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theGIST - ISSUE 3 2014

EDITORIAL People! Science needs you. Never before has more science been produced, communicated, podcasted, vlogged, blogged, tweeted, posted, shared or demonstrated. We are living in a golden age for science communication. The tools of the trade are free for any science communicator to use, and even better freely accessible to any member of the public. We can reach science enthusiasts from around the world at a click of a button. Anyone can learn or understand almost anything that they want, all they have to do is “google it!”. Finally science and technology has solved the age old problem of ignorance. Long gone are the days of misquoted stati-

stics, misleading headlines and “true facts”. Instantaneously we can find out the truth. In years to come we will look back at ignorance like we now look back at smallpox. OK… not exactly, but the world of science has never been more accessible and so you should go forward and embrace it. Read the blogs, watch the vlogs, and listen to the podcasts. When someone quotes a statistic, a study, or a “fact”, look it up! Are they right, wrong or just plain ridiculous, anyone can find out. And if you’re a scientist, then you have a right and a responsibility to utilise these tools to tell the world about your research - be-

ing an expert is not just for you, you know! Contributing to a more scientifically literate world is, in our humble opinion, a nobel cause. Informed people have the golden opportunity to make informed decisions - decisions about vaccines, sustainability, disease contagion and treatment, contraception, education, the list goes on. You can help inform them. And, you can help excite them. Show them the wonders of the universe, from tiny spiders to enormous galaxies. Make them dream, make them think. If you won’t then who will? And right here, in the city of Glasgow, there’s hardly a better place to start… www.the-GIST.org.



BODY HACKING By Eloise Johnston, p. 6

WILD AT HEART By Jo Foo, p. 17

GONE TODAY, HERE TOMORROW? By James Burgon, p. 8

IS HONESTY THE BEST POLICY? By Rebecca Douglas, p. 20

THE FUTURE OF 3D PRINTING By Teodora Valentina Aldea, p. 11




By Ross McFarlane, p. 24

By Sean Leavey, p. 12


Timothy Revell & Ida Emilie Steinmark



Eloise Johnston



Charlie Stamenova


Debbie Nicol


Yulia Revina


Teodora Valentina Aldea


Becca Lee

Jessica Mclaren & Doug Young Teodora Valentina Aldea, James Burgon, Rebecca Douglas, Jo Foo, Eloise Johnston, Sean Leavey, Ross MacFarlane, Debbie Nicol, Timothy Revell & Ida Emilie Steinmark


Jessica Mclaren, Timothy Revell, Yulia Revina & Ida Emilie Steinmark


George Bell, Jamie Limond, James Marno, Jessica Mclaren & Erin Wallace


Teodora Valentina Aldea, Timothy Revell & Ida Emilie Steinmark


WOMEN IN CHEMISTRY E verybody stumbles across the wonders of science differently. I was not driven to become a scientist by an urge to become Einstein 2.0 or by listening to the words of Neil de Grasse Tyson or other influential science communicators. Instead, I was inspired by my high school chemistry teachers, Mrs Burton and Mr McAlpine, and always thought that studying the smaller elements that make up the universe would one day lead to some sort of greater, divine understanding.

I continue to be inspired by my chemistry lecturers at university, who have proven to be influential in terms of making me realise that it is a career in academia that I wish to pursue when I graduate in two years’ time. I have much to thank all my teachers for, but one thing that I did not learn from the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s chemistry curriculum is the inequalities that are prevalent within the subject at levels higher than undergraduate. However, whilst these inequalities can still be seen in universities, the



situation is improving.

Historically, academic sciences have never been a gender-balanced subject area. Chemistry is no exception to this, and there continues to be a gender imbalance between men and women higher up the academic career ladder. In 1999, the Royal Society of Chemistry initiated a study into the factors that affect the career choices of graduate chemists in the UK, after data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed that there was a significant difference in the number of women retained in academic positions in chemistry compared with other sciences [1]. The study, published in 2000, found that at the time of writing the number of female chemistry postgraduates remained at 33%, having stayed constant since 1997 [2]. However, over the ten years prior to this, the number of female chemistry postgraduate students had been increasing, rising from 22% in 1988 to 33% in 1997, indicating a hope-

CREDIT: ERIN WALLACE ful trend towards eventual equality with the numbers of male chemistry postgraduate students. Between the academic years 1996-97 and 2007-08, there has also been an increase in the number of female chemistry staff hired in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In 1996-97, the percentage of female staff employed by HEIs in all subject areas was 33%. In the same year, the percentage of female chemistry academic staff hired was 16% (587 women out of a total of 3705 staff). Like many other subjects at the time, the percentages of women in higher positions of chemistry academia were relatively low. Of the 587 women hired across established universities and former polytechnics and colleges in chemistry departments that year, 22% were researchers; 13% were lecturers; 4% were senior lecturers, and less than 1% were professors. In comparison, the percentages of women in different levels of chemistry academia in the year 2007-08 at HEIs were as follows: Researchers 29.9%; lecturers 28.8%; senior lecturers 14.6%, and professors 6.5%.


The drop of women from chemistry academia on ascending the career ladder is referred to as the ‘leaky pipeline’. It is between the ‘completion of PhD’ and ‘researcher’ rungs of the career ladder where the biggest loss of women from academic chemistry is seen. After completing a PhD, many female chemists move into industrial research jobs, where pay tends to be higher. Focus group members (both male and female) in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s 2000 study gave four main reasons for leaving academic research directly after the completion of a PhD without considering a further career in HEIs. These reasons were lack of passion for the subject; difficulties faced in obtaining funding and finding subsequent contracts within academia; the work being too consuming and the broad range of research possibilities in chemistry becoming increasingly narrow in scope over the course of an academic career. Due to these factors, some women move into other science-related jobs or the teaching profession. The most worrying aspect of the ‘leaky pipeline’ by far is the number of women who exit the profession entirely, citing a wide variety of reasons for doing so. Some women leave chemistry to pursue careers in non-scientific disciplines, which utilise the transferable skills obtained during postgraduate study. Other women leave in order to start a family. It should be noted here that the majority of people who took part in the focus group for the Royal Society of Chemistry’s investigation into the factors which determine the career choices of chemistry graduates believed that it was nigh impossible for a woman to combine starting a family with a high-profile academic career in chemistry. Granted, the short-term contracts that are prevalent within early academic science careers do not provide a great deal of stability for families with young children. Additionally, low pay in academia makes funding full-time childcare difficult, with the result of making starting a family at this point on the career ladder difficult for anyone, regardless of gender. Indeed, academia would become a more attractive workplace for parents and prospective parents if there was a greater degree of flexibility associated with academic roles in chemistry organic chemistry in particular, which is widely considered to be the

1) Acknowledge that gender inequality issues 4) Address the issue of high loss of women require action from everyone. from STEMM. 2) Tackling gender inequality issues requires 5) Acknowledge that short-term contracts afchanging culture and attitude. fect the retention and progression of women. 3) Examine diversity in management and po- 6) Consider the obstacles to the women proglicy-making positions. ression to a research career.

most competitive discipline in the field. However, it is surprising that it should still be felt that it is more difficult for a woman to combine a high-profile chemistry career and a family than it is for someone of equal position but opposite gender. A study published in 2011 in the journal Social Studies of Science found that women more than men feel the pressures that work applies to their familial lives, although it is important to note that, even with the obvious gender imbalance, this is an issue for both men and women [3]. However, this is a problem that society, rather than HEIs, must address.

Whilst the numbers of women in academic positions in chemistry in the UK are improving, there is still more work to be done. For the follow-up to their publication on the career choices of graduate chemists in 2000, the Royal Society of Chemistry surveyed 35 women in various academic positions from 7 different HEIs across the UK, in order to determine what is considered to be good practice in the positive retention of women in chemistry academia. It was reported that the universities which adopted a general diversity policy within their departments fared better in retaining women in academic positions than universities which adopted policies that targeted women specifically [4]. The management style of the head of department and the attitudes of other senior staff members were deemed to be significantly influential in retention and in the encouragement of women to apply for higher posts. There are numerous organisations that are working furiously to promote equality for women in chemistry and other scientific disciplines. One example is the WISE campaign, set up to promote women in science and engineering. Women are particularly encouraged to apply for the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships as offered by the Royal Society. These fellowships are

awarded to outstanding scientists, who, early in their research careers, are required to work part-time due to dominating personal circumstances (e.g. parenting or caring responsibilities). An example which addresses HEIs directly is the Athena SWAN charter. The charter aims to tackle the problem posed by gender inequality in academia, as well as to promote women’s advancement in science, technology, engineering, medicine and maths subjects. In order to join the charter, principals or vice-chancellors of HEIs must indicate that they will take action to implement changes to address the six main principles of the Athena SWAN movement. There are, at the moment, 114 members of the charter across the UK [5]. Currently, there are 3 chemistry departments (out of a total of 7 departments across the UK) which have been awarded gold status by Athena SWAN – the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, the University of York’s Department of Chemistry and the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College, London. Whilst this is indeed progress, it will take further hard work from HEIs and organisation promoting women in science before women in chemistry academia become the norm, instead of the minority. References [1] ‘A Survey of Chemistry and Physics Postdoctoral Researchers’ Experiences and Career Intentions’, J. Dyer and S. McWhinnie, 2011. [2] ‘Study of the Factors Affecting the Career Choices of Chemistry Graduates’, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000. [3] ‘Work and family conflict in academic science: Patterns and predictors among women and men in research universities’, M. F. Fox, C. Fonseca and J. Bao, 2011. [4] ‘Recruitment and Retention of Women in Academic Chemistry’, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003. [5] Google: Athena SWAN

CONTRIBUTORS Author Debbie Nicol is a chemistry undergraduate at the University of Strathclyde. She tweets at @baselineoffset. Specialist editor: Ida Emilie Steinmark. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.







et me tell you about myself. On an average working week I sleep 7 hours and 24 minutes, and I take approximately 15 minutes to get to sleep. I can run 10km in 57 minutes and 37 seconds, and out of 2419 people I can run faster than 62.5%. In the last six years I have been on 39 flights, sat for 13.38 days on a plane, and spent 33 hours at 7 different airport terminals. I drink 14 cups of coffee, 21 cups of tea and around 13.3 litres of water a week, and I normally open the fridge 27 times a day. I am most happy on Thursday afternoons at 4pm and least happy on Tuesday mornings at 9:30am.



