Trinity Term 2015 THE 20TH EDITION
THE FOOD ISSUE
l i tt l e D r. D o
Bang! Staff Editors-in-Chief Jacob Verter & Gil Reich Deputy Editors Sana Suri, Natasha Gillies, Becca Vaughan, Caitlin Chalmers, Rosie Power Sub Editors Sophie Perry, Charlie Coughlan, Clio Korn, Jennie Han, Max Bodmer, Laura Hankins, Jack Cooper
Art Director Michael Mackley Creative Director Elizabeth Freeman Artists Christina Rode, Ben Turner, Ellie Hammond Hunt, Rebecca Nutbrown, Eleanor Taylor, Anaelle Stenman , Sharon Yip & Marco Narajos Business Director Lauren Lamb
Published by Oxford Student Publications Limited Chairman Mackenzie Grenfell Managing Director Emma Lipczynski Finance Director Harriet Bull Company Secretary April Peake Directors Ella Richards, Robert Walmsley & Rory Cox Copyright Bang! 2015
C re a t i v e
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Editorial Food is in our DNA. Figuratively, of course, food is an inescapable part of our lives. But literally, the atoms that make up our breakfast, lunch and dinner are recycled to construct every aspect of our bodies. Some studies have suggested that around 98% of our body mass is replaced each year. Taken in that context, what you eat matters a great deal. For the twentieth edition of Bang!, we dial our focus towards the subject of food. A previous editor of Bang!, Ellen Foley-Williams, wrote, “If anyone ever tells you they don’t really like science, or don’t find it that interesting, then we believe they just haven’t found their right subject yet.” We couldn’t agree more, and that’s why we’ve chosen this theme, allowing us to showcase the wide variety of lenses that science can offer. A biologist might look at an apple and ponder the interactions of the cells and tissues that constitute it. A biochemist might look at an apple and think of the DNA coding for its shining red pigment, the bases of which you can see in the centre right of our cover. Meanwhile, a physicist looking at the same apple might think of the supernova that created its carbon atoms. And yet, you don’t have to study the sciences or spend your life in the lab to think about scientific principles. Reading through this issue you’ll learn about the anti-stress benefits of cooking (page 14), how certain foods can turn the “friendly” bacteria living inside you into not-so-friendly ones (page 20) and about new age gastronomy (page 19). Check out our interview with Dr Peter Scarborough, whose research is placed at the intersection of climate change, public health and food. Turn to page 16 for his advice on how to do your part. We hope this issue inspires you to think of the implications beyond the simple actions of your day-to-day life. So, as the first ever Bang! editorial said, “without further ado, let’s start!”
Gil Reich & Jacob Verter Editors-in-Chief
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In Focus: D
rones with in-built cameras are being used in aid efforts following the recent earthquake in Nepal. The machines, used by the charity Global Medic, are just one example of a larger movement in which technology is used in disaster response. The drones provide aerial pictures of Kathmandu and other regions near the epicentre. These images of disaster-stricken areas give vital information to aid agencies, shedding light on the situation in areas cut off by landslides. Rahul Singh, the charity’s director, explained that his drones have also been deployed in the Philippines.
Reshaping disaster relief with drone technology aftermath of a disaster. The focus has been on keeping mobile phones working after the local networks have collapsed. “I don’t know of any other means of communication where you could reach that many people, that quickly and that directly,” stated Sharon Reader, a communications adviser for the International Red Cross. Mobile use has grown rapidly in the developing world: around 7 billion people now have access to a mobile phone. Communication is essential to modern relief efforts. Last year, solar-powered phone chargers were air-dropped by the RAF to Yazidi refugees in Iraq, prioritising mobile phones almost as highly as food, water and lighting.
Maps showing the extent of destruction are being used by many different Solar-powered phone groups, from the Nepalese chargers were air-dropped... government to prioritising mobile phones local rescuers, almost as highly as food, enabling aid to be targeted to water and lighting.” the places that need it most. According to Singh, While restoring contact with disaster the drones are able to spot “where struck areas is key, “the big nut that people are taking refuge” as well people are trying to crack” is data as “what roads are out”. Later, the organisation, according to Kim images can be used to help organise Scriven, the manager of the Human the reconstruction of damaged Innovation Fund. This question has inspired many companies. with the homes and infrastructure. Ushahidi crowd-sourcing project, Technology companies are creating an online map to which also solving the problem of people contribute local reports. communication in the
Written by Catherine Hayes Art by Eleanor Taylor and Michael Mackley
News in Brief
LHC restart a smashing success
fter being shut down for upgrades in 2013, April marked the restart in operations at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN for two years. The first proton collisions began a month later, setting the groundwork for the next round of experiments. The second run aims to stage proton collisions at 7000 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) per beam and is expected to attain this goal in the first week of June. This early data will only be used as calibration, but experiments will commence shortly following this.
Chance Discovery Hints At Novel Cancer Treatment A chance observation in a lab at Stanford University has led to the discovery of an exciting and novel new method that can convert leukaemia cells into macrophages. When early B-cell progenitor cells are exposed to certain transcription factors, they can be forced to transform into helpful immune cells that fight infection.
In 2012, the LHC made history by being the site of the discovery of the Higgs boson. This time, running with nearly twice as much energy since its creation, the LHC will hopefully provide insights beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.
Dark Matter Just Got Darker
Cross Your Fingers to Reduce Pain
New data collected from galaxy collisions suggest that dark matter interacts weakly not only with visible matter but with itself. The study compared the behaviour of ordinary matter, gas and stars, to dark matter in cosmic crashes, discovering that dark matter continued straight through collisions.
A research group based at UCL has discovered that crossing your fingers can reduce the effect of pain, by confusing the way the brain interprets sensations. In the study, warm sensations were applied to the participants’ ring and index fingers, whilst the middle finger was given a cold stimulus. This is known to create an illusion of burning in the middle finger but is completely harmless.
Given that it is widely accepted that dark matter is evenly spread throughout galaxies, this suggests that it interacts very weakly with itself, even over short distances. Although this is not a springboard to immediately discovering the nature of dark matter, it narrows down the options of what it could be by ruling out some frictional interactions.
However, when participants crossed their middle finger over either of the other two fingers, the sensation vanished. It is believed that these results could be applied more widely and used to treat patients with chronic pain, with Professor Haggard, the study’s senior author, suggesting the results lead to the “interesting possibility that pain levels could be manipulated by moving one part of the body relative to others.”
The study used primary cell lines extracted from human cancers, suggesting that this system could work in vivo. Though this is a preclinical study, drugs producing similar effects are already on the market and hint at the potential for a new treatment that could help fight the continuing battle against cancer.
Think on Your Feet
ew research suggests that we may literally think better on our feet, with initial data from classroom studies suggesting that pupils were 12% more attentive when standing, equating to 7 more minutes of engaged learning time per hour. The study focused on pupils aged 7-10, with engagement in the lessons measured by observing participation in discussions, willingness to raise hands and answer questions, and general behavioural standards. The researchers behind the study have stressed that standing desks actually address two problems at once: attention levels and childhood obesity. Previous studies have shown that children using standing desks can burn up to 25% more calories.
Reported by Natasha Gillies and Rebecca Vaughan Art by Michael Mackley
The Future is Fusion
Emerging from the jaws of an electricity shortage
he world is facing an energy crisis: current technologies cannot hope to meet our rising demands. Spiralling energy usage – a consequence of a rapidly growing population and increasing urbanisation – dwarfs our personal efforts to save energy. Renewables are not feasible unless their energy can be stored and transported properly. Fossil fuels are running out and are destroying the environment. Nuclear fission produces radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. There is currently no technology that can power the modern world. But fusion, the process that lights up stars, is perhaps just a few decades away from powering homes worldwide.
The aim is to levitate star-matter”
Fusion is also the basic process that created all the elements in the universe by forcing two light atomic nuclei together to form a single heavy nucleus, releasing a huge amount of energy. This is the opposite of the processes in normal nuclear fission power plants, where atoms are split to release comparatively little energy. The easiest fusion reaction is between two isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium and tritium. By joining them together with the strong nuclear force, helium is created plus one neutron and 17.6 eV of energy. One kilogram of these fuels produces the same amount of energy as one million kilograms of coal.
The only product of fusion is helium, which is a vital gas used in medical and scientific equipment, and global supply is running out. In fusion, neutrons collide with reactor walls where they knock atoms out of position, damaging structural materials, and occasionally spreading radiation. However, far less radioactive waste is produced than in nuclear fission, and the waste only stays dangerous for around 100 years. Researchers are currently developing materials more resistant to neutron damage, and developing techniques that would induce neutrons to breed more tritium from lithium, making its own fuel!
