Biosciences

Judged by your Genes

Katherine Dudman introduces genetic discrimination, the sly cousin of racism and sexism Have you ever spared a thought for the value of the information encoded in your genes? Have others? We are constantly bombarded with headlines about the latest research to link behaviour, appearance or disease to variations in our genetic makeup. You may even have considered your own chances of developing cancer, escaping Alzheimer’s or making it through to

Weird and Wonderful: Giving a Fig about Wasps

While many plants entice pollinators with nectar, fig trees do so with the promise of safety and food for the pollinators’ offspring. For the last 50 million years, fig trees have been exclusively pollinated by symbiotic wasps. The insects are born in the little flowers that make up the inside of the fig fruit and are thus provided with a ready food supply. The winged females and wingless males mate

Why care about the Polar Bear?

Rachael Beasley reveals how there is more to polar bears than meets the eye Climate change. Already in your mind are images of traffic jams hazy with pollution, melting icecaps, and most likely the polar bear. This year marked the fifth lowest Arctic sea ice extent since records began. The low amount of ice has a severe impact on the bears – in fact, they are increasingly becoming known as

Read, learn, and inwardly digest

Joy Thompson studies the links between the lavatory and the literary In 2008, Goldstein and colleagues were concerned about a hole in the gastroenterology literature. It’s common knowledge that many a person has “first solaced his mind, then wiped his behind”, according to the limerick, but no-one had studied the effect of toilet reading on digestive health. Goldstein et al. hypothesised that toilet reading could make defecation easier by providing

Can Birds Read Minds?

Rachel Crosby puts herself inside the mind of the Eurasian Jay If you walk into the kitchen and see your friend jumping around holding onto their foot, you are likely to think that they have stood on something painful, not that they are performing a ritual rain dance. Humans have the ability to decode the thoughts, beliefs and emotions of others, allowing you to predict and understand peoples’ actions because

The Inexpert Ape

Laura Van Holstein explains why none of us is a specialist, and why this makes us so successful. We belong to a remarkably successful species. By comparison, our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, never experienced a population boom or geographical sprawl on the scale of Homo sapiens. The key to our curious reproductive overdrive and environmental in delity is our place at the bottom of the Scala Naturae, if

Planting Ideas: an Interview with Professor Beverly Glover

Ramya Gurunathan and Caitlin Walker talk to Professor Beverly Glover about communication, collaboration, and botanical research. “It’s important for scientists to be able to communicate about their research, we all know that, but sometimes it’s hard to know quite how to,” explains Beverly Glover, Professor of Plant Systematics and Evolution at Cambridge. Glover is not only Director of the Botanical Garden but also the leader of an active research group

Understanding the Irrational

Laura Nunez-Mulder discusses psychiatry’s future with Professor Paul Fletcher Psychiatry is changing. Historically, the field has been dynamic, undergoing transformation as institutions and asylums have come in and out of fashion. Over the last century, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook of checklists by which psychiatrists can make diagnoses, has been overhauled time and time again. The DSM is a controversial manual. Many disorders overlap,

Food for Thought: Fake News and the Diet Industry

Zi Ran Shen talks fad diets and pseudoscience with Cambridge’s Dr Giles Yeo. The post-truth era has taken over – beliefs are emphasised while cold hard facts are ignored. From Kellyanne Conway’s insistence that falsehoods were “alternative facts”, to Nigel Farage’s flip-flopping on the promised £350m for the NHS, nothing seems to be untouched by the post-truth haze. But perhaps all this is not so very new. We have seen

Our Neanderthal Ancestry

Alba Landra uncovers the ancient ancestry that underlies modern human evolution. MODERN HUMANS have managed to reach every corner of the globe and with current population sizes rising rapidly, we could stake a claim to being the most ‘successful’ hominid species yet. However, how much has our recent ancestry impacted our evolution, and have our previous interbreeding events helped, or even hindered, our success as a species? About 100,000 years ago,