Tag Archive: health

The end of us

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From the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to the itty-bitty Tobias’ caddisfly, 98% of all species to have ever existed on Earth are now extinct. Whilst it seems unthinkable that humanity is no different to our doomed predecessors, our days are probably numbered too. Unless we can master interstellar travel, the sun’s evolution into a planet-engulfing red giant will ultimately spell the end of humanity. Fortunately it’s a few billion years before we have to worry about that. Unfortunately, there are several other theoretical scenarios that could result in Homo sapiens’ demise well before the sun boils our planet alive. Firstly, and this isn’t so bad, we may just evolve into something else. You might well think that, with all of our medicine and technology, there is no longer any driving force (selection pressure) for the process, but scientists are still recording subtle changes in human biology such as the lengthening of the reproductive period. There are also arguments that advanced civilisation …

Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings

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In late 2012, applied mathematician Samuel Arbesman released an intriguing little book called ‘The Half-Life of Facts’ in which he seeks to explain why a lot of the information that we all thought we knew is continually being disproven. It’s an interesting read, but the central premise should really come as no surprise. After all, science is based upon a continued quest for the refinement of knowledge, in which no theory, no matter how precious, is allowed to become immune to refutation. Still, there remains a stalwart group of pseudo scientific ‘facts’ that possess the peculiar ability to survive intact, even in the face of new contradictory evidence. So in the spirit of public service, and with the hope of helping to cleanup mankind’s collective meme pool, here’s a list of some of science’s most common misconceptions.   5) Bulls are enraged by the colour red This myth is so prevalent it’s even become the basis for a common British …

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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A Monster Calls Author: Patrick Ness Published: 2 February 2012 Publisher: Walker Books Summary: Haunting and incredibly compelling – a must-read. Right from the foreword and first chapters of A Monster Calls, it’s clear that the novel is not so much about the tree monster pictured on the wonderful front cover, as the destructive influence of cancer: an illness that seems to touch everyone’s life at some point. The central theme is all the more pertinent as Siobhan Dowd, the author credited with the inception of A Monster Calls, tragically died from the disease long before she could finish the book. Whilst two of Dowd’s completed novels were published posthumously (Bog Child and Solace of the Road), A Monster Calls needed a champion to see it through to publication, and so Patrick Ness, author of the award winning Chaos Walking series, agreed to take the reins and finish the work. The book begins with Conor O’Malley, teenage son to a single …

World Aids Day

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For World Aids Day, we thought we would feature this visualisation of the HIV virus, created by a team of scientists, designers and animators known as VisualScience. It is based on dozens of recent scientific publications – from fields such as virology, X-ray analysis and NMR spectroscopy – in order to produce this beautiful portrait of a pathogen that produces such an ugly disease. The HIV virus is roughly 120nm across (one thousand times smaller than the thickness of a piece of paper) and covered in a viral envelope made of cell membranes and projecting glycoproteins which allow the virus to attach to and invade cells). Once inside, it forces the cell’s own machinery to create more copies of itself. Internally, there are layers of structural protein, which cover the capsid – a conical structure containing the virus’s DNA. Mouseover the image to see the capsid shown in pale orange. FYI You can donate to World Aids Day by visiting …

Futuristic knitting could help arthritis

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This may look like a close up of a knitted sweater, but the fabric pictured here is much more useful. It is a woven scaffold of artificial fibres, created by scientists at Duke University, which cartilage cells can latch on to and grow in large numbers. The scaffold has been designed to be used within the human body, where it gradually dissolves away, leaving the cartilage cells to replace those that have been worn by disease or age. Preparing cartilage in this way has the advantage that it can be grown in large quantities and performs just like normal cells would. “If further experiments are successful, the scaffold could be used in clinical trials within three or four years,” said Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory who designed and built the weaving machine. “The first joints to be treated this way would likely be hips and shoulders, though the approach should work for cartilage damage in …

Did penicillin change our view of sex?

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Penicillin is arguably one of the greatest achievements of modern times. Discovering that infections were not just something we must live with and potentially die from, but something that could be actively fought, revolutionised the field of medicine. Since its discovery, countless lives have been saved in the operating theatre, the maternity ward and on the battlefield. Penicillin has the power to sustain life, but we haven’t stopped to think what such a powerful force is having on the lives that are being saved. Specifically, did penicillin pave the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and the modern view of sex? It took 13 years from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in a sample of mould in 1928 before the first clinical trials took place showing penicillin was an effective cure for syphilis. Prior to this, syphilis had a number of nasty symptoms making sex quite a dangerous option for many people. Syphilis usually starts with open …

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