Determining the sex of human remains – using tooth enamel

Scientists at the University of Brighton have discovered a new method of determining the sex of human remains – by testing tooth enamel. DNA sequencing is currently the most common method but this can be expensive, time-consuming, and often depends on finding a good quality sample. The new method is quicker, cheaper, and uses tooth enamel, the most durable human body tissue and the hardest tissue in the human body. It survives burial well, even when the rest of the skeleton or DNA has decayed.

The breakthrough has the potential to improve studies of archaeological finds and medical and forensic science. Researchers have tested the method on the remains of seven adults from the late 19th Century as well as male and female pairs from three archaeological sites ranging from 5,700 years ago to the 16th Century in the UK. In each case, the method successfully determined the sex, as confirmed by comparison with coffin plates or standard bone analyses.

The research has been carried out by Dr Nicolas Stewart, senior lecturer in the University’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, with colleagues at Durham University and the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

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Come and visit us this winter

It might be cold outside but don’t let that stop you visiting us this winter!

If you’re considering starting an undergraduate course here in 2018, why not sign up to one of our campus tours taking place during December and January and find out more about what it’s like study at Brighton?

The tours will give you the chance to explore the campus where your course of interest is based, view our facilities and talk to our staff and students.

Find out more and book onto a tour <link to: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/studying-here/visit-us/campus-tours/index.aspx>

Anti-depressants could combat infections

Researchers here at the University of Brighton have found drugs used to treat mood disorders are also potentially active against bacteria which cause catheter infections.

The discovery could lead to new methods of treating infections and could contribute to overcoming problems with antibiotic resistance.

The research, led by Dr Brian Jones, Reader in Molecular and Medical Microbiology and Deputy Head of the our School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr Jones and collaborators Dr Mark Sutton from Public Health England and Dr Khondaker Miraz Rhaman from King’s College London have been studying infections associated with the use of urinary catheters which are used in their millions across the world every year. The bacterium Proteus mirabilis often causes catheter infections and forms crystalline biofilms on catheter surfaces that block urine flow and lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

Catheters are widely used for long-term bladder management in both the community and nursing homes but the care of individuals undergoing long-term catheterisation is frequently undermined by infections.

Dr Jones said: “The majority of patients undergoing long-term catheterisation are cared for outside the hospital environment where catheter blockage is often not noticed until more serious complications arise.

“A particular hazard of catheter blockage is the accumulation of infected urine in the bladder, which eventually results in upper urinary tract infection and the onset of potentially fatal complications including septicaemia.

“It has been estimated that 50 per cent of individuals undergoing long-term catheterisation will suffer from catheter blockage at some point during their care, with chronic blockage also a common problem.

“It is perhaps then unsurprising that blockage is also the cause of numerous emergency hospital referrals, and not only damages the health of patients but also places significant strain on healthcare resources.” Continue reading

Breakthrough in ageing research

University of Brighton scientists have helped discover a way of regenerating  ageing skin cells – with compounds based on those found in red wine, dark chocolate and red grapes.

Laboratory experiments showed cells not only look physically younger but behave more like young cells and start dividing.

Professor Richard Faragher, Professor of Biogerontology, and Dr Lizzy Ostler, Head of Chemistry, said the breakthrough should generate more research into tackling health issues associated with ageing.

Professor Faragher said: “These findings illustrate the enormous potential of ageing research to improve the quality of later life. Older people no more want to be sickly ‘frequent flyers’ with the NHS than teenagers do.

“A recent Government report recognised historic underinvestment in ageing research in the UK. I say to politicians of all parties: Redress this now and give our older people the healthy futures they deserve.”

Dr Ostler said: “Breakthroughs of this kind really need chemists and biologists working on research and teaching together under the same roof. We prize our multidisciplinary collaborative atmosphere at Brighton. This breakthrough vindicates that approach.”

The scientists, members of the University’s Stress, Ageing and Disease Centre of Research and Enterprise Excellence, worked together to select the best compounds for testing from a library designed and synthesised by Dr Vishal Birar, whilst he was undertaking a University of Brighton-funded PhD studentship under Dr Ostler’s supervision. Continue reading

Should science help us live forever?

One of the UK’s leading experts on ageing is discussing whether science should help us live forever in a debate being streamed live around the world.

Professor Richard Faragher, Professor of Biogerontology here at Brighton, rejects the idea that the objective of ageing research should be the indefinite extension of human life. He argues: “This focus allows a selfish minority to misrepresent the altruistic goals of the scientific community.”

Professor Faragher is joining other eminent experts in Coruña, Spain for the debate on 7 November.

He believes there should be more investment in researching drugs and treatments to improve the quality of life in older age: “At a time when our capacity to translate new knowledge about the mechanisms of ageing into medicines and lifestyle advice is limited only by a chronic shortage of funds, older people are ill-served by self-indulgent science fiction.

“They need practical action to restore their health and they need it yesterday.”

The Professor’s comments come in the wake of recent discoveries he and his collaborator, Professor Lorna Harries of Exeter University, published recently on a new mechanism controlling ageing which they hope may prove amenable to treatment.

The debate will be conducted in Spanish and English, with simultaneous interpretation to and from each language. It has been organised by the University of Santiago de Compostela and is funded by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology of the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

To listen to the debate, go to: regueifas.org

Testing time for foxes

A University of Brighton experiment will test just how clever urban foxes really are.

BBC Two’s Autumnwatch, which starts Monday (Oct 23) at 8pm, will be featuring the testing which has been put together by the mammalian biologist , Dr Dawn Scott.

