Science Interviews

Interview

Fri, 27th Apr 2012

3D Tissue Imaging and Skilful Subordinate Meerkats

Derek Magee, University of Leeds
Jacqueline Crawley, National Institue of Mental Health
Sobnath Baidya Roy, University of Illinois

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3D Imaging of Human Tissue

3D tissue imagingHigh resolution 3d images of human tissues can now be created using a technique developed by scientists at the University of Leeds.

By scanning hundreds of slides of sliced tissues segments at once and converting them into high resolution digital images, the software, developed by Derek Magee,  then aligns these to produce detailed, multi-coloured images in 3 dimensions, with over 400 created to date.

The technique can be used on numerous tissue types including tumours and samples of liver disease, and enables samples to be rotated on a computer screen and monitored from any angle.

Derek -   Within a human body, some things are inherently 3D structures and looking in the 2D does not give you the same information. So take as an example blood vessels, blood vessels are a branching structure of tubes.  If we cut a tube as a 2D section, all you see is an ellipse.  So if you look at a blood vessel in 3D, you can actually see this branching structure and you can relate it to the structures around it.  For example, a tumour, if that's very close by you can see, well, has that tumour got its own blood supply or is it a very early stage tumour that is yet to develop its own blood supply?

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New compound to treat Autism

A drug to treat the symptoms of autism has been identified by scientists at the National Institutes of Mental Health in the US.

Working with inbred mice displaying signs of autism such as unusual social interactions, excessive jumping and repetitive self-grooming, Jacqueline Crawley and colleagues found that when the mice were injected with the compound GRN-529 – which regulates glutamate release in the brain – these behaviours were significantly reduced.

turbine bladesJacqueline -   Treatment with this compound that reduces excitatory glutamate neurotransmission in the brain reduces repetitive behaviours, reduces stereotype jumping, and improves some of the social deficits that are seen in these mice. We may be able to develop pharmacological treatments that might be beneficial to children and adults who have autism.  The challenge of course is to find compounds that will be effective in people, but it’s one of the most promising leads that we’ve seen for quite a long time.

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Climate warming by wind turbines

Large wind farms may be affecting local weather and climate in the US.

With the US wind industry growing rapidly in recent years, scientists at the University of Illinois analysed satellite data for the land surface temperatures of four of the World’s largest wind farms in Texas, to see their effect on local land surface temperatures from 2003 to 2011.

The team found a warming effect of up to 0.72 °C per decade when compared to nearby regions lacking these farms.

Somnath Baidya Roy co-authored the study.

Somnath -   Turbulence generated by the spinning of the wind turbine rotors mixes air up and down, and the key impact of this is a warming effect near the surface and on the land surface at night.  Now, wind power does not generate almost any carbon dioxide emissions and hence, wind power is going to be a part of the solution to the climate change problem.  Understanding the impacts of wind farms will help us develop efficient adaptation and management strategies and thereby contribute to a long term sustainability of wind power.

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a MeerkatSubordinate Meerkats are the best problem solvers

And finally, subordinate members of a meerkat social group are the best at solving problems.

Alex Thornton from the University of Cambridge set tasks for 7 groups of wild meerkats where the animals were required to open or break into transparent containers to reach the scorpion supper located inside.

The team found that lower ranking members of the group, and particularly males at this rank, were the most successful at solving the task.

Alex -   The reason for this is probably that these individuals are unable to outcompete others.  So unlike their dominants, they can't bully their way to get food rewards.  So, there are advantages for them to try and find out new ways of solving problems. For the males, this is particularly advantageous because they're the sex that disperses, that goes out to seek mating opportunities, so they're going to be encountering new difficulties in the world and so it will make sense for them to try and find out ways of solving new problems.

And that work was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

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