Greetings everybody,

We are about mid way through the exam season for many students! Keep on going everyone you are doing great. For those of you who have academia behind you... hope you have had a great week. On the 23rd May 2016 the very foundations of healthy dieting were blown apart in light of a new report. The report published by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration has damned the current 'low fat and high carb diets', calling for people to carry out a 'high fat and low carb diet' instead. Where has this change come from? Is this the next biggest diet that we should follow? With diets being plentiful in developed countries such as the UK and more in the pipeline it is important to identify the ones that will give us the results that we want. Especially in time for summer so we are going to look a little more into the study published. 
Image Source
The TV programme aired on Channel 4 'You Are What You Eat' hosted by Gillian McKeith, are just one of many driving forces behind making fat dieting enemy number 1. The report highlights the widespread availability of low fat options for almost every food product, yet obesity is still on the rise in the UK. According to the report "low fat diets [are] failing to address growing obesity in the UK". As a cause of the continued demonisation of fats in the media it has brought about catastrophic consequences for public health. 
This report challenges the public to question the dietary path of eliminating fats. For the blog I picked out a few points in the report and some online articles commenting on this report that I found interesting.  
Return to the Wholefoods! 

Image Source
What are whole foods? Well by definition these include food that have received little process and are free from preservatives and additives! This means that food carrying the words 'low fat' or 'lite' should be actively avoided due to the intense levels of processing in their production. Instead, we should increase the consumption of healthy fatty foods such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts and high quality dairy products. 
Quit counting your calories!

For those individuals out there braving the 5:2 diet and totally conquering it then you know that this would be impossible for you guys. The 5:2 diet is a fasting diet, whereby 2 days a week you commit to eating a maximum total amount of 500 calories. The remaining 5 is for you to go crazy... well eat the recommended calorie intake. Calorie counting is essential for the maintenance of such a diet, does this mean that fasting diets should be kicked to the curb? Surprisingly this statement does not come back with a lot of evidence as to why we should stop looking at calories... So 5:2 dieters continue on! 
Eating fat does not make you fat: 

I agree to a certain extent that the demonisation of fats has gone a bit out of control. Some of the vitamins essential for healthy growth were found to be fat soluble, without the presence of fats in our diet these vitamins would not be absorbed. According to the report, saturated fats (biscuits, cake and butter) play no part in the onset of heart disease.  
An interesting claim. I decided to brush up on my knowledge on the link between fats, cholesterol levels and heart disease. First of studies looking into the link between saturated fats increasing an individuals risk to heart disease, have good evidence supporting the link. Of course, our bodies are always so complicated, factors such as being overweight, smoking, high intake of salt and low levels of physical activity are key contributory factors also. 
Fats are often broken down and converted into cholesterol. Now, cholesterol can be carried in one of two ways. 
  1. Low density Lipoprotein: These proteins lead to the formation of fatty deposits that clog up blood vessels.
  2. High density Lipoprotein: These proteins carry excess cholesterol found in the the blood and tissue towards the liver where it is properly deposited. 
Interestingly, unsaturated fats are termed as 'good fats' as they lower LDL levels whilst maintaining suitable levels of HDL. The report groups fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and even olive oil together highlighting the fact, they all contain saturated fats. At first this may seem like a win for the 'eat more saturated fats' party, however, all above food items are considered good fats because of their  low levels of saturated fats and high levels of unsaturated fats- something the report failed to mention. 

Image Source

With members of the Public Health Collaboration claiming that the modern diet has been the biggest mistake in modern medical history! What are critics saying in relation to the report? 
It all comes down to the true validity of the report. All of the nutrition guidelines that surround us are from a lot of evidence based scientific studies. Such evidence is lacking in the report to support a majority of its claims. In the absence of supporting evidence or scientific studies, what does this make the report? Well the chief nutritionist at Public Health England (one of the companies criticised in the report) classed it as an opinion piece! He further stomped on the allegations thrown at the company from the report about how all their publications are bias and not in the interest of the public. The chief nutritionist made it very clear in a public response that all publications regarding public health incorporate knowledge from a large range of independent experts alongside the use of thousands of scientific papers, to ensure as little bias as possible.
The Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation agrees with the chief nutritionists claim that the report appears to be full of opinions and ideas. The lack of adequate literature on the report meant that even "the UK's largest heart research charity [cannot] take it seriously". 
Another argument also comes from members of the public, whereby the nutritional guidelines is not where the growing obesity problem originated. This increasing number could be down to human nature, of us not following the guidelines or starting a diet and relapsing quite often. Guilty of that last one myself to be honest (but aren't we all to some degree).
Where does this leave us?
Diets such as the 5:2 diet have had some amazing results and that is based on calorie counting. Low fat and high carbohydrates vs high fat and low carbohydrates. Diet choices are never ending. However the one thing the majority share is redefining the balance of nutrients required by us- the do eats and don't eats that come with almost every diet. Looking through some of the scientific literature relating nutrients to health and weight loss, its actually amazing at how little we know about such relationships between us and food. Perhaps it is time to stop the 'one diet fits all' approach. As a species we are extremely complex, and this level of complexity should not be taken for granted, perhaps we all need to find a diet that suits us instead of the other way round.
That was it for today guys! And yes today was all about dieting but don't take it life too seriously and listen to the following message....

