Seasons Greetings everybody!!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Why? Because it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Okay I will stop now haha however I could go on for a very very long time with this.

Planet Earth has now officially finished, which I am devastated about but all things must come to an end. David Attenborough as well as his truly dedicated research team managed to transport us straight to some of the most dramatic events Nature offers against breathtaking backgrounds, so a huge THANKS to the team that brought us close to Planet Earth again. Hopefully we will see it again in another four years!

On today’s post I have taken inspiration on an element from the Planet Earth series. Animal fights. This calls to mind the colossal fight between the two giant dragons from the Islands episode and so many more - but we are looking into something in particular… what makes a champion in the animal world? How do individuals win fights? As in all things within nature it is not a clear cut answer, however there are several factors that greatly influence the winner once a fight starts.

Size matters:

The scene was set. We were taken to an island were the biggest predator was the largest lizard on the planet. The great Komodo Dragon. What triggered the fight? Mating rights. Two rivaling males battling it out for access to female in heat. Before entering a fight and risking injury or death the two males assess each other's fighting potential using body size as an indicator. However, when both are equally matched a contest is inevitable.

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In Asian elephants physical size was found to be a significant factor on the success of the fighting outcome. Those that were physically bigger are more likely to win contests.
Greetings everybody

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of posts and let me assure you I had every intention to keep to that weekly post of Planet Earth 2 highlights. However, I have recently received a call from a publishing company interested in publishing my final year dissertation in a book form! Only issue is my original document was 25 pages long they require a minimum of 42 pages. 

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Needless to say, all hours of the day have been spent working on this dissertation in order to send it of to them and start on the next step. 
Greetings everybody

Planet Earth 2 has managed to shock its viewers with even more ground breaking and astonishing footage of the natural world! Then again did we ever doubt? For the next 5 or so weeks my weekly posts are going to show my own personal highlights from each episode. Expect a little more information into some of the species featured in each of David Attenborough's Planet Earth 2 episodes... Its going to be awesome. Also, post day will change from a Friday and be a Tuesday instead (just for you Planet Earth 2)!

For this week, I am focusing on those of you out there who have not watched it and showing you some captured images from the episode. 

You missed...

Dragon Turf Wars: Two equally sized Komodo Dragons battle it out for ultimate mating rates to a nearby lady dragon. 

If you thought that Emperor Penguins had it hard living in Arctic conditions you have never seen the Chinstrap penguin. My heart went out to these little guys, battling some of the stormiest waters on a daily basis just to feed their own chicks, their bodies thrown against rocks. Sadly the reality is not all survive and those that do can come back with some horrific injuries. 

Ultimate race of a lifetime played out between marine iguana hatchlings and racer snakes. This was footage that you had to see to believe! This little baby marine iguanas trying to make it to the safety of the sea with a a legion of racer snakes hunting them! Do they make it? You need to watch!

Guys it is still available of BBC iPlayer! You are heading off into the weekend watch it tonight or tomorrow but make sure you do not miss this weeks episode on BBC Sunday at 8pm! It looks amazing with rare footage of snow leopards. 

Over and out!

Greetings everybody, 

It's Monday which means it's not everybody's favourite day of the week but I read something recently that said reading a scientific blog post on a Monday increases individual productivity by up to 30%! 

Am I lying about that figure... yes, yes I am. Let's get to the point though shall we, today we are looking on the stranger side of nature, today we learn about how a parasite can manipulate the mind of its host. 

Introducing Toxoplasma Gondii

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This single-celled intracellular protozoan has the capability of infecting all mammals and even birds and leads to the onset of toxoplasmosis. The disease caused by this pathogen, Toxoplasmosis, is of serious medical, veterinary and economic importance. The Centre for Disease Control recognises Toxoplasma Gondii and the disease it causes to be a Neglected Parasite Infection and as such is targeted by the  CDC for public health action. 

Parasitic lifestyles are always a bit complicated... 

