Cambridge

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock their potential at school

Cambridge University NewsFeed - 11 hours 49 min ago

OCD in children and adolescents is a distressing condition, which is often chronic and persists into adulthood. Almost 90% of these young patients have problems at school, home, or socially; with difficulties doing homework and concentrating at school being the two most common problems. Children and adolescents are well set up for learning and, indeed, can quickly pick up new foreign languages, computing skills or motor tasks, such as riding a bike, much quicker than older adults. But if an adolescent is not learning well in school, they are likely to become stressed and anxious.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have previously shown that there are core problems of cognitive inflexibility in adults with OCD. Since flexibility in problem-solving is an important skill for performance in school, they wanted to study whether adolescents with OCD had difficulty in this area. Cognitive flexibility becomes important when trying to find the correct solutions to a problem, particularly when your first attempt at solving that problem does not work. To reach the correct solution, you have to switch to a new approach from the one you have previously been using.

In healthy individuals, there is a balance between goal-directed control and habit control, and this balance is crucial for daily functioning. For example, when learning to drive, we focus on specific goals, such as travelling at the right speed, staying within the traffic lines and following safety rules. We often have strategies to perform these tasks optimally. However, once we are an experienced driver, we frequently find that driving becomes habitual. In new situations, healthy people tend to use goal-directed control; however, under conditions of stress, they frequently select habitual learning.

In a new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers looked at whether cognitive flexibility for learning tasks and goal-directed control was impaired early in the development of OCD. The study was led by Dr Julia Gottwald and Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry.

Thirty-six adolescents with OCD and 36 healthy young people completed learning and memory tasks. These computerised tests included recognition memory (remembering which of two objects they had seen before) and episodic memory (where in space they remember seeing an object). A subset of 30 participants in each group also carried out a task designed to assess the balance of goal-directed and habitual behavioural control.

The researchers found that adolescent patients with OCD had impairments in all learning and memory tasks. The study also demonstrated for the first time impaired goal-directed control and lack of cognitive plasticity early in the development of OCD.

Dr Julia Gottwald, the study’s first author, comments: “While many studies have focused on adult OCD, we actually know very little about the condition in teenagers. Our study suggests that teens with OCD have problems with memory and the ability to flexibly adjust their actions when the environment changes.”

Professor Barbara Sahakian, senior author, says: “I was surprised and concerned to see such broad problems of learning and memory in these young people so early in the course of OCD. It will be important to follow this study up to examine these cognitive problems further and in particular to determine how they impact on clinical symptoms and school performance.”

Experiencing learning and memory problems at school could affect self-esteem. Furthermore, some symptoms seen in people with OCD, such as compulsive checking, may result from them having reduced confidence in their memory ability. The stress of having difficulty in learning may also start a negative influence and promote inflexible habit learning.

Dr Anna Conway Morris commented: “This study has been very useful in assisting adolescents with OCD with the help they needed at school in terms of structuring the environment to ensure that there was a level playing field. This allowed them to receive the help they needed to realise their potential.

“One person with OCD was able to obtain good A Levels and to be accepted by a good university where she could get the support that she needed in order to do well in that environment.”

Future studies will examine in more detail the nature of these impairments and how they might affect clinical symptoms and school performance.

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Gottwald, J, et al. Impaired cognitive plasticity and goal-directed control in adolescent obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychological Medicine; 22 Jan 2018; DOI: 10.1017/S0033291717003464

Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help they needed at school to realise their potential – including helping one individual go on to university. 

I was surprised and concerned to see such broad problems of learning and memory in these young people so early in the course of OCDBarbara SahakianLuci CorreiaCarol


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Human smugglers operate as ‘independent traders’, study finds

Cambridge University NewsFeed - 22 hours 50 min ago

Latest research shows a lack of overarching coordination or the involvement of any “kingpin”-style monopolies in the criminal operations illegally transporting people from the Horn of Africa into Northern Europe via Libya.

Instead, transnational smuggling routes were found to be highly segmented: each stage a competitive marketplace of “independent and autonomous” smugglers – as well as militias and kidnappers – that must be negotiated by migrants fighting for a life beyond the Mediterranean Sea.

The first “network analysis” of this booming criminal enterprise suggests that successful smugglers need a reputation among migrants – and that removing any individual smuggler will only result in rivals immediately seizing their “market share”.

Dr Paolo Campana from Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology conducted the research using evidence from the 18-month investigation by Italian prosecutors that followed the Lampedusa shipwreck, in which 366 people lost their lives.

The work included data from wiretapped telephone conversations between smugglers at all stages, testimonies collected from migrants, interviews with police task force members, and background information on offenders. 

“The smuggling ring moving migrants from the Horn of Africa to Northern Europe via Libya does not appear to have the thread of any single organisation running through it,” said Campana, whose findings are published today in the European Journal of Criminology

“This is a far cry from how Mafia-like organisations operate, and a major departure from media reports claiming that shadowy kingpins monopolise certain routes.”

In fact, it was the Anti-Mafia unit with the Palermo Prosecutor’s Office initially tasked with investigating smuggling operations on both sides of the Mediterranean in the wake of the Lampedusa disaster in October 2013.  

Campana points out that they found no evidence of any involvement from the Sicilian Mafia at the time, even through payment of protection money – despite Sicily being a key stage in the smuggling route.      

