.
The successful applicant will take up the position on 1 October 2017, and applications close on Tuesday (2 May 2017).
The University of Cambridge, building on a tradition as one of the strongest areas in the UK for engineering and invention, will be looking for candidates who have an outstanding research record of international stature in technology and innovation management.
They’ll also need vision, leadership, experience and enthusiasm and will hold a PhD or equivalent postgraduate qualification.
But why was it so important to Dr John C Taylor that the Professorship of Innovation was set up, other than the fact that he graduated from Cambridge in 1959?
He explains, “Too little is discussed these days about business financial freedom and job creation while too much attention is paid to venture capitalist business models, which can leave an inventor with little ownership.
"One of my proudest achievements in business is that I never borrowed a penny from anyone. This is because I always focused on cash flow and used the revenue from manufacturing to fund innovation.
“Innovation is no longer just for the elite in business; it has become the norm.
"In order to stay ahead, it’s important that not only do we innovate, we do it better than anyone else. The United Kingdom has an incredible track record of inventors, engineers and thinkers and we want to build on that.
“It’s essential that those who have great ideas have the skills and support to develop successful business models around them.
"This way, they can develop inventions from prototype to production for the benefit of the creator while generating local employment through manufacturing growth.
“This is the sort of insight that the Professor of Innovation would give to the bright minds of the Department of Engineering, and why it’s so essential that the students have guidance on how to make their business plans work for them.”
Dr Taylor, who is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng) made his name creating small electrical components that are vital to many pieces of technology.
Early electric kettles would not turn off when the water was boiling, meaning that they needed constant supervision and were in danger of melting and starting fires if they were not properly attended.
Dr Taylor created the solution to this problem: a small, bimetallic thermostat which would break the kettle’s circuit when the water started to boil.
Having continued to innovate throughout his life, Dr Taylor now has over 400 patents to his name.
Many of the inventions that make modern life possible were created by British inventors and scientists. In 2008, Dr John C Taylor created and donated to his former college the popular Corpus Chronophage Clock, positioned outside the Taylor Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which has now become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
The new professorship, which has been endowed in perpetuity, will combine teaching and research to ensure young engineers combine innovation with practicality when approaching design.
Professor David Cardwell, Head of the Department of Engineering, said: “We are extremely grateful for this generous benefaction from Dr John C Taylor and honoured that this professorship will not only bear the name of such a distinguished inventor and engineer, but will help future generations to follow in his footsteps.”
The University of Cambridge is to appoint its first professor of innovation, funded by an inventor with more than 400 patents to his name.
“I don't think that there is a presidential period of time in the first 100 days where anyone has done nearly what we've been able to do.” So declared President Donald J. Trump in a recent interview, offering a characteristically bold interpretation of American history.
Since his inauguration on 20 January, Trump has certainly been active. On the international scene, he has played nice with Vladimir Putin, fallen out with Vladimir Putin, bombed Syria, and sent the US Navy to rattle North Korea. He’s wined and dined the Chinese president, overcome his germaphobia long enough to hold hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May (while refusing to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s), and variously attacked and embraced NATO.
At home, he has struck a defiant tone – against the media, Meryl Streep, assorted nay-sayers, and his own intelligence agencies. He has played musical chairs with his advisors in the West Wing, and accused his predecessor of wiretapping him. Amid the sturm und drang he has managed to get a Supreme Court nominee approved, but his much-vaunted healthcare proposal was dramatically shelved when support failed to materialize, and his travel bans targeting Muslims have been suspended by the courts.
Perhaps his rollback of Obama-era environmental protections amounts to the biggest formal change thus far, but as a new executive order undoing older ones, it required only the stroke of a pen. He signed another order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but NAFTA still stands. And there are not, as yet, any bricks in the border wall. In sum, in substantive terms, Trump’s administration has not done nearly as much as he claims, or promised.
The idea of the “First 100 days” as a benchmark of presidential success dates back to the early months of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933. And Roosevelt, as with much in presidential history, set the bar high. Amid the grave crisis of the Great Depression, and with a landslide electoral victory just behind him, Roosevelt promised “direct, vigorous action” to meet the economic emergency – and delivered.
With a potent combination of charisma aided by circumstance, he persuaded Congress (sitting in a special session lasting 100 days) to pass fifteen major pieces of legislation – restructuring major industries, regulating banking and finance, providing subsidies to farmers, and offering some relief to the unemployed and destitute. He explained these actions in “Fireside Chats” – using the new technology of radio to speak directly to citizens in their own homes, connecting president and populace in a new way. His plain speech and folksy manner served to revolutionise presidential rhetoric, and in the most laudatory accounts, transform the mood of the country too. From despair came determination and a new positive outlook, courtesy of Roosevelt’s winning personality and can-do attitude (never mind that the Depression itself didn’t lift for a decade).
