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    The Fellows have been elected for their contribution to biomedical and health research, the generation of new knowledge in medical sciences and its translation into benefits to society.

    This year's elected Fellows have expertise that spans women’s health, immunology, public health and infectious disease among many other fields.

    Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said: “As we elect new Fellows each year, the Academy continues to grow as a unique and productive hub of the best minds in UK medical science. Our expanding and evolving Fellowship allows the Academy to play a vital role in tackling the major health challenges facing society today and in the future.

    “The election of these 46 exceptional biomedical and health researchers is a well-deserved honour. Each newly elected Fellow has made an outstanding impact in the community, contributing to the development of better healthcare - from fundamental scientific understanding to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. I am delighted to welcome them to the Academy and greatly look forward to working with them all in the future.”

    The newly elected Fellows include Professor Giovanna Mallucci, whose research is pioneering new treatments for dementia and who was recently announced as one of the five associate directors of the UK Dementia Research Institute. 

    Professor Giovanna Mallucci said: “Election to the Fellowship is a great honour and distinction, internationally recognised, and I am delighted and proud to be awarded it. This is a tremendous achievement in any medical research career: a milestone in a scientific and personal journey. It is a real privilege to join this this community of distinguished, inspirational and luminary leaders in the medical sciences.”

    Four of Cambridge’s Fellows are cancer specialists, including CRUK Cambridge Centre Director Professor Richard Gilbertson.

    Professor Gilbertson said:  “I am deeply honoured to have received this recognition of our work and feel privileged to join such a wonderful organisation dedicated to promoting excellence in medical science, ultimately for the good of patients. This honour belongs to my many postdocs, PhD students, technicians and wonderful collaborators who over the years who have worked with me to pursue fantastic science. The cadre of scientists elected from Cambridge also reflects the vibrant cancer research community in our city and the terrific support of the clinical school.”

    The University of Cambridge Fellows elected in 2017 are:

    • Professor Sheila Bird OBE FRSE, Visiting Senior Fellow, MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine and Institute of Public Health and Visiting Professor at Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Strathclyde University
    • Dr Jason Carroll, Senior Group Leader, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge
    • Professor Richard Gilbertson, Li Ka Shing Chair of Oncology, Head of Department of Oncology, Director, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, University of Cambridge
    • Professor Gregory Hannon, Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor of Molecular Cancer Biology, University of Cambridge
    • Dr Roman Hovorka, Director of Research, WT-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge
    • Professor Arthur Kaser, University Chair of Gastroenterology, Honorary Consultant Physician, University of Cambridge
    • Professor Giovanna Mallucci, van Geest Professor of Clinical Neurosciences, Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge; Associate Director UK Dementia Research Institute at University of Cambridge; Programme Leader and Head of Neurobiology, MRC Toxicology Unit, University of Leicester
    • Professor Hugh Markus, Professor of Stroke Medicine, Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge
    • Professor Christine J. Watson, Professor of Cell and Cancer Biology, University of Cambridge

    In addition, two Fellows were elected from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute:

    • Dr Anne Bertolotti, Programme Leader, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
    • Dr Matthew Hurles, Senior Group Leader, Human Genetics, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

    The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy at a ceremony on 28 June 2017.

    Nine researchers from the University of Cambridge are among 46 world leading UK researchers who have been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

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    The study, carried out in marmosets, highlights why non-human primates can be an important model in addition to rodents for understanding brain disorders in humans.

    Changes in heart rate and blood pressure such as the ‘fight or flight’ response are a normal part of our emotional reactions. However, it is well known that people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of heart disease along with distressing negative emotional states. The reasons why have remained unclear.

    Now, in a study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Dr Hannah Clarke and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust have discovered a link between two key areas of the brain and emotional responses. They also show that our brains control our cardiovascular response – changes in our heart patterns and blood pressure – to emotional situations.

    To carry out the study, the researchers used marmosets with small metal tubes implanted into specific brain regions in order to administer drugs that reduce activity temporarily in that brain region. This enabled the researchers to show which regions caused particular responses. The marmosets rapidly adapt to these implants and remain housed with their partners throughout the study.

    In the first task, the marmosets were presented with three auditory cues: one that was followed by a mildly aversive stimulus (a loud noise), one that was followed by a non-aversive stimulus (darkness), and one where the subsequent stimulus had a 50/50 chance of being either a loud noise or darkness. The task lasted just 30 minutes and they were exposed to this task a maximum of five days a week over a few months.

    As the marmoset began to understand the cues, the researchers observed that the monkey’s heart rate and blood pressure increased in anticipation of the loud noise, and the monkey began to look around more (known as ‘vigilant scanning’). However, the team found that turning off one region (known as Area 25 – the subgenual cingulate cortex) of the prefrontal cortex in the marmosets made them less fearful: their heart rate and blood pressure did not change and they became less vigilant.

    In a second task, adapted from a common rodent test of emotion, the team studied the ability of marmosets to regulate their emotional responses. In a single session of thirty minutes, an auditory cue was presented on seven occasions, and each time it was accompanied by a door opening and the marmoset being presented with a rubber snake for five seconds. As marmosets are afraid of snakes they developed similar cardiovascular and behavioural responses to the auditory cue associated with the snake as they did to the cue associated with loud noise. The next day, to break the link between the cue and snake, the researchers stopped showing the marmoset the snake when the cue was sounded.

    In this task, inactivating Area 25 meant that the marmoset was quicker to adapt: once the link between the auditory cue and the snake was broken, the marmosets quickly became less fearful in response to the cue, with their cardiovascular and behavioural measurements returning to baseline faster than normal.

    In both tasks, inactivating another region (Area 32 – the perigenual cingulate cortex) made normal fearful responses spread to non-threatening situations: the marmosets became less able to discriminate between fearful and non-fearful cues, showing heightened blood pressure and vigilant scanning to both. This is a characteristic of anxiety disorders.

    Marmoset brain with Areas 25 and 32 highlighted

    “We now see clearly that these brain regions control aspects of heart function as well as emotions,” says Dr Clarke. “This helps our understanding of emotional disorders, which involve a complicated interplay between brain and body.”

    Previous studies of anxiety and depression in humans have shown altered activity in comparable brain regions to the marmosets. However, as it is not possible to manipulate the brain regions in humans, it was not previously possible to say whether these brain regions were responsible for the alterations in behaviour and cardiovascular activity, or alternatively whether the changes in brain activity were caused by such alterations.

    However, although these marmoset findings provide insight into the mechanisms underlying results from human brain imaging studies, they are opposite to those seen in rats.  This is despite the use of similar experimental tasks and the manipulation of regions of the brain that are thought to be equivalent across the species; in rats, inactivation of the brain regions considered analogous to areas 25 and 32 increase and decrease fear respectively.

    The researchers believe these differences are likely to be a result of the more complex prefrontal cortex found in primates such as monkeys and humans.

    Animals are only used in research where no other alternatives are available, and researchers always use the most appropriate species. In the vast majority of cases, this involves using mice, rats and zebrafish. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to use species that are closer to humans. While rodents can provide a good model for exploring and understanding many aspects of behaviour, the researchers argue that this study highlights how monkeys can help provide a more detailed and specific understanding of how our brains work.

    “Our work highlights the importance of research using marmosets in understanding human conditions that affect many millions of people worldwide,” says Dr Clarke. “Studies using animals such as rats are important for providing insights into behaviour and disease, but for some areas of research, monkeys have greater relevance because their brains are much closer in structure to ours.”

    The research was partly-funded by the Wellcome Trust.

    Wallis, CU et al. Opposing roles of primate areas 25 and 32 and their putative rodent homologs in the regulation of negative emotion. PNAS; 1 May 2017; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620115114

    A team of researchers at Cambridge has identified how areas of the brain govern both our emotions and our heart activity, helping explain why people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

    We now see clearly that these brain regions control aspects of heart function as well as emotions. This helps our understanding of emotional disorders, which involve a complicated interplay between brain and body
    Hannah Clarke

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    Rosi’s most recent documentary, 2016’s Fire at Sea, was an uncompromising look at the everyday life of six locals on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the first port of call for the hundreds of thousands of African migrants crossing the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe.

    Fire at Sea won the Golden Bear award for best film at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy awards in February.

    During Rosi’s two-week residency (May 14-28), the Arts Picturehouse will screen the entirety of his work to date, with each screening followed by a Q&A with the director. Rosi will also connect directly with staff and students in the Centre for Film and Screen by delivering masterclasses and participating in a public symposium, Lands, Seas, Bodies: On the cinema of Gianfranco Rosi, on Wednesday, May 24.

    International recognition of Rosi soared after Meryl Streep, the jury chair of the Berlin film festival, publically endorsed Fire at Sea as “a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking.”

    Dr John David Rhodes, Director of the Centre for Film and Screen and a specialist in Italian cinema, calls Rosi’s work “indisputably among the most important in the world.”

    Audience numbers for documentaries have grown considerably in the last ten years, largely driven by audiences going in search of authenticity in the lived experience.  

    “It’s a rich moment for documentaries because they provide the ability to respond powerfully and flexibly to geo-political crises,” said Rhodes. “People are starved for contact with the real and with reality. People are trying to find ways to make contact with the world – documentary filmmaking is one way of doing that. It can produce knowledge and experiences that are otherwise closed to us.

    “Rosi’s residency offers our students and the wider University the opportunity to engage at close range a working filmmaker of the highest calibre. As was the case last year when we hosted Joanna Hogg (our first filmmaker-in-residence), Rosi’s residency brings to our community of film scholars and students of cinema the opportunity to think about film from the point of view of the film artist. It offers a vital opportunity to test practice and theory against each other, while getting to hang out with one of the most interesting people working in world cinema.”

    More information about the screenings and public symposium is available on the Centre for Film and Screen’s website.

    Tickets for the screenings including a post-film Q&A can be purchased from the Arts Picturehouse website.

