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    In a study published today in the Journal of Public Health, researchers from the Primary Care Unit at Cambridge examined records at a General Practice in the East of England to compare uptake of vaccination with the Traveller and non-Traveller communities.

    For the majority of vaccines – including the MMR, rotavirus and combined Tetanus, diphtheria, polio and pertussis vaccines – only around five out of ten eligible children in the Traveller community had completed the relevant vaccination schedule, compared to nine out of ten children in the non-Traveller community.

    Substantial health inequalities exist between the Traveller and general population, with the life expectancy of Travellers being 10-12 years lower than non-Traveller equivalents. Several studies have shown that there is lower vaccine uptake in Traveller children but this is the first study to present recent, accurate data in the UK.

    The findings show that this community is at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Ireland, Scotland and Wales and pockets of England are implementing strategies to improve vaccination coverage in the general population, but there is no national strategy in place in England to target Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities.

    The 2011 census recorded just under 58,000 Gypsies and Irish Travellers in England and Wales; however, the true number is more likely to be between 150,000 and 300,000, as many Travellers do not identify their ethnicity due to fear of discrimination.

    “There is clearly much work needed to improve uptake of vaccinations among the Traveller community,” says Kathryn Dixon, a student doctor at the School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge. “Vaccinations are incredibly important to help protect children from potentially serious diseases, and we need to work with the Traveller communities to promote better understanding and appreciation of the long-term benefits.”

    Literacy levels within the Traveller community can be low, meaning that information often spreads by word-of-mouth, according to the authors. This can lead to a rapid change in vaccine uptake if one person in the community hears something good or bad about vaccination from, for example, another Traveller site.

    It was estimated in 2006 that around one in ten Travellers live in the East of England.

    “There have been cases in the past of Travellers being refused healthcare by GPs, but the practice involved has made a particular effort to engage with the local Traveller communities,” explains Dr Tanya Blumenfeld, Senior Clinical Tutor at the University. “This could mean that vaccination rates elsewhere are even lower. We need to better understand the barriers that limit vaccination coverage and so help reduce the health inequalities that currently exist.”

    Dixon, KC, Mullis, R, and Blumenfeld, T. Vaccine uptake in the Irish Travelling community: An audit of general practice records. Journal of Public Health; 19 Sept 206; DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdw088

    Traveller communities have significantly lower uptake of vaccinations compared to the general population, suggesting that more work needs to be done to promote understanding and appreciation of the benefits of vaccination among this population, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

    Vaccinations are incredibly important to help protect children from potentially serious diseases, and we need to work with the Traveller communities to promote better understanding and appreciation of the long-term benefits
    Kathryn Dixon
    dale farm portaits 003

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    ‘Gut feelings’ – known technically as interoceptive sensations – are sensations that carry information to the brain from many tissues of the body, including the heart and lungs, as well as the gut. They can report anything from body temperature to breathlessness, racing heart, fullness from the gut, bladder and bowel, and they underpin states such as hunger, thirst, pain, and anxiety.

    We are often not conscious – or at least barely aware – of this information, but it provides valuable inputs in risky decision making. High-risk choices are accompanied by rapid and subtle physiological changes that feed back to the brain, affecting our decisions, and steering us away from gambles that are likely to lead to loss and towards those that are likely to lead to profit. This can enable people to make important decisions even before they are able to articulate the reasons for their choices.

    Traders and investors in the financial markets frequently talk of the importance of gut feelings for selecting profitable trades. To find out the extent to which this belief is correct, researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Sussex in the UK and Queensland University of Technology in Australia compared the interoceptive abilities of financial traders against those of non-trader control subjects. Their results are published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

    The researchers recruited 18 male traders from a hedge fund engaged in high frequency trading, which involves buying and selling futures contracts for only a short period of time – seconds or minutes, a few hours at the most. This form of trading requires an ability to assimilate large amounts of information flowing through news feeds, to rapidly recognize price patterns, and to make large and risky decisions with split-second timing. This niche of the financial markets is particularly unforgiving: while successful traders may earn in excess of £10 million per year, unprofitable ones do not survive for long.

    The study took place during a particularly volatile period – the Eurozone crisis – so the performance of each trader reflected his ability to make money during periods of extreme uncertainty. The researchers measured individual differences in each trader’s capacity to detect subtle changes in the physiological state of their bodies by means of two established heartbeat detection tasks. These tasks test how accurately a person, when at rest, can count their heartbeats. Each trader was given a score which, essentially, measured the percentage of right answers, and these scores were compared against data from 48 students at the University of Sussex.

    The researchers found that traders performed significantly better at the heart rate detection tasks compared to the controls: the mean score for traders was 78.2, compared to 66.9 for the controls. Even within the group of traders, those who were better at the heart rate detection tasks also performed better at trading, generating greater profits.

    Strikingly, an individual’s interoceptive ability could be used to predict whether they would survive in the financial markets. The researchers plotted heartbeat detection scores against years of experience in the financial markets and found that a trader’s heartbeat counting score predicted the number of years he had survived as a trader.

    “Traders in the financial world often speak of the importance of gut feelings for choosing profitable trades – they select from a range of possible trades the one that just ‘feels right’,” says Dr John Coates, a former research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge, who also used to run a trading desk on Wall Street. “Our findings suggest they’re right – they manage to read real and valuable physiological trading signals, even if they are unaware they are doing so.”

    Although the results are consistent with recent studies showing that heartbeat detection skills predict more effective risk taking, the researchers caution that there may be other interpretations. For example, one study has found that heartbeat detection ability increases during stress, so it could be argued that heartbeat detection skills correlated with years of survival merely because experienced traders, taking larger risks, are subjected to greater stresses. The authors of the current study think this unlikely – in trading, as in many other professions, experienced and successful individuals, being more in control, are commonly less stressed than beginners.

    The findings also appear to contradict the influential ‘Efficient Markets Hypothesis’ of economic theory, which argues that the market is random, meaning that no trait or skill of an investor or trader – not their IQ, education, nor training – can improve their performance, any more than these traits and skills could improve their performance at flipping coins.

    “A large part of a trader’s success and survival seems to be linked to their physiology. Such a finding has profound implications for how we understand financial markets,” adds Dr Mark Gurnell from the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge.

    “In economics and finance most models analyse conscious reasoning and are based on psychology,” Dr Coates continues. “We’re looking instead at risk takers’ physiology – how good are they at sensing signals from their viscera? We should refocus on the body, or more exactly the interaction between body and brain. Medics find this obvious; economists don't.”

    The research was largely funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the European Research Council and the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation. Additional support was provided by the National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

    Kandasamy, N, Garfinkel, SN, Page, L et al. Interoceptive Ability Predicts Survival on a London Trading Floor. Scientific Reports; 19 Sept 2016; DOI: 10.1038/srep32986

    Financial traders are better at reading their ‘gut feelings’ than the general population – and the better they are at this ability, the more successful they are as traders, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge.

    In economics and finance most models analyse conscious reasoning and are based on psychology. We should refocus on the body, or more exactly the interaction between body and brain. Medics find this obvious; economists don't
    John Coates
    That was supposed to be going up, wasn't it?

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    Scientists have found that developing nerve cells are able to ‘feel’ their environment as they grow, helping them form the correct connections within the brain and with other parts of the body. The results, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could open up new avenues of research in brain development, and lead to potential treatments for spinal cord injuries and other types of neuronal damage.

    As the brain develops, roughly 100 billion neurons make over 100 trillion connections to send and receive information. For decades, it has been widely accepted that neuronal growth is controlled by small signalling molecules which are ‘sniffed’ out by the growing neurons, telling them which way to go, so that they can find their precise target. The new study, by researchers from the University of Cambridge, shows that neuronal growth is not only controlled by these chemical signals, but also by the physical properties of their environment, which guide the neurons along complex stiffness patterns in the tissue through which they grow.

    “The fact that neurons in the developing brain not only respond to chemical signals but also to the mechanical properties of their environment opens many exciting new avenues for research in brain development,” said the study’s lead author Dr Kristian Franze, from Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. “Considering mechanics might also lead to new breakthroughs in our understanding of neuronal regeneration. For example, following spinal cord injuries, the failure of neurons to regrow through damaged tissue with altered mechanical properties has been a persistent challenge in medicine.”

    We navigate our world guided by our senses, which are based on interactions with different facets of our environment — at the seaside you smell and taste the saltiness of the air, feel the grains of sand and the coldness of the water, and hear the crashing of waves on the beach. Within our bodies, individual neurons also sense and react to their environment – they ‘taste’ and ‘smell’ small chemical molecules, and, as this study shows, ‘feel’ the stiffness and structure of their surroundings. They use these senses to guide how and where they grow.

    Using a long, wire-like extension called an axon, neurons carry electrical signals throughout the brain and body. During development, axons must grow along precisely defined pathways until they eventually connect with their targets. The enormously complex networks that result control all body functions. Errors in the neuronal ‘wiring’ or catastrophic severing of the connections, as occurs during spinal cord injury, may lead to severe disabilities.

    A number of chemical signals controlling axon growth have been identified. Called ‘guidance cues,’ these molecules are produced by cells in the tissue surrounding growing axons and may either attract or repel the axons, directing them along the correct paths. However, chemical guidance cues alone cannot fully explain neuronal growth patterns, suggesting that other factors contribute to guiding neurons.

    One of these factors turns out to be mechanics: axons also possess a sense of ‘touch’. In order to move, growing neurons must exert forces on their environment. The environment in turn exerts forces back, and the axons can therefore ‘feel’ the mechanical properties of their surroundings, such as its stiffness. “Consider the difference between walking on squelchy mud versus hard rock – how you walk, your balance and speed, will differ on these two surfaces,” said Franze. “Similarly, axons adjust their growth behaviour depending on the mechanical properties of their environment.” However, until recently it was not known what environments axons encounter as they grow, and Franze and his colleagues decided to find out.

    They developed a new technique, based on atomic force microscopy, to measure the stiffness of developing Xenopus frog brains at high resolution – revealing what axons might feel as they grow through the brain. The study found complex patterns of stiffness in the developing brain that seemed to predict axon growth directions. The researchers showed that axons avoided stiffer areas of the brain and grew towards softer regions. Changing the normal brain stiffness caused the axons to get lost and fail to find their targets.

