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  • ‘Sugar coatings’ on cells can help to safeguard your health

    The University of Manchester will reveal how ‘sugar coatings’ on cells can help safeguard health at the New Scientist Live exhibition.

    The University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the independent John Inness Centre are showcasing the ‘Complex Life of Sugars’ exhibit at a four-day festival organised by New Scientist, which is taking place until Sunday (September 25) at ExCeL in London.

    "Sugars make up the majority of biomass on earth and are often used in the food and flavour industry,” explained exhibit co-organiser Dr Nicholas Weise, from the University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology. "However, it is less well known that complex structures made from sugar – known as glycans – decorate the surfaces of living systems such as viruses and cells in animals, plants and bacteria."

    "It is these structures that allow recognition and signalling, such as the action of hormones or the recognition of invading pathogens by the immune system."

    A research group at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, led by Professor Sabine Flitsch, focusses on the development of synthetic and analytical tools designed to allow scientists to construct and study medically-relevant glycans in the laboratory.

    Through the development of novel techniques at the institute scientist are now closer to being able to understand the mechanisms of cell-cell and pathogen-host interactions and even synthesise molecules for the treatment of various conditions.

    The interactive exhibit features a ‘cell invaders’ video game and enzyme experiments to detect sugars in different foodstuffs.The University of Manchester is also represented at New Scientist Live by climate change expert Professor Alice Bows-Larkin, who is sharing her views on how to cut carbon emissions, and immunologist Sheena Cruikshank, who is discussing whether cleanliness is a potential cause of allergies.

    Rooted in the “biggest, best and most provocative science”, New Scientist Live aims to touch on all areas of human life. The show will feature four immersive zones covering Brain and Body, Technology, Earth and Cosmos.

  • Birds of a feather: research may help to discover the true colour of extinct animals

    An international team of scientists led by The University of Manchester has used state-of-the-art X-ray methods to analyse the chemistry of feathers of birds, in order to discover the true colours of extinct ancient animals such as dinosaurs.

    Melanin is the dominant pigment in mammals and birds that gives them either a black/dark brown colour, for example in ravens, or a reddish/yellow hue, as in foxes. The black pigment is called eumelanin, while the reddish type is pheomelanin.

    Pioneering research at The University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life has studied the feathers of modern birds in order to find long-lived chemical markers for these different pigments, so that traces may be reconstructed in fossil specimens.

    In collaboration with the UK’s Diamond Light Source x-ray laboratories and Stanford University in the USA, the scientists analysed feathers shed by birds housed in animal sanctuaries. Their research has been able to show that the trace metal zinc, when it is bonded to sulphur compounds in a specific way, is a reliable and sensitive indicator for the presence of pheomelanin within the distinct feathers of birds of prey.

    This remarkable discovery means that scientists may perhaps now be able to go beyond monochrome depictions of extinct creatures, and make the first steps towards portraying colours based upon chemical evidence.

     

    “Melanin is a very important component in biology, but its exact chemistry is still not precisely known, especially as to how metals such as calcium, copper and zinc interact with it” said Nick Edwards, a Post Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Manchester and the lead author of the study. “Here we have used a new approach to probe these components of melanin and have found that there are subtle but measurable differences between the different types of melanin with regards to certain elements”.

    ”The avian descendants of dinosaurs have kept the chemical key to unlocking colour precisely locked in their feather chemistry” added Professor Phil Manning, co-author of the study.

    The article ‘Elemental characterisation of melanin in feathers via synchrotron X-ray imaging and absorption spectroscopy’ appears in September’s Scientific Reports journal.

  • Manchester showcasing next industrial revolution to Taiwanese experts

    The next technological breakthroughs to power a new industrial revolution – dubbed Industry 4.0 – are being showcased to a delegation of Taiwanese experts as part of a fact-finding mission to the UK led by The University of Manchester.

    The delegates are visiting Manchester – the birthplace of the first industrial revolution – for three weeks to learn more about the next big industrial development, known as Industry 4.0 or the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’.

    Manchester is set to become a world leader as the UK’s first city to demonstrate the use of Internet of Things technologies at large scale.

    “Industry 4.0 is about connectivity, between people, machines and devices, analysing large volumes of ‘Big Data’ to boost efficiency, working with cobots (collaborative robots which work closely with humans), using augmented reality and 3D printing. It’s about making industry smarter, more flexible and more efficient,” explained Dr Carl Diver from The University of Manchester.

