School Winner: Saving our bees!

Winning Entry The Priory Academy11C Charlotte Barrett - PrioryMost people know that insect pollinators increase agricultural crop yields, but estimates by the researchers Morse and Calderone have shown the value of honeybee pollination to crop production is $14.6 billion in the US alone. However, not only do they increase the quantity, but did you know that honey bees improve the quality of many crops? For example they increase the oil content in oilseed crops and also the fruit juice and sugar content of citrus fruits.

That is why more needs to be done to save declining populations of bees. In the UK alone, since 2007, bee populations have decreased by a third. The reason for such drastic reduction in populations is due to Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD occurs when there is a loss of the adult population, which in turn causes a breakdown in division of labour as immature worker bees try and replace the workforce but are unable to cope.

What could be the reasons behind CDD?

Some believe the main cause of CCD is insecticides, more specifically neonicotinoids. It is speculated that they impair neurological function in bees, affecting their ability to navigate and learn causing adult bees to die prematurely and leaving younger immature worker bees to forage.

The Varroa mite is also considered to be another major factor contributing to CCD. These parasites suck the haemolymph out of bees leaving perforations which allow viruses and bacteria to enter. One of which is the Deformed Wing virus. The DFW virus can also be transmitted from the queen to offspring. The virus causes shortened, rounded abdomens, and paralysis of the legs and wings and has also been found to impair neurological function especially memory retention. This causes an insufficient workforce to sustain the bee colony.

A third possible cause is stress, which may be from poor nutrition caused by lack of plants that have pollen or nectar. Raised stress levels also dampen the immune system making bees more liable to diseases.

One solution is to use African bees, which despite being much more aggressive than the average European bee, are resistant to the Varroa mite. This reduces the need for insecticides which can damage the environment. They are also less effected by tropical climates, which may become important as temperatures rise.

Another way to counteract the effect of declining bee populations on crop yields, is to use vibrators such as the ‘vegibee’ to mimic bees as some major crops require buzz pollination at specific frequencies to release a plants pollen.

However, I think the best solution is the preserve the bees we have. You can help save the bees by.

  • Buying raw local honey that hasn’t been treated with chemicals, supporting sustainable practices.
  • Not treating lawns with weed killer (wildflowers are a major food source for bees!)
  • Planting flowers to provide forage
  • Placing a small basin of fresh water in the garden to prevent bees becoming dehydrated.

Charlotte Barrett
Student at The Priory Academy LSST

My name is Charlotte and I am currently studying physics, chemistry, maths and biology AS levels. I like reading (especially about brains!), looking after the environment and solving maths problems.’

 

Science issue: Uncertainties in breast screening

News

11B Ann-Louise-Kinmonth (portrait)

I recently received a routine breast screening invitation, and found myself weighing up the risks and benefits of attending. The accompanying leaflet “Helping you to decide” (pictured) says;” About 12,000 women in the UK dies of breast cancer every year. Survival from the disease has been improving over time, and now about 3 out of 4 women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive 10 years later.”

Key advances include treatment and preventive strategies, including screening. Surely to be part of this good news story I must book my appointment?

11B Ann Louise Kinmonth (NHS breast screening).docx
“Helping you to decide”

Screening aims to identify apparently healthy people who may be at risk of disease, where treatment is more effective if applied earlier. The UK National Screening Committee reviews emerging evidence and applies criteria to weigh population benefits against harms. They recommend systematic population screening by mammography (breast imaging) to prevent breast cancer deaths.

The evidence they review comes from many disciplines; epidemiology, biology, and radiology, statistics and the social sciences.

Large epidemiological studies of breast cancer among  carefully characterised women over time (cohort studies),  and  trials of treatment, tell us about the natural history, enable  estimates of likely cost-effectiveness of treatments  and monitor performance of breast screening programmes in preventing disease progression and early death.

11B Ann Louise Kinmonth (200 women...).docx
What might be expected to happen to 200 women who either do or do not attend breast screening every three years between ages 50 and 70, and then are followed up until aged 80. Graphic by Mike Pearson, from information in NHS Screening leaflet.

Recently statistitians and social scientists have begun to turn these estimates into quantitative, pictograms accessible to the women deciding whether to attend or not. They pay attention  separately to benefits and harms of attending and of not attending  screening. These analyses show  the extent  to which screening is identifying, as cases for treatment, women who would  remain well if they did not attend for screening.

The pictogram shows that 15 of every  200 women are expected to get breast cancer over  20 years; If screened and  treated  3 would be expected to die early from  breast cancer. If not screened, 4 would be expected to die early from breast cancer. But the pictogram also shows  that for each life “saved” thee women are estimated to be labelled as having cancer and treated unnecessarily.

This over treatment seems to be due to limitations in predicting which lesions found will progress without treatment. Breast cancer can be divided into myriad different diseases with genetic and epigenetic variations. More work is needed to identify these, and how they will progress, building on recent discoveries of subgroups of women at high genetic risk of cancer or cancers responsive to particular treatments.

Women scientists have led many of these advances. Perhaps you too may be excited by the possibility of work in this area; maybe you will help to identify biomarkers distinguishing breast lesions that will or will not progress, or better treatments of later cases so that breast screening can be reserved for high risk groups of women or stopped altogether.  Maybe you will be interested in understanding better the psychological costs of screening.