The process that lights up stars is just a few decades away from powering homes”
However, even this “easy” reaction is extremely difficult. The most successful technique to achieve fusion has been using a tokamak, a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber holding plasma at 150 million degrees, ten times the temperature at the centre of the Sun. The plasma is made of positively charged nuclei with a current flowing through it, so it can be held in place using electromagnetic forces from a complex array of magnets. The aim is to levitate star-matter and to use its heat to boil water that drives steam turbines. As deuterium and tritium are positively charged, they repel each other more strongly the closer they get. Higher temperatures aim to counter and overcome this repulsion, providing the energy needed to bring the nuclei closer together and bind them into a single, heavier nucleus.
The current record for power and efficiency from a tokamak was set in 1997 by JET, located just outside Oxford, which produced 16 MW of power from 24 MW of input. This isn’t great, but it proves fusion works. Another promising method involves firing lasers at a pellet of fuel. This causes the casing to explode, sending shock waves through the fuel, compressing and heating it until nuclei fuse. The National Ignition Facility in California has achieved fusion using this method, creating more energy than it used. Nonetheless, these are still proof of principle experiments, nowhere near the scale of a power plant.
However, the most complex machine built in human history, currently under construction in Cadarache in Southern France, promises to revolutionise this field. ITER will be the world’s largest Tokamak, capable of delivering 500 MW of power from fifty MW input for ten minutes. Although fusion produces vast amounts of heat, the main power usage in small tokamaks is heating the plasma. As the amount of plasma increases, there is more self-heating until the plasma starts to “burn” and heats itself. ITER will have ten times more plasma than JET which should be enough to elicit burning and maximise efficiency. The tokmak itself will be constructed from over ten million parts, which are being built all over the world and transported for on-site assembly. From superconducting magnets aligned to fractions of a millimetre, to new roads and ports being built, it is a huge engineering project with up to 2000 workers on site and many more in labs and factories.
However, the whole project is behind schedule and massively over budget. The first idea for an international collaboration to develop fusion was proposed in 1985 at a Geneva summit between Cold War powers, but various issues have held back progress. The original 2001 agreement was budgeted at €5.9 billion, but in 2010 this was increased to €13 billion. Adding China and South Korea in 2003, followed by India in 2005 to the original consortium of Russia, the EU, USA and Japan made management even more complicated.
in a jar” while saving the environment, preventing a Mad Max style fight for oil should capture the public imagination.
When construction began in 2007, the global financial crisis made everything more expensive than anticipated. Design changes in 2010 increased costs further, and the EU, who are funding 45% of the project, ended up over a billion euros short, halting construction for an additional eight months.
and save energy, with little serious impact on climate change, energy supply and global
If the current political attitude persists during the ITER experiment, funding will likely be cut and fusion research will be unnecessarily delayed. The status quo will persist, with people making small, well-intentioned efforts to use renewables
There needs to be more public involvement to make politicians listen”
Although €13 billion is a lot of money, it could pay off considering the lifetime of ITER, the findings it will make, and its importance to our future. Indeed, even more could be spent to ensure its success. If serious investment had been put into ITER from the start, the original deadlines would have been met, and electricity from fusion would be pouring into homes by 2040. Instead, fusion projects have been run on a comparatively shoe-string budget; nobody likes investing in something with no results, so governments cut spending to reduce financial risk. Building on what was learned from ITER, a similar venture called DEMO, has started with the intent of reaching completion by 2033. To attain success, it will be essential to build materials testing facilities, to evaluate alternative fusion machines like stellarators and spherical tokamaks, and to garner public support. Building a machine which “puts a star
development. Maybe by 2050, people will realise it was a massive mistake to sideline the development of fusion reactors. When asked how long it would be for the first fusion power plants to be built, Lev Artsimovich - one of the pioneers of fusion research - replied, “fusion will be there when society needs it”. Society will need it around the year 2050 and now is the time to prepare for that moment.
Reported by Alex Leide Art by Ellie Hammond Hunt
New Neurons, New Treatment Growing grey matter to tackle depression
magine if treating depression were as easy as taking a pill, like treating a headache with paracetamol. The debilitating condition of depression affects at least 10% of the population at some point in their life and, until recently, the biology underpinning its origin has remained utterly elusive. However, ground-breaking new research suggests that depression may be due to a reduction in the rate of the birth of new neurons in the brain.
A simple deficit of serotonin is clearly not the only explanation”
Depression was once thought to result exclusively from a deficit of neurotransmitters (chemicals that neurons use to communicate with each other in the brain) like serotonin. Indeed, the current most commonly prescribed antidepressants – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac - act by increasing levels of serotonin. However, despite an immediate increase in serotonin levels, SSRIs take at
least two weeks to elicit any effect and only 60% of sufferers actually experience any improvement. A simple deficit of serotonin is clearly not the only explanation.
body. How then, do we untangle these confounding factors so as to isolate, and eventually therapeutically target, the fundamental biological cause of depression?
The generation of new neurons, a process called Perhaps a change in microRNA neurogenesis, occurs in concentration is the elusive just two places in the cause of depression we have adult brain.One of them been looking for” is the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a region involved in Over the past couple of years, scientists emotional memory. Evidence suggests have zoned in on a new target that that reduced neurogenesis here may may help inform better treatments for be key in depression. Dr René Hen at depression – microRNAs. These are Columbia University showed over a a diverse collection of DNA-derived decade ago that Prozac also increases molecules intimately involved in the rate of neurogenesis in the dentate regulating gene expression and thus gyrus. If this increase is blocked, then brain function. Changes in the levels of the effects of the drug are completely specific microRNAs in specific regions of the brain are believed to be essential abolished. in mediating the response of the brain Brain-derived neurotrophic factor to antidepressants and stress. Links (BDNF) is a chemical in the brain that have also been demonstrated between is thought to initiate neurogenesis. microRNAs, BDNF and neurogenesis. Current antidepressant medications Perhaps a change in microRNA indirectly increase BDNF. Interestingly, concentration is the elusive cause of direct injection of BDNF into the depression we have been looking for. dentate gyrus of animals reduces depressive behaviour. Other factors It remains to be seen if these ideas will known to play a role in depression survive the test of time, and although have also been linked to BDNF and they seem to represent a key piece in neurogenesis. For example, early the puzzle of depression, it is in all life stress may be an important risk likelihood just that: a piece of the factor for depression, leading to low whole picture. Nevertheless, these levels of BDNF. Conversely, exercise, findings do present an exciting new intellectual stimulation and a positive, avenue for potential antidepressant enriching environment are all known treatments and the pace at which this to be helpful for improving moods and field is moving suggests that the future for increasing BDNF presence in the is bright. brain. Unfortunately, artificially raising BDNF levels in the brain proves to be a complicated endeavor, as the above-described lifestyle factors have a multitude of other effects on the body. For example, exercise also increases the activity of antioxidant enzymes and improves metabolism and cell survival throughout the
Reported by Sebastian Fox Art by Ben Turner and Michael Mackley
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Animal communities solving human problems
A many-headed slime monster engulfs Tokyo, slowly connecting cities as it feasts. Sounds like a scene from a pulp movie? Not quite. It’s an experiment done in miniature by scientists led by Atsushi Tero at Hokkaido University. A paper published in Science Magazine in 2010 describes how the group grew the slime mould Physarum polycephalum in an environment that mimicked the layout of the Tokyo region of Japan, with food sources representing all major cities. Astonishingly, the mould connected the cities in a network very similar to the Tokyo rail system. The apparent intelligence of Physarum is all the more remarkable because it is little more than a jelly-like collection of nuclei with no brain or nervous system. Centuries of natural selection have honed the mould to solve optimisation problems like this, where compromises are needed to
The slime mould is not unique in this aspect. Nature is full of instances of groups working together to solve difficult problems. For example, the Tower of Hanoi is a puzzle that involves moving a stack of disks from one position to another, while obeying a set of rules. A study in 2010 at the University of Sydney adapted the puzzle into a maze and showed that Argentine ants could solve it in under an hour.
Sometimes the perfect mathematical solution to a problem would take far too long. Legend has it that a group of monks in India are solving a 64-disk version of the Tower of Hanoi. The minimum number of moves needed to complete the puzzle is 2n-1, where n is the number of disks, so Observation of behaviours the 3-disk version could be used to solve some of the ants solved our biggest transport issues” takes 7 moves. According to the 2n-1 rule, if the monks moved a disk every make the most efficient transport network second, it would take 585 billion years! possible. Physarum grows quickly and can respond efficiently to problems like road For problems like this, mathematicians crashes or flooding (modelled by adding often use what they call a heuristic salt, which is toxic to the mould). algorithm, which finds the best solution possible in a reasonable time. Ant Colony Observation of its behaviour could be used Optimisation (ACO) is a heuristic algorithm to solve some of our biggest transport issues. based on ant behaviour, using virtual ants The experiment has now been repeated for to solve mathematical problems. Ants many other countries; in the UK, Physarum communicate with pheromones, laying rerouted the M6/M74 through Newcastle down trails as they move which then and left the M4 out completely.
serve to recruit other ants to the same path. The shortest path is most frequently travelled so has the most pheromone. Heuristic algorithms based on biological systems can be used to improve mobile communications, traffic distribution, and wireless sensor networks. Recently, a research group at Harvard has taken inspiration from nature to design artificially intelligent robots. The climbing robots created by the TERMES project can cooperate to build 3D structures like towers, castles and pyramids out of foam blocks. They can work in a group of any size, correct their own mistakes, and keep going even if some of the group get lost or damaged. It’s possible that robots created with the technology could eventually lay sandbags ahead of floods, perform construction tasks in space, or form the basis of intelligent self-driving cars. Crossovers between the sciences such as these drive research. Advances in biology improve our understanding of the natural world, but they can also be applied in computing to find new and innovative ways of solving our problems. Together, slime moulds and robots may be closer to world domination than we think.
