Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow part of research project that investigates unopened letters from 17th-century Europe

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“A British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow is part of an academic research project that will investigate unopened letters from 17th-century Europe. 600 unopened letters found in a postmaster’s trunk were rediscovered in The Hague’s Museum voor Communicatie in 2012, along with 2,000 opened but undelivered letters. They date from between 1689 and 1707, just after William of Orange’s invasion of England, Scotland, and Ireland, known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’.”

“Dr Daniel Smith, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford, is involved in the team that will analyse the letters with academics from the Universities of Leiden, and Groningen, Yale, and MIT in a new project called ‘Signed, Sealed, & Undelivered’. X-ray technology from the field of dentistry will be used to read the closed letters without breaking their seals, in order to preserve unique material evidence.”

“Commenting on the new discoveries, Dr Smith said:

‘Something about these letters frozen in transit makes you feel like you’ve caught a moment in history off guard’.

‘Many of the writers and intended recipients of these letters were people who travelled throughout Europe, such as wandering musicians and religious exiles. The trunk preserves letters from many social classes, and women as well as men. Most documents that survive from this period record the activities of elites – aristocrats and their bureaucrats, or rich merchants – so these letters will tell us new things about an important section of society in 17th-century Europe. These are the kinds of people whose records frequently don’t survive, so this is a fantastic opportunity to hear new historical voices.’

‘We’ve also noticed a striking and quite wonderful variety of folding and sealing techniques used on these letters. Our team wants to preserve all of this archive’s fascinating material evidence for further study – what can the way a letter was secured shut tell you about its writer, recipient, or the era in which they lived?’”

[Source British Academy news: ]

Why we develop allergies

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“Developing allergies could be a by-product of our evolved immunity to parasites, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology.”

“The research indicates that part of our immune system has evolved in order to protect against infection by parasitic worms. However, if there isn’t a parasitic infection, this same section of the immune system can become hyper-responsive and mistakenly target allergenic proteins in food (such as peanuts) or the environment (such as pollen).”

“Researchers were able to accurately predict which proteins in parasitic worms could cause an immune response similar to an allergic reaction in humans. Using computational techniques, they identified the first known example of a pollen-like protein found in a parasitic worm.”

“Due to the tools provided in this study, scientists will be better able to identify allergy-causing proteins in foods and the environment more easily, and design protein molecules for treating allergies.”

The article can be accessed here:

[Source Wellcome Trust ‘research round-up’: ]

Researchers develop test to diagnose ‘face blindness’

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“Researchers have created a short questionnaire for people who suspect they have prosopagnosia, a condition that causes an inability to recognise faces. The researchers hope the questionnaire will help improve diagnosis of the condition.”

“There are currently no tests that can conclusively diagnose prosopagnosia – more commonly known as ’face blindness’ – which is estimated to affect up to 2 per cent of people in the UK. Many people with face blindness cope by using alternative ways to recognise individuals, such as the way they walk, hairstyle or voice. It can often lead to people avoiding social situations and feeling embarrassed about actual or imagined offence to others.”

“The new 20 item questionnaire asks respondents to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with certain phrases about their facial recognition experiences. Some of the questions include:

  • I have always had a bad memory for faces
  • I often mistake people I have met before for strangers
  • I sometimes find movies hard to follow because of difficulties recognising characters
  • At family gatherings, I sometimes confuse individual family members.”

“Each question is scored out of five giving a total score of up to 100. This final score could be used to help determine the severity of face-blindness.”

The research on the new questionnaire is published in a paper published in Royal Society Open Science, which can be accessed here:

[Source Medical Research Council news: ]

Improving the reproducibility of biomedical research

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“The Academy of Medical Sciences has published a new joint report on how the reproducibility and reliability of research can be improved.”

“Recent reports in the general and scientific media show there is increasing concern within the biomedical research community about the lack of reproducibility of key research findings.”

“To explore how to improve and optimise the reproducibility of biomedical research, the Academy co-organised a symposium in April 2015 with BBSRC, MRC and the Wellcome Trust.”

“This exercise resulted in a report, [] Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: improving research practice, which proposes potential solutions to keep science in top shape.”

“The report indicates that there is no single cause of irreproducibility, and a number of measures such as greater openness, reporting guidelines and quality control measures may improve reproducibility. In addition, the report found that a ‘one size fits all approach’ is unlikely to be effective, but measures to improve reproducibility should be developed in consultation with the biomedical research community and evaluated to ensure that they achieve the desired effects. The report also highlights that journalists, science writers and press officers share responsibility with researchers to report science accurately – and not overstate the certainty of studies.”

There is a link to the report here:

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) news: ]

Cambridge research could lead to the ‘ultimate battery’

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge [have] successfully demonstrate[ed] a new design for lithium-air batteries that could overcome several of the problems holding back the practical development of the technology.”

“The team reported that they had developed a working laboratory demonstrator of a lithium-oxygen battery which has very high energy density, is more than 90 per cent efficient, and, to date, can be recharged more than 2,000 times.”

“Lithium-oxygen, or lithium-air, batteries have been touted as the ‘ultimate’ battery due to their theoretical energy density, which is ten times that of a lithium-ion battery. Such a high energy density would be comparable to that of gasoline – and would enable an electric car with a battery that is a fifth the cost and a fifth the weight of those currently on the market to drive from London to Edinburgh on a single charge.”

