Regional teaching hub launched

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 10:59

The University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS) has become a regional hub for the Chartered College of Teaching (CCT).

Through the work with the University of Cambridge and other local and National partners, the regional hub is designed to be an energising and intellectually stimulating space to foster relationships and nurture professional dialogue among teachers.

It will help teachers to explore notions of research-informed and research-generating practices which will benefit teachers and their pupils across the region.

It offers an opportunity to support educators to feel inspired to further inspire the children they work with.

Dr James Biddulph, headteacher of the UCPS, said: “We are committed to exemplary teaching and learning for children.  In our approach to learning, we aim to be creative, bold, free thinking and rigorous.  The school endeavours to put into practice what matters to children and is also an innovative professional learning community for teachers.  By becoming a hub for the Chartered College of Teaching we hope to share best practice across East Anglia and the Fens and benefit from the experience of teachers from across the region.”

The University of Cambridge Primary School opened in 2015 and was the first primary University Training School in the UK.

Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “We know that excellent teaching transforms the lives of all students, from those in early years to adult learners.  We also know at the University of Cambridge that collaboration allows best practice and world-leading research to be shared and increases the benefit to the public that knowledge can impart.

“I am delighted that the primary school will be the hub to develop, support and give voice to teachers in the region, enabling them to be the best they can, for the benefit of teaching in general and for their pupils in particular.”

The CCT is a new initiative, set up in early 2017 to promote what works in teaching and help teachers from across the country to interact.

Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of CCT, said: “The education landscape is challenging. Everything from curricular and assessment reform and budget constraints and workload concerns, to feelings of disempowerment and disillusion, can hamper what happens in the classroom.  We set up the Chartered College of Teaching to change that.  This is a once-in-a-generation chance for the teaching profession and we are incredibly encouraged that an exemplary organisation like the University of Cambridge Primary School, with its links to research within the university and beyond, takes on the role as a hub for the region.”

A launch event for the hub tonight (January 30) will set the scene for the role of the hub in supporting teachers engaging with research-informed teaching throughout Cambridgeshire and the Fens. 

University of Cambridge launches a regional teaching hub to inspire teachers and children.

By becoming a hub for the Chartered College of Teaching we hope to share best practice across East Anglia and the Fens and benefit from the experience of teachers from across the region.Cambridge University Primary School Headteacher, Dr James BiddulphMorley von SternbergUniversity of Cambridge Primary School

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

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New report shows Cambridge's economic success set to continue

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 09:22

AN annual UK cities comparison report published today by think-tank, the Centre for Cities, shows that Cambridge continues to top the list of UK cities for skills and innovation.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Council offers advice for private rental tenants at free workshop

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/26/2018 - 16:11

RESIDENTS living in privately rented accommodation in Cambridge have the chance to learn more about their legal rights, and the help that is available to them, at a free session next month.

The informal session at Trumpington Pavilion, on Thursday 22 February from 5.45pm, is being run by Cambridge City Council to let private rental tenants know of the support and advice that is available to them from the council and others.

It will feature a presentation by Ben Reeve Lewis, an independent expert in the laws affecting tenants and landlords, including letting agencies.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge: It’s time to make your Metals Matter!

Cambridge Council Feed - Fri, 01/26/2018 - 12:56

We use over 141 million cans, foil trays and aerosols every year in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City and the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service has launched a new campaign to make sure every last one makes it into your blue recycling bin.*

The Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service between South Cambridgeshire District and Cambridge City Councils has teamed up with the metal packaging manufacturing industry to launch the ‘Make your metals matter’ campaign here, which will reach all 119,000 households across both districts.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Think of honeybees as ‘livestock’ not wildlife, argue experts

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 01/25/2018 - 19:01

The ‘die-off’ events occurring in honeybee colonies that are bred and farmed like livestock must not be confused with the conservation crisis of dramatic declines in thousands of wild pollinator species, say Cambridge researchers.

Writing in the journal Science, the conservationists argue there is a “lack of distinction” in public understanding – fuelled by misguided charity campaigns and media reports – between an agricultural problem and an urgent biodiversity issue.

