How will biotechnology change our health? Team
Ian Pearson  ·  21
Futurist, engineer and inventor. Chartered Fellow of the British Computer...

Biotech will have a big impact. Right now, for example, it’s being used to swap genes, taking the fluorescent gene from a firefly to a plant so that the plant glows in the dark.

A more useful future application of biotech will be to improve health foods to deal with ailments. There will be more customised food with healthy things added, just as now we add vitamin A to rice. Biotech will make food healthier but still make it taste nice. It will reduce the amount of fat in beef, for example.

Biotechnology will link technology straight to the body. The fitness trackers we wear now, which nag you if you have not done enough miles or press-ups, are fairly basic technology. The next generation of biotech will include devices small enough to fit in between human skin cells. They will measure glucose and insulin levels to monitor diabetes, oxygen levels for fitness, or bacteria levels for disease. This will happen in five to ten years.

Now, people are using tiny membranes on skin. In future, you will be able to use compressed air to blast tiny particles of drugs, transistors and devices into the skin. You can fit a million transistors inside the volume of a skin cell – your clinic or doctor may do it. If you put these things inside a titanium coating, your body will be quite happy with them.

You can also record and replicate the signals running up and down your nerves. If you’re playing a computer game, you could record real sensations and replay them later in virtual reality. If you touch an icicle during a game you’ll feel the cold, or if you step out of a building you’ll experience the heat of the sun on your face.

Genetically modified (GM) plants, animals or micro-organisms, are one part of biotechnology. GM is still controversial but if properly regulated, the advantages of biotech should outweigh the disadvantages. For example, biotech has already been used to develop chemotherapy that uses tiny particles containing chemical markers that lock on to the cancer’s location and destroy it, while avoiding harming healthy cells.

1 ноября 2016  ·  < 100
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Will my genes change during my lifetime, and will that change my body?

Dr Adam Rutherford  ·  37
Geneticist, science writer, broadcaster, and author of the books Creation: The...

There are two answers to that. The first is no. Your code is passed on in sperm and eggs, and the code within them is set at your conception. It’s locked into the egg and locked into the sperm that make you. In the egg’s case that actually occurs inside your grandmother, because your mother’s eggs were developing while she was in utero in her mother. That code is fused together at conception as your genome, and that code should not change over the course of your life. That’s the basic answer.

The caveat to that, which is the second answer, is: yes it will. The reason it will is that its replication isn’t perfect. There are lots of complex mechanisms within the cell which effectively do copy-editing and proof-reading, and if mistakes are introduced during the non-perfect process, they get corrected. When they don’t get corrected, then you potentially run the risk of developing a cancer – that is what a cancer is.

Similarly, your genome could be changed by external factors, such as radiation. If that occurs in the wrong type of gene, that may also result in you getting a cancer. So the code shouldn’t change during your life, but it will. And if you’re unlucky, that will turn into a disease.

“The question is, if your code is unchanging, then why are people different from each other?”

The real question is: if your code is unchanging, then why are people different from each other? That is to do with how the environment interacts with your genome. So nature versus nurture is a false dichotomy – nature via nurture is a better phrase. The gene code itself doesn’t change, but how it interacts with the environment changes profoundly with every action that we do.

There are various mechanisms by which this happens. The one which is incredibly fashionable at the moment is called epigenetics, which is one way in which genes are turned on and off. I’m very sceptical about epigenetics – it is just one of several mechanisms for regulating the unchanging code within our genes.

These things are not mystical in any way. The reason people get healthier when they do more exercise is because of the interaction between your environment and your genetics. All human behaviour is an interaction between the environment and your genes, and the amount of control you have over that relationship is basically controlled by your lifestyle.

Adam Rutherford, geneticist, science writer and broadcaster. Author of Creation: The Origin Of Life/The Future Of Life and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

16 декабря 2016  ·  < 100

Is nicotine itself harmful?

Andy McEwen  ·  10
Dr Andy McEwen Executive Director, National Centre for Smoking Cessation and...

