eLife Episode 36: Epilepsy and Sushi

21 February 2017
Presented by Chris Smith.

In this episode we hear about epilepsy, the sushi-belt model of transport in neurons, a mother in ancient Troy, the Amazon rainforest and bias in scientific reporting.

In this episode

Epilepsy causes cyclooxygenase-mediated vasoconstriction leading to hypoxia in the cerebral cortex

00:33 - Oxygen and epilepsy

Decreased blood flow in the brain is responsible for post-seizure symptoms in rats with epilepsy

Oxygen and epilepsy
with Cam Teskey, University of Calgary

About 1% of people are affected by this condition, in which a cluster of nerve cells in the brain spontaneously develop an abnormal pattern of firing. This spreads to adjacent brain areas, affecting their activity too, and the patient often becomes unconscious. Once the underlying abnormal nerve activity settles down, which can take a minute or two, the person begins to recover, but they’re often confused and drowsy for a long time afterwards, which can have profound effects on an individual’s quality of life. Cam Teskey, at the University of Calgary, explained to Chris Smith how, thanks to some careful observations in rats, he's worked out why this happens and highlighted a potential way to stop it…

An internal conveyor system moves molecules around inside neurones.

06:15 - Testing the sushi-belt model

Simulations illuminate a tradeoff between speed and precision in the movement of proteins and other molecules around neurons

Testing the sushi-belt model
with Timothy O'Leary, University of Cambridge

The nerves or neurones that send messages from one end of the body to the other have fascinated anatomists for over a century. An outstanding question is how do these cells, which can be metres in length, keep all of the remote parts of the cell supplied with energy and raw materials, which are normally made in just one central region of the cell. One popular idea is that neurones contain the microscopic equivalent of a conveyor belt system which transports materials to where they need to go inside the cell. But, by building a mathematical model of how this happens, one scientist who has found that anyone waiting for their dinner to be delivered by a system like this would end up very hungry indeed, so something else must be going on, as he explained to Chris Smith...

Skeleton with evidence of infection in pregnancy, from Troy.

12:20 - Lessons from Troy

Archaeological evidence suggests that a young woman from ancient Troy died from a pregnancy-related infection

Lessons from Troy
with Caitlin Pepperell, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In some parts of the world mortality associated with childbirth can be as high as 50%. But this is not a new problem as Chris Smith hears from Caitlin Pepperell at the University of Wisconsin-Madison...

How much carbon does the Amazon absorb after logging?

17:31 - Disturbing the carbon balance

Climate affects the ability of the Amazon rainforest to store carbon after selective logging...

Disturbing the carbon balance
with Camille Piponiot, UMR Écologie des Forêts de Guyane

The Amazon rainforest covers an area of more than 5 and a half million square kilometres in South America. Some describe it as the “lungs of the planet” because, each year, the forest soaks up more than 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. But the area is under threat from logging, including the practice of “selective logging” although how this affects the forest - and the carbon budget - isn’t known. Chris Smith hears from one researcher who has been finding out...

A model to test the impact of publication bias.

22:40 - Distorting the facts

A bias towards publishing positive results is making it harder to distinguish between true and false claims in science...

Distorting the facts
with Kevin Gross, North Carolina State University

Now if you consider what we’ve covered in the programme this month you might spot that we haven’t highlighted any negative results. And we’re not alone. The vast bulk of the research that gets published each week focuses on positive findings. But this, Kevin Gross tells Chris Smith, is the scientific equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot...

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