CONTENTS 04 60 SECONDS
A QUICK LOOK AT SOME RECENT, EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERIES
06 THE EXTRAORDINARY GLAUCUS ATLANTICUS: THE VEILED BEAUTY
08 THE MOUSE EXPERIMENT
A GENE MUTATION FOR EXCESSIVE DRINKING FOUND IN MICE
10 DRIVING THE MACHINE
GOOGLE CHAUFFEUR IS A CHAUFFEUR LIKE NO OTHER
12 SNIFF... SNIFF
FEATURING THE GIVEAWAY SMELLS OF DISEASE AND THE NANONOSE
16 THE SPINNING TRUTH
HOW BALLET DANCERS’ BRAINS HAVE ADAPTED TO STOP THEM GETTING IN A SPIN
FOUNDER/ EDITOR MARY LIN
CONTRIBUTING ART DIRECTORS TIA GRAZETTE
I hope you find something in here that inspires a ‘light bulb’ moment or at least teaches you something you genuinely find interesting. I’d also like to remind the students out there who haven’t yet found their ‘calling’ or ‘passion’ or whatever it is that makes you tick: in the words of Steve Jobs: ‘If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.’
ILLUSTRATORS MAX CADDICK ZOE OLARU Many thanks to everybody who contributed: Deborah Barber Conal Deeney Andrew Earnshaw Thomas Gordon Melissa Hoffmann Nicola Moffat Dr Irina Ondik Bryan Szabo Liisa Veerus Rhian Whittington
Thirdly, of course, I wouldn’t be here without the support of my mother and the rest of my family. Seriously, thank you all for putting up with me and apologies for all the headaches I’ve caused. Lastly, do tweet us your thoughts on what you think should be in the next issue of TBE.
18 WHAT’S UP DOG?
HOW WELL DO YOU REALLY KNOW YOUR FURRY BEST FRIEND?
22 NOT JUST A BLING THING
THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY EXPLAINED
24 ‘RIGHTIE’ OR ‘LEFTIE’?
DO WE HAVE A CHOICE OR ARE WE BORN ONE OR THE OTHER?
28 THE BRAIN GAME
RETIRED AMERICAN FOOTBALLERS SHOW ABNORMAL BRAIN ACTIVITY
30 MORE THAN JUST A SUPER FOOD
HOW DO YOU TAKE YOUR SALAD? I TAKE MINE WITH ALGAE SPRINKLED ON TOP
34 THE INNOVATION
WE TAKE A LOOK AT THE 3-D PRINTED OBJECTS YOU DIDN’T KNOW EXISTED
Mary Lin, Founder/Editor @TBE_magazine THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
60 SECONDS The second baby in the USA has been ‘cured’ from HIV and the first baby remains HIV-negative 18 months on.
The Japanese are known for some crazy inventions - you probably already know about the toilets with extra features such as seat warming, talking, wash and massage to name a few. In fact, the word ‘chindogu’ was coined for the art of creating ‘almost useless’ designs that technically solve a problem but are impractical in everyday life
Unveiled at the Japanese technology show, this invention has got sci-fi fans of Warhammer 40 000 and Gears of War salivating. Using a cleverly reinforced hydraulic system attached to the legs, arms or both a normal person can lift from anywhere between 20kg to 50kg (just shy of eight stone) with very little effort. That’s like picking up your average rowing cox with next to no effort. Many have claimed it’s the first step on the path towards bionic humanity - where everyone is part robot.
REINDEER ARE MAGIC! I wish I could tell you they flew. However, reindeer, the colloquial name for caribou, do have some pretty magical traits. During the summer, reindeer have gold eyes like many mammals. This is due to a reflective area behind their retina, called the tapetum lucidum for aiding night vision. It’s why cats’ eyes go funny when you shine a torch at them. Interestingly though, as the seasons change, so does the colour of reindeer eyes. In fact, carcasses recovered from arctic areas in the winter have been found to have dark blue eyes. What appears to have happened is an increase in pressure inside the eyeball, causing the tapetum lucidum to compress and reflect bluer light which is what we perceive as its eye colour. Other scientists have hypothesised that changes in light-sensitive pigments within the retina could also explain the phenomenon. So there you have it. Reindeer are magical!
THE WORLD’S FIRST POO BANK
Equally exciting, was the world’s introduction to Rex (short for robotic exoskeleton), who is the first Bionic Man. At six-foot tall, his make-up comprises of 28 artificial parts, including a beating heart, 200 processors and more than million sensors. With the help of a remote control, he is able to walk, talk and see.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Scientists have genetically modified immune cells from HIV-positive individuals and increased their defence against HIV. The modification is based on a rare mutation that causes resistance to the most common strains of HIV. Normally, in people without the mutation, HIV enters the immune cells by first binding to proteins (called CCR5) which stick out from the surface of cells (cell surface receptors). In people with the mutation, these receptors don’t exist and HIV cannot enter the cells.
AS THE NAME IMPLIES, CLOSTRIDIUM DIFFICILE IS AN INFECTION THAT IS DIFFICULT TO TREAT. THE FATAL DISEASE KILLS 14,000 AMERICANS A YEAR, HOWEVER, RECENTLY FECAL TRANSPLANTS HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO BE 90% EFFECTIVE IN TREATING THE DISEASE- A MUCH HIGHER SUCCESS RATE THAN CONVENTIONAL METHODS. BUT WHERE DO YOU FIND A DONOR? FAECES IS CONSIDERED A DRUG BY THE FDA, THEREFORE HAS TIGHT RESTRICTIONS. THUS OPENBIOME WAS CREATED...
NEW DINO FOUND
IN THE SAME WAY THAT EVERYONE HATES COCKROACHES, EVERYONE LOVES DINOSAURS. NOT ONLY THIS, BUT IF JURASSIC PARK IS TO BE BELIEVED PEOPLE LIKE PARTICULARLY VIOLENT DINOSAURS. SO, IT HAS BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR DINOPHONES. THE LYTHRONAX ARGESTES WALKED THE EARTH AROUND 80 MILLION YEARS AGO AND ITS NAME LITERALLY TRANSLATES AS ‘KING OF GORE’. IT IS FROM THE SAME FAMILY AS T. REX. GROWING TO 9M LONG, IT MIGHT NOT BE THE LARGEST CARNIVORE TO EVER WALK THE EARTH BUT IT’S CERTAINLY IN THE COMPETITION FOR THE MOST FEROCIOUS. ALREADY THIS DISCOVERY IS DIVIDING PROFESSIONAL OPINION, BUT IT SHOWS THAT THE ANCIENT WORLD IS FAR FROM UNDERSTOOD. Fact: Cockroaches can live for weeks without their heads, as long as their blood clots normally after being decapitated. This is due to the fact that respiration occurs via spiracles located on the sides of the body and they can survive for weeks without food.
Openbiome was started by two graduate students, operating out of an mit research lab. with clearance from the fda, openbiome is a saviour as well as a poo bank.
