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Vomiting bumblebees show that sweeter is not necessarily better

last modified Jan 23, 2020 05:38 PM
Animal pollinators support the production of three-quarters of the world’s food crops, and many flowers produce nectar to reward the pollinators. A new study using bumblebees has found that the sweetest nectar is not necessarily the best: too much sugar slows down the bees. The results will inform breeding efforts to make crops more attractive to pollinators, boosting yields to feed our growing global population.

Find out more on this article here.




Text sourced from:

Image: Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris.

Credit: Yani Dubin on Flickr 


How climate change could double greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater ecosystems

last modified Nov 21, 2019 03:20 PM
There has been enormous interest in Dr Andrew Tanentzap’s study on how climate change could double greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater ecosystems.

A selection of articles have been published by the University of Cambridge, The Conversation, Newsweek, and The Telegraph, amongst others. 

Canadian lake. Credit: Jondolar Schnurr on Pixabay

Degraded soils mean tropical forests may never fully recover from logging

last modified Dec 18, 2019 02:41 PM
Continually logging and re-growing tropical forests to supply timber is reducing the levels of vital nutrients in the soil, which may limit future forest growth and recovery, a new study suggests. This raises concerns about the long-term sustainability of logging in the tropics.

Find out more on this article here.

Text sourced from:

Image credit: 'Logging in the rainforest of Kalimantan', Greenpeace / Kate Davison 

Local water availability is permanently reduced after planting forests

last modified Jan 23, 2020 05:36 PM
River flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted and does not recover over time, a new study has shown. Rivers in some regions can completely disappear within a decade. This highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit, of tree-planting plans.

Find out more on this article here




Text sourced from:

Image: Shallow river bed in Buderim Forest Park, Queensland, Australia.  
Credit: Laura Bentley.

Ambitious project launched to map genomes of all life in British Isles

last modified Nov 08, 2019 09:17 AM
An unprecedented insight into the diverse range of species on the British Isles will be made possible by Wellcome funding to the Darwin Tree of Life project.

The £9.4m funding will support a collaboration of ten research institutes, museums and associated organisations to launch the first phase of sequencing all the species on the British Isles. This will see the teams collect and ‘barcode’ around 8000 key British species of animal, plant and fungi, and deliver high-quality genomes of 2000 species.

Exploring the genomes – the entire DNA - of these species will give an unprecedented insight into how life on Earth evolved. It will uncover new genes, proteins and metabolic pathways to help develop drugs for infectious and inherited diseases.

At a time when many species are under threat from climate change and human development, the data will also help characterise, catalogue and support conservation of global biodiversity for future generations.

“This project is the start of a transformation for biological research. It will change our relationship to the natural world by enabling us to understand life as never before,” said Professor Richard Durbin in Cambridge University’s Department of Genetics, who will lead the University’s involvement in the collaboration. “It will create a knowledge resource for others to build on, just as we’ve seen with the Human Genome Project for human health.”

From the small fraction of the Earth’s species that have been sequenced, enormous advances have been made in knowledge and biomedicine. From plants, a number of lifesaving drugs have been discovered and are now being created in the lab – such as artemisinin for malaria and taxol for cancer.

Assembling the full genetic barcode of each species from the millions of genetic fragments generated in the sequencing process will rely on the University of Cambridge’s expertise in computational analysis.

“Genome assembly is like doing a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. The genome revolution is all about information, and our ability to put the sequencing data together is based on cutting-edge computing techniques,” said Dr Shane McCarthy at the University of Cambridge, who will work on the project with Professor Durbin.

The project will identify and collect specimens that will include plants from the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. It will set up new pipelines and workflows to process large numbers of species through DNA preparation, sequencing, assembly, gene finding and annotation. New methods will be developed for high-throughput and high-quality assembly of genomes and their annotation, and data will be shared openly through existing data sharing archives and project specific portals.

The 10 institutes involved in the project are:

  • University of Cambridge
  • Earlham Institute (EI)
  • University of Edinburgh
  • EMBL’s-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI)
  • The Marine Biological Association (Plymouth)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • University of Oxford
  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

The consortium ultimately aims to sequence the genetic code of 60,000 species that live in the British Isles. Its work will act as a launchpad for a larger ambition to sequence all species on Earth, as part of the Earth Biogenome Project.

