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    Professor Sir Christopher Bayly, described as the single most influential figure in the field of modern Indian history, has died in Chicago aged 69.

    He was world-renowned for his enormous contributions to the Centre of South Asian Studies in Cambridge and to his subject.

    He held many positions during his time at Cambridge including being the Centre’s Director, President of St Catharine’s College, and Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History in the Faculty of History.

    He also held positions outside of Cambridge including being the Vivekananda Professor at the University of Chicago. It was on Sunday while in Chicago, during one of his annual Spring visits, that he died of a suspected heart attack.

    Professor Bayly was a member of the Centre of South Asian Studies for more than 45 years having arrived in Cambridge from Oxford in 1969 where he had completed his doctorate under the supervision of Jack Gallagher.

    Although he retired last year from the Directorship of the Centre he still maintained a base there and Professor Joya Chatterji, the current Director, said her predecessor was a “crucial point of continuity” in its history.

    Professor Chatterji said: “It is not an exaggeration to say that Chris has been the single most influential figure in the field of modern Indian history. Every one of his monographs, from his first book on Allahabad in 1975 to his last book on Liberalism in 2012, broke new ground, whether in political, social and economic, or latterly intellectual history."

    She added that Professor Bayly completely transformed people’s understanding of the 18th and 19th centuries in a series of publications, above all Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars (1983) which many regard as his magnum opus.

    Having established his reputation as a social and economic historian of outstanding originality, he then went on to take up new challenges. Empire and Information (1996) uncovered the worlds of Indian spies, runners and political secretaries who were recruited by the British to secure information about their subjects, and the social and intellectual origins of these informants.

    Increasingly drawn to think about ‘world historical’ comparisons and connections he wrote first Imperial Meridian in 1989, and then a stunning new analysis of The Birth of the Modern World (2004), which transformed the understanding of the history of modernity itself, and drew attention to its richly complex, overlapping global roots.

    A pair of books followed in quick succession, co-authored with Tim Harper, on the social transformations wrought by the Second World War in Asia. He would later write about the intellectual history of Indian liberalism.

    Describing his work Professor Chatterji said: “His prodigious productivity, the stunning range of his scholarship, and his talent for thinking comparatively, and in a connected way, about a range of historical questions, established the reputation for which he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2004 and received a knighthood in 2007.

    “Many will remember Chris as an inspiring supervisor, as a colleague and friend, as a longstanding member of the Centre’s Committee of Management and above all as Director of this Centre.”

    Reflecting on his legacy Professor Chatterji added that during his Directorship he oversaw the Centre’s move from its historic premises in Laundress Lane to the Alison Richard Building and launched the MPhil in South Asian Studies.

    Professor Chatterji added: “No less significantly, he drew the study of South East Asia squarely into the Centre’s remit.

    “Those who knew him have each, in their own way, learnt immeasurably from Chris, not only by reading his work, but by working with and alongside him as a supervisor and colleague. Our thoughts are with his wife Susan, his family, and his students past and present, who today feel bereft.”

    Dame Jean Thomas, Master of St Catharine’s College, said that many people had paid tribute to Professor Bayly, adding: “It is clear that he was held in high esteem not only in Cambridge and St Catharine's, but around the world. We have lost a friend and valued colleague, and he will be sorely missed. We extend our deepest sympathy to Susan and his family.”

    Friends and colleagues pay tribute to world-renowned expert.

    “It is not an exaggeration to say that Chris has been the single most influential figure in the field of modern Indian history."
    Professor Joya Chatterji

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    Researchers have found that the proteins that control the progression of Alzheimer’s are linked in a pathway, and that drugs targeting this pathway may be a way of treating the disease, which affects 40 million people worldwide. The findings are published today (23 April) in the journal Cell Reports.

    The scientists, from the University of Cambridge, found that as a protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP) is broken down into toxic protein fragments called amyloid-beta, it affects changes in the way that another key protein, tau, behaves. Though links between these proteins have been described in earlier work, this research has identified a new association between them, and found that manipulating the rate at which APP is broken down is directly connected to levels of tau.

    While it is not known exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, it is known that amyloid-beta and tau build up in the brain, forming ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ which disrupt the connections between neurons, eventually killing them. There are no treatments to stop or reverse the progression of the disease, although researchers are starting to understand the mechanisms which cause it to progress.

    Most people who develop Alzheimer’s will first start showing symptoms in later life, typically in their sixties or seventies. However, between one and five percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s have a genetic version of the disease which is passed down through families, with onset typically occurring in their thirties or forties.

    The Cambridge researchers used skin cells from individuals with the genetic form of Alzheimer’s and reprogrammed them to become induced pluripotent stem cells, which can become almost any type of cells in the body. The stem cells were then directed to become neurons with all the characteristics of Alzheimer’s.

    Working with these clusters of human neurons – in essence, ‘mini brains’ – the researchers used three classes of drugs to manipulate the rate at which APP is ‘chewed up’ by inhibiting the secretase enzymes which are responsible for breaking it into amyloid-beta fragments. By using drugs to increase or decrease the rate at which APP is broken down, they observed that levels of tau can be altered as well.

    Earlier research looking into the link between amyloid-beta and tau had found that once the APP gets broken down, a chunk of amyloid-beta gets outside the cell, which triggers increased production of tau. “What we’re seeing is that there’s a second pathway, and that the amyloid-beta doesn’t have to be outside the cell to change levels of tau – in essence, the cell does it to itself,” said Dr Rick Livesey of the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, who led the research.

    While the researchers identified this pathway in neurons with the far rarer familial form of Alzheimer’s, they found that the same pathway exists in healthy neurons as well, pointing to the possibility that targeting the same pathway in late-onset Alzheimer’s may be a way of treating the disease.

    Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We are pleased to see that our investment in this innovative research using stem cell technology is boosting our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms. Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to funding pioneering research and through our Stem Cell Research Centre at the University of Cambridge we hope to unpick the molecular changes that cause dementia, and crucially, to test new drugs that halt disease progression. With 850,000 people living with dementia in this country, investment in research to find new treatments is critical.”

    The research also points to the growing importance of human stem cells in medical research. “The question is why hasn’t this pathway been identified, given that Alzheimer’s is so well-studied?” said Livesey. “The answer is that mice don’t develop Alzheimer’s disease, and they don’t respond to these drugs the way human neurons do. It’s something we can only do by looking at real human neurons.”

    The research was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Wellcome Trust.

    Researchers have identified how proteins that play a key role in Alzheimer’s disease are linked in a pathway that controls its progression, and that drugs targeting this pathway may be a potential new way of treating the disease.

    This is something we can only do by looking at real human neurons
    Rick Livesey
    3D image of human neurons in a dish

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    Mouse

    Animal research plays an essential role in our understanding of health and disease and in the development of modern medicines and surgical techniques. Without the use of animals, we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.

    Some of the important and pioneering work for which Cambridge is best known and which has led to major improvements in people’s lives was only possible using animals, from the development of IVF techniques through to human monoclonal antibodies.

    We place good welfare at the centre of all our animal research and aim to meet the highest standards: good animal welfare and good science go hand-in-hand. As part of our commitment to openness, in our new film, we look inside one of our facilities, where mice are helping our scientists understand how cancers develop and how they can best be treated.

    Our mice are housed in state-of-the-art facilities. Each animal is checked daily to ensure it has enough food and water and to look for signs that the animal is in pain, no matter how mild. We use some of the same imaging techniques used on humans, such as ultrasound – the non-invasive technique that allows doctors to monitor the health of a baby in the womb – to monitor tumour development in the mice.

    Although animals will play a role in biomedical research for the foreseeable future, we strive to use the minimum number possible. Our researchers are actively looking at techniques to help us reduce – and ultimately replace – their use. In the film, we explore a new technique to develop ‘mini-livers’ that will allow us to screen potential new drugs without the use of animals.

    We welcome comments about this article. However, as with discussions on all of our news and feature pages, comments will be moderated so please do not post contributions that are offensive or contain profanities, and please stay on topic. We do not moderate comments in real-time so do bear with us if there is a delay before they appear.

    A new film from the University of Cambridge looks at how mice are helping the fight against cancer and the facilities in which they are housed, and explores issues of animal welfare and the search for replacements.

    As part of our commitment to openness, in our new film, we look inside one of our facilities, where mice are helping our scientists understand how cancers develop
    Mouse

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  • 04/26/15--16:00: Upside down and inside out
  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge have captured the first three-dimensional images of a live embryo turning itself inside out. The images, of embryos of a green alga called Volvox, make an ideal test case to understand how a remarkably similar process works in early animal development.

    Using fluorescence microscopy to observe the Volvox embryos, the researchers were able to test a mathematical model of morphogenesis – the origin and development of an organism’s structure and form – and understand how the shape of cells drives the process of inversion, when the embryo turns itself from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again. Their findings are published today (27 April) in the journal Physical Review Letters.

    The processes observed in the Volvox embryo are similar to the process of gastrulation in animal embryos – which biologist Lewis Wolpert called “the most important event in your life.” During gastrulation, the embryo folds inwards into a cup-like shape, forming the primary germ layers which give rise to all the organs in the body. Volvox embryos undergo a similar process, but with an additional twist: the embryos literally turn themselves right-side out during the process.

    Gastrulation in animals results from a complex interplay of cell shape changes, cell division and migration, making it difficult to develop a quantitative understanding of the process. However, Volvox embryos complete their shape change only by changing cell shapes and the location of the connections between cells, and this simplicity makes them an ideal model for understanding cell sheet folding.

