Some 95% of people have a gene variant that affects their response to at least one drug. Image credit - Banc d'Imatges Infermeres/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Some 95% of people have a gene variant that affects their response to at least one drug. Image credit - Banc d'Imatges Infermeres/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Some 95% of people have a gene variant that affects their response to at least one drug. Image credit — Banc d’Imatges Infermeres/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Different people respond to medication in different ways — and the results can be fatal.

by Ian Le Guillou

Henk-Jan Guchelaar knows all too well the serious problems that the side-effects of medication can cause. As a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he has spent the last two decades trying to get the link between medicine and our genes recognised more widely.

The stories he hears from patients and their families bring home the impact that these gene-drug interactions can have. It can even have fatal consequences, as one man described to him.

‘He told me about his wife, who had breast cancer and underwent surgery. The prognosis was very good. The tumour was removed by the surgeon but, to prevent micro-metastases, his wife had to receive six courses of (chemotherapy drug) fluorouracil. During the second infusion of the drug, the patient collapsed, went to the intensive care unit and died,’ he said. …


Vaccines can train our innate immune system. Scientists are now studying whether a TB vaccine confers protection against Covid-19. Image credit - Agência Brasília/Flickr, licenced under CC BY 2.0
Vaccines can train our innate immune system. Scientists are now studying whether a TB vaccine confers protection against Covid-19. Image credit - Agência Brasília/Flickr, licenced under CC BY 2.0
Vaccines can train our innate immune system. Scientists are now studying whether a TB vaccine confers protection against Covid-19. Image credit — Agência Brasília/Flickr, licenced under CC BY 2.0

Prof. Christine Stabell Benn is studying the wider effects of common vaccines.

by Ian Le Guillou

Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.

We often think about vaccines protecting us against a specific disease — training the immune system to recognise a particular threat and respond quickly if we are ever exposed to the disease. This is the adaptive immune system at work.

However, vaccines may also influence our immune system’s response to other diseases by training our innate immune system — the first line of defence against a broad range of infections. …


The structure of coral polyps provide an ideal habitat for colonies of Symbiodinium sp. algae to grow. Image credit - Dr Wangpraseurt
The structure of coral polyps provide an ideal habitat for colonies of Symbiodinium sp. algae to grow. Image credit - Dr Wangpraseurt
The structure of coral polyps provide an ideal habitat for colonies of Symbiodinium sp. algae to grow. Image credit — Dr Wangpraseurt

Current growth techniques suffer from light blockages.

by Fintan Burke

Using light as an energy source, photosynthetic microalgae can be used to produce products like biofuels and cosmetics. But algae grown in a reactor block out the light on which they feed. New reactor designs could solve this problem and help the industry move forward.

Photosynthetic algae — tiny algae that use light to grow — offer an alternative to traditional fossil fuels. The small amount of lipids each cell produces can be harvested to produce biofuel for the transport industry.

Currently, there are two main designs to grow the algae: either through an outdoor artificial ‘pond’ or through a closed ‘photobioreactor’ — usually a transparent tube or bag. …


A complex system of clouds and aerosols forms over much of South Asia as part of the monsoon - the challenge was to find out what it contains. Image credit - Sparsh Karki/Pexels, licenced under CC0
A complex system of clouds and aerosols forms over much of South Asia as part of the monsoon - the challenge was to find out what it contains. Image credit - Sparsh Karki/Pexels, licenced under CC0
A complex system of clouds and aerosols forms over much of South Asia as part of the monsoon — the challenge was to find out what it contains. Image credit — Sparsh Karki/Pexels, licenced under CC0

Stephan Borrmann’s detective work required help from a high-altitude former spy plane.

by Caleb Davies

For Stephan Borrmann, a day of high altitude detective work begins early. He wakes at about 05:30am in a hotel in the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. After a quick breakfast, he and his team are driven to the city’s airport. Their job is to prepare a converted Russian espionage plane so that it can investigate one of the biggest mysteries of the atmosphere.

Professor Borrmann is an atmospheric physicist the Johannes Gutenberg University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. He’s interested in the complex system of clouds and aerosols that forms over much of South Asia as part of the monsoon. The Himalayas force air upwards forming a huge mass of swirling cloud. This acts ‘like a vacuum cleaner’ says Prof. Borrmann, hoovering up air pollution from across Asia. In 2009, satellites picked up that a layer of aerosol — a suspension of tiny particles — accumulated just above the clouds at an altitude of about 14–18km. …


Mushroom growing matter makes great compost but contains a lot of water, making it heavy and unprofitable to transport, so it currently goes to waste. Image credit - needpix.com//licenced under CC0
Mushroom growing matter makes great compost but contains a lot of water, making it heavy and unprofitable to transport, so it currently goes to waste. Image credit - needpix.com//licenced under CC0
Mushroom growing matter makes great compost but contains a lot of water, making it heavy and unprofitable to transport, so it currently goes to waste. Image credit — needpix.com//licenced under CC0

Growers could make money from waste.

by Sandrine Ceurstemont

Cultivating mushrooms produces a lot of waste. For every kilogram of mushrooms produced, about three kilograms of soil-like material containing straw, manure and peat is left behind. In the EU, this results in more than 3 billion kilograms of waste per year.