RUCKSACKS FOR COCKROACHES Words: Andrew Earnshaw, Mary Lin
HALF ROBOT, HALF MAN
GM HIV-RESISTANT CELLS
Who actually likes cockroaches? Nobody I know. Despite the fact they’re disgusting some enterprising scientists have tried to utilise their natural advantages. Amidst claims of animal abuse, a US company has developed an app allowing children to control the cockroach. The backpack works by wiring electronics into parts of the cockroach’s nervous system. This means humans can now direct cockroaches to walk in certain directions. Furthermore, because most of the cockroach’s senses are kept intact, it moves around objects and deals with obstacles as it would in the natural world. The app company have claimed this is a great way to engage younger people who are interested in neuroscience.
One of the largest carnivores to have walked the Earth. Tyannosaurus comes from the Greek words ‘Tyrannos’ and ‘sauros’ meaning ‘Tyrant Lizard’ and ‘Rex’ is ‘king’ in Latin.
Bitcoin is an interesting concept. It is not supported by any government and exists as an almost entirely digital concept. After the initial idea was floated in an anonymous paper it quickly gained currency on the criminal circuit. However, amidst the economic crash it has become popular in countries such as Cyprus and Greece as a reliable currency and is now becoming far more acceptable. As with all new technologies, there are some people making an awful lot of money. An Australian man has had 4,100 bitcoins stolen. In real terms, this was the equivalent of $1.04 million ($1 040 000) or £650 000. Clearly the currency still struggles with its deviant past.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
GLAUCUS GLAUCUSATLANTICUS: ATLANTICUS: THE THEVEILED VEILEDBEAUTY BEAUTY
Words: Liisa Veerus
Known by some as ‘the blue angel’, ‘the blue dragon’ and ‘the blue ocean slug’, Glaucus atlanticus is unknown to the majority of us. This marine gastropod mollusc has no shell (unlike many other molluscs) and can be found in temperate and tropical waters. With a sac full of gas inside its stomach, the blue ocean slug floats upside down on the surface of the ocean. The upper surface is actually the ‘foot’ (equivalent to the underside of snails) and can be blue, or with white. Its actual dorsal surface appears silver and grey and this counter shading helps protect it from predators above and below. At maturity, G. atlanticus can be up to 3 centimetres in length and has six appendages which branch out into rayed cerata used to paralyse its prey. More interestingly, the blue ocean slug feeds on hydrozoans which are bigger in size, including the Portuguese Man o’ War - Physalia physalis well-known for having venomous tentacles. Often mistaken for a jellyfish, the Portuguese Man o’ War can deliver a very painful sting to humans and paralyze small prey. G. atlanticus is able to swallow the larger venomous prey unharmed by ejecting mucus and thus protecting itself. The blue ocean slug can then store the venomous stinging cells known as nematocysts inside pouches (cnidosacs) in its cerata, using the concentrated venom to protect itself from other predators. When prey is scarce, G. atlanticus can become a cannibal and feed on other Glaucuses.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
EXPERIMENT THE MOUSE
A GENE MUTATION FOR EXCESSIVE DRINKING FOUND IN MICE, MAKING ALCOHOL THEIR DRINK OF CHOICE —
Featuring: Mice, Alcohol, GABA, Wellcome Trust
Words: Max Caddick
e’ve all had to make that choice before: another glass of wine or the medically recommended glass of water. Turns out that the choice you make might actually be down to your genes. Researchers have discovered a gene that regulates alcohol consumption which, when faulty, can cause excessive drinking. They have also managed to identify the mechanism underlying this phenomenon. The experiment was based around first offering a group of normal mice the choice between water and diluted alcohol. It appears that mice are really quite temperate and showed little interest in the alcohol, always preferring the water. Sober mice being no fun, they then repeated the test on a group of mice with an altered ‘Gabrb1’ gene. These mice were, amusingly, boozehounds, preferring to consume almost 85% of their daily fluid as the diluted alcohol (which was about the same strength as wine). The single gene was found to be heavily linked to the pleasure and reward sections of the brain. This displayed itself in the mice operating levers to access alcohol for considerably longer periods than when the normal mice wanted to access water. Funnily enough, the ‘alcoholic’ mice would voluntarily consume sufficient alcohol in an hour to become intoxicated and even had difficulty coordinating their movements. The research was conducted by a consortium of scientists from Newcastle University, Imperial College London, University College London, Sussex and
Dundee Universities. There were also major contributions from the MRM Mammalian Genetic Units and the whole thing was funded the Medical Research Council, ERAB and the Wellcome Trust. The findings of this research have huge implications for understanding human alcoholism. Dr Quentin Anstee, of Newcastle University, said: ‘It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption’. The importance of the gene system ‘GABA’ which this particular gene (Gabrb1) sits in has long been recognised
THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS RESEARCH IS ESTABLISHING THE GENE’S ROLE IN ALCOHOL ADDICTION as important to the debate on alcoholism in humans. The importance of this research is establishing the role this gene plays in alcohol addiction. Professor Howard Thomas sums this up: ‘We know from previous human studies that the GABA system is involved in controlling alcohol intake. Our studies in mice show that a particular subunit of GABAA receptor has a significant effect and most importantly the existence of these mice has [allowed us] to investigate the mechanism involved.’ The cause of the excessive drinking was tracked down to single base-pair point mutations in the Gabrb1 gene, which codes for an important compo-
nent of the GABAA receptor in the brain - the beta 1 subunit. This receptor responds to the brain’s most important inhibitory chemical messenger (GABA) to regulate brain activity. The researchers found that the gene mutation caused the receptor to activate spontaneously even when the usual GABA trigger was not present. Of course, the reason for all this intoxicating of mice is to establish potential protocols for helping humans who are struggling with alcoholism. This was explicit in the report, as Dr. Quentin Anstee says: ‘We are continuing our work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, though we know that in people alcoholism is much more complicated... But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future.’ One of the cornerstones of modern medicine is preventative treatment. The holy grail of all sectors of medical research is to nip potential diseases in the bud before they have a chance to develop. This project conforms to this paradigm. Alcoholism in Britain is a cultural and environmental issue as well as a genetic one. However, as genetic screening of foetuses gains popularity it might be possible to discover which people have a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism. This would of course allow people to be aware of their genetic make-up and also allow treatments to be developed that specifically target the gene discovered by this project. It was for this reason that the Medical Research Council funded this project for a decade.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
OR THE MACHINE DRIVING YOU...?
Google chauffeur is a chauffeur like you’ve never seen before
Featuring: Cars, Google, Toyota, Lasers, Heathrow pods
river error is the most common cause of traffic accidents and is now one that can be easily removed thanks to the latest developments in autonomous cars. Google has developed at least ten vehicles of this type ranging from Audi TT’s to Toyota Priuses, which have been tested on public roads since 2010 and are expected to to be road ready by 2018. So how does it all work? Autonomous cars use electronic lasers which rest on their roofs, to scan and generate 3D
maps of their surroundings. Next, the car matches this newly generated 3D map to preloaded maps, which already contain information on the stationary objects in the area – such as lampposts and traffic lights. This enables dynamic, moving objects to be added to the landscape and allows the car to react accordingly. Google Chauffeur (the software powering their driverless cars) uses lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging. Lidar is a sophisticated mapping tool that is accurate to the centimetre. Consisting of 64 rotating laser beams,
Words: Rhian Whittington
DRIVING THE MACHINE...