While some women will prefer to minimise their risks from breast cancer, by participation in screening, others will prefer to avoid any risk of over -treatment, by staying away.

Maybe whatever we decide, we should eat less and exercise more to reduce the risk of a whole range of cancers.

Ann Louise Kinmonth CBE
Alumna

Ann Louise Kinmonth CBE (New Hall 1969) held the Foundation Chair of General Practice University of Cambridge, and was a principal investigator of the ADDITION Cambridge trials to investigate intensive treatment of screen detected diabetes. She is Clinical Director of Studies and Fellow St Johns College Cambridge

Further reading

Breast Cancer Focus Nature 2015 Vol. 527 No. 7578_supp ppS101-S12

Understanding Uncertainty.org. . A visualisation of the information in NHS Breast Cancer Screening leaflet; Submitted by david on Wed, 10/06/2015 –

Moss, Sue. M. et al. Effect of mammographic screening from age 40 years on breast cancer mortality in the UK Age trial at 17 years’ follow-up: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet Oncol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(15)00128-X (2015).

Career Path: Putting the pieces together

11A Zoe Wilson photo
CareerI have always felt a bit like rather than choosing to study chemistry, chemistry chose me.

There have been several times in my life so far when my career could have turned out completely different. These include when my inspirational high school chemistry teacher came out of retirement so my school would have a teacher for my final year and a chance conversation with my future PhD supervisor at a university open day which led to me completely changing my major before I started university. Even the decision to apply for a Royal Society Fellowship to move to the United Kingdom from New Zealand after my PhD (despite the fact that I was terrified of moving to the other side of the world, and quite convinced I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting the fellowship) could be considered to be a turning point. For this reason I have always felt incredibly lucky to have ended up in a field that I find so fascinating.

I would describe myself as a synthetic organic chemist – which basically means I find ways to make nature derived molecules from simple chemical building blocks. I work in the lab of Professor Steven Ley at The University of Cambridge as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate. Additionally, I am a Fellow at Murray Edwards College where I enjoy getting to discuss the intricacies of chemistry with such intelligent and friendly students.

One of my main interests is the synthesis of natural products. Natural products are complex molecules which are created by organisms for an array of purposes, whether it is defence from other organisms or to help keep the organism alive. These molecules often turn out to have interesting bioactivity, and many have been the starting point for pharmaceuticals used today.

What fascinates me about these molecules is putting together their complex structures in as elegant way as possible. They present a significant challenge because they often contain multiple reactive parts within the molecule. This means you have to plan the order which you will try to assemble the pieces incredibly carefully in order to build the whole molecule without destroying what you have already made. Often we need to be creative and invent entirely new ways to make the chemical bonds we need.

So why should women consider becoming chemists? Synthetic chemistry teaches you to think in a creative but critical way, as not only do we have to dream up interesting and clever ways to do things, we actually have to physically make the molecule to prove that our ideas were good (which is immensely satisfying when achieved!). Also, in a field where (especially at the higher levels) women are currently sadly underrepresented, bringing together people of different genders, backgrounds and opinions to think on the same problem from different perspectives, offers the potential to come up with solutions for the big problems – and you could be part of that!

Zoe Wilson
Fellow

Science at Cambridge: Physics

Physics – my everyday worldUniversity 10D Lucy OswaldMonday morning and spring is in the air. On the short trip between my Particle Physics and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics lecture locations I hand in some work and photograph a sea of daffodils, nodding at me in the breeze. In the following lecture we cover blast waves: gas from supernovae and other massive explosions moving through space faster than the speed of sound. Then it’s back to college for a quick lunch before a Particle Physics supervision, where we talk about how quarks and gluons interact.

The rest of the afternoon is spent doing something that as a physicist I’ve not previously been used to: reading! I’m doing a research review which involves reading papers on the research done into single photon sources – devices that produce one particle of light at a time – and then summarising the recent developments in the area. It’s been exciting to get deep into an area of research that previously I knew nothing about.

I chose Natural Sciences at Cambridge out of a kind of greed for knowledge: why study just one science when you had the opportunity to do more? I’ve never regretted that choice. The only hardship is having to decide what to give up along the way, something that continues to happen as I’ve begun specialising in my third year. I really value the wider insight I’ve been given by being able to study Chemistry and Materials Science alongside the Physics. So much science happens at the boundaries of these different disciplines, so understanding where your studies sit in the wider context of scientific knowledge is very important.

However, Physics has always been the subject that has captivated me the most. In my more wildly romantic moments I’ve declared that I must KNOW about the world and how it works; that to study Physics is to plumb the depths of reality. Unsurprisingly, Physics day-to-day isn’t nearly as glamorous as that makes it sound, but the fact that I’ve maintained that idealised view through nearly 3 years of worksheets and practicals indicates that there must be something special about it.

Physics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can be difficult to get your head around, involves lots of maths and areas like quantum mechanics can seem so divorced from the real world that it’s easy to condemn it as too complicated, boring and irrelevant. But if you have even the smallest interest in physics I would encourage you to take it a bit further. It started for me by shining laser pointers onto fluorescent paper and wondering why the green one made it glow but the red one didn’t. I soon realised Physics wasn’t so bad and now there’s nothing I’d rather do!

Lucy Oswald
Undergraduate student