    Leading academics from a number of universities in Taiwan, brought together by National Formosa University, are on a three-week professional development course run by Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering with support from colleagues across the University – with a long-term aim to develop stronger research links between the UK and Taiwan in the area of Industry 4.0.

    As part of their exciting programme the 30-strong Taiwanese delegation will attend a closing ceremony at the Etihad Stadium, with special guest speaker former-Manchester City player Francis Lee CBE and to hear from STATsports, a world-leading provider of GPS player tracking and analysis equipment, on how smart devices and wearable technology is influencing football.

    Other highlights have been a visit to top UK car marque Jaguar Land Rover, digger giants JCB, the new Hermes distribution centre in Warrington and NR Engineering, a precision engineering manufacturer, to discuss the possibilities and impact that Industry 4.0 is having.

    “Manchester is recognised as the birthplace of the first industrial revolution and the UK has maintained its pioneering reputation as we enter another phase of industrial development,” added Dr Diver, from Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.

    “We expect this is the first of many more courses on this topic, the delegates have also experienced the wonderful cultural sights in and around Manchester.”

  • Manchester researcher helping to tackle the world’s water challenges

    A researcher from The University of Manchester has developed a free tool to help scientists and policymakers to manage agricultural water use and improve crop water productivity in regions where supply is scarce.

    Globally, there are growing demands to produce more food with less pressure on water resources and the environment. Mathematical models that simulate how crops respond to water are powerful tools for addressing this complex challenge.

    However, the informative data from these models is only valuable if it is easily and widely accessible to the researchers and others who can use it with other water management software and data.

    AquaCrop is a crop water productivity model created by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2009. Tim Foster, lecturer in water-food security at The University of Manchester, worked with colleagues at FAO, the Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska (WFI) and Imperial College London to develop an open-source version of this tool, called AquaCrop-OS, which can be downloaded for free from aquacropos.com.

    Farm managers, policymakers, researchers and others can use the tool for water use decision-making, from the scale of an individual field all the way up to the level of a large catchment or aquifer.

    “FAO is excited to be a partner in the development of AquaCrop-OS, which we believe will provide an important extension of AquaCrop for users interested in assessing the complex economic, social, and environmental implications of agricultural water use,” said Pasquale Steduto, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Near East and North Africa deputy regional representative.

  • Wellcome Trust invests £5 million to launch the careers of clinician researchers in northern England

    The Wellcome Trust has awarded £5M over the next five years to allow the Universities of Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield to combine their strengths in biomedical and health research and create the 4ward North Clinical PhD Academy.

  • NICE guidelines on treating multiple health conditions in a single patient supported by a unique online self-management resource

    New guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) for managing patients with more than one long-term condition recommend a tailored approach to patient care focused on individual preferences, needs and priorities.

  • Eight thousand students – one grand challenge

    When the fictional University of Millchester needed to build a sustainable campus it appointed probably the largest project team in history – 8,000 University of Manchester students – with a timeframe of just one day to deliver it.

  • Top northern universities’ impact double that of Premier League - report

    The value to the economy of the eight most research-intensive universities in the Northern Powerhouse region is almost double that of the entire Premier League, a report reveals today.

  • £28.5m invested in Greater Manchester’s devolved health system to pioneer lifesaving research

    Today history has been made as a single Manchester bid has been awarded £28.5m from the NIHR, bringing lifesaving tests and treatments a step nearer for millions of people.

  • ‘Human Brain Project’ receives €89 million from the European Commission

    A flagship project which launched a range of prototype computer platforms to support brain research - including one based at The University of Manchester - has just received an €89 million boost from the European Commission.

    The ‘Human Brain Project’ is made up of six new informatics-based platforms across Europe which aim to accelerate scientific understanding of the human brain, make advances in defining and diagnosing brain disorders, and develop new brain-like technologies. The platforms are designed to help researchers advance faster and more efficiently by sharing data and results, and by exploiting advanced ICT capabilities. The platforms should enable closer collaboration between scientists to create more detailed models and simulations of the brain.

    Manchester’s contribution to the project is SpiNNaker (short for Spiking Neural Network Architecture), a computing platform made up of 500,000 microprocessors which emulates the way brain neurons fire signals in real time. SpiNNaker can be used to accurately model areas of the brain, and to test new hypotheses about how the brain might work. Because it runs at the same speed as the biological brain, it can be used to control robotic systems, providing ‘embodiment’ for the brain models. This biological approach to robot control is very different from the algorithmic systems more commonly used in robotics.