Dr Michael Dunn, Head of Genetics and Molecular Sciences at Wellcome, said, “The mission to sequence all life on the British Isles is ambitious, but by bringing together this diverse group of organisations we believe that we have the right team to achieve it. We’ll gain new insights into nature that will help develop new treatments for infectious diseases, identify drugs to slow ageing, generate new approaches to feeding the world and create new bio-materials.”

Media release from the University of Cambridge. Adapted from a press release by Wellcome.

How can researchers get involved with science policy?

last modified Oct 15, 2019 11:05 AM
The CambPlants Policy Lunch took place on the 19th September 2019. Here Rebekah Hinton (Part II undergraduate student in Plant Sciences) summarises what was said...

The coming few decades will present major challenges for the planet and its people. Ensuring that research within the sciences is translated into real changes in policy and practice is critical if scientific research is going to lead to the real change we need to see. But how do researchers start to go about getting involved in policy? Our three speakers - Lauren Milden, Franziska Fischer and Erin Cullen - spoke about their respective experiences, and gave advice to policy novices.

Lauren Milden was able to offer insight from the many policy makers and researchers she has worked alongside through her work as Policy Adviser at the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). She also shared observations from her previous work within public health policy. Franziska Fischer, a PhD student at Plant Sciences, shared her experiences of being on the Royal Society of Biology’s Education and Science Policy Committee alongside her work as a researcher, which has enabled her to work in both the policy and science sectors. Erin Cullen, also a PhD student at Plant Sciences, talked about her internship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).  The placement, undertaken as part of the DTP PhD programme, offered an understanding of the aspects of research that policy makers focus on.

This blog post summarises some of the advice and insights they offered and how you can get involved in science policy.


Get Informed

Being up to date with the latest developments in science and policy enables researchers to engage with the relevant policy makers and groups in a timely fashion. Furthermore, it assists scientists in informing the direction and focus their research can take to lead to this maximum impact. For example, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) develop summaries of key public policy issues called POSTnotes. Reading these is a great way to get a feel for the tone of policy documents and keeping an eye on upcoming POSTnote topics can help researchers to be prepared to submit evidence when a relevant topic goes live.


Get Involved

Getting involved in the world of policy not only enables scientists to develop connections, but also encourages a greater understanding of the workings of the policy world.

Becoming part of committees like the Royal Society of Biology’s Education and Science Policy Committee could be a great way to learn more about policy as well as having in impact in an area you feel passionately about.

Experience within centres and groups which make policy decisions can also be an invaluable way to get involved within the policy world.  Internships and placements, such as that undertaken by Erin Cullen at POST, are certainly worth exploring to truly gain an insight into the workings of policy making.


Get Impacting

Having the potential policy impacts of your work in mind throughout the research process can really help to focus your research. Involving and informing policy makers about your research from the beginning can help to develop contacts who are able to apply this research later on. CSaP are able to offer advice and contacts about policy makers who may be interested in hearing more about your research.  

Ensure your research is accessible. One of the key barriers to policy makers trying to access research is the cost of some publications, therefore, ensuring your research is available in some form of free publication can aid in ensuring the maximum impact. However, the research must also be understandable in terms of the language used - POSTnotes provide a useful reference of an accessible style. Blogs, policy briefings, and being present on social media can all work to increase both the visibility and understandability of your research, as well as the chance that it will be picked up on by policy makers.

Timing is critical. Policy makers tend to work on deadlines of hours/days whilst science projects are often working on the timescale of months/years. It can sometimes be tempting to hold off on getting involved in consultations (in which policy makers hold meetings with a variety of people working within the field) as well as calls for research when the research itself does not feel as though it is ready. However, in these cases timing really does matter. It is worth putting your research out there when there is a chance, even if it involves explaining that it is an ongoing project.

It is also worth remembering that some evidence is better than none. Not all policy can be completely evidence based, therefore do not be overly modest and assume there is someone else has a better idea or better evidence; whatever it is that you have researched is worth sharing.

Make the most of the services available. Cambridge has a variety of services and groups support scientists in using their research to inform policy makers. For example, the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) is a university wide service that aims to connect scientists and policy makers in order to encourage effective use of evidence and expertise to change policy. They run a number of programmes including policy fellowships which bring together policy professionals from government, industry, and the third sector with university researchers. Their professional development sessions aim to develop the skills of early researchers necessary to engage within the world of policy. University societies The Wilberforce Society and CUSPE (Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange) also offer support and opportunities to gain experience with science policy. 

It is critical that scientists take an interest in, get involved in, and are able to inform policy decisions; it’s worth getting stuck into the world of policy as soon as you can!