This is me – only quantified. They say the subject that you are the best expert on is yourself. But many people often find this riddle enormously perplexing. So instead of relying on your emotions, suppositions or assumptions, hack into your data: this is self-knowledge through quantification. The ‘quantified self’ movementthe repetitive and meticulous recording of every minute detail about one’s body- has been spreading with astonishing momentum around the world in recent years. This name by which the movement is most popularly known was coined in San Francisco by Gary Wolf and Kevin

CREDIT: JESSICA MCLAREN Kelly, editors of Wired Magazine, in 2007. As Wolf explained at a TED talk in Cannes, 2010: ‘New tools are changing our sense of self in the world…and if we want to act more effectively in the world we have to get to know ourselves better’. [1]

The fundamental concept of quantifying oneself is based upon the idea that the monitoring of different aspects of your inputs, states and performance is the most efficient means to improve personal daily functioning; it seeks to increase

SOCIAL SCIENCES self-knowledge in order to optimise personal life through tracking and technology. Devout body hackers believe that they are the first generation of humans to have the ability to truly know ourselves - not through meditation, spirituality or yoga, but through the constant capture of data. If the quantified self sounds a little abstract and body hacking a little painful, one can also refer to this particular pasttime as ‘life-log-

people in the form of a lithium-ion battery. But self-quantification isn’t entirely narcissistic. The quantification of human information also has enormous potential for the public health sector, which is latching onto the value of harnessing and using individuals´ data to improve practice. This is set in the UK context of contemporary public health challenges, which include worsening patient outcomes, increasing costs, the rise of chronic diseases, and

CREDIT: N I C O L A VIA FLICKR ging, ‘self-surveillance’ or‘autoanalytics’. The popularity of quantifying one’s data has now seen at least 33,558 people from 170 groups within 120 cities across 38 countries meeting up to ‘show and tell’ how they quantify and analyse anything from sleeping patterns, heart rates and diet to happiness levels, type and duration of daily exercise and even flatulence. [2] On a Quantified Self forum in January, user Tim Kim invited other quantifiers to join a fart-following movement to analyse the inner gut of one’s body, hastily adding after his first post ‘I am dead serious about this’. [3]. Unfortunately the forum ran out of gas there and came to an abrupt end. Whilst the idea of self-analytics is not new, the enormity, sophistication and accessibility of the associated technology is. The availability of ever smaller and cheaper technology in new smartphone and tablet apps, software interfaces, advanced band-aid sensors and special-purpose watches has enabled individuals to apply the quantitative techniques once exclusive to the science and business scenes to the personal realm. It’s power to the

expected physician shortages. [4] Using self-quantification to develop personalised preventative medicine may become crucial to address the root causes of public health challenges. By using information about individuals´ biological measurements, genome and environment, diseases may be more effectively prevented, diagnosed and treated. The website Body Hack, for example, provides a list of the 12 best apps for health and well-being. [5] Body hacking may have enormous implications for private and public health. But why stop there? Can our data actually also teach us how to be happy?

You may have wondered how I knew when I was most happy, or why I would even want to know this. ‘Mappiness’, as its owners explain, can now help you understand how to be happy by prompting you at least once a day to enter what mood you’re in, where you are, who you’re with and what you’re up to. Developed by the London School of Economics in 2012, it was launched as part of a big data study to

find out how happy people are in the UK, the activities that make us happiest and, crucially, how our environment impacts our levels of happiness. By asking questions about air pollution, noise and green spaces, George MacKerron and Susana Mourato from the LSE explain: ‘by making novel use of a technology that millions of people already carry with them, we hope to find better answers to individual and national well-being’. [6] Yet as Mappiness is only available to Apple iPhone owners, and the iPhone held only 32.1% of the UK smartphone market share in March this year, this begs the question of the extent to which the sample will be representative of the population in terms of size and income. But critics have argued that mapping how happy won’t necessarily make us happier, contending that such apps represent a misuse of technology and reason. From this viewpoint, it is wise to subject even our inner selves to the amount of surveillance and monitoring our outer bodies experience via the internet, CCTV, and government tracking? Excessive body hacking could mean the control over your life’s information is subcontracted to another authority. Nevertheless, from the size and growth of the self-tracking community, one could argue that humans quickly develop strong attachments to their technology and data when it is turned into a story about ourselves. Yet will our spiritual and moral ‘tracking’ and development decay as we focus on the ever-increasing optimisation of our well-being? Further still, will the extraction of cold hard data from our warm soft bodies mean that we learn more about ourselves, or less? References [1] A 2010 TED talk by Gary Wolf, co-founder of the Quantified Self Movement [2] A Quantified Self meetup group [3] On an online Quantified Self forum [4] A 2012 article by Swan in the Journal of Personalized Medicine [5] On a blog devoted to the quantified self (titled 'Body Hack') [6] An advertisement for Mappiness, found on YouTube

CONTRIBUTORS Author Eloise Johnston has a postgraduate diploma in public and urban policy from the University of Glasgow. She tweets at @EloiseJohnston. Specialist editor: Sophie Kortenbruck. Copy editors: Nina Divorty and Charlie Stamenova.







xtinction! That tragic moment when the last individual of a species dies, it is permanent, irreversible; they will never walk the Earth again… or will they? While the idea of bringing extinct species ‘back to life’ may sound like science fiction (and why not given its rich history in the genre?) it may surprise you to learn that it has already been achieved. The bucardo, a kind of wild goat, holds the distinction of being the only organism to ever become ‘unextinct’, and subsequently the only one to go extinct twice [1]. With the genomes of several extinct species currently being assembled and with cloning and synthetic biology techniques being put to the test the field is developing rapidly. But can we really rewild the world with longlost species? Many think so. In 2013 TEDx hosted a special event dedicated to de-extinction, and in 2012 National Geographic hosted a meeting of 36 scientists, who work at the cutting edge of de-extinction and conservation, where the topic was hotly debated. Despite the debate at this meeting the first point on Professor Emeritus Stanley Temple’s (University of WisconsinMadison) list of “points we agree on” read simply “de-extinction is exciting, moving forward, and will eventually be tried”. Selective breeding is the most


straightforward, and arguably least ambitious, method of de-extinction. It was the approach chosen by Dr Henri Kerkdijk-Otten and colleagues of the Dutch Taurus Foundation in 2008 when they established the Tauros Programme, an attempt to bring back the European aurochs, a large wild cattle. The aurochs went extinct around 1627 due to habitat alteration and hunting, but its genetic fingerprint lives on in domestic cattle. With this knowledge, as well as the ability to selectively cross individuals with aurochs-like traits from Europe's hardiest cattle breeds, the Tauros Programme hopes to reconstruct the species. However, what do you really have at the end? An aurochs? Or just funnylooking inbred cows? The question is important, and led to Kerkdijk-Otten leaving the Taurus Foundation in 2013 to co-found the Uruz Project. The aim of the Uruz Project is also to recreate the aurochs, but this time a more ambitious approach is being taken- aiming to use ancient DNA (aDNA) and genome engineering to create a real one. Genome engineering and the use of aDNA come under molecular cloning, and this is where de-extinction becomes a lot more interesting. By using aDNA, closely related species and a suit of recent technological innovations, which allow us to read, manipulate and process DNA in ways never before possible, we can now reconstruct the genomes (the full genetic content) of extinct species. Now, I know what you’re thinking, so before we go any further we need to get something straight- you are not getting a dinosaur anytime soon. Thanks to the 1993 movie Jurassic Park it is the first thing most of us imagine when we think of de-extinction (I do anyway), but you cannot get DNA from stone, even if it does contain a mosquito. Simply put, most fossils older than 1 million years are devoid of organic


matter. Great movie, not so great science. While Jurassic Park may be out, I did mention aDNA, so what is it and what can we do with it? Any DNA we get from ancient (fossil) specimens, or ones not specifically preserved for DNA, is considered aDNA, and it allows us to sequence the genomes of long dead animals. Recovering aDNA is not really a matter of time, but environment. When an organism dies DNA comes under attack from enzymes, bacteria, oxygen, water… and the result is that it goes from tightly wound chromosomes comprising millions, or billions, of base pairs (the units which make up DNA) to tiny fragments of between 10 and 100 base pairs at best [1]. However, these DNA fragments can survive for millennia if the conditions are right, and thanks to the genomics revolution we can assemble them into genomes and identify the key differences between