    Hailed as “one of the most important artists in any medium”, the award-winning and Oscar-nominated Italian documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi is coming to Cambridge this month as filmmaker-in-residence at Cambridge University’s Centre for Film and Screen.

    Rosi's work is indisputably among the most important in the world.
    John David Rhodes
    Still from Fire at Sea, the Oscar-nominated documentary by Gianfranco Rosi

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    By any account, the French presidential election that ended last Sunday was extraordinary. The run-off in the second round was between two political ‘outsiders’: Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. In the first round, the mainstream left and right candidates came fifth and third respectively, with the far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon coming in way ahead of the Socialist Party candidate, Benoît Hamon. Many voters only decided late on who they would vote for, making this one of the most volatile elections on record.

    The scandals affecting the centre-right candidate, François Fillon, overshadowed the campaign and relegated debates about political programmes into second place. In the run-up to last Sunday’s second round vote, a fierce argument raged – especially on the left – about the rights and wrongs of abstaining or spoiling one’s ballot paper. Political celebrities – such as the Greek former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis – weighed in, urging French doubters to vote for Macron because “he is all that stands in between France and the fascism of Marine Le Pen”.

    In the end, one in four of registered voters either stayed away last Sunday or spoilt their ballot paper.  What prevailed in the second round was the logic of lesser evil – voting for a candidate that is ‘not as bad’ as another – which goes some way to explaining the sombre tone of Macron’s victory speech on Sunday night at the Louvre in Paris.

    For all the novelty, Macron’s election victory points to one important continuity: France’s complicated relationship with the rest of the European Union and its place within the Eurozone.

    When François Hollande was campaigning for the French presidency in 2012, it was the height of the Eurozone crisis with jobless figures reaching record levels and France’s economy in deep trouble. Aware of the opposition to austerity policies within France, Hollande promised to take-on the German government. He would discuss “firmly and amicably” with Ms Merkel and impress upon her the need for a new ‘growth pact’ for the Eurozone. His growth pact included proposals for Eurobonds to finance infrastructure spending and a transactions tax to fund development programs. His efforts came to nothing and the idea of a “growth pact” disappeared without a trace.

    Something similar is happening today. Last Monday, a day after the French election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech where she insisted that Macron’s victory would not change German policy in Europe. The German position is clear: France must reform its economy first, and bring its budget deficits well within the Eurozone’s rules, before there is any discussion on Eurozone reform. Even then, it is very unlikely that anything that was contained in Macron’s programme – creation of a Eurozone parliament, a Eurozone budget and a Eurozone finance minister – will see the light of day. Such changes would require treaty reform that national governments say is out of the question. Referendums have left European governments so bruised that they are unwilling to risk putting treaty changes to the vote.

    There is an irony here. Macron has been an openly pro-European candidate, regularly waving the European flag and taking the Ode to Joy – the EU’s ‘anthem’ – as his own campaign song. And yet, this very pro-Europeanism is what will most constrain a Macron presidency.

    Most likely as a first step is that Macron will be pushed into cutting budgets and reforming labour markets, doing so possibly by decree given the history of opposition to such measures. In exchange, he may get some mild reforms of the functioning of the Eurozone but ones that fall short of any need for ratification through referendum or by national parliaments. This outcome may be part of Macron’s strategy, where the rigidity of the Eurozone’s rules is used as a means of pushing economic reforms onto France. Either way, the bigger difficulties, to do with structural imbalances of the Eurozone, will remain untouched.

    A problem Macron has never confronted is that his promises to transform France’s national growth model are made within a context where Eurozone membership which makes such a change almost impossible. Macron’s election was extraordinary in many respects but his experience of life inside the Eurozone is likely to be rather more run of the mill.  

    Chris Bickerton is lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIS) and a fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge

    Despite its novelty, Emmanuel Macron's election victory in France points to one important continuity, argues Dr Chris Bickerton

    There is an irony here. Macron has been an openly pro-European candidate, yet this pro-Europeanism is what will most constrain a Macron presidency.
    Chris Bickerton

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    Using the Sweden-based Cell Atlas, researchers examined the spatial distribution of the human proteome (the entire complement of proteins that make up the human body) that correspond to the majority of protein-coding genes. They described in unprecedented detail the distribution of proteins within the various substructures of the human body’s smallest unit, the cell.

    Our cells contain ‘organelles’ – specialised substructures that carry out specific functions. These create partitions that form an enclosed environment for chemical reactions tailored to fulfill these functions. Since these functions are tightly linked to specific sets of proteins, knowing the subcellular location of the human proteome is key to understanding the function and underlying mechanisms of the human cell.

    The study was led by Emma Lundberg, associate professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and responsible for the High Content Microscopy facility at the Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) in Stockholm, Sweden. The team generated more than 300,000 images to systematically resolve the spatial distribution of human proteins in cultivated cell lines, and map them to cellular compartments and substructures with single cell resolution.

    The Cell Atlas is the result of more than 10 years of research within the Human Protein Atlas programme, and was launched in December 2016. The article in Science describes the detailed analysis of hundreds of thousands of images created as part of this international effort, which also involved groups in the China, South Korea, India, Denmark, and Germany.

    “Only by studying the molecular components of the body’s smallest functional unit – the cell – can we reach a full understanding of human biology,” says KTH Professor Mathias Uhlen, director of the Human Protein Atlas.

    The published article also includes a comparative study performed by Professor Kathryn Lilley, director of the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics, at Cambridge University, UK, which enabled the antibody-based immunofluorescence (IF) microscopy analysis to be validated by an alternative mapping strategy that used mass spectrometry, hyperLOPIT.

    A total of 12,003 proteins targeted by 13,993 antibodies were classified into one or several of 30 cellular compartments and substructures, altogether defining the proteome of 13 major organelles. The organelles with the largest proteomes were the cytosol (4,279) and the nucleus (6,930) and its substructures, such as bodies and speckles.

    Importantly, about one-half of the proteins are found in more than one compartment revealing a shared pool of proteins in functionally unrelated parts of the cell. This finding sheds new light on the complexity of cells.

    ”We have created the most detailed map of how proteins are arranged in a cell using two different high throughput approaches: high content imaging and spatial proteomics,” says Professor Lilley. ”Interestingly, we show a large proportion of human proteins can be found in more than one location in a given cell, overturning many pre-conceptions of how the cell operates.

    ”The Cell Atlas now provides us with new knowledge that will enable us to explore the functions of individual proteins and their role in human biology and disease.”

    The Cell Atlas is an open access resource that can be used by researchers around the world to study proteins or organelles of interest. “The Atlas enables systems biology and cell modeling applications, and it is also a highly valuable resource for machine learning applications in image pattern recognition,” says Lundberg.


    • Left: In epidermoid carcinoma cells, that the protein SON (green) is localising into nuclear speckles, a substructure in the nucleus.
    • Right : SEPT9 (green) localizes to actin filaments in epidermoid carcinoma cells.

    ​Thul, PJ et al. A subcellular map of the human proteome. Science; 11 May 2017; DOI: 10.1126/science.aal3321

    Adapted from a press release from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

    The first analysis of how proteins are arranged in a cell has been published today in Science, revealing that a large portion of human proteins can be found in more than one location in a given cell. 

    We have created the most detailed map of how proteins are arranged in a cell
    Kathryn Lilley

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  • 05/12/17--02:58: Can robots feel pain?
  • Could - and should - robots feel pain? Dr Beth Singler will be addressing this question and many others raised by developments in artificial intelligence at this year’s Hay Festival.

    She is speaking as part of the Cambridge Series and has been selected as one of the Hay 30 thinkers to watch in celebration of the prestigious literary festival’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

    Singler’s talk is based on a film she made for the Cambridge Shorts scheme, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the University of Cambridge. The film was screened at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas and Beth, a Research Associate on the Human Identity in an age of Nearly-Human Machines project at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, has been showing it and speaking about it in public talks and at schools.

    The feedback has been so good that three further films are being made with funding from the Faraday Institute.

    They will focus on companion robots, such as those which provide elderly care; value alignment which will cover the concept of creating “good robots”; and issues of consciousness and personhood.

    “We are interested in the bigger questions,” says Singler. “People think, for instance, that pain is a simple issue, but it is complex and opens up all sorts of questions about consciousness.”

    The films will follow a similar format to the original Pain in the Machine film, incorporating narratives, clips from science fiction and interviews with experts.

    Cambridge Shorts supports early career researchers to make professional quality short films with local artists and filmmakers. Beth was one of a number of researchers who submitted proposals for shorts films.

    The aim was to create a multidisciplinary collaboration between a researcher in the biomedical sciences and a researcher from the arts, humanities and social sciences disciplines.

    As part of the process, a kind of speed dating event was held and there Singler met Ewan St John Smith, who is based in the Department of Pharmacology where he is group leader of the sensory neurophysiology and pain group. That event was followed by another where the two researchers met Colin Ramsay and James Uren of Little Dragon Films.

    The film includes science fiction clips and Singler says they are often the first to introduce the possibilities of technology to a wider audience and can influence and spur on technological developments. However, she says sci-fi tends to depend on the idea of conflict to drive the narrative and can also set the way we view technology. “It depends on binaries of utopia or dystopia. It doesn’t take the complexities in the middle into account,” she says.

    Singler’s research involves looking at human identity in an age of nearly human machines. She studies how technological advances will affect society in the near future and how they will alter how we view ourselves as human beings. “If we create sentient beings will that change how we feel about ourselves?” she asks.

    Because she is based at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion there is also a religious aspect to the research.  Singler says a lot of talk about technology “sounds a lot like end of days eschatological narratives from the Judaeo-Christian traditions”.

    She adds that discussions around robots can tend to anthropomorphism on the one hand - could robots take on human characteristics - and robomorphism on the other - responding to humans as if they were machines. “The lines are blurring," she says.

    She refers to tv programmes such as Humans, but also to DeepMind's AI programme AlphaGo, saying that technology doesn’t have to look like a human for people to develop a relationship with it. People even created fanart around it.