    In Volvox embryos, the process of inversion begins when the embryos start to fold inward, or invaginate, around their middle, forming two hemispheres. Next, one hemisphere moves inside the other, an opening at the top widens, and the outer hemisphere glides over the inner hemisphere, until the embryo regains its spherical shape. This remarkable process takes place over approximately one hour.

    Previous work by biologists established that a specific series of cell shape changes is associated with various stages of the process. “Until now there was no quantitative mechanical understanding of whether those changes were sufficient to account for the observed embryo shapes, and existing studies by conventional microscopy were limited to two-dimensional sections and analyses of chemically fixed embryos, rendering comparisons with theory on the dynamics difficult,” said Professor Raymond E. Goldstein of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research.

    The interdisciplinary group of Cambridge scientists obtained the first three-dimensional visualisations of Volvox inversion and developed a first mathematical model that explains how cell shape changes drive the process of inversion.

    Their time-lapse recordings show that during inversion one hemisphere of the embryos shrinks while the other hemisphere stretches out. While previous studies on fixed embryos have also observed this phenomenon, the question was if these changes are caused by forces produced within the invaginating region, or from elsewhere in the embryo.

    Through mathematical modelling, the researchers found that only if there is active contraction of one hemisphere and active expansion of the other does the model yield the observed ‘mushroom’ shape of an inverting Volvox globator embryo.

    “It’s exciting to be able to finally visualise this intriguing process in 3D,” said Dr Stephanie Höhn, the paper’s lead author. “This simple organism may provide ground-breaking information to help us understand similar processes in many different types of animals.”

    These results imply that any cell shape changes happening away from the invagination region seem to be due to active forces intrinsic to the cell, rather than through passive deformations. Since analyses in animal model organisms mostly concentrate on cell shape changes that happen within an invaginating region, the model could be used to make those analyses far more accurate.

    “The power of this mathematical model is that we can identify which cell deformations are needed to cause the embryo movements that we observe in nature,” said Dr Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith, one of the study’s co-authors.

    The experimental and theoretical methods demonstrated in this study will be expanded to understand not only the peculiar inversion process but many mysteries concerning morphogenesis. The mathematical model may have applications in a multitude of such topological problems, such as the process of neurulation that leads to the enclosure of the tissue that eventually becomes the spinal cord.

    Other members of the research team were PhD students Pierre A. Haas (DAMTP) and Philipp Khuc Trong (Physics).

    This work was supported by an Earnest Oppenheimer Early Career Fellowship, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the European Research Council.

    Researchers have captured the first 3D video of a living algal embryo turning itself inside out, from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again. The results could help unravel the mechanical processes at work during a similar process in animals, which has been called the “most important time in your life.”

    This simple organism may provide ground-breaking information to help us understand similar processes in many different types of animals
    Stephanie Höhn
    Adult Volvox spheroid contianing multiple embryos

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    For some time scientists have realised that the Kathmandu valley is one of the most dangerous places in the world, in terms of earthquake risk. And now a combination of high seismic activity at the front of the Tibetan plateau, poor building standards, and haphazard urbanisation have come together with fatal consequences.

    The magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit Nepal hit just before noon, local time, on Saturday around 48 miles north west of Kathmandu. The Indian tectonic plate is driving beneath the Eurasian plate at an average rate of 45mm per year along a front that defines the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This force created the Himalayas, and Nepal lies slap bang along that front. The quake was shallow, estimated at 12km depth, and devastating as the Indian crust thrust beneath Tibet one more time.

    Shake map released by the US Geological Survey.USGS

    Historic buildings in the centre of Kathmandu have been reduced to rubble. Brick masonry dwellings have collapsed under clouds of dust. Weakened buildings will now be vulnerable to aftershocks, which continue to rattle Nepal through the day. Multiple aftershocks above magnitude 4 hit in the six hours following the earthquake.

     

    The search for survivors has only just begun.Narendra Shrestha/EPA

    Away from the populated Kathmandu valley, in the heights of the Himalaya, climbers on Everest tweeted reports of damage to base camp, and fatal avalanches on the flanks of the mountain. The steep valleys and precipitous dwellings of the more populated areas are vulnerable to landslides. Now is the time for us all to consider how we can help those most in need, in practical ways.

    Although one cannot predict the day or the hour, the scenario that we see on our TV screens had been thought through many times already, with one particularly prescient article written almost two years ago to the day. The likely impacts of the quake can be readily estimated, and in any case will soon be reported directly from the surroundings.

    The number of deaths reported is only, tragically, going to increase, with the US Geological Survey putting estimates of fatalities in the range of thousands to tens of thousands.

     

    The Dharahara, also called Bhimsen Tower, was destroyed in the quake.Narendra Shrestha/EPA

    Just one week ago my geophysicist colleagues returned to the UK from a meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of the Earthquakes Without Frontiers research project. The focus was earthquake risk reduction and hazard awareness in Nepal. The risks have been recognised for some time, but I don’t suppose any of the participants expected their work to be thrown into the spotlight so soon.

    Professor James Jackson, of Cambridge University and one of the leaders of the Earthquakes Without Frontiers project, talked with me on his return from Kathmandu last weekend. He described tall, thin houses, with extra stories built up on top, explaining how they arise from the Nepalese tradition of sharing inherited property between siblings, with houses split vertically between them.

    The only way to build is upwards. In a seismic area, it’s a recipe for disaster, and one can’t help but wonder what this phenomenon has wrought on families in Kathmandu.

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

    Following the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal this weekend, Simon Redfern, Professor in Earth Sciences at University of Cambridge, explains in The Conversation how a combination of factors has come together with fatal consequences.

    Now is the time for us all to consider how we can help those most in need, in practical ways
    Simon Redfern
    Nepal Earthquake 2015 aftermath

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    High blood glucose

    Type 1 diabetes, the disease that I mainly focus on, is relatively common in the UK – around one in 300 people in the UK alone are affected by it and face multiple daily insulin injections. So one might imagine we would have no problem recruiting patients for the trial of an exciting potential new treatment that could mean an end to those injections in the future.

    As you may know already, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease – the immune system mistakes cells in the pancreas as harmful and attacks them. When these cells are damaged the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, which plays an essential role in transferring glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells to be converted into energy. This is why patients have to regularly inject themselves with insulin to compensate.

    Type 1 diabetes is a genetically complex disease – there is no single gene that causes it, but rather dozens of genes that increase the risk of developing the disease. But we do know of one particular set of genes – interleukin-2, or IL-2 – which plays a prominent role, helping regulate the immune system. We wanted to see whether IL-2 in the form of a drug called aldesleukin could halt the damage to the pancreas in people with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes and, if so, what dose of the drug gives the best results.

    The problem, of course, is that not everyone with type 1 diabetes is aware of these essential studies and the ability to recruit enough patients can make or break a trial – not enough participants and the trial will be dead in the water before it has even begun. The solution is the internet, which provides a direct communication route to individuals with type 1 diabetes allowing them to find out about studies and then immediately with ease connect to the specialist teams running these studies. To get our message out on the web we turned to our funders and the University of Cambridge.

    We were very excited at the prospect of trialling this drug – and so, too, were our funders. The Wellcome Trust and the University issued a joint press release, which they, together with the JDRF, ran on their websites and promoted through social media. When we looked at the number of people visiting our study website, we could see clear peaks of activity immediately after the stories appeared – and what’s more, this translated into people signing up to the trial: registration increased six- to seven-fold.

    Recruitment to the study was also helped massively when Wired.co.uk picked up on the press release and ran a story about the trial – in fact, the single biggest peak of traffic to our site by far came from traffic referred to us from Wired.

    Diabetes UK, too, posted an article about the trial. Interestingly, this post increased registrations from clinics and registry sources. We think this is because it stimulated interest from clinicians and research nurses, who then encourage enrolment from their patients.

    Overall we found that the internet compared to traditional method of recruitment, to be the most successful and popular method for individuals with type 1 diabetes to find out and participate in the DILT1D study.  The success of the active internet recruitment strategy campaign meant that we were able to successfully complete our study 11 months ahead of schedule and continue the development of the treatment in our next study.

    Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch is Head of Experimental Medicine at the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory in the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research

    Reference
    Heywood, J et al. Effective recruitment of participants to a phase I study using the internet and publicity releases through charities and patient organisations: analysis of the adaptive study of IL-2 dose on regulatory T cells in type 1 diabetes (DILT1D). Trials; 11 March 2015

    The success of a clinical trial hinges on its ability to recruit enough patients. Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research explains how the use of the internet to directly contact patients with type 1 diabetes greatly accelerated the recruitment leading to the early completion of his team’s study of a potential new treatment for type 1 diabetes.

    The ability to recruit enough patients can make or break a trial – not enough participants and the trial will be dead in the water before it has even begun
    Frank Waldron-Lynch
    High blood glucose

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    Lake on the surface of Lirung Glacier. The rapid drainage of such lakes may cause flooding downstream and may have contributed to devastating mudflows during the earthquake.

    As many agencies are now reporting, the death toll associated with the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday is likely to rise considerably over the coming days and weeks. On Tuesday it stands at over 4,000 but the Nepalese Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, announced that it might reach 10,000. The UN declared that 8 million people have been affected, with 1.4 million people urgently needing aid.

    The full scale of the damage will become clear as contact is made with remote settlements away from the capital, which are now largely cut off from communication and supply. In Kathmandu and other urban centres, the greatest cause of injury and death was collapsing buildings.

    But in more isolated, mountainous regions, further problems arose from the shaking ground triggering a range of natural hazards. One such region is the Langtang Valley, 60km north of Kathmandu, where we have been doing research for the last two years.

    A recent analysis shows the entire valley would have been particularly susceptible to landslides following the earthquake due to its proximity to the epicentre and the topography of the mountain slopes there.