The results of the research were reported in Science:

[Source EPSRC news: ]

Edith Morgan: a life’s work in mental health

Monday, November 9th, 2015

“Edith Morgan was a prominent figure in the field of mental health for over 40 years, both in the UK and internationally. Her personal papers, documenting her remarkable career, have just been catalogued and are available to view at the Wellcome Library.”

“This collection offers a unique research opportunity, showcasing Morgan’s work and association with many different organisations in the sphere of mental health. The organisations include Mind (the mental health charity), the World Federation for Mental Health and Good Practices in Mental Health. The collection also reflects the evolution of mental health policies and treatments during the 20th century in the UK and throughout the world.”

“Morgan’s personal interests are reflected in her papers. The interests included community mental health services; legislation of civil and human rights of people with mental health problems; the promotion of good practices in mental health care; the mental health of women; and ensuring black and ethnic minority groups were given due attention.”

[Source Wellcome Library blog: ]

The Anna Eliza Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office

Monday, November 9th, 2015

“The papers of 19th Century author Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) have recently been catalogued at West Sussex Record Office and are now available for researchers to access.  The catalogue can be viewed via [their] Search Online facility at:

“Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey, the daughter of Alfred Kempe and Ann Arrow, and sister of the antiquary Alfred John Kempe.  She was originally destined for a career in the theatre but this endeavour was cut short as she fell ill days before her first performance at Bath’s Theatre Royal in May 1815, and she subsequently lost the opportunity to appear on the stage again.”

“In late 1822, she married Reverend Edward Atkyns Bray and moved to Tavistock in Devon.  The West Country was a significant influence on her writing and it was during this period that most of her literary output was produced, including her best-known work ‘A Description of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy’, published by John Murray in 1836.  Other works included a 10-volume set of historical novels, another travel book entitled ‘Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland’ and a children’s book entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’.”

To read the rest of the blog go to:

[Source Archives Hub blog as above]

Safeguarding the cultural heritage of British artists

Monday, November 9th, 2015

“Art360, a new project to safeguard Britain’s cultural heritage by digitising the archives of 100 leading modern and contemporary British artists, has been awarded £250,000 by Arts Council England.”

“Over three years, the pilot programme will work with 30-40 artists each year, from both the Modern British canon (1900 – 2000) and contemporary artists active between 2000 – 2014. The artists will be invited to take part in a major research project to explore how cultural heritage in the visual arts can be safeguarded for future generations. They will be offered a range of expert advice and technical support in developing sustainable systems to manage their legacies for the future.”

“Led by DACS Foundation, Art360 will bring together an important partnership of shared expertise between DACS, The National Archives, the Art Fund and the Henry Moore Foundation.”

To access the Art360 Project website go to:

[Source National Archives news: ]

Surface waves influence how a cell divides

Monday, November 9th, 2015

“A group of researchers from The University of Edinburgh working in close collaboration with US colleagues have discovered a novel phenomenon that could give a new insight into the final stages of cell division – the separation of two daughter cells – and explain puzzling experimental observations made several decades ago.”

“A consortium of computational biologists from The University of Edinburgh and the two leading experimental cell and developmental biology groups in the US discovered that, in preparation for the final separation stage of the cell cycle known as cytokinesis, the cellular surface becomes an excitable system. The ability to respond with a large spike of activity to a small stimulus, or excitability, has long been known to explain propagation of neural pulses and muscular contractions.”

“Now the researchers report in Nature Cell Biology that, unexpectedly, excitability plays a crucial role in the cell’s decision where to place the final cut between the nascent daughter cells. Errors in this process are known to cause missegregation of genetic material and, thus, cancer.”

“One of the fundamental properties of excitable behaviour, crucial for the activity of nerve and muscle cells, is the ability to propagate as waves, such as the waves of contraction recorded in human hearts. The use of cutting edge microscopy tools and novel reagents based on the technology of fluorescent proteins permitted the researchers for the first time to observe dramatic waves sweeping the surface of frog and starfish embryonic cells preparing for division.”

The article can be found here:

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) news: ]

Scientists stop and search malware hidden in shortened URLs on Twitter

Monday, October 19th, 2015

“Cyber-criminals are taking advantage of real-world events with high volumes of traffic on Twitter in order to post links to websites which contain malware.”

“To combat the threat, computer scientists have created an intelligent system to identify malicious links disguised in shortened URLs on Twitter. They will test the system in the European Football Championships next summer. The research is co-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).”

“In the recent study the Cardiff University team identified potential cyber-attacks within five seconds with up to 83% accuracy and within 30 seconds with up to 98% accuracy, when a user clicked on a URL posted on Twitter and malware began to infect the device.”

“The scientists collected tweets containing URLs during the 2015 Superbowl and cricket world cup finals, and monitored interactions between a website and a user’s device to recognise the features of a malicious attack. Where changes were made to a user’s machine such as new processes created, registry files modified or files tampered with, these showed a malicious attack.”

“The team subsequently used system activity such as bytes and packets exchanged between device and remote endpoint, processor use and network adapter status to train a machine classifier to recognise predictive signals that can distinguish between malicious and benign URLs.”

[Source EPSRC news: ]