LIFE SCIENCES technique used with Dolly the sheep), a team of Franco-Iberian scientists succeeded in bringing the species back, albeit briefly, in 2003 [1]. From 154 implanted embryos only a single bucardo was born; it died shortly after due to a fatal lung defect. Tragic? Yes, but scienTHE WOOLLY MAMMOTH, PERHAPS THE tifically a big leap forward. MOST COVETED SPECIES FOR DESCNT has been EXTINCTION PROPONENTS. used to sucCREDIT: FLYING PUFFIN VIA WIKICOMMONS cessfully clone other animals, such as the enextinct species and their closest livdangered banteng (Southeast Asian ing kin. This is important; we will wild cattle) [1], from live frozen tisnever find all the pieces of the gensue. Perhaps more impressively, a ome puzzle so we need something team of Australian scientists have to help fill in the gaps and align the even managed to get living embryos pieces. from dead tissue of the extinct gastThe best place to look for aDNA is ric brooding frog kept in a conventhe Arctic permafrost, and what we tional freezer for over 40 years. can find is remarkable. For a million The species most likely to beyears the region has acted like a gicome truly un-extinct is the passenant freezer, preserving soft tissue ger pigeon, which is one of the most and allowing us to get between 5 remarkable birds in North American and 16 times more aDNA from history. It is reputedly the most nusamples compared to warmer, more merous bird to have ever lived, with variable, regions [1]. We now have flocks so large they could block out an almost complete woolly mamthe sun. Sadly this abundance and moth genome (Mammoth Genome flocking behaviour made them an Project, Pennsylvania State Unieasy source of cheap meat and in versity), from specimens as old as the 1800s three to five billion of 60,000 years, allowing us to underthem were shot and eaten, driving stand what genes we must change them into extinction. However, all in an Asian elephant to make one. may not be lost for the passenger Other stable environments also prepigeon as there are abundant muserve aDNA. Recently genomes seum specimens, gold mines for have been sequenced from both a aDNA, and it has an almost genetic50,000 year old Neanderthal toe ally identical living relative, the bone from a Siberian cave and the band-tailed pigeon. Perhaps its remains of a 13,000-12,600 year biggest advantage over other speold human child buried in North cies was the meeting held on America [1]. aDNA is even being re“Bringing Back the Passenger Picovered from 10,000-year-old giant geon” at Harvard Medical School in ground sloth dung found in North 2012 which brought together 10 American caves [1]. leading scientist, taking the resurWhile prehistoric megafauna hold rection of the passenger pigeon a certain sexy appeal, recently exfrom a dream to a fully fledged coltinct species make better candidlaborative research project. ates for de-extinction given the So, how do you make a passenbetter quality DNA usually available. ger pigeon? Dr Stewart Brand of ReOn the 6 January 2000, Celia, the vive & Restore (which promotes last living bucardo (a wild goat once de-extinction) laid out the steps in a found in Pyrenean mountains) died, 2013 TED talk [1]. First we seher species driven beyond the brink quence the passenger pigeon genby hunting and habitat loss. ome from the aDNA in museum However, using somatic cell nuclear skins and identify the key genetic transplantation (SCNT- the cloning differences between it and its



closest living relative, the bandtailed pigeon. Then we can use the ‘Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering’ machine developed at Harvard Medical School (which I agree sounds fantastical, but it’s real [2]) and molecular techniques, like those used in gene therapy, to alter the genome of a band-tailed pigeon stem cell and turn it into a passenger pigeon stem cell. Understand the process so far? Good, because now it gets a bit crazy. Using technology developed by Dr Michael McGrew at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, we are going to get chickens to lay passenger pigeon eggs. No, really. First we take the modified stem cells and chemically induce them to turn into germ cells, which later form the reproductive organs. These are then implanted into developing chicken embryos (their own having been removed) and the resulting chickens grow up to lay clutches of passenger pigeon eggs when crossed. It may sound odd, but right now Dr McGrew has hawk-laying chickens in his lab! The result won’t be a perfect passenger pigeon, but to quote Dr Brand “it should be perfect enough, because nature doesn’t do perfect either”. So, we are close to being able to ‘un-extinct’ a species, but should we? This is a highly interesting, and contentious, question. Are we ‘playing God’ or do we have a moral duty to restore what our ancestors destroyed? Will it impede or benefit conservation measures? Will it be a waste of money or drive technological innovation? These are complex issues, distinct from the science and deserving of their own article. However, one thing is clear, regardless of the ethics de-extinction is exciting, it is moving forward, and will be achieved. The late great science populariser and communicator Prof. Carl Sagan once remarked that for life “extinction is the rule”, well, we all know what rules were made for. References [1] tedxdeextinction.org [2] Brand, S. (2013, February). Stewart Brand: The dawn of de-extinction. Are you ready?

CONTRIBUTORS Author James Burgon is studying for a PhD in zoology and evolutionary biology at the University of Glasgow. He tweets at @JamesBurgon. Specialist editor: Jo Foo. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.


Image credit: Army Medicine via Flickr


ver the last years, we have been lucky enough to witness the advent of 3D printing and all its contribution to many areas of manufacturing. Although it didn’t properly take off until the 2010s, the technology is a lot older than most people might think. In 1983, engineer Chuck Hull was assigned a lab in which to experiment with UV technology and used UV light to solidify liquid photopolymers - the main principle of 3D printing. Gradually, he managed to control this process well enough to produce accurate representations of computer models, and so the first functional 3D printer was created. When Hull excitedly showed this creation to his wife she said, “This had better be good!”. Needless to say, 3D printing proved to be more than just good. Its applications in engineering, industrial design, architecture, fashion and even medicine have surpassed the wildest of expectations. People around the world found novel ways to play around with this new exciting toy, from designers pushing the limits of fashion and creating organic shoes to NASA, which has not long ago started testing 3D-printed rocket components. As with any exciting development, however, there have also been people who have managed to use the technology for less than noble purposes, such as the manufacturing of guns. In biotechnology, 3D printing is slowly becoming an invaluable tool. Commonly known as 3D bioprinting, this is a rapidly expanding field, the pinnacle of which is the manufacturing of viable tissues and whole organs. This is an incredible stepping stone for the medical world, as printed organs can be safely used for more reliable drug research since a human organ is more representative than an animal model or one dimensional cell cultures - or even for one day solving the ongoing transplant crisis. The process can vary a lot, depending on the organ being printed. Different organs are made up of different types of tissue and some are more complex than others. The kidney, for instance, contains over a dozen different types of cells. Other organs, such as the skin, are significantly more simple in composition. The dimensions and internal architecture of organs are also important in designing the procedure. In 3D bioprinting, the “ink” is

made up of cultures of stem cells or cells that have already differentiated into specific tissue types. Naturally, this makes things a lot more difficult, as the cells need to be kept alive throughout the process. In order to achieve this, the cells are “fed” a mixture of essential nutrients: water, sugars, fats, protein, you name it. The cells and the nutrients must both be layered simultaneously, so as to preserve the viability of the tissue and mimic its natural environment. The 3D printer arranges these cells into a predefined 3D structure, often with the aid of a temporary scaffold [1]. This scaffold can serve to preserve the integrity of the organ or to create spaces within it. Once the printing process has been completed, the tissue/organ can be incubated at body temperature, in order to start its life. Sounds straightforward enough, but there are still obstacles to overcome. Having living tissue that perfectly resembles an “organic” one is one thing, but mimicking the entire blood vessel network in a mature organ is an extremely difficult task, and is one of the main things keeping us from growing entire batches of ready-to-transplant body parts. However, significant progress is being made. This year in May, a team in Boston discovered the first pieces in the puzzle that is the bioprinting of blood vessels. The scientists, based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, created fibres made of agarose (a type of sugar molecule) from which a network of vessels can be molded [2]. The exciting part is that some of these fibers can be later removed to create the much needed hollow space within the vessels; this paves the way for the production of custom organs which may one day be safely transplanted into hosts in need. Since the takeoff of 3D bioprinting, the technology has also been adopted by quite a few labs and biotechnology companies, such as Organovo - the developers of the NovoGen MMX Bioprinter, which is the first commercially produced machine of its kind. Future prospects look extremely promising, so a lot of effort is being poured at the moment into making this kind of printer as accessible as possible to researchers. Another noteworthy development is the “body on a chip” project, which is funded by the US Department and Defense and led by the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In this project,

pieces of 3D-printed organs are connected to an artificial network of blood substitute and placed on a chip that contains various sensors, which measure changes in the pH or temperature of the environment. These complexes are then used to assess the effects of drugs, pathogens and natural compounds. This eliminates the need for animal models, providing a method of testing which involves fewer ethical considerations. Entire printable hearts, lungs and brains are still something to look forward to. Nevertheless, there are already areas where 3D printing is being successfully used, such as prosthetic limb design and dentistry. Body parts like ears have also been printed. One of the most widely acclaimed achievements of the last few years has been the 3D printing of a windpipe by scientists at the University of Michigan, which enabled a girl born with a weak trachea cartilage to breathe easily once again. Hopefully, these are only the shy first steps of a field which could be a complete game changer in the medical world. References [1] Derby B. Printing and prototyping of tissues and scaffolds. 2012 [2] Bertassoni, L.E. et al. Hydrogel bioprinted microchannel networks for vascularization of tissue engineering constructs. 2014

Credit: Corina Nechita

CONTRIBUTORS Author Teodora Valentina Aldea is an undergraduate student in molecular biology at the University of Glasgow. She tweets at @teo_evy. Specialist editor: Nina Divorty. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.







