Monday, June 26, 2017

coral conundrum

Open Archive Day

After several features on threats to coral reefs, including ocean acidification, warming, El Niño, and overfishing, I wrote one last June on what if anything can be done to save them.

Still, the threats keep coming and the solutions don't seem to be moving quite as fast as the problems.

This feature (like the earlier features it references) is now on open access:


Can science rescue coral reefs?




Aerial view of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island, which is surrounded by coral reefs that provide study material for research into the stress resilience of corals. (Photo: Doug Peebles.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

primate problems

There are around 500 primate species on our planet. Two thirds of them are threatened with extinction, because one, Homo sapiens, isn't quite as wise as the binomial name suggests. In my latest feature I have discussed some of the threatened species and the problems they are facing:

Primates in peril

Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 12, pR573–R576, 19 June 2017



Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)


Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)



Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) at Berenty Private Reserve in Madagascar. Source: Wikimedia

Friday, June 16, 2017

strings attached

In the round-up of German pieces published in May and June we have 3D-printed aliens, tattooed cucumbers, as well as entanglements of DNA and shoelaces (which, of course stand in for DNA as well):


Netzwerk Leben: Verwicklungen der Schnürsenkel
Chemie in unserer Zeit 51, 154-155
restricted access


Ausgeforscht: Tätowierung für Gurken
Nachrichten aus der Chemie vol 65, no. 5, p619
restricted access

Ausgeforscht: E.T. aus dem 3-D-Drucker
Nachrichten aus der Chemie vol 65, no. 6, p751
restricted access

Medizin: Gefaltete DNA für Diagnose und Therapie
Nachrichten aus der Chemie vol 65, no. 6, pp636-639
restricted access

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

20000 leagues under the sea

Open Archive Day

A year ago, I enjoyed reading up about the late 19th / early 20th century pioneers of bathymetry, or the measurement of ocean depth (or sea floor topography, depending on whether you prefer your glass half full or half empty). Much of it sounded like a Jules Verne novel, with the sense of awe for the as yet unexplored which we appear to have forgotten, even though the sea floor remains poorly described to this day. So the vague memory I retain of the feature I wrote is that it was all about Captain Nemo, although in truth it probably wasn't.

The feature is now on open access so you can check for yourself:

How deep are the oceans?





Friday, June 09, 2017

cellular computation

as I have been saying since I wrote a book chapter on Molecular Computation (1998), the fundamental processes in a living cell are essentially computation. This could potentially be used in two ways - building computers based on molecules and cells, or manipulating important biological processes (eg in medical or agricultural context) using computational tools.

Back in the 1990s, the molecular computer was a promising avenue, but it never quite took off. Now the other way round, programming biology, seems the more exciting prospect. This has given a major boost by the recent invention of a compiler that can translate computer code into DNA regulatory networks, which in most cases even work in the cell.

As we are increasingly becoming aware that complex regulatory networks (rather than single genes and enzymes) are the things that we need to understand and control if we want to change biological processes, this development could very well revolutionise several areas where we interfere with living beings, from agriculture to medicine.

Read all about it in my latest feature in Chemistry & Industry:

Cellular computer
Chemistry & Industry Volume 81, Issue 4, pages 26–29
DOI: 10.1002/cind.814_7.x
Full text (Wiley Online Library)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

virtual gets real

I'm not a gamer so I've happily ignored a large part of the technology developments in recent years. However, they are now reaching the point where there is significant collateral benefit for science. Virtual reality tech combined with miniaturised cameras and autonomous vehicles for oceans, air and space now allows us to explore spaces where we cannot go ourselves. Similarly, in neuroscience, VR combines with imaging technology to record brain responses to experiences that would in real life be incompatible with the study.

Luckily, the Radcliffe Science Library did a demonstration workshop just at the right time so I could try out a bit of VR myself and get an impression. And then I rounded up a few of the examples of how VR is actually becoming useful for science.

The feature is out now:

Exploring virtual worlds

Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 11, pR399–R402, 5 June 2017


Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)








Greenpeace UK has recently launched a VR app enabling smartphone users to experience the Arctic from the safety of their homes. (Photo: Nick Cobbing/Greenpeace.)

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