Written by Anna Lewis Art by Anaelle Stenman
The Fo od Se ct 12 14 16 18 20 21 Eat. Sleep. 22 Crave. Repeat. 23
Bang! Speaks to Charles Spence Food For Thought
Bang! Speaks to Peter Scarborough Chemistry Coffee Break Gut Feeling
The Fat Ape
Bang! Talks to... Professor Charles Spence Bang! interviews Charles Spence in an office containing binders, wine bottles, Rum, Coke cans, Tobasco and a fully black wine glass. *** Could you describe your work? It covers all sorts of things. The common theme is trying to apply the latest in neuroscience and psychology particularly as it relates to the senses. So everything in the lab involves some sort of multisensory interaction between hearing and seeing, touch, taste, and smell and trying to apply those insights into how the brain interprets those signals in everyday life. What does your day usually involve? Well, as an example, I was down in London last night in Kingsway College (a cookery school), where a three course dinner was being served. We were playing music to see if it affected the taste of wine, changing the weight of the spoon, alternating how much duck breast people
got. We do all kinds of experiments; some in restaurants, some in the labs, some in college dining rooms… Should chefs be taking note?
How did you get into this kind of work? As an undergraduate, I had to do a project. Having left it a bit late, I was sent to look at broken TVs down the Cowley Road, seeing how the brain puts together sound and picture.
Some are already! For the first time, a sizable portion of the new generation of chefs are starting to realise that they Soon, I moved on to food, and in 2002 I need to to know what their diners think was working with a Swiss flavour house to deliver the best dining experience to that was collaborating with Heston them. We have a dish with Jozef Youssef Blumenthal at the time. They said “you - a synaesthesia dining concept. He two should get together”. He sent me serves a signature langoustine dish We do all kinds of experiments... at 45 degrees: some in college dining rooms...” the angle that our research has shown people prefer. That presentation an invitation to the restaurant and ever since he’s been coming up to Oxford or seems to make the food better. I’ve been going down to London. It’s We’re also working with South American led to some experiments, some papers, chefs to see if the way they plate their a signature dish on the menu, and now food is optimal. A lot of modernist chefs a lot of the chefs that have been through plate their food asymmetrically, but when the Fat Duck have started off on their own we give it to people to eat, they say they culinary endeavours. It’s great that they would rather pay less for the same food have the mindset through their training to think about what makes a difference when it is plated asymmetrically. and why, beyond just creating great food.
The signature dish being the Sound of The Sea? A seafood dish that comes with an ipod for listening to sea sounds while you eat... Yes, it’s been there for seven years and is still there to this day. So in that sense it has been a great success. Some people are greatly affected by the dish. It has been shown that seafood tastes better
with the sound of the ocean. That was one of the first instances of technology at the table. People wonder if it’s possible to quantify the value of what we do, but in terms of the Sound of the Sea, I think the number of places that have taken up the idea show it has been influential and, more importantly, fun. Although, we didn’t create the dish; just the underpinning research. What’s been your favourite project? This recent one in London’s Southbank has been great fun. Partly because it’s the biggest wine tasting experiment ever and had several thousand more participants than we normally get to test. Also it’s been fun because it brought together the effect of lighting and sound on the wine experience and you could hear the way people responded when they came out of the experience of how surprised they were or how immediate the impact was on taste. Also, it was a bit more fun to take part in than the experiments that involve hundreds or thousands of trials sitting in a dark soundproof booth. You won the Ig Nobel Prize (for achievements “that make people laugh then think”), what was that for? It was for the sonic chip [crisp]. We’d give people in a soundproof booth a Pringle and record the sound of them biting it with a microphone. We then changed the sound in real time and played it back to them, making it quieter or louder by changing the frequency components. We got about a 15% change in the perception of crispness and this has now been picked up as some bizarre thing that philosophers are giving papers about. It’s sparked a whole new approach to food design and innovation. When you find the sound that you want then go to the kitchen and ask if they can make it or bake it. It’s something the car companies have been doing for years with the sounds of their car doors but traditionally the food industry has made products, seen if people liked them, and then if people didn’t, they’d remake the whole thing. It’s a much slower process. The sonic chip was probably the start
of sound and food and we’re still passionately following it up. Last night, our PhD student was giving people different glasses of wine and playing different clips of classical music. Can readers recreate these effects? Yes! Music is the easiest bit of our environment to change. You can play classical music to make things sound more expensive, say a bottle of wine. Or try matching the ethnicity of the music to the food. Also, playing tubular bells or wind chimes or high pitched piano for sweet tastes to low pitched or brassy sound to bring out the dark chocolate of coffee flavour in a mousse. You can experiment by giving people two glasses of wine, (from the same bottle) and find when you change the music they prefer one over the other. That’s a good starting point.
Play high pitched piano to bring out sweet tastes”
Heavy cutlery seems to make things taste better, which anyone could do, and restaurants are already doing. We have a general innate sense that weight and quality go together, from car keys to remote controls and bottles of wine. This, for example, is one of the world’s heaviest bottles of wine (he hands me an extremely large wine bottle that sits on his desk). Another thing to play around with is cutlery. The chef in the lab (who is French trained) is doing a lot of things on textured spoons. For example, covering a knife and fork in rabbit hair from the rabbit you’re eating and perhaps the bowl could be covered in fur as well. There’s a whole world of cutlery that’s really interesting and makes you wonder why we’re eating with the same old knife and fork we’ve always eaten with. Why not eat with your fingers, like some of the top restaurants are starting to do, or change around the texture and feel of cutlery. Perhaps in a couple of years there will be some neuroscience-inspired cutlery design that’s shaped for the average tongue or mouth, not one based on
historical precedent. No one in human history has done an experiment to see if eating with your fingers makes food taste better. It’s absolutely fundamental. At many top restaurants, the first three to four courses are all finger food. In a few years’ time, some top chefs will be as well known for their cutlery design as their dishes. Though fur covered cutlery is not commercially available yet. Do you take these effects consideration in your life?
Yes, always! I go out to supermarkets or restaurants and think about what they’re doing and what’s being done to me or if there’s an experiment we could do in there. Do you have interesting dinner party conversations after telling people what you do? Well traditionally it was “oh you’re a psychologist, I better be quiet now”, but now the debate shifts to “can I invite you to dinner or not?”. What’s your favourite dish and how would you serve it? I’m fond of Pasta Arrabiata and Thai green curry. I’d serve the Thai green curry on an angular black plate.
Interview and photography by Gil Reich Art by Michael Mackley
Cook Yourself Calm Investigating therapeutic baking
here is something undeniably soothing about cooking. I don’t believe I’m the only one who takes joy in focusing on food when I’m stressed. John Waite, the winner of the 2012 Great British Bake Off, also lives by this idea, claiming that baking helped him battle with depression during his childhood. Waite says that he associates baking with serenity, by allowing him to turn something “destructive into something constructive”. In an attempt to harness the healing power of cuisine, psychologists and psychiatrists have begun exploring cooking as a potential form of therapy for patients struggling with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Research into the potential positive effects of cooking on conditions like stress and mental illness is a burgeoning field. Dr Mark Salter, a consultant
of bakeries set up with this purpose in mind. One of these is the Better Health Bakery in London, which provides threemonth placements for adults recovering from Turn something destructive mental illness with the into something contructive” aim of getting them back into work. Aside from its healing properties, cooking can It works in a similar fashion to other be enjoyed by everyone, even if it’s just types of therapy by helping to develop with the aim of producing a nice dish planning, short-term memory and social whatever mood we’re in. abilities. These are skills that are often impaired in those suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. The key to the success of cooking as a therapy is its combination of both physical and psychological aspects through its practicality and creativity. psychologist working in London, explains how cooking is a good form of occupational therapy.
Because of the growing appreciation of cooking as a form of therapy, there have been a number
Reptilian Consumers Marketing to your subconscious
lotaire Rapaille is an anthropologist who specialises in adapting products to increase sales by cracking the “reptilian code”; the evolutionary reasons behind our primal needs such as survival and comfort. He aims to engage the limbic system in the brain, responsible for emotion, influencing our behaviour when buying food.
