Finding the un-natural in the lab…

Taming the power of the immune system in the lab wasn’t easy. For a start, it was a mystery how we have so many different antibodies, millions at any one time. But if it’s one gene per protein, and we only had something like 30,000 genes, how could we have millions of different antibodies? Understanding this problem was the key that unlocked one way to make antibodies against targets that we select. We can use them as tools in the lab, or to treat disease—therapeutic antibodies. Chances are you may know someone who has, or is, using them; if they have Crohn’s disease for example. Just finding antibodies that stick to a target—some unique bump, crevice or corner on a virus, for example—isn’t enough. The next step is to find out if they do something useful. They may stick but not prevent infection, or not activate some receptor on a ...(Read More)

Well, I could’ve told you that…

We’ve all been its victims. We ‘knew it all along’; we look back on events and can clearly see that something was obviously going to happen. Or at least, you ‘knew it all along’ now that it’s happened. This is the weird world of ‘hindsight bias’: when we convince ourselves that an event—maybe a football score or an election result—was more predictable than it really was after you know the outcome. On the surface it may seem harmless enough, though annoying if you’re on the end of someone else’s ‘I could’ve told you that’, but it can be a real problem. It can stop us learning from our mistakes and make us overconfident. And can we do anything about it? Psychologists studying hindsight bias have come to the conclusion that there are three different levels that combine to give the overall effect; each of these levels stacks up: ‘Forseeability’ on ...(Read More)

Bioluminescent Proteins Shed Light On The Inner-life Of Neurons

It could almost be the negative of a view from a plane over a busy city at night. The lights of vehicles moving in and out, clusters of traffic; a city going about it’s business. But this city is a brain cell. A neuron. The roads are axons and dendrites; long slim projections that send (axons) and receive (dendrites) electrical impulses to and from the cell body. The lights aren’t cars, but proteins moving up and down the axons and dendrites. But they are definitely lights; of a sort. Much like post at a large sorting office, cellular proteins are sorted into groups, depending on where they are needed. This is done by the ‘golgi apparatus‘, the cells sorting office. Proteins are packaged into vesicles and are targeted to different areas, be it axon, dendrite, or elsewhere. The packages are attached to a group of proteins called Myosins that carry cargo along a kind of scaffold inside ...(Read More)

The wisdom of crowds: Masturbation and asking the right questions

Here’s a small challenge for you: how many £2 coins are in this tin? Your answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is likely to be some way off.  Some will guess too high, others too low. But, curiously, if enough people make a guess, and you average out the guesses, the ‘average guess’ is likely to be close to the right number: The wisdom of crowds. The statistician Francis Galton in 1907 is credited with first noticing the effect. A public fair in Plymouth was offering a competition, with the princely entry fee of 6d., to guess the weight of a ‘slaughtered and dressed ox’. With roughly 800 entries, he noted that the ‘middlemost value’ (the median) of 1207 lb. was only 0.3% higher than the actual value of 1198 lb. Ok, so, the wisdom of crowds may work for answering specific questions about quantities or general knowledge, or even estimating and ranking the populations of ...(Read More)

Hello there!

Move along, there’s nothing to see here…yet… G