Paws for Thought: Panda Pregnancy is a Tricky Business

Why is it so hard to get a panda pregnant? As many of us were saddened to find, Edinburgh Zoo’s own panda Tian Tian was confirmed not pregnant after briefly showing signs early this September. It is thought that the foetus may have been reabsorbed despite being expected to develop to full term, and offers … More


Fungal Killer vs. Bacterial Champion: The Battle for Kermit’s Life

There is a killer out there, and its name is Chytrid… Well, actually it is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). The spores of this aquatic fungus get under the skin, causing it to ulcerate and slough off abnormally, and it won’t be long before the eyes, muscles and skin start haemorrhaging. Pathogenic bacteria will soon colonise these … More


Differences in Gene Regulation Between Mice and Humans

Mammalians have around 25,000 genes, but only 62% of the human genome is transcribed in one or more cell types . Considering this, it’s possible to understand that the performance of a cell is not only determined by its gene set, but rather by which genes are active, which is highly variable among cells. All … More


Peering into the Brain of Adolescent Suicide Victims

Despite the fact that adolescent suicide is a major public health issue, research which investigates its possible neurobiological causes is still sparse. However, so far, researchers have found some intriguing differences in the brain chemistry of adolescent suicide victims, compared to adult suicide victims. How would you determine whether adolescent suicide victims have abnormal brain … More


Using Circulating Tumour Cells to Personalise Cancer Treatment

Rapid technological advances within the past decade now allow the isolation and analysis of individual tumour cells circulating in the blood stream of cancer patients. We are beginning to realise the potential of these cells, which carry the hallmarks of the patient’s tumour, in developing personalised treatments with the possibility of avoiding invasive biopsies. Tumours … More


Breaking the Chemist’s Back

As many of you will know, the definition of a chemist is “a scientist trained in the field of chemistry who studies both the properties and composition of chemicals and who studies the way that chemicals interact with other chemicals.” Contrary to what a hit American TV show (you know the one) would like you … More


A Quantum Conundrum

How secure do you feel on the internet? Like you’re dangling from a dangerously high precipice by the straps of your dungarees, while some piece of malevolent code holds scissors to the straps? Or perhaps like you’re curled up, warm and snug, under a blanket of encryption beside a crackling fire. For most of us, … More


And the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to…

Congratulations to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser on being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of the brain’s navigation system. How does our brain create maps of our environment to generate our orientation? John O’Keefe and May-Britt and Edvard Moser were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine … More


Molehills to Mountains: The Problems of Scaling Up Chemistry

This snippet is (kind of) a sequel to The Disconnection Approach. Excellent news! The new drug that you (the pharmaceutical company) have painstakingly screened, synthesised, purified and tested in clinical trials has proven to be (more) effective (than placebo) in treating the desired disease, and has minimal side effects for patients. Bonus points if it … More


The Eyes Have It

Evolution has undeniably given us many gifts with which to conquer the world – legs fit for running away from danger, opposable thumbs for making and using tools, eyes to perceive our environments and clever brains to make sense of those perceived images – and it’s been a lengthy process in each case. Think about … More


Magpies Don’t Favour Shiny Objects

Magpies like to steal shiny, metallic objects to make their nests, right? That’s how the age-old story goes. Rossini even penned an opera on the subject. The birds, part of the crow family, are often celebrated for their intelligence. Magpies are capable of storing food over winter and remembering its location, even remembering which other … More


Quantum Pigeonholes

Here’s a simple idea: You have three pigeons and only two pigeonholes. If you put the pigeons in the pigeonholes you’ll end up with at least one hole that contains two pigeons. Right? Now let’s consider quantum particles. What if you have three quantum particles and two boxes and you try the same thing? Well, … More