    On the robomorphism issue Singler cites projects such as Elon Musk’s company Neuralink’s ambition to link the human brain to a machine interface. Musk’s aim is to use Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to create computers so sophisticated that humans will need to implant "neural laces" in their brains to keep up.

    Singler says the questions opened up by AI are profound.  “AI will not just replace the simple physical jobs that we may not want to do. It may also replace the mental jobs that we still want to do. We need to prepare and ask questions about what humans are actually for. For centuries we have been defined by what we do. Maybe we need to think about a post-work future and to redefine how we think about ourselves.”

    She adds that we need to create frameworks in which to discuss the implications of AI and cites the EU proposal for rights for electronic persons as one example of a legal framework.

    She says: “People say that we should stop making robots, but I think that is unlikely. I don’t think there are any definitive answers, but people need to have the spaces where they can learn about what is happening and we need to enable conversations.”

    Dr Beth Singler will be speaking about her work on the social and ethical issues raised by robots as part of this year's Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival.

    “If we create sentient beings will that change how we feel about ourselves?”
    Dr Beth Singler

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    Humankind has a longstanding obsession with eternal youth. Stories about elixirs of life and fountains that quench one’s thirst for immortality have stirred our imagination since time immemorial. Different versions of these myths appear on every continent – even Alexander the Great’s conquests are sometimes attributed to his search for a restorative river that could heal the devastation of time. The Conversation

    Yet despite our obsession with ageing, we still know very little about how it works. Why and how do we age? Why does everyone seem to age differently? Can we slow it down? Should we? Luckily, we now have more precise tools than mythology to investigate these questions and we have invented an instrument that can predict ageing in mice based on the activity within their genome over time – and it may even be used to slow it down.

    Ageing in humans and animals is inevitable but it happens differently across species and even between different organs in the body. But we do not yet know whether the way we age is predetermined, part of an inherent biological programme, or whether is it just down to wear and tear.

    Biologists distinguish between two types of age: biological age, a measure of how well your body functions, and chronological age, which expresses how old you are. For example, a young person who drinks vast amounts of alcohol might have a very old liver. Worryingly, a young person with a very healthy lifestyle might also have a very old liver. It is still unclear what factors affect biological age and how.

    But epigenetics, the study of how environmental factors and lifestyle choices influence our genes, is helping to shed some extra light on the issue. In particular, “DNA methylation”, a mechanism used by cells to control gene expression – whether (and when) a gene is turned on or off. DNA methylation entails fixing a gene in the “off” position via the addition of methyl groups to a DNA molecule. Essentially, as we age, DNA methylation modifies the function of genes without changing their underlying DNA sequence.

    Epigenetic clocks

    The “epigenetic clock” is a tool for predicting both biological and chronological ageing and understanding the ageing process. The clock maps activity within a genome over time, based on DNA methylation levels at different sites.

    Measuring the level of DNA methylation at certain sites on the genome can be used to estimate the biological age of a cell, tissue or organ. By comparing this age with chronological age and probing the differences, scientists can begin to understand how ageing works. They can also identify factors that influence the speed of the process, and find links with cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease and many other conditions.

    Steve Horvath published the most well-known example of an epigenetic clock in a 2013 paper. He analysed previously collected data by researchers who had studied methylation in both healthy and diseased human tissue, including in cancer. He then used it to chart how age affects DNA methylation levels throughout life. In doing that Horvath managed to identify 353 markers that are present throughout the body and change with age. The clock has wide applicability: it uses the same markers, irrespective of the DNA source within the organism, so you can use samples from any tissue or fluid in the body to predict biological age, with a respectable median error of 3.6 years.

    One of the burning questions about Horvath’s epigenetic clock is whether it would be possible to make subtle changes to its molecular components (the methyl groups) and observe how these changes slow down or speed up ageing. Of course, such an experiment would be impossible in humans, for both ethical and practical reasons.

    Experiment in mice

    To address this challenge, our team of researchers from the Babraham Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, UK, proposed a new epigenetic clock, published in Genome Biology– the first ever such tool for studying ageing in mice.

    Slowing down ageing in mice would be a giant leap in our quest for immortality.Rama/wikipeid, CC BY-SA

    Computational methods and software for understanding biological data (bioinformatics) are critical for addressing this question and allowed us to create an accurate model of biological age. We can compare the predictions from the mouse clock to other epigenetic clocks, and draw conclusions about how mammals age. Our paper shows that changes in DNA methylation at 329 sites in the mouse genome can predict its age with an accuracy of just over three weeks.

    We have validated our method by demonstrating that lifestyle changes known to shorten lifespan, for example removing the ovaries, did in fact speed up the mouse epigenetic clock. A high-fat diet, which we know is detrimental to human health, also accelerated the clock.

    The next step is to delve into the inner workings of the mouse epigenetic clock and change its ticking rate. For example we could identify molecules or drugs that alter the methylation clock and then change these by genome editing or drug treatment. This should reveal whether ageing is directly influenced by DNA methylation patterns, or if ageing is a read-out of a story already written in our genomes.

    We will also be exploring new approaches to rewinding the ageing clock in order to rejuvenate cells, tissues or even whole organisms. So the old quest continues, but in the quieter realms of data analysis rather than expeditions to new shores. We hope one day to look back on epigenetics as the field that changed the game, and shed light on the ageless mystery of ageing.

    Wolf Reik, Professor of Epigenetics at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge and Oliver Stegle, Research Group Leader of Statistical Genomics, European Bioinformatics Institute

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.

    Why do we age when we get older? Epigenetics may hold the answer – but could it one day help us turn back the clock? Professor Wolf Reik from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge and Dr Oliver Stegle from the European Bioinformatics Institute look at the ‘epigenetic clock’ in The Conversation.

    Older woman profile

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    Cambridge's Computer Lab

    The company, which helps companies build complex simulations and virtual worlds, has been valued at more than $1bn after raising $502m (£390m) from Japan’s SoftBank.

    The investment in the London-based firm is thought to be the largest made in a fledgling European tech firm.

    Founders Narula, 29, and Whitehead, 26, who both studied computer science at the University of Cambridge, launched Improbable in 2012 with Peter Lipka, 28, an Imperial College alumnus.

    The Cambridge alumni met at a dissertation review at Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, sharing a mutual interest in multiplayer games and virtual worlds that put them on the path to creating the software that underpins Improbable.

    Improbable creates the software to build hugely complex and interactive virtual worlds as well as complex simulations useful to industry and government. It could, for example, give researchers the ability to create simulated cities to model the behaviour of millions of people.

    Narula has been credited with saying his vision of Improbable’s ultimate goal is to create totally immersive, persistent virtual worlds, and in doing so, change how we make decisions - “Basically, we want to build the Matrix,” he once joked.

    Improbable’s clients have included tech giants, video game makers and universities.

    Narula and Whitehead are the latest in a string of commercialisation success stories from the Computer Laboratory, including Deepmind and ‘next word prediction’ app Swiftkey. The Computer Lab Ring had named Improbable its Company of the Year 2017 only last month.

    Head of the Computer Laboratory, Professor Andy Hopper, said: “This is a fantastic achievement, and a testament to Cambridge’s role as an innovation hub. While most people see innovation when fast growing firms hit the headlines, here at Cambridge we are dedicated to providing the time, space and resources to ensuring knowledge can develop incrementally and build impact cumulatively.”

    Pro-Vice-Chancellor Enterprise and Business Relations Andy Neely said: “This is another great example of how our alumni – and the startups and spin-outs that come out of Cambridge – are supporting the UK in commercialising our world leading science base to drive growth across the country.”

    The Collegiate University has been instrumental in founding and developing infrastructure to facilitate the ‘Cambridge Tech Cluster’. It has enabled innovation and commercialisation with incubator spaces and science parks, education programmes such as Accelerate Cambridge, Ignite and the Impulse Programme, and the provision of seed funds and patient capital.

    The results speak for themselves ‐ more than 300 high‐tech ventures involving University of Cambridge people and technology have been created in the last 20 years; over 240 firms have been founded by alumni of the Cambridge University Computer Lab; while spin‐outs from the Cambridge Enterprise portfolio have raised in excess of £1.4 billion follow‐on funding.

    Cambridge Enterprise administers one of the most successful (and patient) seed funds in the country. Over 64% of Cambridge Enterprise supported firms have a five‐year survival rate (compared with 42% nationally).

    Improbable, founded by Cambridge alumni Herman Narula (Girton 2007) and Rob Whitehead (Robinson 2009), became the UK's latest $1billion tech startup this week.

    This is another great example of how our alumni – and the startups and spin-outs that come out of Cambridge – are supporting the UK in commercialising our world leading science base to drive growth across the country
    Pro-Vice-Chancellor Enterprise and Business Relations Andy Neely
    Cambridge's Computer Lab

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    To sustain a population of 9.7 billion people by 2050 the world is going to need innovations that make careful use of the available resources, human and environmental. Key industry sectors such as energy, water, agriculture and transport are already under pressure to move to more sustainable methods of production and consumption. However, there are barriers in the way.

    One of these lies in how the world manages the creation and ownership of inventions and ideas. A protectionist approach to intellectual property is designed to protect and prolong the lifecycle of existing technologies, and allow innovators to capture the profits from their creations. In a paper published with colleagues from universities in Germany and India, we examined how this also makes it harder for new and more sustainable technologies to be developed and adopted. That explains why there are now other approaches being used to move key sectors to more sustainable systems and end this status quo.

    Electric car manufacturer Tesla, has been doing just that. Tesla CEO Elon Musk “shocked” the world in 2014 when he announced that his company was joining the open source movement and giving away its patents for free.

    It is important to understand the rationale here. Why would a company that had worked so hard to develop and protect its technology from its global car manufacturer competitors suddenly give its technology away for free?