The two indictments prepared by the Palermo unit – totalling some 800 pages – formed a major part of the dataset Campana combed through to code all possible data points: references to times, names, events, exchanges, locations and so on.  

Overall, 292 actors (not including migrants) were identified as part of the Lampedusa smuggling ring. 95% were male smugglers operating along the main route, from the Horn of Africa to the Nordic nations in northern Europe – where many migrants hoped to find refuge – via Libya and Italy. 

However, the network also extended to Dubai, Israel, Canada, Turkey, Germany and the UK, and included those who kidnap for ransom in the deserts of Libya, and Tripoli militiamen who take bribes to let migrants out of detention centres.

“People specialise,” said Campana. “There was a clear separation between those providing smuggling services, those kidnapping for ransom, and those, like the militias, ‘governing’ spaces and supplying protection.”

He also detected signs of rudimentary hierarchy among smugglers in some stages of the route, which roughly divide into ‘organiser’ and ‘aide’.

“Organisers are individuals who give orders but don’t receive them, while aides are highly dependent on organisers for their activities. Organisers make up some 15% of the smuggling network and the remaining 85% occupy a lower ranking aide position.”

The network models built by Campana show that those who operate in the same stage of the journey are almost seven times more likely to have some link with each other. “Even in a network that traverses the hemispheres, it is the local dimension that is still crucial,” he said. 

Moreover, Campana found that those who share the same network position as either organiser or aide are three times less likely to have any tie. “There is little contact between fellow organisers, reinforcing the impression of smugglers as free-trading independents. Business opportunities tear coordination apart,” he said. 

Indeed, a focused analysis of a sub-network of 28 smugglers revealed that those based in Italy who tapped directly into the Libyan ‘marketplace’ had very little contact with each other. 

Wiretaps and testimonials suggest that migrants have to pay separate vendors for each leg of the journey. Payment was often done in advance though Hawala, an informal money transfer system based on trust.

One wiretap reveals a charge of $3600 for a couple to cross the Mediterranean. Another wiretapped smuggler charges €150 per person for a car trip from Sicily to Rome.    

“Reputation is crucial in a competitive market, and the wiretaps show how much value smugglers place on their reputation,” said Campana.

One smuggler was recorded reproaching another for overcrowding a boat, comparing it to the way a dirty bathroom reflects badly on everyone who shares the house.

In fact, the wiretaps reveal that the loss of life in the Lampedusa disaster led to compensation being paid to families by smugglers scared of losing future business.

“Authorities may wish to deliberately tarnish the reputation of smugglers in order to shut down their business,” said Campana.

“Criminal justice responses require the adoption of coordinated tactics involving all countries along the route to target these localised clusters of offenders simultaneously.

“This is a market driven by exponential demand, and it is that demand which should be targeted. Land-based policies such as refugee resettlement schemes are politically difficult, but might ultimately prove more fruitful in stemming the smuggling tide than naval operations.”

First study to model the organisation behind trade in illegal border crossings shows no “Mafia-like” monopoly of routes from Africa into Europe via Mediterranean. Instead, myriad independent smugglers compete in open markets that have emerged at every stage of the journey.

This is a far cry from how Mafia-like organisations operatePaolo CampanaNoborder NetworkMigrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa.


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Plans for future redevelopment of Cambridge Junction set to be explored further

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 09:15

CAMBRIDGE Junction could be expanded and modernised under proposals to be considered by Cambridge City Council.

A report being taken to Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 22 January recommends a detailed study on proposals for a partial redevelopment of the site.

These proposals could see the large music and entertainment venue at Junction One, the older main building at the Junction, replaced by a state of the art multi-storey building containing not only a new and improved large performance space but also a mix of new creative workspaces.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Unusually sophisticated prehistoric monuments and technology revealed in the heart of the Aegean

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:42

New work at the settlement of Dhaskalio, the site adjoining the prehistoric sanctuary on the Cycladic island of Keros, has shown this to be a more imposing and densely occupied series of structures than had previously been realised, and one of the most impressive sites of the Aegean during the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC).

Until recently, the island of Keros, located in the Cyclades, south of Naxos, was known for ritual activities dating from 4,500 years ago involving broken marble figurines. Now new excavations are showing that the promontory of Dhaskalio (now a tiny islet because of sea level rise), at the west end of the island next to the sanctuary, was almost entirely covered by remarkable monumental constructions built using stone brought painstakingly from Naxos, some 10km distant.

Professor Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge, Co-Director of the excavation, suggested that the promontory, with its narrow causeway to the main island, “may have become a focus because it formed the best natural harbour on Keros, and had an excellent view of the north, south and west Aegean”.

The promontory was naturally shaped like a pyramid, and the skilled builders of Dhaskalio enhanced this shape by creating a series of massive terrace walls which made it look more like a stepped pyramid. On the flat surfaces formed by the terraces, the builders used stone imported from Naxos to construct impressive, gleaming structures.

The research team, led by archaeologists from the University of Cambridge, the Ephorate of the Cyclades and the Cyprus Institute, have calculated that more than 1000 tons of stone were imported, and that almost every possible space on the island was built on, giving the impression of a single large monument jutting out of the sea. The complex is the largest known in the Cyclades at the time.