HEAT DEATH? T he law of increasing entropy has been used to describe the Universe since the 19th century. The tendency of everything around us to move inexorably towards a state of greater disorder is one of the most beautiful and poignant theories known to physics. One possible fate for the Universe is that it will eventually undergo a heat death, where all energy has been spread so thinly as to not be able to perform any useful work. In this environment, time and space will cease to have any meaning, and the Universe will be for all intents and purposes dead. Could a factor unrelated to entropy yet save the Universe?

If we imagine a universe of elementary constituents, then the way in which they are initially spaced is important in determining their evolution into more complex entities. In other words, the initial conditions of the elementary system can have a large impact on its complex final state. In our universe, it is thought



that minuscule fluctuations in the density of matter at the beginning of time has ultimately determined the macroscopic structure - the planets, galaxies and clusters - that we see around us today. Should the Universe not have possessed these density fluctuations, then life, the Milky Way and everything else beyond elementary particles might not have formed. Although we see vast structure around us in our universe, increasing entropy has a subtle, microscopic effect on this structure. The Milky Way contains a great deal of structure - it has more matter arranged into interesting configurations than the emptiness around it. Closer to home, humans and our cohabitants of the planet Earth are living evidence of an increasing drive of complexity. Our ancestors from the primordial soup, our lizardly cousins and the myriad plants and animals we’ve shared this rock with all exhibit evidence of having become increasingly complex over millions of years of evolution. On a smaller

Credit: Jamie Limond

scale, though, the particles which constitute these grand structures are becoming ever more disordered and mixed up, constantly driving our universe towards the heat death mentioned above. As an example, picture three cups: one with black coffee, one with milk, and one with white coffee. At first glance it might seem that these systems are all as ordered as each other. However, you could describe the black coffee and milk with very little information - one cup contains black coffee, one contains milk. The third cup, containing coffee mixed with milk, is harder to describe: how much milk is mixed into the coffee? Is the milk evenly distributed across the contents of the cup or is it mostly sitting at the surface? These questions make it harder to describe the cup in complete detail. In other words, it is more complex. The complex universe we see around us is evidence for the fundamental particles produced during the Big Bang having undergone interactions over billions of years,

PHYSICAL SCIENCES & MATHEMATICS culminating in the structure we witness today. The term given to the process of complexity emerging from elementary building blocks where the ‘whole’ can be considered greater than the sum of its parts - is emergence. Emergence battles entropy, resisting its march towards disorder. Not only did it help to kick-start the processes leading to the cosmos we live in but it turns out that emergent properties appear in many other systems that are made from discrete elements, transcending fields as diverse as

structure to emerge. Such autocatalytic systems depend not only on some random processes but also on the ways in which the systems have behaved in the past [2]. It is through the competition of these emergent properties with entropy that we can start to explain how structure emerged in our universe, and what might eventually happen to it. Autocatalytic processes don’t just exist in the evolution of the Universe. Consider the stock market [3]. A given stock might initially grow in

science and economics. A universe with maximum entropy--one having undergone a heat death--would look like a series of individual lumps of matter arranged equally across all space in a lattice. Although this might seem highly ordered, this is actually a state with little structure. There would still be gravitational forces pulling the matter together, but the equal spacing of the matter in the universe would prevent anything other than a larger or smaller form of the same lattice forming. For complex structure to emerge, the universe would require matter to be spaced in a less homogeneous arrangement, for this would allow matter to clump together to form new structure. Matter attracts other matter, so the tiniest difference in the density of regions of space would attract more matter and thus increase the density of that region. If everything in the Universe arose from a single point during the Big Bang, what caused the structure we see around us to form instead of an uneventful lattice of nothing, equating to a system of maximum microscopic disorder? With some reasonably simple mathematics, it can be shown that even minor regions of structure can triumph over the decay of disordered, homogeneous regions of space. Minuscule fluctuations imprinted on the cosmos during the Big Bang are thought to have played a role in the evolution of grand structure in the Universe [1]. These tiny regions of inhomogeneity led to a sustained reaction allowing larger and larger

value, like an inhomogeneous universe grows in complexity. It keeps growing, mirroring its past behaviour, until a large enough external stimulus occurs: perhaps a stock market crash. This stimulus is significant enough to swamp the effect of the past behaviour of the stock, and so overrides its upward trend and starts to reduce its value. This behaviour continues until a big enough stimulus turns this trend around and the stock starts to go up in value - perhaps a market rally. This behaviour mirrors the way in which some parts of our universe initially start to become structured but don’t receive sufficient stimulus to fully form, such as molecular clouds, some of which do and some of which do not go on to produce stars. We can understand this stock value process by thinking a little about how the market behaves. In general, a large company’s stock undergoes similar percentage changes in value as a small company’s stock the fluctuations are somewhat independent of the size of the company. This kind of change is referred to as multiplicative. This is in contrast to additive changes, where adding or subtracting the same value to or from both stocks would have a larger influence on the smaller stock’s price. The multiplicative behaviour of stocks can lead to markets undergoing large drops in value before recovering. Such a market would initially be dominated by a negative multiplicative trend, but after a time this trend would no longer have a significant effect. Me-

anwhile, an initially small positive multiplicative trend could grow until it becomes the newly dominant factor in the market’s value. The magnitude of the past upward and downward trends determines the state of the market at any given time. This dynamic can be parallelled to the formation and death of stars in our universe. The death of stars of similar mass to our Sun leads to the formation of stellar clouds in which new stars may form. An initially small clump of matter may grow from the ashes of a dying star to form a new one, helping to retain the complexity of that region of space [4]. On a microscopic level, entities such as bacteria can also show autocatalysis. They reproduce through multiplicative changes, where the population of each generation is a factor different than the previous. The autocatalytic properties exhibited in these systems have been suggested to have played a part in the evolution of life [5]. We can look to aspects of science and the behaviour of the stock market to learn about what the interaction of entropy and emergence might entail for our universe. Whether a system will ultimately fail or survive is determined by its dynamics - the microscopic decay due to entropy and the distribution of complex structure. The law of increasing entropy appears at first glance to doom the Universe to decay, but the symphonies of complexity we witness around us might be what save us from it. This article was inspired by the essay “How do life, economy and other complex systems escape the heat death?” by Sorin Solomon and Natasa Golo [2]. References

[1] Jai-chan Hwang. From Quantum Fluctuations to Large-Scale Structures. 1994 [2] Sorin Solomon, Natasa Golo. How do life, economy and other complex systems escape the heat death? 2014 [3] Rahul R. Marathe, Sarah M. Ryan. On the Validity of the Geometric Brownian Motion Assumption. 2005 [4] Charles Q. Choi. Dying Stars to Collide and Create Stellar Baby. 2011 [5] C. J. Perret. A New Kinetic Model of a Growing Bacterial Population. 1960

CONTRIBUTORS Author Sean Leavey is a PhD student in physics at the University of Glasgow. He tweets at @SeanDSS. Specialist editor: Matthew Bluteau. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova. Art credit: Jamie Limond (opposite) and NASA (above).






couple sit down in a restaurant and a waiter suggests what they should eat. "Perhaps start with the crispy chilli and garlic nomadacris, followed by the mouth watering Tenebrio molitor burger with fries and mayo, and then top that all off with The Archipelago's world famous chocolate heterometrus. And if you fancy something to drink why not try the mojitos, which are served in a caelifera salted glass?" Both diners are delighted at the sumptuous-sounding meal and proceed to order the lot. But this menu is slightly unusual - every item listed features insects. Using the common insect names instead of the tastier latin names, the menu reads: crispy



locusts, mealworm larvae burger, chocolate scorpions and mojitos served in grasshopper salted glasses. When the first dish arrives and the diners realise what they have ordered, the couple promptly leave the restaurant, leaving the waiter perplexed. Perhaps you would have done the same. The menu described is perfectly plausible, containing real dishes served in real restaurants around the world. In fact, some of the world's best restaurants, including the world's number 1 restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, are starting to experiment with insects. Even within the UK, chef Peter Gordon created a menu where a different bug features in every dish. The question is, what's the fascination with eating insects?