More consumer choice can lead to poor decisions”
Rapaille supposedly cracked the “reptilian code” for global marketing of cheese. He saw differences in cultural perceptions of cheese between France and America, observing that safety is prioritised over taste in the US. Rapaille increased sales by introducing resealable “body bags” for cheese to supermarkets. Supporting his theory, the introduction of the same packaging style in France,
where they have opposite priorities, reduced sales. McClure et al. have gone a step beyond focus groups and used fMRI brain imaging to measure the effects of branding on our decisions. In their study, people were given a taste test between Coke and Pepsi without being told the brand, and around half of participants preferred each one. These preferences corresponded to increased activation of the pleasure centres of the brain. Next, they tested the effects of brand knowledge on people’s preferences and asked their participants to perform a taste test between cups labelled with branded Coke and unlabelled Coke. They found that although all the cups actually contained branded Coke, people significantly preferred the Coke from cups that had “Coke” written on them.
Neuromarketing gives powerful examples of illogical decisions made in favour of branding. Research has also found that more consumer choice can lead to poor decisions being made and, in some cases, decrease the likelihood a product will be bought. Although the presence of the reptilian mind is still debated, it is clear that our decisions are not objective and are informed by our perceptions.
Unhealthy Obsessions When healthy eating goes too far
t first glance, our health seems to be a bigger priority than ever. Society has progressed away from its fixation on the thin ‘heroin chic’ look that dominated the nineties and noughties. The shift towards being fitter rather than thinner has been wellpublicised, with celebrities posting endless ‘gym selfies’, and thousands of pages on social media sites promoting healthy living and eating clean. However, maybe this apparent
The rise of a new generation of eating disorders supports this idea. Orthorexia nervosa (ON), first described by Californian Dr Steven Bratmann in 1999, is “a fixation on righteous eating”. The disorder typifies how the obsession with healthy eating can have dangerous consequences. ON rates are high, varying from 7% in the general population to 44% among medical students. ON sufferers become extremely preoccupied with the quality of what they eat, in contrast to conditions like anorexia nervosa, where quantity of food is the main concern. They commonly avoid dairy products, gluten-containing foods, caffeine and alcohol. Selfesteem becomes wrapped up with the ‘purity’ of the diet. Ironically, a sufferer’s food choices may become so restricted in terms of variety and calories that their health actually deteriorates.
body image disorders centred on women. However, a recent shift demonstrates that men also suffer from similar problems, as shown by a rise in cases of muscle dysmorphia (MD). MD or “bigorexia” sufferers fixate on their muscularity; their perceived malformation is a lack of size or strength. Although it can affect both men and women, it is much more common in men. This desire for large muscles is not new; in medieval times, men would stuff their shirts and don bulky armour to appear bigger and stronger.
‘breakthrough’ simply masks the fact that we are still overly obsessed with what we eat and how we look.
Currently, ON sufferers are classified under the umbrella of Eating Disorder Not Otherwise S p e c i f i e d (EDNOS), a term for people with symptoms of an eating disorder that don’t meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. However, individuals with ON now make up such a significant proportion of EDNOS patients there is an increasing push for ON sufferers to be treated separately. Emerging evidence suggests that a society fixated upon healthy living can increase rates of ON, with studies showing that men and women who feel increased pressure to conform to Western ideals of slimness and muscularity are more likely to have symptoms of ON. For many decades, most focus on
A sufferer’s food choices may become so restricted ... that their health actually deteriorates.” Muscularity itself isn’t a problem, but when the desire for bulk becomes an obsession, individuals enter the territory of MD. Studies suggest the incidence of MD is rising, and that this may be related to increased societal pressure on males to appear muscular and lean. The major problem with MD and ON is that sufferers see themselves as very healthy, and even appear so on the surface. This can make diagnosing these conditions very difficult. The key is identifying whether the desire for fitness or healthy living is taking over the person’s life. If society’s focus on healthy living is masking its continuing unhealthy relationship with food and body image, then countering this trend presents a daunting task. The old adage “everything in moderation” is key – even in relation to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Hopefully then we can finally enter the realm of healthy living in a healthy way.
Reported by Charis Bridger-Staatz, Julia Dawson and Natalia Cotton Art by Christina Rode
Bang! Talks to... Peter Scarborough Bang! talks to Oxford researcher, Dr. Peter Scarborough about why you should be a vegetarian, how climate change will affect you and what we might be eating (and drinking) in the future. *** I understand you have a background in mathematics. Could you tell us how you got interested in food research? My undergrad degree here at Oxford was in maths. After uni I went to London where I worked in civil service for 3 years and then I decided I wanted to come back to Oxford, so I applied to a bunch of research positions. So all my knowledge on public health and diet has come from working here and from working on my PhD, but the mathematical modeling I do today allows me to use the skills I developed in my undergrad degrees. What exactly do you research? I’ve been working in food research since it started [at Oxford] in 2003. We’re funded by the British Heart Foundation and we look at population approaches to improving diet and physical activity. I work on the diet side. We’re looking at ways of changing the food environment in order to encourage people to eat healthier. So that involves things like food labeling, restrictions on advertising unhealthy foods to kids and on health related food taxes. One of the things we’re planning at the moment is a big randomized control trial of an intervention which is aimed to increase peoples’ use of traffic light food labels. We’re hooked up with a major UK supermarket chain where we’re going to record peoples’ results through supermarket store cards. We write down what people have been buying for the last 6 months and then we hit them with a website which
gives them feedback on their shopping behavior. We can then track and see how they’re doing over time, see if that intervention has improved their ability to buy better foods.
A big question in food is sustainability; how do you approach that question in your research? I also lead up a research project on the relationships between environmental sustainability, public health and food. What inspires that research is that food has a massive sustainability footprint. Globally, food is more important than travel in terms of greenhouse gas emissions produced; it’s second behind only energy production in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions. Obviously we have problems in terms of land usage as well; if you want to produce
And that’s based on all the energy that’s put into producing it? Exactly, and there’s a number of reasons for that difference. Within the category of meat, there’s ruminants — sheep and cows — and then pigs and poultry. The sheep and cows are the worst because they take up an awful lot of space and because they produce a lot of methane through enteric fermentation. The problem with meat though is all about inefficiencies in the system. It’s the fact that we have to dedicate land for feeding animals whereas the same land could be used for producing human food. So any kind of footprint that you would have for cereals is already multiplied by 10 because you have to produce to 10 times as much to feed it to an animal to get the same amount of calories out of it.
Food is more important than travel in terms of greenhouse gas emissions produced”
more food these days (we’re running out of free land that’s available), you can either intensify food production by improving yields or you can cut down more rainforest and that obviously has a double whammy in terms of footprint. Now if we can constrain what people eat to a sustainable range of foods, do we end up with healthier diets? About five years ago, people commonly thought a sustainable diet was all about food miles, about getting your food locally sourced and in season. But increasingly that idea has been blown out of the water. Really it’s not about local foods, not about where it’s produced, how it’s transported. It’s about food categories: the types of food you eat. Meat has got a much much higher carbon footprint — by magnitudes of 10s and 100s — over fruit, vegetablest and cereals.
Animals can actually be quite a sustainable way of producing calories. If you’ve got a patch of land and you can’t grow any crops on it because it’s got bad soil or it’s on a hill, all that’s going to grow is grass. Humans can’t eat grass, but if you stick a few sheep on the hill then you can turn something humans can’t eat into something they can eat. And equally that’s the idea with pigs and poultry because what they did was turn waste into something you can eat. So traditionally, farming was sustainable, but with modern farming practices and such a high demand for meat, there’s not enough waste to feed them and what you can feed them has been restricted anyway. So essentially what a sustainable diet today would mean shifting away from meat consumption v and finding something to replace that consumption with.
Do we know what the health implications of shifting away from meat consumption would be? There’s actually been a boom of research recently that looks at the effect of meat consumption on health. Previously it was thought that meat consumption was harmless up until a certain level and then if you ate a lot of red meat, you might increase your risk for things like colorectal cancer. But now people are shifting that boundary further and further down. It turns out that eating just a small amount of meat increases risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes. So what I do is to model some of these outcomes, to say what sort of co-benefits could you get in these scenarios.
was 2%. One of the bits of research that I do that’s quite interesting is looking at insect consumption and whether insects can save the world by providing a sustainable protein source. T h e r e ’ s absolutely no doubt that insects are far more sustainable as a protein source than regular livestock, by factors of a hundred at least. Insects are eaten in most places around the world, but where there’s a gap in the literature is:
“Insects are far more sustainable as a protein source than regular livestock, by factors of a hundred at least.”