    Switching track

    Tesla initially developed a patent portfolio to protect its technology. However, Tesla’s concern that it would be overwhelmed once established car makers ramped up their production of electric cars never came to pass.

    Instead, it saw the electric car market stagnate at less than 1% of total vehicle sales. So Tesla changed its strategy from trying to prevent others from building electric cars to trying to encourage them into the market.

    Part of the reasoning here is that if more electric cars are built, then more battery recharging stations will be built too. This would make electric cars become more visible, and a more conventional choice. Tesla believes that an open intellectual property strategy can strengthen rather than diminish its position by building the size of the electric car market, and as a result, build its own share of the total automotive market.

    This kind of careful management of intellectual property at company level, supported by policy-level awareness, can be a powerful way to support the same kinds of transitions to more sustainable technologies in other industries too.

    Power companies need to adapt.Chiu Ho-yang/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

    Energy supply faces an array of difficulties: the depletion of natural resources; air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; nuclear risks; and security of supply. The water supply sector is restricted by water scarcity, pollutants, extreme environmental events such as flooding and costs associated with supplying water to communities in poor countries and remote communities. The agri-food sector, meanwhile, is under pressure to sustainably produce more food and to address malnutrition in poor countries.

    For these industries to navigate a path around these problems, new knowledge and the innovations that follow will be essential. And in knowledge economies, intellectual property can either be an enabler or an inhibitor.

    Taking the medicine

    If the ownership of intellectual property is fragmented in an industry, it can slow down technology innovation and uptake, such as in the electronics industry where multiple players own complementary patents. However, firms can instead open up their innovation processes and move away from jealously guarded, internal cultures, where intellectual property is used to protect and prolong lifecycles. This change may see knowledge sharing that leads to accelerated innovation cycles and a more rapid uptake of sustainable alternatives throughout a sector: just what Tesla was hoping for in electric vehicles.

    This approach to intellectual property, so-called “open IP”, is well advanced and mature in the software industry and healthcare. It has given access to life-saving medicines to millions of people, particularly in developing countries through patent pools, such as the Medicine Patent Pool. This kind of project relies on multinational pharmaceutical companies sharing their intellectual property, but small companies can also play a strategic roles in creating these new, more sustainable systems, and it’s not all about open IP.

    Plumpy'Nut is handed out in Kenya.DFID /Flickr, CC BY

    As progress in technology is cumulative, there will always be phases of “closed IP” for small companies to build up their portfolio. This can also be a strategy designed to make a social impact. Take Nutriset, which manufacturers food for famine relief. It protects both its invention, Plumpy’Nut, and its entire business model by patents. Plumpy’Nut is a peanut-based paste for the treatment of severe malnutrition and can be administered at home rather than through a supervised hospital treatment. As a result it can treat more patients.

    Nutriset says that it uses patents to enable the development of local production plants for Plumpy’Nut and to protect those in emerging nations from being taken over by global manufacturing sites in more developed countries. The local production of Plumpy’Nut helps with creating skills and employment in the regions where Nutriset’s product is most needed.

    An open approach to intellectual property has clear advantages in popularising and establishing new and widespread sustainable technologies, but there is a rationale in some cases for sticking to the more traditional approach. The trick now is to discover when and where different sectors and innovators deploy each strategy. The grand open IP gestures in the mould of Tesla can force through rapid structural advances; a small peanut paste supplier shows that patent protection can still help put the building blocks in place.

    Frank Tietze, Lecturer in Technology and Innovation Management, University of Cambridge

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    Are strict IP policies harming the development of sustainable technologies? In this article for The Conversation, Frank Tietze from the Institute for Manufacturing investigates how the open source approach taken by companies such as Tesla may help the economy and the planet. 


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    The Partnership is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to collaboration and open dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of AI. Its founding members included Amazon, Apple, Google/DeepMind, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft.

    CFI’s Executive Director, Dr Stephen Cave, said: “With AI advancing rapidly, we need a broad coalition to manage its impact for the good of all. The Partnership on AI is a much-needed and timely development, bringing together the leading companies driving the technology, and an increasingly wide range of other groups, including non-profit and academic institutions, such as our Centre based at the University of Cambridge.”

    As well as CFI, twenty other organisations have joined The Partnership on AI, including UNICEF and Sony.

    The Partnership’s goals are to study and formulate best practices on the development, testing, and fielding of AI technologies, advancing the public’s understanding of AI, to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society and identify and foster aspirational efforts in AI for socially beneficial purposes.

    The Partnership on AI was actively designed to bring together a diverse range of voices from for-profit and non-profit, all of whom share the belief in the tenets, and are committed to collaboration and open dialogue on the many opportunities and rising challenges around AI.

    Added Cave: “At CFI, we strongly share the Partnership’s mission to ensure that AI develops in a way that is safe, responsible and fair. We are therefore delighted to be joining the Partnership on AI, alongside other organisations including UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and our partners in Oxford, the Future of Humanity Institute.

    “We hope that being a member will provide us with new allies and opportunities in what is likely to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and hope to be able to contribute the insight and analysis of our highly interdisciplinary team.”

    CFI is a collaboration between the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, Imperial College London and the University of California at Berkeley and is funded by an unprecedented £10 million grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

    Its mission is to create the interdisciplinary community that will be needed to make the AI revolution go as well as possible for humanity. At the Centre’s launch in Cambridge last October, Professor Stephen Hawking said: “The rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which. The research done by this centre will be crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.”

    You can find out more about CFI at and @LeverhulmeCFI. You can find out more about the Partnership on AI at: and @PartnershipAI

    The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), a Cambridge-based research Centre exploring the nature and impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society (Partnership on AI), it was announced this evening.

    With AI advancing rapidly, we need a broad coalition to manage its impact for the good of all.
    Stephen Cave

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    In 1999, Dr Michelle Oyen was a bioengineering student, working on a PhD project to measure the stiffness of bone, when the phone rang. It was Dr Steven Calvin, an obstetrician at the local hospital. “I’m trying to understand some issues around miscarriage and premature birth,” he said. “Is there someone there who has a machine that can stretch things, and make measurements of how strong something is?”

    Calvin had a specific question: he was performing a procedure aimed at keeping a prematurely opening cervix closed by putting stitches around it. If a cervix opens too soon, it can result in premature birth. During the procedure, antiseptic is painted around the area, including the amniotic sac. He wanted to know if this substance changed the properties of the sac, making it more likely to rupture.

    Oyen, now Reader in Bioengineering in Cambridge’s Mechanics and Materials Division and the Biomechanics research group, was fascinated by the idea of applying engineering thinking to this problem. “I was carrying out my experiments in a housekeeping cupboard in the hospital,” she remembers. “I had a rig for strength-testing the amniotic sac. I’d get a call from Dr Calvin that a woman in labour was happy for us to use the sample, I’d grab my rig and set it up in a cupboard down the hall from the delivery room.”

    Their first investigation into this question resulted in a paper published in the Journal of Material Science: Materials in Medicine, and sparked what Oyen calls her life’s work: finding out why pregnancies go wrong. “Three per cent of the time, the amniotic sac breaks for no reason that we know,” she says. “That can cause miscarriage, or stillbirth if it’s before viability. Even after that, babies born between 25 and 30 weeks are very premature and so their outcomes are very poor. Even babies born after 30 weeks are still not fully ‘cooked’: you have to get to 37 weeks before we consider you to have made it to the end line. These problems happen in the developed world, even when we have so much technology around us. In the developing world, there’s a whole other set of issues. So when you talk about problems in pregnancy, you’re talking about a big chunk of humanity.”

    There’s a long and honourable history of collaborations between engineering and medical science, from designing cutting-edge prosthetics to creating technology for robot-assisted surgery. Yet, says Oyen, looking at pregnancy in this way is an area that’s 20 or 30 years behind, say, orthopaedics. “Most of the time, pregnancy kind of works and doctors know how to manage something that goes wrong – but they don’t always understand why it’s happening. It’s something that we fundamentally don’t know about. And that really excites me.”

    What makes pregnancy problems so ripe for exploration by engineers? The tools, says Oyen – namely, computers. “You can’t do experiments on pregnant women,” she points out. “It is completely unethical. But with computers, we can make a virtual model of the placenta. There’s potential for huge progress there.” One of her team’s recent projects, which gave rise to a paper published in the journal Placenta, is based around images of real placentas taken using a confocal microscope at a very high resolution. These images are then turned into 3D computational models. Oyen and her team can then model how the blood flows through the capillaries of the placenta, bringing oxygen from the mother to the baby. This will aid understanding of why the placenta sometimes malfunctions and fails to bring enough oxygen to the baby, meaning its growth is restricted.

    That’s studying the placenta at full term: but its beginnings are also a rich area for research. When a fertilised egg implants into the uterus wall, specialised cells called trophoblasts must migrate in to help form the placenta, a biological process similar to how cancer cells metastasize. In collaboration with the Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary, Oyen’s team is studying how trophoblasts move, a unique cross-departmental group of pregnancy researchers. “The collaboration with others from the Centre has just been amazing,” says Oyen. “That’s the thing about Cambridge. You don’t find such a wealth of expertise anywhere else.”

    Pregnancy problems are one of the Oyen Lab’s four main strands of research, the others being more traditional areas of bioengineering, including the creation of synthetic materials using inspiration from the natural world – studying materials such as eggshell and bone to find an equally strong and light material, for example. As any cook knows, Oyen says, an eggshell is actually pretty robust. If you want to break it, you need to hit it hard against your glass bowl. Yet it starts off as a squishy, watery membrane filled with yolk.