No other president can match Roosevelt’s speedy legislative achievements, or the mythical aura that has grown up around his presidency. Most presidents rack up a success or two: Bill Clinton got his budget through in the first 100 days, Barack Obama signed the $800 billion stimulus into law, and George W. Bush’s tax relief plan was on its way to approval. But their most significant legislative accomplishments came later.
Even for Presidents who have gained their own mythic status, the First 100 Days weren’t always easy. John F. Kennedy’s start was marred by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. Ronald Reagan faced, and survived, an assassination attempt in March 1981. Reagan’s demeanour in adversity, though (he quipped that he hoped all his doctors were Republicans), sent his approval ratings sky high – helping him pass a major economic recovery programme, and laying the foundation for his later tax and budget cuts.
Trump has presented outlines of his budget and proposed tax reforms, but Congress still needs to take action. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has twice pulled votes on healthcare reform, and Trump is yet to affix his signature to a major law.
And then there’s that FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, lurking in the background but threatening to upend his administration altogether. With all thatin mind, Trump’s claims of extraordinary action and achievement undoubtedly fall short. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Trump has responded to a spate of negative “100 days” assessments by turning on a dime, and now pronouncing this benchmark to be “an artificial barrier” that isn’t “very meaningful.”
Of course, all politicians over-promise and under-deliver, but for a president who defined himself in opposition to typical politicians, this is a dangerous game. His job approval rating in the Gallup poll stands at 41% on average for the first quarter of 2017 – the lowest accorded a new President since polling began, and the first below 50%. And yet, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that Trump voters aren’t displaying any “buyer’s remorse.”
For now, his supporters are still willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. In this, the pragmatic side of Trump’s political persona may be working to his advantage – his claims to be a “dealmaker” providing some cover when backing away from his more strident stances. But his deals need to bear fruit, and soon.
In mid-April, the White House Instagram account captioned an image “#ICYMI President Donald J. Trump is continuing to Make America Great Again!” “ICYMI” – text-speak for “In Case You Missed It” – was apt. For all the bombast, any return to “greatness” as Trump sees it, has indeed been easy to miss. The mood of the country has not been transformed (Trump’s Twitter musings have not proven to be the new “Fireside Chat”).
The United States remains a deeply polarized nation, where politics has become an ever-sharper scythe, defining and dividing friendships, families, communities and regions. Yet the sky has not fallen. American political and civic institutions have not collapsed, as some darkly predicted in November. Outrage has fuelled and followed him, the spectre of impeachment hovers over him, but as his first 100 days draws to a close, Trump may yet have a more successful second act. At the very least, it is unlikely to be dull.
Dr Emily Charnock is Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies
Dr Emily Charnock, Lecturer in American History, delivers her verdict as the Trump presidency reaches its first major milestone.
The concept of the Hundred Days was first used to describe the period between Napoleon’s return from exile and his final defeat at Waterloo, in 1815. As a marker of the president’s first months in office, a “honeymoon” period when conditions for him to enact much of his agenda are supposed to be most advantageous, it has come to take on a rather different meaning in modern American politics.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in the Oval Office from 1933 to 1945, was the first president to have a period known as “The Hundred Days.” He used it to usher in a series of legislative reforms that began the implementation of the New Deal, a domestic reform program which totally refashioned America in FDR’s image and made his party, the Democrats, the dominant political force in the country for decades to follow.
In American politics, the Hundred Days are meant to be a period of Rooseveltian success, not Napoleonic failure. It is supposed to mark a period of dramatic change so that America comes to reflect the values and goals of its new president. It is not supposed to end in the president’s own Waterloo. Every president wants to be a Roosevelt, not a Napoleon.
Roosevelt’s Hundred Days have become the stuff of legend, and books on the period—including a smart, superbly written account by a noted Cambridge expert of American history, Professor Tony Badger—incorporate the phrase in their title. This is because the Hundred Days had more of a Napoleonic spirit than FDR himself would have liked to admit, conveying a gut-level instinct for action, ambition, and above all grandeur. The Hundred Days are supposed to be consequential, a period in which people realize they are living through an important part of history. They are supposed to be a reach for glory.
With the advent of the New Deal, FDR made good on this promise of a dynamic Hundred Days. Roosevelt worked with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress to pass legislation on a wide number of problems caused by the Great Depression, from the banking crisis to widespread poverty and unemployment to the collapse of agriculture and industry. Within three months, many of the staples of the New Deal were set up. Not all would last, but Roosevelt and congressional Democrats showed that they had a plan and were doing what they could to enact it, quickly.
Few historians accept that the New Deal cured the Depression—the largest government stimulus program in world history, also known as the Second World War, did that instead. Nor did FDR have a coherent ideological vision: he was too experimental and pragmatic for that.
