Monthly Archives: August 2017

10 Epic Physiology Cakes

It’s that time of year again! Great British Bake-Off time Bio-Bodies Bake-Off time! To celebrate the return of the baking season, staff at The Physiological Society have been reminiscing about past entries to our annual hunger-inducing competition. From muscle to kidneys, representing health or disease, grossly graphic or detailed to the molecular level, check out our 10 favourites, in no particular order. If you haven’t quite decided what area of physiology you would like to cover in this year’s competition, these delicious treats might give you some inspiration!

  1. Operation Indigestion: Stomacake, by Anousha Chandran, Kujani Wanniarachchi, Susannah Watson and Anna Higgins

Rosie 1

Rosie Waterton, our Governance Manager, admits to having limited physiology knowledge, but confesses to a somewhat higher than average level of cake eating experience. “This cake is probably my favourite,” she explains. “There is something darkly ironic about demonstrating indigestion through something so delicious and tempting! I also just love a good pun.”

  1. Anatomy of the Face, by Sophia Rothewell

Rosie couldn’t help picking a second choice when she saw Anatomy of the Face. She was struck by its uncanny resemblance to a Game of Thrones white walker…. only colourful.

Rosie_NightKing

©HBO

  1. Not Kidneying Around, by Carlotta Meyer

Jen

Jen Brammer, our Membership Engagement Manager, another pun fan, loved this delicious masterpiece, Not Kidneying Around. Whilst unsure about the anatomical accuracy, she did enjoy debating whether the appendages were pickled onions or grapes!

  1. Upper Leg, by Jack Croft

Bobby Harrop, our summer intern and a keen cyclist, was immediately struck when seeing the cake titled Upper Leg.

Jack Croft Biobakes_Bobby

He commented: “when cycling, I rely heavily on the input of my upper legs and I was fascinated to see this submission highlighting the complexity of the Rectus Femoris and Vastus muscle group whilst including real detail in the muscular tone. Plus in terms of parts of the body to eat, muscle is probably the most appetising as it is mostly protein!”

  1. The Effects of Drug Abuse on the Human Body, by Amy Yang

Anisha Tailor, our Outreach Officer, has probably spent the most time browsing through the #Biobakes entries. Each year, she develops a minor obsession with the hashtag and eagerly awaits the first entry!

anisha

“I think my favourite cake of all time has to be the one titled The Effects of Drug Abuse on the Human Body. It was a bit of a shock to find it in my inbox at first, but it became one of my firm favourites of 2016: it’s visceral, yet educational, although perhaps not very appetising”.

  1. Guts, by the students from Tiverton High School

Hannah

Hannah Woolley, Editorial Assistant, spent far too long deciding which one was her favourite. She finally decided she liked this one the most because it looked gross.  “It’s a compliment! I particularly liked the attention to detail that went into the blood splatter.”

  1. A Tasty Great Cake, by Katie Pennington

KatiePenningtonBB15_Daimona

Daïmona Kounde, our Communications Officer, loves picking yummy cake photos for our social media. “I have a soft spot for the DNA-themed cakes,” she says. “My favourite, A Tasty Great Cake, is not just beautiful and colourful, but it also has the A, T, C and G bases paired correctly, with a colour key to boot. The ‘base necessities’ pun in the cake description was just… icing on the cake (sorry)!”

  1. Synapse, by Nicola Armstrong

Angela Breslin, our Education Manager, has been following the BioBakes competition ever since it started, and continues to be amazed by the high standard of entries each year.

“It’s a difficult choice but if I had to choose just one, it would be the cake titled simply Synapse, for the sheer amount of detail and the elegant way in which it shows how an action potential travels between nerves – somehow managing to show physiology in a single snapshot. It’s also a beautiful bake!”

angela

  1. Louis’s Lungs, by Louis Christofi

louis-christofi_sam-e1504025644489.jpg

Samantha Chan, Events & Marketing Officer, has tried baking different cakes and biscuits in the past, but has never attempted a BioBakes cake. Sadly, staff aren’t allowed to enter, so she will just have to make do with all your entries – or make some cakes for the office! Her favourite was Louis’s Lungs, which shows the structure of the lungs.