    We are exceptionally fortunate not to have been in the area when the earthquake struck. We were in Kathmandu for an International Glaciology Society Symposium in early March.

    One of us (Ian Willis) stayed on to do glaciological fieldwork with two other scientists from Cambridge (Dr Hamish Pritchard and PhD student Mike McCarthy) towards the top of the Langtang Valley, returning very recently.

    In fact Hamish Pritchard is still in Kathmandu, safe and now helping the UN effort.

    The other of us (Evan Miles) was due to fly to Nepal on Sunday and walk to the head of the Langtang Valley this week, but of course his trip was cancelled.

    For the past two years, we have been working there with science colleagues from Switzerland, Netherlands and Nepal and aided by a professional Nepali team of guides, porters and cooks.

    The overall aim of the research project has been to better understand the climate of the region, and to investigate how the changing climate is affecting the glaciers and the discharge of water in the streams.

    This is of huge societal importance, as the people of the valley rely on ground and stream water for their livelihoods – drinking, washing and irrigating crops.

    In addition, a small hydro-electric plant was due to be built later this year at the uppermost village in the valley, Kyanjin Gompa, but this will presumably now be put on hold.

    Our specific work focuses on improving knowledge about the glaciers of the region. And it is while undertaking our research that we have come to appreciate many of the natural hazards that occur in the area.

    Many of the glaciers in Nepal and elsewhere across High Mountain Asia are covered by debris, which may inhibit the rate of ice melting underneath.

    The debris gets onto the glaciers through rockfalls, debris avalanches and mudflows. These are continuous processes, but would have been orders of magnitude more severe during the recent earthquake than anything we ever saw.

    Many of the glaciers across the Himalaya and surrounding mountains are nourished by snow avalanches.

    Again, these occur regularly (we have both been caught in snow avalanches sweeping down the glacier we work on) but the energy they contain is typically dissipated by the time they reach the valley bottoms.

    As the recent footage from the Everest region shows, however, snow avalanches can be particularly large and devastating when triggered by an earthquake.

     

    Video of a snow avalanche that swept down the Lirung Glacier on 20th March 2015. This one was harmless by the time it reached the village of Kyanjin Gompa. Bigger snow avalanches triggered by the earthquake would have been much more destructive. Video by Ian Willis.

    Finally, many glaciers in the region are associated with lakes – these form on the glacier surface where they are dammed by ice, or in front of the glacier where they are blocked by moraines (large ridges of sediment ‘bulldozed’ by a formerly more extensive glacier).

    The rapid draining of such lakes provides another hazard, causing floods or mudflows to downstream regions. Again, the flooding and mudflows associated with lake dams rupturing is likely to have had a significant impact during the recent earthquake.

    Our field research is on hold at present while we wait to hear the fate of the people of the Langtang Valley and other remote regions of Nepal. But initial reports from Langtang sound very bleak. Eye witness accounts state “From where we were, there was nothing you could see. All the villages were gone,” and “the whole valley has been destroyed”.

    Helicopter-based photographs seem to confirm that Langtang village has been wiped out by a large landslide. We are busy scouring satellite data to identify zones of the worst impact, but Nepal has been shrouded in heavy clouds and rain since the earthquake inhibiting our efforts. 

    We are holding our breath awaiting a clear picture of Langtang Valley. We are hoping for the best but fearing the worst for the Nepali families that reside there.

    DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal

    Inset images:

    Looking downvalley to Langtang village in May 2014. Reports suggest that this entire village has been buried by a debris avalanche during the earthquake. Credit: Ian Willis.

    Preliminary landslide susceptibility map created by Dr Tom Robinson (University of Canterbury). Susceptibility ranges from 0 to 1 with higher numbers indicating a greater chance of landslides occurring. Earthquake epicentre shown with a star. Langtang Valley is circled.

    Evan Miles on the extremely debris-covered Lirung Glacier in 2014. Credit: Eduardo Soteras.

    Lake on the surface of Lirung Glacier. The rapid drainage of such lakes may cause flooding downstream and may have contributed to devastating mudflows during the earthquake. Credit: Evan Miles.

    Ian Willis with the owners of the Shangri-La Guest House, Langtang. L-R: Saylie, Tsering Dolma Lama, Karma, Ian, Nima, Samden Dindu. Photo taken May 2014. This family and many others are in our thoughts.

    As the death toll continues to rise in Nepal, Senior Lecturer Dr Ian Willis, and PhD student Evan Miles, from the Scott Polar Research Institute contemplate the fate of people in a remote part of the country, where they have been doing research for the past two years.

    We are holding our breath awaiting a clear picture of Langtang Valley. We are hoping for the best but fearing the worst for the Nepali families that reside there.
    Ian Willis
    Lake on the surface of Lirung Glacier. The rapid drainage of such lakes may cause flooding downstream and may have contributed to devastating mudflows during the earthquake.

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    Gates Cambridge Scholar Bo Shiun Lai and his labmate Yang Zhang set up AptaCam, the world's largest oligonucleotide eCommerce platform, last year. The company was incorporated in Hong Kong late last year and in the UK last month. It has already been awarded £72,000 by the Hong Kong government and has recently been named a Top 10 innovative business idea by the Innovative Forum, which seeks to build bridges between academia industry and policy makers.

    “Our e-commerce platform is about providing scientists the most up-to-date and detailed information on oligonucleotides alongside the actual physical product," says Yang. "Oligonucleotides have been widely used in facilitating discoveries in basic research, ensuring food safety, monitoring the environment, and they also play promising roles as clinical diagnostics and therapeutic agents.”

    Yang and Bo have been trawling through tens of thousands of papers published on oligonucleotide molecules or aptamers, single stranded DNA or RNA (ssDNA or ssRNA) molecules that can bind to pre-selected targets including proteins and peptides with high affinity and specificity. They have been uploading the DNA sequences individually to the website. The patent for aptamer technology expired two years ago, meaning it is now possible to commercialise aptamer research.

    Yang, who has just finished his PhD thesis, has been expanding the database and working with Bo on funding. The company’s first grant proposal was to Cyberport, which is part of the Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company. This is wholly owned by the Hong Kong Government. They awarded Bo and Yang £72,000 pounds to set up research facilities in Hong Kong as part of the growing life sciences industry there, meaning they are ideally placed to capitalise on the Chinese market.

    Incorporation in the UK means they will be able to access a broader range of funding sources. As Bo is a Taiwanese and Canadian citizen, he has been able to apply to angel investors in Taiwan. He has asked for £200,000 to spend on investing in basic laboratory facilities and technology. The company has a target of £450,000 to raise and are keen to use some of the money to educate the science community about aptamers and their potential.

    Both Bo and Yang have done research on aptamers. Bo is convinced that in a few years aptamers will be used to diagnose and treat diseases. Yang’s PhD project found that aptamers can recognise mutations in a single amino acid. “They can recognise the kind of subtle mutations that take place in, for instance, cancer cells and can therefore be used as diagnostic tools and to inhibit certain malfunctioning proteins, leading to new therapeutic treatments,” says Bo, who is doing a PhD in Pathology. His undergraduate research on toxoplasmosis provided proof that aptamers can be used therapeutically. It resulted in him being granted a patent by the US authorities to develop a treatment for toxoplasmosis.

    Currently the best way to recognise malfunctioning proteins is through the use of antibodies, but Bo says aptamers can supplement what antibodies do at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, they don’t degrade over time in the same way antibodies do and are more flexible, smaller and more versatile than antibodies so they can deliver treatments directly into cells. Bo says: “They are useful because they can fold into all kinds of shapes. They are stable, and can easily be chemically modified (put a fluorescent tag on them, for example).”

    Bo and Yang spent much of last year creating the website platform, which currently has 6,000 searchable sequences on it.  For researchers looking for sequences not on the database, the company also has an oligo discover programme that can customise sequences for the researcher's intended targets. The plan now is to expand the infinite number of aptamer sequences that are available to scientists.

    As it has grown, AptaCam has been supported by a new business research partnership. It is one of the first companies to take part in the Accelerate Cambridge Life Sciences programme, a collaborative effort between AstraZeneca and Cambridge Judge Business School and provides expert advice and mentoring on branding, marketing and raising financial capital.

    Students from the University of Cambridge have set up the world’s largest e-commerce platform for single stranded DNA which they believe have enormous potential for contributing to therapeutic treatments.

    Aptamers can recognise the kind of subtle mutations that take place in, for instance, cancer cells and can therefore be used as diagnostic tools and to inhibit certain malfunctioning proteins, leading to new therapeutic treatments.
    Bo Shiun Lai
    Structure of the biotin RNA aptamer (yellow) complexed with biotin - created with pymol using PBD entry 1F27

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    In an article online today in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, the HIP HOP PSYCH co-founders explain how Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics could help both those affected by mental health issues and practitioners working in the field.

    “As Kendrick Lamar’s music paints a picture of how his characters are affected by and cope with mental health issues, we believe it might help mental health practitioners and other professionals to understand the day-to-day internal and external struggles of their patients,” says Akeem Sule, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at South Essex Partnership Trust, and an Honorary Visiting Research Associate at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge.

    “The lyrics could provide a valuable way for young people to understand and consider their own vulnerability and life choices, but in a way that is relevant and accessible. With this information to hand, they can start to look at their own situation and environment in order to make more informed and empowered choices,” adds Becky Inkster from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge.

    One of the tracks on the album, ‘Swimming Pools’, is concerned with addiction. In the song, Kendrick’s character is among his peers in a social gathering where alcohol is freely available. From the very outset, he paints a picture of alcohol misuse with the repetitive use of key words: “…pass out, drank, wake up, drank, faded, drank, faded, drank”. His character describes the reasons people drink alcohol – because they like “…the way it feels”, and in order “…to kill their sorrows” or to “…fit in with the popular”.