Renfrew noted that “investigations at multiple points throughout the site have given unique insight into how the architecture was organised and how people moved about the built environment”.

While excavating an impressive staircase in the lower terraces, archaeologists began to see the technical sophistication of this civilisation 1000 years before the famous palaces of the Mycenaeans. Underneath the stairs and within the walls they discovered sophisticated systems of drainage, signalling that the architecture was multipurpose and carefully planned in advance. Tests are now underway to discover whether the drains were for managing clean water or sewage.

What was the reason for this massive undertaking here?

The rituals practised in the nearby sanctuary meant that this was already an important central place for the Cycladic islanders. Another aspect of the expansion of Dhaskalio is the use of new agricultural practices, whose study is led by Dr Evi Margaritis of the Cyprus Institute. She says: “Dhaskalio has already provided important evidence about the cultivation of olive and grape, two key new domesticates that expanded the horizons of agriculture in the third millennium.  The environmental programme is revealing how agricultural strategies developed through the lifetime of the site.”

The excavated soil of the site is being examined in great detail for tiny clues in the form of burnt seeds, phytoliths (plant remnants preserved as silica), burnt wood, and animal and fish bones. Lipid and starch analysis on pottery and grinding stones is giving clues about food production and consumption.

Plant remains have been recovered in carbonised form, predominantly pulses and fruits such as grape, olives, figs and almonds, but also cereals such as emmer wheat and barley.  Margaritis notes: “Keros was probably not self-sustaining, meaning that much of this food was imported: in the light of this evidence we need to reconsider what we know about existing networks to include food exchange”.

Another clue may be found in metalworking, the most important new technology of the third millennium BC. The inhabitants of Dhaskalio were proficient metalworkers, and the evidence for the associated technologies is strong everywhere on the site. No metal ore sources are located on Keros, so all raw materials were imported from elsewhere (other Cycladic islands such as Seriphos or Kythnos, or the mainland).

These imported ores were smelted just to the north of the sanctuary, where the winds were strongest, needed to achieve the very high temperatures required to extract metals from ores. Within the buildings of Dhaskalio, the melting of metals and casting of objects were commonplace.

The new excavations have found two metalworking workshops, full of metalworking debris and related objects. In one of these rooms a lead axe was found, with a mould used for making copper daggers, along with dozens of ceramic fragments (such as tuyères, the ceramic end of a bellows, used to force air into the fire to increase its temperature) covered in copper spills. In another room, which only appeared at the end of excavation this year, the top of an intact clay oven was found, indicating another metalworking area, which will be excavated next year.

What is the significance of the metalworking finds?

Dr Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge, Co-Director of the excavation, says: “At a time when access to raw materials and skills was very limited, metalworking expertise seems to have been very much concentrated at Dhaskalio. What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanisation: centralisation, meaning the drawing of far-flung communities into networks centred on the site, intensification in craft or agricultural production, aggrandisement in architecture, and the gradual subsuming of the ritual aspects of the sanctuary within the operation of the site. This gives us a clear insight into social change at Dhaskalio, from the earlier days where activities were centred on ritual practices in the sanctuary to the growing power of Dhaskalio itself in its middle years.”

The excavations on Keros are leading the charge of technical innovation in Aegean archaeology. All data are recorded digitally, using a new system called iDig – an app that runs on Apple’s iPads. For the first time in the Aegean, not only data from the excavation, but the results of study in the laboratory are all recorded in the same system, meaning that anyone on the excavation has access to all available data in real time. Three dimensional models are created at every stage in the digging process using a technique called photogrammetry; at the end of each season the trenches are recorded in detail by the Cyprus Institute’s laser scanning team.

The Cyprus Institute co-organised for a second year an educational programme during this year’s excavations with Cambridge University. Students from Greece, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, and the UK joined the excavation and gained valuable experience of up to the minute excavation and scientific techniques. The syllabus epitomised the twin goals of promoting science in archaeology and establishing the highest standards of teaching and research.

The project is organised under the auspices of the British School at Athens and conducted with permission of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport. The project is directed by Colin Renfrew and Michael Boyd of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. The project is supported by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the Cyprus Institute, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, the British Academy, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, National Geographic Society, Cosmote, Blue Star Lines, EZ-dot and private donors.

New excavations on the remote island of Keros reveal monumental architecture and technological sophistication at the dawn of the Cycladic Bronze Age.

At a time when access to raw materials and skills was very limited, metalworking expertise seems to have been very much concentrated at DhaskalioMichael BoydCambridge Keros ProjectExcavations underway on Dhaskalio, off Keros.


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

AI 'scientist' finds that toothpaste ingredient may help fight drug-resistant malaria

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 10:00

When a mosquito infected with malaria parasites bites someone, it transfers the parasites into their bloodstream via its saliva. These parasites work their way into the liver, where they mature and reproduce. After a few days, the parasites leave the liver and hijack red blood cells, where they continue to multiply, spreading around the body and causing symptoms, including potentially life-threatening complications.

Malaria kills over half a million people each year, predominantly in Africa and south-east Asia. While a number of medicines are used to treat the disease, malaria parasites are growing increasingly resistant to these drugs, raising the spectre of untreatable malaria in the future.