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Gametes (the sex cells) of the parasite meet on the inside of a predator (usually a cat) gut and fuse together to form an oocyte. 
The oocytes that carry the infectious agents are shed in the cat's faeces. Changing of the cat litter and failing to wash hands could lead to humans ingesting the parasite themselves, and in pregnant women could lead to vertical transmission from mother to baby. Alternatively, the oocytes could work their way up the food chain and contaminated drink or undercooked meat could lead to people getting infected also. 

The "Fatal Attraction Phenomenon"

The most interesting route of transmission, however, comes when a mice becomes infected with the oocyte itself. The effects of the parasite on mice are unique in that this pathogen invades the brain of the mice and removes the fear of cats. This manipulation can partly be explained by the manipulation hypothesis. It states that parasites altering the behaviour of its host for the continued existence of the parasite, often by intensifying its chances for successful transmission.  

If you're still wondering why this parasite removes the inbuilt fear of cats in mice allow me to explain further. Toxoplasma gondii is able to infect a wide range of mammals and birds. However, cats are the only mammals known to shed the parasites oocytes in their faeces, as their gut offers the perfect environment to complete their life cycle, making cats the ultimate endgame. 

Interestingly, rodents are not only absent of all fear to cats but have been shown to be drawn towards the smell of a cat's urine! How does this "fatal attraction phenomenon" work? Toxoplasma gondii may have an anxiolytic effect on rodents infected by it. It has been shown in past studies that by blocking key receptors that are usually anxiogenic it allowed rats to feel a sense of reduced anxiety in situations where predator threat was high.  This increases the chances of the parasite landing exactly where it wants to be, in the gut of a cat, by causing the mouse to be eaten! 

Are you a man, a mouse, or a mouse infected with Toxoplasma gondii....

Well, that brings us to the end of this magically parasitic post. Some would argue that manipulation of the host's mind was an evolutionary inevitability in cases such as Toxoplasma gondii. Either way, I thought it was an awesome case study of a not so classic parasitic relationship. Let's face it we all know the most common parasitic relationship, the one of a child (the parasite) and its parent's bank account (the host)! 

Have an awesome week guys, 
Over and out. 
Greetings everybody

WWF's Living Planet Report 2016 was published last week. Media outlets have made it their mission to deliver the news of an 'impending sixth mass extinction all of our own making'. My issue with this is that it is not news. This has been a long thing coming. 
Today's post is aimed to give you a bit of perspective on this entire sixth mass extinction and more importantly WWF's Living Planet Report.

WWF's Global Living Planet Index 2016 remains to be largely unchanged since the 2014 report

WWF's Global Living Planet Index is used as a bioindicator to assess whether the world are all on course to achieve the 2020 Biodiversity targets. The Living Planet Index (LPI) is not a measurement to be taken lightly, it represents data collected on populations of over a thousand different vertebrate species and uses this number to illustrate the level of biodiversity abundance.

WWF's Living Planet Report 2014 reported a decline in LPI by 52% between the years of 1970-2010 

This Years Report showed an increase in the LPI to 58% between 1970-2012

Overall message: The world's vertebrate populations have declined by more than 50% in the space of just 40 years

The threats to our world's biodiversity hasn't changed!

In both reports from 2014- 2016 the same threats have reared their heads as the prime drivers behind our world's large-scale biodiversity loss. The image below is taken out from the 2016 Living Report.  

WWF Living Planet Report 2016 - Threat to Biodiversity

LPI's for all environments are still in a state of decline.

Terrestrial LPI:

Terrestrial vertebrate populations have reduced by 39%. Take a look at what are the main threats driving these populations to decline. 

Living Planet Report 2016 - Terrestrial LPI
For Terrestrial populations, it is clear that habitat loss and degradation is a threat shared by many. In the case of reptiles and amphibians, a combination of habitat loss alongside Invasive species and disease are causes for concern. 