    The lyrics portray the character as being at a sensitive and vulnerable crossroads in which there is potential for him to develop later adult alcohol-dependence if he continues to follow this pattern of misuse – or in contrast, he may be experiencing changes in the brain that help build his resilience against alcohol dependence. Kendrick’s character’s prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for controlling our behaviour – even gets to speak a few lines, as the clear, penetrating voice of his conscience: “if you do not hear me then you will be history, Kendrick”.

    The song also explores the genetic and environmental factors that affect an individual’s risk of developing alcohol addiction, referencing a history of alcohol misuse in the character’s family, specifically his grandfather who “had the golden flask”. The album cover of good kid m.A.A.d. city shows Kendrick’s grandfather and two uncles sitting at a table with the young Kendrick, a child who is notably within reach of a 40 ounce bottle of malt liquor beer. Environmental factors such as early life exposure to alcohol and degree of parental monitoring of alcohol interact with genetic factors to influence the risk of alcohol misuse and dependence.

    In the article Dr Sule and Dr Inkster also look at the songs ‘u’ and ‘i’ on Lamar’s latest album To Pimp A Butterfly, released in March 2015, which in addition to exploring alcohol dependency also touch on the theme of depression vulnerability and resilience to stress and depression.

    In the song ‘u’, Lamar’s character appears to be drowning his sorrows, enhanced by the sound effects of clinking bottles. The setting for this track involves Kendrick’s character, a successful hip-hop artist, who is alone in his hotel room, intoxicated with alcohol, and talking to himself in the mirror. He might be suffering with clinical depression, say the authors, and certainly describes key symptoms of low self-confidence and low mood: “The world don’t need you…I know depression is restin’ on your heart”.

    As well as ruminating on his condition, Kendrick’s character describes hopeless and suicidal thoughts. There is also evidence of distortions in his thinking patters – he has a tendency to magnify his failures – in this case, his absence at his dying friend’s bedside – and minimise his successes (“You preached in front of 100,000 but never reached her”).

    The polar opposite of ‘u’ comes later in the album through the song ‘i’. His character displays evidence of resilience factors against stress, for example optimism (“One day at a time, sun gone shine”) and translating stressful, negative, and depressing thoughts into more positive and beneficial alternatives, as well as a resolution to love himself irrespective of life’s challenges. Kendrick’s character reveals his belief in God has helped him overcome his personal traumatic experiences: “Trials, tribulations, but I know God” – interestingly, a study involving African American adults who had experienced trauma showed that a higher frequency of religious service attendance was a protective factor against psychiatric illness.

    “Kendrick Lamar’s rich narratives take his listeners on a complex journey, entrenched with conflict and social pressure, describing what life is like growing up as an inner city youth,” say the authors. “His character’s powerful ability to navigate his mind, body, and spirit through life’s obstacles to overcome environmental factors stacked up against his innocence has and will continue to inspire a generation.”

    Reference
    Akeem Sule and Becky Inkster. Kendrick Lamar, street poet of mental health. Lancet Psychiatry; 30 April 2015.

    Kendrick Lamar’s major-label debut album good kid m.A.A.d. city, released in October 2012, provides rich narratives relating to important mental health themes, including addiction, depression and stress resilience, according to the co-founders of HIP HOP PSYCH, a new initiative to tackle mental health issues through hip-hop.

    Kendrick Lamar’s music paints a picture of how his characters are affected by and cope with mental health issues
    Akeem Sule
    Kendrick Lamar

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    In the Elizabethan play Wily Beguiled, a character named Will Cricket boasts that women find him attractive because he possesses “a sweet face, a fine beard, comely corpse, and a carousing codpiece”. Wonderful things have been said about the codpiece, not least in response to the television dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  Explaining the deliberate downsizing of Thomas Cromwell’s codpiece, actor Mark Rylance opined that modern audiences, especially in America, “may not know exactly what’s going on down there”.

    An item of male dress that was briefly de rigeur some five centuries ago, the codpiece both covered, and drew attention to, a part of the anatomy that couldn’t even be mentioned in polite society. Writing in the 1580s, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (translated by Donald Frame) summed up the curious case of the codpiece as “an empty and useless model of a member that we cannot even decently mention by name, which however we show off and parade in public”.

    At a conference later today (30 April 2015), Victoria Miller, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of History, will offer new insights into the popularity of a must-have item for the man about town, with a special focus on references to the codpiece in European literature as well as representations in early modern portraiture and prints.

    Miller’s dissertation investigates the militaristic influences found in civilian male dress in 16th century Italy and Germany, and the codpiece is a prevalent component of her research. At a conference on history and gender, she will propose a novel explanation for its seemingly rapid demise in the last quarter of the 16th century when it shrank to a shadow of its former self, before disappearing completely by 1600.

    Fashions can be charted in terms of upward and downward movements as well as shifts in emphasis from one part of the body to another. The historical consensus on the origin of the codpiece is that it was devised to fill a gap and, initially at least, preserved men’s modesty.  From these practical beginnings, the codpiece (‘cod’ was slang for scrotum) became a fashion item in its own right.

    In the 15th century men’s dress comprised doublet or tunic (worn on the top half of the body), hose (bottom half) with a mantle or cloak (worn over the outfit). Hose were two separate wool or linen leggings that fastened into the doublet, rather in the style of fisherman’s waders. As doublets became shorter, and the length of mantles also decreased, the tell-tale bulge (or more) of gentlemen’s privy parts became evident beneath their under-shirts.

    “It’s hardly surprising that this revealing style was not to everyone’s taste – and that moralists were quick to condemn it,” says Miller. In a sermon of 1429 (translated by Michael J Rocke), San Bernardino of Siena admonished parents who kitted their sons out in “a doublet that reaches only to the navel [and] stockings with a little piece in front and one in back, so that they show a lot of flesh for the sodomites”. In 1463 in England, Edward IV’s parliament made it compulsory for a man to cover “his privy Members and Buttokes”.

    Pictorial and textual evidence suggests that the early codpiece was constructed from a triangular shaped piece of cloth called a ‘braye’. The bottom tip of the triangle was stitched to the hose and the remaining corners fastened to the doublet to form a kind of gusset. This soft triangular flap was superseded by a stuffed and padded shape designed to hold what Montaigne coyly called “our secret parts” and John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary lists as “pillcocke or pricke”.

    Masculinity was big in 16th century Europe – along with notions of chivalry, honour and romance. Codpieces were speedily hijacked for the purpose of proving masculinity in the most blatant of manners.  The most elaborate versions were singularly showy and portraits show that in the mid-16th century the codpiece reached epic (if not priapic) proportions. No expense was spared: codpieces were made in luxury silk velvet, bejewelled or embroidered.  Even young boys were obliged to wear them.

    Miller says: “Ideas about masculinity were closely linked to notions of martial strength. The defensive codpiece was an integral part of the costume worn by German and Swiss mercenaries. On the battlefield, the armour codpiece was both protective and assertive.” In a satirical text by French author Francois Rabelais, a character asserts that men’s genitals require great protection in battle just as nature has equipped nuts and seeds with “belles et fortes braguettes naturelles”.

    There are few extant codpieces. Rare survivors include the metal versions made to wear with suits of armour (Henry VIII’s armour codpiece is on display at the Tower of London) and the prettified wool and velvet codpieces adorning the ‘plunderhosen’ of Svante Stensson Sture and his two sons in Sweden’s Uppsala Cathedral.

    Costume historians have long argued that the codpiece fell from favour as the result of the vogue for femininity that swept through the French and English courts. Elaborate ruffs and ballooning breeches heralded a shift in focus to the face and hips. “It’s evident in the late-16th and early 17th-century portrait miniatures of decorous young men by Nicholas Hilliard and similar painters that the style of men’s fashion was taking a new direction,” says Miller.

    However, fashion is more subtle than we think. Drawing on detailed investigation of contemporary sources, Miller argues that codpiece entered a third – and hitherto overlooked – phase in its evolution. During the last quarter of the 16th century, she suggests that the codpiece was squeezed downwards and diminished in size, and then finally supplanted, by the emergence of another trend known as the ‘peascod’ belly.

    “The peascod was a style of doublet constructed by skilful use of padding and stuffing to achieve a rounded and tapering look akin to the fecund shape of a peapod ripe for picking,” she says.

    “Both fashions protruded and competed for the same bodily real estate – the codpiece was reduced to accommodate the peascod. The markedly subtler version of the codpiece possessed a smaller silhouette and was often hidden by the billowing breeches on either side. Even in the northern countries, where it was not uncommon to see bows ornamenting the codpiece, this later version remains relatively concealed.”

    Miller’s research suggests that the peascod was as imbued with notions of virility as the codpiece. The two are often mentioned together, and compared, in early modern texts.  “The peapod was a potent sexual symbol, likened to male genitalia. Moreover, the pea field was a convenient spot for canoodling and the phrase ‘shelling peas’ was employed as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. In Thomas Ingelend’s 1570 play The Disobedient Child, a character after mishearing his colleague confusedly asks ‘…with my madame laye in the peeas?’,” she says.

    “An exploration of handkerchief designs in The Fair Maid (1607) by the historian Juana Green shows that the peapod motif was not just a virility symbol but could also represent betrothal, marriage and fertility. I think it’s fascinating that both styles possessed strong sexual connotations. However, I’m also interested in exploring their subtle differences – and how these two distinct fashions were read by contemporaries.”