Now, in a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers employed the Robot Scientist ‘Eve’ in a high-throughput screen and discovered that triclosan, an ingredient found in many toothpastes, may help the fight against drug-resistance.

When used in toothpaste, triclosan prevents the build-up of plaque bacteria by inhibiting the action of an enzyme known as enoyl reductase (ENR), which is involved in the production of fatty acids.

Scientists have known for some time that triclosan also inhibits the growth in culture of the malaria parasite Plasmodium during the blood-stage, and assumed that this was because it was targeting ENR, which is found in the liver. However, subsequent work showed that improving triclosan’s ability to target ENR had no effect on parasite growth in the blood.

Working with ‘Eve’, the research team discovered that in fact, triclosan affects parasite growth by specifically inhibiting an entirely different enzyme of the malaria parasite, called DHFR. DHFR is the target of a well-established antimalarial drug, pyrimethamine; however, resistance to the drug among malaria parasites is common, particularly in Africa. The Cambridge team showed that triclosan was able to target and act on this enzyme even in pyrimethamine-resistant parasites.

“Drug-resistant malaria is becoming an increasingly significant threat in Africa and south-east Asia, and our medicine chest of effective treatments is slowly depleting,” says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. “The search for new medicines is becoming increasingly urgent.”

Because triclosan inhibits both ENR and DHFR, the researchers say it may be possible to target the parasite at both the liver stage and the later blood stage.

Lead author Dr Elizabeth Bilsland, now an assistant professor at the University of Campinas, Brazil, adds: “The discovery by our robot ‘colleague’ Eve that triclosan is effective against malaria targets offers hope that we may be able to use it to develop a new drug. We know it is a safe compound, and its ability to target two points in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle means the parasite will find it difficult to evolve resistance.”

Robot scientist Eve was developed by a team of scientists at the Universities of Manchester, Aberystwyth, and Cambridge to automate – and hence speed up – the drug discovery process by automatically developing and testing hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research.

Professor Ross King from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester, who led the development of Eve, says: “Artificial intelligence and machine learning enables us to create automated scientists that do not just take a ‘brute force’ approach, but rather take an intelligent approach to science. This could greatly speed up the drug discovery progress and potentially reap huge rewards.”

The research was supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, the European Commission, the Gates Foundation and FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation).

Reference
Bilsland, E et al. Plasmodium dihydrofolate reductase is a second enzyme target for the antimalarial action of triclosan. Scientific Reports; 18 Jan 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-19549-x

An ingredient commonly found in toothpaste could be employed as an anti-malarial drug against strains of malaria parasite that have grown resistant to one of the currently-used drugs. This discovery, led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, was aided by Eve, an artificially-intelligent ‘robot scientist’.

Drug-resistant malaria is becoming an increasingly significant threat in Africa and south-east Asia, and our medicine chest of effective treatments is slowly depletingSteve OliverPhoto-Mix (Pixabay)Toothpaste


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Views needed on proposed changes to Shopmobility service

Cambridge Council Feed - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:19

USERS of Cambridge City Council’s Shopmobility service, which operates from the Grand Arcade and Grafton East car parks, are being encouraged to give their views on proposed changes to the way it is financed, after councillors opted to introduce some charges for users.

The introduction of membership fees and hire charges for use of equipment will cover a loss of funding from Cambridgeshire County Council of £49,500. Members of the service would be eligible for a 50% reduction in hire charges.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

How incurable mitochondrial diseases strike previously unaffected families

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 16:00

Mitochondrial diseases caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA are rare, affecting approximately 1 in 10,000 births, but can cause severe conditions. For example, Leigh Syndrome is a severe brain disorder causing progressive loss of mental and movement abilities, which usually becomes apparent in the first year of life and typically results in death within two to three years.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses inside our cells, producing energy and carrying their own DNA instructions (separate from the DNA in the nucleus of every cell). Mitochondria are inherited from a person’s mother via the egg.

In the study, published in Nature Cell Biology, the researchers isolated mouse and human female embryonic germ cells – the cells that will go on to be egg cells in an adult woman – and tested their mitochondrial DNA.

They found that a variety of mutations were present in the mitochondrial DNA in the developing egg cells of all 12 of the human embryos studied, showing that low levels of mitochondrial DNA mutations are carried by healthy humans.

Professor Patrick Chinnery, from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, said: “We know that these devastating mitochondrial mutations can pop up in families without any previous history, but previously we didn’t know how that happened. We were surprised to find that egg cells in healthy females all carry a few defects in their mitochondrial DNA.”

For most of the human genome, mutations are kept in check by the processes of sexual reproduction, when eggs and sperm combine; however, mitochondria replicate asexually and mitochondrial DNA is inherited unchanged from the mother’s egg. This means that over time mutations can accumulate which, if left unchecked over generations, could eventually lead to malfunction and disease in offspring.

This conundrum led researchers to predict that a “bottleneck,” where only healthy mitochondria survive, may explain how mitochondria are kept healthy down the generations.

In this study, the researchers identified and measured this bottleneck for the first time in developing human egg cells. In these cells, the number of mitochondria decreased to approximately 100 mitochondria per cell, compared to around 100,000 mitochondria in a mature egg cell.