Outside of the graphs and the LPI measurements WWF's report has a number of case studies from the frontline of conservation to place perspective in the land of numbers. One of the case studies focused on a population of  African elephants  located in Selous-Mikumi reserve in Tanzania. This happens to be one of the largest reserves of fauna and yet the proportion of illegally killed elephants (PIKE) is still too high to be sustainable. In 2009, the elephant population was 44,806. In  2014 it is down to 15,217
I know another graph but this one is nice and easy to get lots of information from! Courtesy of WWF 2016 Living Planet Report
Freshwater LPI:

Of all the vertebrate populations included in the report, those in the most amount of trouble are the freshwater vertebrates. In 2014 freshwater populations had experienced a 76% decline in numbers between 1970-2010. Recent updates on this data show that 81% of freshwater populations have been reported lost. 

Below shows the main drivers behind the large scale loss of abundance in freshwater vertebrates. 

Habitat loss and degradation appear again as a key driver behind the decline of not only terrestrial vertebrates but for vertebrates that live in freshwater as well. Overexploitation is a close running second for Birds, Mammals, Reptiles and Fish. 

Marine LPI

Vertebrate marine populations have decreased by 56% between 1970- 2010.

Overexploitation is one of the biggest threats facing marine fish, reptile, and mammal populations. Bycatch, incidental killing as well as targeted trade are all examples of overexploitation. Habitat degradation and loss playing a close second for some. 

Tropical LPI:

Tropical vertebrate populations contain some of the most charismatic and well-loved species. These are the exact same species that attract us towards many of  the best nature programs out there! int he 2014 report these species have suffered a decline by 56%.

2016 WWF Living Planet Report shines a light on ecosystems not previously mentioned before.

Check out the 2016 WWF Living Planet Report to see how Coral Reefs, Grasslands, and Rivers are affected and why the vertebrate populations residing in these areas are decreasing also. 

Lastly. The Sixth Mass Extinction is not new it has been known for a long long time! 

Just to show you guys just how much scientists have researched into this event I used the Google Scholar: 

I started off by just typing in the sixth mass extinction. In 0.04 seconds google returned with 80,700 results. The first result had been cited in other papers 1137 times!

I decided to narrow down the window.  I wanted to find out how many papers had been published in the space of 2 years from the WWF's last Living Report in 2014. In a matter of 0.05 seconds, my search gave me 12,800 results between 2014-2016 with some of them even mentioning the era of the Anthropocene.

What now?

The whole point of this post today was to emphasize just how repetitive it is all becoming. It feels a lot like it is the same story in a new format. We need to focus on what we know based on what we have: 

  • Our Biodiversity is declining at an accelerated rate
  • If this continues then the mass extinction is no longer a question of if it is a matter of when. 

These cold hard truths are uncomfortable to hear for many people and as such, they say they are dealing with it by getting scientists to gather more data to improve our statistics. This is so wrong! We have been using this strategy for years and even in the wake of better data the end message of this year's report is... crap the world's biodiversity is in trouble!  
In another two years, WWF will release another Living Planet Report, it will have the same information give or take a few percentages if we continue to sit on our buts and tweak with datasets. If we want to change the fate of our world it is relatively simple. We need to use the social media to apply pressure to the world's politics and to drive change. 

WWF Living Planet report 2014: click here
WWF Living Planet Report 2016: click here

There was a real call to action theme running through this post, but the power really is with the people! 

Over and out 

(P.S I am announcing some really cool news very very soon!)

Greetings everybody, 

So this is a bit strange... Instead of giving you a dosage of science to see you into the weekend I am delivering a bit of science at the beginning of the week! Last week was crazy busy, applying onto graduate schemes, tutoring, and temping as a practice secretary... so I was a little bit short on time. Enough with what I was doing let's dive straight into Monday Facts. 

The dark side of cancer immunotherapy will be a featured post possibly next week in case you wanted to know a little more about this treatment. In the meantime have an amazing week  to all of you guys and will catch you in a short while!