The world’s population is predicted to hit 9 billion by the year 2050 [1] . This will bring some serious challenges, of which one of the most important is how to feed everyone without destroying the environment. One of the biggest offenders is the production of meat, which is responsible for 18% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions. [2] In the UK, in 2007, we ate 84.2 kg of meat per person as calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. We can't survive without protein, so what should we eat instead? In the 2012 United Nations (UN) report on Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security they suggested an answer edible insects. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is already hugely popular around the world. In Thailand often insects are served alongside beer, in Mexico ant eggs are served in copious amounts of butter and Ghanaians like eating termites. Over 100 countries can be described as entomophagous, which equates to around 2 billion people worldwide who regularly eat raw or cooked insects. Not only are these

SOCIAL SCIENCES insects considered delicious, they are an excellent source of environmentally friendly protein when compared to livestock. The amount of feed required to produce the 1kg of live animal weight for human consumption varies largely between different species, but the comparison between insects and livestock is startling. While the production of a kilogram of chicken, pig or cow requires 2.5kg, 5kg and 10kg of feed re-

ent than cattle." Rearing livestock is responsible for more of the world's greenhouse gas emissions than all of the trains, planes and automobiles put together. A large contribution comes not just from carbon dioxide but from the large amounts of nitrous oxide and methane produced by decomposing livestock waste (you thought it was just the farts, right?). Here's the killer: global warming potential (GWP) is a measure of how much

spectively, the same amount of live crickets only need 1.7kg of feed. This is because insects are coldblooded and hence do not use energy from food to maintain body temperature. Furthermore, when we look at how much of each animal is edible, the differences become even more drastic. Around 80% of a cricket is edible compared to only 55% for chicken and pigs, and 40% for cattle. As the UN food security report puts it: "This means that crickets are twice as efficient in converting feed to meat as chicken, at least four times more efficient than pigs, and twelve times more effici-

heat a greenhouse gas can trap in the atmosphere, compared to carbon dioxide. So carbon dioxide is given a value of 1 GWP, but methane has a GWP of 23 and nitrous oxide a whopping 289 GWP [3]. Only three species of insects actually produce methane at all, and reasonable insect alternatives like mealworm larvae, crickets and locusts produce just 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions of pigs and beef cattle. Not only is eating insects good for the planet, it can also help your waistline. One hundred grams of crickets, which in Thailand are often


fried and eaten like crisps, has 13g of protein and only 120 calories. Beef, however, has 25 g of protein for every 100g but a much larger 278 calories - a noticeable difference in this creepy crawly vs. cattle comparison. This is one reason why the health food market is starting to take note. Protein powders and protein bars are big favourites amongst gym-going, muscle-building, mirrorstaring, weight-lifting enthusiasts. The main goal is to overload the body with protein, helping it to produce more muscle. But to make sure that the extra muscle definition is noticed, calories must be controlled. The idea of grinding up crickets into flour and putting them into protein bars is becoming a real possibility, with companies like Chapul and Exo (short for exoskeleton) gradually bringing them to the mass market online.

One of the worst facets of the meat production industry is the mistreatment of livestock. Images of poor living conditions lacking in space, light which don’t provide a good quality of life often lead the public to look for alternatives - sometimes freerange options and sometimes vegetarianism. However, many insects love tight spaces. For example mealworms are generally found in tight clusters and locusts always occur in high densities. This equates to serious space savings for the amount of protein produced. As the UN puts it: "For every 1 ha of land required to produce mealworm protein, 2.5 ha would be required to produce a similar quantity of milk protein, 2–3.5 ha would be required to produce a similar quantity of pork or chicken protein, and 10 ha would be required to produce a similar quantity of beef protein." Similarly, shocking sights from the meat production industry can come from the slaughterhouses. For example, in 2011 the Australian government suspended its $350ma-year exports of livestock to Indonesia after footage emerged showing the horrendous treatment of cattle in Indonesian slaughterhouses. The deal has since resumed, but the public outcry shows the need for humane slaughter methods for food production. Little is known, however, as to the extent to which insects experience pain. Research has found that fruit flies have the same genes for expe-



SOCIAL SCIENCES riencing pain as mammals. It is, however, uncertain whether insects have the cognitive abilities to experience suffering; the researchers’ observations could be attributed solely to reflexes. In any case, until more is known we should give bugs the benefit of the doubt, which is not a problem as killing insects is a far simpler process than killing livestock. Insects can be put in a deep sleep by simply cooling them down, after which they are then killed. [4]

It's all very well putting forward the case for eating insects, but how do they actually taste? Well, courtesy of www.buggrub.com, a box full of insecty treats arrived at theGIST HQ, so we opened them up, closed our eyes and gave them a try. First up was a handful of mealworms. These little critters tasted a little bit like nutty popcorn and would fit in nicely amongst a handful of bombay mix. Of a similar taste, but with a lot more crunch and meat were the grasshoppers, although the larger size and distinctive anatomy made them look particularly unappetising. Once you get past the big bulging black head, sago worms don’t taste too bad either, a little bit like salty corn flakes. Next up were the chocolate-covered silkworm pupae that were also surprisingly good. The chocolate outside allows you to forget the insect that awaits you, and once you bite into one you see a crispy golden centre. In looks and in taste they reminded me of a Crunchie chocolate bar. I left the most intimidating insects until last: scorpions (chocolate-covered and plain) and a male rhino beetle. Covering a scorpion with chocolate is a great idea because it masks the flavour; unfortunately, it doesn’t mask the shape. After snapping off a bit of the stinger and giving it a taste (a strong, earthy, bitter flavour mixed with chocolate), I felt ready to have a go at the larger plain Asian Forest Scorpion, which had been cooked but nothing else. The exoskeleton was really hard to get through and I would compare the experience to eating the shell of a prawn. The taste was not awful, but was a little metallic although the overall flavour was not overwhelming. Finally, I ended the insect tapas with a male rhino beetle that felt, in texture and




in flavour, surprisingly similar to the scorpion. Forcing myself to put the insects in my mouth was far more difficult than actually eating them, and this suggests one reason why eating insects will not become the norm in the UK anytime soon. Why we consider them gross is a topic for another article, but one theory is that the UK climate doesn’t lead to large, meaty and flavourful bugs, and so we have never developed a taste for them. Nonetheless, soon we may start to see them as a viable option, particularly when presented less as creepy crawlies but instead in more refined forms such as protein bars or burgers. With 1,900 different species of edible insect on offer, there is bound to be a few that suit the Western palate. When people have a chance to try insects, they will find that they can actually taste quite good, especially when cooked by a good chef. Clearly, when compared to livestock, the environmental, economic and ethical benefits of eating in-

sects are so great that we should all at least give it a go. So only one question remains, cockroach anyone?

References [1] The United Nations report: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision [2] Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations 2006 report: Livestock's Long Shadow [3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report [4] Research conducted by a long list of people but a search for 'Thermal Nociception in Drosophila' will get you straight to the paper.

CONTRIBUTORS Author Timothy Revell is a mathematician studying for a PhD in computer science at the University of Strathclyde. He tweets at @timothyrevell. Specialist editor: Eloise Johnston. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.

Credit: Jo Foo




e’re on the road again, driving through the countryside. As usual, I’m glued to the window, eyes peeled, camera in hand. My pulse races with excitement as I scan the hillsides for the slightest glimmer of movement, watching closely for the lumbering motion of a brown bear or the light quickstep of a wolf. And then I remember. I’m back in Scotland. We haven’t had these animals running free here for at least 400 years. To see them again, we would need to reintroduce them and with reintroduction comes conflict. A reintroduction is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the intentional movement of individuals from a species to an area they once lived [1]. To date, the UK has had a number of successful reintroductions, the most famous of which have been the red kite and the white-tailed sea eagle. The British Government is legally required to consider the reintroduction of extirpated species including large predators like the wolf, lynx and brown bear. Some conservationists have been making a case for these animals to return to the UK; their arguments are based mainly around the regulation of deer numbers, which could help restore our native forests and increased wildlife tourism. Trees for Life have identified an area north of the Great Glen, in the Scottish Hig-

hlands, which may be large enough (approximately 2,238 square kilometres) to support a fully balanced ecosystem including these large predators [2]. They aren’t the only organisation to support the idea of reintroducing predators to the Scottish Highlands. The John Muir Trust is a UK based charity dedicated to protecting our wild places. In this year’s spring issue of their journal the John Muir Trust stated that from an ecological and environmental standpoint, there was no reason wolves couldn’t be reintroduced to the UK [3]. Such predictions are encouraging but are we really ready for large predators to return to our small island? How would this affect us? Who would be impacted most? By looking to other places in the world where people live alongside animals like the grizzly bear and the wolf, we may be better able to understand the challenges which arise when humans coexist with reintroduced wildlife. Last winter I travelled to North America on a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to do just that.

In Yellowstone National Park, USA, wolves were famously reintroduced almost 20 years ago, but the controversy surrounding them still runs strong. Many towns and ranching communities on the outskirts of the park feel impinged upon; despite

extended public consultation, the locals feel as though the government and conservationists have forced this change on them. By speaking to people who live here I heard about their concerns about their livestock; the reintroduction has potential direct impacts and indirect impacts, such as depredation and possible weight loss. At the 2013 International Wolf Symposium in Minnesota, I witnessed leading wolf conservationists discussing the topic of “wolves and humans at the crossroads”. The scientists of the Yellowstone Wolf Project demonstrated that the overall impact of the wolves on the local ranchers is actually lower than predicted [4]. However, real-life implications are complicated by wolves targeting livestock at particular ranches, thus increasing the impact on individual ranchers. One of the messages from the conference was that although individuals are rarely scientifically significant on a statistical level, the impacts on individuals are hugely significant and must not be overlooked or dismissed. There is also the strong belief that not only is the ranchers’ livestock threatened, but so is their way of life. Hunting is much more than a hobby here. It’s a tradition, often seen as a right and also an important source of income. Hunters view the wolves as direct competition and are unwilling to share with them, instead resorting to trapping,




LIFE SCIENCES shooting and in some cases, illegal baiting. Past history with large predators has resulted in misconceptions and misunderstandings. People here talked about hearing tales of the big, bad wolf passed down from generation to generation, and fear is a large factor in their response to having this wild canine in their territory once again.

