Science Interviews

Interview

Fri, 30th Mar 2012

Resuscitating Antibiotics and Bumblebees on the Decline

Dave Goulson, University of Sterling
Marta Martins, University College Dublin
Huw Morgan, University of Aberystwyth
Daniel Frankel, University of Newcastle

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Bumblebee numbers reduced by pesticide use

Direct evidence that pesticides are poisoning bumblebees has been revealed [PLACEHOLDER, WS#-1]this week in the journal Science.

By exposing colonies of  bumblebees to the commonly used pesticide imidocloprid, Dave Goulson from the University of Stirling found that the bee colonies grew more slowly and there was an 85% reduction in the production of new queens who are crucial for producing future bee generations.

The consequences could be significant for both the environment and the economy…

Dave -   If we’re accidentally poisoning our bumblebees and driving down their populations, there’ll be less pollination for wild flowers and therefore, all the things that those plants support, all the butterflies and birds, and everything else.  But there's also a really direct economic importance of bees.  Bumblebees are the main pollinators of some of the very nice things that we like to eat – so blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, lots of garden vegetables like beans and tomatoes.  So, if we lose our bumblebees, then our diets are going to be much be poorer for it.

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Resuscitating Antibiotics

Bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics could be made susceptible to the drugs by the addition of certain chemical compounds.

Presenting at the Society for General Microbiology annual meeting in Dublin this week, Marta Martins from University College Dublin, combined one of five known pharmaceutical compounds, including phenothiazines used to treat schizophrenia, with the widely prescribed antibiotic ciprofloxacin.

When used on samples of bacteria showing resistance, the combined treatment was six times more effective at killing bacteria than samples lacking these added compounds, giving a new lease of life to the drugs…

Marta -   We think this is a better solution instead of developing new antibiotics.  With these compounds that are known antibiotics, they are synthetic compounds and we could avoid that problem of the bug adapting to that.  It will not just help to treat these multidrug resistant infections but also to decrease the numbers that we will see in the hospital and subsequentially in the community.

 

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Solar tornado

solar tornadoScientists have spotted a tornado on the Sun, large enough to accommodate several hundred Earth-sized planets.

Using the orbiting Solar Dynamic Observatory, University of Wales, Aberystwyth physicist Huw Morgan and his colleagues spotted the 120,000km high plasma tornado travelling across the Sun’s surface at speeds of  300,000 km per hour, driven by the solar magnetic field.

The discovery was announced this week at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

Huw -   It’s a huge structure and it lasts for 4 or 5 hours, and it’s very exciting because it’s a test bed for various theories on solar magnetic field and plasma movements in that field.

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Robots mimicking Living Organisms

And finally, a robot less than 1cm in size with the ability to respond and move like a living organism is being developed by scientists at the University of Newcastle.

Modelled on an ancient fish, the robot named ‘cyberplasm’ will combine cells engineered to sense light and chemical cues that feed into a central processor that controls a series of artificial muscles resulting in movement.

Daniel Frankel from the University of Newcastle is leading the project.

Daniel -   The idea is really to harness the power and control of the biological system.  For example, muscle contraction and sensitivity of cells and interface them and incorporate them into a machine.  The ideal uses would be swimming into waters which may be polluted or having toxins and detecting toxins, and then in addition, medical applications.  For example, reconnaissance in the body so to speak, swimming through the arteries and veins, and trying to detect and maybe even treat various diseases.

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