But by showing that he cared, and that he was willing to do whatever it took to help the American people in their time of suffering, he transformed himself into the most popular president in American history. After Roosevelt’s first victory in 1932, Democrats won six of the next eight presidential elections and controlled both houses of Congress for all but four of the next forty-eight years.
The Hundred Days started something pretty special. It’s no surprise, then, that presidents from both parties who followed in Roosevelt’s wake have sought their own dynamic start. Most haven’t been successful, and many have seen their presidencies nearly ruined from disasters right at the outset.
John F. Kennedy oversaw the humiliating debacle at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, his 94th day in office, while Ronald Reagan was shot and nearly killed on March 30, 1981, his 69th day. Neither tragedy did much damage to presidents regarded, at the time and ever since, as popular and successful. On the other hand, the president who self-consciously strived hardest to emulate FDR’s rapid achievements, Lyndon B. Johnson, saw the early hopes of his presidency destroyed by the war in Vietnam and the deterioration of race relations at home.
In other words, the Hundred Days marker is a poor gauge of presidential success. Roosevelt set an example of a quick-start, dynamically successful presidency, yet it remains pretty much the only example. President Donald Trump, who, despite Republican majorities in Congress, has accomplished virtually nothing of his agenda so far, may have had a good point when he recently tweeted to complain about being held to “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days.”
The problem is, it was Trump himself who set that standard. All through the presidential campaign last year, and then during the transitional period between the election in November and the inauguration in January, Trump not only promised quick action but quick results. The wall along the border with Mexico, supposedly adverse trade deals, ISIS—all were going to be solved “immediately” or “on day one.” On countless occasions, he claimed he would repeal “immediately.” At a campaign rally in Florida, in October, he said he would begin to repeal and replace Obamacare on his “first day in office. … It’s going to be so easy.”
It hasn’t been so easy, of course, certainly not for President Trump. Only time will tell whether that means his presidency will ultimately end with him as a Roosevelt or a Napoleon. But he’s not off to a good start.
Andrew Preston, Professor of American History, is the author of American Foreign Relations: A Very Short Introduction (OUP)
Professor Andrew Preston examines the origins of the first hundred days as a measure of presidential success in American politics.
Andrew Preston on Trump's 100 days
The most barren regions of the Universe are the far-flung corners of intergalactic space. In these vast expanses between the galaxies there are only a few atoms per cubic metre – a diffuse haze of hydrogen gas left over from the Big Bang. Viewed on the largest scales, this diffuse material nevertheless accounts for the majority of atoms in the Universe. It fills the cosmic web, with its tangled strands spanning billions of light years.
Now a team of astronomers, including Alberto Rorai and Girish Kulkarni, from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy and Kavli Institute, have made the first measurements of small-scale ripples in this primeval hydrogen gas. Although the regions of cosmic web they studied lie nearly 11 billion light years away, they were able to measure variations in its structure on scales a hundred thousand times smaller, comparable to the size of a single galaxy. Their results appear in the journal Science.
Intergalactic gas is so tenuous that it emits no light of its own. Instead astronomers study it indirectly by observing how it selectively absorbs the light coming from faraway sources known as quasars. Quasars constitute a brief hyperluminous phase of the galactic life-cycle, powered by the infall of matter onto a galaxy's central supermassive black hole.
Quasars act like cosmic lighthouses --- bright, distant beacons that allow astronomers to study intergalactic atoms residing between the quasars’ location and Earth. But because these hyperluminous episodes last only a tiny fraction of a galaxy’s lifetime, quasars are correspondingly rare in the sky, and are typically separated by hundreds of millions of light years from each other.
To probe the cosmic web on much smaller length scales, the astronomers exploited a fortuitous cosmic coincidence: they identified exceedingly rare pairs of quasars, right next to each other in the sky, and measured subtle differences in the absorption of intergalactic atoms measured along the two sightlines.
Schematic representation of the technique used to probe the small-scale structure of the cosmic web using light from a rare quasar pair Credit: Springel at al/J. Neidel MPIA
Rorai, lead author of the study, says “One of the biggest challenges was developing the mathematical and statistical tools to quantify the tiny differences we measure in this new kind of data”. Rorai developed these tools as part of the research for his doctoral degree, and applied his tools to spectra of quasars obtained with the largest telescopes in the world. These included the 10m diameter Keck telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, as well as ESO's 8m diameter Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal, and the 6.5m diameter Magellan telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, both located in the Chilean Atacama Desert.
The astronomers compared their measurements to supercomputer models that simulate the formation of cosmic structures from the Big Bang to the present. “The input to our simulations are the laws of Physics and the output is an artificial Universe which can be directly compared to astronomical data. I was delighted to see that these new measurements agree with the well-established paradigm for how cosmic structures form.” says Jose Oñorbe, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, who led the supercomputer simulation effort. On a single laptop, these complex calculations would have required almost a thousand years to complete, but modern supercomputers enabled the researchers to carry them out in just a few weeks.