Dr Scott, Assistant Head of our School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “We are interested in how animals have adapted to urban habitats. Urban habitats are structurally complex environments with a wide range of food sources but sometimes those food are in difficult places to get to – so an animal that can solve problems quicker may do better in urban habitats.

“Urban environments also have lots of novel objects – if foxes are fearful they may not do as well in an urban environment as a fox that can quickly habituate to new objects.

“Our question is are foxes in urban areas less fearful and have a greater ability to solve problems than their rural counterparts?

“We can test this by looking at how animals respond to a new object in their garden. How close they come and how quickly they become habituate to it.

“This is a pilot study to see if we can set up an experiment to test, neophobia (fear of new things), intelligence and cognitive ability in foxes.”

The experiment will involve encouraging foxes to pull strings to retrieve food.

Dr Scott said: “If they can choose the right string in the experiment to pull the food out this will demonstrate their ability to solve problems. I expect the foxes will get better with experience.”

For more information on Dr Scott’s research click here.

My placement at GlaxoSmithKline

Emma Greening
BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science

“Choosing to do a placement year at GlaxoSmithKline was one of the best choices I could’ve made during my degree. Spending a year working in the management of Phase II-IV clinical trials has given me so many opportunities to learn about the drug development process, and play a key role in the progression of new therapies in the Immunoinflammation, Neurosciences and Dermatology therapy area. I was able to experience a scientific career away from the lab bench, and the skills I’ve gained during this time will be completely invaluable when returning for final year and when applying for graduate jobs. I really couldn’t recommend applying for an industrial placement year enough!”

Welcome Biosciences

For our Welcome Events in the Biosciences we conducted an Actionbound scavenger hunt, aimed at improving the students’ knowledge and navigation of the Moulsecoomb campus. The points gained in the scavenger hunt resulted in awarded straws which were used to build the egg-holding contraptions needed for the big “Egg Drop Challenge”. 105 students took part in the scavenger hunt – we had 23 teams complete the missions and tasks, resulting in some great pictures with Matt from the School Office. Unfortunately not a single egg survived the big egg drop challenge – but we still had chocolates all round –  in my eyes a great way of ending an afternoon filled with fun and activity – Dr Anja Rott

 

Egg Drop Challenge straw constructionEgg Drop ChallengeEgg Drop Challenge parachute attempt Scavenger Hunt SelfieScavenger Hunt SelfieScavenger Hunt Selfie

An experience of a lifetime

Anna Marie Lawn, third year BSc(Hons) Ecology student tells us about her time volunteering over the summer.

From July-September 2017, I volunteered with the organisation of the Society for the Protection of Turtles in Northern Cyprus, working with the native green and loggerhead sea turtle species.

There, I worked and lived for 6 weeks with 25 students, sharing mattresses laid out on the floor of a room and outside the building on some inhabitants setting quiet alarms as not to wake up others on different shifts, and all equally in our permanent state of being covered head to toe in sand from the previous day. In the day, we made lunch out of whatever was in the communal fridge (mostly pita bread and halloumi) with two students who had been blessed with a day off, cooking each night using whatever vegetables we could find for a low enough price at a nearby market.

Our work day rotated between night and day shifts, consisting of 10-15 hour days. Night workers patrolled protected beaches from 8:30pm-7am, asking people on the beach after hours to leave, and finding adult female sea turtles who we would observe laying eggs and marking out the locations with GPS co-ordinates. Adults would be flipper tagged, have their carapace measured length and width and have their behaviour recorded; all in the dark with only our faint red head torches shining.

Day work consisted of opening and closing ring cages (used to protect the turtles from crabs, foxes and dogs that people would illegally bring to the protected beach) these would be opened according to the time of day and heat of the sand, allowing any hatchlings to leave their nest during the day when the sand is not too hot, and closing the cages in the evenings so the night workers could collect hatchlings for weighing, measuring and biopsying. They would be released the following night- when they are most likely to escape the watchful eyes of predators.

The bulk of day work involved excavating nests that had hatched, or record unsuccessful nests where no eggs hatched.

This work was extremely labour-intensive. One person would locate, and dig an ever-collapsing area of sand that the night workers had marked out 2 months before, after observing the females lay and marking the location of her egg chamber. Digging had to be done gently enough to avoid harming any hatchlings that could be over 1m deep in the cool softer sand. Once, I had over half of my body length head down into a hole in the sand with the Mediterranean sun pounding on my back, I would carefully remove fragments and unhatched eggs and pass them up to my colleagues, along with any survivors that had struggled to get out, or stuck under plastic caught in the nest. Fragments and eggs would be ordered under a range of criteria, along with information about the nest that would be used for the numerous research projects taking place.

Working closely with fellow students, (mainly ecologists and zoologists) watching endangered animals from hatchlings to adulthood emerge, some for the first time, is something that many of us had spent our lives waiting to see. It gives you a special bond to the people you work with, to the country and to the beaches which I worked on every day for all but 1 day off I had in 6 weeks. The extremely hard work we did across the 3 bases in Northern Cyprus (one dealt with over 12,000 hatchlings this season!) is worth the lifelong friends, the experiences and the satisfaction you gain when you release a hatchling that you pulled from the plastics littered across the beaches. This was the experience of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to go back.

Why I donated my entire genome sequence to the public

After speaking about genomic data at the British Science Festival last week, Colin Smith, Professor of Functional Genomics in our school, appears in The Conversation this week. Continue reading