Monthly Archives: June 2012

Oranges and Lemons…

… say the bells of St. Clement’s

A sunny summery cake for a sunny summery day. This One Bowl Citrus Cake is my go to recipe for something that I can throw together easily, that everybody likes, and that will cope with being baked in whatever tin I have handy. (So far loaf tin, round tin, and cupcakes all work).

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Molecular Biology 101: Genome Assemblies and Bonobos

Genome sequencing has been back in the news this week with the announcement that the genome of the bonobo has been assembled and compared to the human genome. The bonobo is a great ape found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, believed to be around as related to us as we are to chimpanzees. A few weeks ago the tomato genome was also sequenced. And two years ago it was the turn of wheat. All of these are interesting stories, and worth writing about, but for now I’m going to give you a quick biology lesson in the lab-work that comes behind the headline. The point of the Human Genome Project (and projects like the bonobo sequencing project above) was to write down the entire ‘code’ for making a human. It took over a decade and cost around $3 billion to complete. But what’s so useful about that? And how is it that we now hear headlines about sequencing genomes for just $1000? And what’s all this about a $1000 genome and the $10 000 analysis?

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Grad School and Mental Health

This morning I have spent 3 hours holding a friend’s hand and listening with horrified fascination to how unable many people are to reconcile her sickness with her intelligence. How can you be smart and depressed at the same time? seems to be the general theme. If you’re not a vegetable, you can’t really be sick. There is still a pervasive attitude that mental illness and an accompanying inability to work are somehow a by-product of laziness, or ineptitude. But if that’s the case, then why are so many Type A personality, top-of-the-class postgraduates afflicted? Continue reading

Lab mates = house mates

Sharing a lab with me is kinda like sharing my house. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but we can always find space for one more and we’ll get along fine… just so long as everyone plays by the rules.

The rules like ‘don’t open my booze and don’t finish my milk’ (aka don’t use expensive things like enzymes, and don’t finish off anything that isn’t yours) or ‘don’t eat an entire pack of cheese without mentioning it and buying some more’ (or don’t use up several bottles of LB and decide not to tell me so that I don’t find out until 5pm when I was about to put some cells in before I ran home for half an hour before a rehearsal). And of course ‘don’t eat the dessert I made for friends coming over’ or ‘When I told you that that was off limits I expect you to listen to me!’ Continue reading

On a completely un-biological note…

This has been A Good Weekend.

Yesterday morning I did the Cancer Research Race for Life 10k (in just outside 46 minutes, which is 2 minutes faster than my PB, and raised over £100 on the way).

Yesterday evening I did a wholly different kind of outreach: classical singing with school kids.

And this afternoon I learned to barani. (Video below – not me – for those who aren’t into gymnastics)


And tonight I get to record some stuff with my a cappella group. All in all, a very good weekend 🙂 (Except for the bit where I’m sat in my office at work waiting for my ampicillin to defrost so I can put some cells on to culture over night!)

Also, just checked my stats and apparently I have a reader in Iceland?! How random… hi there Icelander!

Exercise doesn’t help with depression: or does it?

“Exercise can help people recover from depression and prevent them from becoming depressed in the first place.” NHS Choices

“Endurance exercise may help to achieve substantial improvement in the mood of selected patients with major depression in a short time.” Knubben et al (2007) Br J Sports Med 2007;41:29–33. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2006.030130

In the last decade, the medical community as a whole has come to appreciate that regular exercise can be a real and effective way to deal with mild depression. The Mental Health Foundation did a survey of English GPs that found 56% of them thought that a programme of exercise was ‘quite effective’ in treating mild to moderate depression.

Plenty of research is being done on the topic: a quick search of the ISI Web of Science search engine (the fastest way to search for academic research papers) for ‘exercise’ and ‘depression’ reveals 22 papers written in 2012 so far that have both words in the title. These vary from neurological assessments of mice in Neuroscience to randomised trials of the effects of yoga in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Most recently, depression and exercise have hit the headlines in the last few days following a study that suggested this link didn’t actually exist.

Exercise doesn’t help, say the headlines

“Exercise doesn’t help depression, study concludes” says the Guardian. The Daily Mail,  Telegraph and Metro all carry similar stories. The study in question, published in the BMJ yesterday, is the first large scale randomised trial of its kind. It looked at the differences between patients on ‘conventional’ treatments alone (i.e. antidepressants or therapy) and those combining drugs with exercise. The results are fairly damning for proponents of physical activity.

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The Academic Spring… and what it means for Joe Public

In the scientific world, peer-reviewed publishing is the gold standard. When some too-good-to-be-true research is reported on the BBC website or a vaccine sceptic makes a seemingly questionable claim, the first question of every scientifically-minded-person’s lips is: Where is the paper? No matter how strong or persuasive the argument, we want to see the data. We want to scrutinise the methods. We want to know that even if we’re not 100% clear on how the experiment was carried out, the scientific community as a whole has given the research its golden seal of approval. Christians have priests, and Jews have rabbis: Scientists have Nature, Science and Cell.

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