  1. Your baking masterpiece!

We can’t wait to be amazed by this year’s entries. Maybe yours will make it to our next round of favourites! If you’re still a bit stuck for ideas for BioBakes 2017, browse our Twitter hashtag #Biobakes, read about one of our previous winners, or take a look at our 2014, 2015 and 2016 Facebook albums!

All you’ve got left to do is bake! For full terms and conditions visit our competition page. Entries are due in by 5pm, Friday 6 October, and photos must include the #Biobakes photo entry form to be considered.

Stressing out the immune system

Excerpt from a Physiology News feature by Natalie Riddell, School of Biosciences and Medicine, University of Surrey, UK, @N_Riddell_Immun

Natalie Riddell LatitudeStress can get under our skin. It can influence each and every physiological system, and all of the major contemporary diseases in the UK, including cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disorders, metabolic syndrome, infectious diseases and cancer, have been associated with stress. Stress affects everyone, and levels of anxiety and mental health disorders are increasing with work-related stress now being the second most commonly reported illness in the UK workforce. Over the last four decades, research in the area of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has identified stress induced immune alterations as a potential mediator between chronic stress and ill-health.

In the 1970s, Holmes and Rahe developed a scale to subjectively grade stress, [which inspired our recent survey of stress in modern Britain]. They ranked over 40 different types of life stressors, such as the death of someone close to you, changes in relationship status, work-related stress, even Christmas, and they assigned each stressor a score. The total tally of stress scores that a person had experienced in the last year could accurately predict the likeliness of future illness. This demonstrated that stress and illness were closely related. In the 1990’s, Cohen et al., eloquently demonstrated that psychological stress increased the rates of respiratory infections and clinical symptoms in participants inoculated with the common cold (Cohen, Tyrrell et al. 1993). Subsequent studies revealed that every organ, tissue and cell of the immune system could be altered by psychological stress. The involvement of immune alterations in stress induced diseases was recognised and the field of PNI was born.

Defining stress

Stress is highly subjective. Something that I may class as stressful (watching Arsenal this season), may not be stressful to other people (Tottenham supporters). So how can we define stress? In the 1960s, the psychologist Richard Lazarus introduced the concept that stress is a process consisting of three distinct steps. First, a stimulus (i.e., the stressor) has to be present and perceived. Second, the stimulus initiates a conscious or sub-conscious process whereby the stressor is evaluated in relation to available coping options. If the demands of the situation exceed the ability to cope, then the situation is perceived as stressful. Thirdly, this results in a stress response involving emotional (e.g., anxiety, embarrassment) and biological (e.g., autonomic-endocrine) adaptations. Put simply; stress is a situation or event that exceeds, or is perceived to exceed, the individual’s ability to cope, that then triggers an emotional and biological response.

circadian4

Image: Darryl Leja, NHGRI

The stress adaptation response and immunity

The biological adaptation to stress is activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The same biological response is induced whether the stressor is psychological, such as anxiety or embarrassment, or physical, for example, exercise, trauma or fever. In the case of psychological stress, the individual perceives an inability to cope and this results in the amygdala, a part of the brain that contributes to emotion processing, sending a distress signal to the nearby hypothalamus. The hypothalamus can communicate with the rest of the body via either of two arms of the involuntary nervous system: “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) or “fight or flight” (sympathetic). During stress, this “fight or flight” system is triggered and various physiological changes occur, including an increase in heart rate, respiration and energy production. This promotes survival of the individual by maximising physical capacity to cope with the stressor.

During stress, signalling from the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system causes the adrenal gland to secrete the two main stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can spread and act throughout the body via the circulation. The sympathetic nervous system innervates all of the organs of the immune system, and individual immune cells can directly respond to changes in circulating levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Stress is therefore able to alter every process of immunity, from the initial development of stem cells into early immune cells in the bone marrow, through to the triggering of immune responses to specific antigens in the lymph nodes. Even when in the peripheral tissues, such as the skin or gut, where mature immune cells are most likely to encounter infections, the cells can be regulated by stress hormones. It is therefore unsurprising that the immune system is a modifiable target of stress.