Over and Out
Greetings everybody

Happy Friday to all of you lovely readers. This week we are focusing on Tuberculosis.

What is Tuberculosis? 

Quick dip into history! Tuberculosis has been following humans closely throughout their history, signs of infection have been found in mummies. 

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Tuberculosis is a communicable respiratory disease (infectious) caused by a bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis manifests itself in many different species, as such not all forms are caused by that one bacteria. M. tuberculosis is the strain commonly associated with disease in humans, however, it's part of a larger group known as the Mycobacterium. tuberculosis complex
This complex includes the following tuberculosis-causing species: 
  • Mycobacterium bovis - clue in the name. This strain mainly affects bovines but can be transmitted to mammalian hosts - like us. 
  • Mycobacterium africanum - main culprit for tuberculosis transmission in West Africa. 
  • Mycobacterium microti - Infects small rodents primarily
  • Mycobacterium pinnipedii - Infects seals
  • Mycobacterium caprae - this species is thought to be able to infect animals including humans. 

All species included in the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex are classed as obligate pathogens. An obligate pathogen must become active inside the host for it to become infectious and ensure successful transmission from one host to the next. 
Why is tuberculosis such a worrying threat to global health? As we have seen, it is widespread amongst a variety of species. Some of the species involved in the M. tuberculosis complex are able to cross the species barrier separating animal health from human health. 


Size matters:
The individual bacterial agents (M. tuberculosisinvolved in the transmission of this disease are very small in size. An infected individual will sneeze or cough releasing these infectious agents, their size allows for them to remain in the air for a length of time spanning from minutes to hours. Inhalation of just one M. tuberculosis will lead to the host (human or animal) becoming infected with Tuberculosis. Once again the size of this bacteria allows it to migrate from our airways to the terminal structure of our respiratory system - the alveoli. 

Perfect storm for tuberculosis transmission: 
M. tuberculosis has many mechanisms that aid its virulence found inside the bacterial genes. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are becoming resistant to many of the drugs on the market to treat it. For more on drug resistance and why it matters click here 
Once activated M. tuberculosis triggers many symptoms that can remain mild for many months such as a cough, fever, and weight loss. This allows for the infected individual to infect others, and average 10-15 people can get infected in this way. Tuberculosis has made use of our globalized world to aid its success in transmission. Population expansion, overcrowding and the unregulated movement of people has allowed Tuberculosis to affect all four corners of the world.

Tracking the stages of this disease: 

  1. M. tuberculosis bacteria is engulfed by alveolar macrophages (an immune cell) when the bacteria arrives in the lungs. Once engulfed macrophages produce chemical distress signals (chemokines and cytokines) to recruit other immune cells to the site of infection. 
  2. Inside the macrophage, the bacteria begin replicating exponentially. They block the cell activating bactericidal mechanisms (processes that would lead to the extermination of the bacteria). Eventually, the bacteria cause the premature unprogrammed death of the macrophage known as necrosis
  3. Released bacteria are then taken in by other macrophages responding to the distress signals. The process continues causing growth in necrosis tissue. 
  4. It is 2-4 weeks after the initial infection when T cells (the bodies biggest and badest immune cells) are primed, prepped and ready to target the Mycobacterium 
  5. These cells stop disease progression by halting bacterial replication. A combination of T lymphocytes, macrophages, and other immune cells form a wall around the site of infection (necrosis tissue and infected macrophages) 
  6. The formation of this granuloma leads to the containment of the disease in 90% of infected individuals and halts the progression. 