Joseph Hennawi, professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara who led the search for these rare quasar pairs, explains: “One reason why these small-scale fluctuations are so interesting is that they encode information about the temperature of gas in the cosmic web just a few billion years after the Big Bang.”
Astronomers believe that the matter in the Universe went through phase transitions billions of years ago, which dramatically changed its temperature. These phase transitions, known as cosmic reionization, occurred when the collective ultraviolet glow of all stars and quasars in the Universe became intense enough to strip electrons off the atoms in intergalactic space. How and when reionization occurred is one of the biggest open questions in the field of cosmology, and these new measurements provide important clues that will help narrate this chapter of cosmic history.
Rorai, A et al. Measurement of the small-scale structure of the intergalactic medium using close quasar pairs. Science; 28 Apr 2017; DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9346
Astronomers have made the first measurements of small-scale fluctuations in the cosmic web 2 billion years after the Big Bang. These measurements were conducted using a novel technique which relies on the light of quasars crossing the cosmic web along adjacent lines of sight.
Neuralink– which is “developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers” – is probably a bad idea. If you understand the science behind it, and that’s what you wanted to hear, you can stop reading.
But this is an absurdly simple narrative to spin about Neuralink and an unhelpful attitude to have when it comes to understanding the role of technology in the world around us, and what we might do about it. It’s easy to be cynical about everything Silicon Valley does, but sometimes it comes up with something so compelling, fascinating and confounding it cannot be dismissed; or embraced uncritically.
Putting aside the hyperbole and hand-wringing that usually follows announcements like this, Neuralink is a massive idea. It may fundamentally alter how we conceive of what it means to be human and how we communicate and interact with our fellow humans (and non-humans). It might even represent the next step in human evolution.
But what exactly is Neuralink? If you have time to read a brilliant 36,400-word explainer by genius Tim Urban, then you can do so here. If you don’t, Davide Valeriani has done an excellent summary on The Conversation. However, to borrow a few of Urban’s words, NeuraLink is a “wizard hat for your brain”.
Essentially, Neuralink is a company purchased by Elon Musk, the visionary-in-chief behind Tesla, Space X and Hyperloop. But it’s the company’s product that really matters. Neuralink is developing a “whole brain interface”, essentially a network of tiny electrodes linked to your brain that the company envisions will allow us to communicate wirelessly with the world. It would enable us to share our thoughts, fears, hopes and anxieties without demeaning ourselves with written or spoken language.
One consequence of this is that it would allow us to be connected at the biological level to the internet. But it’s who would be connecting back with us, how, where, why and when that are the real questions.
Through his Tesla and Space X ventures, Musk has already ruffled the feathers of some formidable players; namely, the auto, oil and gas industries, not to mention the military-industrial complex. These are feathers that mere mortals dare not ruffle; but Musk has demonstrated a brilliance, stubborn persistence and a knack for revenue generation (if not always the profitability) that emboldens resolve.
However, unlike Tesla and Space X, Neuralink operates in a field where there aren’t any other major players – for now, at least. But Musk has now fired the starting gun for competitors and, as Urban observes, “an eventual neuro-revolution would disrupt almost every industry”.
Part of the human story
There are a number of technological hurdles between Neuralink and its ultimate goal. There is reason to think they can surmount these; and reason to think they won’t.
While Neuralink may ostensibly be lumped in with other AI/big data companies in its branding and general desire to bring humanity kicking and screaming into a brave new world of their making, what it’s really doing isn’t altogether new. Instead, it’s how it’s going about it that makes Neuralink special – and a potentially major player in the next chapter of the human story.
Depending on who you ask, the human story generally goes like this. First, we discovered fire and developed oral language. We turned oral language into writing, and eventually we found a way to turn it into mechanised printing. After a few centuries, we happened upon this thing called electricity, which gave rise to telephones, radios, TVs and eventually personal computers, smart phones – and ultimately the Juicero.
Over time, phones lost their cords, computers shrunk in size and we figured out ways to make them exponentially more powerful and portable enough to fit in pockets. Eventually, we created virtual realities, and melded our sensate reality with an augmented one.
But if Neuralink were to achieve its goal, it’s hard to predict how this story plays out. The result would be a “whole-brain interface” so complete, frictionless, bio-compatible and powerful that it would feel to users like just another part of their cerebral cortex, limbic and central nervous systems.
A whole-brain interface would give your brain the ability to communicate wirelessly with the cloud, with computers, and with the brains of anyone who has a similar interface in their head. This flow of information between your brain and the outside world would be so easy it would feel the same as your thoughts do right now.
But if that sounds extraordinary, so are the potential problems. First, Neuralink is not like putting an implant in your head designed to manage epileptic seizures, or a pacemaker in your heart. This would be elective surgery on (presumably) healthy people for non-medical purposes. Right there, we’re in a completely different ball park, both legally and ethically.