Read Natalie’s full article in our magazine Physiology News to find out how acute stress changes the composition of the blood, and why our Stone Age brain can’t cope with the constant stress of modern life. Her feature takes a more detailed dive into the effects of stress on the immune system’s day-night (circadian) rhythm, and points to stress management as an easy and affordable way to make us healthier.

Reference

Cohen, S., D. A. Tyrrell and A. P. Smith (1993). Negative life events, perceived stress, negative affect, and susceptibility to the common cold. J Pers Soc Psychol 64(1): 131-140.

 

 

The open science movement: Revolution is underway

By Keith Siew, @keithsiew, University of Cambridge

‘Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.’ Aaron Swartz, in Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, 2008

The world’s first academic science journal, Philosophical Transactions, was published by the Royal Society in 1665. At last count there were some 11,365 science journals spanning over 234 disciplines by 2015, and yet the primary model of scientific publishing remained largely unchanged throughout the centuries.

As a fresh-faced, naïve PhD student, I recall the horror I felt upon learning that my hard work would be at the mercy of a veiled, political peer-review process, that I’d be left with little option but to sign away my rights to publishers, and too often forced to choose between burning a hole in my wallet or forgoing access to a potentially critical paper!

Capture2

Derivative of ‘Open Access Explained!’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5rVH1KGBCY] by ©PhDComics.com Licensed under CC BY.

The open science movement offers an alternative to this unjust system. In its purest form, the movement advocates for making scientific research and its dissemination an entirely transparent process, freely accessible to all levels of society.

Capture

Read more here in Physiology News about some of the more radical elements of the movement, existing open science opportunities and the reasons behind life scientists’ relatively slow adoption of open science. The full article also discusses the ongoing struggle for open access, the growing angst towards closed peer review and fundamental shifts on the horizon in both the ways we communicate (i.e. preprints) and carry out science (i.e. open data and open notebook science).

Cats under the microscope

Cats. They’ll push your glass off the table, get you to open the window just to look outside some more, and recognise your voice but pretend they didn’t hear. Yet, the little despots rule the internet – and the couch. This International Cat Day, take your obsession with cats to a new level by learning about their physiology: how their bodies work.

How does cats’ hunter vision work?

KmZOG6DEcvwJi

Cats have a broader visual field than us, spanning about 200 degrees instead of 180, however they can only see objects 20 feet away, whereas we can see over 100 feet away. While our eyes are chock full of cone cells that specialise in detail and colour, cats’ are packed with rod cells specialised for dim light and night-vision. Because they have more rod cells, they can track quicker movements. This might explain why they find laser pointers so fascinating. While we see the laser darting from one spot to the next, a cat would see its path along the way.

Why do cats cause allergies?

Do cats have you reaching for tissues?  They are a common cause of allergy: an overreaction of our immune system, which triggers mechanisms designed to fight infection (like a runny nose, itching and swelling) in response to harmless substances. Cat allergies are mostly triggered by two major allergen proteins. The most reactive one, Fel d 1, triggers reactions in more than half of cat allergy sufferers. It is found in cats’ saliva and waste, but is also produced by their skin cells. Another protein, Fel d 4, is similar to what triggers allergies to horses, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits. Allergens in cats’ saliva end up on their fur when they groom themselves. It is the fur they shed, along with dead skin cells, which flies around and ends up on surfaces, carpets… and in the noses of allergic people! But there is hope yet for allergic cat lovers.  Allergen-specific immunotherapy, an ‘allergy vaccine’ of sorts, aims to train the immune system to stop overreacting to harmless allergens, by introducing it in small doses at first, and increasing them little by little. To avoid the risk of a dangerous allergic reaction during the process, scientists are developing molecules that look enough like the allergens to train the immune system, without the power to trigger an allergic reaction. In the meantime, allergic cat lovers might be tempted by claims of hypoallergenic animals. While some cats may naturally produce lower levels of allergens, this varies from cat to cat and no breed has been proven ‘hypoallergenic.’ Opting for a short-haired or bald cat breed may limit allergy risk because they won’t shed as much fur, but better keep those anti histamines close – cats have no notion of personal space!

How do cats purr?