    In collaboration with Professor Christine Holt’s research group, the team then explored how exactly the axons were feeling their environments. They found that neurons contain ion channels called Piezo1, which sit in the cell membrane: the barrier between cell and environment. These channels open only when a large enough force is applied, similar to shutter valves in air mattresses. Opening of these channels generates small pores in the membrane of the neurons, which allows calcium ions to enter the cells. Calcium then triggers a number of reactions that change how neurons grow.

    When neuronal membranes were stiffened using a substance extracted from a spider venom, which made it harder to open the channels, neurons became ‘numb’ to environmental stiffness. This caused the axons to grow abnormally without reaching their target. Removing Piezo1 from the cells, similarly abolishing the axons’ capacity to feel differences in stiffness, had the same effect.

    “We already understand quite a bit about the detection and integration of chemical signals” said Franze. “Adding mechanical signals to this picture will lead to a better understanding of the growth and development of the nervous system. These insights will help us answer critical questions in developmental biology as well as in biomedicine and regenerative biology.”

    David E Koser et al. Mechanosensing is critical for axon growth in the developing brain.’ Nature Neuroscience (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nn.4394

    Researchers have identified a new mechanism controlling brain development: that neurons not only ‘smell’ chemicals in their environment, but also ‘feel’ their way through the developing brain. 

    Considering mechanics might lead to new breakthroughs in our understanding of neuronal regeneration.
    Kristian Franze
    Brain of a frog embryo. The coloured structures are cell nuclei (containing DNA), the white structure in the center corresponds to the optic tract, which contains the neuronal axons studied.

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    Researchers have established how a protein called alpha-synuclein, which is closely associated with Parkinson’s Disease, functions in healthy human brains. By showing how the protein works in healthy patients, the study offers important clues about what may be happening when people develop the disease itself.

    Parkinson’s Disease is one of a group of conditions known as “protein misfolding diseases”, because they are characterised by specific proteins becoming distorted and malfunctioning. These proteins then cluster into thread-like chains, which are toxic to other cells.

    While malfunctioning alpha-synuclein has long been recognised as a hallmark of Parkinson’s Disease, its role in healthy brains was not properly understood until now. The new study, carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London, shows that the protein regulates the flow of cellular transporters known as synaptic vesicles – a process fundamental to effective signalling in the brain.

    Significantly, the researchers also tested mutated forms of alpha-synuclein that are linked to Parkinson’s disease. This was found to interfere with the same mechanism, essentially by impairing the ability of alpha-synuclein to regulate the flow of synaptic vesicles, and hence compromising the signalling between neurons.

    Giuliana Fusco, a Chemistry PhD student from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, carried out the main experiments underpinning the research. “It was already clear that alpha-synuclein plays some sort of role in regulating the flow of synaptic vesicles at the synapse, but our study presents the mechanism, explaining exactly how it does it,” she said. “Because we have shown that mutated forms of alpha-synuclein, which are associated with early onset familial forms of Parkinson’s Disease, affect this process, we also now know that this is a function that may be impaired in people who carry these mutations.”

    The researchers stress that the results should be treated with caution at this stage, not least because much about Parkinson’s Disease remains obscure.

    Dr Alfonso De Simone, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, and one of the study’s lead authors, said: “It is important to be careful not to leap to conclusions. So much is happening in the development of Parkinson’s Disease and its origins could be multiple, but we have made a step forward in understanding what is going on.”

    The precise function of alpha-synuclein has been the subject of considerable debate, partly because it is abundant in red blood cells as well as in the brain. This implies that it is a rather strange, metamorphic protein that can potentially perform several different roles.

    Establishing that it regulates the mechanisms that enable signalling to occur in the brain represents significant progress. “If you remove part of a machine, you need to know what it is supposed to do before you can understand what the consequences of its removal are likely to be,” De Simone said. “We have had a similar situation with Parkinson’s Disease; we needed to know what alpha-synuclein actually does in order to identify the right strategies to target it as a therapeutic approach to Parkinson’s.”

    The study involved lab-based experiments in which synthetic vesicles, modelling the synaptic vesicles found the brain, were exposed to alpha-synuclein. Using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the researchers examined how the protein organised itself structurally in relation to the vesicles. To verify the findings, additional tests were then carried out on samples taken from the brains of rats.

    The basic process by which signals pass through the brain involves neurotransmitters, which are carried inside the synaptic vesicles, being passed across synapses - the junctions between neurons. During signalling, some vesicles move to the surface of the synapse, fuse with the membrane, and release the neurotransmitters across the connection, all in a matter of milliseconds.

    The researchers found that alpha-synuclein plays an essential part in marshalling the vesicles during this process. Two different regions of the protein were found to have membrane-binding properties that mean it can attach itself to vesicles and hold some of them in place, while others are released.

    By holding some of the vesicles back, the protein essentially performs a regulatory function, ensuring that neither too many, nor too few, are passed forward at any given moment. “It is a sort of shepherding effect by alpha-synuclein that occurs away from the synapse itself, and controls the number of synaptic vesicles used in each transmission,” Fusco said.

    The research suggests that in some familial cases of early onset Parkinson’s Disease, because alpha-synuclein malfunctions as a result of genetic alterations, the protein’s marshalling role is compromised. One of the trademarks of Parkinson’s Disease, for example, is an excess of alpha-synuclein in the brain. In such circumstances, it is possible that too much binding will take place and the flow of vesicles will be limited, preventing effective neurotransmission.

     “At this stage we can only really speculate about the wider implications of these findings and more research is needed to test some of those ideas,” De Simone added. “Nevertheless, this does seem to explain a large body of biochemical data in Parkinson’s research.”

    The paper, Structural Basis of Synaptic Vesicle Assembly Promoted by alpha-Synuclein, is published in Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS12563.

    Researchers have identified how alpha-synuclein, the protein associated with Parkinson’s Disease, enables communication between neurons in the brain, offering important clues about what may be happening to patients when the protein malfunctions.

    This is a process which may be impaired in people who carry mutations associated with early onset familial forms of Parkinson’s Disease
    Giuliana Fusco
    The study suggests that alpha-synuclein acts as a bond between cellular transporters in healthy brains, regulating their flow and therefore controlling the signalling process.

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    Researchers have developed an algorithm that aids our understanding of how living systems work, by identifying which proteins within cells will interact with each other, based on their genetic sequences alone.

    The ability to generate huge amounts of data from genetic sequencing has developed rapidly in the past decade, but the trouble for researchers is in being able to apply that sequence data to better understand living systems. The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a significant step forward because biological processes, such as how our bodies turn food into energy, are driven by specific protein-protein interactions.

    “We were really surprised that our algorithm was powerful enough to make accurate predictions in the absence of experimentally-derived data,” said study co-author Dr Lucy Colwell, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, who led the study with Ned Wingreen of Princeton University. “Being able to predict these interactions will help us understand how proteins fit and work together to complete required tasks – and using an algorithm is much faster and much cheaper than relying on experiments.”

    When proteins interact with each other, they stick together to form protein complexes. In her previous research, Colwell found that if the two interacting proteins were known, sequence data could be used to figure out the structure of these complexes. Once the structure of the complexes is known, researchers can then investigate what is happening chemically. However, the question of which proteins interact with each other still required expensive, time-consuming experiments. Each cell often contains multiple versions of the same protein, and it wasn’t possible to predict which version of each protein would interact specifically – instead, experiments involve trying all options to see which ones stick.

    In the current paper, the researchers used a mathematical algorithm to sift through the possible interaction partners and identify pairs of proteins that interact with each other. The method correctly predicted 93% of protein-protein interactions present in a dataset of more than 40,000 protein sequences for which the pairing is known, without being first provided any examples of correct pairs.

    When two proteins stick together, some amino acids on one chain stick to the amino acids on the other chain. The boundaries between interacting proteins tend to evolve together over time, causing their sequences to mirror each other.

    The algorithm uses this effect to build a model of the interaction. It first randomly pairs protein versions within each organism – because interacting pairs tend to be more similar in sequence to one another than non-interacting pairs, the algorithm can quickly identify a small set of largely correct pairings from the random starting point.

    Using this small set, the algorithm measures whether the amino acid at a particular location in the first protein influences which amino acid occurs at a particular location in the second protein. These dependencies, learned from the data, are incorporated into a model and used to calculate the interaction strengths for each possible protein pair. Low-scoring pairings are eliminated, and the remaining set used to build an updated model.

    The researchers thought that the algorithm would only work accurately if it first ‘learned’ what makes a good protein-protein pair by studying pairs that have been discovered in experiments. This meant that the researchers had to give the algorithm some known protein pairs, or ‘gold standards,’ against which to compare new sequences. The team used two well-studied families of proteins, histidine kinases and response regulators, which interact as part of a signaling system in bacteria.

    But known examples are often scarce, and there are tens of millions of undiscovered protein-protein interactions in cells. So the team decided to see if they could reduce the amount of training they gave the algorithm. They gradually lowered the number of known histidine kinase-response regulator pairs that they fed into the algorithm, and were surprised to find that the algorithm continued to work. Finally, they ran the algorithm without giving it any such training pairs, and it still predicted new pairs with 93 percent accuracy.

    “The fact that we didn't need a set of training data was really surprising,” said Colwell.

    The algorithm was developed using proteins from bacteria, and the researchers are now extending the technique to other organisms. “Reactions in living organisms are driven by specific protein interactions,” said Colwell. “This approach allows us to identify and probe these interactions, an essential step towards building a picture of how living systems work.”

    The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the European Union.

    Anne-Florence Bitbol et al. ‘Inferring interaction partners from protein sequences.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1606762113

    An algorithm which models how proteins inside cells interact with each other will enhance the study of biology, and sheds light on how proteins work together to complete tasks such as turning food into energy.

    Being able to predict these interactions will help us understand how proteins fit and work together to complete required tasks.
    Lucy Colwell
    Interacting proteins

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    Social businesses – those with a socially beneficial objective – can play an important role in developing countries in addressing needs such as healthcare, energy, education and sanitation, but such businesses have faced a difficult time scaling up to significant size and reach.