    Given the right conditions – usually a chicken with average body temperature – it becomes a full egg with a hard shell in about 18 hours. This is a material that is 97per cent ceramic but forms naturally in close to ambient conditions, and therefore is not energy-intensive – unlike concrete, which always involves high temperatures to process. These materials could have medical applications, such as replacing the metal and plastic currently used for new hip and knee joints, or they could even be scaled up to create anything from furniture to buildings: the lab’s current project on eggshell-inspired materials is funded by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

    “Materials inspired by bone and eggshell are really good structural materials: why limit them to medicine?” Oyen says. “We can make bone-like material now, but only in lab quantities. It would take a big company to scale it up. Natural materials are really interesting. We build things out of steel and concrete now, but before we started getting the idea to do that, we built things with whatever was around us – wood or stone. People don’t really appreciate what impact this could have on global warming: in 2007, the creation of steel and concrete was responsible for more CO2 emissions than the aviation industry worldwide. We demonise airlines without realising that building a skyscraper also makes a big contribution.”

    Looking at the scope of her work, it’s hardly surprising that a glimpse at Oyen’s office bookshelf reveals a dizzying array of interests, from clouds to Russian dictionaries to Cary Grant – not to mention the electronic piano keyboard that stands next to it. “Yes, I have broad interests, which I think is normal for someone in such an interdisciplinary field,” she says. “A lot of my work is synthesising and bringing people together. Most of my students are co-supervised, most of my work is collaborative. I spend very little time sitting in a room, typing on a computer. I get people together. I talk to engineers and medics, I get biologists talking to engineers. I’m the traffic cop in the middle, translating from engineering language to biomedical language.”

    Her chosen path is partly personal, she says – Oyen has juvenile arthritis, which began in her teens. Her father worked in an engineering company and had her solving problems from the start. “My motivation is completely selfish,” she says with a grin. “My first degree was in Materials Science and Engineering, and while I was doing that, I twigged that there were medically related engineering applications. I was doing very traditional metallurgy. I had nothing to do with medicine. But when I was having a particularly bad bout with my joints, I started getting interested. I started coming across some of the very traditional approaches to solving medical problems, like total joint replacement, which goes back to the 1950s. You replace living tissue, which is 75 per cent water, with metal and plastic. That’s a very 1950s solution and yet we haven’t come up with anything better.”

    There is a word in bioengineering – bioinspiration – which, within the context of the discipline, means a method of solving engineering problems using natural approaches. A bioengineer will systematically study how nature has solved problems and then try to map that method on to a current problem. Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say that a kind of bioinspiration is at the root of everything Oyen does: taking both nature’s design flaws and extraordinary abilities – to regrow, renew and create life – as a starting point for making things work better, from carrying a child to creating a city.

    “There is so much potential in all our work, but in the pregnancy work, I feel like it’s really just getting started,” she says. “High risk, high reward – and the reward is better outcomes for mothers and babies. It’s what engineering is all about: problem-solving. It’s creative. After all, the root of the word engineer is not engine, but ingenuity.”

    Dr Oyen is a Fellow at Homerton College.

    Article by Lucy Jolin. This article first appeared in CAM - the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, edition 80. Find out more about Dr Oyen's work.

    Homerton Fellow Dr Michelle Oyen explains why she has dedicated her working life to investigating why pregnancies go wrong.

    I spend very little time sitting in a room, typing on a computer. I get people together. I talk to engineers and medics, I get biologists talking to engineers. I’m the traffic cop in the middle
    Dr Michelle Oyen
    Michelle Oyen

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    A new study, published recently in the European Journal of Epidemiology, appeared to give dairy products a clean bill of health. The researchers found no evidence for an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or death from consuming dairy products – even full-fat dairy products. The Conversation

    These findings were widely covered in the media – headlines mostlysingled outcheese, saying it does not increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Some of the reports claimed that saturated fats do not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but the study didn’t examine saturated fat consumption itself.

    It’s worth taking a closer look at the science behind the headlines.

    Key findings

    This new study is a type of study known as a meta-analysis because it pools data from earlier studies and analyses the combined data. In this instance, there were 29 studies that the researchers felt were of sufficiently high quality to include in their analysis. There were 783,989 participants in all, with an average age of 57 years. Each of the studies had asked healthy people about their usual diet and then followed them up over five to 25 years. Over the course of the follow up, 93,158 participants died (from any cause), 28,419 developed coronary heart disease and 25,416 developed cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke).

    The international team of researchers who conducted the meta-analysis found no statistically significant link between any of total dairy consumption (high- and low-fat combined), high-fat dairy consumption, low-fat dairy consumption, and risk of death, risk of coronary heart disease or risk of cardiovascular disease.

    Among individual dairy products, milk consumption was not associated with cardiovascular disease or death, and neither was yoghurt consumption. For cheese and fermented dairy products (including sour milk products, cheese or yoghurt), there was a minor reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it seemed to be because of one large study. When this study – which showed an extreme result – was removed from the analysis, the link disappeared.

    Strengths and weaknesses

    Although not new, this research included the largest sample of participants to date on this topic and investigated both total and individual types of dairy products. The researchers applied sound meta-analysis methods and were careful to use extra analyses (called sensitivity analyses) to check their initial findings. However, there are some limitations of the individual studies, and meta-analysis, which are worth mentioning.

    Although up to 29 studies were identified for the meta-analysis, the actual number available for each analysis was considerably less than 29. For example, for high-fat there were five studies for looking at death, nine for heart disease and seven for cardiovascular disease. And for yoghurt consumption, there were only three studies. This can compromise the confidence we can place in some of the results. For example, we can’t be certain that the association of yoghurt intake with cardiovascular disease is indeed null, as fermented dairy products – especially yoghurt – have been associated with reductions in cardiovascular risk, weight gain and type 2 diabetes in other research.

    Another weakness is that the meta-analysis combined data from observational studies. Observational studies are not as robust as clinical trials. But this is a common limitation of studies of diet as it’s often not possible to keep people under close scrutiny – as required in clinical trials – for many years while comparing one type of diet with another.

    With observational studies, there is always a risk that some other factor – one not being investigated – is the actual reason for the observed associations. To get around this, researchers take “confounding factors” into account when analysing the data. In this instance, the studies took into account such factors to very different degrees – some only including a very limited number of factors such as age, sex, smoking, or social status (such as education), while there are also other important factors such as obesity, physical activity, alcohol intake, ethnicity and other foods consumed that were missed in some studies. It is possible such health and lifestyle factors not taken into account by the researchers may have influenced the results.

    Inconsistency in the definitions of groups of dairy products might also obscure interpretation. For example, some studies might include full-fat yoghurt in high-fat dairy products, whereas other studies might include both types of yoghurt in low-fat dairy products. Some dairy products such as cream and butter were not individually assessed in the meta-analysis.

    Wider context

    There is emerging evidence from other research, that not all foods that are rich in saturated fats have the same impact on health. This is probably because foods rich in saturated fat also contain many other ingredients. For instance processed red meat is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas
    dairy products, particularly yoghurt, are associated with a decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes, as we have also shown in two studies (EPIC InterAct and EPIC-Norfolk).

    Most dietary research relies on people reporting their dietary habits, and this can be prone to error and inaccuracies, which can mask the detection of links between diet and health. Our own research has shown that measuring biomarkers of food intake in blood or urine can open up new possibilities for understanding links with disease and bypass errors due to self-reporting in questionnaires.

    New evidence suggests that saturated fat in dairy may not be as bad for us as we once thought, but there isn’t enough evidence, just yet, to change dietary guidelines which, in the UK, recommend that saturated fats should make up fewer than 11% of all calories consumed from food.

    Eirini Trichia, PhD student, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge and Nita Forouhi, Programme Leader, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.

    When it comes to health claims around the food we eat, it’s worth taking a closer look at the science behind the headlines, say Eirini Trichia and Professor Nita Forouhi from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, writing for The Conversation.


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    For decades we have been told that globalisation is an irresistible force. As Tony Blair said: “you might as well debate whether autumn follows summer.” 

    According to a new book by a Cambridge academic, however, factors ranging from automation and 3D printing to environmental regulations and customer expectations are now spelling the beginning of the end for globalised manufacturing.

    Dr Finbarr Livesey, an expert in public policy, says that while digital globalisation continues apace, early signs can be seen of a sea change in the production and distribution of goods: with global supply chains shrinking as companies experiment with moving production closer to home.

    In the book From Global to Local: the Making of Things and the End of Globalisation, published this week by Profile Books, he argues that many of the big assumptions we have about globalisation and outsourcing are now wrong, and that the global economy is subtly changing in ways yet to be picked up by blunt macroeconomic measurements. 

    “Robots are becoming cheaper than overseas labour, climate concern and volatile fossil fuel markets are restricting carbon footprints, and consumers increasingly expect tailored products with express delivery. Bouncing production around the planet is already making less and less economic sense,” says Livesey.

    “Holding on to familiar stories about the global economy is not an option, as technological and political changes make a mockery of any past consensus.”

    However, he warns against falsely claiming such shifts as a victory for protectionism: the technologies allowing the return of production to high-cost economies are unlikely to mean the promised return of jobs.

    Livesey also argues that if ‘deglobalisation’ is indeed coming down the line then Brexit may be a particularly bad move for UK manufacturing:

    “Trying to reach over our neighbours in the name of ‘global Britain’ at a time when many companies are on the cusp of reverting to regionalism means that marginal calls for European manufacturing bases may go to France or the Czech Republic, for example, rather than the UK,” he says.

    Leaders in both west and east have hitched their wagons to the apparent inevitability of globalisation over the past thirty years. Yet, as Livesey points out, regionalism never went away. A significant percentage of exports continue to land in the same area they originate: around 50% in Asia and North America, and as much as 70% in Europe.

    In the book he draws attention to examples of what he believes to be “weak signals of early change” – as major companies tentatively start to U-turn on globalisation.

    The new Adidas ‘Speedfactory’ uses automation and 3D printing to produce high-end trainers – not in China or South Asia, but in Germany. “And we were told textiles were never coming back,” says Livesey.     

    The mighty General Electric recently rejuvenated a vast manufacturing “ghost town” in Kentucky when they realised appliances could be made for the same or cheaper in the US than in China.