Conflict also exists between humans and grizzly bears. In Yellowstone, visitors are strongly advised to carry bear spray (concentrated pepper spray), bells and whistles with them at all times. While hiking, the advice is to make yourself easily heard by the bears. Attacks are rare (estimated a 1 in 2.1 million visitors [4]) but tend to happen when the bear is startled or feels threatened. If they hear you coming, their instinct is to move away, often before you even see them. Unfortunately, some visitors in the park approach wildlife readily and without thought. Tourists, like the ones I pictured opposite, have been seen taking risks with large predators to get a better photograph. Some were unaware of their surroundings and apparently ignorant of the appropriate ways to behave around wildlife. Bears and other predators actively avoid encounters with humans, but humans tend to attract conflict by behaving inappropriately. There’s no two ways about it. Large predators cause controversy, and often damage. In America, ranchers are compensated for any depredation losses by wolves and this is a factor for consideration for the UK. Our current farming practices allow sheep to roam unsupervised. It would therefore be reasonable to expect the damage and loss to farmers to be higher than that of those in ranches neighbouring Yellowstone. The only way to avoid this is to change our farming practices, which will cost money.

There are places in the world where people are more successful at coexisting with predators like wolves and bears. My visit to Denny Island, Great Bear Rainforest, Canada, allowed me to witness a community of approximately 100 people live alongside wolves and bears with little conflict. Children and pet dogs play freely without fear. In Europe, lynx have been introduced to coun-

A CHANGE IN WASTE STORAGE COULD BE A STEP TOWARDS COEXISTENCE. CREDIT: JO FOO tries such as the Czech Republic and Switzerland. The wolf is recovering of its own accord and can now be found in Italy, France, Germany and Sweden to name just a few. People here are generally positive about having these animals back and are willing to find ways to live with these native species [3]. Coexisting with wildlife requires compromise. This is never truer than when we consider reintroducing large predators where people have grown accustomed to life without them. Successful reintroductions demand the ability and the resolution to share the environment with another species. For many of us, this is a different way of thinking, involving not only deep rooted change in our thoughts, but also in our behaviour and actions. Such changes include everything from storing food waste and rubbish more securely, to changing farming practices. These cultural changes require education at all levels, but most importantly in the grassroots communities of those who would be most significantly impacted. It would also require a change in our attitude towards resources in the UK, moving towards prioritising the protection of the environment and finding ways to work together to restore it. We are in a unique position; for centuries, we have not lived with large predators in our countryside. Generations of people in the UK have no experience, positive or negative, of living with these animals. We

could look at this as a clean slate with the opportunity to teach young people about communities that successfully co-exist with large predators. Communities who have found innovative solutions- such as the use of livestock guarding dogs, night-time enclosures for livestock, electric fencing, fladry, secure waste storage and other non-lethal deterrents -see a reduced number of conflicts [6]. This could promote tolerance and acceptance enabling young people to make educated decisions about any future reintroductions to the UK and encourage them to be ambassadors for nature. A recent online poll conducted by BBC Countryfile has shown that the wolf is the public’s most favoured animal to be returned to the UK [7]. During my interview with Luigi Boitani, a world expert in predator conservation from the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, he summed up where we are with large predator reintroductions with a gleam in his eyes: “Reintroducing wolves to Scotland is biologically absolutely possible and, socially, a very interesting experiment!”. Whether I’ll be tracking wolves in the Highlands one day remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: people can learn to coexist with large predators and they are doing so in many places. Perhaps one day the UK will find itself ready and willing to embrace change and work towards restoring its wild places and being a little wilder at heart. References [1] Gland. IUCN Guidelines for Reintroductions 1998 [2] www.treesforlife.org.uk [3] Wright S, John Muir Trust Journal, Spring 2014 [4] Smith DW, Reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park: History, Values and Ecosystem Restoration, Reintroductions of Top-Order Predators 2009 [5] www.nps.gov/yell/ [6] LIFE and human coexistence with large carnivores European Union, 2013 [7] www.countryfile.com

CONTRIBUTORS Author Jo Foo is a zoologist and a science communicator, combining the two to be a wildlife photographer. She tweets at @meiphotography. Specialist editor: Vikki Smith. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.







s honesty always the best policy? Your parents probably told you so, but maybe it isn’t as simple as that. Some research has found that certain types of lies may be beneficial for cohesion in social networks [1]. Lying has been described as a threat to the moral fabric of society, a predictor of dire life outcomes, a social skill and an important developmental milestone. So let’s just say that not all psychologists agree and consider what effects dishonesty could have on a social network. Lying tends to makes people feel uncomfortable and liars prefer to be removed from the situation – people are more likely to lie on telephone than face-to-face [2]. According to Serota et al, Studies have found people tell 0.6-2.0 per day. Those stats are, admittedly, pushed up by some who lie more than others – 1% of individuals tell 23% of the lies. However, 93% of individuals admit to having lied to a partner at some point. It sounds alarming but maybe in some cases a little dishonesty actually helps social interaction along. Using computer simulations of group behaviour, Iniguez et al have found that certain types of lies can have positive outcomes for social groups. As the authors observe, “One may wonder why, if lies are universally considered bad, there is no human society in which they are totally absent”. So what is a “good” lie? Well, unsurprisingly, those “little white lies” seem to be accepted in most social groups. What’s more surprising is that you may be able to get away with other kinds of lies too. Iniguez et al described four kinds of lie:



IMAGE CREDIT: ENRICO MAZZANTI 1. Prosocial: lying to protect someone, for example, “Your new haircut looks lovely!” when you actually think it’s hideous. 2. Self-enhancement: not intended to harm anyone, rather to enhance the self, for example, claiming to have read Ulysses when in fact you have not, and hoping nobody will realise. 3. Selfish: lying to protect oneself at the expense of another, for example, “I didn’t steal the cookie, it was probably that guy.” When it was you all along.) 4. Antisocial (lying to harm someone, for example, “I heard that guy listens to Nickelback unironically” when you know that he does not.) They then defined lie type 1 as prosocial and the others as antisocial. Next, they used computer software to model social interactions in groups of different types - those with different numbers of agents who are either honest or tell com-

binations of the types of lies listed above. They start by considering different concentrations of the various types of liars. Later, they also consider the effect that dishonesty can have on opinions of individuals within the group. This becomes quite interesting, since a lie can influence (and possibly change) a person's opinion and one can also lie about one’s opinion. The problem can quickly become complicated. It’s important to distinguish between the way an individual in the group will feel when they encounter a liar, from how the group as a whole changes when there is a liar in their midst. This study may only model the basics, but some interesting conclusions were drawn. It appears that prosocial lies actually improve social cohesion, whilst antisocial lies diminish it, in groups which otherwise ought to be tightlyknit. However, individuals don’t

SOCIAL SCIENCES mind an antisocial liar as much if their lies are of the self-enhancement variety and the gains to the liar are small. Interestingly, the reaction to a liar is the same even when there is no prospect of future interactions between the individuals. Perhaps because of this, we tend to be honest when dealing with strangers. This leads to the idea of indirect reciprocity. People often help each other out on a one-onone basis, often describe this with the phrase, “You scratch my back

this results in fragmented social networks of small, tightly-knit cliques, which oppose each other and have few connections with other cliques. Similarly, if all agents are exclusively dishonest, the social group disintegrates, leaving each member isolated. Remember, though, that this is based on a simulated model of a social network. Someone who lies all the time would be quite strange to us. Here totally dishonest agents continue with their lies without repercussions.

and I’ll scratch yours” [3]. However, it is also the case that some animals (including at least some humans) help others even when they will never encounter the individual they are helping again. Surprising though that may seem, there are plenty of examples of people doing exactly this. You likely probably give directions to a stranger, hold open a doors for people you don’t know and donate to charities you have no vested interest in. Given that you don’t expect these actions to be returned to you directly – why do you behave in this way? There seems to be some benefit to everyone in a social group acting like a half-decent individual. It’s not so much “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” as it is “You scratch my back; I’ll probably scratch someone’s back at some point and if everyone agrees to this you’ll get your back scratched when you most need it.” There’s extensive research on this unspoken agreement that both humans and certain animals will behave in this way, and it’s curious to see it popping up in a computer model here. Another finding was that prosocial lies help people to make up their minds when opinions in a group differ. In a group with more dishonest agents, all agents are likely to struggle to make up their mind. Prosocial lies seemed to help people make their minds up, however, it's not clear whether or not they eventually settled on the most popular opinion within their group. The model also suggested that if honesty is restricted to those closest to you (such as your family) and you are dishonest to others,