    A new study by researchers from Cambridge University has identified four key strategies and two methods for social businesses to scale up, which could help them reach many more of the four billion people in developing countries who could benefit from the services of such businesses.

    Meeting these needs through affordable and sustainable solutions offers businesses a vast opportunity for future growth. As developing markets emerge from low-income to middle-income status, their development offers businesses the potential to make profits while also delivering significant social impact.

    The study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, identifies market penetration, market development, product development and diversification as the four key growth strategies at different stages of business maturity for social businesses. In parallel, the study found two ways of increasing income generated through these four strategies – increasing revenue per stream and diversifying revenue streams.

    Previous studies in this area had focused on scaling up conventional for-profit businesses and NGOs, but there had been little research on scaling up profit-generating social businesses.

    Social businesses have had difficulty scaling up in developing countries due to a lack of infrastructure such as roads and electricity, coupled with a lack of clear property rights and well-functioning courts. On a more encouraging note, new technology such as mobile phones and new business structures such as public-private partnerships now make it easier for such businesses to find ways to reach new consumers.

    “Social businesses have enormous potential to provide important services to billions of people around the world – but they need to scale up in order to meet these needs,” said study co-author Professor Jaideep Pradhu from Cambridge Judge Business School. “This study is a first step to greater understanding in this area, but we need a lot more work to support the development and growth of such businesses.”

    The study focused on three successful social businesses – development organization BRAC, eye care company Aravind and Amul Dairy.

    BRAC, one of the world’s largest NGOs, serving 135 million people in 11 countries in areas ranging from nutrition and sanitation to microfinance, uses “replication and diffusion” as a key to its successful efforts to scale up. To reach people in dispersed regions, for example, BRAC used village societies and village intermediaries to train people, testing solutions in local communities and improving them before expanding to larger communities.

    Aravind Eye Care runs a number of hospitals and eye care centres in India, treating more than three million people a year to fight blindness in the country. In order to scale up, Aravind chose to increase the number of hospitals and centres in a given region – and then diversified activities by adding a manufacturing unit, staff training and a research department.

    Amul Dairy, an Indian co-operative of three million milk producers, began to scale up by increasing the number of milk producers in the state of Gujurat followed by establishment of a processing plant to produce dairy products from excess milk. A partnership with the government then helped Amul to expand across India and into other countries.

    All three companies used almost all the different scaling-up methods at one point in their development, suggesting that all strategies are important to achieve scale and that companies need to mix and match different strategies.

    Based on the case studies, companies with a clear single purpose (Aravind and Amul) might start with ‘simpler’ strategies such as market penetration, while companies like BRAC with broader goals will need a more diverse approach.

    Nancy M.P. Bocken, Alison Fil, and Jaideep Prabhu. ‘Scaling up social businesses in developing markets.’ Journal of Cleaner Production (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.08.045

    Adapted from a Cambridge Judge Business School press release.

    New study identifies four strategies and two key methods for scaling up social businesses in developing countries in order to meet the unmet needs of more than four billion people.

    Social businesses have enormous potential to provide important services to billions of people around the world – but they need to scale up in order to meet these needs.
    Jaideep Prabhu
    Community Eye Health

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    You may have heard of the ‘dementia tsunami’. It’s heading our way. As our population ages, the number of cases of dementia is set to rocket, overwhelming our health services and placing an enormous burden on our society.

    Only, it’s not quite so simple. A study published last year by Professor Carol Brayne from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health suggested that better education and living standards meant people were at a lower risk of developing the disease than previously thought and so, despite our ageing population, numbers were likely to stabilise – and could even perhaps fall slightly.

    Of course, even this more optimistic outlook does not hide the fact that millions of people worldwide will be diagnosed with dementia each year and millions are already living with the condition. An effective treatment for the 'memory thief' still seems like a distant prospect.

    “Dementia isn’t one disease: it’s a constellation of changes in an individual’s brain, with many underlying causes,” says Brayne. “Most people, by the time they’re in their eighties or nineties, have some of these changes in their brains, regardless of whether or not they ever develop dementia.”

    For this reason, Brayne believes we need a radical approach to tackling brain health throughout the course of our lifetime, with a greater emphasis on reduction in the risk of dementia achieved through measures in society that are related to better health in general, such as social and lifestyle changes, in addition to the focus on early therapeutic approaches to preventing or treating the disease through a pharmaceutical approach.

    By far the most common and well-known form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms include memory problems, changes in behaviour and progressive loss of independence.

    At a biological level, the disease sees a build-up of two particular types of proteins in the brain: fragments of beta-amyloid clump together in ‘plaques’ between nerve cells, and twisted strands of tau form ‘tangles’ within the nerve cells. These plaques and tangles lead to the death of nerve cells, causing the brain to shrink.

    Clinical trials of Alzheimer’s drugs are always going to be difficult, in part because trial participants are patients with advanced stage disease, who have already lost a significant number of nerve cells. But Professor Chris Dobson, who recently helped secure £17 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for a new Chemistry of Health Building, including the Centre for Misfolding Diseases, believes that most of the trials to date were destined to fail from the start because of a fundamental lack of understanding of the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer’s.

    Understandably, most of the researchers tackling Alzheimer’s approach the disease as a clinical – or at least a biological – problem. Dobson instead sees it as also being about chemistry and physics. He argues that the protein tangles and plaques – collectively known as aggregates – are demonstrating a physical property similar to the way in which crystals precipitate out of, say, salty water: all they need is a ‘seed’ to kick off the precipitation and the process runs away with itself. “In essence,” he says, “biology is trying to suppress molecules behaving in a physical way.” For his contributions, Dobson has been awarded the 2014 Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics.

    In 2009, Dobson, together with colleagues Professors Tuomas Knowles and Michele Vendruscolo, published a study that broke down the aggregation process into a combination of smaller steps, each of which could be tested experimentally. It became apparent to the team that drugs were failing in trials because they were targeting the wrong steps. “And this is still happening,” says Vendruscolo. “Companies are still putting small molecules into clinical trials that, when we test them using our methods, we find stand no chance.”

    They believe there may be a role to play for ‘neurostatins’, which could do for Alzheimer’s what statins already do to reduce cholesterol levels and prevent heart attacks and strokes. In fact, they may have already identified compounds that might fit the bill.

    Professor Michel Goedert from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology admits that there is a gap between our understanding of Alzheimer’s and our ability to turn this into effective therapies.

    “We know much about the causes of inherited forms of Alzheimer’s disease, but this knowledge has so far not led to any therapies,” he says. “It’s clear now that abnormal protein aggregation is central to Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t know the mechanisms by which this aggregation leads to neurodegeneration.” Goedert himself played an instrumental part in studies that implicated the aggregation of tau protein in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, work that led to him being awarded the 2014 European Grand Prix from the Paris-based Foundation for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease.

    “I don’t think we should talk of a cure,” says Goedert. “At best, we will be able to halt the disease. Prevention will be much more important.” Part of the problem, he says, lies in the fact that there is no absolute way of identifying those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

    The market for an Alzheimer’s drug is massive, which is why pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop new drugs. Goedert doesn’t believe we will ever find a single ‘magic bullet’, but will need to use combination therapies – in the same way that we treat other diseases, such as HIV – with each drug targeting a particular aspect of the disease.

    Professor David Rubinsztein from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research agrees with Goedert that we need to look at preventing Alzheimer’s rather than just focusing on treating the disease. He, too, believes in the concept of neurostatins. “These compounds would be safe, well tolerated by most people and generally good for you; you could take them for many years before the onset of disease,” he says. “Then we wouldn’t need to worry about identifying people at highest risk of the disease – everyone could take them.”

    Rubinsztein is the academic lead for Cambridge’s new Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Institute, part of a £30 million Drug Discovery Alliance that also includes the University of Oxford and University College London. This state-of-the-art institute will fast-track the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. In particular, the Alliance will look at promising drug targets, assess their validity and develop small molecules that target them. These could then be taken up by pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials, removing some of the risk that results in most ‘promising’ drug candidates failing early on.

    Rubinsztein is optimistic about our chances of fighting Alzheimer’s. “If you could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, even by three to five years, that discovery would be transformative and massively reduce the number of people getting the disease,” he says. “We’re not asking to stop the disease, just to delay it. It’s really not such a big ask.”

    Cambridge Neuroscience plays a key role in coordinating dementia research across the large and diverse community of neuroscientists in Cambridge, helping scientists and clinicians to work together.

    Today (September 21) is World Alzheimer’s Day, and over a hundred years since the first case of Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed. Since then we’ve learned a great deal about the protein ‘tangles’ and ‘plaques’ that cause the disease. How close are we to having effective treatments – and could we even prevent dementia from occurring in the first place?

    I don't think we should talk of a cure. At best, we will be able to halt the disease. Prevention will be much more important.
    Michel Goedert

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    A new study of human genomic diversity suggests there may have in fact been two successful dispersals out of Africa, and that a “trace” of the earlier of these two expansion events has lingered in the genetics of modern Papuans.  

    Three major genetic studies are published today in the same issue of Nature. All three agree that, for the most part, the genomes of contemporary non-African populations show signs of only one expansion of modern humans out of Africa: an event that took place sometime after 75,000 years ago.   

    Two of the studies conclude that, if there were indeed earlier expansions of modern humans out of Africa, they have left little or no genetic trace. The third, however, may have found that ‘trace’. 

    This study, led by Drs Luca Pagani and Toomas Kivisild from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, has found a “genetic signature” in present-day Papuans that suggests at least 2% of their genome originates from an even earlier, and otherwise extinct, dispersal of humans out of Africa.

    Papuans and Philippine Negritos are populations that inhabit Papua New Guinea and some of the surrounding islands in Southeast Asia and Oceania. In the genomes of these populations, the researchers discovered more of the African ‘haplotypes’ – groups of genes linked closely enough to be inherited from a single source – than in any other present-day population.   

    Extensive analysis on the extra 2% of African haplotypes narrowed down the split between African (Yoruban) and Papuan lineages to around 120,000 years ago – a remarkable 45,000 years prior to the very earliest that the main African expansion could have occurred.  

    The study analysed genomic diversity in 125 human populations at an unprecedented level of detail, based on 379 high resolution whole genome sequences from across the world generated by an international collaboration led by the Cambridge team and colleagues from the Estonian Biocentre.  