In a mature cell, a few faulty mitochondria could hide unnoticed amongst the thousands of healthy mitochondria, but the small number of mitochondria in the cell during the bottleneck means that the effects of faulty mitochondria are no longer masked.

The exact mechanism by which cells with unhealthy mitochondria are eliminated is not yet known, but since developing egg cells need a lot of energy - produced by the mitochondria - the researchers suggest that after the bottleneck stage, eggs cells containing damaged mitochondria cannot generate enough energy to mature and are lost.                                            

This study found every developing egg cell may carry a few faulty mitochondria, so occasionally, by chance, after the bottleneck these could be the mitochondria that repopulate the egg cell. The scientists suggest that if the quality-control step fails, then this faulty egg could survive and develop into a child with a mitochondrial disease.

Professor Patrick Chinnery said: “Unfortunately, the purification process is not perfect, and occasionally defective mitochondria leak through. This can cause a severe disease in a child, despite no one else in the family having been affected.”

Mitochondrial diseases are currently incurable, although a new IVF technique of mitochondrial transfer gives families affected by mitochondrial disease the chance of having healthy children – removing affected mitochondria from an egg or embryo and replacing them with healthy ones from a donor.

The study authors also suggest that this process could be relevant for human aging. Professor Chinnery added: “Previously it was assumed that the mitochondrial DNA mutations that have been associated with diseases of ageing, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, happened over a person’s lifetime. This study shows how some of these mutations can be inherited from your mother, potentially predisposing you to late onset brain diseases.”

Professor Chinnery is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and the researchers were funded by Wellcome, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research.

Dr Nathan Richardson, MRC Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, said: “This is an exciting study that reveals important new insights into how mitochondrial diseases develop and are inherited between generations. The researchers have made great use of the tissues available from the MRC-Wellcome Human Developmental Biology Resource (HDBR). The HDBR is an internationally unique biobank resource that provides human embryonic and foetal tissue, donated through elective terminations, facilitating research into a large number of distressing medical disorders, such as mitochondrial diseases.”

Reference
Floros, V et al. Segregation of mitochondrial DNA heteroplasmy through a developmental genetic bottleneck in human embryos. Nature Cell Biology; 15 Jan 2018; DOI: 10.1038/41556-017-0017-8

Researchers have shown for the first time how children can inherit a severe – potentially fatal – mitochondrial disease from a healthy mother. The study, led by researchers from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit at the University of Cambridge, reveals that healthy people harbour mutations in their mitochondrial DNA and explains how cases of severe mitochondrial disease can appear unexpectedly in previously unaffected families.

We know that these devastating mitochondrial mutations can pop up in families without any previous history, but previously we didn’t know how that happened. We were surprised to find that egg cells in healthy females all carry a few defects in their mitochondrial DNAPatrick ChinneryDr David Furness (WellcomeThree mitochondria surrounded by cytoplasm


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution-Noncommerical
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

North Pole ice rink attracts around 37,000 visitors

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 14:16

THE NORTH Pole ice rink and winter fair on Parker’s Piece once again proved popular with Cambridge residents and visitors.

The ice rink, which was open from November to early January, attracted around 37,000 skaters in total, with around 85,000 visiting the attraction as a whole.

Under the terms of the agreement with Cambridge City Council, the rink and fair are now scheduled to be dismantled and removed by 14 January.

The cost of any remedial work required for grass affected by the North Pole attraction will be met by the operator, Arena Events Ltd.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Astronomers detect ‘whirlpool’ movement in earliest galaxies

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 18:00

An international team led by Dr Renske Smit from the Kavli Institute of Cosmology at the University of Cambridge used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to open a new window onto the distant Universe, and have for the first time been able to identify normal star-forming galaxies at a very early stage in cosmic history with this telescope. The results are reported in the journal Nature, and will be presented at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Light from distant objects takes time to reach Earth, so observing objects that are billions of light years away enables us to look back in time and directly observe the formation of the earliest galaxies. The Universe at that time, however, was filled with an obscuring ‘haze’ of neutral hydrogen gas, which makes it difficult to see the formation of the very first galaxies with optical telescopes.

Smit and her colleagues used ALMA to observe two small newborn galaxies, as they existed just 800 million years after the Big Bang. By analysing the spectral ‘fingerprint’ of the far-infrared light collected by ALMA, they were able to establish the distance to the galaxies and, for the first time, see the internal motion of the gas that fuelled their growth.

“Until ALMA, we’ve never been able to see the formation of galaxies in such detail, and we’ve never been able to measure the movement of gas in galaxies so early in the Universe’s history,” said co-author Dr Stefano Carniani, from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute of Cosmology.

The researchers found that the gas in these newborn galaxies swirled and rotated in a whirlpool motion, similar to our own galaxy and other, more mature galaxies much later in the Universe’s history. Despite their relatively small size – about five times smaller than the Milky Way – these galaxies were forming stars at a higher rate than other young galaxies, but the researchers were surprised to discover that the galaxies were not as chaotic as expected.

“In the early Universe, gravity caused gas to flow rapidly into the galaxies, stirring them up and forming lots of new stars – violent supernova explosions from these stars also made the gas turbulent,” said Smit, who is a Rubicon Fellow at Cambridge, sponsored by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. “We expected that young galaxies would be dynamically ‘messy’, due to the havoc caused by exploding young stars, but these mini-galaxies show the ability to retain order and appear well regulated. Despite their small size, they are already rapidly growing to become one of the ‘adult’ galaxies like we live in today.”