    Exaggerated peascod doublets became, like codpieces, the object of mockery. In a poem from 1580 the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey derides the use of “largebellid kodspeasid dubletts, unkodpeasid halfhose”. Also in the 1580s, the moralist George Stubbes declared: “Now what handsomenesse can be in these Doublets, which stand of their bellies as big or much bigger than a mans codpiece.”

    Some 30 years later Robert Hayman wrote in his poem Two Filthy Fashions:

    Of all fond fashion, that were worne by Men.
    These two (I hope) will ne’r be worne againe:
    Great Codpist Doublets, and great Codpist britch,
    At seuerall times worne both by meane and rich:
    These two had beene, had they beene worn together,
    Like two Fooles, pointing, mocking each the other.

    There’s ample historical evidence that men have always agonised about their masculinity – and especially the question of size. A late 15th century manuscript entitled Detti Piacevoli recounts the following joke (translated by Barbara Bowen): “A woman was asked what kind of penises women preferred, big or small or medium-sized. She answered: ‘Medium ones are the best.’ When asked the reason, she replied: ‘Because there aren’t any big ones’.”

    Fashion is all about communication. “We use dress to construct an outward image of our perceived inner selves. The items we choose to adorn ourselves with are loaded with complex cultural messages.” says Miller. “For me, the interesting thing about 16th century male fashion is the way in which it reveals what was important to men at this time – their preoccupation with masculinity, military prowess and virility.”

    Victoria Miller will be presenting her paper this evening (30 April 2015) at Emmanuel College.

    Inset images – Portrait of a Young Man, credit Wikimedia Commons; Portrait of Antonio Navagero, credit Wikimedia Commons.

    Only briefly in vogue, the codpiece has left a rich legacy in art, literature and – most recently – in televised costume drama. In focusing her attention on this ostentatious male accessory, PhD candidate Victoria Miller has developed some new ideas about its evolution (and demise) as a symbol of virility.

    We use dress to construct an outward image of our perceived inner selves. The items we choose to adorn ourselves with are loaded with complex cultural messages.
    Victoria Miller
    Left - portrait of Charles V; centre - portrait of Henry VIII; right - portrait of Pedro Maria Rossi

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    A Damned Serious Business: Waterloo 1815, the Battle and its Books, will be launched by the current Duke of Wellington, Charles Wellesley, at Cambridge University Library tonight and opens to the public on May 1. The exhibition runs until September 16, 2015.

    Looking at how Waterloo was written about in the immediate aftermath of the battle fought on June 18, 1815, it draws on the rich and varied collections at the Library and includes political propaganda, broadsheets, military drill-books, maps, plans, coloured engravings and early historical accounts of the bloodshed.

    Historian Dr Mark Nicholls, who has co-curated the exhibition, said: “The exhibition really shows us the first draft of history as it was being written in the days, months and years after the battle.

    “When Waterloo is talked about today, there is sometimes a tendency to view the battle as strictly France versus Britain; Napoleon versus Wellington. What the Library’s exhibition reminds us is that the armies opposing Napoleon were very much a combined force of Allied troops – chiefly British, Netherlandish and Hanoverian, commanded by Wellington, and Prussians led by Blücher.”

    The exhibition also features artefacts and mementoes from the battlefield itself, including a musket ball and a charred fragment of Hougoumont, the farmhouse which occupied a vital position in Wellington’s line. The relics were collected by a teenaged girl visiting the field ten years after the battle.

    Other items that have never been on display before include a letter from the traveller William Crackanthorpe to his sister Sarah in August, 1814, giving a first-hand account of a conversation with Napoleon in exile on Elba; and William Turnor’s battlefield letter from Mont St Jean on June 19, 1815 (see attached transcript).

    The letter, which has never been published in full, describes the exhilaration, confusion and savagery of ‘the most bloody as well as the most decisive battle’ and  claims that the British infantry has ‘immortalised itself and its conduct has never been surpassed, indeed never equalled’.  Although his own regiment, stationed on the right of the line, was spared the fiercest fighting, Turnor passes on rumour and gossip in an authentically breathless style.

    “The field of Battle exhibits this morning a most shocking spectacle too dreadful to describe. Buonaparte (sic)…showed the greatest courage; led in person many charges both of infantry & cavalry. The escape of Lord Wellington is next to a miracle, for he was exposed the whole day to the hottest fire. We know not the extent of our loss, but it must be great indeed.”

    Exhibition Co-Curator John Wells said: “The importance of Waterloo was fully recognised by the generations which came after it. Both Byron and Tennyson wrote of Waterloo as an ‘earthquake’. Victor Hugo said that the battle changed the perspective of the human race.

    “Waterloo is the most famous battle in modern European history, and from the very first moment soldiers and civilians alike wanted to put their experiences and emotions into words. In this exhibition we examine how the battle’s impact was expressed through the written word, and how the documentary records of the time continue to have resonance for us today. Waterloo is still news, two hundred years later.”

    The exhibits on display in Cambridge will illuminate how historical accounts of the campaign proliferated within months of the battle as Waterloo was assimilated into popular culture, becoming the subject of poems, novels, works of visual art and even comic entertainments.

    Part of the wider Waterloo 200 commemorations, A Damned Serious Business also charts the build-up to the battle and its aftermath, following the journey from a Europe in turmoil to Waterloo becoming a tourist destination, a legacy which remains to this day.

    Cartoons and a spoof theatrical poster illustrate popular defiance in Britain in the face of a threatened French invasion, while an infantry drill-book shows how the Army went about training its soldiers to defeat Napoleon. Large-scale volumes illustrated in full colour and published in the years straight after the battle show how the victory was celebrated in Britain through the medium of the book. The poignant memoir of Lady De Lancey highlights the appalling personal cost of the fighting.

    Alongside Napoleon’s own copy of Montaigne’s Essais – from his library in exile on St Helena – the exhibition also features an 1834 letter from the Duke of Wellington in which he agrees to present a petition to the House of Lords from Cambridge undergraduates, as well as a wonderful fold-out, full colour representation of the Duke’s funeral procession in 1852. The fold-out measures more than 20 metres in length and contains a cast of thousands.

    A letter written from the body-strewn battlefield at Waterloo, an invasion map of the UK, and a book from Napoleon’s personal library in exile will go on display in Cambridge during one of the first major Waterloo exhibitions of the bicentenary commemorations.

    Waterloo is the most famous battle in modern European history, and from the very first moment soldiers and civilians alike wanted to put their experiences and emotions into words.
    John Wells
    Image from the Boy's book of British battles

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    Body artist Catriona Finlayson-Wilkins from Norfolk has type 1 diabetes, but used an artificial pancreas to produce insulin throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a boy at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Tuesday. She is the first mother in the world to use the device to give birth outside the main research site at Cambridge University Hospitals. Three mothers have previously given birth, but all via caesarian section.

    Women who have diabetes in pregnancy face higher rates of birth defects, oversized babies, pre-term delivery and stillbirth than other pregnant women. It is estimated that up to one in twenty women giving birth in England and Wales have either pre-existing diabetes or gestational diabetes and the number with type 1 and type 2 diabetes is rising.


    Body artist Catriona Finlayson-Wilkins

    The technology is being trialled by the Closed Loop in Pregnancy study, based at the Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge The pancreas is the organ which produces insulin, which is one of the main hormones that help to regulate blood glucose levels.  In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells that produce insulin are attacked by the body's immune system so an artificial pancreas can help to maintain insulin production, keeping the symptoms of diabetes at bay.

    The artificial pancreas device system is a small, portable medical device that is being designed to carry out the function of a healthy pancreas in controlling blood glucose levels in women with Type 1 diabetes. It uses digital communication technology to automate insulin delivery. The system is worn externally on the body, and is made up of three functional components: continuous glucose monitoring, a computer algorithm (mathematical instructions which calculate the insulin dose), developed by Director of Research Dr Roman Hovorka, and an insulin pump. These three components are termed an artificial pancreas or ‘closed loop’.

    Full results of the study are expected to be published later this year.  If the findings are positive, this may pave the way for the technology to become available for more women with diabetes who conceive in the future.

    Dr Helen Murphy, Senior Research Associate/Honorary Consultant Physician at the Metabolic Research Laboratories and the Principal Investigator of the study, says that the first natural birth using the technology represents an exciting step forward in the treatment of diabetes in pregnancy. "The artificial pancreas is an exciting new technology that may help us to treat diabetes in pregnancy and create a group of healthier mothers and babies.”

    Dr Zoe Stewart, a Gates Cambridge Scholar and Clinical Research Fellow on the study, said: “Treating diabetes in pregnancy can be particularly challenging because hormone levels are constantly changing and blood sugars can be difficult to predict. I study new treatments for diabetes in pregnancy and it's great to see our research helping mums have healthier pregnancies.”

    The research has been supported by Gates Cambridge, Diabetes UK and the National Institute for Health Research.

    The first natural birth to a mother with diabetes who has been fitted with an artificial pancreas took place this week. The device has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

    The artificial pancreas is an exciting new technology that may help us to treat diabetes in pregnancy and create a group of healthier mothers and babies
    Helen Murphy
    Artificial pancreas

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    Soft drink with ice

    The study indicates that for each 5% increase of a person’s total energy intake provided by sweet drinks including soft drinks, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes may increase by as much as 18%.

    The research is based on the EPIC-Norfolk study, which included more than 25,000 men and women aged 40–79 years living in Norfolk, UK. Study participants recorded everything that they ate and drank for seven consecutive days covering weekdays and weekend days, with particular attention to type, amount and frequency of consumption, and whether sugar was added by the participants. During approximately 11 years of follow-up, 847 study participants were diagnosed with new-onset type 2 diabetes.

