Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

Death by bear-baiting! Health and safety in Tudor England… not gone quite so mad

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“Having a job in the 16th century was a dangerous business, with nearly half of accidental deaths happening at work. A new study has documented the various gory ways in which workers met their end whilst driving carts, felling trees or working in mills. It found that even in Tudor England people adopted health and safety measures to make their jobs safer, although they didn’t always work as planned.”

“As part of a research project funded by the ESRC [Economic and Social Research Council], University of Oxford historian Professor Steven Gunn has been scouring 16th century coroners’ reports and researching accidental deaths in Tudor England. Professor Gunn estimates there are some 9,000 accidental deaths in the 16th century to investigate, all stored in The National Archives in Kew.”

“His findings give a unique insight into what life was like in the Tudor period including all the strange ways in which people died, for example being mauled to death by bears kept for bloodthirsty bear-baiting; drowning in cesspits; and being shot by stray arrows when practising archery.”

[Source ESRC news:

Wellcome Image Awards 2016 Winners

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“The winners of the 2016 Wellcome Image Awards [have been] announced at a ceremony at the Science Museum in London []. For the first time in the Awards’ 19 year history, an illustration claimed the top prize.”

“A meticulously hand-painted watercolour and ink illustration by David Goodsell showing the molecular landscape inside an Ebola virus particle was chosen as the overall winner. Fergus Walsh, BBC Medical Correspondent and host for the evening said ‘This is a stunning illustration of a deadly pathogen – a cross-section through an Ebola virus particle. The judges felt that this watercolour and ink image elegantly displayed the biological structure of a virus which has caused such devastation in West Africa.’”

To see all the winning images go to:

[Source Wellcome Trust blog as above]

UK Biobank launches world’s largest imaging project to shed new light on major diseases

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“The world’s largest health imaging study, funded by the MRC [Medical Research Council], Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) [has been] launched. It will create the biggest collection of scans of internal organs, and transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases, including dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.”

“The £43m study will involve imaging the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat of 100,000 current participants of UK Biobank, a visionary project set up in 2006 by the MRC & Wellcome Trust to create a research resource of half a million people across the UK to improve health.”

“The multi-organ scans will be analysed alongside the vast data already collected from UK Biobank participants. This extra layer of data, for all health scientists to access, will give new perspectives on the best way to prevent and treat multi-faceted conditions like arthritis, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. It will also spark novel ways to analyse and interpret scans, with potential benefits for research as well as for the investigation of patients in the future.”

“For the last ten years UK Biobank has gathered huge quantities of data on its 500,000 participants – including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function, as well as genetic data from blood samples. Linkage to a wide range of health records is also under way, including data from general practices.”

[Source MRC news: ]



Open World Research Initiative launched

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“It is a reality for most people that the world we live in is becoming more multicultural, with our exposure to other languages, customs and practices increasing daily. In a country like the UK, we often assume that most people we encounter, here and overseas, will be able to communicate in English and it will always be that way. But what if that were not the truth? The presence of other languages and cultures in society is commonly seen as a problem – how do our children learn in a school where there are multiple different languages being spoken by their fellow pupils; how do we function at work when our colleagues and clients may be on the end of a line anywhere else in the world; how can we explain complex medical conditions to a doctor who may not have trained in the country they are practising in? But what if this exposure to other languages and cultures were not a problem, but presented us with opportunities – increased job prospects, feeling more comfortable visiting other countries and building our self-confidence in communicating with other people in our day-to-day lives?”

“Under the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), the AHRC [Arts and Humanities Research Council] is investing in four major research programmes that aim to explore the central role languages play in relation to key contemporary issues such as social cohesion, migration, security, health, business and diplomacy; and have a substantial impact on the study of modern languages in the UK. The projects will work with over 100 partners, ranging from schools and sixth form colleges to the BBC and government departments, in the UK and internationally. The research will be undertaken across 22 languages and 18 academic disciplines.”