Lidar can take more than a million measurements per second. In one road test, Google’s car was able to create an annotated map of its surroundings to prove what had happened during a collision with another car. Chris Urmson, who is leading the self-driving car project, said: ‘We don’t have to rely on eyewitnesses that can’t be trusted as to what happened — we actually have the data.’ Milton Keynes is set to be the first town centre in the UK running driverless pods. These will cart the city’s usual pedestrians around for £2 a trip. The city will roll out the first batch of pods in 2015, all following a specific route around the city. This has all been made possible due to a £65 million investment. By 2017, the city hopes to have a fleet of
THE HEATHROW PODS ARE EXPECTED TO ELIMINATE 50,000 BUS TRIPS EVERY YEAR 100 pods, travelling on lanes, separated from pedestrians. With the pods able to carry two passengers at a time and bookable via smartphone app, it will be of fantastic value and convenience for those wanting to pop into the town centre. Heathrow Airport has had similar autonomous pods that have been in use since 2011. As with Google’s cars, they use radar and GPS in order to travel and are fully electric. Heathrow’s pods have an on-board computer screen, allowing its passengers to
choose their destination that way. The pods are particularly effective due to the fact that there is no need for timetables. They are automatically distributed to specific pick-up locations via a central computer system, based on the number of passengers that are in need of them. In comparison to Milton Keynes’ pods which travel at a speed of 12mph, Heathrow’s pods are fairly speedy, travelling up to 25mph. The pods at Heathrow took six years to develop at a cost of £30 million and are expected to eliminate 50,000 bus journeys around the airport every year. Journey times to and from the terminal are also estimated to decrease by an average of 10 minutes and furthermore, the pods use 70% less energy than a car.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
SNIFF... SNIFF Each of our unique bodily scents can reveal much more than we realise.
Words: Nicola Moffat
Illustration: Zoe Olaru
Featuring: Odour, Cancer, Breath, Mating
ow others smell, or indeed how we ourselves smell, has been the focus of both scientific and social controversy and interest for many a year. Serious study into human auxiliary odour (or what’s more commonly referred to as body odour) first began back in the 1960s and has been gaining momentum ever since. To begin to understand why scientists have been studying auxiliary odours and to what end, we must first understand how they are formed. It is the interaction between odourless molecules found in apocrine secretions and cutaneous microorganisms that form our characteristic body odour. The varying amount of each of these chemicals and the ABCC11 gene which we carry influences the strength of it. This leaves a distinctive smell which, science is fast discovering, can tell a lot about us.
CANCER-SMELLING DOGS For years, dogs have been used to sniff out drugs and, in many documented and incredible cases, have been known to detect diseases such as cancer in humans. Claire Guest, a clinical psychologist, had her breast cancer first detected by her pet Labrador. Inspired by her own experience, Guest went on to run the charity Medical Detection Dogs and now works with researchers, various universities and NHS trusts to train specialist dogs to detect specific auxiliary odours and ultimately disease. As useful as they may be, dogs are not the most reliable form of diagnosing diseases. While these specialist dogs can help us identify if someone has a disease, they cannot help us determine what it is exactly, so we must turn to the expensive, lengthy and often invasive diagnostic methods we currently have available to us.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
A FRUITY SMELL ON YOUR BREATH SIMILAR TO PEAR DROPS COULD BE A SYMPTOM OF KETOACIDOSIS, WHEREAS ASTHMATIC AND CYSTIC FIBROSIS PATIENTS ARE SAID TO HAVE A SLIGHTLY ACIDIC BREATH. Dogs are however a great starting point for diagnosing illness and have inspired people to create machinery that works on the same principles, by detecting the characteristic odours of illness.
ELECTRONIC BREATH TESTS FOR EVERYTHING There are already several of these electronic breath tests available which can detect various things such as alcohol, carbon-monoxide poisoning, asthma and hearttransplant rejection. Similar tests for various cancers, tuberculosis (TB), diabetes and heart failure are currently under development, however they are not yet available on the market. To be able to use tests such as these to detect disease would prove to be relatively cheap and take away the need for any unnecessary invasive procedures too, seeing as our breath is readily available.
THE NANONOSE Post 9/11, millions of dollars were poured into researching
FACT: People with Trimethylaminuria, or ‘fish odour syndrome’ can’t digest choline and end up smelling like rotten fish.
equipment capable of detecting chemical weapons and explosives. Owlstone Nanotech, founded in 2004, was one of many companies to pursue this line of research and made its primary focus ‘to develop technology capable of detecting noxious gasses simply by their smell’. However, in 2012, their research took an unexpected turn when Billy Boyle, one of the co-founders, rushed his girlfriend, Kate, to hospital when she started complaining of stomach pains. Tests revealed that Kate had a metastatic tumour and was rushed into surgery to remove it as it was blocking her colon. Though she survived, Kate’s chances of survival were a mere 5 percent opposed to the 90-95 percent they would have been had she been diagnosed at stage one. This got Boyle thinking and he came to wonder if and how the military odour sensors his company was developing could be adapted and used in medicine for diagnostic purposes. This led him into the world of metabolomics (how chemical patterns from your body, e.g. from your breath or urine, could indicate illness) and he dis-covered that research had already proved that certain smells could be connected to diseases such as lung cancer, asthma, TB, gastric cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Human’s noses are not capable of picking up the volatile molecule patterns that indicate these diseases, however a mass spectrometer, which Boyle’s team were already using, can detect them easily by separating chemicals from air samples and identifying them. Unfortunately, regular mass spectro-meters cost roughly half a million dollars and are very large pieces of equipment - not at all suitable for use in a doctor’s office or even most hospitals. This posed a problem, but Boyle soon realised that the nano-sensors his company had already created
could also detect these odours. Hacking and reprogramming technology was second nature to Boyle and soon enough Owlstone Nanotech unveiled their now core product: the Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometer (FAIMS) chip. The device is only 7mm wide and while it does not entail all the technology of a mass spectrometer, it works on a similar principle and acts as a chemical filter. This has already proved to be a much cheaper and more practical solution. The device works by taking gasses from an air sample and ionising them. When an electric current is applied to the chip it then creates a graph displaying the chemical composition of the chemicals. From there it’s just a case of reading the graph and establishing which disease, if any, it represents.