Over and out 
Greetings everybody!

Congratulations you have got through the week and it is now officially Friday! To all those students out there who have started your exam season good luck! I am sure you guys heard all about the edexcel biology question asking you to explain the link between sickle cell and malaria. May be a bit to late, but lets get it all out in the open!

Sickle Cell Disease is a heritable disease that affects the blood. Sufferers of this disease experience a symptom known as crises, a period of acute pain that varies in longevity from a few hours to days. Sickle Cell Disease is also twinned to the onset of other conditions such as anaemia, leg ulcers, jaundice, kidney damage, high blood pressures along with increased susceptibility to infections and stroke. In 2010 302,800 children were born with this crippling disease, two thirds of these children residing in Africa. By 2050, this number is predicted to rise by 25%.  Sickle cell is a growing problem in a region that is poorly prepared to deal with the increased burden on their health services.

Development of this disease all comes down to whether or not an individual inherits a gene that has a minor genetic change, otherwise known as a mutation. The mutation itself is tiny, a substitution of one amino acid for another on the gene that codes for the haemoglobin protein. How does something so small have such a large impact? Lets use the analogy of building a house. Before your house is built you have a blueprint, this blueprint details every dimension of your dream house (your DNA strand). You do not pick up on it but within that blueprint one of the measurements have been taken very wrong (the switch of glutamic acid with valine). When your dream house is completed it has a completely different shape to what you wanted (sickle shaped blood cells).

Lets get into the details of this disease. The mutation in the haemoglobin gene results in the shape of our red blood cells to change from a flexible disc shape to a rigid sickle appearance. Unlike healthy haemoglobin, 'sickled' haemoglobin binds to oxygen once and when released, sickled haemoglobin bind to one another forming rigid rods. These rigid rods then reshape the disc shaped red blood cell into a narrow crescent.

Changing the shape of red blood cells is not where it stops. Sickle blood cells also become very sticky! This increased stickiness allow them to stick to one another and form blockages in narrow blood vessels. These blockages starve tissues and organs of much needed oxygen. Additional complications such as those previously mentioned are thought to be caused by alterations of our bodies pain receptors to enhance the discomfort as well as shorter life spans for our red blood cells.

Exploring that malaria and sickle cell link

Sickle cell disease cases are typically found in areas with hot climates such as Africa. Interestingly this is where the vector for Malaria transmission is also found- the Anopheles Mosquito. Evidence suggests that such geographic concentrations of sickle cell cases may have arisen from a preference for the sickle cell trait. 
Sickle cell is a recessive disease, therefore you would need two sickle traits in order to have the disease. However, those who inherit only one sickle trait are technically carriers - those with the trait but remain healthy. Have a look below at the image showing the rules of inheritance for this disease.

Carriers are practically malaria resistant. Plasmodium (malaria causing parasite) is transferred from an infected Anopheles mosquito and once in our bodies hijacks a ride in our red blood cells, during the trip they feed of our cells haemoglobin. One theory on how carriers confer malarial resistance could be down to small changes in their blood, such as slightly higher carbon monoxide levels or possibly how the oxygen interacts with sickle haemoglobin. This combination diminishes carriers as suitable hosts for the malaria parasite. Such resistance may be selected for by women or men who will pass this resistance onto their children. 


Symptom based approach:

Medications such as penicillin and folic acid can treat the infection and stimulate the production of red blood cells in young children. The main drug on the market is hydroxycarbamide, it reduces the frequency and severity of crises.

Development of treatment has been slow for this disease based on lack of pharmaceutical investments. In 2010, Don Abraham a chemist at the Virginia Commonwealth University focused his efforts on synthesising a drug with anti sickle effects. Interestingly, he found a promising compound in food products that offered a gateway into preventing the sickiling of cells in caramel, roasted coffee beans and dark beer!

Isolation of specific compounds within these anti sickling food agents led to the development of Aes-103. In early clinical trial stages, it was found those on the trial drug experienced a significant reduction in pain.