[Source AHRC news: ]

Maths could help search and rescue ships sail more safely in heavy seas

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“A unique new computer model built on highly complex mathematics could make it possible to design safer versions of the ‘fast ships’ widely used in search-and-rescue, anti-drugs, anti-piracy and many other vital offshore operations.”

“Travelling at up to 23-30 knots, fast ships are especially vulnerable to waves that amplify suddenly due to local weather and sea conditions – extreme funnelling effects, for example, may turn waves a few metres high into dangerous waves tens of metres tall that can destabilise ships, resulting in damage, causing injuries and threatening lives.”

“Developed with Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) support at the University of Leeds by Dr Anna Kalogirou and Dr Vijaya Ambati with Professor Onno Bokhove, the new model produces unprecedentedly accurate animations and simulations that can show exactly how sea waves can affect fast ships. It highlights the importance of having accurate predictions of the pressure forces that these craft are subjected to, and could aid the design of fast ships better able to withstand the effects of rough seas.”

“The researchers can already simulate the complex interactions of sea waves that can lead to an anomalously high freak wave, but adding the motion of ships into the equation complicates matters significantly.”

[Source EPSRC news: ]

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: ]

Being Human festival call for participation

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Being Human, the UK’s national festival of the humanities, led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, is inviting applications for public event funding.”

“Now in its third year, the festival will bring together leading academics, artists, writers, filmmakers and others for eleven days of events in November to celebrate the richness and diversity of the humanities and their place in the national culture of the UK. This year’s theme is ‘Hope & Fear’.”

“Funding is available to support activities during the Festival. Although it is anticipated that the majority of awards available will be for under £2,000, applications for funding of up to £5,000 may also be considered if of exceptional quality or if institutions are willing to coordinate between 5-10 events as Being Human ‘Festival Hubs’.”

Being Human will run between 17-25 November. Further information is available on the Being Human website:

[Source British Academy news: ]

New research will improve city life with green infrastructure

Monday, April 25th, 2016

“NERC [Natural Environment Research Council] is investing around £1·2m in innovative projects designed to improve urban life and create sustainable cities by helping us make better use of ‘green infrastructure’ – natural spaces from roadside verges to parks and gardens.”

“Cities contain a lot of these green spaces, but many of them could be managed more effectively to improve the lives of local people.”

“Green infrastructure can provide a host of benefits – from absorbing rainwater to help reduce flooding to improving local people’s wellbeing by giving them regular contact with nature. But putting a concrete economic value on these benefits is difficult, and this has tended to mean they haven’t been given enough weight by decision-makers in government and industry.”

“The work funded under NERC’s Green Infrastructure Innovation Projects call will help planners, policymakers and business understand the true value of green infrastructure, and make decisions accordingly.”

“The projects NERC has funded cover a lot of ground. Many seek to provide decision-makers with better tools to get a more accurate sense of the value of green infrastructure. Others focus on particular aspects of the topic, such as finding better ways of choosing trees to plant in various urban situations or encouraging the use of sustainable drainage systems in new developments.”

[Source NERC website: ]

From print to digital

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

“The news that The Independent and The Independent on Sunday are to close down, and the spin-off newspaper i to be sold off to Johnston Press, has led to much discussion about the future of newspapers. Is the decision to cease print and develop the website a sign of the death of print newspapers? Was The Independent squeezed out of the market and hence a failure, or is the shift to web-only a timely strategic move, supported by growing use of what is apparently a profitable website, which other newspapers will inevitably follow in turn? Can a newspaper brand survive when it no longer has a newspaper?”

“Here at the British Library we have seen many newspapers come and go. We take in 1,400 newspaper publications of one sort or another every week, but we have some 35,000 newspaper titles listed on our catalogue. A lot of newspapers have ceased publication over the past 400 years, and The Independent is merely the latest. But the gradual transference of a news industry from print to digital has major implications for what we collect in this area, and how. It is something that we are studying closely.”

To read the rest of the blog go to:

[Source British Library Newsroom blog as above]

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: ]