The data from this project on small galaxies paves the way for larger studies of galaxies during the first billion years of cosmic time. The research was funded in part by the European Research Council and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Reference:
Renske Smit et al. ‘Rotation in [C II]-emitting gas in two galaxies at a redshift of 6.8.’ Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/nature24631

Astronomers have looked back to a time soon after the Big Bang, and have discovered swirling gas in some of the earliest galaxies to have formed in the Universe. These ‘newborns’ – observed as they appeared nearly 13 billion years ago – spun like a whirlpool, similar to our own Milky Way. This is the first time that it has been possible to detect movement in galaxies at such an early point in the Universe’s history. 

We’ve never been able to see the formation of galaxies in such detail, and we’ve never been able to measure the movement of gas in galaxies so early in the Universe’s history.Stefano CarnianiAmanda Smith, University of CambridgeArtist's impression of spinning galaxyResearcher profile: Renske Smit

Dr Renske Smit is a postdoctoral researcher and Rubicon Fellow at the Kavli Institute of Cosmology and is supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. Prior to arriving in Cambridge in 2016, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Durham University and a PhD student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Her research aims to understand how the first sources of light in the Universe came to be. In her daily work, she studies images of deep space, taken by telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope. To gather data, she sometimes travels to places such as Chile or Hawaii to work on big telescopes.

“In Cambridge, I have joined a team working on the James Webb Space Telescope, the most ambitious and expensive telescope ever built,” she says. “With this telescope, we might be able to see the very first stars for the first time. To have this kind of privileged access to world-leading data is truly a dream come true.

“I would like to contribute to changing the perception of what a science professor looks like. Women in the UK and worldwide are terribly underrepresented in science and engineering and as a result, people may feel women either don’t have the inclination or the talent to do science. I hope that one day I will teach students that don’t feel they represent the professor stereotype and make them believe in their own talent.”


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Harnessing the power of algae: new, greener fuel cells move step closer to reality

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:18

As the global population increases, so too does energy demand. The threat of climate change means that there is an urgent need to find cleaner, renewable alternatives to fossil fuels that do not contribute extensive amounts of greenhouse gases with potentially devastating consequences on our ecosystem. Solar power is considered to be a particularly attractive source as on average the Earth receives around 10,000 times more energy from the sun in a given time than is required by human consumption.

In recent years, in addition to synthetic photovoltaic devices, biophotovoltaics (BPVs, also known as biological solar-cells) have emerged as an environmentally-friendly and low-cost approach to harvesting solar energy and converting it into electrical current. These solar cells utilise the photosynthetic properties of microorganisms such as algae to convert light into electric current that can be used to provide electricity.

During photosynthesis, algae produce electrons, some of which are exported outside the cell where they can provide electric current to power devices. To date, all the BPVs demonstrated have located charging (light harvesting and electron generation) and power delivery (transfer to the electrical circuit) in a single compartment; the electrons generate current as soon as they have been secreted.

In a new technique described in the journal Nature Energy, researchers from the departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry and Physics have collaborated to develop a two-chamber BPV system where the two core processes involved in the operation of a solar cell – generation of electrons and their conversion to power – are separated.

“Charging and power delivery often have conflicting requirements,” explains Kadi Liis Saar, of the Department of Chemistry. “For example, the charging unit needs to be exposed to sunlight to allow efficient charging, whereas the power delivery part does not require exposure to light but should be effective at converting the electrons to current with minimal losses.”

Building a two-chamber system allowed the researchers to design the two units independently and through this optimise the performance of the processes simultaneously.

“Separating out charging and power delivery meant we were able to enhance the performance of the power delivery unit through miniaturisation,” explains Professor Tuomas Knowles from the Department of Chemistry and the Cavendish Laboratory. “At miniature scales, fluids behave very differently, enabling us to design cells that are more efficient, with lower internal resistance and decreased electrical losses.”

The team used algae that had been genetically modified to carry mutations that enable the cells to minimise the amount of electric charge dissipated non-productively during photosynthesis. Together with the new design, this enabled the researchers to build a biophotovoltaic cell with a power density of 0.5 W/m2, five times that of their previous design. While this is still only around a tenth of the power density provided by conventional solar fuel cells, these new BPVs have several attractive features, they say.

"While conventional silicon-based solar cells are more efficient than algae-powered cells in the fraction of the sun’s energy they turn to electrical energy, there are attractive possibilities with other types of materials," says Professor Christopher Howe from the Department of Biochemistry. “In particular, because algae grow and divide naturally, systems based on them may require less energy investment and can be produced in a decentralised fashion."

Separating the energy generation and storage components has other advantages, too, say the researchers. The charge can be stored, rather than having to be used immediately – meaning that the charge could be generated during daylight and then used at night-time.

While algae-powered fuel cells are unlikely to generate enough electricity to power a grid system, they may be particularly useful in areas such as rural Africa, where sunlight is in abundance but there is no existing electric grid system. In addition, whereas semiconductor-based synthetic photovoltaics are usually produced in dedicated facilities away from where they are used, the production of BPVs could be carried out directly by the local community, say the researchers.