What makes the purr distinctive from other cat vocalizations is that it is produced continually, while the cat breathes in and out. In contrast, a meow is only produced when breathing out, like when we speak. The purr sound is produced in the larynx – the voice box. Cats with a paralysed larynx can’t purr, and purring returns with their voice, after healing. In the larynx, the vocal folds oscillate to create the purring sound as inspired or expired air passes through.

Because it is created by a different mechanism than voice, purring can occur at the same time as a meow, hence the purr-cry that cats use to manipulate us when they want to be fed. And house cats are not the only ones to purr. Purring has been recorded in most felines, except for panther-like species: Lion, Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard. As lovely as it is, a cat purring at the vet’s (if only!) may prevent them from hearing properly during auscultation. There’s an easy fix for it, just turn on a tap nearby!

What determines calico fur patterns?

The fur pattern of a calico or tortoiseshell cat all boils down to genetics, and specifically the X chromosome.

Tortoiseshell cat

To understand how, we need to take a short detour into sex chromosomes. X and Y chromosomes, the two that determine sex, were not created equal; Y chromosomes have very few genes, whereas X chromosomes have hundreds. And while males only have one of the large X chromosomes, females have two. Double the chromosomes, double the proteins, right? Not quite, because producing double the amount of proteins from the X chromosome would be toxic. To make up for this imbalance, females shut down one of the X’s when the fertilised egg starts dividing. The gene for fur colour is on the X chromosome in calico cats. When the black fur gene is inactivated, the cell creates orange fur instead. The X chromosome that’s inactivated is randomly chosen in each cell. This means certain parts of the fur will be black and others will be red.

 

Examining physiology as a global discipline

by Henry Lovett, Policy and Public Affairs Officer

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is currently playing host to the 38th Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS), which is a global network of physiological societies. Released at this event is the report Physiology – Current Trends and Future Challenges. This is a collaboration between the IUPS and The Physiological Society looking at the discipline of physiology and the state it is found in around the world. Physiologists and students of the subject have different experiences and face different challenges depending on their local environment in terms of funding, regulation, job opportunities, public attitude, and any number of other variables.

IUPS sought input from its member organisations, receiving 27 contributions, the content of which make up the data underpinning the report. These responses covered all six inhabited continents, and physiological societies large and small. Most were proud to describe the accomplishments in their country, but many set these against a background of declining government funding for research and greater difficulty in training for in vivo skills and conducting animal-based experimentation. One of the few exceptions is the UK, where the government has pledged to increase research funding over the coming years, although there are concerns around the impact of Brexit on international collaboration.

IUPSCover

Responses about the teaching of physiology varied widely; in some countries the discipline is not taught as an individual undergraduate subject, but others have a number of routes into physiology. It is covered in medical, veterinary, dental and nursing courses, and a number of countries are beginning to highlight the clinical relevance of physiological knowledge.

The general public in some countries can feel very far-removed from scientific research, which affects the perception when governments spend money on science. It is crucial to cement the link in people’s minds between research and health, prosperity, and being able to go about daily life. Many people are aware of pressing problems such as climate change, pollution, and ageing unhealthy populations, but do not necessarily support basic research when they cannot be told a direct application. It is hoped that societies will be able to share knowledge on how best to shore up support for basic research.

The survey also considered the career prospects of new graduates. Globally, physiologists have good opportunities in academic positions as post-doctoral fellows, research associates in research laboratories, and as faculty members. However, the academic sector does not produce enough opportunities to have a position for each graduate. Other professional opportunities are being sought by new PhDs as the struggle to obtain research funding support is very onerous. Career opportunities for physiologists in non-academic institutions appear to be good in several countries, be they related to science or more general graduate careers such as finance.

27Countries

The report compiled responses from 27 countries

An exercise such as this survey is not merely to take stock of the state physiology is found in, but to offer a route towards improving it. The report offers recommendations for member societies to work with IUPS and create programmes in their own countries. Due to differing situations it is not envisaged that these will be universally and identically implemented, but the IUPS is creating new Regional Representatives to work closely with individual societies to drive effective development.

While no organisation is yet in the optimum state for driving forward international physiology, there is hope in the future. This report is the first step in a unifying and momentum-raising process to bolster physiology worldwide and achieve its universal recognition as a vital and robust discipline.

Download the report here.