How one frames the question here will frame the answer. Is nicotine completely safe? No, but then nothing is completely safe. The function of nicotine in a tobacco plant is as an insecticide, so in relatively large doses it’s harmful, however it’s not harmful in the doses you get in cigarettes, in nicotine replacement therapy [nicotine patches, gum, lozenges etc] and in electronic cigarettes

So the short answer is no, but that doesn’t give the entire story. The harmful thing about nicotine is that it’s addictive and keeps people smoking. Most of the people who use e-cigarettes are smoking as well – they’re dual users, either for periods of temporary abstinence or in an attempt to quit – but they will often gravitate towards quitting, because using an e-cigarette is far more pleasant, less harmful and cheaper than smoking.

The current evidence review both from Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians is that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking. If you ask what the harmful bit is in e-cigarettes, the answer is that there isn’t any – talking on the telephone’s not completely safe, so it’s incorrect to say that anything’s safe. What we need to say is how much safer using e-cigarettes is than smoking. Studies have followed users of nicotine replacement therapies for five years or more and found no evidence of health implications whatsoever of long-term nicotine use, so it’s likely that there won’t be any long-term health implications of e-cigarette use. 

"Tar causes cancer and carbon monoxide is implicated in coronary heart disease and lung disorders as well, but e-cigarettes simply heat a solution that gives a vapour."

In e-cigarettes you’ve got propylene glycol, nicotine and food flavourings, so there’s no reason to suspect that there is anything that’s going to be harmful, and the key thing is that there’s no combustion. When you burn tobacco there’s estimated to be 4,000-plus chemicals, about 60 of which are carcinogens, and you’ve got carbon monoxide. Tar causes cancer and carbon monoxide is implicated in coronary heart disease and lung disorders as well, but e-cigarettes simply heat a solution that gives a vapour.

A report by the US Surgeon General in December 2016 spoke of e-cigarettes as a danger but it was largely lambasted by academics. There are ideological differences in how to deal with public health and how to achieve prevention and harm reduction. Because of our experience in this country going back 30 or 40 years with HIV, I think we’re more open to harm reduction. So in some people’s ideal, puritanical world everyone will be nicotine-free as well but in other people’s view nicotine is a recreational drug that doesn’t look to have any health implications that we know about. 

"Any time I see someone in the street using an e-cigarette I don’t think “It would be better if they got off that,” I think “There’s another person not smoking.” 

And it kind of misses the point, anyway. What we have with e-cigarettes is that they give something to smokers that nicotine replacement therapy hasn’t even come close to – they’re a public health phenomenon, popular with smokers in ways that nicotine gum and lozenges and patches can only dream of. When you talk to smokers, they say the experience is very similar, you’ve got the vapour to exhale, but also all these wonderful flavours and it’s not harmful to their health and it’s cheaper. Any time I see someone in the street using an e-cigarette I don’t think “It would be better if they got off that,” I think “There’s another person not smoking.”

12 января 2017  ·  < 100

Will robots really provide our healthcare in the future?

Former deputy chair of the British Medical Association council. Ex-chair of NHS...

Robots have been in use now in the NHS for the last ten years. Even private companies are using robots to do observation duties like taking blood pressure, pulse and so on, rather than using nurses. There are quite a few things robots can do for us.

As the technology develops, we’ll get some really nice robots and robotic computers assisting in various microscopic surgeries. My own brother had his prostate surgery done not long ago and a robot was used for that, and the results are very good. I’m not against robots by and large. But at the end of the day, 99% of things will still be done by the human touch. 

There’s a very good saying in medicine: most of the time, nature takes its own course to heal things. During that process, when nature is taking its time, a good doctor shows himself by how good his bedside manner is and how nice he is at communicating with his patient. Robots can’t do that. The human touch will always be needed when it comes to your healthcare.

I’ve been a GP for 30 years and I’ve seen the evidence. If I give telephone advice, it’s only really acceptable for a few minor things. People feel a lot happier if they come and see me, even if I don’t write them a prescription, because they’ve had a good chat with me and things really do work out a lot better.

“The human touch will always be needed when it comes to healthcare. Robots can’t do that.”

Three things are needed when you become ill. It’s the ABC of healthcare. A is access – the very minute you have any pain or you become unwell, you want to be looked at straight away and that means access, whether to A&E, or to see a GP or a nurse. You want immediate access, to be able to tell someone that you have a problem and that you want to be seen as soon as possible. Simple as that.