In fact, they say domesticated honeybees actually contribute to wild bee declines through resource competition and spread of disease, with so-called environmental initiatives promoting honeybee-keeping in cities or, worse, protected areas far from agriculture, only likely to exacerbate the loss of wild pollinators.

“The crisis in global pollinator decline has been associated with one species above all, the western honeybee. Yet this is one of the few pollinator species that is continually replenished through breeding and agriculture,” said co-author Dr Jonas Geldmann from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology.

“Saving the honeybee does not help wildlife. Western honeybees are a commercially managed species that can actually have negative effects on their immediate environment through the massive numbers in which they are introduced.

“Levels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction,” Geldmann said.  

Honeybees are vital for many crops – as are wild pollinators, with some assessments suggesting wild species provide up to half the needed “pollinator services” for the three-quarters of globally important crops that require pollination.

However, generating honeybee colonies for crop pollination is problematic. Major flowering crops such as fruits and oilseed rape bloom for a period of days or weeks, whereas honeybees are active for nine to twelve months and travel up to 10km from their hives.

This results in massive “spillover” from farmed honeybees into the landscape, potentially out-competing wild pollinators. A recent study by the co-author of today’s Science article, Dr Juan P. González-Varo, showed honeybee levels in woodlands of southern Spain to be eight times higher after orange tree crops finish blooming.

“Keeping honeybees is an extractive activity. It removes pollen and nectar from the environment, which are natural resources needed by many wild species of bee and other pollinators,” said González-Varo, also from Cambridge’s Zoology Department.

“Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cows. Except this livestock can roam beyond any enclosures to disrupt local ecosystems through competition and disease.”

As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have depressed bee immune systems and sent pathogen rates soaring in commercial hives. Diseases are transferred to wild species when bees feed from the same flowers, similar to germs passing between humans through a shared coffee cup.

This puts added pressure on endangered wild European bee species such as the great yellow bumblebee, which was once found across the UK but has lost 80% of its range in the last half century, and is now limited to coastal areas of Scotland.

Both wild and cultivated pollinators are afflicted by pesticides such as neonicotinoids, as well as other anthropogenic effects – from loss of hedgerows to climate change – which drive the much-publicised die-offs among farmed bees and the decline in wild pollinator species over the last few decades.

“Honeybee colony die-offs are likely to be a ‘canary in the coalmine’ that is mirrored by many wild pollinator species. The attention on honeybees may help raise awareness, but action must also be directed towards our threatened species,” said Geldmann.

“The past decade has seen an explosion in research on honeybee loss and the dangers posed to crops. Yet little research has been done to understand wild native pollinator declines, including the potential negative role of managed honeybees.”

Geldmann and González-Varo recommend policies to limit the impact of managed honeybees, including hive size limits, the moving of colonies to track the bloom of different crops, and greater controls on managed hives in protected areas.

“Honeybees may be necessary for crop pollination, but beekeeping is an agrarian activity that should not be confused with wildlife conservation,” they write. 

Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural not a conservation issue, argue Cambridge researchers, who say that manged honeybees may contribute to the genuine biodiversity crisis of Europe’s declining wild pollinators.

Honeybees are artificially-bred agricultural animals similar to livestock such as pigs and cowsJuan P. González-VaroEric WardCommercial honeybee hives in the Teide National Park, Tenerife, Spain.

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

City council initiatives lead the way in reducing number of rough sleepers

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 01/25/2018 - 15:43

New government figures released today show that the number of people sleeping rough in Cambridge has reduced significantly in the past 12 months following a series of initiatives from Cambridge City Council and its partners.

Cambridge, which has one of the highest earnings to house price ratios in the country outside London, has come down from having the fifth highest rough sleeping numbers in the country (per 1,000 of the population by district) in 2016, to joint 21st in 2017.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Frozen in time: glacial archaeology on the roof of Norway

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 09:49

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing people today and year on year the melting of glacial ice patches in Scandinavia, the Alps and North America reveals and then destroys vital archaeological records of past human activity.