    Foxconn, the company that makes iPhone innards, raised eyebrows when they suggested robots could replace one million Chinese workers – and that production could even move to the US as a result.

    Global supply chains cost companies time in an age of next-day delivery, and add risks of disruption – from cultural differences to natural disasters – and even intellectual property theft. They also take a heavy environmental toll: shipping alone produces a billion tonnes of carbon, roughly equal to that of Germany.

    “Take Zara, one of the daughters of ‘fast fashion’,” says Livesey. “They have a cycle from design through to production and shop floor delivery of just four weeks. In some cases it would take almost that long just to ship product from China. The new ‘Belt and Road’ initiative may only reduce that to two weeks.

    “Many companies can’t afford the time, not to mention the added risk, of freighting goods around the world. Zara base much of their production in Spain, Portugal and Morocco to be on Europe’s doorstep – an example of ‘nearshoring’.”

    Ultimately, the journey from production to customer may be measured in metres rather than continents. For example, Harvard Bookstore’s ‘Espresso Book Machine’ uses information from digital files to print and bind new books in store on demand.

    Livesey highlights the patents for mobile 3D printing filed by Amazon in 2015 as indicative of a hyper-local rather than hyper-global direction for production. “While not currently feasible, there may come a time when your purchased product is printed en route to your house.”

    While he admits that the data from the last few decades can make his position seem Canute-like at the moment, Livesey argues that the tide is turning, with signals of new localism amid the noise. 

    A recent survey of over 500 companies found well over half were moving production away from China. One in six companies surveyed by the Engineering Employees Federation had moved production from a low-cost economy to the UK. The Korean government passed a ‘U-Turn’ law encouraging companies to return from China.

    “Companies are deciding to have their production either in their home country or nearby. Automation is attacking the costs of labour and shifting the calculus for managers. Political forces are constraining the space for manufacturing, for example restricting emissions from transport. The early signs are there.”

    Finbarr Livesey will be discussing his book and the future of globalisation at this year's Hay Festival

    New book suggests there is early evidence of a coming U-turn in the globalisation of manufacturing – and that the story we are told about the direction of the global economy is wrong.

    Holding on to familiar stories about the global economy is not an option, as technological and political changes make a mockery of any past consensus
    Finbarr Livesey
    Container Port, Barcelona,

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    Based on original research, and drawing attention to the connections between the medieval Moorish king Boabdil, and current social and political concerns in Europe today, Drayson presents the first full account in any language of the Moorish sultan of Granada, and head of the Nasrid dynasty.

    The academic’s research has also uncovered a potential mystery regarding the final resting place of the last Muslim king in Spain. Long thought to have died in Algeria in 1494, experts are now hoping to exhume and DNA test what they believe to be the remains of the sultan beneath a derelict mausoleum in Fez, Morocco.

    In the ten years before Boabdil’s fall in 1492, his kingdom of Granada was the theatre of one of the most significant wars in European history. The sultan’s territory was the last Spanish stronghold of a Muslim empire that had once stretched to the Pyrenees and beyond – including the cities of Barcelona, Pamplona and Cordoba, which had been home to paved roads, street lighting and more than 70 libraries at a time when London and other European cities were backwaters of disease, violence and illiteracy.

    “How did Boabdil change the course of Spanish history? Does he now represent what he stood for in the past? And how significant is he as a figure of resistance to the forces of western Christendom?” asked Drayson, who spent three years working on her new book – The Moor’s Last Stand: The life of Boabdil, Muslim King of Granada.

    “That Boabdil was a key figure at a crucial moment in world history cannot be doubted: the current tensions between Islam and the West have their roots in his reign and in the kingdom he lost. Christian posterity has treated him with scorn and pity – viewed from the perspective of the victors. But my account presents the other side of the coin, revealing that issues of violence, tension and compromise between Muslims and Christians were as pressing then as they are now.”

    Betrayed by his family and undermined by faction and internal conflict, Boabdil’s defeat at the hands of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (the parents of Catherine of Aragon) symbolised the epoch-changing transition of Granada from Islamic state to Christian territory – a moment which set Spain on course to becoming the greatest power in early modern Europe.

    The Christian victory marked the completion of the long Christian reconquest of Spain and ended seven centuries in which Christians, Jews and Muslims had for the most part lived peacefully and profitably together.

    “Five centuries after his death, it’s timely to consider the impact of his defeat then and now,” added Drayson. “Boabdil was a man of culture and war: a schemer, rebel, father, husband and brother. He was a king, yet also the pawn of the Catholic monarchs. I wanted to show why his life matters – and the meanings it now has at this time of extreme tension between the west and the Islamic states.”

    The end of Muslim rule at the heart of Spain came to an end on January 2, 1492 when Boabdil relinquished the keys to the Moorish capital to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. “These are the keys to paradise,” he said before leaving the city with his mother Aixa.

    Legend has it that as Boabdil retreated into exile, he turned around for one final, distant look at Granada – sighed, and burst into tears. His mother, betraying little sympathy for her vanquished son, is said to have told him: “You do well, my son, to cry like a woman for what you couldn’t defend like a man.”

    The ‘last sigh’ has long been used by historians to belittle and diminish Boabdil’s legacy, ignoring – according to Drayson – the immense sacrifice he demonstrated in saving his people from certain slaughter at the hands of Ferdinand and Isabella’s irrepressible armies which encircled Granada.

    “The fall of Granada was of such magnitude that a mythical story was needed to explain, accept or legitimise the immense upheavals the conquest brought about,” said Drayson.

    According to her, Boabdil’s heroism, long repudiated by most historical commentators, is evident in his ability to recognise the futility of further resistance, and the choice he made in rejecting the further suffering, starvation and slaughter of his people. Instead, he bargained for the best terms of surrender possible, rejecting martyrdom and willingly sacrificing his reputation for the greater good.

    “The loss of Granada is viewed by modern writers as a prelude to the repression of the Muslim world,” added Drayson. “At a time when Europe is seeking a way of addressing issues of racial and religious intolerance, equality and freedom, we might look closely at the Spanish Muslim society of which Boabdil was the final heir, which successfully tackled some of these problems.

    “Today, Boabdil represents a last stand against religious intolerance, fanatical power, and cultural ignorance; his surrender of the city and kingdom of Granada symbolised the loss of the fertile cross-cultural creativity, renewal and coexistence born out of the Muslim conquest of Spain.”

    Elizabeth Drayson appears at the Hay Festival as part of the Cambridge Series on Sunday, May 28 at 2.30pm on the Good Energy Stage.

    The history, myths and legends surrounding the last Muslim ruler in Spain – whose surrender ended seven centuries of Islam at the heart of Western Europe – is the subject of a new book and Hay Festival appearance by Cambridge academic Elizabeth Drayson.

    I wanted to show why his life matters – and the meanings it now has at this time of extreme tension between the west and the Islamic states.
    Elizabeth Drayson
    The Capitulation of Granada by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz 1882: Boabdil surrenders to Ferdinand and Isabella

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    Current students via the Target Oxbridge programme
    Target Oxbridge provides 16 – 18 year old black African and Caribbean students with positive role models and practical advice. The development programme runs over the course of a year and involves residential visits and academic sessions. When they visit Cambridge, participants will have an immersive experience of life at the university, including taking part in tutorials and meeting both staff and current students.
    Since 2012, 46 Target Oxbridge students have already gone on to receive offers from the two universities. Eleven former participants are currently studying at Cambridge and have welcomed the new sponsorship.
    The University’s support, alongside Oxford’s, will help Target Oxbridge to expand its places from 45 to 60 in 2018, double the number available in 2016. The programme is run by Rare, a specialist diversity recruitment company, and its patron is Cambridge alumna, Zadie Smith, who has previously said:
    “Going to Cambridge changed my life. Nothing I have done would have been possible without it. I want more people from backgrounds like mine to have that life-changing experience. That's what Target Oxbridge is about”.
    Jon Beard, Cambridge’s Head of Undergraduate Recruitment, said: 
    “We’re delighted to be strengthening our relationship with Rare through our sponsorship of Target Oxbridge, and look forward to welcoming to Cambridge more of the high-achieving aspirational black students that the programme supports. The University and the Colleges are committed to widening participation by raising aspirations and attainment. Working with partners including the Sutton Trust, The Brilliant Club and Target Oxbridge is an important part of our approach.”

    Fopé Jegede, an English student at Homerton College, said:
    “Target Oxbridge helped to dispel the myths and preconceived notions I had about Cambridge and I genuinely don’t think I would have applied without the encouragement and support offered by the programme. Applying to Oxbridge is a very daunting process but studying at this university is such a unique experience. Already, my academic and personal growth during my time here has been incredible. Potential applicants should rest assured that it truly is your intellectual curiosity and potential that matters most - regardless of your social, economic or ethnic background. You do and will belong.”
    Daniel Oluboyede, a Medic at Downing College, said: 
    “This is exciting news and a clear message that Cambridge aims to be more inclusive. Target Oxbridge was undoubtedly a major factor in getting me to Cambridge. They not only made me more confident for the application process but somehow made it an enjoyable experience too! I am confident that this partnership will make a tangible difference because of the real impact that Target Oxbridge makes in developing Afro-Caribbean students from typically less privileged backgrounds to become impressive Oxbridge Candidates.”
    Imani McEwen, a Modern Languages student at Clare College, and currently on her Year Abroad in the Canary Islands, said:
    “I’m absolutely thrilled. The partnership will enable lots of bright potential applicants to see that this is a place for them. When applying, Target Oxbridge certainly helped to prepare me for Cambridge life. The mentoring taught me how to engage with what I was reading and then confidently have an academic discussion about it. This was key during the interview and still is during supervisions. Definitely apply to Cambridge, your race should never discourage you because it's your ability that counts.”
    Bez Adeosun, a Politics and Anthropology student at Clare College, said:
    “Without Target Oxbridge, I may not have received my Cambridge offer. Their help ranged from personal statement advice, mock interviews and simply just being in contact with current students at the university. All this helped make a process that seemed so surreal to me, seem real and achievable. I would definitely encourage students to consider applying for this program as they really do care about helping young talented students get into prestigious institutions like Oxford and Cambridge.” 
    Michael Harvey, an Engineering student at Homerton College, said:
    "Coming from a background in which you weren't expected to study at a place like Cambridge and then making it here gives a constant feeling of accomplishment. To know that you're working among some of the best thinkers of the future, to know you're at that level and to be encouraged to push even further is great. Once you're here the sky is really the limit, anything is achievable. It may seem a daunting task to get in from the outside, but anyone with the right attitude can achieve and excel here. My advice for people thinking of applying would be to put in the work because the rewards are more than worth it."
    Timi Sotire, a Human, Social and Political Sciences student at Girton College, said:
    "I felt very insecure and worried about applying. Being a part of the Target Oxbridge programme gave me the confidence to fully realise that I am good enough to be at a prestigious university such as this, I don’t know what I would have done without their constant support and mentoring. I hope that this partnership will encourage more people to have the confidence to apply.”