    Lead researcher Luca Pagani said: “Papuans share for most part same evolutionary history as all other non-Africans, but our research shows they may also contain some remnants of a chapter that is also yet to be described.

    “While our research is in almost complete agreement with all other groups with regard to a single out-of-Africa event, this scenario cannot fully account for some genetic peculiarities in the Papuan genomes we analysed.”

    Pagani says the sea which separates the ‘ecozones’ of Asia and Australasia may have played a part: “The Wallace line is a channel of deep sea that was never dry during the ice ages. This constant barrier may have contributed to isolating and hence preserving the traces of the otherwise extinct lineage in Papuan populations.”

    Toomas Kivisild said: “We believe that at least one additional human expansion out of Africa took place before the major one described in our research and others. These people diverged from the rest of Africans about 120,000 years ago, colonising some land outside of Africa. The 2% of the Papuan genome is the only remaining trace of this otherwise extinct lineage.”

    The Estonian Biocentre’s Dr Mait Metspalu said: “This endeavour was uniquely made possible by the anonymous sample donors and the collaboration effort of nearly one hundred researchers from 74 different research groups from all over the world.”

    Metspalu’s colleague Richard Villems added: “Overall this work provides an invaluable contribution to the understanding of our evolutionary past and to the challenges that humans faced when settling down in ever-changing environments.”

    Researchers say the deluge of freely available data will serve as future starting point to further studies on the genetic history of modern and ancient human populations.

    Several major studies, published today, concur that virtually all current global human populations stem from a single wave of expansion out of Africa. Yet one has found 2% of the genome in Papuan populations points to an earlier, separate dispersal event – and an extinct lineage that made it to the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

    Papuans share for most part same evolutionary history as all other non-Africans, but our research shows they may also contain some remnants of a chapter that is also yet to be described.
    Luca Pagani
    Dani tribesman on his way to his village in the Baliem Valley, Papua.

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    The first major genomic study of Aboriginal Australians ever undertaken has confirmed that all present-day non-African populations are descended from the same single wave of migrants, who left Africa around 72,000 years ago.

    Researchers sequenced the complete genetic information of 83 Aboriginal Australians, as well as 25 Papuans from New Guinea, to produce a host of significant new findings about the origins of modern human populations. Their work is published alongside several other related papers in the journal Nature.

    The study, by an international team of academics, was carried out in close collaboration with elders and leaders from various Aboriginal Australian communities – some of whom are co-authors on the paper – as well as with various other organisations representing the participating groups.

    Alongside the prevailing conclusion, that the overwhelming majority of the genomes of non-Africans alive today stem from one ancestral group of migrants who left Africa together, there are several other standout findings. These include:

    • Compelling evidence that Aboriginal Australians are descended directly from the first people to inhabit Australia – which is still the subject of periodic political dispute.
    • Evidence of an uncharacterised – and perhaps unknown – early human species which interbred with anatomically modern humans as they migrated through Asia.
    • Evidence that a mysterious dispersal from the northeastern part of Australia roughly 4,000 years ago contributed to the cultural links between Aboriginal groups today. These internal migrants defined the way in which people spoke and thought, but then disappeared from most of the continent, in a manner which the researchers describe as “ghost-like”.

    The study’s senior authors are from the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Universities of Copenhagen, Bern and Griffith University Australia. Within Cambridge, members of the Leverhulme Centre for Evolutionary Studies also contributed to the research, in particular by helping to place the genetic data which the team gathered in the field within the context of wider evidence about early human population and migration patterns.



    Professor Eske Willerslev, who holds posts at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, the Sanger Institute and the University of Copenhagen, initiated and led the research. He said: “The study addresses a number of fundamental questions about human evolution – how many times did we leave Africa, when was Australia populated, and what is the diversity of people in and outside Australia?”

    “Technologically and politically, it has not really been possible to answer those questions until now. We found evidence that there was only really one wave of humans who gave rise to all present-day non-Africans, including Australians.”

    Anatomically modern humans are known to have left Africa approximately 72,000 years ago, eventually spreading across Asia and Europe. Outside Africa, Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation, dating back about 50,000 years.

    Some researchers believe that this deep history indicates that Papuans and Australians stemmed from an earlier migration than the ancestors of Eurasian peoples; others that they split from Eurasian progenitors within Africa itself, and left the continent in a separate wave.

    Until the present study, however, the only genetic evidence for Aboriginal Australians, which is needed to investigate these theories, came from one tuft of hair (taken from a long-since deceased individual), and two unidentified cell lines.

    The new research dramatically improves that picture. Working closely with community elders, representative organisations and the ethical board of Griffith University, Willerslev and colleagues obtained permission to sequence dozens of Aboriginal Australian genomes, using DNA extracted from saliva.

    This was compared with existing genetic information about other populations. The researchers modelled the likely genetic impact of different human dispersals from Africa and towards Australia, looking for patterns that best matched the data they had acquired. Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr and Professor Robert Foley, both from the Leverhulme Centre, assisted in particular by analysing the likely correspondences between this newly-acquired genetic evidence and a wider framework of existing archaeological and anthropological evidence about early human population movements.



    Dr Manjinder Sandhu, a senior author from the Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, said: “Our results suggest that, rather than having left in a separate wave, most of the genomes of Papuans and Aboriginal Australians can be traced back to a single ‘Out of Africa’ event which led to modern worldwide populations. There may have been other migrations, but the evidence so far points to one exit event.”

    The Papuan and Australian ancestors did, however, diverge early from the rest, around 58,000 years ago. By comparison, European and Asian ancestral groups only become distinct in the genetic record around 42,000 years ago.

    The study then traces the Papuan and Australian groups’ progress. Around 50,000 years ago they reached “Sahul” – a prehistoric supercontinent that originally united New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania, until these regions were separated by rising sea levels approximately 10,000 years ago.

    The researchers charted several further “divergences” in which various parts of the population broke off and became genetically isolated from others. Interestingly, Papuans and Aboriginal Australians appear to have diverged about 37,000 years ago – long before they became physically separated by water. The cause is unclear, but one reason may be the early flooding of the Carpentaria basin, which left Australia connected to New Guinea by a strip of land that may have been unfavourable for human habitation.

    Once in Australia, the ancestors of today’s Aboriginal communities remained almost completely isolated from the rest of the world’s population until just a few thousand years ago, when they came into contact with some Asian populations, followed by European travellers in the 18th Century.

    Indeed, by 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other. This divergence was most likely caused by environmental barriers; in particular the evolution of an almost impassable central desert as the Australian continent dried out.



    Assistant Professor Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, from the Universities of Copenhagen and Bern, and a lead author, said: “The genetic diversity among Aboriginal Australians is amazing. Because the continent has been populated for such a long time, we find that groups from south-western Australia are genetically more different from north-eastern Australia, than, for example, Native Americans are from Siberians.”

    Two other major findings also emerged. First, the researchers were able to reappraise traces of DNA which come from an ancient, extinct human species and are found in Aboriginal Australians. These have traditionally been attributed to encounters with Denisovans – a group known from DNA samples found in Siberia.

    In fact, the new study suggests that they were from a different, as-yet uncharacterised, species. “We don’t know who these people were, but they were a distant relative of Denisovans, and the Papuan/Australian ancestors probably encountered them close to Sahul,” Willerslev said.

    Finally, the research also offers an intriguing new perspective on how Aboriginal culture itself developed, raising the possibility of a mysterious, internal migration 4,000 years ago.

    About 90% of Aboriginal communities today speak languages belonging to the “Pama-Nyungan” linguistic family. The study finds that all of these people are  descendants of the founding population which diverged from the Papuans 37,000 years ago, then diverged further into genetically isolated communities.

    This, however, throws up a long-established paradox. Language experts are adamant that Pama-Nyungan languages are much younger, dating back 4,000 years, and coinciding with the appearance of new stone technologies in the archaeological record.

    Scientists have long puzzled over how – if these communities were completely isolated from each other and the rest of the world – they ended up sharing a language family that is much younger? The traditional answer has been that there was a second migration into Australia 4,000 years ago, by people speaking this language.

    But the new research finds no evidence of this. Instead, the team uncovered signs of a tiny gene flow, indicating a small population movement from north-east Australia across the continent, potentially at the time the Pama-Nyungan language and new stone tool technologies appeared.

    These intrepid travellers, who must have braved forbidding environmental barriers, were small in number, but had a significant, sweeping impact on the continent’s culture. Mysteriously, however, the genetic evidence for them then disappears. In short, their influential language and culture survived – but they, as a distinctive group, did not.

    “It’s a really weird scenario,” Willerslev said. “A few immigrants appear in different villages and communities around Australia. They change the way people speak and think; then they disappear, like ghosts. And people just carry on living in isolation the same way they always have. This may have happened for religious or cultural reasons that we can only speculate about. But in genetic terms, we have never seen anything like it before.”

    The paper, A Genomic History of Aboriginal Australia, is published in Nature. doi:10.1038/nature18299.

    Inset images: Professor Eske Willerslev talking to Aboriginal elders in the Kalgoorlie area in southwestern Australia in 2012. (Photo credit: Preben Hjort, Mayday Film). / Map showing main findings from the paper. Credit: St John's College, Cambridge.

    The first significant investigation into the genomics of Aboriginal Australians has uncovered several major findings about early human populations. These include evidence of a single “Out of Africa” migration event, and of a previously unidentified, “ghost-like” population spread which provided a basis for the modern Aboriginal cultural landscape.

    We found evidence that there was only really one wave of humans who gave rise to all present-day non-Africans, including Australians
    Eske Willerslev
    Aubrey Lynch, elder from the Wongatha Aboriginal language group, who participated in the study.

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    At 2.30am I sit with my laptop feeling helpless as I watch video footage of a dust cloud rising around the crumbling cathedral in the city square. An earthquake has hit my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, and all I can do is scan the internet for snippets of information. Mild panic rises in my stomach, I have had no news of my family.

    I had been woken by a text from a friend but there were no other messages, emails or missed calls. Finally I reach my mum on her mobile phone as she emerges from a central city building. She had spent three hours stuck on the tenth floor with no power, an incessant fire alarm and no safe way out. Firemen arrived to help her and stranded colleagues negotiate the dark internal stairwells that had pulled away from the walls, with water pouring from broken water pipes above.