A REVOLUTIONARY TECHNOLOGY Menssanna Research is now working with Boyle to get this revolutionary device from lab to clinic. While it is road testing the FAIMS chip, it has also patented its own system called ‘Breath Link’, a cloud application, which when connected to their ‘Breath Scanner’ machine can deliver the results of a TB test in less than 6 minutes. After extensive testing of the machine on patients in Mumbai, India, the results were published in the journal Tuberculosis in 2012 and were revealed to be 85 percent accurate when diagnosing TB positive patients. Patients with a positive result then underwent further tests to either prove or disprove the diagnosis. While 85 percent is far from perfect in terms of results, the study proved over 99 percent accurate when giving a negative diagnosis, a far more impressive number. This means researchers could send away anyone with a negative diagnosis without worry and do further testing on anyone who may need
it. If this technology is rolled out to doctors and hospitals nation and worldwide, this is an unparalleled step forward in the world of TB as currently medical professionals are still working with technologies which are over 100 years old. In terms of illness diagnostics, the science and technology surrounding human auxiliary odour has never been more focussed but studies are also showing that our odours can tell a lot more about us than whether or not we are healthy.
CAN WE SNIFF OUT OUR POTENTIAL MATES? It is a well-known fact that scent plays an important part in the mating habits within the animal kingdom. Historically, humans were commonly overlooked in these studies. However, recent studies are proving that our auxiliary odours are equally as prominent to the opposite sex as those of other animals and also play a central role in how we behave regarding our mates. Studies have shown that a woman’s fertility can be read
FACT: People with Schizophrenia have been found to have a component which has a very sweet aroma, like overripe fruit.
A WOMAN’S FERTILITY CAN BE SUBCONSCIOUSLY READ FROM HER BODY ODOUR.
from her body odour and her scent is the most ‘appealing’ to men when she is about to ovulate. Men were asked to rate various scent samples and then estimate the physical attractiveness of the woman. The results showed that high-fertility samples were rated far more favourably. In another study, women who were ovulating had to rate the odours of men on sweaty T-shirts. They were found to rate the odours as more pleasant when the men had a dissimilar Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC). The MHC is another name for the cluster of genes that control immune response and determine which antigens are present on cell surfaces. Despite our natural odour, fragrances and perfumes have been used to cover our scents for thousands of years, with some dating back over 4000 years. While we may not consciously realise it, we perceive these scents in various different ways and read far more into it than whether it simply smells nice or not. In fact, subconsciously, ‘sweet’ odours increase pain tolerance. Further, it has been shown that odours can affect our judgment of faces, both consciously and subconsciously. It seems both our natural and enhanced odour has a role in how we and others around us behave and can even affect our judgment and interactions in social environments. Our natural body odour can reveal a lot about us. Each of our unique scents can reveal anything from our gender and approximate age to which diseases we may be carrying, even when they are still in the earliest stages. While we know that our auxiliary odours carry some of this information, we are still developing the technology to fully understand and read them. In the years to come it seems ever more likely that using technology such as the FAIMS chip will be the future of disease diagnosis.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
THE SPINNING TRUTH
How ballet dancers’ brains adapt to stop them getting in a spin
Featuring: Ballet, Brains, Pirouettes
Words: Andrew Earnshaw
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
nyone who’s been dragged to a family member’s ballet recital might have wondered how they don’t fall over after all of that spinning. Well the answer is here! It turns out that scientists have discovered differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that help them to avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes. The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear. The findings could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness, a condition which affects around one in four people at some point in their lives. Dr. Barry Seemungal, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: ‘Dizziness, which is the feeling that we are moving when in fact we are still, is a common problem. I see a lot of patients who have suffered from dizziness for a long time. Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients.’ Dizziness is basically your balance organs malfunctioning; you think you’re spinning, but you’re actually not. You’re able to keep balanced because of the vestibular organs; tiny fluid-filled chambers covered in little hairs. When your head moves, this fluid sloshes around, in a similar pattern to the tea in a cup when you’re not being careful. These tiny hairs chambers sense movement and send nerve-signals to the brain telling you where you’re going. If you move really quickly, then even once you’ve come to a stop the fluid continues
to move. This is what makes you feel like you’re still spinning and how we feel dizziness. However, ballet dancers often perform multiple pirouettes with little or no feeling of dizziness. Many have argued that that this is due to a technique called ‘spotting’ which involves the dancer constantly moving their head to keep their gaze fixed on one spot as much as possible. Whilst the researchers don’t discount that, their findings suggest that it is far from the only reason. The project, conducted by Imperial
BALLET DANCERS OFTEN PERFORM MULTIPLE PIROUETTES WITH LITTLE OR NO FEELING OF DIZZINESS College London, recruited 29 female ballet dancers and, as a comparison group, 20 female rowers whose age and fitness levels matched the dancers. The experiment began by spinning the volunteers on a chair in a dark room (to reduce the possibility of ‘spotting’). When the chair had come to a rest the volunteers were asked to turn a handle in time with how quickly they felt like they were still spinning after they had stopped. Eye reflexes triggered by input from the vestibular organs were also measured and later, they examined the participants’ brain structures with MRI scans. In short, the results suggested that both the perception of spinning and eye movement post-spin lasted less time in the dancers than in the rowers.
The brain scans also revealed distinct differences between the groups. In two parts of the brain the dancers had distinct differences to the control group; an area in the cerebellum where sensory input from the vestibular organs is processed and in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for the perception of dizziness. The area in the cerebellum was smaller in dancers. Dr. Seemungal suggests this is because dancers would be better off not using their vestibular systems, relying instead on highly co-ordinated pre-programmed movements. ‘It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input’. The reduced size meant that fewer signals reached the cerebral cortex, limiting the sensation of dizziness. Dr. Seemungal believes that ‘If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.’ Another finding in the study may be important for how chronic dizzy patients are tested in the clinic. Amongst the rowers, the perception of spinning was closely mirrored by the eye reflexes but, in dancers, the two were uncoupled. ‘This shows that the sensation of spinning is separate from the reflexes that make your eyes move back and forth,’ Dr Seemungal said. ‘In many clinics, it’s common to only measure the reflexes, meaning that when these tests come back normal the patient is told that there is nothing wrong. But that’s only half the story. You need to look at tests that assess both reflex and sensation.’
WHAT’S UP DOG?
Liisa Veerus looks into the evolutionary reasons for why dogs behave the way they do.
Illustration: Conal Deeney
Featuring: Dogs, Evolution, Behaviour
ccording to a recent study by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, the dog remains the most popular pet in the United Kingdom. Dogs are to be found in approximately one quarter of U.K. households, a small increase from last year. For longtime and first-time dog owners alike, it is crucial to understand your pet’s behaviour. Though you may know your dog’s favourite walking route and food preference, its more subtle behaviours might still remain a mystery. Evolutionary development and genetic peculiarities can explain almost all canine behaviour. From barking to circling before they lie down, there is very little that your dog does that is not a result of evolutionary or genetic programming. Many of these behaviours are, in essence, survival mechanisms so deeply imbedded that no amount of training can get rid of them. Dogs are
domesticated, but in terms of evolutionary time, that domestication (somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago), was relatively recent. A lot of canine behaviour will therefore seem out of place in a humanized environment. If we wish to interpret our pet’s behaviour, we have to take a look at his ancestors who lived—and still live—in the wild. Understanding how and why dogs have evolved in the ways that they have will give us a leg up when it comes to understand even their strangest behaviours. Since the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) is the common parent of all modern
The origin of the domestic dog began with the domestication of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus familiaris)
dog breeds, it is particularly helpful to look to the wolf for clues when we are perplexed by our pets’ behaviours.