    The University is sponsoring Target Oxbridge, a free programme which aims to increase successful undergraduate applications from black students. 

    Regardless of your social, economic or ethnic background. You do and will belong.
    Fopé Jegede, undergraduate at Homerton College.
    Undergraduates (L to R): Timi Sotire, Bez Adeosun, Michael Harvey, Daniel Oluboyede, Leah Grant, Fopé Jegede.

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    Earlier observations of the star, known as Fomalhaut and located 25 light years from Earth, were taken in 2012 by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), located in Chile. The 2012 results were gathered when the telescope was still under construction, and while they only revealed about half of the debris disc, the observations provided hints about the nature and possible origin of the disc.

    The new observations offer a far more complete view of this glowing band of debris, a band of rubble resulting from comets smashing together near the outer edges of the planetary system. The gases observed within the ring by the team suggest that there are chemical similarities between its icy contents and comets in our own solar system.

    “We can finally see the well-defined shape of the disc, which may tell us a great deal about the underlying planetary system responsible for its highly distinctive appearance,” said Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and lead author on one of two papers accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal describing these observations.

    Fomalhaut is a relatively nearby star system and one of only about 20 in which planets have been imaged directly. The entire system is approximately 440 million years old, or about one-tenth the age of our solar system. As revealed in the new ALMA image, a brilliant band of icy dust about two billion kilometres wide has formed approximately 20 billion kilometres from the star.

    Debris discs are common features around young stars and represent a dynamic and chaotic period in the history of a solar system. Astronomers believe they are formed by the ongoing collisions of comets and other solid objects, known as planetesimals, in the outer reaches of a recently formed planetary system. The leftover debris from these collisions absorbs light from its central star and re-radiates that energy as a faint glow that can be studied with ALMA.

    Using the new ALMA data and detailed computer modelling, the researchers could calculate the precise location, width, and geometry of the disc. These parameters confirm that such a narrow ring is likely produced through the gravitational influence of planets in the system.

    The new observations are also the first to definitively show “apocenter glow,” a phenomenon predicted in a 2016 paper by Margaret Pan, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author on the new papers. Like all objects with elongated orbits, the dusty material in the Fomalhaut disc travels more slowly when it is farthest from the star. As the dust slows down, it piles up, forming denser concentrations in the more distant portions of the disc. These dense regions can be seen by ALMA as brighter millimetre-wavelength emission.

    Using the same dataset, but focusing on distinct millimetre-wavelength signals naturally emitted by molecules in space, the researchers also detected vast stores of carbon monoxide gas in precisely the same location as the debris disc.

    “These data allowed us to determine that the abundance of carbon monoxide plus carbon dioxide around Fomalhaut is about the same as found in comets in our own solar system,” said Dr Luca Matrà of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, and lead author of the team’s second paper. “This chemical kinship may indicate a similarity in comet formation conditions between the outer reaches of this planetary system and our own.” Matrà and his colleagues believe this gas is either released from continuous comet collisions or the result of a single, large impact between ‘supercomets’ hundreds of times more massive than Hale-Bopp.

    The presence of this well-defined debris disc around Fomalhaut, along with its curiously familiar chemistry, may indicate that this system is undergoing its own version of the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period approximately four billion years ago when the Earth and other planets were routinely struck by swarms of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of our solar system.

    “Twenty years ago, the best millimetre-wavelength telescopes gave the first fuzzy maps of sand grains orbiting Fomalhaut. Now with ALMA’s full capabilities the entire ring of material has been imaged,” said Paul Kalas, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley and principal investigator on these observations. “One day we hope to detect the planets that influence the orbits of these grains.”

    Adapted from a National Radio Astronomy Observatory press release.

    Meredith A. MacGregor et al. 'A Complete ALMA Map of the Fomalhaut Debris Disk.' arXiv:1705.05867 
    L. Matrà et al. 'Detection of exocometary CO within the 440 Myr-old Fomalhaut belt: a similar CO+CO2 ice abundance in exocomets and Solar System comets.' arXiv:1705.05868

    An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, has made the most detailed image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding a young star and found that the ice content of colliding comets within it is similar to comets in our own solar system.

    The chemical kinship may indicate a similarity in comet formation conditions between the outer reaches of this planetary system and our own.
    Luca Matra
    Composite image of the Fomalhaut star system. The ALMA data, shown in orange, reveal the distant and eccentric debris disk in never-before-seen detail. The central dot is the unresolved emission from the star, which is about twice the mass of our sun.

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    The researchers, from the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick, have developed a wire made from a single string of tellurium atoms, making it a true one-dimensional material. These one-dimensional wires are produced inside extremely thin carbon nanotubes (CNTs) – hollow cylinders made of carbon atoms. The finished ‘extreme nanowires’ are less than a billionth of a metre in diameter – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

    A single string of atoms is as small as materials based on elements in the periodic table can get, making them potentially useful for semiconductors and other electronic applications. However, these strings can be unstable, as their atoms are constantly vibrating and, in the absence of a physical constraint, they can end up morphing into some other structure or disintegrating entirely.

    According to the Cambridge researchers, encapsulating the nanowires is not only a useful method of making stable one-dimensional (1D) materials, it may be necessary to prevent them from disintegrating. The researchers have also shown that it is possible to alter the shape and electronic behaviour of the nanowires by varying the diameters of the tubes which encapsulate them. Their results are reported in the journal ACS Nano.

    To make electronics faster and more powerful, more transistors need to be squeezed onto semiconductor chips. For the past 50 years, the number of transistors on a single chip has doubled every two years – this is known as Moore’s law. However, we are getting close to the limit of how small a transistor can be before quantum effects associated with individual atoms and electrons start to interfere with its normal operation. Researchers are currently investigating various ways of keeping up with Moore’s law, and in turn keeping up with our desire for faster, cheaper and more powerful electronics. One-dimensional materials could be one of the solutions to the challenge of miniaturisation.

    The Cambridge researchers first used computer simulations to predict the types of geometric structures that would form if tellurium atoms were injected into nanotubes, and found that 1D wires could exist in such a scenario.

    Later, lab-based tests, using the most advanced techniques for the synthesis and atomic-resolution visualisation of such extreme materials, were performed by the Warwick researchers to confirm the theoretical predictions. Not only were the researchers able to successfully ‘build’ stable 1D wires, but they found that changing the diameter of the nanotubes lead to changes in the properties of tellurium.

    Tellurium normally behaves as a semiconductor, but when injected into carbon nanotubes and confined to one dimension, it starts behaving like a metal. Additionally, while the confinement provided by the CNTs can induce drastic changes in the way that tellurium behaves, the nanotubes themselves do not interact in any other way with the tellurium nanowires.

    “When working with materials at very small scales such as this, the material of interest typically needs to be deposited onto a surface, but the problem is that these surfaces are normally very reactive,” said Paulo Medeiros of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, and the paper’s first author. “But carbon nanotubes are chemically quite inert, so they help solve one of the problems when trying to create truly one-dimensional materials.

    “However, we’re just starting to understand the physics and chemistry of these systems – there’s still a lot of basic physics to be uncovered.” 

    Paulo V. C. Medeiros et al. 'Single-Atom Scale Structural Selectivity in Te Nanowires Encapsulated Inside Ultranarrow, Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes.' ACS Nano (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b02225

    Researchers have developed the world’s thinnest metallic nanowire, which could be used to miniaturise many of the electronic components we use every day. 

    We’re just starting to understand the physics and chemistry of these systems.
    Paulo Medeiros
    Artistic representation of one of the encapsulated tellurium nanowire types predicted by researchers.

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  • 05/19/17--02:49: Refreezing the Arctic
  • Is it too late to save the Arctic without using geoengineering techniques? Dr Hugh Hunt argues this may be the case, but that people need to wake up to the scale of the climate problems we are facing.

    He is giving a talk on refreezing the Arctic on 3rd June as part of the Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival.

    Dr Hunt, a Reader in the Department of Engineering, says he fears people think that climate change is a problem we can do something about in the future when the urgency to act to save the Arctic is now.
    “People talk about how bad things are, but they are not aware of how imminent the loss of the Arctic is. We have to start being realistic about the scale of what we have to do,” he says. “It is enormous.”

    Dr Hunt says people tend to see climate engineering as some sort of “Frankenstein science”. “They think we are playing God with the climate, but we have been playing God with the climate for 200 years by burning fossil fuels,” he says. “Just because we have messed it up it doesn’t mean we can’t fix it.”

    He adds: “There’s a sequence: we are losing the same amount of ice every year, but starting from less each time.” Less ice means a warmer Arctic and the likelihood of the Greenland ice shelf melting, which could see sea levels rising by seven metres, some say. In addition to that any melting of the permafrost that lies beneath the ice could result in the release of unknown amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

    Dr Hunt’s talk will discuss a two-pronged approach to refreezing the Arctic. The first is through Solar Radiation Management [SRM], a form of  climate engineering which involves pumping stratospheric sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to emulate the action of volcanic eruptions which have been shown to cool the environment. He will talk in particular about the SPICE project, an SRM technique that has attracted a lot of attention as it envisages injecting aerosols into the stratosphere using a tethered balloon.