What the data shows is that climate change will impact our health a lot more due to it changing our diets compared to the health impact of climate change due to things like natural disasters, heat strokes and changing temperatures. Clearly diet is a big problem that we need to address. And the biggest issue is that we’re eating too much meat, right? So what are the alternatives? Yes, at the moment, everyone’s increasing meat consumption. I would say the crucial elements of what’s going to happen to the global diet are based around three phenomena. One is increasing population around the world, which is not going to change. Two is increasing GDP; people will have more money to spend so people will adjust their diet accordingly. The third is the relationship that as money increases, people are bound to be eating more meat. Meat consumption in every single sector of the world is increasing. In the U.S., meat consumption is the highest in the world and even there, people are eating more meat this year then they did last year. In the year 2000 about 5% of U.K. residents called themselves vegetarians, and in 2010 that number
are fairly common; you wouldn’t roll your eyes if someone said I’m eating a bit of squid. So eating patterns are not as set in stone as people imagine.
would insects be healthier than meat? So we’re making some first steps in that area by doing comparisons of the nutrients found in insects versus those in traditional livestock. Everyone asks, who would eat insects? But eating patterns do change, and not so long ago in the UK, the thought of eating squid or octopus would be disgusting. And now squid and octopus
Have you ever eaten an insect? I was just in Japan earlier this year to talk about insects and health to a region where they eat local hornets. I came to talk about the sustainability of food systems and the fact that insects might be a solution. Actually they got local TV cameras to cover me; they kept calling me Pete Sensei, which was really cool. And at the end of the filming section, they presented me with a table of food and I had to say, I’m a vegetarian and I don’t eat any meat, even insects, but I did try the fried rice with hornet larvae. I thought it was a bit like eggs and I eat eggs. My friend was with me for the ride and he tried everything there, like deep fried hornets. He said they were quite tasty. This [pictured] is the local hornet liquor. Look at the size of those hornets! One of the things they do in this region is to flavor their alcohol with them. But they also just cook them and eat them. To make this hornet liquor, they collect hornets, put them in a vat of alcohol, and let them flavor it over a period of months. It’s supposed to have psychotropic properties because these stings are more than just painful — they really affect your brain too. Actually, while we were there, we contributed to the name of this beverage because we happened to be there as they were going through the process of bottling up and mass producing it: it’s called “Sting”.
Interview by Jake Verter Photography by Jake Verter
A Recipe for Longevity Food affecting human lifespan
estern society demands quick fixes. We want to open the newspaper and read about the latest silver bullet to cure ageing and obesity. Unfortunately, it is rarely that straightforward. Humans are complex creatures and no single approach is going to provide us with the answer for health and longevity.
What is the best diet to keep us living longer?”
The gods had it sussed: their food and drink served not only to satiate, but also to immortalise. Ancient mythology is rich with stories of elixirs of youth and golden apples and tales like these are associated with the notion of immortality today. But the idea that diet is critical for longevity is not as fanciful as mythology would lead us to believe. Eating takes up 38,000 hours of our lives and therefore maybe it’s
unsurprising that food can profoundly affect our life and how long it lasts. The general advice for dining table choices may be worth listening to: stay away from sugar, avoid processed food and eat fewer carbohydrate-rich meals. But advice that focuses on the apparent life-extending properties of individual chemicals in food can seem a little farfetched. Take one look at the number of interactions in a metabolic map and you’ll realise how futile this approach is. While talking about specific chemicals is pointless, pulling out the balanced diet card could seem a little vague. Striking the balance between protein, fat and carbohydrate is critical, but it could be an easy way to skirt around the incredibly complex problem; what is the best diet to keep us living longer? We have a very good answer for mice. Because scientists can raise them from birth and measure any effect of diet on health and lifespan, the most effective longevity diet for mice has been identified. A low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet is associated with the longest lifespan, whilst the effects of calorie restriction are at best equivocal. But it seems that we haven’t yet reached this level of knowledge when it comes to human diets. It’s inconceivable to think we could perform such a detailed and controlled study on humans, and, even if we could, the results m i g h t not look like those found in mice. But
from what is known so far, a high-carbohydrate diet is certainly not the answer for humans. Human trials have to rely on abnormal states, such as Elevated levels of bad cholesterol; the resulting symptoms can then be altered by experimental dietary changes. Thus, as a result of the research possible, human dietary recommendations are usually limited to those that reduce a person’s disease risk rather than alter the lifespan itself. Such studies show that to reduce your chance of obesity, eating food that has minimal effects on blood sugar levels is the best bet. These low sugar foods avoid triggering the insulin response that tells your cells to store fat. For heart disease, reduction of salt and fat intake and an increase in the intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre can improve blood pressure and lower levels of bad cholesterol. Currently, the best advice we have pertaining to human diet is “Diet X will reduce your risk of Y” – this is as much as current evidence supports. Reading too much into the results of epidemiological studies has produced decades of confused dietary recommendations, which often assume that one diet suits everyone. Unfortunately, experiments that give instructive results about the best diets are impossible to conduct on humans. In lieu of this, for longevity through diet I would follow the advice of the author Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Reported by Raphealla Hull Art by Michael Mackley
Chemistry in the Kitchen Smoke infused ice-cream and Frozen Floridas
hances are that most people have never had a hankering for a side of wasabi foam to go with their tuna steak, or cigar smoke-infused ice cream for dessert. But a recent influx of chefs joining the movement dubbed ‘molecular gastronomy’ are aiming to change that. More traditional chefs tend to criticize this style of cooking for its preoccupation with presentation, the reliance on complex recipes and additives as well the pretentiousness of its name. Perhaps this way of cooking deserves a little A handful more credit.
wanted to bring scientific methods and principles into the kitchen, where science was already taking place whether or not the cook was aware of it. Following in Kurti’s footsteps, a handful of Harvard University professors now offer an online class in ‘Science and Cooking’, hoping to combine the two disciplines to provide a unique insight into how recipes work. ‘Not just the fancy recipes — but the recipes you make in your own kitchen’, says Michael Brenner, course founder
liquid, it will react and form a gel. The possibilities for this are practically endless; some delicious uses include stuffing an olive with gelled pimento juice, creating liquid Parmesan and mushroom gnocchi and turning sangria into a sippable, silky suspension of fruits and alcohol. Entertaining and enlightening, molecular gastronomy provides the chemically creative with a smörgåsbord of intellectual and sensory morsels.
of Harvard University professors now offer an online class in ‘science and cooking’ ”
The term molecular gastronomy was coined by its inventor, Nicholas Kurti FRS, an Oxford physicist with a passion for cooking. In 1969, Kurti created a ‘Frozen Florida’: a reverse Baked Alaska, using the then recently invented microwave oven. Kurti
and applied Harvard mathematician. One of the most striking methods is ’gelification’, which utilizes a seaweedderived polysaccharide called sodium alginate. When sodium alginate is dispersed evenly throughout an ionic
Self-Preservation Humans affecting food lifespan
ost prepared food needs to be transported over large distances and reaches us long after it was first made. There are endless ways to keep sensitive products fresh, from freezing to high-pressure treatments. However, one of the most important is the use of preservatives. Most people think of preservatives as something new, yet some have been used for centuries. Cured meats, for instance, are safe to eat thanks to nitrates (which prevent botulism), while sauerkraut is preserved through the presence of lactic acid. These chemicals have two main enemies to fight: microbial activity and oxidation. Today, artificial additives are common. Oxygen normally reacts with lipids
in food, altering their structures and creating free radicals. Oxidised lipids smell and taste atrocious but conveniently, ascorbic acid, a preservative otherwise known as vitamin C, reacts with these free radicals. It reduces them to a more stable form and protects the food from further attack. Sulfites such as NaHSO3 both prevent oxidation and inhibit microbes. Intriguingly, the mechanisms behind this are still unknown, but sulphur dioxide is thought to be behind the antibacterial activity. While artificial additives have many benefits, some are suspected of causing harmful side-effects. Past studies have linked nitrates to stomach cancer, and sulfite sensitivities are common enough that sulphur dioxide requires
an allergy label. However, the cancer risk is not currently clear-cut and the use of additives is very tightly controlled: they have all passed careful safety tests. These fears are driving research into a whole slew of alternative preservation methods. UV light, for instance, is now frequently used for sterilisation. Also, new preservatives are being developed – those derived from essential oils are antibacterial and can be marketed as ‘natural’. Still, artificial additives remain essential and will be needed for a long time to come.
Reported by Jake Verter and Catherine Hayes Art by Michael Mackley
You are what you eat: The science behind the maxim
ur relationship with bacteria has often been considered as a battle of us against them and many of the advances that have revolutionised medicine in the 20th century have been due to the development of antimicrobial compounds. However, at the dawn of the 21st century we are coming to realise that bacteria may not always be our enemies. Indeed, our over-zealous war on microbes may be causing a rise in autoimmune conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
In your body, microbial cells outnumber human cells ten to one. This challenges our whole concept of ‘self’, as we no longer understand ourselves as individuals but as seething colonies of a variety of living organisms. It has been known for some time that our resident gut bacteria play an important role in digestion. For example, the nitrogen-fixing gut bacteria of highlanders in Papua New Guinea enable them to live off a diet of 90% sweet potato. In 1907 it was suggested that harmful microbes in the gut could be replaced with beneficial ones in the form of probiotics. To date
no probiotic has been approved, but more recently scientists have discovered the relationship between what we eat and the bacteria we cultivate in our
We no longer understand ourselves as individuals but as seething colonies of a variety of living organisms”
guts. One study showed that people who crave chocolate have different gut bacteria to those who do not and researchers are trying to figure out how we can fine-tune our cravings. For the first time in human history more people are overweight than underweight. There are a variety of contributing factors, but changes in the composition of our gut bacteria may well be one of them. A recent study linked emulsifiers (food preservatives that keep fatty substances dissolved in ice cream and mayonnaise) to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These additives break down the mucus that lines and protects the colon, allowing gut bacteria to grow closer to the colon wall and cause irritation. Don’t panic just yet, though, as the greatest effects were seen in mice consuming a diet equivalent to constant ice cream.
changes in their gut microbiomes and show an increase in bacteria associated with obesity and diabetes. To test whether these bacterial changes lead
For the first time, more people are overweight than underweight.”