    The project aims to deliver a collaboratively-built first simulation of the human brain by 2023, which will not be a complete replication of every detail, but will provide a framework for integrating data and knowledge about the human brain from worldwide research and clinical studies.

    The new funding was agreed following a successful review, in which the Human Brain Project was praised for making significant progress during its first phase (October 2013-March 2016).

    Thomas Skordas, Acting Director of the European Commission Digital Excellence and Scientific Infrastructure Directorate, said: “The Human Brain Project is now ready and well-prepared to begin its next phase. We have established the right basis for the Project to make significant progress in the coming two years towards reaching its overall goals”.

  • Canada honours leading Manchester earth scientist

    The Royal Society of Canada has bestowed a rare honour on a world-leading earth scientist from The University of Manchester, by electing him as a ‘Foreign Fellow’.

    Professor David Vaughan is Research Professor of Mineralogy at The University of Manchester, and was the Founding Director of the University’s Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Natural History Museum.

    In addition, he has uniquely served as President of the mineralogical societies of the UK and the United States, and the equivalent European organisation.

    He is the leading international authority on metal sulphide minerals, key materials for the Canadian economy and natural environment. He has pioneered applications of spectroscopic, imaging and computational techniques to study the structure and reactivity of such minerals, and played a major role in establishing the field of molecular environmental science which integrates research on the mineralogical, geochemical and biological systems of the Earth’s surface at the molecular scale.

    The sulphide mineral 'vaughanite' was named for David, in recognition of his contributions to mineralogy.

    Founded in 1882, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) – equivalent to the UK’s Royal Society and British Academy - recognises scholarly, research and artistic excellence, advises governments and organisations, and promotes a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada and with other national academies around the world.

    Annually, the Society elects up to four Foreign Fellows who, at the time of their election, are neither residents nor citizens of Canada and who, by their exceptionally distinguished intellectual accomplishments, have helped promote the object of the Society in ways that have clear relevance for Canada.

  • EXPERT COMMENT: Dr Shavana Musa on the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia

    Dr Shavana Musa is a Lecturer at The University of Manchester's School of Law, and was recently called to give evidence to the parliamentary committees on arms export controls. Here, she writes about how these exports violate international law, and why the UK must be much stricter in its assessment of the countries it sells arms to.

    In 2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that the United Kingdom was the second biggest exporter of arms in the world - British weapons sales made up 10.4% of the total $401 billion of arms sold. The figure rose in 2015, with approved licenses for sales in the region of £7.7 billion.

    In many respects, the argument for exporting is clear – weapons are needed for defence and security, and if we don’t sell arms, somebody else with more questionable standards will. However, recent evidence has called the UK’s process of risk assessment in selling weapons to countries that have subsequently used them to commit atrocities into question. On this, I refer mainly to the UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, one of the UK’s biggest clients.

    Numerous on-the-ground studies conducted by various organisations have highlighted the humanitarian and human rights abuses that have taken place as a result of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen. Medical units and establishments were attacked, and there is evidence of severe violations of international humanitarian law and the commission of war crimes, inevitably by UK-sold arms.

    Since Saudi Arabia was already a country of concern according to the Foreign Office, it raises serious concerns on how licences for arms export to such countries are assessed and issued – all of which are done via processes that are far from transparent.

    The Parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) has launched a number of enquiries into the UK practices on arms export over the last year, and a number of experts and academics - including myself - were invited to provide evidence on issues such as the UK’s adherence to international laws, particularly in light of the Saudi-led intervention. Whilst their final report has not yet been released within the public domain, it is expected that it will uncover the devastating consequences in Yemen caused as a result of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

    However, it is clear whatever the report says that to prevent further violations, the UK must halt transactions to Saudi Arabia and should not simply rely on assurances by a country on the intended use of arms. In the same vein, a much stricter risk assessment in line with international obligations should be made before licenses are approved, not simply for Saudi Arabia, but also other countries that may, too, have questionable human rights and democratic standards - the UK has made transfers to Bahrain, Burundi and many others in the past.

    Given CAEC’s work and the recent High Court decision to allow the organisation Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to bring a judicial review against the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills’ decision to export arms to Saudi Arabia, UK arms export practices will remain under scrutiny. And with the compelling evidence pointing to end user practices as a result of illegal UK arms exports, this has become imperative.

    Hopefully, this will change the way the UK assesses and approves licences, and will avoid a repeat of the situation in Yemen.

