Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

A well-connected brain is the key to healthy mental ageing

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“Cambridge scientists have shown that healthy mental ageing is dependent on how well different regions of the brain continue to ‘talk’ to each other, in the first large scale study of its kind.”

“It has puzzled researchers why some people maintain good memory and intelligence as they age and others suffer increasing difficulties, without having dementia.”

“As we age connections within the brain decrease. The new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that the better critical brain regions continue to be able to communicate with each other, known as brain connectivity, the better people can cope with ageing.”

“The study was conducted by Dr Kamen Tsvetanov and colleagues at the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN), funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.”

“The researchers examined the brains of more than 600 healthy people using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect brain activity. They then tested whether differences in brain connectivity predicted performance in a wide variety of cognitive tests, showing an increased reliance on brain connectivity in order to maintain cognitive wellbeing, as we age.”

“This is the first study to look at the importance of connectivity in such a large group of people, selected specifically to represent the normal healthy adult population – aged right through from 18 to 88-years-old.”

Reference: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Brain Network Connectivity Maintains Cognition across the Lifespan Despite Accelerated Decay of Regional Brain Activation by Tsvetanov et al is published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Available at: (DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2733-15.2016)

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council news: ]

Mirror mirror: Snail shells offer clues to origins of body asymmetry

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

“An international team of researchers has discovered a gene in snails that determines whether their shells twist clockwise or anti-clockwise – and could offer clues to how the same gene affects body asymmetry in other animals including humans.”

“The research, published in the journal Current Biology and led by a scientist at The University of Nottingham, UK, is an important step in understanding how our organs are placed asymmetrically within the body and why this process can sometimes go wrong when some or all of the major internal organs are reversed or mirrored from their normal placement in the body.”

“Dr Angus Davison, an expert in evolutionary genetics at The University of Nottingham in the UK, led the international research project with involvement from scientists at The University of Edinburgh, UK, University of Göttingen, Germany and Tufts University, USA. Using snails that naturally differ in how their shells twist, Davison and his colleagues were able to identify a gene that controls whether snail shells twist clockwise or anticlockwise. The gene makes a protein called formin, which is involved in making the cell scaffold. A defect in formin means that the whole snail is ‘reversed’, a mirror image of others in the same species.”

The article in Current Biology, ‘Formin Is Associated with Left-Right Asymmetry in the Pond Snail and the Frog’ can be accessed here (Open Access):

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council news: ]

Breeding wildness back into our fruit and veg

Monday, February 29th, 2016

“Wild tomatoes are better able to protect themselves against the destructive whitefly than our modern, commercial varieties, new research has shown.”

“The study, published in the academic journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development, shows that in our quest for larger, redder, longer-lasting tomatoes we have inadvertently bred out key characteristics that help the plant defend itself against predators.”

“Led by Newcastle University, the research shows that wild tomatoes have a dual line of defence against these voracious pests; an initial mechanism which discourages the whitefly from settling on the plant in the first place and a second line of defence which happens inside the plant where a chemical reaction causes the plant sap to “gum up” blocking the whitefly’s feeding tube.”

The research has been published in the following article (Open Access): Novel resistance mechanisms of a wild tomato against the glasshouse whitefly. Thomas McDaniel, Colin Tosh, Angharad Gatehouse, David George, Michelle Robson and Barry Brogan. Agronomy for Sustainable Development:

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council news: ]

British Academy experts welcome government’s prison reform plans

Monday, February 29th, 2016

“The group of expert researchers who produced a British Academy policy report on imprisonment have welcomed the government’s decision to implement reforms aimed at reducing violence, substance abuse and self-harm within prisons, as well as rates of reoffending.”

“The Prime Minister announced an overhaul of Britain’s 121 prisons in a bid to ‘tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances’. He commented further that ‘prison reform should be a great progressive cause in British politics’ and that there are ‘diminishing return from ever higher levels of incarceration’, which echoes the British Academy’s policy report A Presumption Against Imprisonment: Social order and Social Values.”

“This report draws on expertise from the humanities and social sciences to offer an evidence-based approach to reducing reoffending through re-evaluating the current use of custodial sentences. It was written by a group of academic experts including Professor Andrew Ashworth FBA, Professor Roger Cotterrell FBA, Professor Andrew Coyle, Professor Antony Duff FBA, Professor Nicola Lacey FBA, Professor Alison Liebling and Professor Rod Morgan.”

You can download the report from here:

[Source British Academy news: ]

Research Outputs 2015 published

Monday, February 29th, 2016

“The report ‘Research Outputs 2015’ provides an overview of data gathered by EPSRC during the first submission period of Researchfish, supplemented with data and information from other sources.”

“Researchfish is an online web-based system for reporting UK research outcomes.”

“The report highlights EPSRC-supported research delivered impacts across a wide range of sectors including energy, digital communications, healthcare, environment, aerospace, manufacturing, transport and the creative industries.”

“As well as a significant contribution to global knowledge, the data shows impressive levels of results:

  • Over 50,000 research papers published
  • £3 billion further funding from £1.2 billion grants
  • Almost 400 examples of policy influences
  • 454 spin-out companies created of which 80 per cent are still active.”