There seems to be only one person who has done such a thing, and that was a bonkers publicity stunt conducted by a Central American scientist using himself as a research subject. He’s since suffered life threatening complications. Not a ringing endorsement, but not exactly a condemnation of the premise either.
Second, because Neuralink is essentially a communications system there is the small matter of regulation and control. Regardless of where you stand on the whole privacy and surveillance issue (remember Edward Snowden) I cannot imagine a scenario in which there would not be an endless number of governments, advertisers, insurers and marketing folks looking to tap into the very biological core of our cognition to use it as a means of thwarting evildoers and selling you stuff. And what’s not to look forward to with that?
And what if the tech normalises to such a point that it becomes mandatory for future generations to have a whole-brain implant at birth to combat illegal or immoral behaviour (however defined)? This obviously opens up a massive set of questions that go far beyond the technical hurdles that might never be cleared. It nonetheless matters that we think about them now.
There’s also the issue of security. If we’ve learned one thing from this era of “smart” everything, it’s that “smart” means exploitable. Whether it’s your fridge, your TV, your car, or your insulin pump, once you connect something to something else you’ve just opened up a means for it to be compromised.
What it really all comes down to is this: across a number of fields at the intersection of law, philosophy, technology and society we are going to need answers to questions no one has yet thought of asking (at least not often enough; and for the right reasons). We have faced, are facing, and will face incredibly complex and overwhelming problems that we may well not like the answers to. But it matters that we ask good questions early and often. If we don’t, they’ll be answered for us.
And so Neuralink is probably a bad idea, but to the first person who fell into a firepit, so was fire. On a long enough time line even the worst ideas need to be reckoned with early on. Now who wants a Juicero?
A company in Silicon Valley claims to be developing a "whole brain interface” for communicating wirelessly with the world.
Christopher Markou from the Faculty of Law isn't overly keen...
Although upfront costs for the longer programme are higher, the study estimates that offering more sessions would be cost-effective to the NHS in the long-term because it would help to prevent more people from developing diseases as a result of their weight.
“This trial provides important data that offering support to lose weight – by referring people to a community weight loss group – is more successful than a self-help approach, and that providing classes for longer helps people keep weight off for longer,” says Professor Susan Jebb, senior author of the study from University of Oxford. “Our results also show that, in the long-term, weight loss groups are cost-effective for society as a whole because they are likely to reduce future healthcare expenditure by preventing costly conditions such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.”
The NHS currently refers people who are obese to 12-week long weight loss programmes run by commercial groups and provides vouchers for free attendance. These are among the most commonly commissioned programmes to treat obesity in the UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that programmes last at least 12 weeks. However, there is little evidence to suggest how long these programmes should last to be most effective.
The new study involves 1,267 participants with a body mass index (BMI) of 28 or above and compares the effectiveness of a 12-week and a year-long programme of free Weight Watchers sessions to one-off advice together with a self-help booklet.
After a year, those given the self-help booklet had lost 3.3kg, those referred to the 12-week programme had lost 4.8 kg, and those referred to the year-long programme had lost 6.8kg on average. Two years after they began treatment, participants in all groups regained some weight but all groups were still lighter on average than at the start of treatment. The self-help group were 2.3kg lighter, the 12-week programme were 3.0kg lighter, while the group offered a one-year programme were 4.3kg lighter.
Compared to participants in the other groups, those in the year-long programme also had significantly greater reductions in fasting blood glucose and glycosylated haemoglobin, which are important markers of the risk of developing diabetes. After a year, those on the year-long programme saw their blood glucose level reduce by 0.54mmol per litre of blood (compared to reductions of 0.27mmol/litre for the 12-week group and 0.11mmol/litre for the self-help group).
The researchers also modelled the impact of the three programmes over the next 25 years to predict how many people would develop different weight-related illnesses. They also estimated the impact of the programmes on quality of life, the cost of providing the programmes, as well as cost-savings to health services from preventing future diseases.
The 12-week programme was predicted to prevent more illnesses than the self-help intervention due to greater weight loss. Over 25 years, the cost to the NHS of providing the programme would be more than offset by the later savings as a result of reductions in disease, making it overall cost-saving.
Offering a year-long programme was estimated to prevent an additional 1,786 cases of disease (including 642 fewer cases of hypertension, 373 fewer cases of diabetes and 104 fewer cases of heart disease) for every 100,000 people, compared to the 12-week programme. So, although it was more expensive upfront, the study shows that the year-long programme is cost-effective over 25 years by preventing more cases of weight related illness.
“We’ve seen before that a 12-week programme can help people lose weight, but for the first time we’ve shown that extending this to a full year leads to greater weight loss over a longer period and a lower risk of diabetes,” says lead author Dr Amy Ahern from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at The University of Cambridge.