THE TAIL: YOUR DOG’S MAIN INSTRUMENT OF COMMUNICATION The position of your dog’s tail speaks volumes about his emotional state. When the tail is held parallel to the ground and slightly curved, your dog is in a relaxed, friendly mood. A tail that is arched and upright can indicate extreme interest and alertness, but it can also suggest a readiness to attack. By pulling its tail between its legs, your dog is showing submission; in wolves this position is recognizable in the animal that has been forced to submit after losing a fight for the alpha position. You may see this when you are scolding or have scolded your dog. He or she is using the body-language tools at their
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
disposal to show you that they are recognizing your authority. In the same way, a dog that is wagging its tail is telling you something, but it is important to understand that a wagging tail does not necessarily mean a happy dog. Dogs use wagging tails to communicate with humans, and, indeed with other animals— especially other dogs—as well (researchers have shown that tail wagging is something dogs almost never do when alone). Scientists have compared tail wagging in dogs to smiling in humans. Just as a smile can mean nervousness in some humans, dogs wagging their tails can be trying to convey nervousness or apprehensiveness. Tail wagging to the left has been shown to be more frequently an expression of anxiety while tail wagging to the right has been connected to the more positive emotions. Since there are subtle differences in the way different breeds and even different dogs
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
THE PORTION OF A DOG’S BRAIN THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ANALYSING SMELLS IS FORTY TIMES LARGER THAN IT IS IN HUMANS. FACT: for photo above Aque nissinis eosae labo. Utatio. Xernam et quia vel ilit aute velici con rem quis earit, sa de laccull iciunt
within breeds communicate with their tails, it is important to observe your dog’s behaviours in toto rather than just jumping to conclusions based on a single facet of their behaviour such as tail wagging.
LICKING AND SNIFFING Dogs use their sense of smell in ways we have only recently begun to fathom. In terms of percentage of overall mass, the portion of a dog’s brain that is responsible for analysing smells is forty times larger than it is in humans. Since dogs’ sense of smell is stimulated by licking, these two behaviours are linked. When dogs sniff and lick they are
seeking information about their environment or about other animals (humans included) in that environment. While dogs will commonly lick their owners’ faces and hands due to the smell or taste of food on them, it is just as likely that they are paying a compliment to whomever they are licking. When puppies are born, their mothers lick them to physically stimulate them and to clean them. Thus, dogs are showing affection by licking, but there is more to it than this. Subordinate wolves have been observed to lick dominant ones in packs. Licking is also, therefore, a show of respect and submissiveness. Since licking and smelling are both related to the dog’s incredible sense of smell, it is helpful to think of your dog’s licking of your hands and feet as a method by which it can engage in conversation with you. The sweat you release from those areas of your body is
embedded with information that reveals a great deal about your mental state to your dog. They are doing very much the same thing when they sniff another dog’s genitals. The glands that emit pheromones are located—in dogs—very near to the genitals, so it is not the genitals themselves that is attracting the dog’s attention, but the pheromone glands. This kind of sniffing is the most common way for dogs to trade information.
ESTABLISHING DOMINANCE Dogs smell trees and posts to get information about the other dogs that have recently been in the area. Since dogs mark their territory with urine (yet another behaviour with lupine roots), frequent urination while on walks with your dog (especially in popular dog-walking areas) is not at all unusual. Leg lifting is a way for dogs to aim their urine as high
as possible. This is the dog’s way of sending a warning to other dogs that there is a bigger, stronger dog in the neighbourhood. Sometimes dogs rub their genitalia against objects or even persons. When an object is involved, the deed is the equivalent of human masturbation. If a living creature or a person is involved, it often means that the dog is trying to establish dominance. Owners who have their dog’s respect should not have such a problem with their pet.
SELF-DEFENCE It is common for dogs to twirl around before sitting down. This behaviour may seem unexplainable, but it has an important evolutionary aspect. Wolves use this technique both to confirm that their resting place is free from predators and, also, to make sure that its own body is without injuries. Twirling around
FACT: for photo above Aque nissinis eosae labo. Utatio. Xernam et quia vel ilit aute velici con rem quis earit, sa de laccull iciunt
gives the dog assurance that it is okay to lower its guard and fall asleep. It also helps flatten the grass before lying down. On a similar topic, dogs eat their own and other dogs’ faeces. This is a mechanism of selfdefence that evolved in wolves. Since wild animals can find dens by following excremental scent, it is better to eliminate the faeces by eating them than to leave any trace of smell behind. Female dogs (like mother wolves) eat their defenceless puppies’ excrement to keep them safe from predators. The next time your pet does something unexpected, remember that the majority of its behaviours are genetically programmed. What seems socially inappropriate or annoying to an owner could be a sign of affection or submission. Perhaps by understanding where such behaviours come from, you will better understand and therefore better care for and love your furry friend.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
NOT JUST A BLING THING Dr. Irina Malkin Ondik discusses why under white light, gold jewellery appears yellow and silver white.
Featuring: Rings, Gold, Silver, White Light, Periodic table.
Words: Irina Ondik
ave you ever wondered why under white light gold jewellery appears yellow, whereas silver pieces are white? Perhaps not, but both elements belong to the same group in the periodic table and have similar electron configuration, which should lead to similar chemical and physical properties. However, the special theory of relativity comes into play. Human eyes perceive the colour of an object by analysing the composition of the reflected light. If a gold ring is placed under white light, blue light will be absorbed, making the ring appear yellow. A silver ring seems white, because the absorbed wavelength lies in the ultraviolet region of the spectra. In a metal, electrons absorb certain wavelengths of incident light to excite from a lower occupied energy level to a higher unoccupied energy level. In gold metal, the transition occurs from the 5d to 6s energy level. In silver metal, the corresponding transition is from 4d to 5s energy level. The difference between these energy gaps is attributed to the indirect relativistic effects. Despite a common misconception, the special theory of relativity affects not only physics, but chemistry, biology and medicine as well. Even Paul Dirac, the English theoretical physicist, was convinced that the only imperfections remaining in quantum mechanics ‘give rise to difficulties only when high-speed particles are involved, and are therefore
of no importance in the consideration of atomic and molecular structure and ordinary chemical reactions.’ Paul Dirac was wrong, because he only considered outer electrons, which, compared to the velocity of light move rather slowly. This is not true for inner electrons in heavy atoms. How fast are electrons moving in atoms? The answer can be estimated by considering hydrogen-like ions in a
THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY AFFECTS NOT ONLY PHYSICS, BUT CHEMISTRY, BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE AS WELL Bohr model. Under these assumptions, the velocity of a 1s electron is atomic units (a.u.) is given by the charge Z of the ion. In a.u. the velocity of light c is 137 a.u. According to these estimates, the 1s electron in a gold atom moves at 58% of light speed. In a silver atom, the velocity of the 1s electron is estimated to be 34% of light speed. The relativistic effects in chemistry definitely cannot be neglected. In the 1970s this led to an establishment of a new branch of chemistry – relativistic quantum chemistry, to correctly describe the behaviour of electrons in compounds both from the quantum mechanical and relativistic point of view.