Enter the glacial archaeologists – specialists who rescue now-threatened artefacts and study the relationship between variability in climate and the intensity of human use of alpine landscapes.

Focusing on Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland, which include Norway’s highest mountains (to 2649m), an international team of researchers have conducted a systematic survey at the edges of the contracting ice, recovering artefacts of wood, textile, hide and other organic materials that are otherwise rarely preserved.

To date, more than 2000 artefacts have been recovered. Some of the finds date as far back as 4000 BC and include arrows, Iron Age and Bronze Age clothing items and remains of skis and packhorses.

By statistical analysis of radiocarbon dates on these incredibly unusual finds, patterns began to emerge showing that they do not spread out evenly over time. Some periods have many finds while others have none. What could have caused this chronological patterning – human activity and/or past climate change?

These questions are the focus of a new study published today in Royal Society Open Science.

“One such pattern which really surprised us was the possible increase in activity in the period known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age (c. 536 – 660 AD)," says Dr James H. Barrett, an environmental archaeologist at Cambridge's McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and senior study author. 

"This was a time of cooling; harvests may have failed and populations may have dropped. Remarkably, though, the finds from the ice may have continued through this period, perhaps suggesting that the importance of mountain hunting (mainly for reindeer) increased to supplement failing agricultural harvests in times of low temperatures. Alternatively, any decline in high-elevation activity during the Late Antique Little Ice Age was so brief that we cannot observe it from the available evidence.

“We then see particularly high numbers of finds dating to the 8th – 10th centuries AD, probably reflecting increased population, mobility (including the use of mountain passes) and trade – just before and during the Viking Age, when outward expansion was also characteristic of Scandinavia.

"One driver of this increase may have been the expanding ecological frontier of the towns that were emerging around Europe at this time," says Barrett. "Town-dwellers needed mountain products such as antlers for artefact manufacture and probably also furs. Other drivers were the changing needs and aspirations of the mountain hunters themselves."

There is then a decrease in the number of finds dating to the medieval period (from the 11th century onwards). Lars Pilø, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council and lead author on the study further explains, “There is a sharp decline in finds dating from the 11th century onwards. At this time, bow-and-arrow hunting for reindeer was replaced with mass-harvesting techniques including funnel-shaped and pitfall trapping systems. This type of intensive hunting probably reduced the number of wild reindeer.”

Professor in medieval archaeology Brit Solli, of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, who led the study of the recovered artefacts, comments: “Once the plague arrived in the mid-14th century, trade and markets in the north also suffered. With fewer markets and fewer reindeer the activity in the high mountains decreased substantially. This downturn could also have been influenced by declining climatic conditions during the Little Ice Age.”

The ongoing research of the Glacier Archaeology Program in Oppland can be followed on the Secrets of the Ice blogpost:

Artefacts revealed by melting ice patches in the high mountains of Oppland shed new light on ancient high-altitude hunting. 

Town-dwellers needed mountain products such as antlers for artefact manufacture and probably also fursJames BarrettJohan Wildhagen, PalookavilleGlacial archaeologists systematically survey the mountainous areas of Oppland, Norway

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

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge commemorates victims of the Holocaust and genocide at Guildhall ceremony

Cambridge Council Feed - Wed, 01/24/2018 - 09:36

CAMBRIDGE City Council is commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with a free civic ceremony at Cambridge Guildhall on Sunday 28 January from 5pm.

This year the theme for the Holocaust Memorial Day programme is ‘The Power of Words’. The programme explores how words were used in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur to cause and inspire hate, and to encourage and justify violence, but how words can also be used as a force for good.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge to lead £11.9m research project to extend battery life for electric vehicles

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 23:30

The funding for the four projects, totalling up to £42 million, was announced this week by the Faraday Institution, the UK’s independent national battery research institute. Cambridge will receive up to £11.9 million to research how to extend battery life for electric vehicles.

Led by Professor Clare Grey from the Department of Chemistry, the Cambridge-led project will examine how environmental and internal battery stresses (such as high temperatures, charging and discharging rates) damage electric vehicle (EV) batteries over time. Results will include the optimisation of battery materials and cells to extend battery life (and hence EV range), reduce battery costs, and enhance battery safety.