“Although the initial costs of the year-long programme are greater, it’s very likely that it will be good value for money over the long term because of the reduction in weight-related illnesses. The results from the one-year programme are comparable to what has been seen in previous trials that used much more costly interventions, usually involving multiple contacts with health professionals.”
Professor Jebb adds: “We know that many local authorities are questioning how best to spend their limited budgets. We have shown that the longer programmes bring greater benefits, with only modest extra costs. But at a time when some areas are reducing their expenditure on obesity treatment, the first step is to ensure that people who want help to lose weight have access to at least a standard 12-week weight loss programme, which we have shown is likely to be cost-saving for the NHS.”
Ahern, AL et al. Extended and standard duration weight-loss programme referrals for adults in primary care (WRAP): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet; 4 May 2017; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30647-5
Adapted from a press release by The Lancet
Extending NHS weight loss programmes from one session per week for 12-weeks to one session per week for a year helped people who are overweight to lose more weight and keep it off for longer, according to a study published in The Lancet, and led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Liverpool and University of Oxford.
Preti Taneja has been described as a writer to watch. Her novella, KumkumMalhotra, won the 2014/15 Gatehouse Press New Fiction prize. This summer Galley Beggar Press will publish her first novel, We That Are Young, and she will be speaking about the book as part of the Cambridge Series at the prestigious Hay Festival in June. She has been named in the 'Hay 30' people to watch as part of the festival's 30th anniversary celebrations.
Preti's novel re-imagines King Lear in the context of the huge social and economic developments in contemporary India, their impact on individuals and on underlying political issues such as the situation in Kashmir.
The focus is on five young characters, who each tell their story in their own voice. For one character, Jivan, returning to India after many years in America she was inspired by the capitalist critique in Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, among others, which captured a culture of misogyny and greed in the US during the 1980s.
“Jivan has this nostalgic idea of India and he feels left behind by the economic changes. The opening brings the reader into this new world of metropolitan India through a troubled outsider’s gaze,” says Preti.
The layers of narrative build a complex picture of human relationships. Preti wanted to explore the ways we perceive the world and the world perceives us as well as the contradictions this can throw up. The linear yet circular structure brings together both western and eastern concepts of time.
Preti, a Fellow Commoner at Jesus College, uses techniques such as having key scenes refracted through video footage to show how so much of our lives is now mediated through what we watch and how this allows for interpretations of all kinds.
One of her main interests as a writer is to explore the constraints that keep people locked in certain patterns of behaviour. She adds that women in India are often mediated through the gaze of others. “In India women are always being monitored and are socialised into monitoring each other,” she says.
The continuing relevance of King Lear
Preti first studied King Lear at school where her teacher inspired her to see the relevance of the play to her own life. She says: “I began to feel that Shakespeare had somehow been in my house, in my family, had seen what damage despotic uncles and an enforced sense of honour, shame and the upholding of the family name could do.” She highlights, for instance, the play’s opening scene where the daughters are under pressure to obey their autocratic father and perform filial loyalty in public and the fraught issue of dowry/inheritance.
The fact that the play opens with the partition of a kingdom also appealed to her, given India’s history. “In my family we didn’t speak about partition when I was growing up, but it was an underlying tension,” she says. “It was the reason we were living in England. It was always under the surface. My grandparents didn’t want to come here. They had lost so much.”
The play’s final scene on the cliffs of Dover is transplanted in Preti’s novel to Kashmir. “It is the state where Partition is still being reckoned with so was a natural fit,” she says.
Rights and writing
The novel is the result of Preti’s PhD in Creative Writing which she finished in 2013. Research for it included a trip to Delhi and Kashmir in 2012. Preti’s background is in journalism and she has spent many years working in minority rights advocacy. She turned to creative writing after covering Iraq and other conflicts and began a part-time masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway University of London in 2010 which led to her PhD. Since finishing her PhD Preti has been named an AHRC/ BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and is on Jesus College’s Works of Art Committee. She has collaborated with her partner film-maker Ben Crowe making films on issues ranging from workers’ rights and Iraq’s refugee crisis to Rwandan survivors of the genocide.
From 2014-2016 she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Global Shakespeare at Queen Mary, University of London and Warwick University, studying interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays around the world in relation to human rights abuses over the period leading up to the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
Since then in addition to her work at Cambridge, she has been working on a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship at Warwick University where she also teaches a master’s module on writing about human rights abuses in a range of different literary formats.
As with her novel her academic and advocacy work brings together literature and pressing contemporary issues. “Gathering first-hand testimony for human rights reports is very important. Fiction gives a whole other set of ways to think about human desires and how they play out,” she says. “It allows me to explore the bars of the cage that constrain our behaviour; that is what interests me.”
Preti Taneja's new novel uses King Lear as a framework to explore political and social changes in today's India. She will speak about it as part of the Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival.