“This a big step forward in the search for alternative, greener fuels,” says Dr Paolo Bombelli, from the Department of Biochemistry. “We believe these developments will bring algal-based systems closer to practical implementation.”

The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.

Reference
Saar, KL et al. Enhancing power density of biophotovoltaics by decoupling storage and power delivery. Nature Energy; 9 Jan 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41560-017-0073-0

A new design of algae-powered fuel cells that is five times more efficient than existing plant and algal models, as well as being potentially more cost-effective to produce and practical to use, has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. 

This a big step forward in the search for alternative, greener fuelsPaolo BombelliKadi Liis SaarArtist' impressionResearcher Profile: Dr Paolo Bombelli

Dr Paolo Bombelli is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biochemistry, where his research looks to utilise the photosynthetic and metabolic activity of plants, algae and bacteria to create biophotovoltaic devices, a sustainable source of renewable current. He describes himself as “a plants, algae and bacteria electrician”.

“Photosynthesis generates a flow of electrons that keeps plants, algae and other photosynthetic organisms alive,” he explains. “These electrons flow though biological wires and, like the electrical current obtained from a battery and used to power a radio, they are the driving force for any cellular activity.”

Dr Bombelli’s fascination with this area of research began during his undergraduate studies at the University of Milan.

“Plants, algae and photosynthetic bacteria are the oldest, most common and effective solar panels on our planet,” he says. “For billions of years they have been harnessing the energy of the sun and using it to provide oxygen, food and materials to support life. With my work I aim to provide new ways to embrace the potential of these fantastic photosynthetic organisms.”

His work is highly cross-disciplinary, with input from the Departments of Biochemistry, Plant Sciences, Chemistry and Physics, and the Institute for Manufacturing, as well as from researchers at Imperial College London, UCL, the University of Brighton, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Spain and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“Universities are great places to work and so they attract many people,” he says. “People choose to come to Cambridge because they know the ideas they generate here will go on to change the world.”

In 2016, Dr Bombelli won a Public Engagement with Research Award by the University of Cambridge for his work engaging audiences at more than 40 public events, including science festivals and design fairs, reaching thousands of people in seven countries. His outreach work included working with Professor Chris Howe to develop a prototype ‘green bus shelter’ where plants, classical solar panels and bio-electrochemical systems operate in synergy in a single structure.


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Review of Empty Homes Policy outlines help available to owners of empty properties

Cambridge Council Feed - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:08

CAMBRIDGE City Council is set to review its Empty Homes Policy which sets  out the action it takes in relation to empty properties in Cambridge – whether through assistance and advice or through formal enforcement..

The revised policy includes the assistance the council can offer owners of long-term empty homes including the recently introduced interest-free loans scheme which offers property owners up to £25,000 to pay for renovations.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Voluntary groups set for £900,000 boost from community grants

Cambridge Council Feed - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 09:29

NEARLY 60 local groups and organisations have been recommended to benefit from funds totalling £900,000 in Cambridge City Council’s Community Grants scheme.

Community Grant funds are aimed at voluntary and community groups working on projects to help reduce social or economic inequality among Cambridge residents with the greatest needs.

Funding will help to provide a variety of services to residents including financial and legal advice, employment support and community, cultural and sporting activities.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New council homes in the pipeline for former garage sites in King's Hedges and Queen Edith's

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:00

TWO former garage sites owned by Cambridge City Council will be developed to provide much-needed new council homes, if proposals are approved by Housing Scrutiny Committee.

A site at Markham Close in King’s Hedges ward would see four one-bedroom flats built, while another site at Gunhild Way in Queen Edith’s ward would see two new two-bedroom homes constructed.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Local groups tackling inequality invited to apply for Area Committee Grants

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 13:50

LOCAL groups serving disadvantaged areas and communities in Cambridge could be eligible for grants from Cambridge City Council.

The council’s Area Committee Grants totalling £70,000 are available to groups across the city, including non-profit, voluntary and community organisations, or groups of local residents.

Grants of up to £5,000 are awarded to groups to help fund various aspects of a project benefiting people living in a particular part of the city, such as:

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council set to review Shopmobility services at multi-storey car parks

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 10:28

ANNUAL membership fees and hire charges for use of equipment are among the changes to be considered as part of a review of Cambridge City Council’s Shopmobility service.

The review is being carried out to ensure the service can continue to operate and provide assistance for people with reduced mobility visiting the city centre, despite a loss of funding.

Shopmobility currently operates at no charge for customers from Grand Arcade and Grafton East multi-storey car parks, whereas most similar services in the UK charge their users.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Have your say on Local Plan modifications

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 09:18

A six-week public consultation has begun on proposed modifications to the draft Local Plans for South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge.

Independently-appointed Planning Inspectors have reviewed the two Local Plans submitted by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, held hearings and visited sites. They have now asked for a consultation to be carried out on some proposed modifications.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Advances in brain imaging settle debate over spread of key protein in Alzheimer’s

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 00:05

An estimated 44 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a disease whose symptoms include memory problems, changes in behaviour and progressive loss of independence. These symptoms are caused by the build-up in the brain of two abnormal proteins: amyloid beta and tau. It is thought that amyloid beta occurs first, encouraging the appearance and spread of tau – and it is this latter protein that destroys the nerve cells, eating away at our memories and cognitive functions.