    Dr Nita Forouhi, of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, who led the study, says: “By using this detailed dietary assessment with a food diary, we were able to study several different types of sugary beverages as well as artificially sweetened beverages – such as diet soft drinks – and fruit juice, and to examine what would happen if water, unsweetened tea or coffee or artificially sweetened beverages were substituted for sugary drinks.”

    In an analysis that accounted for a range of important factors including total energy intake, the researchers found that there was an approximately 22% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes per extra serving per day habitually of each of soft drinks, sweetened milk beverages and artificially sweetened beverages consumed, but that consumption of fruit juice and sweetened tea or coffee was not related to diabetes. After further accounting for body mass index and waist girth as markers of obesity, there remained a higher risk of diabetes associated with consumption of both soft drinks and sweetened milk drinks, but the link with artificially sweetened beverages consumption no longer remained, likely explained by their greater consumption by those who were already overweight or obese.

    This new research adds to previous research published in Diabetologia, which collected information from food frequency questionnaires across eight European countries. That previous work indicated that habitual daily consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was linked with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, consistent with the current new findings.

    In the new study, the authors also found that if study participants had replaced a habitual daily serving of soft drinks with a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee, the risk of diabetes could have been cut by 14%, and by replacing a habitual serving of sweetened milk beverage with water or unsweetened tea or coffee, that reduction could have been 20%–25%. However, consuming artificially sweetened beverages instead of any sugar-sweetened drink was not associated with a statistically significant reduction in type 2 diabetes, when accounting for baseline obesity and total energy intake.

    Dr Forouhi adds: “The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a habitual daily serving of a sugary soft drink or sugary milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help to cut the risk of diabetes, offering practical suggestions for healthy alternative drinks for the prevention of diabetes. This adds further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organization to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet.”

    The authors acknowledge limitations of dietary research which relies on asking people what they eat, but their sample size was large with long follow-up and had detailed assessment of diet that was collected in real-time as people consumed the food/drinks, rather than relying on memory.

    The research was supported by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.

    Adapted from a press release from Diabetologia.

    Reference
    O’Connor, L et al. Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions with alternative beverages. Diabetologia; 30 April 2015

     

    Drinking water or unsweetened tea or coffee in place of one sugary drink per day can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to research published today in the journal Diabetologia.

    Our study adds further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organization to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet
    Nita Forouhi
    Soft drink with ice

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    A group of Cambridge computer scientists have set a new gold standard for openness and reproducibility in research by sharing the more than 200GB of data and 20,000 lines of code behind their latest results – an unprecedented degree of openness in a peer-reviewed publication. The researchers hope that this new gold standard will be adopted by other fields, increasing the reliability of research results, especially for work which is publicly funded.

    The researchers are presenting their results at a talk today (4 May) at the 12th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI) in Oakland, California.

    In recent years there’s been a great deal of discussion about so-called ‘open access’ publications – the idea that research publications, particularly those funded by public money, should be made publicly available.

    Computer science has embraced open access more than many disciplines, with some publishers sub-licensing publications and allowing authors to publish them in open archives. However, as more and more corporations publish their research in academic journals, and as academics find themselves in a ‘publish or perish’ culture, the reliability of research results has come into question.

    “Open access isn’t as open as you think, especially when there are corporate interests involved,” said Matthew Grosvenor, a PhD student from the University’s Computer Laboratory, and the paper’s lead author. “Due to commercial sensitivities, corporations are reluctant to make their code and data sets available when they publish in peer-reviewed journals. But without the code or data sets, the results are irrelevant – we can’t know whether an experiment is the same if we try to recreate it.”

    Beyond computer science, a number of high-profile incidents of errors, fraud or misconduct have called quality standards in research into question. This has thrown the issue of reproducibility – that a result can be reliably repeated given the same conditions – into the spotlight.

    “If a result cannot be reliably repeated, then how can we trust it?” said Grosvenor. “If you try to reproduce other people’s work from the paper alone, you often end up with different numbers. Unless you have access to everything, it’s useless to call a piece of research open source. It’s either open source or it’s not – you can’t open source just a little bit.”

    With their most recent publication, Grosvenor and his colleagues have gone several steps beyond typical open access standards – setting a new gold standard for open and reproducible research. All of the experimental figures and tables in the award-winning final version of their paper, which describes a new method of making data centres more efficient, are clickable.

    By clicking on any of the figures or tables in the paper, readers are taken to a website where the researchers have produced technically detailed descriptions of the methods for every one of their experiments. These descriptions include the original data sets and tools that were used to produce the figures as well as free and open source access to all of the source code that they wrote and modified.

    In the past this might not have been possible, but thanks to cheap cloud storage, the researchers have put nearly 200GB of data and 20,000 lines of code on to the internet and made it freely available to all under a permissive open-source license.

    “It now should be possible for anyone with a collection of computers to follow our instructions and produce our exact graphs,” said Grosvenor. “We think that this is the way forward for all scientific publications and so we’ve put our money where our mouth is and done it.”

    Cambridge computer scientists have established a new gold standard for open research, in order to make scientific results more robust and reliable.

    Open access isn’t as open as you think, especially when there are corporate interests involved
    Matthew Grosvenor
    The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library

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    New research has found that the interaction of roots with a common soil fungus changes the genetic expression of rice crops – triggering additional root growth that enables the plant to absorb more nutrients.

    In addition to causing extra root growth, the mycorrhizal fungus also enmeshes itself within crop roots at a cellular level – blooming within individual plant cells. The fungus grows thin tendrils called hyphae that extend into surrounding soil and pump nutrients, phosphate in particular, straight into the heart of plant cells.

    Plants 'colonised' by the fungi get between 70 to 100% of their phosphate directly from these fungus tendrils, an enormous mineral boost which may eventually mitigate the need for farmers to saturate crop fields with phosphate fertiliser to ensure maximum yield.

    The hope is that mycorrhizal fungi could one day act as a 'bio-fertiliser' that ultimately replaces the need to mine phosphate from the ground for industrial fertiliser. Finding a replacement for mined phosphate is a critical problem as not only is the resultant fertiliser a pollutant – causing algal growth which chokes water supplies – but the big phosphate mines are now depleted to the point where they are expected to run out in the next 30 to 50 years. Many experts are predicting a 'phosphate crisis'.

    "The big question we are trying to answer is whether and how we can make use of the biofertiliser capacity of mycorrhizal symbiosis in modern and more high input agricultural settings, meaning more intensive farming methods. We need alternatives to phosphate fertiliser if we are to feed growing populations," said Dr Uta Paszkowski from the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences, who co-authored the research published today in the journal PNAS.

    "Cereals such as rice, wheat and maize are the most important crops in the world, feeding billions of people every day. mycorrhizal fungi have a mutualistic relationship with plants, including cereals, going back to the earliest days of plant life on land, before roots were 'invented'. By analysing this ancient and common relationship we are gaining insights that could be used to breed crops with the best possible root architectural and symbiotic properties – towards 'designing crops' with very high food outputs," she said.

    The new research pioneers the examination of the root system building units of adult rice plants at a molecular level, as rice can be used as a model for cereal crops generally. Cereal root 'architecture' involves a few big, thickset roots called crown roots that act as a scaffold from which all the smaller, lateral roots spread out into the different layers of soil, which contain the various nutrients.

    Researchers found that plants colonised by mycorrhizal fungi have a different genetic expression which causes the cell walls within crown roots to soften, triggering the growth of many more lateral roots which are able to suck in more nutrients, contributing to a healthier plant with a higher yield. This is in addition to the phosphate provided by the fungal 'hyphae' tendrils, which in effect act as extra roots themselves (in return for which, the fungus gets its carbohydrate from the plant).

    "Plant roots that have the capacity to explore the widest soil area absorb the most nutrients as a consequence and so are likely to have a greater crop yield. By finding out which parts of the genome are responsible for the best plant root systems we can start breeding for the best root 'architecture'," said Paszkowski.

    "Designer crops with the best possible root systems will mean greater crop yield, which means more people fed."

    Rice is best grown in highly irrigated paddy fields, but there are many parts of the world where this isn't an option, and 40% of the world's area for rice crop is grown 'dry'. However, the plant-fungi relationship that creates enhanced crops actually works best in dry environments. Mycorrhizal fungi could be of huge benefit to those who rely on dry rice crops in some of the poorest areas of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

    The main hurdle for researchers to overcome is the self-regulation of plants, which means the fungi cannot be tested on an industrial scale alongside traditional fertiliser.

    "Plants monitor their own nutritional state. If a plant has enough phosphate it will not allow fungus to enter root – so at the moment it's one or the other. We are working on ways to circumvent this blockage so we can allow symbiosis to contribute in agricultural practices in better developed countries " said Paszkowski.

    Mycorrhizal fungi are extremely common in all soils around the world, and are an ingredient in many 'bio' plant foods found in domestic garden centres, but have yet to be used for industrial agriculture.

    Inset image: Mycorrhizal fungi blooming within a plant cell

    “Ancient relationship” between fungi and plant roots creates genetic expression that leads to more root growth. Common fungus could one day be used as ‘bio-fertiliser’, replacing mined phosphate which is now depleted to the point of impending fertiliser crisis.

    By analysing this ancient and common relationship we are gaining insights that could be used to breed crops with the best possible root architectural and symbiotic properties
    Uta Paszkowski
    Dry rice field at dusk

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    When the first earthquake struck Kathmandu close to midday on April 25 Dr Lobsang Yongdan was in a small hotel getting ready to head out into the city and find some food.

    A scholar working on Tibetan historical texts Yongdan had been in Tibet visiting relatives following the successful completion of his PhD in the Department of Social Anthropology.

