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The Age of the Phage

Phage infecting bacterial cell

We are in the middle of a war that has been raging for several billion years, and its continuation is certain for as long as life exists on our planet. The number of bacteria on earth has been estimated at 4-6 x 1030 cells,equal to approximately 350 – 550 Pg of carbon (1Pg = 1015 grams). That’s a lot of carbon for a little thing. For a long time, bacteria were thought to be the most abundant and diverse organisms on the planet, but for every organism there is a parasite, and the bacteria’s mortal enemy is the phage (or the bacteriophage as it is also known). Phages are viruses of bacteria, and outnumber their hosts 10 to 1. Every day, these viruses kill half the bacteria living in the oceans, and they are infecting bacteria all over the world at a rate of 10 trillion times a second. But we didn’t even know they existed until the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

The Silent Scientist… Speaks

I apologise for my recent absence over the last few months. During my silence I have been lacing my thesis with blood, sweat and many tears – and on the 9th of September I earned my DPhil from Oxford University.

So now, with my silence broken, Dr. Taylor is back in business taking “a journey through the science of life”, and hopefully finding the words to take you with me.

Thank you to all those who supported me during my time at Oxford, and its with excitement and a little nostalgia that I now move onto the next stage of my academic career as a postdoc at Reading University.

Real science to follow soon… I promise.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

In Brief: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but ‘thunder-thighs’ will kill me!”

Most of us have nicknames from our youth we’d rather forget, and we can only hope they don’t follow us into adulthood, but for one unlucky dinosaur 110 million years isn’t long enough.

Recently, specimens from a newly discovered sauropod, dating back to the Early Cretaceous period, were uncovered in Utah. This new addition to the family has been given the name Brontomerus mcintoshi – from the Greek words “bronto“, meaning “thunder”; and “merós“, meaning “thigh”. Thunder thighs?! Charming.

The scientific justification for this unflattering nickname is the unusually large hip bone the creature possesses. Comparatively, it is significantly larger than that of similar species. This bulky bone would have provided anchorage for hefty thigh muscles. Interestingly, the skeletal structure does not seem to provide support for strong muscles on the back of the leg to pull it along, suggesting these muscles were not used for speed, but power.

Paleo-scientists believe ‘Thunder-thighs’ would have been able to administer a strong kick to potential sexual opponents and predators. And at a predicted adult weight of six tonnes, I would not want to provoke this undercover ninja. All together now, “Everybody was kung-fu fighting, huh”…

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Casanova’s Creatures: the things animals will do for love

On February the 14th we will be inclined to show our loved ones what they mean to us with tacky sentiments and novelty merchandise, but I’ve noticed we seem to be lacking something that most other corporate holidays cash in on – a mascot. Christmas has the reindeer and the robin, Easter has the bunny and the chick, and Valentine’s? Well yes it has the cupid, but flying chubby children just don’t say “I love you” the way a little fluffy creature from nature can. So here, I present to the corporate world the money makers – the top five creatures that will do anything for love. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

In Brief: The House That Science Built

In Peter Hyams’s film “2010”, it seems the science fiction fanatics were a little optimistic about what kind of futuristic abode we might be living in today. The fact is, most houses in the UK are pre-1960 boxes, built at a time when “green” and “sustainable” weren’t a necessary part of a politician’s vocabulary. We are now rightly concerned about the choices which impact our energy consumption, and how those choices are concerned with a sustainable lifestyle, and (let’s face it) a cheaper utility bill!
Last week, Salford University hosted the first conference to discuss how to sustainably retrofit existing housing stock in the UK. It was also their chance to unveil the “Energy Hub” – a fully functional “Coronation street-style” terrace house, kitted out with all the appliances and mod-cons of an average 21st century home. The only unusual thing about this house is that it’s built inside a laboratory. The purpose of this project is to determine where old-buildings are losing the most energy, and try and come up with cost effective ways to reduce this loss. The lab is complete with internal weather simulation such as rain – which apparently alters the heat conductivity of the bricks – and a plethora of thermometers and gadgets to calculate energy wastage to the kilowatt. Soon, they hope to find inhabitants for the property, so they can monitor energy wastage as realistically as possible.
Speaking from recent memory of drafty, damp, student housing, I think this project has some promise. Understanding simple solutions that can be adopted by the average green conscious Joe is more likely to bring immediate benefits than the next gadget of the future. As of yet no data has been released, but perhaps we’ll start to notice a few savvy changes in Corries own Rovers pub over the next few months, “sustainable scratchings anyone?” Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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In Brief: Silly Walks, Work!

Andy Ruina an engineer from Cornell Univeristy, and Mario Gomez a mechanical engineer from Rochester Institute of Technology, have allegedly determined the mathematically most energy efficient technique of walking yet to be discovered – and I think it’s fair to say, it looks rather ridiculous (see video: http://www.nature.com/nature/newsvideo/energyfreewalker.mov). Simulated on a simplified two-dimensional torso with rigid legs, the motion relies on a pendulum movement from the limbs, rocked back and forth by a springy torso. The key is, apparently, that each foot bears no weight until stationary on the floor. Published this month in Physical Review E, it is hoped this research might revolutionise robotics, whose state-of-art walkers currently require large amounts of energy to function, and generally in the overall understanding of human and animal locomotion. It also provides hopes for those in need of prosthetic limbs. Steve Collins, a mechanical engineer responsible for prosthetic limb research, believes though it is obviously not practical in its current state, the ideas could be reincorporated into revolutionary designs.

It is obviously still in its early stages of development and more detail needs to be added to the model before the true scope of applications can be realised, but I imagine the “Ministry of Silly Walks” will be happy to provide the funding

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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Biology, Engineering

 

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In Brief: Sexy Science

Today the BBC website was running a link to a face perception test, developed by the psychologist Prof. David Perret from St. Andrew’s University. The research was designed to determine whether your self perception as an introvert (quiet and happy to be left alone) or an extrovert (sociable, talkative and enjoy group activities) influenced your attraction to potential partners. First, you were asked to answer a short questionnaire regarding your own personality traits, and then rate twenty pairs of faces based on personal attractiveness. The hypothesis was that introverts would be attracted to faces showing less expression, and vice versa for extroverts. Prof. Perret believes behaviours such as these are important in partner choice. I apparently rated myself as an introvert (though I’m not sure I’d agree) – and who did I find the most attractive? … the extroverts. “Sorry Prof! I’ll be the anomaly in your dataset”. However, looking at the audience’s results it seems most people are attracted to the extroverts, and I’m not surprised, why would you choose the glum, uninterested looking face over the smiley cheeky chappy? Not quite convinced by this science, but it was some good procrastination.

See my results below, and to take the test yourself just click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/faceperception1/index.shtml

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Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Psychology

 

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