Until a few years ago, it was only possible to look at the build-up of these proteins by examining the brains of Alzheimer’s patients who had died, post mortem. However, recent developments in positron emission tomography (PET) scanning have enabled scientists to begin imaging their build-up in patients who are still alive: a patient is injected with a radioactive ligand, a tracer molecule that binds to the target (tau) and can be detected using a PET scanner.

In a study published today in the journal Brain, a team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge describe using a combination of imaging techniques to examine how patterns of tau relate to the wiring of the brain in 17 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, compared to controls.

Quite how tau appears throughout the brain has been the subject of speculation among scientists. One hypothesis is that harmful tau starts in one place and then spreads to other regions, setting off a chain reaction. This idea – known as ‘transneuronal spread’ – is supported by studies in mice. When a mouse is injected with abnormal human tau, the protein spreads rapidly throughout the brain; however, this evidence is controversial as the amount of tau injected is much higher relative to brain size compared to levels of tau observed in human brains, and the protein spreads rapidly throughout a mouse’s brain whereas it spreads slowly throughout a human brain.

There are also two other competing hypotheses. The ‘metabolic vulnerability’ hypothesis says that tau is made locally in nerve cells, but that some regions have higher metabolic demands and hence are more vulnerable to the protein. In these cases tau is a marker of distress in cells.

The third hypothesis, ‘trophic support’, also suggests that some brain regions are more vulnerable than others, but that this is less to do with metabolic demand and more to do with a lack of nutrition to the region or with gene expression patterns.

Thanks to the developments in PET scanning, it is now possible to compare these hypotheses.

“Five years ago, this type of study would not have been possible, but thanks to recent advances in imaging, we can test which of these hypotheses best agrees with what we observe,” says Dr Thomas Cope from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, the study’s first author.

Dr Cope and colleagues looked at the functional connections within the brains of the Alzheimer’s patients – in other words, how their brains were wired up – and compared this against levels of tau. Their findings supported the idea of transneuronal spread, that tau starts in one place and spreads, but were counter to predictions from the other two hypotheses.

“If the idea of transneuronal spread is correct, then the areas of the brain that are most highly connected should have the largest build-up of tau and will pass it on to their connections. It’s the same as we might see in a flu epidemic, for example – the people with the largest networks are most likely to catch flu and then to pass it on to others. And this is exactly what we saw.”

Professor James Rowe, senior author on the study, adds: “In Alzheimer’s disease, the most common brain region for tau to first appear is the entorhinal cortex area, which is next to the hippocampus, the ‘memory region’. This is why the earliest symptoms in Alzheimer’s tend to be memory problems. But our study suggests that tau then spreads across the brain, infecting and destroying nerve cells as it goes, causing the patient’s symptoms to get progressively worse.”

Confirmation of the transneuronal spread hypothesis is important because it suggests that we might slow down or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by developing drugs to stop tau from moving along neurons.

The same team also looked at 17 patients affected by another form of dementia, known as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare condition that affects balance, vision and speech, but not memory. In PSP patients, tau tends to be found at the base of the brain rather than throughout. The researchers found that the pattern of tau build-up in these patients supported the second two hypotheses, metabolic vulnerability and trophic support, but not the idea that tau spreads across the brain.

The researchers also took patients at different stages of disease and looked at how tau build-up affected the connections in their brains.

In Alzheimer’s patients, they showed that as tau builds up and damages networks, the connections become more random, possibly explaining the confusion and muddled memories typical of such patients.

In PSP, the ‘highways’ that carry most information in healthy individuals receives the most damage, meaning that information needs to travel around the brain along a more indirect route. This may explain why, when asked a question, PSP patients may be slow to respond but will eventually arrive at the correct answer.

The study was funded by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, the PSP Association, Wellcome, the Medical Research Council, the Patrick Berthoud Charitable Trust and the Association of British Neurologists.

Reference
Cope, TE et al. Tau Burden and the Functional Connectome in Alzheimer's Disease and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Brain; 5 Jan 2018; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awx347

Recent advances in brain imaging have enabled scientists to show for the first time that a key protein which causes nerve cell death spreads throughout the brain in Alzheimer’s disease – and hence that blocking its spread may prevent the disease from taking hold.

Global PanoramaAlzheimer's patients & carers


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.

YesLicense type: Attribution-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New measures proposed to improve city markets

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 17:03

CHANGES to operating regulations and to fees and charges at city markets are being proposed by Cambridge City Council.

In a report to the Environment Scrutiny Committee on 16 January, the council is proposing to update the Charter Market Regulations which govern how the council’s General and Sunday Market operates. The proposed changes are being made following a period of consultation of market traders at the end of last year.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Car park charging proposals aim to help cut congestion and air pollution

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 16:10

PARKING charges at Cambridge City Council’s car parks are set to change from April, as part of the council’s plan to cut congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

City council budget plans biggest programme of asset investment for over a decade, and expands support for people in most need

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 15:22

MAJOR capital investment including 500 new council homes, significant council land redevelopment, and investment in digital technology and CCTV are the centrepiece of the Cambridge City Council annual Budget Report published today, the biggest council investment in its major sites and community assets for well over a decade.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Pages