    Following his visit to relatives Yongdan had then travelled from Lhasa to Nepal’s capital by road on his way back to the UK because he wanted to see the Nepalese countryside up close and knew Kathmandu was a good place to buy classical texts and dictionaries.

    Sitting in the safety of the Mongolian and Inner Asian Studies Unit’s (MIASU) Mond Building in Cambridge just a few days after leaving the capital he says: “The Nepalese will need our help. I saw villages on hillsides during my 24 hour car journey to Kathmandu. I do not know what condition they are in now. The villages are remote and in the mountains so I can imagine the landslides affecting whole villages and wiping out the roads.”

    Yongdan's scholarship reflects the strong links between the University of Cambridge, Nepal and Tibet. They encompass many disciplines including archaeology, biological and social anthropology (for example the Digital Himalaya project and the work of the MIASU). University students have also volunteered as English language teachers in rural Nepal through charities. Some of those students have undertaken their own fundraising following the disaster.

    Arriving in Kathmandu Yongdan had bought a Tibetan-English dictionary and a few classical texts and was ready to “do the tourist thing”, taking in some of the city’s famous sites such as the Boudhanath, a place of great significance to Buddhists and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Such sites reflect the connections between Nepal and Tibet, says Yongdan: “The links between Nepal and Tibet are strong. Many craftsman who helped build the Tibetan temples and monasteries came from Nepal.”

    But as he prepared to take in the sights the earthquake struck.

    “When the earthquake came I was lucky as I was on the ground floor of my hotel so it was easy to run outside. But there were many large flower pots on the balconies of the surrounding building which were all falling down. I was very lucky not to be hit as these pots were falling from the fifth and sixth floors. A large one just missed me by a few centimetres,” says Yongdan.

    By this time many other guests were flooding from the building into the courtyard. “Many were crying. There was shock and a lot of distress. The first earthquake was over in just one minute I think – but there were many aftershocks.”

    It is those aftershocks which took a huge psychological toll, says Yongdan, adding: “Everyone reacted very strongly to the aftershocks. The first, big quake, was all about fast reactions, but the later shocks created much more fear and anxiety. Even a heavy footfall, or airplane flying overhead, would cause feelings of panic. I was there for just two days; those still out there, feeling aftershocks over a longer period, will have suffered much more and the trauma could be very great.”

    Yongdan remained in the courtyard for some time, eyeing the cracks in the building warily, conscious that they had no food or water. Knowing he was due to fly from the capital that very day Yongdan risked entering the hotel to retrieve his wallet and passport. Eventually he was able to walk into the city and buy some water and a biscuit. It was then he got his first glimpse of the powerful and tragic effects of the earthquake. “There was a wall, about 10 feet high, which traders used to do their business from. It had collapsed and it was here I saw the first people who had died.”

    Back at the hotel Yongdan and his group moved to an open field nearby and spent a fearful night as the aftershocks continued.

    “During the night we had two big aftershocks at about 4am and 6am, I think. We could not sleep as all night we could see the buildings shaking. Sometimes the shocks came like a wave, sometimes quickly like a train going along the tracks.”

    Yongdan realised that food and water would be a huge problem and that should take his flight, if possible. The next day Yongdan, accompanied by an US woman in her 60s, went looking for a car to take them to the airport. “It would be a long way to walk. People were in the centre of the road, staying away from the buildings, finding a car seemed impossible. To our surprise we eventually saw one single taxi driving around. He charged us fifteen times the normal price but we got to the airport,” says Yongdan.

    On the way to the airport the full extent of the devastation hit Yongdan. Buildings had collapsed or were heavily damaged. “When we got to the airport there was a truck which was delivering water to people who had gathered in a nearby field - but there were thousands of people in the field and a long queue.”

    “The airport was crowded and everything was being done manually. Only those who had tickets were being allowed to fly at this stage. People were shouting. We stood in line for three hours waiting to hear if we would fly out or not. Once through we were in an open field and I felt much safer. We waited almost five hours and saw the Indian Air Force flying in with supplies.”

    It was only when Yongdan was in the air that he relaxed enough to sense how lucky he was – and only once in Abu Dhabi that he felt anything close to the full impact. “I suddenly realised what I had been through and that I had nearly died. I called my family. I have never heard my father cry before but both of them were very emotional.”

    It was at Abu Dhabi that the news of his having reached safety finally reached colleagues in Cambridge.

    Dr Hildegard Diemberger, Director of MIASU, says: “I was hugely relieved when I was woken up at 1am by a text message from New York telling me they had heard Yongdan was safe. When he arrived at Pembroke his luggage had been left  somewhere between Kathmandu and Abu Dhabi and he just had the clothes he was standing in.”

    Safe in Cambridge, staying in a student room at Pembroke College, Yongdan says his thoughts are with those left behind. “I had to leave,” he says, “I thought whether I could help there and then but without knowing much about the place and the people I would have been another burden. I thought that mobilising competent international help would have been more useful and I hope we can help get the Nepalese and the Tibetans affected by the earthquake food, water and whatever they need as soon as possible. We keep hearing heart-breaking messages of people, including young children, now exposed to rain, lacking water, food and trying to cope with loss and fear”

    The problem will not just be food and water, says Diemberger: “Sewage will now be an issue as will disease. The way some buildings are constructed means the earthquake has had a devastating effect.”

    Once the initial battle for survival is over and food and water supplies have been secured other priorities will surface.

    “We must look to the international relief effort first and then in the long term we can look to charities and action to support communities and help rebuild and ensure the rich heritage of Nepal is protected. But first they will have to get through the monsoon season. It will be a difficult process. Once the reconstruction process is underway there will be an enormous amount to do. Many of the sites affected are UNESCO World Heritage Sites so the hope is they will not be rebuilt too quickly and destroy what little is left. I am also thinking about the multitude of temples and monasteries scattered across the region. They house precious ancient manuscripts and prints, which are likely to have become exposed to the rain and are at risk of being lost forever” says Diemberger.

     

     

    Much will need to be done to rebuild Nepal and the focus now must be the international aid effort. To donate go to: www.dec.org.uk/appeals/nepal-earthquake-appeal.

    I hope we can help get the Nepalese and the Tibetans... food, water and whatever they need as soon as possible.
    Dr Lobsang Yongdan
    More information:
    • For more information on the Nepal relief effort and how to offer support go to: www.dec.org.uk/appeals/nepal-earthquake-appeal.
    • Yongdan is a scholar who straddles the ancient and modern worlds. Initially educated in the Buddhist monastery of Kumbum (Qinghai Province, PRC), he possesses a rare talent for languages being fluent in Classical Tibetan, the Tibetan dialect of Amdo, Chinese and English. His PhD at Cambridge was on a remarkable Tibetan text, the Dzam gling rgyas bshad (DGRB), which translates as The Detailed Description of the World. He is currently working on an AHRC project hosted at MIASU to create a database of the earliest printed texts in Tibetan culture and the biographies of the Tibetan masters involved in the production of woodblock prints since the 12th century.

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    For the first time, researchers led by the University of Cambridge have detected atmospheric variability on a rocky planet outside the solar system, and observed a nearly threefold change in temperature over a two year period. Although the researchers are quick to point out that the cause of the variability is still under investigation, they believe the readings could be due to massive amounts of volcanic activity on the surface. The ability to peek into the atmospheres of rocky ‘super Earths’ and observe conditions on their surfaces marks an important milestone towards identifying habitable planets outside the solar system.

    Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers observed thermal emissions coming from the planet, called 55 Cancri e – orbiting a sun-like star located 40 light years away in the Cancer constellation – and for the first time found rapidly changing conditions, with temperatures on the hot ‘day’ side of the planet swinging between 1000 and 2700 degrees Celsius.

    “This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super Earth,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, a co-author on the new study. “No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super Earth to date.”

    Although the interpretations of the new data are still preliminary, the researchers believe the variability in temperature could be due to huge plumes of gas and dust which occasionally blanket the surface, which may be partially molten. The plumes could be caused by exceptionally high rates of volcanic activity, higher than what has been observed on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons and the most geologically active body in the solar system.

    “We saw a 300 percent change in the signal coming from this planet, which is the first time we’ve seen such a huge level of variability in an exoplanet,” said Dr Brice-Olivier Demory of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, lead author of the new study. “While we can’t be entirely sure, we think a likely explanation for this variability is large-scale surface activity, possibly volcanism, on the surface is spewing out massive volumes of gas and dust, which sometimes blanket the thermal emission from the planet so it is not seen from Earth.”

    55 Cancri e is a ‘super Earth’: a rocky exoplanet about twice the size and eight times the mass of Earth. It is one of five planets orbiting a sun-like star in the Cancer constellation, and resides so close to its parent star that a year lasts just 18 hours. The planet is also tidally locked, meaning that it doesn’t rotate like the Earth does – instead there is a permanent ‘day’ side and a ‘night’ side. Since it is the nearest super Earth whose atmosphere can be studied, 55 Cancri e is among the best candidates for detailed observations of surface and atmospheric conditions on rocky exoplanets.

    Most of the early research on exoplanets has been on gas giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn, since their enormous size makes them easier to find. In recent years, astronomers have been able to map the conditions on many of these gas giants, but it is much more difficult to do so for super Earths: exoplanets with masses between one and ten times the mass of Earth.

    Earlier observations of 55 Cancri e pointed to an abundance of carbon, suggesting that the planet was composed of diamond. However, these new results have muddied those earlier observations considerably and opened up new questions.