Additional drug developments are focusing on making sickled red blood cells less sticky. On further examination it was found that sickled cells caused white blood cells, platelets and cells on the lining of the blood vessel to stick to one another. Such blockages are diagnosed as vaso-occlusive crises. Pain originating from such blockages can lead to hospitalisation and permeant organ damage.

Two approaches are taken to reduce these from of crises. One, synthesise a drug that will bind to the surface of sickle blood cells preventing them from blocking narrow blood vessels. Or, target a specific group of proteins that we know when activated cause cells on the blood vessel to bind to white blood cells. This group of proteins are known as selectins, and such a drug to ensure they remain unactivated was under trial in 2014, called Rivipansel. Clinical trials of this drug reduced the time spent in hospitals, the longevity of crises events and decreased the need for Opoid medication by 83%.

Tackling the gene responsible:

Such approaches are centred around the term 'gene therapy' or genetic manipulation. It involves the insertion of a functional gene in to the patients DNA, or, by editing the faulty gene within the patient. Such methods have the highest success rates in disorders resulting from a single gene mutation- like Sickle Cell. Two approaches can be taken.

First of, the conventional gene therapy this process involves healthy gene insertion. It all starts by modifying a harmful virus to insert the healthy gene into the patient own cells, these modified cells are then transplanted back into the patient. Alternatively, gene editing cal be used. In simple terms this is the equivalent of a 'cut and paste' on a molecular scale. This fixes the problem by correcting the mistake found in a specific set of stem cells known as haemotopoietic stem cells. This guys give rise to the two type of blood cell.

Alright guys,
Thats all for this week.
Over and out.
Greetings everybody, 

Happy Friday! On the 12th April, media platforms everywhere blew up detailing the greatest escape of 'Inky' the octopus from his tank and into the wild! This got me to thinking, just how much do I know about cephalopods? And this is how we got to this blog post, to learn everything you would want to know about these guys. Enjoy! 

Image Source

Conservation status: There are over 100 different species of octopus. Many of them remain unclassified under IUCN categories. Those that are classified are of least concern, however threats include overfishing. 

Habitat: With around 100 different species of octopus their range is wide. One thing that unites them is that octopuses are often found hidden around coral or rocks. To show you an example of just how wide an octopus range can be take a look at the distribution map for the common octopus!

Image Source

Characteristics: Looking at an octopus you cannot help but think... what weird looking creatures. In fact, my little sister finds them really awkward animals, it didn't help when she found out that all their bodily organs are actually in their heads! Octopuses are so weirdly interesting that instead of looking at just one characteristic I chose serval key facts instead.  

Octopuses are hands down the most developed of the invertebrates. So, is it surprising that octopuses have the largest brains, thereby, making them incredibly fast learners.

Image Source

The pacific striped octopus has a very unique hunting approach. When a shrimp is in sight, they compact themselves in order to avoid detection. The octopus would then be seen extending its tentacle above the shrimp - scaring it. In an attempt to flee the shrimp gets caught on a sucker from one of the other 7 surrounding tentacles! 

Image Source

Female octopuses are pretty frightening in the cephalopod world. Males are rarely seen getting too close to the female during a sexual encounter. This is a precautionary measure in case the female becomes highly aggressive or attempts to eat him! How... intimate.  

Females of the pacific striped octopus seem to be in a permanent state of motherhood. These girls lay eggs for up to six months, the mother then raises her brood for a further eight months. Doesn't stop there for this workaholic, once these eggs have hatched she will continue to feed them, have sex and lay more eggs! (hopefully not all at the same time) 

Image Source

Ever wondered how an octopus with 8 limbs and no skeleton manages to not tie themselves in knots? Well, the reason we do not find octopuses tangled within their own limbs is due to a chemical they secrete. On the skins surface these chemicals can momentarily inhibit the suction cups. 

It might just be possible that octopuses are actually not aware of where all 8  of their limbs are at every moment of the day! 

Image Source

The octopus is part of the Coleoid cephalopods that have the largest nervous system found in invertebrates. In addition to this, they have a complex and sophisticated colouration system that is under the control from their neural system. 

A group of scientists wanted to see just how much control these creatures have over their eight arms. They set up a series of tests, all of which the octopus conquered. Interestingly, completing these tests proved that octopuses can direct a single arm at any one time to carry out an incredibly complicated movement to reach a target. 