    We speak only briefly to keep the airways free for others, but I at least learn that my immediate family are okay. After the boost of adrenaline, I can’t sleep. A few hours later, feeling a little lost, I set off for rowing training as life around me in Cambridge surreally continues as normal.

    That was 2011 and at the time I was completing an MPhil degree in the Engineering Department. Following my degree, I returned to New Zealand to work on the reconstruction of Christchurch, feeling motivated that as an engineer I could contribute towards rebuilding the city.

    I experienced the aftershocks (which numbered in the thousands) and became adept at estimating the epicentre through the sound and feel of the shaking. Life was fairly normal living on the western side of the city where there was minimal damage. However, I worked in badly damaged areas in the east, where houses had tilted on their foundations and the roads were rough and potholed from liquefaction damage.

    Partway through the year I was offered funding for a PhD back in Cambridge. I saw an opportunity to research the reconstruction as it progressed and to capture insights as to why and how decisions were made. I believed I could continue to make a meaningful contribution, albeit shifting to the role of observer rather than as a direct participant in the recovery process.

    My research involved returning to Christchurch for fieldwork each year, interviewing engineers, executives, political leaders and other professionals involved in planning and implementing the reconstruction.

    The initial shift from practitioner to researcher was a personal challenge. I felt I had to prove my relevance to the rebuild effort to those dealing with the stresses and challenges of the process every day. However, my fears gradually dissipated – I was welcomed back and people were happy to spend time with me to reflect on their experiences. Sometimes it was also a chance to vent their frustrations.

    I had initially considered conducting multiple case studies around the world, but soon realised the value of a longer-term study in Christchurch to capture changes over time. Also, as a PhD student with limited time and budget, it made sense to work in a region where I had a good understanding of the politics and the culture and a connection to people through shared experience.

    Securing interviews with critical decision makers involved planning (sometimes years in the process) and a little luck. During field visits I had an allocated desk at one of the major recovery organisations and attended community and industry events. This meant I could immerse myself in recovery discussions and I had opportunities to join meetings simply because I was in the office at the right time.

    On my final visit I met with the central government minister in charge of the recovery. We discussed major decisions made by the government in response to the earthquakes. This included the establishment of new legislation, the creation of new organisations to lead the recovery and the red zoning of residential land, where approximately 8,000 residential properties now sit empty as their future is debated.

    One of the many challenges of the recovery was the need to create new organisations to lead the process and to interpret ambiguous policy statements regarding funding commitments. Although there were long processes of negotiation (establishing clear funding arrangements, for example, took years), a pre-defined, prescriptive approach could have been equally unsatisfactory.

    Five years into the recovery, there is a lingering question over how to be better prepared in the future. There is a need to create policies that provide both appropriate clear guidance and flexibility to respond to specific circumstances. This remains the subject of much debate in New Zealand. Despite the country’s relatively advanced system for emergency management, it was caught off-guard by a large earthquake in Christchurch.

    My research has shown that while post-disaster reconstruction may be considered an opportunity to rebuild more resilient infrastructure, many potential opportunities may be excluded. Contributing factors include financial constraints, limits in scope of organisations involved and the inherent challenge of introducing change to communities, particularly in the time-constrained context of recovery.

    With a better understanding of such factors, we can gain better insight into the effectiveness of different decisions and subsequent pathways for recovery. Unfortunately, with natural disasters like earthquakes, there is no prevention; there is only preparation for the next time disaster strikes.

    Kristen was primarily funded through a Cambridge International Scholarship from the Cambridge Trusts. She also received small grants from the Earthquake Commission in New Zealand, the Department of Engineering, Corpus Christi College and the Cambridge Philosophical Society. Her PhD was supervised by Professor Peter Guthrie.

    Kristen MacAskill describes how an earthquake in her hometown served to influence her career as an engineer.

    Houses had tilted on their foundations and the roads were rough and potholed from liquefaction damage
    Kristen MacAskill
    A badly damaged house in North New Brighton, Christchurch, New Zealand

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    One year after the worldwide controversy when an American dentist and recreational hunter killed Cecil the Lion outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the researchers say hunting can work as a conservation tool, but that an overhaul of the system is required in order to encourage hunting companies to prioritise sustainability over profits. Their findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

    Although it may seem counterintuitive, most lion conservationists agree that trophy hunting can play a key role in conserving the species. Lions need large protected areas to thrive, but managing this land is expensive: in developing countries, the operating budgets for protected areas only cover an average of 30% of costs, and the fees raised from trophy hunting can cover some of this shortfall, making it financially feasible to protect lion habitat instead of developing it for other purposes. However, the researchers say the system is in need of reform if the species is to be protected in the long term.

    The researchers, from the Universities of Kent, Cambridge and Queensland, studied lion population trends between 1996 and 2008 in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. Tanzania is home to up to half of the world’s free-ranging lions and is also the main location for lion trophy hunting in Africa.

    The game reserve, which is a stronghold for the species, is divided into blocks in which hunting rights are allocated to different companies. The government leases the land to the hunting companies, enforces hunting regulation and allocates the companies a species-specific annual quota per block.

    The researchers found that in areas where companies were allocated a particular block of land over a short time period (less than ten years), the numbers of lions killed, and the numbers of trophy species killed overall, were higher than the recommended numbers. In addition, annual financial returns were higher for these lands under short-term management.

    In contrast, in blocks that were allocated to the same company for ten years or more, the number of offtakes, or licensed lion kills, were at level that were sustainable for the species, while also maintaining their habitat.

    “Companies who have secured long-term use rights to natural resources are more likely to manage them sustainably,” said Dr Henry Brink from the University of Kent, the study’s first author. “This is an important lesson for lion conservation, as loss of habitat means this species is increasingly restricted to protected areas.”

    This research also supports calls to change the hunting fee system in Tanzania. “At present, the government sells hunting block fees cheaply, and raises more by setting high quotas and high fees for each trophy animal shot, which encourages those who are only allocated blocks over the short-term to shoot more lions, at the expense of long-term sustainability and profits,” said Professor Nigel Leader-Williams from Cambridge’s Department of Geography, the study’s senior author. “Increasing block fees, reducing trophy fees and reducing the hunting quota could bring in the same tax revenue, while reducing the temptation of hunters to kill more lions.”

    Henry Brink et al. ‘Sustainability and long term-tenure: lion trophy hunting in Tanzania.’ PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0162610.

    Adapted from a University of Kent press release.


    New research has found that controlled trophy hunting of lions can actually help conserve the species, but only in areas where hunting companies are given long-term land management rights.  

    Increasing block fees, reducing trophy fees and reducing the hunting quota could bring in the same tax revenue, while reducing the temptation of hunters to kill more lions.
    Nigel Leader-Williams

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    Bookings open on Monday for the 2016 Cambridge Festival of Ideas, with a host of events and discussions on issues ranging from the risk of another global financial crash and the rise of populism to whether our identities are becoming more fluid.

    The Festival of Ideas runs from 17 – 30 October and hosts over 200 events ranging from theatre, art and museum exhibitions to music performances, lectures and debates. Now in its ninth year, most of the Festival events are free and take place in lecture theatres and university buildings around Cambridge.

    The Festival plays host to a series of panel discussions, including one on global economic uncertainty with economists Ha-Joon Chang and Victoria Bateman from the University of Cambridge, Vicky Pryce, former Joint Head of the United Kingdom's Government Economic Service, and Kamal Munir from Judge Business School. The event will ask whether we are on the brink of another global financial meltdown. Victoria Bateman will question whether the lack of diversity among economists is restricting the ability of economists to solve major problems such as inequality and a slowdown in economic growth - and the importance of gender inequality as a contributor to these problems. [28th October]

    Another panel discussion addresses the rise of populism and anti-establishment thinking. What does it mean to be anti-establishment? Professor John Naughton from the University of Cambridge, writer and campaigner Beatrix Campbell, philosopher, computer scientist and political writer Kieron O'Hara and Samantha Asumadu of Media Diversified will answer questions such as in an age of anti-establishment thinking, is the process of overthrowing elites and creating new ones speeding up and are we in for a period of perpetual distrust and is this a good thing?

    Professor Naughton said: “Digital technology has unleashed a wave of ‘creative destruction’ on our societies. The Web is the most radical transformation of humanity’s information environment since the invention of printing. Our national security, privacy, politics, economy, media, social behaviour and even our attention spans are affected by digital technology in ways that we are only now starting to appreciate. And we haven’t yet reached even the end of the beginning of this revolution.” [22nd October]

    The discussion on fluid identities, Are fluid identities the future?, will address growing interest in mixed race, transnational and transgender/intersex identities and will ask whether traditional fixed identities are a myth and, if so, why do so many still cling to them. Speakers include Baroness Afshar, social scientist Peter Aspinall, Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, Sally Hines from the University of Leeds and Jay Hayes-Light, Director of UK Intersex Organisation. [27th October]

    Other panel discussions include:

    • Putin's Russia: dangerous or misunderstood? Guardian journalist Luke Harding, author of A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West, will be in conversation with international relations expert Ayse Zarakol about the current state of play in Russia and what it means for the rest of the world [22nd October]
    • Human trafficking: transnational partnerships. Experts from across Europe will debate how countries can work together to stem the trafficking of human beings across the continent in this high-profile panel discussion. With Director of Europol Rob Wainwright; Andrew Boff, author of Shadow City – Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London; Philip Ishola, Former Director of the Counter Human Trafficking Bureau; and Fiona Hill, Joint Downing Street Chief of Staff, lead author of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and author of A Modern Response to Modern Slavery Report.  The event is chaired by George Papadimitrakopoulos, Onassis Public Benefit Foundation Scholar, and advisor and UK Liaison to the Greek National Rapporteur for Trafficking in Human Beings. [22nd October]
    • Climate change: past, present and future. The Earth's climate has changed throughout its history. So what's so special about now and what can we learn from past climate change? Join a panel of experts to discuss the past, present and future of this global issue. With Professor Douglas Crawford, mountain archaeologist Rachel Reckin, Victoria Herrmann, President of the Arctic Institute, and Barbara Bodenhorn from the University of Cambridge. [22nd October]
    • Is Shakespeare still relevant today? Beyond the Elizabethan theatre and around the world, what if anything, can we still learn from the bard? With Preti Taneja and Edward Wilson-Lee from the University of Cambridge, Malcolm Cocks from Globe Education and Emma Whipday, Globe Education Lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe. [22nd October]
    • Universities and free speech. According to recent research about 80% of universities have restrictions on free speech. What does free speech imply in the context of a University? Is it all about academic freedom or might it have something to do with protecting the status quo? Speakers include writer and academic Malachi McIntosh, writer and academic Joanna Williams, Professor Steve Fuller and Priscilla Mensah, President of the Cambridge Students’ Union. [21st October]
    • Religion meets nationalism: a recipe for disaster? In a time of apparent ascendance in nationalist ideologies around the world, what role does religion have to play? Is it likely to encourage conflict or can it act as an agent of peace? With Professor Eugenio Biagini, Professor Joya Chatterji, Atsuko Ichijo and Spyros Economides. [25th October]
    • Europe: beyond the referendum with The Guardian’s Larry Elliott, Chris Bickerton and Professor Brendan Simms from the University of Cambridge, Liberation’s Sonia Delesalle-Stolper and Professor  Catherine Barnard. [20th October]
    • Academic freedom under attack: global perspectives. With Brendan O'Malley, editor of University World News, Syrian academic Reem Doukmak, Edward Anderson and Anne Alexander from the University of Cambridge and Stephen Wordsworth from the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics. [19th October]
    • New media, new possibilities, new dangers? Does the development of new digital technologies and instant access to the internet provide new opportunities or present new dangers? How can good journalism thrive in these new circumstances? With Professor Jane Singer, Mary Fitzgerald from Open Democracy, Roxane Farmanfarmaian from the University of Cambridge and Buzzfeed’s Luke Lewis. [22nd October]
    • Election: Live! The Battle for the White House. Join Professor David Runciman and the panel from the Election Podcast to discuss who will triumph in this extraordinary battle for the White House. [19th October]

    The Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, St John’s College, Anglia Ruskin University, RAND Europe, Microsoft Research, Cambridge Assessment, University of Cambridge Language Centre, Arts Council England, University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, Cambridge Junction, Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Festival media partner is BBC Radio

    The Festival runs from 17-30 October with over 200 events, mostly free, on everything from the future of Europe to the continuing relevance of Shakespeare.

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    Globally, women are triumphing in historically male-dominated areas. 2017 may begin with women at the helm of Germany, Liberia, Norway, South Korea, the UK, the US, General Motors, the IMF, YouTube and possibly the United Nations. Slowly and incrementally, support is growing for women’s employment and public leadership.

    But social change seems curiously one-sided. While women have taken on more work outside the home, men’s share of cooking, cleaning and caring for elderly relatives has not increased commensurately.

    Levtov R, van der Gaag N, Greene M, Kaufman M, and Barker G (2015). State of the World’s Fathers: A MenCare Advocacy Publication. Washington, DC: Promundo, Rutgers, Save the Children, Sonke Gender Justice, and the MenEngage Alliance.

    Since this is a global phenomenon, I have tried to understand it by engaging with research from around the world. This contrasts with a tendency within academia to focus on either rich or poor countries, which can blind us to both shared and country-specific drivers of change and continuity. I also draw on 16 months of ethnographic research in Kitwe, the largest city in the Zambian Copperbelt. Here’s what I found…

    Rising support for women’s employment

    Rising employment for women partly reflects macro-economic changes. Processes such as deindustrialisation, demechanisation, deregulation and trade liberalisation have reduced the number of working class men’s jobs in rich countries – and their wages. In the US, women’s employment increased as young men’s median wages declined from $41,000 in 1973, to $23,000 in 2013.

    Similar changes have occurred in Zambia. From the mid-1980s, families' economic security worsened due to trade liberalisation, resulting factory closures, as well as public sector contraction, user fees for health and education, and the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS. Families could no longer rely on a male breadwinner. Many came to perceive women’s employment as advantageous.

    Globally, there has also been a growth in sectors demanding stereotypically “feminine” characteristics: health, education, public administration and financial services in Britain, and export-orientated manufacturing in Bangladesh.

    Both of these changes have increased the opportunity cost of women staying at home.

    Resulting exposure to a critical mass of women performing socially valued, masculine roles appears to – slowly and incrementally – undermine gender stereotypes. Increasingly, people see women as equally competent and deserving of status. Many also recognise that their colleagues and communities regard women as equally competent. This ideological change has fostered a positive feedback loop, with more women pursuing historically male-dominated domains.

    However, the initial trigger (the rising opportunity cost of women staying at home) has not occurred in all countries. In the oil-producing countries of the Middle East and North Africa, growth is concentrated in male-dominated sectors. Returns to female employment remain low. The consequent paucity of women in socially-valued positions reinforces widely-shared beliefs that men are more competent and deserving of status. This impedes the kind of positive feedback loop that is occuring in Bangladesh, Britain, USA and Zambia.

    Globally, then, rising female employment and leadership seem contingent upon shifts in perceived interests and exposure to women demonstrating their equal competence.

    Sharing the caring

    Exposure to men sharing care work appears to undermine people’s internalised gender ideologies - their beliefs about what men and women can and should do. For instance, men who cooked and cleaned in their youth (or saw others doing so) did not regard it as ‘women’s work’. Instead, they took pride in their cooking, cleanliness, and capacity to wash white shirts.

    Seeing men sharing care work also seems to affect people’s norm perceptions – their beliefs about what others think and do. Women who had grown up sharing care work with brothers were commonly more optimistic about social change. Besides wanting to share care work, they also anticipated social support for their behaviour.

    But exposure to men sharing care work remains limited. We rarely see men cooking, cleaning and caring for relatives. This is partly due to the low status of such work. It is also because care work is typically performed behind closed doors, in private spaces, leading many to assume that such practices are uncommon. These norm perceptions discourage others from sharing care work.

    This is exemplified by BanaCollins, a market trader supporting an unemployed husband: “Here in Zambia, a woman doesn’t have time to rest… We were born into this system. Every woman must be strong. It’s just tradition. We are all accustomed to it. We can’t change it.”

    Of course there are men who share housework, but they’re rarely seen by others. Egalitarian social change is slowest when it is not publicly visible. Yes, supportive work-family policies are important, but uptake is conditional on norm perceptions: beliefs about what others think and do. Even if people become privately critical, this does not seem sufficient for behavioural change.

    Participants who had not seen men sharing care work (or speaking out in favour of it) remained discouraged. They were unconvinced of the possibility of social change. This was exemplified by Penelope, who is studying to become a social worker: “We learnt about gender in school. But still, it’s just the culture here in Zambia that a woman should do care work.”

    To amplify ongoing progress towards gender equality, we need to increase exposure to both women as professionals and men as carers. If EastEnders featured male care-givers, viewers might come to see it as common and widely accepted. Films can also play a role – Fundamentals of Caring, for example, features Paul Rudd as a male carer, never suggesting this is unusual. Likewise in employment, trade unions and political parties, gender quotas can increase exposure to women demonstrating their equal competence. This could cultivate a positive feedback loop, inspiring others to follow suit.

    The Conversation

    Alice Evans, Lecturer in Human Geography and Bye-Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge

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

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

    The number of women in global leadership positions continues to increase, but the change seems one-sided, writes Dr Alice Evans (Geography) on The Conversation website. So why are men not picking up more of the housework?

    40+333 Chores

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    Who wants to talk?

    My four-year-old son’s favourite book, about a fox in a library, tells its readers that “books give you new ideas” – so the fox asks a chicken to teach him to read, rather than eating it. The same can be said about languages. There are concepts in other languages that don’t exist in English; the German words Schadenfreude and Kitsch are well-known examples. That means that another language inevitably opens up new possible thoughts and ideas.

    Samuel Beckett, whose mother tongue was English, chose to write in French because, he said, it enabled him to think differently. Anna-Kazumi Stahl, a novelist of Japanese and German-American descent, writes in Spanish because, she says, the foreign language puts her in touch with another way of thinking, and allows her to see things she would otherwise have overlooked.

    Emine Sevgi Özdamar, a contemporary Turkish-German novelist and playwright, writes a form of German that is deliberately inflected by Turkish, and describes herself as living between the worlds of the two languages. Turkish-German, for Özdamar, is not just a hybrid or mix of two languages, but a third space in which she can access ideas that neither language could provide in isolation.



    The research of the linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Aneta Pavlenko suggests that many speakers of more than one language experience themselves as a different kind of person in different languages. Languages give you new ideas because they offer you the capacity to see and explore issues that might otherwise never have become apparent. 

    I have just completed a research project called Reading Violent Politics, which examined political extremism in Germany since 1968. On the back of that project I am preparing to edit a book about how women experienced the social movements around that time, in Germany, the USA, Japan and other countries, as well as writing a piece, with a colleague from Hamburg University, on how young men who get involved in right-wing violence or in Jihadi groups use language (or narratives) to justify their decisions and actions. I am also just finishing a book about the stories German prisoners tell about Germany as a nation state.

    Each of these projects has opened up for me new ways of thinking about violence, crime and justice in a particular national context that is also shedding light on other national contexts – including my own, the UK, but also, more broadly, on the kind of language available to violent offenders and to the nation states that incarcerate convicted and suspected terrorists.

    The Fox in the Library (which was originally published in German) is a children’s book, but the story makes clear that learning to read – another language, another culture – is a possible alternative to violence. In what is increasingly and inevitably a globalised world, not being able to “read” the ideas or national narratives that shape other people’s thinking in their own languages – regardless of whether those people also speak English – limits our capacity to understand individuals and their contexts. That could be risky.

    In the first of a new series of comment pieces written by linguists at Cambridge, Sarah Colvin, Schröder Professor of German and Head of the Department of German and Dutch, argues that learning languages is key to understanding how people think and plays a major role in social cohesion.

    There are concepts in other languages that don't exist in English ... another language opens up new possible thoughts and ideas.
    Professor Sarah Colvin
    Who wants to talk?
    Studying languages at Cambridge
    Inspiring information and access events for these subjects are run by the University and the Cambridge Colleges throughout the year:
    On 21st October 2016, Girton College at Cambridge will hold its second Modern Languages Taster Day.
    Upcoming events organised by The University of Cambridge Language Centre are listed here.
    More information about Cambridge's Widening Participation programmes is available here.