Managing this waste is a challenge. Although it is rich in organic matter, and therefore useful as compost, used mushroom substrate — the soil-like material — contains a lot of water, which makes it heavy and unprofitable to transport. …


Researchers are trying to determine if different song dialects in groups of S. bilineata bats is driving genetic change and ultimately to them becoming two different species. Image credit - Karin Schneeberger/Wikimedia, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0
Researchers are trying to determine if different song dialects in groups of S. bilineata bats is driving genetic change and ultimately to them becoming two different species. Image credit - Karin Schneeberger/Wikimedia, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0
Researchers are trying to determine if different song dialects in groups of S. bilineata bats is driving genetic change and ultimately to them becoming two different species. Image credit — Karin Schneeberger/Wikimedia, licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0

These mammals hold clues to the origins of vocal communication.

by Gareth Willmer

A slow drive in the dead of night through the forests of northwestern Costa Rica helped home in on the target. Dr Mirjam Knörnschild and her team had equipment with a microphone hooked to the top of their car to take recordings of bats.

‘Local people probably thought we were crazy or lost,’ she said. ‘Or both.’

But in these expeditions last year in the Guanacaste region, her team was seeking to narrow down the point at which two distinct populations of bats mix in their highest numbers. And it worked. …


People’s willingness to have a vaccine changes depending on how at risk they feel, says anthropologist Heidi Larson. Image credit - RF._.studio/Pexels, licensed under the Pexels licence
People’s willingness to have a vaccine changes depending on how at risk they feel, says anthropologist Heidi Larson. Image credit - RF._.studio/Pexels, licensed under the Pexels licence
People’s willingness to have a vaccine changes depending on how at risk they feel, says anthropologist Heidi Larson. Image credit — RF._.studio/Pexels, licensed under the Pexels licence

We need to take people’s concerns seriously, says Prof. Heidi Larson.

by Richard Gray

Efforts to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 with a vaccine could be hampered by low levels of confidence in immunisation programs in some European countries, warns Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in the UK.

Surveys conducted by the project during the pandemic suggest many people are still unsure about the safety of potential Covid-19 vaccines and how effective they will be. Prof. Larson believes a more open and honest discussion is needed with the public to answer questions they might have.

What is vaccine confidence?


Researchers found that the level of preparedness for a pandemic was patchy across Europe, despite warnings for years from health experts. Image credit - Diario de Madrid/CC BY 4.0
Researchers found that the level of preparedness for a pandemic was patchy across Europe, despite warnings for years from health experts. Image credit - Diario de Madrid/CC BY 4.0
Researchers found that the level of preparedness for a pandemic was patchy across Europe, despite warnings for years from health experts. Image credit — Diario de Madrid/CC BY 4.0

Greater sharing of resources needed in future, say experts.

by Richard Gray

Competition between European countries for equipment, test kits and medicines needed to tackle Covid-19 may have hampered the region’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

Greater sharing of resources, hospital capacity and even healthcare staff are needed to cope with pandemics in the future, according to researchers examining the public health response to coronavirus across the European Union.

They have found that the level of preparedness was patchy across Europe, despite warnings for years, if not decades, from health experts that a global pandemic was likely.

While some countries had built up pandemic preparedness stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines such as anti-virals and other vital equipment, others had very little. …


Tropical thunderstorm clouds are unique because they self-organise even when the conditions below and above them are uniform, and do so with 'memories' of past formations. Image credit -  NASA Johnson Space Center
Tropical thunderstorm clouds are unique because they self-organise even when the conditions below and above them are uniform, and do so with 'memories' of past formations. Image credit -  NASA Johnson Space Center
Tropical thunderstorm clouds are unique because they self-organise even when the conditions below and above them are uniform, and do so with ‘memories’ of past formations. Image credit — NASA Johnson Space Center

Figuring out how thunderstorm clouds self-organise is part of the puzzle.

by Sarah Wild

Above the Atlantic Ocean, puffy white clouds scud across the sky buffeted by invisible trade winds. They are not ‘particularly big, impressive or extended’, says Dr Sandrine Bony, a climatologist and research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. ‘But they are the most ubiquitous clouds on Earth.’

Clouds are one of the biggest question marks in global climate models, and a wild card in predicting what will happen to the climate as temperatures rise. They play a vital role in how much of the sun’s radiation makes it into and gets trapped in our atmosphere. The more clouds there are, the more radiation bounces off their tops and is reflected back into space; it also means that if there are more clouds, the radiation reflected by Earth gets trapped. …


Clouds are important from a climate point of view for how they reflect and absorb sunlight, according to Professor Pier Siebesma, an atmospheric physicist. Image credit - Pier Siebesma
Clouds are important from a climate point of view for how they reflect and absorb sunlight, according to Professor Pier Siebesma, an atmospheric physicist. Image credit - Pier Siebesma
Clouds are important from a climate point of view for how they reflect and absorb sunlight, according to Professor Pier Siebesma, an atmospheric physicist. Image credit — Pier Siebesma

Clouds organise on scales of hundreds of kilometres — but we’re yet to simulate this, says cloud expert.

by Richard Gray

They might be beautiful at times, but clouds are still one of the biggest sources of uncertainty in understanding how the climate will change due to global warming, explains Professor Pier Siebesma, an atmospheric physicist at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands.

Enormous field studies of clouds and high-resolution computer simulations are now helping to reduce some of that uncertainty. The picture of what it means for our climate is far from encouraging, according to Prof. Siebesma.

What are clouds and how do they form?

Clouds are simply condensed water. The atmosphere is full of water vapour that evaporates from oceans and the land. But the atmosphere can only hold so much water vapour, so when air cools, it reaches a point where it becomes supersaturated and water vapour condenses around microscopic dust particles we call aerosols. The droplets are so tiny that they remain floating in the air where they scatter sunlight, which is why we see them as white clouds. As more water condenses, the droplets grow and they fall with gravity as rain. …

About

Horizon

The EU research & innovation magazine

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store