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Samantha Rolfe: Astronomy and Astrobiology


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Gut: A Review

Book Review

It is my gut feeling that few of us think that our gut feeling is as important as what our heads or hearts feel. Classically they conflict, we should follow our heads or our hearts, but you really really should trust your gut.

Giulia Enders weaves a funny and informative narrative about all things to do with our largest organ, I must insist you STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, go buy this book…

Available at your local, independent or commercial bookshop or online various, including: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ 

… AND READ IT STRAIGHT AWAY.

Now that you’ve read it, I don’t need to review it and I am sure you will agree that you have learned more about your body in those ~250 pages than you have since school.

In case you didn’t read it (why not?! I thought the above prose was pretty damn convincing), I will put down a few things here that I hope will make you want to read it.

Firstly, this book is so easy to read, it is a joy to learn about how you should be pooing (yes, you’ve been doing it wrong all these years), about how your gut thinks independently of your brain and the illustrations are just so quaint, yet highly informative!

Secondly, despite having a gut feeling for millennia, it is literally in the past decade (and even then, barely that long) that science is finally waking up to the idea that our gut actually has something to say and we should be damn well listening!

Only someone as passionate about poo as Giulia can make you give a shit about yours.

Did you know that babies in the womb are totally sterile!? As soon as they enter the birth canal or are born by caesarean section, they start acquiring the microbes that will shape their gut flora for the rest of their lives.

There is a brain/gut link, though the gut can do it’s own thinking, sometimes it has to demand that the brain listen (and vice versa). This includes times of stress (and hence, stress-related gut pains/stomach ulcers/constipation etc…), otherwise the gut just gets on with things without us realising as it is made of unconsciously controlled ‘smooth muscle’.

Furthermore, our gut flora (the many billions, trillions? of microbes that live in our gut and on average contribute 2 kg to our overall weight) can also affect our mood, with links to depression and anxiety. Simply (not simply) – happy gut, happy brain – the link between the gut, diet (and hygiene, i.e. contact with bad bacteria), and hence our gut flora, and depression is becoming clearer with each new study.

A healthy gut flora (good bacteria) leaves less and less room for any bad bacteria that we may encounter to latch on and make us feel unwell.

How’s your poo looking? Check out the Bristol Stool Scale to check how you are doing. For info on how to achieve the perfect poo, get this book!

Tend to your gut garden and introduce good flora such as Lactobacillus acidophilusLactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei Shirota by eating natural yogurts or yogurt drinks that contain live cultures. (A favourite breakfast of mine: cornflakes/muesli (~15g), flaked almonds and/or seed mix (~10g) and natural yogurt (~100g) with a sprinkle of cinnamon (total: ~225 kcal).)

Ever wondered why being unwell can be made so much worse by an unfortunate “shart”? Or why long distance runners “shouldn’t trust a fart after X miles of running”? I’ll let Giulia explain at her award winning Science Slam talk, where only someone as passionate about poo as her can make you give a shit about yours. Get talking about your gut and you’ll realise that “the anus [and this review] is only the tip of the iceberg”.

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West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 23/03/2015 – Scientist of the Month – Stephen Kuffler

Professor Stephen Kuffler (1913 – 1980)

A Hungarian-American, regarded as the Father of Modern Neuroscience.

  • He gave lectures and influenced the research at the University of Sydney.
  • Founded the Harvard Neurobiology department in 1966.
  • Made contributions to our understanding of vision and neural coding.
  • Known for research on neuromuscular junctions in frogs and presynaptic inhibition.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Kuffler


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West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 23/03/2015 – News – Differences isolated for the first time between autistic and non-autistic brains

Differences isolated for the first time between autistic and non-autistic brains

Following the development of a new method for analysis MRI scans of the brain, scientists in the Dept. of Computer Science at the University of Warwick have been able to create an accurate 3D model of the brain.

Over a billion individual pieces of data were analysed covering the 47, 636 areas of the brain, called voxels. This data originated from 523 people with autism and 452 people without autism.

The researchers isolated 20 areas of difference where the connections between the voxels in the autistic brain were stronger or weaker than the non‑autistic.

The areas related to face expression processing involved in social behaviour and another in spatial functions, which the researchers propose are linked to the computations involved in theory of mind of oneself or of others and a reduced connectivity in these regions may be contributing to the symptoms of autism.

This methodology may be able to isolate similar areas in people that have other cognitive problems including obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150320091311.htm


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West Herts Drive Time Science Correspondent 23/03/2015 – News – Improvements to cancer drug

Improvements to cancer drug

By addition of a chemical called Sodium Formate derived from formic acid, which is found in stinging nettles and ants (among other natural organisms), to a cancer drug called JS07, the drug is approximately 50 times more effective.

A group of researchers based at the University of Warwick lead by Prof. Peter Sadler, found that the compound more often used as a food preservative helped to disrupt the cancer cell’s energy generating mechanism forcing the cell to shut down.

The research was carried out on human ovarian cancer cells. The effective addition of Sodium Formate would allow the dose of the JS07 drug required to target cancer cells to be reduced – resulting in a reduced toxicity and potential side effects. Furthermore, while the Sodium Formate is used up in the interaction with the cell’s energy generation mechanism, remaining molecules of JS07 can be introduced to a new supply of Sodium Formate and become potent again.

It is hoped that research like this could lead to substantial improvements in cancer survival rates.

Sources: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150320/ncomms7582/pdf/ncomms7582.pdf

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150320/ncomms7582/full/ncomms7582.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150320091309.htm