The great speed of s-electrons in atoms indirectly influences outer orbitals. Due to the relativistic effects, the energy levels of all s-orbitals in an atom are lowered. As an indirect consequence, the energy levels of d-orbitals are raised. In gold, the rise of 5d and the decline of 6s energy levels significantly decreases the energy gap, shifting the wavelength of the absorbed light from ultraviolet to blue. In silver the relativistic effects are not quite as pronounced, forcing silver jewellery to remain white.
LIGHT MOVEMENTS Length contraction, time dilation, relativistic mass, mass–energy equivalence, a universal speed limit and relativity of simultaneity may sound like they’re from a sci-fi movie, but they are actually all experimentally verified phenomenons that result from special relativity.
RIGHT OR LEFT?
We look into the numerous factors influencing handedness in humans and how this can even affect the way we see things
Featuring: Handedness, Genetics, Asymmetry
Words: Bryan Szabo Edited by Melissa Hoffmann
Are we born with a preference for one hand or is this mainly down to cultural influence?
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
ou’re most likely right-handed—and if not, you’re in a fairly exclusive club. Humans’ predominant preference for using the right hand over the left seems as arbitrary as it is ingrained, but ancient tools suggest it was as common for our ancestors to be as right-handed as we are now. Humans are the only living species with such a strong preference, and researchers have been trying for years to get to the bottom of this mystery. Ancient tool marks, fracture and striation patterns on the bones of slaughtered animals, and prehistoric cave art tell us that about 500,000 years ago, primitive peoples already displayed a marked tendency toward righthandedness. Of course, there is only so much that can be deduced from findings like these, as it was the norm at the time to share tools. But researchers have seen similar right-handed evidence in cave wall paintings of the period. This suggests that our ancestors, namely the Homo neanderthalensis and Homo heidelbergensis, were as preponderantly right-handed as we are today. So consistent and so striking is this asymmetrical preference that one Australian researcher, MC Corballis, recently referred to the human species as ‘the lopsided ape.’ Indeed, no demonstrably left-handed human culture has ever been identified, and today, roughly 90 percent of humans are right-hand dominant. While this remarkable prevalence suggests there to be a distinct evolutionary reason behind it, a verifiable cause has been elusive—and the debate continues.
LATERALITY IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM Great apes are among the animals shown to favour a hand, but there is no dominant species-
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
ROUGHLY 90 PERCENT OF HUMANS ARE RIGHT-HANDED FACT: Left-pawed dogs are more likely to show aggression to strangers.
wide predilection for one side versus the other. In fact, there is no species that demonstrates as strong a hand preference as do humans. But this does not necessarily mean that our laterality is distinctly human. As is the case with people, handedness in animals is the result of a cerebral (not mechanical) asymmetry, and it’s almost impossible to tell visually which side is dominant. So, handedness in animals may actually be more common than previously thought. Indeed, Corballis, the Australian researcher, noted that cerebral asymmetries are actually quite common in non-humans. Snails, seals, horses, and a host of other animals—not just higher mammals—all exhibit this asymmetry. Corballis suggests some of these non-human asymmetries may represent early stages in evolution during which a gradual shift toward left cerebral dominance and right hemisphere specialization contributed to the development of human language
skills, which researchers have frequently connected with the innate tendency toward righthandedness. Since the left hemisphere is responsible for the right side of the body (the preference for sides extends to ear, eye, and foot, as well), language and command functions being rooted in the same hemisphere may be at least partly responsible for right-hand dominance. But this isn’t always the case, according to a recent study of 326 individuals that found both left- and right-handed individuals (73 percent and 96 percent, respectively) used their left hemispheres for language creation and processing. Another interesting case is that of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who continues to write with her right hand and use language despite being shot at point-blank range in the left hemisphere of her brain. Her unique case conflicts with our current understanding of the connection between language centres and handedness.
HANDEDNESS AND GENETICS The answer to many of the questions of handedness might be found at the genetic level. If both parents are left-handed, there is a 30-40 percent chance their children will be left-handed; when there are two righthanded parents, the chance of southpaw kids drops significantly. Researchers in England, Scotland, and the Netherlands think they may have located the gene responsible. In a multi-institutional endeavour led by scientists from Oxford and St. Andrews, they conducted an extensive genome association study that identified common variants in genes that are closely related to handedness. The root of hand preference was found to be in a specific gene, PCSK6, which researchers think is the gene responsible for the establishment
of left-right asymmetry in developing embryos. When the researchers disrupted the PCSK6 in mice, it caused asymmetry defects. In some cases, the heart and the stomach moved to the right side; in others, they observed the liver moving to the left. They connected these findings to other studies that had shown an observable relationship between the gene PCSK6 and relative hand skill. The gene had previously been observed to have a high rate of expression in the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that aids interhemispheric communication. This part of the brain tended to be larger in left-handers than in righthanders, a finding that led them to conclude that handedness and the corpus callosum—and therefore PCSK6 as well—are at least partly responsible for humans’ laterality. Marian Annett of the University of Leicester has collected a sizeable amount of evidence that shows how left-handed people are more susceptible than righthanders to reading and learning disorders, and the late Dr Paul Satz, noted twice as many left-handers among those with nervous system disorders like epilepsy, schizophrenia, mental retardation, and learning disabilities. But right doesn’t always equal good, regardless of the myriad religious and cultural associations of left-handedness and evil, or studies showing an evolutionary preference for the right hand. Balance is key when it comes to the brain. An extreme degree of right-handedness has been shown to lead to spatial or coordinative difficulties, while ambidextrous individuals are more prone to ideation and delusional behaviours. Much of the research leans toward a conclusion that human evolution has found something of a sweet spot in the combination of left-side hemispheric preference and
right-hand manual predominance at a genetic level. Still, scientists remain reluctant to speak definitively as to the causes of handedness, as genes have only been found to be partly responsible for dictating asymmetry in the body. William Brandler, a Ph.D. student based out of the prestigious Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics and a leading contributor to the Oxford/St. Andrews study, urges a degree of caution in interpreting these results: ‘As with all aspects of human behaviour,’ he says, ‘nature and nurture go hand-in-hand. The development of handedness derives from a mixture of genes, environment, and cultural pressure to conform to right-handedness.’ While the group remains optimistic that new developments will lead to a higher degree of certainty, a unified theory that explains handedness completely— be the causes genetic, behavioural, or a combination—is something researchers are moving away from, not toward. With each new data set and each new answer given, new questions emerge that call for a more nuanced understanding of why this lopsided ape leans the way he does.