The threat of Latent TB: 

We know the outcome for 90% of individuals affected by Tuberculosis, what about the remaining 10%? 
M. tuberculosis has one last trick up its sleeve. The bacteria retains the ability to resuscitate itself and become active all over again. 
Whilst most of the bacteria are killed in the granulomas, some manage to block the mechanisms that will lead to their destruction such as: 
  • Preventing the fusion of phagosomes (these are air bubbles like vesicles filled with bacteria inside macrophages) with lysosomes (vesicles containing digestive enzymes that break down bacteria). 
  • Preventing antigen presentation by MHC class 1, Class 2, and CD1 molecules. By preventing this it makes it impossible for our immune system to launch an attack because it doesn't know the target! 
  • Prevents immune cells creating an inhospitable environment. 
Blocking these mechanisms allow the bacteria to enter a dormant/latent state and remain in our alveoli without detection. 
Latent Tuberculosis shows its true insidious nature during this phase.  Bacteria will continue to remain dormant waiting until our bodies immune system becomes weakened by another type of infection (e.g. HIV). Stimulated by the weakened immune system Tuberculosis is activated, allowing for the continued replication as well as disseminating throughout the body.  

Deadly dynamic duo a phrase not saved for superheroes: 
HIV and Tuberculosis are perfect bed buddies. HIV decimates the immune systems of those infected. In its absence,   M. tuberculosis ceases the opportunity and starts its path of destruction all over again
Check out the map below showing the prevalence of individuals infected with both TB and HIV!

Tuberculosis is a threat as a cause of multiple factors; its size, ability to disseminate around the body, route of transmission, growing antibiotic resistance, the threat of latent infections. WHO estimates that a third of the world's population may suffer from latent TB- a ticking time bomb. In the year of 2014 Tuberculosis killed 1.5 million people and was responsible for 1/3 HIV deaths. We have no idea if or when latent Tuberculosis will be activated, there was a case where a man had fallen ill to Tuberculosis that had remained dormant for 30 years (it was gained by his father). 

That was your biology fix for this weekend guys, as always I want to know what you guys thought. Did you find this interesting and if you guys want any diseases looked into any greater detail leave a comment down below!

Over and out! 

NOTIFICATION: I will be changing the name of the blog in the month of December! Please keep up to date with the change in name as I value every one of you as readers. 
Greetings  everybody!

It is Friday! I am so crazy happy about this and so for this week have a look at some of these Friday Facts. 

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That was Friday Facts for this week guys! I do have a major announcement to make... But that is for another time guys have an amazing weekend as always. 
I will see you all next Friday. 

Over and out
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Greetings everybody

Hope you have all had an amazing week. It is time for that lovely fix of science you get from me on Friday! This week is all about looking into the world's antibiotic resistance crisis; What is it? Why should we care? And how we have reached a crisis point?. Let's launch into it then.

What is antimicrobial resistance and why should we care about it? 

WHO (World Health Organisation) defines antimicrobial resistance as the change seen in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites once exposed to antimicrobial drugs. Antimicrobial resistance carries the potential of plunging the world back into the dark ages of the pre-antibiotic era. What does this mean for me, you, your family and friends? Bad news. If we are unable to keep up with constantly changing microorganisms as they continue to accumulate resistance to antibiotics, deaths from the common cold and flu would rise and once simple and curable bacterial infections will lead to hospitalisation.

Let's talk money for a moment:

An independent report was published releasing the results of the impact Antimicrobial resistance would have on our future economy. I have extracted the main results from the report to read the full report click here.

They calculated the costs based on two inevitabilities in a world where antimicrobial resistance is common:

Increased mortality - deaths directly caused by the resistance of microorganisms would greatly reduce the size of the working-age population.

Increased morbidity -  these were characterised as being prolonged periods of time taken off work due to sickness. In the short-term, this would cause a temporary reduction in the workforce and in severe cases lead to a long term loss in team productivity.

It was estimated that by the year 2050 the world economy would have lost a whopping $2.1 trillion if the levels of resistance remain low. However, if this problem is not handled and resistance increases globally, the loss could peak at $124.5 trillion. If those numbers were not enough to highlight the effect this biological crisis has on the world, it is important to note that they are an underestimate. The report only considered two aspects of the economies challenges, the cost of healthcare (longer stays and an increased demand for intensive care) as well as funding to manufacture new antibiotics were not factored into the analysis.  A number not yet totalled but based on the underestimate... it's a cost best to keep as minimal as possible.