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    Subject to the approval of the Regent House, the University’s governing body, Professor Toope will take over from Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz on 1 October 2017.

    Professor Toope is Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and formerly served as president and vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

    He is a scholar specialising in human rights, international dispute resolution, international environmental law, the use of force, and international legal theory with degrees in common law (LLB) and civil law (BCL) with honours from McGill University (1983). Professor Toope is also an alumnus of Trinity College Cambridge, where he completed his PhD in 1987.

    He graduated from Harvard with a degree (AB) in history and literature in 1979. He has published articles and books on change in international law, and the origins of international obligation in international society.

    Professor Toope also represented Western Europe and North America on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances from 2002-2007. 

    Cambridge has carried out an international search for the position of Vice-Chancellor and the Search Committee was headed up by the Master of Jesus College, Professor Ian White.

    Professor White said: “This nomination builds on seven years of Sir Leszek’s visionary leadership. Professor Toope has impeccable academic credentials, a longstanding involvement with higher education, strong leadership experience and an excellent research background.”

    Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz says, “We are delighted to be welcoming a distinguished leader with such an outstanding record as a scholar and educator to lead Cambridge.”

    Professor Toope says, “I am thrilled to be returning to this great university. I look forward to working with staff and students in the pursuit of academic excellence and tremendous international engagement – the very mark of Cambridge.”

    Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz will continue to lead the University until Professor Toope takes up his post on 1 October 2017.

    Today (26 September), international law scholar and university leader Professor Stephen Toope was nominated as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.

    I am thrilled to be returning to this great university. I look forward to working with staff and students in the pursuit of academic excellence and tremendous international engagement – the very mark of Cambridge.
    Professor Stephen Toope
    International law scholar and university leader Professor Stephen Toope

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    The celebrated Reykjavik summit in October 1986 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev was not a disaster, as commonly thought. Instead it marked an important step towards the US and Russia radically reducing their nuclear arsenals, the Cambridge Festival of Ideas will hear next month.

    On the 30th anniversary of the summit, historians Professor David Reynolds and Dr Kristina Spohr will discuss its political significance at the time and now at an event at the Festival entitled‘The Day They Nearly Banned The Bomb’ on 26th October.

    They say: “Reykjavik is usually thought of as a tragic failure and a historic missed opportunity for nuclear disarmament because neither side was willing to compromise over Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ Project. Our talk challenges this verdict by looking at what happened over the following year. In fact, neither leader – despite initial dejection – considered Reykjavik a disaster; rather, as Gorbachev said, it was a ‘step in a complicated dialogue’. We follow the two men over the next few months to the conclusion of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in Washington in November 1987 – the first time the superpowers had actually reduced their nuclear arsenals. This agreement would have been inconceivable without their synergy at Reykjavik, when each leader catalysed the anti-nuclear radicalism of the other.”

    This Festival event will reveal what was at stake at the summit. Using transcripts from the meetings, the two historians will role-play parts of the dramatic final session between these two remarkable and much misunderstood personalities and bring alive for a Cambridge audience the theatre of international politics.

    It is based on a new book edited by David Reynolds, Professor of International History at the University of Cambridge, and Dr Spohr, Associate Professor of International History at LSE, which is published at a time of renewed debate over nuclear weapons under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour and fears about Russia's current role on the international stage. The book, Transcending the Cold War, explores the role of leadership in the ending of the Cold War – a subject the editors feel has received insufficient attention. They say: “Europe was re-united suddenly and peacefully in 1989-90. There were many reasons for this – people power in the streets, structural change across the Soviet bloc, American military and financial pressure, etc. – but we argue that leaders at the top, acting in tandem, were hugely important. Their contribution has so far been overlooked.”

    Transcending the Cold War brings together a team of scholars from five different countries, whose work started at a conference in Cambridge two years ago, in order to explore the vast range of archival materials from the various national archives. The editors emphasize that the book shows the importance of face-to-face meetings and has lessons for today’s Western leaders when dealing with Russia. The challenge, they say, is to know “when to reach out and when to stand firm”. This matters as much in the days of Merkel and Putin as it did in the era of Reagan and Gorbachev.

    The Festival of Ideas runs from 17 - 30 October and hosts over 200 events ranging from theatre, art and museum exhibitions to music performances, lectures and debates. Now in its ninth year, most of the Festival events are free and take place in lecture theatres and university buildings around Cambridge. The Festival sponsors and partners are Cambridge University Press, St John's College, Anglia Ruskin University, RAND Europe, Microsoft Research, Cambridge Assessment, University of Cambridge Language Centre, Arts Council England, University of Cambridge Museums and Botanic Garden, Cambridge Junction, Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Festival media partner is BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

    New book overturns assumptions on Reagan/Gorbachev 1986 summit, claims new book on 30th anniversary.

    Reykjavik is usually thought of as a tragic failure and a historic missed opportunity for nuclear disarmament because neither side was willing to compromise over Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ Project...In fact, neither leader – despite initial dejection – considered Reykjavik a disaster; rather, as Gorbachev said, it was a ‘step in a complicated dialogue.’
    David Reynolds and Kristina Spohr

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    Blood and Land by Jonathan King, the Von Hügel Fellow at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is the story of how Native North America has shaped the United States and Canada, and vice versa.

    The product of decades of study, Blood and Land seeks to move beyond the traditional ‘feathers-and-failure’ narrative to interrogate the myriad and multi-layered histories of North America. King takes an unflinching look at the many successes, desperate struggles and threats to the very existence of Native populations.

    “So much of what we know about America today is tied up in its history and treatment of Native North Americans over the last few centuries,” said King. “No understanding of the USA is possible without first comprehending the story of its original inhabitants.

    “My book provides a different perspective. General histories are often presented as a progressive fall from grace. But the true story is actually one of how Indian people continually recovered and made the country their own again, whether that is through the growth of casinos or mineral exploitation. Each time recovery occurs, new difficulties emerge to threaten the status quo.

    “When you look at the challenges Native Americans have faced over time – right through to Eisenhower trying to legislate them out of existence, and the forced sterilisation of Indian women in the 1970s – Native Americans are not only surviving, but thriving as a phenomenon in both the imagination and the intellect. In the early part of the 20th century, very few wanted to be identified as Native American. Now, there is something of a clamour to identify Native blood in one’s family tree, often met with disbelief. Look at Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose early intimation of Cherokee ancestry was met with derision.”

    However, Native populations still face many of the struggles connected with racism, poverty and access to the same life chances as non-native populations.

    One remarkable example of the ‘otherness’ still ascribed to Native peoples came in 2011 when the War on Terror was compared, by a legal representative of the United States Government, to the early 19th century wars on Indian nations.

    In a case against a Guantanamo Bay suspect, United States vs Al Bahlul, it was said that the trial and summary execution by General Andrew Jackson of two Scots in Spanish Florida in 1818, traders with the Seminole, was legal and correct and provided precedent for contemporary behaviour by the USA in the war against Al-Qaeda. The Scottish traders had been providing weapons to terrorists. In a non-ironic manner, the Seminole were themselves compared to Al-Qaeda.

    The National Congress of American Indians took exception to the comparison, pointing out that Seminole efforts to defend themselves from an invading genocidal army could be termed as ‘unlawful belligerency’ by only the most jingoistic military historian.

    “The case sought to use genocide as a justification for misbehaviour in the wider world in the 21st century,” said King. “It was that same US strategy and behaviour against Indian nations that helped determine US behaviour in dealing with 21st century terrorism. Specifically obnoxious to Native people in 2011 was the fact there were around 24,000 Indian people serving in the military that year, and approximately 383,000 American Indian veterans.”

    That there are so many veterans is testament to the 20th century recovery in fortunes that King frequently refers to in Blood and Land. In 1900, there were just 237,196 Indians. In 2010, 5.2 million people recorded themselves as American Indian and Native Alaskans, 1.7pc of the total US population, with an expectation of growth to 8.6 million by 2050 (2pc of the total projected population). In 2010 there were more than 15 states with more than 100,000 American Indian or American Native people, with California (732,225) leading the way.


    In Canada, 1.4 million people identified as Aboriginal in 2011, some 4pc of the population. In 1900 that number was thought to be around 100,000. However, compared to a map of the USA’s settlements, the size and scale of Canadian First Nations’ reserves appears to make a much, much smaller footprint on the map of Canada. Outside of the north they have remained just ‘small dots on the map’ according to King.

    The growing strength of Native America has also been symbolised by the removal of racist sporting logos in the last few decades with one major exception: the Washington Redskins have steadfastly stuck to a name considered derogatory by many.

    While King rightly points to the many success stories for Native Americans in the 20th century, he does not shy away from tackling subjects such as alcohol abuse and gender violence that are often swept under the carpet by communities and commentators alike in the US.

    Although problems with alcohol and substance abuse are well-known if not well discussed, the role of gambling in Indian life – both as a profit-making business enterprise and a social ill for Native communities – has been more visible. Today, Indian gaming is responsible for nearly 612,000 jobs worth more than $27.6 billion. It is estimated that almost half of America’s native tribes operate casinos despite some studies suggesting that the immense tribal gaming revenues can actually make poverty worse in their local communities.

    However, although King argues that casinos have largely been a force for good, he does believe gambling in reservation casinos may have reached its high water mark. Beyond casinos he also warns of the impact of declining natural resources and climate change.

    “Casinos should not be seen as a blight, even if gambling can be seen as a highly destructive vehicle of achievement,” added King. “They have provided wealth and income to communities on an incredible scale, and much gambling wealth has been put into providing police forces, schools and hospitals. But this decade is likely to be the climax of Indian gambling. What will happen when these casinos disappear in favour of online gambling which is accessible without the need to travel?

    “However, the long centuries of change for Native people have resulted in a resilience that ensures survival. This in part is to do with the uniqueness and hyper-diversity of Indian culture, its ability to recreate and rethink identity and circumstance, architecture and art; but it is also to do with the way in which Nativeness is embedded in the United States and Canada.