    “When we first identified this planet, the measurements supported a carbon-rich model,” said Madhusudhan, who along with Demory is a member of the Cambridge Exoplanet Research Centre. “But now we’re finding that those measurements are changing in time. The planet could still be carbon rich, but now we’re not so sure – earlier studies of this planet have even suggested that it could be a water world. The present variability is something we’ve never seen anywhere else, so there’s no robust conventional explanation. But that’s the fun in science – clues can come from unexpected quarters. The present observations open a new chapter in our ability to study the conditions on rocky exoplanets using current and upcoming large telescopes.”

    The results have been published online today.

    The study was also co-authored by Professor Didier Queloz of the Cavendish Laboratory and Dr Michaël Gillon of the Université of Liège.

    Astronomers have detected wildly changing temperatures on a super Earth – the first time any atmospheric variability has been observed on a rocky planet outside the solar system – and believe it could be due to huge amounts of volcanic activity, further adding to the mystery of what had been nicknamed the ‘diamond planet’.

    This is the first time we’ve seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet
    Nikku Madhusudhan
    Artist’s impression of super-Earth 55 Cancri e, showing a hot partially-molten surface of the planet before and after possible volcanic activity on the day side.

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    Over three days, Shadows attend lectures and supervisions as well as getting involved with the University’s vibrant social life, including its societies, clubs and sports teams.

    Earlier this year, participants were invited to enter a photography and diary competition based on their experiences and perceptions of life and study at Cambridge. CUSU received dozens of outstanding entries and after much deliberation its judges have spoken…

    Winning the diary competition, Harriet Van Houben, from Okehampton College in Devon, described a supervision session at St Catharine’s College.

    "I was included within the session – being asked to read sections of a poem and share my thoughts, feelings and personal analysis on it. At one point I was even able to define a term that the other two couldn’t … we all shared a passion for the subject and I found that even if they were talking about more advanced elements it all came back to the basic foundations that it consisted of and that I was familiar with."

    Runner-up, Alyssa D'Agostino, from Colston's Girls' School in Bristol, reflected on her experience

    "The force behind the incredible reputation and beautiful buildings is in fact a tight community of some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could ever meet. The scheme was an invaluable experience and fantastic opportunity that has reignited my ambition."

    In the photography category, Anna Moss from Hertfordshire’s John Warner School took first prize with a masterful shot taken as she walked across St John's College’s world-famous Bridge of Sighs.

    St John’s also inspired the winning entries for Weeks 1 and 2 of the Shadowing Scheme. Samira Kanwal from Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre impressed by transforming an architectural shot into a personal story with her own shadow.

    Meanwhile, Joseph Amoss from John Leggott College in Scunthorpe aimed his camera at the much less photographed Cripps Building, built in the 1960s, and impressed the judges by exploring "its own beauty with particularly effective use of lighting."

    Cambridge University Students’ Union’s (CUSU) Shadowing Scheme gives around 400 sixth formers and mature students from schools and backgrounds without a tradition of top university entry an inspiring taste of life as a Cambridge student.

    The scheme was an invaluable experience and fantastic opportunity that has reignited my ambition
    Runner-up, Alyssa D'Agostino
    The Cripps Building, St John's College

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    It sounds like something out of a horror movie: a penis-shaped worm which was able to turn its mouth inside out and drag itself around by its tooth-lined throat, which resembled a cheese grater. But a new study of the rather unfortunately-named penis worm has found that their bizarre dental structure may help in the identification of previously unrecognised fossil specimens from the time on Earth when animals were first coming into their own.

    Reconstructing the teeth of penis worms, or priapulids, in fine detail has enabled researchers from the University of Cambridge to compile a ‘dentist’s handbook’ which has aided in the identification of fossilised teeth from a number of previously-unrecognised penis worm species from all over the world. The results are published today (6 May) in the journal Palaeontology.

    The researchers used electron microscopy to examine the internal structure of the teeth of these creatures, which first emerged during the ‘Cambrian explosion’, a period of rapid evolutionary development about half a billion years ago, when most major animal groups first appear in the fossil record.

    The teeth of these Cambrian priapulids had different shapes according to their function: some were shaped like a cone fringed with tiny prickles and hairs, some were shaped like a bear claw, and some like a city skyline.

    During the Cambrian, most animals were soft-bodied, like worms and sponges. Therefore, outside of the few very special places where conditions are just right to enable preservation of soft-bodied creatures, it is difficult to know for certain how far certain species were distributed across the Earth at the time.

    “As teeth are the most hardy and resilient parts of animals, they are much more common as fossils than whole soft-bodied specimens,” said Dr Martin Smith, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and the paper’s lead author. “But when these teeth – which are only about a millimetre long – are found, they are easily misidentified as algal spores, rather than as parts of animals. Now that we understand the structure of these tiny fossils, we are much better placed to a wide suite of enigmatic fossils.”

    Both modern and Cambrian penis worms have spent their lives burrowing into the sediment beneath the ocean since they first appeared 500 million years ago.

    During the Cambrian, penis worms were voracious predators, gobbling up anything that crossed their path, including worms, shrimp and other marine creatures. They were able to turn their mouths inside out to reveal a tooth-lined throat that looked like a prehistoric cheese grater.

    These teeth were not just used for eating food, however. By turning their mouths inside out, penis worms could also use their teeth like miniature grappling hooks, using them to grip a surface and then pull the rest of their bodies along behind.

    “Modern penis worms have been pushed to the margins of life, generally living in extreme underwater environments,” said Smith. “But during the Cambrian, they were fearsome beasts, and extremely successful ones at that.”

    For this study, the researchers examined fossils of Ottoia, a type of penis worm, about the length of a finger, which lived during the Cambrian. The fossils originated from the Burgess Shale in Western Canada, the world’s richest source of fossils from the period, full of weird and wacky-looking creatures that have helped scientists understand how animal life on Earth developed.

    Using high resolution electron and optical microscopy, they were able to expose the curious structure of Ottoia’s teeth for the first time. By reconstructing the structure of these teeth in detail, the researchers were then able to identify fossilised teeth of a number of previously-unrecognised penis worm species from all over the world.

    “Teeth hold all sorts of clues, both in modern animals and in fossils,” said Smith. “It’s entirely possible that unrecognised species await discovery in existing fossil collections, just because we haven’t been looking closely enough at their teeth, or in the right way.”

    The study was funded by Clare College, Cambridge, the Palaeontological Association, and the Natural Environment Research Council.

    A new study of teeth belonging to a particularly phallic-looking creature has led to the compilation of a prehistoric ‘dentist’s handbook’ which may aid in the identification of previously unrecognised specimens from the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago.

    Penis worms were fearsome beasts, and extremely successful ones at that
    Martin Smith
    Left: Illustration of Ottoia, a prehistoric priapulid, burrowing. Right: Ottoia worm.

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    About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, but the world’s forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests and forestry are essential to achieving food security as the limits of boosting agricultural production become increasingly clear.

    That’s according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of the relationship between forests, food and nutrition, released today in New York at a side event of the United Nations Forum on Forests.

    The new report, compiled by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations’ (IUFRO)Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, underlines the vital role that forests play in food security, as well as the need for the most vulnerable groups of society to have secure access to forest foods.

    More than 60 renowned scientists from around the world collaborated on the peer‐reviewed publication “Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition: A Global Assessment Report”, which was led by Dr Bhaskar Vira of Cambridge University’s Department of Geography.

    “Forest foods often provide a safety net during periods of food shortages,” says Vira. “In the study, we reveal impressive examples which show how forests and trees can complement agricultural production and contribute to the income of local people, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

    Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary‐General for Policy of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, added: “this report reminds us of the vital role of forests in building food security. It makes a convincing case for multi‐functional and integrated landscape approaches and calls for community level engagement to reimagine forestry and agriculture systems.”

    According to the report, close to one in six people directly depend on forests for their food and income. In the Sahel region, for example, trees contribute 80% on average to household incomes, especially through shea nut production. The report also documents efforts currently underway in Africa and elsewhere to develop new tree commodities to supply the poor with sustainable incomes.

    “What keeps people hungry is often not the lack of food, but the lack of access to that food and control over its production. We need to recognise claims over food sovereignty which give local people greater control over their food,” notes Vira. “Improved tenure rights and stronger rights for women who are becoming more and more responsible for food production from agricultural and forest lands are key to ensure the success of sustainable poverty reduction efforts.”

    The report emphasises that forests play an essential role in complementing crops produced on farms, which is especially important when a community’s staple food supply is impaired by droughts, volatile prices, armed conflicts, or other crises.

    “Large‐scale crop production is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which may occur more frequently under climate change. Science shows that tree‐based farming can adapt far better to such calamities.” says Christoph Wildburger, the coordinator of IUFRO’s Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) initiative. “We know that forests already play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change. This report makes it very clear that they also play a key role in alleviating hunger and improving nutrition.”

    The study comes in the lead up to the United Nations’ finalisation of their Sustainable Development Goals, designed to address poverty and hunger, among other global challenges. The report also provides useful insight into how the UN can respond to the “Zero Hunger Challenge,” which aims to eliminate global hunger by 2025. It was coordinated by IUFRO on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

    The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the only world‐wide organisation devoted to forest research and related sciences. Its members are research institutions, universities, and individual scientists as well as decision‐making authorities and other stakeholders with a focus on forests and trees.

    The IUFRO‐led Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) established the Expert Panel on “Forests and Food Security” with the aim to provide a comprehensive global assessment of scientific information on the relationship of forests and trees on the one hand, and food security and nutrition on the other hand, and to prepare a report to inform relevant policy decision‐makers.

    A new report underlines the crucial role that forests play in food security and poverty reduction with one billion people worldwide dependent on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes.

    We know that forests already play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change. This report makes it very clear that they also play a key role in alleviating hunger and improving nutrition
    Christoph Wildburger, International Union of Forest Research Organizations
    cacao fruits

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