The company, Z Factor Limited, was founded by Professor Jim Huntington of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. The new funding has come from existing investor Medicxi, as well as Cambridge Innovation Capital and Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.
Z Factor is developing new treatments for Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). AATD, which is a significant cause of liver and lung disease, results from a defect in the gene encoding Alpha-1-antitrypsin, a type of protein. Individuals with two defective copies of the gene, making up around 1 in 2000 of the Western population, typically develop emphysema starting in their 30s. They are also at an increased risk of developing liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer. Around 2% of people have one defective copy of this gene, and are at five-fold increased risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) as they age.
The most common mutation causing AATD is called the Z mutation, which disrupts the normal folding of the protein. Professor Huntington and his team obtained the crystallographic structure of this mutant form of Alpha-1-antitrypsin, which allowed for the first time the rational design of drugs that could correct folding and prevent the development of associated diseases. These small-molecule drugs act like molecular ‘chaperones’ for the defective protein, accelerating folding to the correct state.
Cambridge Enterprise helped in Z Factor’s formation in 2015, licensing key intellectual property to the company. The company has already identified dozens of molecules that can correct the folding defect caused by the Z mutation, and shown that some of these drug candidates can increase Alpha-1-antitrypsin levels in an in vivo model of AATD.
Z Factor is now working to select the best molecules for use as a drug in human trials. The company expects to reach the clinic with its lead candidate in 2019.
“We are delighted to work once again with Cambridge Enterprise to ensure this exciting basic science is rapidly and efficiently translated into new medicines for a surprisingly common and debilitating cause of liver and lung disease,” said David Grainger, Partner at Medicxi and Executive Chairman at Z Factor.
Following closely on the announcement of investments in ApcinteX and SuperX earlier this year, the Z Factor Series A brings the total raised during 2017 by companies founded by Professor Huntington, one of Cambridge’s most successful serial entrepreneurs, to almost £30 million. “Jim is a leading academic innovator and Z Factor is dedicated to developing a therapy that will address a serious unmet medical need,” said Christine Martin from Cambridge Enterprise, and a Director at Z Factor.
A University of Cambridge spin-out company has raised £7 million in new funding, which will help in the development of treatments for liver and lung disease.
Anxiety disorders, which often manifest as excessive worry, fear and a tendency to avoid potentially stressful situations including social gatherings, are some of the most common mental health problems in the Western world. The annual cost related to the disorders in the United States is estimated to be $42.3 million. In the European Union, over 60 million people are affected by anxiety disorders in a given year.
There have been few studies to date that assess the factors or characteristics that are linked to anxiety disorders, and even fewer looking at the impact of places where people live in relation to anxiety. However, previous studies have linked living in areas of high deprivation or poverty with significantly increased risks for serious medical conditions and a shorter life expectancy.
To examine whether living in poor areas is related to anxiety disorders, researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health studied health and lifestyle questionnaires completed by some 21,000 people in and around Norwich, east England, between 1993-2000. The participants had been recruited as part of the EPIC-Norfolk study, set up to look at the connection between diet, lifestyle factors and cancer.
The results of the study are published today in the journal BMJ Open.
One in 40 women (2.5%) and one in 55 men (1.8%) were found to have generalised anxiety disorder. Women living in the most deprived areas were over 60% more likely to have anxiety than those living in areas that were not deprived. This association between deprivation and generalised anxiety disorder was not apparent in men.
Although the researchers acknowledge that it is difficult to confirm that living in deprivation causes an increased risk of anxiety in women, they believe this is what their analysis points towards.
“Anxiety disorders can be very disabling, affecting people’s life, work and relationships, and increasing the risk of depression, substance misuse and serious medical conditions,” says first author Olivia Remes, PhD candidate at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care. “We see from our study that women who live in deprived areas not only have to cope with the effects of living in poverty, but are also much more susceptible to anxiety than their peers. In real terms, given the number of people living in poverty worldwide, this puts many millions of women at increased risk of anxiety.”
The team speculate why this may be the case. Women are more embedded in their communities than men – tending to stay at home more and do more of the domestic duties – and so the stress and strain of living in impoverished communities seems to affect them more, they argue. Also, women are increasingly taking on multiple roles in society today: income-earner, child-bearer, care-taker – all of which adds to their burden. However, while men may be less susceptible to anxiety, their stress can lead to other negative coping behaviours such as alcohol and substance abuse.
Professor Carol Brayne from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, explains: “Anxiety disorders affect a substantial number of people and can lead to poor health outcomes and risk of suicide. Now we know that women are particularly affected by deprivation, while men less so. This is intriguing and further research is needed on this, particularly in the most deprived regions.”