    “Indians are unique in their contribution to world history. Whether it be kayaking, canoeing, snow- shoeing or lacrosse, Blood and Land repeatedly outlines the innovation of Indian society and its huge contribution to global culture, far outweighing the number of Native people there are today. That is the truest measure of their success.”

    The story of Native North America – from its vast contribution to world culture, to the often taboo social problems of drinking, gambling and violence – is the subject of a sweeping new history by a Cambridge academic and authority on the subject. 

    No understanding of the USA is possible without first comprehending the story of its original inhabitants.
    Jonathan King
    1904 painting "Attack on New Ulm" by Anton Gag

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    “We are given license to operate, and the space to educate and generate knowledge, because we deliver excellence. And the public trust placed in us is directly linked to an understanding that our pursuit of excellence in education, learning and research is for the benefit of society. We gain public trust by reaffirming that society’s goals are also our own.”

    He argued that universities –and research intensive universities in particular—are perhaps the only modern institutions with the means and the legitimacy to bridge the gaps between different sectors of society, which gives them a convening power unlike anyone else’s.

    “The public trust universities, because we are not subjected to the short-term goals of policymakers… or the even shorter-term goals of industries.”

    This public trust, however, can be easily lost. “One of the biggest risks to our legitimacy as honest brokers is the public feeling that universities’ goals and our societies’ goals are no longer shared.”

    The Vice-Chancellor expressed concern about the increasingly negative rhetoric surrounding evidence-based arguments, famously summarised in the phrase “Britain has had enough of experts”.

    "If that is really so, then we need to make a better case for our role as institutions that contribute to the public good. If society does not believe that we have its interests at heart, we need to do a better job at engaging with it and communicating the impact of our work.”

    Institutional autonomy, he added, is also essential for universities to effectively discharge their duties. “Not only does it help to protect our ability to deliver the excellence we should always aspire to, but it safeguards the most fundamental tenet of higher education: academic freedom of enquiry.”

    “As head of a world-leading global university I would be concerned by attempts to direct, or determine by committee, what and how universities should be doing. There is an academic argument for this: We must fiercely defend the right to carve out a space for intellectual enquiry that will not be obviously or immediately impactful –because we know that the benefit to society may come many years down the line.”

    But there is another argument, he said: “the public trust that allows us to do what we do is intrinsically linked to public perceptions that we are able to function with autonomy. If our institutional autonomy is eroded, so is public trust in what we do. Society loses trust in institutions that are dictated to.”

    Laying down a challenge to the leadership of global universities represented at the Summit, he asked whether universities should be prepared to relinquish some of that autonomy to work with partners, particularly in the developing world.

    “If we are not prepared to give up some of that autonomy, do we not risk failing the public good? Yes, autonomy is a prerequisite for excellence, but autonomy does not mean isolation. At a time of ever more complex problems, we can only deliver excellence in partnerships with others –with other universities, with donors, with governments, with industry, with NGOs.”

    He cited the Cambridge-Africa Programme and the University of Cambridge’s recent agreement on crop science with Indian industrial partners as examples of international collaborations that contribute to the public good.

     “Far from forcing us to relinquish our autonomy,” The Vice-Chancellor said, “these collaborations help us to underscore it, because they reiterate that our purpose is to contribute to society. Global collaboration is the embodiment of our commitment to the public good.”

    Full transcript of the speech.

    “There is an unwritten but widely accepted contract between society and higher education institutions,” said the Vice-Chancellor in his keynote address on the opening day of the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Far from forcing us to relinquish our autonomy, global collaborations help us to underscore it, because they reiterate that our purpose is to contribute to society.
    Sir Leszek Borysiewicz

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    The laws of thermodynamics govern the behaviour of materials in the macro world, while quantum mechanics describes behaviour of particles at the other extreme, in the world of single atoms and electrons.

    But in the middle, on the order of around 10–100,000 molecules, something different is going on. Because it’s such a tiny scale, the particles have a really big surface-area-to-volume ratio. This means the energetics of what goes on at the surface become very important, much as they do on the atomic scale, where quantum mechanics is often applied.

    Classical thermodynamics breaks down. But because there are so many particles, and there are many interactions between them, the quantum model doesn’t quite work either.

    And because there are so many particles doing different things at the same time, it’s difficult to simulate all their interactions using a computer. It’s also hard to gather much experimental information, because we haven’t yet developed the capacity to measure behaviour on such a tiny scale.

    This conundrum becomes particularly acute when we’re trying to understand crystallisation, the process by which particles, randomly distributed in a solution, can form highly ordered crystal structures, given the right conditions.

    Chemists don’t really understand how this works. How do around 1018 molecules, moving around in solution at random, come together to form a micro- to millimetre size ordered crystal? Most remarkable perhaps is the fact that in most cases every crystal is ordered in the same way every time the crystal is formed.

    However, it turns out that different conditions can sometimes yield different crystal structures. These are known as polymorphs, and they’re important in many branches of science including medicine – a drug can behave differently in the body depending on which polymorph it’s crystallised in.

    What we do know so far about the process, at least according to one widely accepted model, is that particles in solution can come together to form a nucleus, and once a critical mass is reached we see crystal growth. The structure of the nucleus determines the structure of the final crystal, that is, which polymorph we get.

    What we have not known until now is what determines the structure of the nucleus in the first place, and that happens on the nanoscale.

    In this paper, the authors have used mechanochemistry – that is milling and grinding – to obtain nanosized particles, small enough that surface effects become significant. In other words, the chemistry of the nanoworld – which structures are the most stable at this scale, and what conditions affect their stability, has been studied for the first time with carefully controlled experiments.

    And by changing the milling conditions, for example by adding a small amount of solvent, the authors have been able to control which polymorph is the most stable. Professor Jeremy Sanders of the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry, who led the work, said “It is exciting that these simple experiments, when carried out with great care, can unexpectedly open a new door to understanding the fundamental question of how surface effects can control the stability of nanocrystals.”

    Joel Bernstein, Global Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at NYU Abu Dhabi, and an expert in crystal growth and structure, explains: “The authors have elegantly shown how to experimentally measure and simulate situations where you have two possible nuclei, say A and B, and determine that A is more stable. And they can also show what conditions are necessary in order for these stabilities to invert, and for B to become more stable than A.”

    “This is really news, because you can’t make those predictions using classical thermodynamics, and nor is this the quantum effect. But by doing these experiments, the authors have started to gain an understanding of how things do behave on this size regime, and how we can predict and thus control it. The elegant part of the experiment is that they have been able to nucleate A and B selectively and reversibly.”

    One of the key words of chemical synthesis is ‘control’. Chemists are always trying to control the properties of materials, whether that’s to make a better dye or plastic, or a drug that’s more effective in the body. So if we can learn to control how molecules in a solution come together to form solids, we can gain a great deal. This work is a significant first step in gaining that control.

    A. M. Belenguer et al. 'Solvation and surface effects on polymorph stabilities at the nanoscale.' Chemical Science (2016). DOI: 10.1039/c6sc03457h

    Originally published on the Royal Society of Chemistry website.

    Scientists have long suspected that the way materials behave on the nanoscale – that is when particles have dimensions of about 1–100 nanometres – is different from how they behave on any other scale. A new paper in the journal Chemical Science provides concrete proof that this is the case. 

    It is exciting that these simple experiments, when carried out with great care, can unexpectedly open a new door to understanding the fundamental question of how surface effects can control the stability of nanocrystals.
    Jeremy Sanders
    Snow Crystal Landscape

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    In this study, the first of its kind carried out in a UK population, the researchers found that healthy individuals with greater adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet had 6 to 16% lower risk of future cardiovascular disease compared to individuals who had poor adherence.

    Dr Nita Forouhi, lead author from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK, said: “We estimate that one in 25 of all new cardiovascular disease cases or one in eight cardiovascular deaths in our UK based study population could potentially be avoided if this population increased their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.”

    The Mediterranean diet is typically high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and olive oil, while low in red meats and moderate in dairy, fish, poultry and wine. The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends a Mediterranean style diet for people already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease to prevent further episodes of heart attack or stroke. However, the association of the Mediterranean diet with preventing  cardiovascular disease in the first instance or preventing further episodes has not been examined in the UK until now.

    Dr Forouhi adds: “The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health are well documented in countries of the Mediterranean region, but this is the first study to evaluate this in the UK. If our findings are broadly representative of the overall UK population, then we can assume that higher level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet could have significant impact in lowering the cardiovascular disease burden in the UK.”

    The researchers collected data from 23,902 initially healthy Britons taking part in the EPIC-Norfolk prospective cohort study. The participants’ diets were measured using food frequency questionnaires and participants were followed up for an average of 12 to 17 years to investigate the association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the occurrence of new-onset CVD and deaths during that time.

    The Mediterranean diet was defined using a 15 point score based on guideline recommendations from a Mediterranean dietary pyramid published by the Mediterranean Diet Foundation. This is the first time these guidelines have been tested for their associations with health. There are other definitions of what constitutes a Mediterranean diet, but when alternative definitions were used in this study, the findings were broadly similar.

    Dr Forouhi adds: “Encouraging greater adoption of the Mediterranean diet looks like a promising component of a of a wider strategy to help prevent cardiovascular disease, including other important factors such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, blood cholesterol and blood pressure.”

    The authors acknowledge that these findings are based on an observational study and so a cause and effect relationship cannot be assumed. However, they were careful to make comprehensive adjustments for lifestyle and other factors that could potentially distort the findings, and together with the consistency of results with other studies elsewhere, their current findings provide robust evidence for a link.

    Dr Forouhi concludes: “Our study shows that higher versus lower adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is linked with lower future CVD risk in the UK but our challenge now is to understand the social, economic and cultural factors that might support or prevent people being able to keep to this dietary pattern in the UK.”

    EPIC-Norfolk study is supported by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.

    Adapted from a press release by BioMed Central.

    Tong, T et al. Prospective association of the Mediterranean diet with cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and its population impact in a non-Mediterranean population: the EPIC-Norfolk Study. BMC Medicine; 29 Sept 2016; DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0677-4

    Britons eating a Mediterranean diet could lower their risk of developing heart disease and stroke, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

    The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health are well documented in countries of the Mediterranean region, but this is the first study to evaluate this in the UK
    Nita Forouhi
    Vegetable and fruits

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