The most successful networks, in terms of social cohesion, are those with a few partially honest agents. These occasionally tell lies of varying types, but mostly prosocial lies. Such agents then become “hubs” in the network, connecting to several cliques and spreading information between them. This leads to greater communication between the groups. Can this model be extended to describe animals other than humans? First we need to identify different types of dishonesty in other animals. Some scientists think that

populations the model could be flawed. Perhaps it should be refined for one species before it can be extended to all of them. Presently it may fall down for certain small societies in which people are prone to answering questions in the way they think the questioner would like the answer, rather than truthfully. A surprising answer can be considered rude, even when true, and hence the truth could be divisive. Another example of lying being seen as socially acceptable is in economic games. In some games people are likely to cheat if by doing so they ensure greater equity of results for all players. This might be crucial for maintaining relationship equilibrium in networks, since an unfair payoffs in such games are socially disruptive. So, how should you lie, if at all? It’s not for this author to say, but this study seems to suggest that you should lie sparingly and when you do, you should lie to protect others. Firstly to protect individuals in a group but then, if you can, to protect the group as a whole. If you lie to save yourself you’ll likely be forgiven, but avoid lies that result in large gains for you. Assuming, of course, that you would like your social network to be extensive and good at communicating information between its members. Or maybe just stick to what your parents said

STICKLEBACKS FAKE INJURY TO PROTECT OFFSPRING IMAGE CREDIT: SERGEY YELISEEV prosocial lies require language and hence must be restricted to humans. However, if you’re willing to consider all prosocial misleading behaviour then some species exhibit examples. Vervet monkeys shout warnings of predators when members of their group stray too far while lapwings and stickleback fake injuries to lure predators from their offspring. As for anti-social misleading behaviour, female chimpanzees have been observed suppressing their post-coital moans if they are nearby another chimpanzee who might be annoyed by their mating practices (for example, their usual male partner or a female chimpanzees of superior status.) However, even in some human

about telling the truth. It’s much simpler anyway. The author would like to include the following disclaimer: I always tell the truth. Always. Especially to my mum. References [1] Effects of deception in social networks by G Iniguez et al, 2014 June. [2] Lying in everyday life by J A Epstein, 1996 [3] Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring by M A Nowak and K Sigmund 1998

CONTRIBUTORS Author Rebecca Douglas is a PhD student in gravitational research at the University of Glasgow. She tweets at @BeckyDouglas. Specialist editor: Olivia Kirtley. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.







arbon monoxide (CO), known as ‘the silent killer’ due to its odourless and colourless lethality, might have a shot at shedding its bad boy image. After recent interest in CO as a treatment for disease, researchers from UC San Diego and Sonoma State University decided to investigate how, and in what doses, CO might be beneficial to the human body. To do this, they needed a model and a fascinating one proved to be the 5000 lb (2000 kg) northern elephant seal.

Most of us know CO as the humanly undetectable, toxic gas which kills around 430 people annually in

the US alone. However, the horrifying route from headache and nausea to loss of consciousness and ultimately death is only caused by inhalation of very large quantities. When haemoglobin, a protein responsible for transporting oxygen around our bodies, comes into contact with CO in the red blood cells, it is converted into carboxyhaemoglobin. This means exactly what it sounds like; the CO binds tightly to haemoglobin, taking up the carryspace of the protein and rendering it unable to carry oxygen. If no oxygen is being transported from our lungs to our various tissue, the lack of oxygen will kill the tissue - like the brain damage one might endure from loss of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest. Huge increases in CO are therefore very dangerous to us. However, the human body also naturally produces CO in low concentrations. This happens

through the natural breakdown of haem, a component of haem-proteins such as haemoglobin, which has to be continually replaced because it loses its ability to bind to other compounds as it ages. When it breaks down, it releases CO into the bloodstream. Thus, healthy individuals have a certain level of carboxyhaemoglobin in them (though considerably less than smokers who directly inhale CO through cigarettes.) Furthermore, research carried out in the early nineties showed that CO actively works as a neurotransmitter in the brain.[1] It has also been found that CO, along with nitric oxide and hydrogen sulphide, is involved in anti-inflammatory mechanisms and vasodilation. [2] Confusingly, CO both disables vital haemoglobin and has necessary protective roles to play; levels must therefore be strictly regulated by the body in order to maintain the oxy-




PHYSICAL SCIENCES & MATHEMATICS gen balance whilst retaining the anti-inflammatory benefits. To get a closer look at this schizophrenic behaviour, researchers decided to explore a system with a special need to conserve blood oxygen: deep diving seals.

Elephant seals are huge animals and some of the best mammalian divers. The northern kind used in this study are slightly smaller than their southern cousins, and spend most of their time repetitively diving more than 500 metres down, holding their breath for around 25 minutes, in order to find food. In comparison, most people can barely hold their breath for 1 minute. They were specifically chosen for this study because they have one of the highest blood volumes and haemoglobin concentrations found in mammals. Their heightened capacity to transport oxygen (the more haemoglobin, the more oxygen transport) allows them to dive for long periods of time without resurfacing. They also conserve their oxygen when diving by shutting off blood flow, and thus oxygen transport, to the outermost parts of their bodies, saving their oxygen for the heart, lungs and brain. The interesting question is how they deal with CO. Surprisingly, the seals exhibited levels of carboxyhaemoglobin higher than humans who smoke over 40 cigarettes a day (around 8.7%) [3]. The researchers suggest that the elevated levels of CO are due to a combination of increased haem turnover, which is necessary in order to keep haemoglobin bonding

GASOTRANSMITTERS AND VASODILATORS CO, nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) all work as both gasotransmitters and vasodilators. A gasotransmitter is a gaseous signalling molecule, which may act as a neurotransmitter - sending messages between neurons. This is an area of continuous research especially in relation to clinical applications. Better understood is their vasodilating function. Through the Nobel Prize-winning work of

well, and the elephant seal lifestyle - it spends most of its life in an apneic state (a temporary suspension of breathing, such as in diving or holding your breath whilst sleeping), and so the endogenous CO is simply not exhaled. The seemingly paradoxical relationship is of special interest to future research, as Michael Tift, Scripps graduate student and one of the main authors points out: “We found that the elephant seal is able to reach incredible depths, apparently with lots of carbon monoxide, so these results are helping us find answers for the rates at which you can expose organs and tissues to this gas.” And it doesn’t stop there: not only are the seals able to live and dive with their elevated CO level, they seem to be able to benefit from it as well.

When the elephant seals dive and have sleep apnea, they put themselves at risk of high blood pressure and ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury (damage to tissue upon return of blood supply after a period without oxygen, or ‘ischemia’, often seen in relation to conditions like heart attack or stroke) amongst otFurchgott, Ignarro and Murad, it was discovered that NO works as a signalling compound in the cardiovascular system - a vasodilator. Vasodilation is the widening of the blood vessels, resulting in increased blood flow. H2S and CO are also vasodilators. They all work through relaxation of the smooth muscle of the blood vessel walls. Vasodilation is, amongst other things, responsible for penile erection, which is why drugs like Viagra work by stimulating NO pathways, and why H2S is being investigated for similar potential.

her things. The researchers suggest that CO might play a role in protecting against these ills – a role likely also played in the human body: “Carbon monoxide is toxic and deadly at specific levels, but at low concentrations it may actually be therapeutic and beneficial by playing a crucial role in protecting us. At low levels it may prevent the inflammatory response seen in some diseases and even inhibit cell death,” says Tift. It seems that this is very much the case as externally administered CO has been found to minimise I/R injury during transplants in humans. This certainly hints at the therapeutic potential to be discovered in CO, its beneficial effects having only recently become the focus of study. The elephant seal offers an interesting model for this type of research due to the extreme nature of its physiology and lifestyle, enabling researchers to investigate CO’s cellprotecting, anti-inflammatory and signalling value in biological systems. Luckily, in research you don’t need to hold your breath to go in deep. References [1] “Carbon Monoxide Gas Is Used by Brain Cells As a Neurotransmitter”, the New York Times, 1993. [2] “Actions and interaction of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide in the cardiovascular system and in inflammation - a tale of three gases!” Li et al. 2009 [3] “Elevated carboxyhemoglobin in a marine mammal, the northern elephant seal.” Tift, Ponganis and Crocker. 2014

CONTRIBUTORS Author Ida Emilie Steinmark is a chemistry undergraduate student at the University of Glasgow. She tweets at @iesteinmark. Specialist editor: Euan Wilson. Copy editors: Nina Divorty and Charlie Stamenova.







n old joke starts with the remark from a physicist at a multidisciplinary confer-

ence: “Every line of scientific enquiry comes down to physics.” A mathematician replies, “And what is physics, but the application of mathematics?” Followed by a philosopher, who questions, “How is it we know mathematics, without Russell’s philosophical proofs?” “And Russell’s proofs, were they not a manifestation of neurology?” adds a psychologist. “But...” interrupts a biologist, “... what is neurology, but biology of the brain.” A chemist chimes in with, “And is biology not just applied chemistry?” To which the physicist, who has waited patiently through all of this, concludes, “As I was saying…” We as a species, have been able to retrospectively catalogue how sciences have developed into different disciplines. The philosophy of science deals with many issues of scientific discovery, but one major dispute that still rages on is how exactly we classify a scientific field of study. From Ancient Greece to as recently the 16th century, natural sciences such as physics and psychology were under the category of philosophy - because this was the discipline tasked with making the greatest discoveries of the day, but is this the case anymore? Is it the case that philosophy is now just a part of science? Or is it the case that science and philosophy have lost any sense of the connection



that they once had?