FACT: PCSK6 is a protease which cleaves the left-right determining protein ‘NODAL’ into an active form, to help stimulate left/right asymmetry
Research has shown that ‘righties’ use the right hemisphere of their brain to process an entire image, but use the left hemisphere to focus on smaller details. The opposite was found to be true for ‘lefties’. This research was carried out by Carmel Mevorach and Prof. Glyn Humphreys of Birmingham University, with Dr. Lilach Shalev of the Open University
THE BRAIN GAME Brain scans show unusual activity in retired American football players
Featuring: College Footbal, American Footballers
Words: Nicola Moffat
revious research has shown that former American Football players are more susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Even in retired players who have not been diagnosed with a neurological condition, new research is showing profound levels of abnormal brain activity. A recent study involving 13 former National Football League (NFL) players showed that this abnormal activity directly correlated with the number of times each player had been forced to leave the field during their career as the result of a head injury. Despite not having previously been diagnosed with a neurological condition, each of these 13 players felt as though they were suffering from neurological issues which were impacting on their everyday lives. The study, which took place at the Applied fMRI Institute in San Diego, California, involved the former NFL players and another 60 healthy participants being given a test. They were to rearrange a number of coloured balls into a series of tubes using as few moves as possible. Despite the NFL players performing worse on the tests than the healthy participants, the difference was marginal. While the tests had been taking place however, the brain activity of each participant was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and it was here that the neurological differences between the NFL players and the healthy participants stood out. The scans showed that there was unusual activity taking place in the frontal lobe of each former NFL player to the extent that the computer could identify between them and the control participants. The computer could distinguish between the two groups with close to 90 percent accuracy based solely on their frontal lobe activity. As the frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions and regulating other cognitive processes, the researchers
theorised that the differences seen in the study may impact the NFL players ability to plan and organise their lives on a day to day basis. This may account for the players feeling like they had undiagnosed neurological issues. The findings were published in Scientific Reports and suggest that NFL players who suffer from head traumas risk subtle neurological deficits, which don’t show up until later life and aren’t traceable with normal clinical tests. Dr Adam Hampshire, lead author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London said ‘The critical fact is that the level of brain abnormality correlates strongly with the measure of head impacts of
AFTER DAMAGE, THE BRAIN CAN WORK HARDER AND BRING EXTRA AREAS ON LINE IN ORDER TO COPE WITH COGNITIVE TASKS great enough severity to warrant being taken out of play. This means that it is highly likely that damage caused by blows to the head accumulate towards an executive impairment in later life.’ In regards to why the players still performed almost as well as the control participants in the cognitive tests, Hampshire said ‘It’s not unusual for an individual who has had a blow to the head to perform relatively well on a neuropsychological testing battery, and then go on to struggle in everyday life. The results tell us something very interesting about the human brain, which is that after damage, it can work harder and bring extra areas on line in order to cope with cognitive tasks. It is likely that in more complicated real world scenarios, this plasticity is insufficient and consequently, the executive impairment is no longer masked.’ Brain imaging tests and their results
could prove useful to both retired and current NFL players. Should any retired players have cause to file for compensation on the grounds of neurological problems caused by their career, brain imaging tests would be able to give a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of whether or not this is the case than standard clinical tests could. Dr Hampshire and his colleagues at the University of Western Ontario, Canada suggest that current NFL players should also be scanned with an fMRI before each season. This could help detect any neurological problems early with the hopes of preventing executive impairment in later life. Despite the telling results, this study is still far from conclusive due to the small number of people tested. More players across various seasons need to be tracked using brain imaging to see if their career is causing them executive impairment. These results will prove useful to other patients who have suffered multiple head injuries. Perhaps most critically, the findings also highlight the inadequacy of normal cognitive tests when detecting certain types of behavioural deficit. Developing these tests and making them mainstream could help to diagnose countless people, not just NFL players, potentially helping to improve their quality of life.
HOME ADVANTAGE Unlike with away games, football players exhibit surges of testosterone before home games, which may create a more proactive, territorial attitude. Referees have also been found to give more extra time at the end of each half if the home team is behind by a goal.
More than a Super food? FOOD
Fifty times more iron than spinach, ten times as much calcium as milk and twice the protein of raw beef, spirulina might just be the most complete food source ever discovered.
Featuring: SuperFoods, Algae, Supplement
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
WHAT IS SPIRULINA? Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima), is a type of cyanobacteria, microorganisms that obtain their energy through photosynthesis. Like plants, cyanobacteria produce oxygen, and are thought to have been especially important in shaping Earth’s early atmosphere. Strains of cyanobacteria are found all over the world and can grow in the most inhospitable places. Spirulina itself is found in highly alkaline lakes and streams. Spirulina was discovered as a food source by a team of French researchers in Mexico in the 1970s, but may have been harvested by the Aztecs as early as 1250. Today spirulina is produced and marketed as a food supplement. It is farmed most intensively in the United States, India and China. Huge nets are used to collect the raw form, which is then dried over hot drums and finally packaged into tablets, flakes or powder.
THE PROTEINS By any measure, the protein content of spirulina is quite
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
CONTENT IN SPIRULINA (mg/kg)
DAILY REQUIREMENT (mg/day)
CONTENT IN SPIRULINA (mg/kg)
DAILY REQUIREMENT (mg/day)
B1 B2 B6 B12 Niacin Folate Pantothenate Biotin C
34- 50 30 - 46 5- 8 1.5 - 2.0 130 0.5 4.6 - 25 0.05 Traces
1.5 1.8 2 0.003 20 0.4 6 -10 0.1- 0.3 15-30
Calcium Phosphorus Magnesium Iron Zinc Copper Manganese Sodium Potassium
1300-14000 6700 - 9000 2000 - 2900 580 - 1800 21 - 40 8 - 10 25 - 37 4500 6400 - 15400
1200 1000 250 - 350 18 15 1.5 - 3 5 500 3500
Figures are from Falquet, 2006
Figures are from Falquet, 2006
FIFTY TIMES MORE IRON THAN SPINACH, TEN TIMES AS MUCH CALCIUM AS MILK AND TWICE THE PROTEIN OF RAW BEEF. extraordinary, between 50% and 70% of its dry weight. Even the leanest cuts of red meat only achieve half these levels. It’s the same for vegetables too. Soya flour, the best source of vegetable protein, manages 35% at best. Spirulina is often called a ‘complete’ source of protein, since all nine essential amino acids are present. Essential amino acids can’t be produced by the body so have to be taken from what we eat and drink. Vegetarians and vegans often have to take supplements to replace the amino acid lysine that is missing in their regular diet. However, being packed full of amino acid chains doesn’t immediately qualify spirulina as a good source of protein. The nitrogen in these compounds is used for growth, maintenance and repair, so has to be readily digested by the body. This ‘usefulness’ is measured by the overly-verbose Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Milk protein (casein), by virtue of being a liquid, is the easiest source to digest so is
FACT: Some vitamin supplements such as Vitamin E and Selenium can increase the risk of high-grade and aggressive prostate cancer by up to 91%
THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS
given a value of 1. Spirulina doesn’t fare quite so well (around 0.9), but is still slightly more palatable than meats (0.8) and significantly more palatable than most vegetables (0.7).