The project includes nine university and 10 industry partners, including the University of Glasgow, University College London, Newcastle University, Imperial College London, University of Strathclyde, University of Manchester, University of Southampton, University of Liverpool and WMG, at the University of Warwick.

The other three projects to be funded by this week’s announcement are Battery system modelling, led by Imperial College London; Recycling and reuse, led by the University of Birmingham; and Next-generation solid-state batteries, led by the University of Oxford.

If successful, this research has the potential to radically increase the speed with which we are able to make the move to electric vehicles, as well as the speed with which we can decarbonise our energy supply, with obvious benefits to the environment.

“With 200,000 electric vehicles set to be on UK roads by the end of 2018 and worldwide sales growing by 45 percent in 2016, investment in car batteries is a massive opportunity for Britain and one that is estimated to be worth £5 billion by 2025,” said Business Minister Richard Harrington. “Government investment, through the Faraday Institution, in the projects announced today will deliver valuable research that will help us seize the economic opportunities presented by battery technology and our transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The topics for the four projects were chosen in consultation with industry, who will partner closely with each of them. This unique collaboration will help to ensure that the research is producing findings and solutions that meet the needs of industry. In addition, industrial partners will contribute a total of £4.6 million in in-kind support to the following four projects:

“To deliver the much-needed improvement in air quality in our cities and achieve our aspiration for cleaner energy targets we need to shift to electric vehicles quickly,” said Peter B. Littlewood, founding executive chair of the Faraday Institution. “These research programmes will help the UK achieve this. To be impactful on increasing energy density, lowering cost, extending lifetime, and improving battery safety requires a substantial and focused effort in fundamental research. Through steady investment in basic research on specific societal challenges identified by industry and government, the UK will become a world-leading powerhouse in energy storage.”

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “There is an urgent imperative for us to increase the efficiency of energy storage as we move towards low carbon economies and attempt to switch to clean methods of energy production.

“The Faraday Institution will bring leading academics in the field of battery development together with industry experts to explore novel application-inspired approaches that will address the challenges we face. The UK has an opportunity to accelerate the development of new products and techniques. EPSRC will be working with the Institution and the academic community to help it succeed and keep the UK a prosperous and productive nation.”

Originally published on the Faraday Institution website

The University of Cambridge is leading one of four government-funded projects into battery research, in order to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and a low-carbon economy. 

Chase LewisTesla Supercharger

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

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Plants increase flower production within a day of soil nutrient application

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 10:07

A team of plant scientists examined the processes through which plants are able to pass on information about the external environment from the roots to the new shoots. The results showed that increased soil nutrients leads to a response in stem cells in the shoots in less than 24 hours.

Experiments showed that this rapid response occurred both in vitro at the microscopic level and ex vitro with entire plants beginning to increase the rate of stem cell growth and flower development in response to the application of nitrogen in the form of nitrate.

The scientists say that the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could contribute to improving crop yields by refining timing of fertiliser application and selective plant breeding.

Plant stem cells

Stem cells in plants have the same function as stem cells in animals. They are undifferentiated cells that are capable of developing into specialised organ cells, such as leaves or flowers. Plant stem cells are located in the meristems of plants (growing tips of roots and shoots) and supply precursor cells from which the different parts of a plant grow from.

First author of the paper, Dr Benoit Landrein said that it was already well established that the availability of nitrate can affect various aspects of plant development. While it was known that plant hormones called cytokinins were involved in this root-to-shoot communication, the exact role of cytokinins in mediating the response of the meristem (the structure that produces all of the aerial organs of plant) to mineral nutrients had not been described before.

What are cytokinins?

Cytokinins are a class of plant hormones that control many different aspects of plant development and are involved in the response of the plants to environmental signals. The hormone notably acts as a messenger between the plant’s roots and its shoots, communicating the availability of soil nutrients detected by the roots to the rest of the plant.