B is behaviour. When you go and see somebody, whether that’s a doctor or someone in an ambulance, you don’t want to be treated as a commodity. You want to be treated as a person by someone who has the capacity to listen and who has a very good bedside manner. You want to be treated as a human being. What’s often happening with these robots, is that doctors are looking at a computer or a screen rather than chatting with you, talking about your problem and discussing it with you. is terribly important. Around 80 or 90% of things could be sorted out with good access and good behaviour.

C is the clinical quality. Let’s say that after A and B, it’s found that your appendix needs to be taken out. You need that done in a safe manner, with clinical quality. 

Any system that can provide these three things would be considered one of the best. We can go on and on about what kind of access, and how we could save money and so on. But all systems need these ABCs and you won’t have them all with just robots.

Robots will be good as assistance as technology advances, so I’m not against them. But they will never replicate the human touch.

24 ноября 2016  ·  < 100

Help! Mosquitoes Ate Me! Ten Russian Home Remedies to Stop the Itch

The Moscow Times  ·  42
News, Business, Culture & Multimedia from Russia

We sympathize. Here are 10 tried and true Russian home remedies to take the itch out of those bites: 1. Ice. Hold an ice cube on the bite as long as you can stand it. Cold acts as a temporary anesthetic. 2. Mix baking soda and water into a paste and slather it on. Messy but effective. 3. Mix one part 9 percent vinegar (standard Russian cooking vinegar) with three parts water (or less, if the vinegar doesn't irritate your skin). Dampen a cloth in the mix and hold it on the bites. 4. Hold a damp black-tea teabag on the bite, and the tannin will pull out some of the toxins. 5. For a drippy treatment, slather on sour cream or kefir. 6. For a hippy treatment, slather on tea tree oil. 7. For a zippy treatment, slather on Tiger Balm ("Zvyozochka"). 8. For a weird treatment, slather on mint toothpaste. 9. For a stinky treatment, dampen a cotton ball with household ammonia and hold it on the bite. 10. For a clean treatment, cover the bite with hand sanitizer.

7 июля 2016  ·  < 100

What are the differences between natural, organic and biodynamic wines?

Lucy Jenkins  ·  1
multimedia journalist specialising in wine and travel

Let’s start with the easiest to define… Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown without artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides although the laws of whether preservatives are allowed in the wine-making process varies from country to country.

However, there are no strict rules to define what natural wine is. So the first rule of natural wine is that there are no rules, if you like. Yes, it can be confusing. An early advocate of natural wine was Jules Chauvet, who lived in France’s Beaujolais wine country in the 1950s. Chauvet railed against the mass production of French wine to quench the world’s insatiable thirst for it, which meant using artificial fertilisers for the vines and putting additives in the wine. He argued that this created tasteless, generic wine that carried no sense of where it was made, and might even be harmful to the drinker’s health.

Put loosely, natural wine is made of organically grown grapes, and is allowed as much as possible to make itself, with minimum intervention by the winemaker. So no artificial yeast is used to ferment it, and no sugar, acid or new oak is added. The permissibility of sulphur dioxide, or sulphites, is debated. Sulphites inhibit or kill undesirable yeasts and bacteria, and protect wine from oxidation. Some natural wine enthusiasts say minimal amounts may be used,but purists say none should be allowed. Making natural wine requires an enormous amount of work in the vineyards for a disproportionately small reward. A consumer is not necessarily aware that a given wine is a natural wine and so may be disinclined to pay more for it. This is because there is no universally accepted definition of what a natural wine is, so what the label on the bottle says is unhelpful to the consumer.

For enthusiasts that wish to venture beyond the nebulous boundaries of natural wine, there is biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is the product of meticulous viticulture, which is subject to strict regulation, and must pass gruelling tests to be certified as such. The world has more than 600 certified biodynamic viticulturists. They range from classic Burgundy domaines and Champagne houses to tiny, rustic New Zealand and Australian wine estates that employ sheep or kangaroos to do the weeding among the vines.

In essence, biodynamic viticulture uses the principles of organic farming, so no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers are allowed. But biodynamic viticulture goes further, mandating practices such as planting and harvesting crops according to the solar and lunar cycles. It regards soil as a living thing that should be treated as such, in the belief that healthy soil devoid of unnatural chemicals will produce the best wine.

2 августа 2016  ·  < 100