Artificial sweeteners have also been related to obesity and diabetes. Mice fed on a diet of artificial sweeteners exhibit
to these symptoms, bacteria were taken from mice fed on a diet of saccharin and transferred to healthy mice. The healthy mice developed intolerance to glucose. Research like this may pave the way for bespoke contemporary medicine that treats individuals as communities of human and bacterial cells. All this excitement surrounding the human microbiome is well founded in practical applications. Bacteria can be easily manipulated, which make s them an appealing target for investment. A better understanding of the human microbiome is changing medicine, with new procedures such as fecal transplants. This technique involves administering the poo of a healthy person to the patient. In 2013, a study into its use as a treatment of Clostridium difficile infection was ended prematurely as it worked so well it was considered unethical not to offer it as a treatment to the control group. Is there a future where we may be able to consciously fine-tune our gut bacteria, enabling us to avoid diseases like IBS, autism and cancer and to eat what we want by manipulating our bacteria to digest it for us? A lot of work still needs to be done to untangle the relationship between these microscopic beasts and our bodies. One thing is certain: the 21st century is going to redefine our relationship with that lessloved cousin, the microbe.
Reported by Isabel Frost Art by Sharon Yip
Increasing food production efficiency for an increasing population
ur generation is often presented with existing areas, whilst remaining consistent the prospect of a future set against with environmental and social values. us. This is not new. Since the Industrial It is understandable why, initially, the Revolution, there have been academics concept of increasing the intensity of attempting to create panic around an our extraction of the earth’s resources increasing population putting pressure whilst simultaneously creating the on the earth’s limited resources. However, means for their long-term restoration combined with the threat of climate change, could seem paradoxical. In itself, the the challenge of food security appears word ‘intensification’ connotes polluting more daunting than ever before. It is pesticides and chemical fertilisers; estimated that the population will continue genetically homogenous plants; and to rise for another 40 years, with food animals packed into small spaces. demand increasing by 60-120%. Yet some claim there will be combined with the threat of a struggle to sustain climate change, the challenge production even at of food security appears current population levels, with the more daunting than ever” yield of farmlands decreasing as a result of heatwaves and diverted water supplies. Advocates who take a more industrial interpretation of SI propose that improved It is not surprising that when the technology will resolve this apparent ‘sustainable intensification’ (SI) of conflict between the environment agriculture circulated as the solution to and yield. While there are still public r e s e r va t i o n s our problems in the late 2000’s, many were about genetic skeptical. The definition of SI has been left modification open, allowing several interpretations to (GM), this is take hold. Mostly it is described as often hailed as providing guiding principles a key solution for the revolution in which, for of agriculture, example, improving increasing the the genetic yields in resistance of crops to pests, would lessen the need for environmentally damaging pesticides. However, while these advances hold potential, the benefits mainly affect largescale industrial agriculture which is currently only one side of the issue.
Areas with the highest disparity between food availability and need often source their limited supply of nourishment from smallholder farms. Hi-tech innovations could be perceived as less economically
viable for such farmers, and so in these situations, focusing on advances in agroecology and organic farming may take priority. Agroecology, which studies the ecological processes involved in agriculture, promotes the success of rural organic farming. That success, on both economic and environmental terms, is dependent upon the level of knowledge applied. As such, there have been mixed results in the comparative yields of organic versus non-organic farming with some studies concluding that organic has, on average, 19.2% lower yield. However, many advocate that with improved understanding within areas such as agroecology, organic farming could sustain a population of nine billion in the future. Although these approaches provide examples of techniques that fall within ideologies of SI, advocates and critics have arguably misinterpreted SI as consisting of such specific processes and nothing more. Solving the issue at hand requires a consideration of interrelated factors that go beyond the advocacy of specific processes and the complexity of ensuring environmental stability. The problem has deeper economic roots in the distribution and type of food produced. It is estimated that we currently produce enough food to provide >3000 calories for everyone on earth each day. Yet, despite this, 1 in 7 people do not have access to the necessary protein and energy in their diet. Roughly 30-40% of produce is wasted each year in both developed and developing countries (although for very different reasons). Clearly a vast, multifactorial solution is needed, and SI, when considered primarily as a mind-set of clearly defined priorities, could provide framework for that answer.
Reported by Caitilin Chalmers Art by Eleanor Taylor
Eat. Sleep. Crave. Repeat. You’re not to blame if you hate garlic
e like to think we’re in control of what and when we decide to eat, but do we really make logical decisions? Research by Professor Susan Jebb suggests that most people know what would be healthiest to eat and also want to make choices to eat these foods, and yet very few people carry these actions through. For example, instead of the recommended five, most of us only eat three portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Research also suggests that the population is aware of appropriate portion sizes, but still over eats. Why is it that we can know what is best for us, but we still make poor choices? The gut, sometimes called the “second brain,” contains a large number of neurons built to control digestion, called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). But these neurons don’t just digest your food; they also generate signals that pass back to the brain and affect what you want to eat and
how you feel. People who are obese and those who are lean have different types of bacteria in their gut, so changing the makeup of gut flora could influence o u r weight. Smell plays a large role in choosing what we eat, and cravings for certain food can easily be triggered by smells. Yet, colours and materials can also change our perception of taste. For example, popcorn eaten from a red bowl was reported to be sweeter than from a blue bowl as red is often the colour of ripe, sweet foods. The material that a spoon is made from also changes how food tastes to us, with copper spoons giving food a bitter taste. Studies have also shown that our appetites
are shaped by the food our mothers consumed when pregnant. Strong flavours enter the amniotic fluid and the mothers’ milk, eventually passing to the foetus or baby. Flavours that have b een recorded to do this include vanilla, carrot, mint, garlic and aniseed. A study in which pregnant women consumed biscuits containing aniseed or no aniseed found that the exposure to aniseed in the womb correlated with their reaction to it as a baby. Babies whose mothers had eaten aniseed were attracted to it, while the babies not previously exposed to it found the taste disgusting. With further work needed, perhaps these finding could one day help tackle obesity and be used to improve our eating decisions.
Reported by Charlotte Dodwell Art by Michael Mackley
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22 22/04/2015 11:52:37
The Fat Ape
How evolution has shaped the obesity epidemic
he principles of evolution underpin all fields of Biology, yet the medical community has so far neglected the consequences of the theory. The emergence of evolutionary medicine is beginning to change this. This interdisciplinary branch of medical science applies evolutionary theory to our understanding of health and disease. Evolutionary medicine changes the fundamental ways in which we view the relationships between the body and disease. Under this approach, we view the body as a product of natural selection that has created vulnerabilities, leading to disease. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ it, we seek to compensate for what the body
cannot repair while relieving suffering where possible. Our evolutionary vulnerabilities are perhaps most obvious in the increasing
idle was an extremely adaptive trait: laziness reduces unnecessary calorie expenditure, which is essential in times of food scarcity. However, today, laziness has become a huge contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. The emergence of mechanised agriculture drastically increased the availability of food. As a result, most of the population has easy access to abundant food with no need for manual labour and significant calorie expenditure. Coupled with our natural preference for calorific foods, In the days of our ancestors, the modern world makes being idle was an extremely it all too easy to take the adaptive trait” road towards obesity. The reason for this can be found by tracing our evolution back 2.6 While natural selection will take million years. The omnivorous thousands of generations to correct hunter-gatherer diet of early these maladaptations, evolutionary humans could supply a medicine aims to treat them now. For plentiful 3000 calories example, in times of famine, complex a day. However, appetite regulation mechanisms are the nature of this altered to increase appetite and store lifestyle meant food energy as fat. Traditional calorie was intermittently restriction diets can stimulate the same abundant - hunts response, meaning that dieters often could be unsuccessful, find that they gain rebound weight. and there was never Evolutionary medicine enables us to any guarantee of finding understand the mechanisms behind sufficient food on the phenomena such as these and develop Savannah. As a result, the carefully controlled alternatives to this body would often be required form of dieting. to sustain itself through periods of calorie restriction. Our bodies are remarkable, but they are not optimised to the modern world. Due to this unpredictability, By accepting our imperfections, we can humans have been selected make more informed decisions about to efficiently conserve how to compensate for our evolutionary energy and seek out highly flaws. Reluctance from medical schools calorific foods. Fats, to integrate evolutionary medicine into sugars and salts were rare the curriculum has hindered progress, on the African savannah but with the WHO estimating that 300 and so our evolution has million people will be obese by 2025, shaped our taste buds to find perhaps this is something we can no these nutrients particularly longer afford to neglect. palatable. This, coupled with the reward pathways they stimulate in our brains, encourages us to consume these types of foods in abundance. Reported by Natasha Gillies In the days of our ancestors, being Art by Sharon Yip trend towards excessive weight gain. The WHO estimates that around 250 million people are clinically overweight, and numbers continue to rise. Being overweight is a huge risk factor for a number of diseases and in the UK, obesity is believed to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while having a BMI over 29 doubles your risk of coronary heart disease. This tendency towards obesity is most certainly a condition of the modern world.
A reflection on a set of controversion cells
irror neurons are neurons in the brain that are involved in “mirroring” the behaviours of others. Certain brain regions thought to contain them are active when we perform a movement, but also when we watch someone else perform the same movement, even if we are not moving.
Discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti, mirror neurons are predominantly found in brain areas associated with sensory perception and guided movement. Studies suggest that the neurons can encode the context of behaviour to the extent that they can distinguish someone reaching
cup of tea to drink it from someone reaching to clear it away. To explain this, researchers propose that intending to perform a movement implies having a forthcoming goal and that different mirror neurons respond to different intended goals.
Despite this knowledge, the function of mirror neurons is still hotly debated. Some argue that they are essential for imitation of behaviour; others, that they play a role in language, particularly in linking action words with the relevant motor function. Another popular theory relates mirror neurons to theory of mind, which is the ability to understand the intentions of others and to recognise that they
are separate individuals. People with autism can lack theory of mind, and may be unable to appropriately imitate the actions of others, leading some neuroscientists to put forward mirror neurons as an explanation for autism. However, it should be noted that many scientists are sceptical about such clearcut explanations of mirror neuron function and some even suggest that these neurons do not exist. Claims that mirror neurons make us empathetic or that they conclusively explain autism are criticised as making extravagant assumptions from the available evidence. The potential for mirror neurons is still unknown, and whilst these proposals lack clarification, they form a framework for further research to explore their possibilities.
Reported by Julia Dawson Art by Rebecca Nutbrown
How science becomes art
by many. Arguably, an ultrasound is as iconic as Munch’s famous ”Scream,” and interestingly, shares many of its visual features. Both seem ethereal and mysterious.
n 1999, art critic James Elkins observed that “in the last few decades, art historians have become interested in a wide variety of images that are not canonical instances of fine art.” Elkins is right: scientific images should be considered as more than just data. I am not suggesting an arbitrary artistic study of such images, an approach, which is still looked upon dispassionately by the sciences, but a meaningful combination of these two currently, polarised approaches.
After an ultrasound has taken place, the hospital prints a physical copy of the foetus for the parent/s. This is a practice so common that it is often not remarked upon; yet an ultrasound remains the sole artistic souvenir from a hospital appointment. Of course the reason for this is obvious; an ultrasound records the life-changing event that is pregnancy. It is an image charged with sentimentality.
An ultrasound is as iconic as Munch’s famous ‘Scream’ ”
Yet the sciences are disinterested in this artistic analysis of its images. The visual power of such images should not be underestimated. Elkins’ proposal to study scientific images as art draws attention to the dichotomous treatment of visual sources across both disciplines: we should attempt to learn from these differences.
An ultrasound, for example, is not only reserved for medical reference or illustration: it is also a piece of art. The printouts as visual symbols have achieved a status that many ‘artworks’ cannot even claim to have: the ability of instant recognition. An individual ultrasound by itself touches merely a few lives but ‘ultrasounds’ are encountered
Reported by Laura Simpkins Image supplied by the author
The Pain Revolution Turning pain off with the flick of a switch? N
europathic pain (internally generated pain caused by damage to the nervous system) affects up to 8% of the UK population and 5% are completely disabled due to their pain because current analgesics are largely ineffective. Over the last 30 years, deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been used worldwide as a last resort treatment for over 1500 patients with chronic pain. In DBS, electrodes are implanted into the brain to generate electrical currents that alter neural activity and therefore change our thoughts and behaviour. This technique has had substantial success in treating disorders such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and severe depression and cutting-edge research is currently underway at Professor Tipu Aziz’s lab in Oxford to improve its use in chronic pain. Previously, DBS has been used to
treat chronic pain by targeting areas of the brain such as the periaqueductal gray. This is a critical component of the brain’s pain circuitry that elicits the release of endorphins to block, not the detection, but the perception of pain. This technique is successful in 2/3 of patients but is still a last resort due to the highly invasive nature of the surgery and the small risk of haemorrhage, infection and neuropsychiatric changes. However, Aziz’s group is now exploring the efficacy of a novel target – the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This is an emotional centre in the brain, and instead of blocking the perception
of pain, DBS here means that their pain no longer bothers patients and they neither care nor think about it. In such treatment, it will be important to ensure that no other emotional dampening occurs as a side effect, as that could hypothetically result in psychopathic characteristics. Small trials so far have shown modest success but with further refinement of implantation sites, DBS of the ACC could provide a revolutionary new treatment for pain. Reported by Sebastian Fox Art by Ben Turner
A group of undergraduatews attempt to create a double-agent bacterium
his summer, an interdisciplinary group of Oxford undergraduates is researching the genetic programming of E. coli into “biofilm destroyers” as their entry for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. iGEM is an international biology competition for students and community laboratories aimed at developing an open source e c o s y s t e m for genetic engineering. Gene sequences are catalogued as “parts”, based on the functions of the proteins that they encode, in a freelyaccessible online database which participants contribute to through their research projects, the first ever of such efforts in the world.
Bacterial biofilms are formed when signals used by pathogenic E. coli and free-floating bacteria attach themselves P. aeruginosa in co-ordinating group onto a solid surface to hunkering down behaviour including biofilm construction. within their protective slime coating In response to the signals, the destroyers in response to favourable attachment will then release the appropriate enzymes sites, nutritional cues, or biochemical needed to hydrolyse the structural threats. While bacterial biofilms are components of the virulent biofilms as largely indispensable in most natural well as enzymes that kill the offending environments (including our own bacteria by cleaving their cell walls. The gut microbiome), they are more enzymes can either be released through notoriously responsible for a continuous secretion or as a one-off burst, whole host of biofilm destroyers are pathogenic roles in designed to specifically urinary detect signals used by t r a c t pathogenic bacteria” infections, enteritis and cystic fibrosis, as depending on the concentrations needed. well as industrial maladies such as the biofouling of oil pipelines These destroyers may in the future be and food-processing plants. used for implantswhich commonly form Biofilms are also a mediator of pathogenic, antibiotic-resistant chronic antibiotic resistance and hence there biofilms and also for designing selfis a strong case for the development of cleaning processing plants or pipelines. novel anti-biofilm strategies.
Team Oxford’s biofilm destroyers are designed to be able to specifically detect
Reported by Oxford’s iGEM team Art by Anaelle Stenman
Reaching a Standard Keeping particle physics tidy
undamental physics is very well ordered. In the same way that the periodic table makes sense of the chemical elements, we can arrange all of the fundamental particles we know of into neat rows and columns. This order underlies the Standard Model of particle physics.
Quarks are an essential component of matter. They interact through the strong nuclear force, and this force binds the up and down quarks into protons and neutrons that assemble into atomic nuclei. The heavier quarks can also combine in pairs or trios to make more complex, non-fundamental particles.
schema, it cannot be the final story. There are many observed phenomena that cannot be explained by the Standard Model alone. Experiments have established that neutrinos can spontaneously change from one type of neutrino to another. This oscillatory behaviour is only possible if they have some mass but, according to the Standard Model, they should be
Neutrinos can pass through lots of matter undetected – billions are streaming through you as you read this – because they only interact through the weak nuclear force. This makes them rather difficult to study!
Despite the order and success of this
While the Standard Model explains electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces, perhaps the most familiar force, gravity, is still missing from the picture. Combining particle physics with general relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravitation, is proving to be immensely difficult and a solution will almost certainly demand new physics such as string theory, attempting to describe all the forces and Although they are not a generation of matter, bosons are essential to fundamental physics. They allow for interations between particles. Photons are produced when a particle and its anti-particle collide, and they carry light and the electromagnetic force. The W and Z bosons connect the parts of the standard model, and the gluons bind quarks together via the strong nuclear force. the recently discovered Higgs boson completes the model by giving mass to the otherwise massless W and Z bozons.
The electron is the best known of the leptons; it circles the nuclei of atoms. The more massive muon and tau share properties with the electron but are rarer.
The particles are sorted into three generations – the first three columns – of increasing mass but otherwise similar properties. In each row, the particles have the same charge and spin, meaning they interact in the same way with other particles. Some of these have only been recently discovered. Others, such as the top quark, were predicted from the structure found in the Standard Model long before they were found experimentally.
massless, leading to some, currently, unanswerable questions. Further questions are thrown up by large structures, which provide insight into the smallest particles. Studies of galaxies suggest there is significantly more mass out there than we can see, known as dark matter. Since none of the particles in the Standard Model has the right properties to make up this dark matter, there must be at least one other as of yet undiscovered particle that will disrupt the established
particles we know in terms of tiny vibrating strings. The Standard Model is the cornerstone of modern particle physics, explaining a wide range of experimental results. But, our need for physics beyond this model is undeniable. The hope of any physicists is that the solution to these apparently disparate problems will be a single, beautiful unified theory of everything. We can but dream!
Reported by Kathryn Boast
Can you have meaningful discussion with a chimp?
anguage is often seen as a uniquely human characteristic that sets us apart from other species; however, there is much evidence to suggest we are not quite as special as we’d like to think. Over the last two decades we’ve learned that we may not be the only animals able to use language. We are all familiar with the idea that animals are able to communicate; for example dogs can alert their owners when they want to be fed. However particular parts of language such as the effect of a change in word order on the meaning of a sentence are traditionally thought to be unique to humans. Notably, many recent findings suggest otherwise.
Furthermore, animal communication is not limited simply to gestures; in fact animals can even respond to English words. Ake and Phoenix were language-trained dolphins – one was taught gestures, the other, sounds, and they understood certain signals to refer to a particular
Clearly this communication is very basic compared to the highly complex language used by humans. As Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine M a m m a l Behaviour and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi, said when discussing the possibility of understanding dolphin communications, “We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication”.
One of the first studies to illustrate the complexities of communication in animals involved young chimpanzees. Tomasello and colleagues studied communication between chimpanzees and revealed that if the receiver of a signal was already paying attention to the sender then a silent gesture was used, but if they were not then a contact gesture was used. This suggests that the intention in making the contact signal was to get the attention of the receiver. Animals are known to modify their gestures even when communicating with humans. Cartmill and Byrne observed that when a human behaved as if they didn’t understand the message an orang-utan was trying to communicate, the orang-utan would make a second attempt to communicate but this time it would use a new, different signal. If the human seemed to half-understand then the orang-utan would continue with the same gestures. This clearly shows a clear intent and determination to communicate a particular meaning.
It is often argued, by those who claim that language is uniquely human, that what sets our language apart from animal communication is our ability to combine components of language with infinite variety. However both Washoe, a chimpanzee, and Koko, a gorilla, were taught American Sign Language and were able not only to combine the signs that they had been taught in order to communicate - but actually to combine them in novel combinations.
object or action. Ake and Phoenix could be ‘told’ to put one object on top of another. Different word orders in these instructions conveyed different meanings to the dolphins. So ‘Person, surfboard, fetch’ meant take the surfboard to the person, whereas ‘Surfboard, person, fetch’ meant take the person to the surfboard. They would even understand when the instruction they had been given was impossible to carry out, for example if they were told to move a window, and they would refuse to respond.
So it seems that animals do understand a great deal more than we usually give them credit for, and perhaps the goal of communicating with them is not so very far away. Thanks must go to Isabelle Huggan for her currently unpublished paper entitled ‘Is Language and specifically syntax uniquely human?’ which inspired this article. Reported by Amelia Huggans Art by Christina Rode
Bang! Reviews... Your Flying Car Awaits Paul Milo, Harper Collins 2009 When boiled down, “Your flying car awaits” is a review of overly optimistic predictions made in the 20th century for life in the 21st. Some of these predictions include: houses will turn on an axis to obtain maximal sunlight, artificial viruses will be implanted in people to delay ageing, and humans will be exposed to charged air to improve cognitive abilities (shockingly proven to work in mice). Mostly, each prediction is followed by the reasoning behind its being made and why it did not become true. This makes for interesting sections and the book could certainly be enjoyable as something to flick through in a waiting room. On the other hand, the book is quite monotonous and lacks any sort of narrative arc. We Need to Talk About Kelvin Marcus Chown, Faber & Faber 2009 When Marcus Chown sat down to write a book aiming to explain complex physics principles to the general public, he must have realised he was not the first to do so. Many prominent physicists have written such a book, from Brian Cox to Richard Feynman, and these books tackle very similar topics to Chown’s. Having said that, should you wish to teach yourself quantum mechanics, this book is a good one to choose. Physics principles are explained through everyday observations and Chown keeps his writing light and refreshing. It’s a mystery as to why no diagrams have been included in this book as they would certainly help to explain some fundamental concepts. On the other hand, even if you don’t fully get the physics, this book provides some wonderful insights. Recommended for expanding your knowledge on the expanding universe. Eureka! The Birth Of Science Andrew Gregory, Icon Books 2001 “Eureka! The Birth of Science” is certainly a thought-provoking and comprehensive read, though it cannot really be argued that it delivers upon its promises. The book is an in depth exploration of Ancient Greek views on medicine and astronomy, structured around key figures from the height of their civilisation. Gregory does have a tendency to wander off on tangents, sometimes describing a Greek theory in such depth that it can no longer be justified as being significant to scientific development. In fact, the book is bit preoccupied with the Greeks as a whole, giving little time to the Babylonians and none to discoveries of the Renaissance. However, given the chosen focus of the book, Gregory does write about it well. What makes it a particularly worthwhile read are sudden moments of realisation: small sentences that make you rethink the nature of something you took to be obvious. Certainly, looking at the embryonic development of science is a fascinating endeavour though it’s a shame Gregory never really reaches the birth. Podcast: Radiolab Hosted by Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, Produced by WNYC http://www.radiolab.org Be warned before listening to Radiolab on public transport: the show can make you laugh, cry and gasp in socially unacceptable places. From 15 minutes long to over an hour, from the basal ganglia to Beethoven, you can find some beautifully crafted podcasts in Radiolab’s archives, and all for free. The show’s perplexing commitment to sound effects can detract from the narrative at times and similarly you find Jad and Rob can often speak up unnecessarily. The moments that linger are when an enchanting character simply tells a gripping story. This is what makes “The Distance of the Moon” podcast a great one, even if it is unusual in being just a reading of an Italo Calvino written story. This episode in fact is not so unusual in that the show is constantly experimenting and various formats are explored over the 3 seasons. The show also explores numerous topics, leading some to be less than scientific even if they are intriguing (see “American Football”). Scroll through the archives and listen to the entertaining “Speed” episode, the emotional “Yellow Rain” segment or the topical and memorable “Patient Zero” immediately. Unless you’re on a bus.
Bang! quick crossword No 1 set by Phileas No 1 6set by 7Phileas 1 2 Bang!3 quick4 crossword 5 1
Across Down 1 Can beAcross strange, or a fixed point (9) 2 1980s Down sci-fi film (4) 8 A flightless (4) 3 Crow (4) 1 Canbird be strange, or a fixed point (9) 2 1980s sci-fi film (4) 9 First milk parturition 4 A positively ion (6) 8 A after flightless bird (4)(9) 3 Crowcharged (4) 10 An unresolved nth root (4) 5 Related to the eyes or vision (6) 9 First milk after parturition (9) 4 A positively charged ion (6) 13 Sum 10 (5) An unresolved nth root (4) 6 An amount that to is more than 5 Related the eyes or 2000 vision(9)(6) 15 Planet 7 Small 6 moth like insect (6,3) 13(6) Sum (5) An amount that is more than 2000 (9) 16 Electrical switches 11 A form of gelatin 15 Planet (6) (6) 7 Small moth(9) like insect (6,3) 17 Author, ‘The Idea of a University’ (6) 12 People who hide ship (9) 16 Electrical switches (6) 11 A form ofaboard gelatina (9) 19 Not modal (6) ‘The Idea of a University’ 13(6) Subject to treatment (5) aboard a ship (9) 17 Author, 12 People who hide 20 Serbian-american (5) 14 A short theorem to used in proving 19 Not modalengineer (6) 13 Subject treatment (5) a larger theorem (5) 21 Universal principles (4) engineer (5) 18 Natural philosopher born used Christmas day, a1642 (6)theorem (5) 20 Serbian-american 14 A short theorem in proving larger 24 Converting into fine particles (9) 19 Los US research lab (6) 21 Universal principles (4) 18 Natural philosopher born Christmas day, 1642 (6) 25 Scottish island (4) into fine particles (9)22 Continent 24 Converting 19 Los(4) US research lab (6) 26 Not embarrassed or guilty 23 Joint22 between the femur 25 Scottish island (4) (9) Continent (4) and tibia (4) 26 Not embarrassed or guilty (9) 23 Joint between the femur and tibia (4)
Crossword by Phileas (www.giftword.co.uk)
Additional Art Credits Cover: Michael Mackley, Christina Rode, Ellie Hammond Hunt, Eleanor Taylor Pages 4-5: Michael Mackley Page 11: Christina Rode Page 29: Michael Mackley Printed by Thames print
The Food Issue.