“The outcomes and impacts data highlighted in the report will contribute to the overall understanding of the value of investing in engineering and physical sciences for the UK.”

To read the report go to:

[Source EPSRC news: ]

Valentine’s day love letter – February 1477

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

“This is probably the oldest surviving Valentine’s letter in the English language. It was written by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston in February 1477. Describing John as her ‘right well-beloved valentine’, she tells him she is ‘not in good health of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.’ She explains that her mother had tried to persuade her father to increase her dowry – so far unsuccessfully. However, she says, if John loves her he will marry her anyway: ‘But if you love me, as I trust verily that you do, you will not leave me therefore.’ There was a happy ending to the story, as the couple would eventually marry.”

“The letter comes from one of the largest collections of 15th century English private correspondence, known as the Paston letters.”

[Source British Library, Language and Literature, English timeline: ]

Johnson says UK will pursue gold open access

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

“Universities and science minister Jo Johnson has said that the UK should continue to pursue the gold open-access route ‘where this is realistic and affordable’.”

“Johnson’s comments were made in response to a review of the government’s open-access policies, published on 11 February, which did not recommend any substantial changes to open-access policies in the UK. The review, commissioned by Johnson and carried out by Adam Tickell, chairman of Universities UK’s Open Access Co-ordination Group, said, ‘Gold should still be the preference, but green routes are also important.’ This was in contrast to the influential Finch report, published in 2012, which recommended a strong preference for gold open-access routes.”

“In the report, Tickell said that by April 2017 almost all journal articles published by UK university academics would be available under open-access routes, and estimated that of these 20 per cent will available on the date of publication and without any further restrictions. Such figures are ‘higher than anywhere else in the world’, the report said. This progress, it continued, has been stimulated by clear mandates, and in some cases, financial support from the research councils, the funding councils and major charitable funders. Although Tickell did not recommend major changes, his report set out some suggestions for minor ones. He said that UK open-access policy should strive to offer greater choice to research producers.”

The review and the Minister’s response can be found here:

[Source Research Professional news:  ]

Jisc response to the Higher Education Commission report ‘From Bricks to Clicks’

Monday, February 1st, 2016

“[Jisc] welcome[s] the Higher Education Commission (HEC)’s report ‘From Bricks to Clicks: the potential of data and analytics in Higher Education’.”

“It contains the findings of the Commission’s ten-month inquiry into the potential impact of data and analytics for universities, students and the sector as a whole.”

You can read the report here:

Paul Feldman, Chief Executive of Jisc, has written a blog commenting on the report:

[Source Jisc news: ]

British Academy welcomes the UKCES Employer Skills Survey 2015 and OECD Building Skills for All study

Monday, February 1st, 2016

“The British Academy welcomes the UKCES Employer Skills Survey 2015 and OECD Building Skills for All study. It is positive to see the growth in overall vacancies, however, it is concerning to note that the number of skill-shortage vacancies has gone up by 43% since 2013.”

“Evidence from our work into the nature of language skills in the labour market, Born Global, shows how increased efforts to develop language skills could help to tackle many of the other skills shortages reported by employers, including: problem-solving, time-management and prioritisation, customer relations, persuading and influencing. Our evidence points to a transferable skill-set gained through language learning and international experience.”

“Further concerning shortages have been identified in quantitative skills (QS). 29% of respondents to the survey found ‘complex numerical and statistical skills’ to be difficult to obtain from applicants, with 24% struggling to recruit those with basic numerical skills. In the OECD report, 9 million in England were reported as being unable to “estimate how much petrol is left in the petrol tank from a sight of the gauge.” The Academy’s Count Us In report (2015) also points to the growing QS deficit across the whole system of schools and colleges, universities and the workplace.”

The OECD Building Skills for All study can be accessed here:

The UKCES Employer Skills Survey 2015 can be accessed here:

[Source British Academy news: ]

What about YOUth? Consultation

Monday, February 1st, 2016

“What about YOUth? is a newly established survey, begun in September 2014 and commissioned by the Department of Health, designed to collect local authority level data on a range of behaviours amongst 15 year olds.”

“What about YOUth? is a new study which aims to make improvements to the health of young people across England. As part of the study, thousands of 15 year-olds answered questions about important subjects such as their health, diet, exercise, bullying, alcohol, drugs and smoking. What about YOUth? 2014 is the first survey of its kind to be conducted and it is hoped that the survey will be repeated in order to form a time series of comparable data on a range of indicators for 15 year-olds across England.”

“The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) published a report on the findings in December 2015 and the results are also available in a data visualisation tool. The anonymised survey data will be available from the UK Data Service later this year.”

“The HSCIC is undertaking a consultation to find out how useful the survey findings are, how the data are being used and any improvements that could be made. They would like to hear from any data users who have used the survey or the report. The consultation period runs from 18 January until 28 February 2016.”

“If you would like to participate in this consultation please go to the HSCIC website, where you can download the consultation paper and access the online consultation survey.”

A report on the survey findings and a link to the data visualisation tool can be accessed here:

[Source UK Data Service news: ]