“Through this study, we provide an integrative model of the response of the meristem to a key environmental signal by showing that the cytokinins produced in the root in response to nutrients can modify the pool of stem cells in the meristem, which leads to a rapid change in the rate of flower production,” Dr Landrein said.

“Within one day of the root cells detecting additional nitrate, the cytokinin hormone precursors had travelled through the plant and converted to active hormones at the shoot meristem, which started influencing the shoot’s growth. The speed of this process was very surprising – the roots had not only responded to the change in environment themselves, they had rapidly communicated this information from the roots to the stem cells at the very top of the plant. We observed shoot meristem cells were starting to respond within 24 hours of the application of nitrate.”

Dr Landrein is a member of the research groups of Professor Henrik Jönsson, Dr James Locke and Professor Elliot Meyerowitz, which are working to increase our understanding of how cellular level processes in plants are controlled by gene regulatory networks, hormone transport and signalling, cell growth and division. Professor Jönsson said that while this latest research was undertaken in the plant Arabidopsis, the findings can be applied in future to crops.

“This research provides us with improved insight into how mineral nutrients influence plant architecture and could be used to better understand plant response to environmental inputs and to develop cultivars with increased yield. Crops where the same cytokinin action between roots and shoots occurs could significantly benefit from this. For example, genes involved in the regulation of cytokinins have been mapped in rice and maize and this knowledge could be utilised to select for plants with higher seed yields.”


Arabidopsis is a member of the brassica family, which includes common commercially grown crops such as oilseed rape, cabbages, kale and Brussels sprouts. While recognised by most people as a weed that is commonly seen growing on roadsides, Arabidopsis was one of the first plants to have its entire genome mapped and is used as a model for studying plant biology.

This research has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Nitrate modulates stem cell dynamics in Arabidopsis shoot meristems through cytokinins. Benoit Landrein, Pau Formosa-Jordan, Alice Malivert, Christoph Schuster, Charles W. Melnyk, Weibing Yang, Colin Turnbull, Elliot M. Meyerowitz, James C. W. Locke, and Henrik Jönsson. PNAS 2018 ; published ahead of print January 23, 2018, doi:10.1073/pnas.1718670115

This research was undertaken through a collaboration between the JönssonLocke and Meyerowitz research groups at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge.

Article by Kathy Grube, Communications Manager, Sainsbury Laboratory.

The molecular mechanisms enabling plants to quickly adapt their rate of flower production in response to changing nutrient levels in soil have been revealed by researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory. 

This knowledge could be utilised to select for plants with higher seed yieldsBenoit Landrein Benoit LandreinPlant meristems

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

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge joins international partners in Singapore as country's flagship research programme celebrates 10th anniversary

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 09:50

The Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) was established in 2007, with funding from Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF), to allow research-intensive institutions from all over the world to set up research centres in Singapore, and establish research partnerships with local universities.

Today, CREATE supports collaborations between four Singaporean universities – the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the Singapore Management University (SMU) – and seven international partners – ETH Zurich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technical University of Munich, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University of California, Berkeley, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the University of Cambridge.

To mark its 10th anniversary, CREATE held an international symposium attended by university leaders as well as Singapore's former president, Dr Tony Tan.

Speaking at the event, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Minister for Finance and Deputy Chairman of the NRF said:

“We designed CREATE to encourage interaction not just across a range of disciplines and cultures, but also of perspectives – from dreamers to researchers, designers and users – thereby fuelling exchanges between the spheres of research and innovation.”

“By bringing together researchers, policy makers and end users, CREATE enables serendipitous interactions and discovery. It creates a research environment that is richer than the sum of its parts, allowing researchers to innovate and provide solutions to real world problems.”

“Today,” he added, “CREATE is an international research hub, built on strong institutional partnerships, involving almost 1,100 people from over 40 countries. CREATE’s projects are relevant to Singapore and impactful on the global level.”

CARES: a hub for research collaboration

The Centre for Advanced Research and Education in Singapore (CARES), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Cambridge, was set up as one of CREATE’s collaborative initiatives in April 2013. It hosts a number of research collaborations between the University of Cambridge, NTU, NUS and industrial partners in Singapore and elsewhere.