“… the murder of President Kennedy is as fully corroborated a fact as can be found anywhere, and it would betray a profoundly unscientific frame of mind to deny it occurred.” [1] In Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape he argues for something many inside and outside of the scientific community would be unhappy to accept - a science of history. The title of said book is made greatly interesting and relevant due to its subheading How science can determine human values. “Science?!?!” I hear you cry. “Science making value judgements?” It would seem that Harris is happy to equate science to any form of honest enquiry. A historian collating and presenting past events, by this definition, becomes a scientist along with the philosopher discussing her views on ethics. To make this unpopular leap, Harris uses medicine as an example of a widely accepted scientific field. Were we to come across a person who is in constant pain and discomfort, we would feel justified in ascerting that they are not in full health. He argues that said person’s views on their own health are greatly irrelevant, in that even if they were to confidently claim that constant pain and discomfort was the pinnacle of health, we would consider it scientifically inaccurate

and maintain they were in an unhealthy state. This example, in Harris’s work, is then transferred to morality. If a person spends her time murdering innocent people for no good reason, she is doing something which is morally wrong. Her feelings on the acts she commits are irrelevant - as is the sick person’s view on their health - those actions are immoral regardless. This connection unflinchingly lines up science with morality, claiming that the latter can be discovered by simply utilizing the former. At its root is the thought that any attempt to honestly and accurately assess the state of the environment in which we find ourselves the past we inherited, the neurology we developed, the way we behave, the way everything else in the universe behaves and even the way we ought to behave - is a form of scientific endeavour. It follows that statements such as “It is wrong to kill innocent people” and “Light travels in a vacuum at a speed of 299,792,458 metres per second” are both equally valid statements testable through the scientific method.

As stated before, Harris’ view is a contentious and widely disputed assertion, but it does bring up the question of exactly where the line is drawn between a scientific and a


non-scientific enquiry. To answer this question one might use induction. This view allows us to extrapolate from “The sun has risen every morning of which I’m aware.” to “The sun will rise tomorrow”, but is this something that science should hold as its central tenet? [2] In short, no. Induction is not widely accepted as a scientific classifier due to its allowance of pseudoscientific phenomena. An astrologist who is correct in 60% of their predictions can use each of these accurate predictions to validate their view.

Welcome, Karl Popper. Popper took the opposite view: instead of proving a theory through evidence, it is the job of science to prove false claims. [3] Falsification, as Popper describes, claims that for a statement to be scientific, it must contain a proposition whereby evidence could theoretically be produced proving the predictions of said proposition false. Propositions would be continually subjected to the testing of their predictions and those which survived the longest without being falsified would be considered of the greatest scientific heft. So, what does Popper say about pseudoscientific claims? Well, it is possible to prove that an astrologist cannot predict the future by point-

ing to occasions where they have made incorrect or vague predictions. If it is not the case that the astrologist is happy to accept that such evidence would nullify their claims, then the question must be posed as to what they would accept. At this point, if they answer that they don’t know, we may have no issue in dismissing the claim that they can predict the future as pseudoscientific. By Popper’s reasoning, if it cannot be falsified, it cannot be scientific. The falsification approach is appealing to many in the scientific community, and while it does give an adequate account of how we could demarcate science as its own subject of study, it has encountered resistance from those in the philosophical community. Since it was put forward, questions have been asked about how accurately it portrays the work of scientists in the real world, and whether it really is the case that empirical studies can never say anything positive - by which I mean, that evidence can never give weight to a scientific theory. Under Popper’s system, no hypothesis could be supported under a scientific framework - unless the experimenter employed a null hypothesis (eg. “There will be no connection between A and B, unless by chance.”) - and this seems counterintuitive when the way scientific research is conducted currently is added into the equation. More research is needed.

The third option, and possibly the most popular currently, is that of an inductive system which does not intend to make absolute claims about the world, but rather gives an account of observation and theory based on probability. Positive and negative results are taken into account in order to construct ratings of how reliable a theory or prediction is. [4] Again, on the face of it, a probabilistic approach seems acceptable, but it is not without its detractors. From the philosophical standpoint, an issue with a probabilistic approach stems from its validation of incorrect propositions. This theory allows the acceptance of directly contradictory statements. Take the 18th-century view of disease. In London, Joseph Bazalgette

engineered the first modern sewage system based on the scientific assumption at the time that disease was contained in bad smells - as where odious odors were found, so was illness. We now know that the illness was in fact caused by the cause of said smells - faeces streaming down the street. When the underground sewage system was developed, the smell disappeared and disease decreased, lending credence to the idea that the smell was the problem. Under a probabilistic system, the statement “It is the case that bad smells carry disease” was correct to the same extent as “It is the case that faeces carry disease”. It would seem uncontroversial that two mutually exclusive propositions should not both be equally accurate under any enquiry system scientific or not - and so a probabilistic approach is tempting but not totally convincing.

Is it important to distinguish science from other forms of enquiry?A question anyone with any experience in philosophy will be familiar with: what’s the point? To me, understanding what makes a hypothesis or a theory scientific gives an indication of how much credence I afford to science as a whole. An inductive science as set out above deserves little acceptance, where a falsification approach might hold its value, but possibly more importantly, a definition of science allows us to understand and challenge it on its own terms. While at the moment those terms are not quite defined, that is the job of the philosophy of science, and it is the work of those attempting to solve such problems that I have illustrated to you here. References [1] Harris S. The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values. 2010. [2] Hume D. A Treatise of Human Nature. 1985. [3] Popper K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. 2009. [4] Inductive Logic. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

CONTRIBUTORS Ross MacFarlane is a philosophy undergraduate at the University of Glasgow. He tweets at @RossDMcFarlane. Specialist editor: Timothy Revell. Copy editor: Charlie Stamenova.




NEWS FROM theGIST WHAT'S HAPPENING? For the first time ever, at the Association of British Science Writers awards - the OSCARs for science journalism, there was a Best Student Science Publication category, sponsored by the Institute of Physics. Shortlisted for the award was Spark Magazine from York University, Women Rock Science created by Hadiza Mohammed and theGIST. After some champagne and tasty canapĂŠs the winner was announced. Women Rock Science took first place with theGIST as first runner up. theGIST team took home certificates and a cheque for ÂŁ200. High fives all round!

Conjecture. Be sure to check us out at and get in contact if you would like to be involved.

podcast group is back and refreshed - so keep your ears peeled for new episodes.



After months of really wanting to spend time with our readership and feeling insecure about asking you folk to just, like, hang, theGIST decided to begin a new pub quiz era dedicated to science. Two successful pub quizzes now under our belt, we can't wait for the ones to follow. We continue to challenge ourselves with questions - and hopefully you too! Like us on Facebook to keep updated on everything pub quiz related. Facebook.com/Glasgow.GIST

theGIST has finally launched a YouTube channel. The video team explain interesting pieces of science in only a minute, giving you Just theGIST. We have videos ranging from Antibiotics to the Twin Prime

Podcasts have long been one of our favourite pastimes, but have been dormant for a wee while. No more! Ready for interesting new pieces of science and good discussion, the

On Saturday 8th November 2014 at the University of Glasgow, theGIST will be holding its first ever conference. Alternating yearly between the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde we will explore the theme 'Science for Society'. This year we will be focussing on evidence-based policy and the extent to which science should inform political decisions. We aim to cover topics ranging from education to medicine to criminal justice. The conference will include several opportunities for students and researchers to get actively involved, including an article competition, a poster competition and a chance to speak at the event. the-GIST.org/conference





DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? Across 1. Sequence of eight bits (4) 3. Volatile dark brown liquid element (7) 7. Study of space (9) 10. Carrying out cartography (7) 12. Dark lunar regions (5) 14. Minor Kuiper belt planetoid (1. 1. 1.)

17. Evolved version of space-based gravitational wave detection mission (5) 19. Information without context (4) 20. Devices that attract iron (7) 21. Piece of DNA (4) 22. Saturn’s largest moon (5) 25. Pharmacist (10) 26. Optical component (4)

27. Breathe out (6) 29. Unit of illumination (3) 30. Eleven-sided shape (9) 32. System to allow non-coder to use computer (1.1.1.) 33. Lack of normal muscular tension (5) 34. Resin obtained from hemp (8)

Down 1. Unfair influence (4) 2. Nobel prize winning geneticist, Edward Lawrie ___ (5) 4. Unit of resistance (3) 5. Operating system (4) 6. Backbone (5) 8. Pertaining to understanding (10) 9. Tibetan ox (3) 11. First man in space, Yuri __ (7) 13. Bases found in DNA (8) 15. Female reproductive cells (3) 16. Measure of heart rate (1.1.1.) 18. Study of fish (11) 21. Hollow rock (5) 23. Precious mineral (3) 24. Eye doctor (7) 26. Autoimmune disease (House favourite) (5) 28. Noble gas (5) 31. The longest geological time period (3)

When you finish, send in your answers to editor@the-gist.org - if you're the first person to get everything correct, you'll get a mention in the next magazine! Crossword by Rebecca Douglas.




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theGIST Issue 3  

Third issue from Glasgow-based science magazine, theGIST

theGIST Issue 3  

Third issue from Glasgow-based science magazine, theGIST

Profile for gist

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