Well there you have it guys! Some awesome facts about out cephalopod friends. One last one goes how many hearts an octopus has? Three!! Have an amazeballs weekend guys

Over and out

Greetings everybody, 

Hope you all had a great week! Well after this post you will feel GREAT! So, the last few posts have been focused around animals and conservation which are amazing I know, but I fancied dabbling in a bit of the human side of things this week. At first I was a bit undecided on what to do for a post. Then it hit me like a train when I purchased National Geographic recent magazine instalment. Let me introduce you all the grey area between life... and death, and how people around the world are using it to achieve immortality. Enjoy. 

Death, the one thing that every living thing on this planet has in common. The inevitability of that last and final breath. Life after our final moments are presented differently for differing religions, faiths and philosophies. Perhaps the most well known is the soul leaving its physical being to transition into a better place ruled by some entity. Others believe that life has a more cyclical approach where death results in the reincarnation of the person. We may never know whether their is an afterlife and what it entails. However, science is discovering a lot about death, revealing how it may not be defined by one moment but should be seen as a process. To illustrate the process of brain death I made an  awesome way of showing you (check it out. I am really pretty proud as it was my first time using Canva). 

Multicellular organisms such as ourselves, are complicated. So, is it surprising that when we die that our body does not simply 'switch off' like a light, but rather, goes into a state of shock. Death is usually used to describe when the bodies heart ceases to beat, the heart may have stopped but our other organs hang in there for a little while longer - it is argued, that during this time period - death is entirely reversible. 

How could this be achieved? Believe it or not, the answer may lie in suspended animation. By suspended animation, it means allowing the body to lower its heartbeat and metabolism and just for a moment become 'immortal' by populating that grey region between the islands of life and death. Trials where patients body temperature has been lowered in order to slow blood flow in gunshot and stabbing victims. Slowed blood flow allows the surgeons to have enough time to locate and suture the life ending wounds. 

Cast your minds back to any first aid training you may have done or seen on the television. CPR has a surprising amount of hidden potential under certain conditions. Low body temperatures and regulated chest compressions  ensures that the person lying on the floor will not receive any tissue injury from a rush of oxygen flooding the cavity. Cases were this has been sustained and the person returned from the brink of death hours after! So, lets all go and refresh those first aid skills then shall we? 

Suspended animation is not a new phenomena, as always, nature has beaten us to it. A species of nematode that occupies soils is often presented with extremely low levels of oxygen in its environment. Oxygen is the gas that provides all of us and many other organisms life, so surely oxygen deprivation is inevitable death- no so simple. These nematodes have the ability to thrive in air with 0.5% oxygen and considered head in oxygen levels of 0.1%. Here is what is amazing though, drop that level of oxygen quickly to 0.001% and these nematodes kick themselves into self preservation mode. That is they enter immortal stage, where they appear dead but only temporarily until they reach soils that have the desired concentration of oxygen. 

The ability for an animal to enter into a dormant or 'auto pilot' state when conditions become less favourable is a major key to survival. How their bodies sustain such acts still remains a major question for the sciences. You guys may already be aware of Hibernation but have you heard of Estivation? 

Estivation is the exact opposite to hibernation in terms of what triggers the dormant behaviour. Animals enter estivation in response to extremely high temperatures and arid conditions, such as reptiles and lungfish. Freshwater crocodiles are able to enter estivation and remain in this period of inactivity every year 3-4 months at a time awaiting the rainy season to return. During this period circulation is maintained, however less energy is required to sustain such a state thereby reducing water loss and the production of wastes. Such reptiles are believed to induce their metabolism into a depression where energy usage is therefore greatly minimised to sustain their body mass during this period of inactivity. 

Lungfish are very primitive fish that as the name suggests have lungs! They enter their estivation when their lake dries up. Lungfish burrow deep into the mud where they secrete a mucus that encases their entire body. This mucus the dries forming a hard outer shell that locks moisture on the inside! Smart fish. In this state the lungfish can remain in its mucus shell for as long as 3 years! 

Scientists are chemically inducing animals with reducing agents such as iodide. The presence of iodide lowers an organisms need for oxygen placing them in a hibernating like state. The goal of such studies is to slow the oxygen metabolism of our bodies cells after treatments for heart attacks to prevent repaired blood vessel to be flooded with oxygen. 

So, there you have it. The pursuit to achieve immortality maybe not forever- but when we most need it. Nature has allowed for some of its organisms to achieve such states on loaned time, such as the hibernation or estivation periods seen by numerous animals. It came about because it was the best way to survive and adapt to its surroundings. In nature it is the organisms that remain motionless for the longest that achieve higher longevity. No greater example than the seed. Seeds that will remain dormant until favourable conditions are present, whether that be 20 years from now or a hundred. It will endure- immortality. 

Have an awesome weekend guys! 

Over and out
Back to Top