Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 13th May 2012

Detecting Virus Pathology, the Rewards of Self-Disclosure and Flatulent Dinosaurs

Julian Hiscox, University of Leeds
Hartmut Hellmer, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Diana Tamir, Harvard University
David Wilkinson, Liverpool John Moore's University

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Detecting the Disease Potential of a virus

The severity of a virus and it’s effects on the body could soon be predicted using a new technique developed by scientists at the University if Leeds and published in the journal proteomics.

Julian Hiscox and colleagues are developing a barcode system where thousands of proteins within a cell infected by a virus can be analysed at once to identify any changes in the balance of these proteins and predict the pathogenic potential of the virus on the body.

The types and levels of proteins affected by infection varies between viruses allowing the team to determine a unique barcode for each type, with the effects of influenza and human respiratory syncytial virus already identified.

West Antarctica

Julian -   A cell can be seen as a battle ground for virus infection.  So, you've got the virus coming in on the one hand trying to destroy the cell and make more virus and then the cell on the other hand is trying to stop that virus from doing its nasty work.  We’re able to capture a snapshot of that battle and then work out from the proteins we’ve studied, whether the battle is going to go in favour of the virus or in favour of the cell.  Effectively it allows you to develop a diagnostic tool to work out whether something is going to be of a serious clinical nature or not.

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Ice Sheet stability in Antarctica

A new weak spot has been identified in the west Antarctic ice sheet which could result in a sea level rise of up to 4mm per year.

Writing in Nature, Hartmut Hellmer from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research modelled air temperatures and ocean currents in the widdel sea, a region of Antarctica previously thought not to affect nearby ice shelves,  and found that rising air temperatures and an increase in warm ocean currents flowing in towards the filchner-ronne ice shelf could cause the ice shelf to melt and become more mobile.

Hartmut -   What we see is that by the year 2070, the coastal current with temperatures like today will be redirected and enter the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf cavity.  This will cause an increase in basal melting, this basal melting will reduce the buttressing of the ice shelf.  The ice shelf will accelerate and that allows the drainage of more ice from inland.  The major implication of this draining of inland ice is sea level rise.

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Let’s talk about Me

Sharing personal thoughts and views with others activates reward centres in the brain, according to scientists at Harvard University.

Working with human volunteers and publishing in the journal PNAS, Diana Tamir monitored brain activity in participants as they answered questions about their personal opinions as well as the opinions of others. She found that as volunteers spoke about themselves, the brain’s nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area, which are both associated with reward, became active.

The team also found there was greater reward stimulation when volunteers thought their views would be shared and they also turned down monetary rewards in exchange for talking about themselves rather than others.

Diana -   In everyday life, we see that humans engage in self-disclosure.  They do this in naturalistic conversation, they do it over the internet.  We know already that humans are an inherently social creature and I think this sheds light onto one aspect of our social behaviour which is the way in which we interact with other people.  We’re highly motivated to share information about ourselves with other people and I think it’s kind of the give and take of sharing information about yourself and receiving information from other people that helps us to form social bonds, and to basically engage in a highly social world.

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Flatulent Dinosaurs

alamasaurysAnd Finally, Dinosaurs could have greatly warmed up the planet during their existence, due to their flatulence.

David Wilkinson from Liverpool John Moore’s University calculated the potential methane output of sauropods - an order of large herbivorous dinosaurs which includes brontosaurus, by scaling up the annual levels of this greenhouse gas currently produced by the digestive tract of cows.

The team estimated the sauropods would have generated 520 million tonnes of methane each year, due to the large populations of microbes living inside them, which would have caused significant warming of the planet.

David -   The microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs, another large herbivorous dinosaurs, could’ve been producing so much methane that it might be having an effect on the way that the actual climate of the planet worked.  And this is just an extraordinary idea that little microbes in giant dinosaurs could be having a measurable effect on the workings of the whole planet’s climate.

That work was published in the journal Current Biology.

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