  • Small talk but big impact: How the weather is so important to our daily lives

    It’s often seen as an easy way to make conversation in a shop or with an acquaintance, but a University of Manchester project set in Yorkshire is getting under the skin of how critical the weather is to our daily lives.

  • Link between weather and chronic pain is emerging through an innovative national smartphone research project

    Preliminary findings from a mass participation study have indicated a link between weather conditions – specifically rain and lack of sunshine – and chronic pain.

  • Atomic scale pipes available on demand and by design

    Materials containing tiny capillaries and cavities are widely used in filtration, separation and many other technologies, without which our modern lifestyle would be impossible. Those materials are usually found by luck or accident rather than design. It has been impossible to create artificial capillaries with atomic-scale precision.

    Now a Manchester group led by postdoctoral researcher Radha Boya and Nobel laureate Andre Geim show how to make the impossible possible, as reported in Nature.

    The new technology is elegant, adaptable and strikingly simple. In fact, it is a kind of antipode of the famous material graphene. When making graphene, people often take a piece of graphite and use Scotch tape to extract a single atomic plane of carbon atoms, graphene. The remaining graphite is discarded.

    In this new research, Manchester scientists similarly extracted a strip of graphene from graphite, but discarded the graphene and focused on what was left: an ultra-thin cavity within the graphite crystal.

    Such atomic scale cavities can be made from various materials to achieve not only a desired size but also to choose properties of capillary walls. They can be atomically smooth or rough, hydrophilic or hydrophobic, insulating or conductive, electrically charged or neutral; the list goes on.

    The voids can be made as cavities (to confine various substances) or open-ended tunnels (to transport different gases and liquids), which is of huge interest for fundamental research and many applications. It is limited only by imagination what such narrow tunnels with designer properties can potentially do for us.

     

    Properties of materials at this truly atomic scale are expected to be quite different from those we are familiar with in our macroscopic world. To demonstrate that this is the case of their atomic-scale voids, the Manchester group tested how water runs through those ultra-narrow pipes.

    To everyone’s surprise, they found water to flow with little friction and at high speed, as if the channels were many thousands times wider than they actually are.

    Radha Boya commented ‘This is an entirely new type of nanoscale systems. Such capillaries were never imagined, even in theory. No one thought that this degree of accuracy in design could be possible. New filtration, desalination, gas separation technologies are kind of obvious directions but there are so many others to explore’.

    Sir Andre added ‘Making something useful out of an empty space is certainly cute. Finding that this space offers so much of new science is flabbergasting. Even with hindsight, I did not expect the idea to work so well. There are myriads of possibilities for research and development, which now need to be looked at. We are stunned by the choice.’

    This work was supported by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a charitable foundation helping to protect life and property by supporting engineering-related education, public engagement and the application of research. The European Research Council and the Royal Society.

  • Scientists develop revolutionary heart attack sensor

    An international collaboration of scientists involving a team of researchers at Manchester led by Dr David J. Lewis has developed a tiny electric sensor, which could potentially improve patient survival rates by telling doctors if a person has had a heart attack.

    Cardiovascular diseases account for around 30% of adult deaths in the 30−70 year age group, which is greater than the combined deaths from all types of cancer. The ability to diagnose cardiac disease is therefore of utmost concern to doctors. When someone has a heart attack, certain chemicals are released into their bloodstream in elevated amounts, and blood tests are therefore the key to diagnosis. 

    Dr Lewis, from Manchester’s School of Materials, has worked with his colleagues and a team at India’s Institute of Nano Science and Technology (INST) since 2014 to develop a nanoscale sensor made from ‘few-layer black phosphorus’, a new 2D material, which was coated in DNA. The immobilised DNA binds to a chemical called myoglobin, which increases in blood plasma after a heart attack and can be detected and measured by a simple electrical test.

    This could have a major impact, as it is potentially the most rapid, sensitive, selective and accurate method currently available to detect if someone has elevated levels of myoglobin– the measurement of which is one of the methods used in hospitals to check if someone has suffered a heart attack. The researchers predict that its eventual introduction into the clinic could improve patient survival rates after an attack.

    This work is the first example of 2D few-layer black phosphorus being used as a biological sensing platform. The test could eventually be used at the patient bedside, and does not require the use of centralised laboratories that may slow down their diagnosis. As the DNA used is developed using chemical information imparted to it by the biological target, it is potentially a universal system that could be applied to other targets beyond myoglobin.

    Their work is described in detail in the American Chemical Society journal.