How did we get to this crisis point? 

Antimicrobial resistance is a story that stretches all the way back to the very first microorganisms. Chemical warfare has been a strategy used against rivalling microorganisms in competition for resources for centuries. Ever since the first weapon was used against another, microorganisms had to learn how to evade or neutralise those threats. Those chemicals used by one microorganism to disadvantage another or completely destroy it gave us the inspiration for many antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals on the market today. This widespread exposure of microorganisms to antimicrobials has led to accelerated development of resistance because we have placed the pressure on them to do so. In simple terms, the microbes must 'adapt' or 'perish'. Survival of the fittest. 

Since then, it has been an arms race between humanity's innovation of antimicrobials and the microorganisms ability to acquire resistance to it. If you are a betting person you would not like the 'odds' take a look at the image below showing the number of antibiotics released over the years. 

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In the picture below, a scientist is holding up two Petrii dishes. If you observe them closely you will notice that on each petri dish there are small white circles. Each one of those is a small paper disc dipped in a different antibiotic, the aim is to grow a certain type of bacterium on the plate and see how effective each antibiotic is at killing the bacteria.  The first petri dish shows you that the anitbiotics are effective at killing the bacterium (observe the zone surrounding each circle that is completly clear of any bacteria). Compare this to the second petri dish, the antibiotics are largely ineffective in killing of the bacteria - sadly this is the situation we are heading towards. 

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The overuse and misuse of current antibiotics:

Lack of new innovative drugs is not the only factor playing into the accelerated growth of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms. Some of the blame falls on individuals within the public. Every time a doctor has prescribed you a course of antibiotics to help you with some form of bacterial infection, you begin taking it religiously out of desperation to feel better. As the symptoms begin to subside you start missing a dosage or two or perhaps, you skip the last day completely. This could leave the last few remaining bacterium behind and these guys are placed under a selective pressure 'adapt resistance' or 'die in the next dosage'. If you were a bacterium which would you pick? Below is an image showing just a few ways become resistant to antibiotics. 

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Antibiotic misuse relates to the scenario where a doctor gives you antibiotics for some form of infection that is so mild, that the body should be left to fight it on its own. For resistance to happen microorganisms must be in contact with some form of an antibiotic. In the case of giving antibiotics for a mild bacterial infection, you  may think what is the real harm. If it becomes resistant then the body will overcome it anyway, right? You would be correct. There would be no worry if the mild infecting bacterium kept the code of resistance to itself. The nasty thing about bacteria is that they like to share these codes for resistance with each other. Suddenly a more severely infecting bacterium has the code to resistance to multiple different drugs that it itself has never come in contact with. 

These are reasons that many have heard before and you will hear more and more as this issue becomes more and more public. I went in search for the lesser known ways of how we got to where we are today. 

The real monster lurking in our sewers:

Antibacterial products discarded into the sewage from our own communities and even hospitals   all collect to form the perfect reservoir for antibiotic resistance to cultivate. This hotspot of antibiotics, pollutants, detergents, and disinfectants creates such a hostile living environment that it truly drives the incentive of each bacterium to develop resistance to multiple chemicals designed to kill them. 

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There are many ways that resistant microorganisms can be transferred onto us. Take a look at the image below to check out a few more. 

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21st Century Problem in need of a Solution... 

We could panic after this post. You would be well within your right but as I have been told by one of my students I am incredibly optimistic. It will be a tough battle to fight, one of the greatest in our history perhaps due to it global impact on both our health as well as our economies. Microorganisms have had to adapt under increased exposure to antimicrobials. I believe that 'Necessity is the mother of invention' as such in the face of an enemy we will overcome it. We are left with two choices 'Adapt' or 'Die'. Which do you choose? 

Over and Out 
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