Representing CARES at the event, its Director, Prof Markus Kraft, explained: “CARES creates and fosters cutting-edge science in the area of energy efficiency in chemical technologies. We want to do first class research, world-leading research. We want to understand the world better. And we want to contribute to some of the pressing problems facing mankind –in particular, global warming."

Prof Gehan Amaratunga, Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, was involved in CARES from its inception: “CARES is driven by the Cambridge attitude to research: to think about things deeply, and to deliver results that are significant and worthwhile. But that is coupled with the Singapore culture of hard work, and results-driven research. The mixture of those two research cultures under the CARES umbrella generates a unique symbiosis.”

He adds: “It is worth noting that CARES was the first time that the University of Cambridge had established anything under its name outside of Cambridge. The Singaporean government has put resources into research, and is keen for international researchers to come and work in Singapore. From the Cambridge perspective, it gives us an opportunity to globalise our research by engaging in a location that is an Asian hub, directly in between Asia’s two largest population centres –India and China. Singapore is a melting pot where researchers from the entire region are present. The impact of what we do in Singapore will be felt all over Asia.”

Reducing carbon footprint and energy demand

CARES’ first research programme was the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technology (C4T), a partnership between Cambridge and Singapore set up in 2013 to tackle the problem of assessing and reducing the carbon footprint of the petrochemical plants and electrical network on Singapore’s Jurong Island. Since its inception, it has brought together researchers in fields including Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Information Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Materials Science and Metallurgy.

Lowering the cost of CO2 capture and developing technologies for waste heat utilisation have been among the main drivers for C4T’s research. It addresses the problem of carbon abatement in chemical technologies though Interdisciplinary Research Programmes (IRPs) that combine state-of-the-art experimental analysis with advanced modelling research.

Speaking at CREATE’s 10th anniversary event in Singapore, Dr Mei Qi Lim, Project Officer for CARES explained: “C4T proposes ways of reducing the carbon footprint of Singapore while supporting economic growth. To build upon CARES’ early success we will continue to engage with Singapore's stakeholders, including government agencies, policymakers, and academic and industrial research organisations. We hope, by doing so, to positively contribute to Singapore’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

A laboratory built from scratch –via Skype

Dr Jethro Akroyd, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology’s Computational Modelling Group, was tasked with setting up the CARES laboratory in Singapore.

Today he spends most of his time supervising CARES students based in Cambridge, but he remembers the early challenges of designing lab space remotely: “We communicated with the architects and our external consultant in Singapore via Skype. We often had Skype meetings at 5:30 in the morning – the only time people were available both in Singapore and in Cambridge. Those were long days.”

“One of the biggest difficulties was explaining to people in Singapore what was required in the laboratories in order to deliver flexible research space. And even once we figured out what we wanted, we had to work out how to fit this into the physical constraints of the space that was available at CREATE. We had to carefully schedule our Skype conversations. Imagine sitting in a small, cold room on a dark Cambridge morning trying to explain complicated ideas to a team on the other side of the world who can only see you via a video link.”

“We built up a very successful working relationship with the consultant and the architects. This culminated in my first visit to Singapore, during the design process, when we had our first face-to-face meeting as a team. That was very special.”

“It’s been great to see designs you worked out on paper in reality, and you can see how the research space was going to be used in order to understand the fundamental combustion and pollutant formation processes that are really at the heart of our role in the research project.”

In June 2017, the CARES C4T Laboratory was awarded the BCA Green Mark for Laboratories Platinum Award, in recognition of its sustainable efforts and commitment to reduce the environmental impact of lab operations.

An industrial park simulator

One of CARES’ early successes is the J-Park Simulator (JPS) –a tool for the design, analysis and operation optimisation of eco-industrial parks developed by CARES researchers. It aims to allow sector agencies, industry and infrastructure providers to assess the model the impact of different “what-if” scenarios in real time. The simulator is able to analyse different scenarios affecting chemical processes, electricity grid, and building management to provide the visual information needed to support optimisation, decision-making and scenario analysis.