“Our findings show that mental health policy needs to take communities or the places where people live into account: investing in a local area will not benefit all parts of its population in the same way,” says Dr Louise Lafortune, Senior Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health. “It’s evident from our study that we need to take into account gender when determining what action to take. This is particularly important at a time of scarce economic and health-related resources.”
Remes, O et al. Sex differences in the association between area deprivation and generalised anxiety disorder: British population study. BMJ Open; 5 May 2017; DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013590
Women living in the most deprived areas are over 60% more likely to have anxiety as women living in richer areas. However, whether men lived in poorer or richer areas made very little difference to their anxiety levels, according to new research from the University of Cambridge.
While many members of the general public may have heard of “bitcoin”, the first decentralised cryptocurrency launched in 2009, a new report from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) paints a broader picture of “cryptocurrencies”.
The report shows that cryptocurrencies – broadly defined as digital assets using cryptography to secure transactions between peers without the need for a central bank or other authority performing that role – are increasingly being used, stored, transacted and mined around the globe.
The Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study gathered data from more than 100 cryptocurrency companies in 38 countries, capturing an estimated 75 per cent of the cryptocurrency industry.
Prior to this research, little hard data existed on how many people around the world actively use cryptocurrencies. The conventional wisdom has been that the number of people using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies was around 1 million people; however, based on newly collected data, including the percentage of the estimated 35 million cryptocurrency “wallets” (software applications that store cryptocurrencies) that are in active use, the CCAF research team estimates that there at least 3 million people actively using cryptocurrency today.
While bitcoin remains the dominant cryptocurrency both in terms of market capitalisation and usage, it has conceded market cap share to other cryptocurrencies – declining from 86 per cent to 72 per cent in the past two years.
The study by the CCAF at Cambridge Judge Business School breaks down the cryptocurrency industry into four key sectors – exchanges, wallets, payments, and mining. Highlights of the findings are:
Cryptocurrency exchanges provide on-off ramps to cryptocurrency systems by offering services to users wishing to buy or sell cryptocurrency. This sector was the first to emerge in the cryptocurrency industry, and has the most operating entities and employs the most people. Currently, about 52 per cent of small exchanges hold a formal government license, compared to only 35 per cent of large exchanges.
Wallets have evolved from simple software programs to sophisticated applications that offer a variety of technical features and services. As a result, the lines between wallets and exchanges are increasingly blurred, with 52 per cent of wallets providing an integrated currency exchange feature.
Cryptocurrency payment companies generally act as gateways between cryptocurrency users and the broader economy, bridging national currencies and cryptocurrencies. They can fit into two broad categories: firms that use cryptocurrency primarily as a “payment rail” for fast and efficient cross-border transactions, and firms that facilitate the use of cryptocurrency for both users and merchants. The study found that the size of the average business-to-business cryptocurrency payment ($1,878) dwarfs peer-to-peer and consumer-to-business cryptocurrency payments.
In the absence of a central authority, cryptocurrencies are created by a process called “mining” – usually the performance of a large number of computations to solve a cryptographic “puzzle”. The study shows how cryptocurrency mining has evolved from a hobby activity into a professional, capital-intensive industry in which bitcoin miners earned more than $2 billion in mining revenues since 2009. The cryptocurrency mining map indicates that a significant proportion of publicly known mining facilities are concentrated in certain Chinese provinces.
The study found that more than 1,800 people are now working full time in the cryptocurrency industry, as more companies are engaged across various cryptocurrency sectors.
“Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have been seen by some as merely a passing fad or insignificant, but that view is increasingly at odds with the data we are observing,” says Dr Garrick Hileman, Research Fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) at Cambridge Judge Business School, who co-authored the study with Michel Rauchs, Research Assistant at CCAF.
“Currently, the combined market value of all cryptocurrencies is nearly $40 billion, which represents a level of value creation on the order of Silicon Valley success stories like Airbnb,” Dr Hileman says in a foreword to the study. “The advent of cryptocurrency has also sparked many new business platforms with sizable valuations of their own, along with new forms of peer-to-peer economic activity.”
More than 3 million people (three times previous estimates) are estimated to be actively using cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, finds the first global cryptocurrency benchmarking study by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance.
In addition, a further three researchers from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, based at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, have also been elected Fellows.
The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose is to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.
Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: ““Science is a great triumph of human achievement and has contributed hugely to the prosperity and health of our world. In the coming decades it will play an increasingly crucial role in tackling the great challenges of our time including food, energy, health and the environment. The new Fellows of the Royal Society have already contributed much to science and it gives me great pleasure to welcome them into our ranks.”
The Cambridge academics announced today as Royal Society Fellows are:
The MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology Fellows are:
Seven Cambridge academics are among the new Fellows announced todayby the Royal Society. Fellows are chosen for their outstanding contributions to science. The 50 newly-elected Fellows announced today join a list of scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK and Commonwealth. Past Fellows and Foreign Members have included Newton, Darwin and Einstein.