THE CARBOHYDRATES Simple carbohydrates mean sugar, something we all consume far too much of. Our daily sugar intake has increased fivefold since 1950. Happily, spirulina is made up almost entirely of polymers, complex carbohydrates which, when digested, release a more consistent stream of energy. Carbohydrates contribute between 15 percent and 25percent of the dry weight of spirulina, which is about the same as a portion of cooked pasta. Spirulina is particularly rich in glucosamine, a fatty polymer that is crucial in the maintenance of healthy joints. Spirulina also contains the carbohydrate mesoinositol phosphate, a reservoir of both organic phosphorus (essential for the skeleton and central nervous system) and inositol (essential for construction of cell membranes). The inositol content of spirulina is eight times that of beef and several hundred times that of vegetables. But that’s not all, Spirulina contains equally impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Words: Tom Gordon
ifty times more iron than spinach, ten times as much calcium as milk and twice the protein of raw beef, spirulina might just be the most complete food source ever discovered. A blue-green algae, spirulina exhibits extraordinary nutritional characteristics, and with it, extraordinary claims from those who grow and market it. Spirulina has been labelled a ‘cure-all’, a silver bullet for both the under and over-fed. Imagine a food that not only nourishes the body, but also helps to banish the lethargy of the common cold, prevent the irritating sniffles and sneezes of allergies and even offers protection against cancer and HIV. Is it all too good to be true?
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all rich in vitamins and minerals, precisely the food stuffs that are being pushed to the fringes of the ‘Westernised diet’. Deficiencies in Vitamins A, D and B12, as well as iron, zinc and potassium are now commonplace. Spirulina is without equal as an alternative source of these ‘micronutrients’. Spirulina contains around 1000 mg of beta-carotene per kilo. Betacarotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body, which is vital to maintaining good vision. Adults require less than 1 mg a day, so 1-2 grams of spirulina would easily be sufficient to cover the need. Because the beta-carotene content of spirulina was found to be so impressive, the Indian government decided to conduct a study on 5000 Indian children. After a daily dosage of 1 gram for five months, rates of Vitamin A deficiency plummeted from 80% to less than 10%. Pregnant women with HIV are also much more likely to pass the disease to their child if they have a Vitamin A deficiency. Spirulina might see use as a preventative measure. A deficiency in iron (anaemia) is also commonplace amongst adults and children. Finding good sources
of iron is becoming increasingly rare. Spinach is iron-rich (4 mg/kg), but this is paltry compared to the content in spirulina (200 mg/kg).
SO SHOULD WE ALL BE TAKING SPIRULINA?
FACT: Due to the fact that dietary supplements are classified as food not drugs, they do not need to be approved by the FDA and are unregulated
Spirulina is a remarkable compound, the definitive allrounder. In virtually every sector, spirulina competes with, or outperforms, foods that have long
IN ORDER TO RELY ON SPIRULINA, YOU’D HAVE TO CONSUME UP TO A KILO A DAY. been regarded as exceptionally nutritious. That being said, there are conditions to mention before we all jump on the bandwagon. The effects of nutritional supplements on the body are often poorly studied. A typical diet may easily include twenty different foodstuffs, so it is very difficult to hold one supplement (spirulina, for example), responsible for any physiological changes a researcher might observe. In order to completely rely on spirulina, you’d have to be consuming up to a kilo a day. Spirulina isn’t particularly tasty so I wouldn’t wish this fate on anyone. Nevertheless, as a ‘diet booster’, there really is no single food that can compare.
FAKE FOOD Silicon Valley tech firms have been trying to create vegan meats and eggs, with plant proteins and over 23 million dollars of backing from investors. Named as ‘one of three companies shaping the future of our food’ by Bill Gates, Hampton Creek foods has just brought out its first vegan mayo. This follows the completion of the lab-grown ‘beef’ burger project in August, funded by Sergey Brin.
INNOVATION THE NIKE VAPER LASER TALON Last February, Nike released its first 3-D printed football cleat. The VLT was designed to increase the acceleration of already highly engineered athletes by preventing microslippage. There was just one problem. The VLT was only designed for straight-line speed, which is fine for the 40-yard sprint in American Football, but Nike wanted a football cleat that could be worn by the whole team. So, using the same principles, Nike made a few tweaks to the VLT and unveiled the new Vapor Carbon Elite at SuperBowl 48
3D printing has been around since 1983, however they have only become commercially available in recent years. New, printable materials are constantly popping up such as chocolate, metals and even live cells. In January, Stratasys unveiled the world’s first multi-colour and multi-material 3D printer. Here is a list of our top 10 crazy innovations:
BODY PARTS A Chinese scientist printed living kidneys that lived up to four months. Other organs that have been printed by scientists around America are ears, blood vessels, skin grafts and bones. Low-cost prosthetic limbs for amputees have also been made successfully.
HOUSES Giant 3D printers that glide along rails and spew concrete. This technology, known as Contour Crafting, may allow houses to be built in under 24 hours.
TRANSPORT a. Urbee 2 is a car that looks a bit like an orange jellybean and consists mainly of 3D printed parts. b. BAE Systems, defence company, has used 3D printed metal parts for its RAF Tornado fighter jets.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
3D PRINTER RepRap is an open source printer which you can print yourself and create a loop of printers printing themselves!
MODELS OF STUFF a. With the help of a 3D printed heart that was 2x its original size, surgeons completed heart surgery on a 14-month old infant with multiple heart defects. A template of the heart was created using images from a CT scan and cost just $600. The result was a 3D-printed model that was almost 2x times bigger in size, which allowed doctors to better prepare for his surgery. Because the heart must be stopped during surgery, timing is crucial. b. 3D parts for facial reconstruction have been printed for a patient whose face was crushed in a motorbike accident. The tailor-made implants and guides are being printed with medical-grade titanium in Belgium and were designed using a CT scan, which created a mirror image of the unaffected side of the patient’s face. c. A mini, plastic, colour version of you
CUSTOM FIT PACEMAKERS The sensors and electrodes can monitor someone’s heart and deliver electrical impulses to keep the heart beating, even during a heart attack.
CLOTHES, JEWELLERY AND ACCESSORIES Dita Von Teese wore the first custom made 3D printed gown, based on the Fibonacci sequence and designed by Michael Schmidt and Francs Bitoni.
INSTRUMENTS So far, a working guitar, violin and flute have been printed. They don’t sound as good as their traditional counterparts but they’re working on that...
DINNER a. You can already get 3D food printers for chocolate, but later this year, 3D printers that can make ravioli and candy will come to market b. Self-cleaning cellulose-coated table ware means they won’t need chemicals or water to keep clean
GUN 26 year-old Cody Wilson developed a functional 3D printed gun that can fire bullets capable of piercing internal organs.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
THERE ARE NO TRAFFIC JAMS ALONG THE EXTRA MILE. â€“ ROGER STAUBACH
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Educational science, technology, design magazine for teenagers.