    What SRM can’t do, however, is remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which leads to the second approach: Greenhouse Gas Removal. Dr Hunt will speak about the SPRNGG project, a non-CO2 GGR approach that looks at air capture of the other important greenhouse gases methane CH4, Nitrous Oxide N2O and CFC12.

    He says: “SRM may be urgently required to slow down the progress of melting in the Arctic. But if we’re too late and the Arctic permafrost warms up then GGR will be needed to capture billions of tonnes of atmospheric methane.”

    He acknowledges people’s concerns about climate engineering and says they are justified, but believes the idea that the Arctic melting can be stopped through electric cars, not eating beef or not flying so much does not begin to address the seriousness of the situation we now face.

    He adds that, although research on geoengineering has stalled, it is not that complicated and that with sufficient will and a sense of urgency it could be effective in the short term in combination with a range of other measures such as carbon capture and storage and behaviour change.

    Dr Hunt believes there is a reluctance among policymakers to talk about climate engineering in case people think there is some sort of technical fix to climate change and nothing else needs to change. “Technical fixes are only ever going to be a temporary measure,” he says.  They buy us time to change our behaviour. “We should never use them for any considerable length of time,” he cautions.

    In the meantime, we have the Paris Agreement. Dr Hunt describes this as a strong statement of intent, but says it does not lay out a proper plan for how reducing carbon levels can be achieved.

    “We have to be carbon zero by 2035 if we want to avoid the Arctic melting. That means no flying, no container shipping, electric cars, cutting gas to our homes...All this has to happen worldwide in the next 20 years,” he says.

    “At the moment we are looking at how to slow things down, but it is like a car accelerating towards a brick wall. We are not accelerating as fast as we were, but we are also not putting our foot on the brake.”


    Dr Hugh Hunt will say geoengineering may be necessary to tackle climate change and refreeze the Arctic in a talk for the Cambridge Series at the Hay Festival.

    At the moment we are looking at how to slow things down, but it is like a car accelerating towards a brick wall. We are not accelerating as fast as we were, but we are also not putting our foot on the brake.
    Dr Hugh Hunt
    Melting ice in the Arctic

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    Before and after detail of the Virgin Mary from the 'Adoration of the Shepherds'

    The conservation work on Sebastiano de Piombo's (1485–1547) 'Adoration of the Shepherds' c.1510, one of the founding Renaissance works in the Fitzwilliam’s collections, won the restoration and conservation award at the 2017 Museum and Heritage Awards in London on Wednesday evening.

    The Judges said: “The Restoration and Conservation award goes to a project which represents restoration at its very best – painstaking in its research and meticulous in its care attention, resulting in the rescue of a masterpiece.”

    The meticulous project was undertaken by the Fitzwilliam’s painting conservation department, the Hamilton Kerr Institute, and enabled the masterpiece to go on show at the museum for the first time in 70 years. The project was completed in the 40th anniversary year of the Hamilton Kerr Institute in time to return to the galleries in 2016 - in celebration of the Museum’s 200th birthday.

    The physical history of Sebastiano del Piombo’s Adoration of the Shepherds is remarkable and explains why the research and conservation project at the Hamilton Kerr Institute took so many years to complete.

    The picture was originally painted on a wooden panel, but while owned by the Duc de Orléans in 18th century Paris, the paint layers were removed and transferred onto canvas in a misguided attempt to preserve it. This caused widespread damage to the original paint and the composition was almost completely overpainted in subsequent attempts at restoration. However, critical areas of the original paint remained intact and it was decided to remove all the old overpainting and bring the composition back to life by judicious and specialised restoration of the losses.

    Rupert Featherstone, Director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute said: “We have researched and unravelled the entire history of the painting, uncovering the original, from layers and layers of overpaint and varnish. Then we painstakingly reconstructed the missing areas, to faithfully recreate Sebastiano’s painting.”

    In order to understand the artist’s technique, a microscopic particle of paint, smaller than the head of a pin, was taken from the Virgin’s blue robe and analysed under a microscope during research. Examination of the paint cross-section demonstrated Sebastiano’s sophisticated system of layering with an application of pink paint beneath the blue, as well as his use of superior and expensive pigments, such as ultramarine blue.

    This and other forms of state-of-the-art analysis greatly helped to reconstruct the missing areas. Close study of an early full-size copy of Sebastiano’s original painting from The Louvre, Paris, made sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century – before Sebastiano’s painting was transferred from wood to canvas – was important in reconstructing areas of significant paint loss.

    Added Featherstone: “We have conserved over 3,000 pictures in the last forty years at the HKI, but the Sebastiano is one of our biggest projects. Some might have argued to leave the painting as an archaeological relic, but I think we have made the right judgement to restore it so it can be appreciated as the masterpiece it is, aesthetically and historically. The scientific research that was conducted to aid our understanding of the technique of the artist has been key in being able to recreate it.”

    Sebastiano del Piombo spent his early years in Venice where he learnt the art of painting under Giovanni Bellini (c.1431-1516) and then Giorgione (1477-1510). At the invitation of the prominent patron and Sienese banker Agostino Chigi (1466-1520), Sebastiano moved to Rome in 1511, just as Michelangelo (1475-1564) unveiled the first part of his decoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo and Sebastiano developed a close friendship, sharing drawings, ideas and designs.

    The Adoration of the Shepherds was painted soon after Sebastiano moved to Rome, and demonstrates the influence of Giorgione’s The Adoration of the Shepherds (National Gallery of Art, Washington) in its overall composition and Venetian colouring, but with a sense of Roman form gained from Michelangelo.

    The picture was considered to be by Giorgione when the founder of the Fitzwilliam, Lord Fitzwilliam, bought it after the French Revolution in 1800 at the sale in London of the Duc de Orléans’ collection. In 1913, it was attributed to Sebastiano on the basis of the fusion of elements characteristic of the Roman school – such as the monumental figures – and others more closely associated with Venetian painting, notably the rich colours and lyrical landscape background.

    The Hamilton Kerr Institute is one of the world’s leading centres for teaching and research into the conservation of easel paintings and historical painting techniques and materials. As a department of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Institute has undertaken the conservation of paintings in its collections since its foundation forty years ago, and it also takes on conservation projects for other clients such as the Royal Collection and the National Trust.

    The riverside property was given to the University of Cambridge for the Fitzwilliam Museum by the late Sir Hamilton Kerr (1903-74), previously the MP for Cambridge. The conservation of the painting has been partly funded by the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Marlay Group.

    Sebastiano del Piombo’s Adoration of the Shepherds can now be seen in the Fitzwilliam’s Italian Gallery (7). A film about the restoration is available to view on YouTube.

    A ten-year research and restoration project to save one of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Renaissance masterpieces was rewarded with a major national accolade this week.

    We have researched and unravelled the entire history of the painting.
    Rupert Featherstone

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    It is well known that losing weight reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Our latest research shows that maintaining the same weight as you age may also prevent diabetes, even in people who are moderately overweight. The Conversation

    Type 2 diabetes is a global health problem that affects about 414m adults. The disease usually develops over many years as the body’s ability to absorb and metabolise sugar and carbohydrates slowly declines. It is mainly caused by diet, inactivity and smoking, but genes also play a role.

    Although the number of people newly diagnosed with diabetes appears to be stabilising, and perhaps even decreasing, the total number of people living with the disease is increasing. Diabetes is a chronic disease with many health consequences that often need lifelong treatment. The disease decreases a person’s quality of life and places a strain on the health service.

    We know that being overweight is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes and that obese people who lose weight, exercise and improve their diet can lower their risk of developing diabetes. In many parts of the world, public health campaigns are focused on identifying and treating those at high risk of diabetes as a result of being obese and having high levels of blood sugar. But from a public health perspective, it is also worth exploring if other strategies could be more effective at preventing the occurrence of new cases of diabetes.

    Large Swedish study

    We studied over 30,000 people aged 30 to 60 from Västerbotten county in northern Sweden. The participants had their weight and blood sugar measured on two occasions, ten years apart. We wanted to see if what people weighed at the beginning of the study could tell us something about their risk of developing diabetes. But we also wanted to know the impact of weight change over time on the risk of developing diabetes.

    The distribution of weight in the people we studied was very similar to that in the general Swedish population. Based on their body mass index (BMI), just over a third of people were overweight and about a tenth were obese. (Putting on a bit of weight in middle age is normal.)

    We found that, after ten years, just under a third of people had maintained the same weight, just over half had gained weight and about a sixth had lost weight. When comparing occurrence of newly diagnosed diabetes after 10 years in those who gained any weight to those who maintained their weight, we found that the risk of diabetes was considerably lower in those who maintained their weight. This was true not only for people who were a normal weight at the start, but also for those who were moderately overweight.

    As expected, people who lost moderate amounts of weight had an even lower comparative risk of developing diabetes, especially among those who were overweight or obese at the start.

    A new focus for public health

    As well as studying risk, we were also interested in how big a change in average weight, at a population level, would be needed to achieve a meaningful reduction in the occurrence of type 2 diabetes. We found that if everyone who gained weight had instead maintained their weight, an estimated one in five of all new diabetes cases could be prevented. This proportion should be compared to the fact that current prevention strategies that target those at high risk could only prevent an estimated one in ten of all new cases.

    These results show that diabetes can be prevented even in people who are moderately overweight, and that it is worth investing in public health measures that support people in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight throughout their life.

    Adina L Feldman, Career Development Fellow, University of Cambridge

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.

    Dr Adina Feldman, writing for The Conversation, looks at how diabetes can be prevented even in people who are moderately overweight.

    Lose weight now

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