     

  • Scientists discover link between bacteria and supposedly non-infectious diseases

    A group of scientists have found that a single molecule from a bacterial cell wall component can lead to the unusual behaviour of 100 million clotting molecules in blood, which may be a major contributor to many diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes. The discovery could help to explain many features of these kinds of diseases, and may lead to new methods of prevention or treatment.

    A team from The University of Manchester, together with South African colleagues from The University of Pretoria, tested blood and plasma for its ability to clot when the normal clotting agent thrombin was added. Normal, healthy blood clots have a nice spaghetti-like appearance. However, the results showed that tiny amounts of cell wall molecules such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which are shed by dormant bacteria, caused a highly anomalous clot to form dense deposits with very different fibres.

    These can contribute to the chronic inflammation that is part of many supposedly non-infectious diseases. These include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ‘auto-immune’ conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular problems such as stroke, and metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes.

    The discovery could have considerable impact on the treatment of these conditions, since stopping the unusual clotting could stop its consequences. Existing treatments do not do this, as the new mechanism had not previously been known.

    The work is part of an ongoing collaboration funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to understand unusual blood clotting.

     

    Resia Pretorius, from the Department of Physiology at The University of Pretoria, said “The importance of LPS in inflammatory diseases has been mostly overlooked, and has been used to induce both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in animal testing for many years. Inflammatory diseases are also closely linked to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Together with our new findings regarding the involvement of a (dormant) blood microbiome, this demonstrates that dormant bacteria can play an important role in all inflammatory diseases.”

     

  • World-class Manchester scientist awarded Royal Society Research Professorship

    Professor David Leigh of The University of Manchester’s School of Chemistry has been recognised as one of the world’s top scientists, by being awarded with a Royal Society Research Professorship.

    Professor Leigh is a leading supramolecular chemist, and a pioneer of synthetic molecular machine systems. His work is directed towards the invention of artificial molecular machines and is at the forefront of small-molecule robotics, an important step towards the goal of a useful working molecular nanotechnology.

    Previous holders of Royal Society Research Professorships include seven Nobel Laureates and five Presidents of the Royal Society. The professorships usually run for up to 10 years, and provide long-term support for internationally recognised scientists of exceptional accomplishments from a range of diverse areas including biochemistry, genetics, chemistry, developmental biology and physics.

    The title is also currently held by The University of Manchester’s Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov - he is known for his work on graphene with Andre Geim, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2010.

    “Nanotechnology has strong social and economic relevance for all nations”, said Professor Leigh. “Functional molecular machines systems will ultimately reduce power requirements, accelerate drug and material discovery, facilitate recycling and reduce life-cycle costs.”

    “They have the potential to be cornerstones of revolutionary technologies that will address societal needs in terms of competitiveness, public health, energy, transport and security.”

  • Over half of deaths from injury could be prevented if public knew first aid

    Up to 59% of ‘pre-hospital’ deaths from injury could potentially be prevented if more people stepped in with some simple first aid, according to new research commissioned by the British Red Cross and conducted by the University of Manchester.

    The research, which has studied data from coroners’ offices, was last carried out 22 years ago by Prof Anthony Redmond of The University of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. The University also led the new research, which was conducted by Dr Govind Oliver.

    Whilst 93% of people will call for an ambulance if they find someone with an injury, first aid intervention of any kind was infrequent. Around half of the cases in this study did not attempt any first aid while waiting for the emergency medical services to arrive.

    “The good news is that most people are calling 999,” said Joe Mulligan, head of first aid education at the British Red Cross. “However, after calling 999, we want people to then do something in those crucial minutes before the ambulance arrives. Every person needs to recognise that in an emergency, you are part of the ‘chain of survival.”

    The British Red Cross is calling for everyone in the UK to learn two basic first aid skills that could help to prevent the number of people who die from injuries, such as those resulting from falls or road traffic accidents, before reaching hospital.

    The two first aid skills identified by British Red Cross as being the most essential in cases of accidental injury and trauma are:

    - If the person is unresponsive and breathing, open their airway so they can continue to breathe. Do this by placing them on their side with their head tilted back.

    - If they are bleeding heavily, stop them from bleeding to death by putting pressure on any heavily bleeding wounds.


    The charity is also calling for more opportunities to learn first aid throughout one’s lifetime, starting at school, but also through the driving test and public health initiatives, for example.

    Find the report and more about the campaign at www.redcross.org.uk/dontstopat999.

     

  • Highest ever place for Manchester in world survey of universities

    The University of Manchester has achieved its highest ever position in one of the leading international university league tables.