“In order to reach an optimum symbiotic relationship among industries and networks, all resources need to be taken into consideration simultaneously –this is the idea behind J-Park Simulator," explained Dr Mei.

Split-site PhD

Another successful initiative has been the CARES-Cambridge studentship programme, which allows Cambridge PhD students to spend two years based in Singapore with the C4T team.

Jacob Martin is a 2nd year PhD Student, currently at CARES doing research into how to stop soot from forming in engines.

“Something that I like about CARES is being able to work with a lot of different people from different universities. Because we are physically located within CREATE tower, it is easier to interact with other universities, and do a lot of research with other interest groups. And because we have access to NUS’ equipment, we can expand what we are doing in Cambridge. The availability of resources has been a real selling point for the programme.”

He cites the Visiting Scientists Scheme as helping to establish international connections in research is the CARES C4T, through which A by invitation only scheme attracting eminent professors from around the globe such as  Emeritus Professor Karl Johan Åström Department of Automatic Control, LTH, Lund University, and who stay and work with C4T researchers in Singapore for a couple of weeks or so.

Jacob hopes that his research will lead to new technologies to reduce pollution from diesel engines, which has an impact on climate as well as on human health.

“It always helps to have more connections in research. Being at CARES will definitely be helpful to establish collaborations not only in Asia but also with universities in America. There are many benefits to collaboration. You can achieve a lot more. The more minds you put to a problem, the quicker you can solve it.”

He adds: “Having people with different cultural backgrounds allows for new and interesting solutions to problems. Cambridge has a particular way of dealing with problems –focus, focus, focus, and really nail the fundamentals. Sometimes that means you lose a bit of perspective. Something that’s been really good about collaborating with people in Singapore is that it’s less about the minutiae and more about the big picture. Singapore is facing a lot of big problems to do with climate change, energy, water. It’s small enough that you can make big changes, and use it as a model for other cities all over the world.”

Teaming up

CREATE makes this collaboration possible by supporting projects through the intra-CREATE programme. A recent example is the three-year project involving researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of California, Berkeley, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which was recently awarded SGD$5m (£2.8m) by Singapore’s National Research Foundation.

The project, which will start in January 2018, seeks to develop ways of transforming carbon dioxide (CO₂) emitted as part of the industrial process into compounds that are useful in the chemical industry supply chain. It will be co-led by Prof. Alexei Lapkin (CARES) and Prof. Joel Ager, from the Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS Ltd).

Yet another scheme helping to establish international connections in research is the CARES C4T Vising Scientists’ Scheme, through which distinguished scientists from around the world are invited to work at C4T for short periods of time.

Looking ahead

After a successful start, CARES is now taking stock of the knowledge created over the past four years, and planning for its next phase.

“Seeing the magnitude of what we’ve achieved was really very rewarding,” says Dr Akroyd. We have identified opportunities to save over 8 million tonnes of CO2 per year for Singapore –this about 20% of their annual emissions. This is why we do the project. And the idea of a next phase it to take this forward. At the core of the proposal for CARES’ phase two is to look at ideas generated in phase one, and take them much closer to the market and let them be adopted by industry.”

“One of the ideas we developed in phase one was to blend biodiesel with diesel fuel for road transport. We’ve shown this can save about 1 million tonnes per year of CO2 for Singapore. What we’re now looking at in phase two is whether we can do anything similar for marine shipping traffic. This has the potential to save something like another 1 million tonnes of CO2 in Singapore, but it also has the potential to be scaled worldwide. This could have a much broader global impact, far beyond just the shipping in Singapore Strait.”


For further information on CARES and the C4T research programme please contact Ms Louise Renwick, CARES Communications and External Affairs Executive,,; Tel: +6566015447 

An international symposium at Singapore’s CREATE campus highlights the global challenges of sustainable energy and suggests innovative ways of reducing industry’s carbon footprint 

We want to do first-class research. We want to understand the world better. And we want to contribute to some of the pressing problems facing mankind – in particular, global warming. Markus Kraft, Director of CARESCREATE tower, Singapore

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

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 12:00

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.

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 - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 00:59

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.

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).

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.

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.”

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).

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.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire