Category Archives: Science Communication

New Material Stores Oxygen for Later Use

Oxygen is an important element required for metabolisms occurring in our body and without it we would be dead in a couple of seconds. This is the reason that we cannot survive under the water or any other place without oxygen. Scientists  at University of Southern Denmark found a new way to store oxygen for using in places that oxygen is not available. They made a substance based on cobalt which can absorb oxygen from its surrounding air or water and release it anytime it is needed.

By Kenneth Abbate , via Wikimedia Commons

Oxygen can bind many different materials but the result is not always useful. For instance, oxygen can spoil foods or can rust metals. Professor Christine McKenzie, one of the researchers, explains that this new material can reversibly react with oxygen which means it can be used to transport oxygen and release it in its initial form similar to what hemoglobin does in our body. Cobalt is responsible for determining the structure of this new material in a way that it has affinity for oxygen same as iron in our body. Professor McKenzie added that the rate of oxygen absorption can range from seconds to days because of several factors such as atmospheric oxygen content, temperature and pressure. Furthermore, the material releases oxygen when it is heated up or placed in a vacuum. This material can be used to make many useful devices. For example, a light weight device could be designed to provide oxygen for patients with lung diseases who have to carry heavy oxygen tanks with themselves all the time. In addition, divers can use this material to stay longer under the water since it can absorb oxygen from water if the diver breathes in all the available oxygen in the material.

By Stephan Borchert (Eigenes Werk.) via Wikimedia Commons

-Amir Jafarvand

The Benefits of Travelling

Last year I had the absolute privilege to spend a year abroad through the go global program at UBC.  I studied in Leiden, The Netherlands and spent much of my time exploring and travelling around continental Europe.  While travelling, I always thought about what I was doing and how it would compare if I were to stay at home.  I always wondered what the real point of travelling or being abroad was.  Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this and there is a wealth of research to suggest the benefits travel can provide.

The first benefit that may surprise most is ones overall health.  Many studies have compared those who travel often with those who do not finding that well travelled individuals are in an overall better health condition.  For example, a study by Chun-Chun Chen and James Petrick reviewed past literature on the overall health benefits of travel and found there to be a lower risk of diseases such as heart attacks.  They also found that stress levels were lower among those who travel which can help reduce many other complications.  It is also interesting to note that these health benefits were observed to gradually diminish after returning from a trip.

Video: TEDx Talks

The benefits of travel do not stop at ones health and wellbeing it can also extend to peoples work lives and overall career success.  This may seem counter intuitive since travel is often viewed as the opposite of work but many studies show that time off results in a more productive work ethic.  Lots of evidence points to the need to relax and clear your mind to be able to produce better work.  This is applied to many work offices at Google. Other studies also point to a correlation between university degree completion and higher incomes with those who travel more.

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Video: BBC

The last point I want to make is actually one I realized myself while being abroad.  I think it is one of the more important points.  Through my experiences in different countries and from simply reading the news its not hard to notice the many conflicts that exist between people around the world.  I noticed that those who remain isolated and out of touch from other countries and cultures have more negative thoughts and stereotypes towards others which often results in meaningless conflicts with big consequences.  Travel provides people with a real experience to which they can base their beliefs on and the ability to realize that we are all in the world together.  This can ultimately overcome many ideological differences and create a better understanding of one another pushing towards a more peaceful and meaningful population.

What triggers Allergies?



Some of the things that we’re allergic to – such as peanuts and pollen, for example – carry compounds that resemble proteins found in parasites. It is found that allergic reactions are actually miscommunicated immune responses: For our own protection, our bodies produce antibodies, which attack similar but harmless compounds. The action of an antibody on a harmful compound can be described through the following video:

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Various environmental and food proteins called allergens are recognized by an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This part of the mammalian immune system is thought to have evolved as an additional rapid response mechanism to combat parasitic arthropods and worms called helminths. If IgE-mediated immune responses evolved to provide extra protection and not to cause allergic reactions,  then environmental allergens such as pollen should share key molecular properties with the parasite antigens that are specifically targeted by IgE in infected humans.antibodz

To test this, a team led by Nidhi Tyagi from the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute identified epitopic-like regions in 206 parasitic proteins and as the first example, it was found that a plant protein (BetV1) has similar binding sites for anti bodies, as it is found for allergens such as pollen in a worm. This confirms that the immune system targets allergens (Both plant protein and harmful parasites) via IgE antibodies and causes immune responses which fail to differentiate between useful and harmful compounds.

Their research also helped them to list 2,445 parasite proteins that show significant similarity in both sequence and structure with allergenic proteins, which can cause immune response against useful proteins. The research team then measured antibody responses in blood collected from 222 people living in the fishing village of Namoni on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. These community members were suffering from schistomsomiasis which is caused by the worm Schistosoma mansoni(pictured below). The blood was collected immediately before anti-schistosomiasis treatment and five weeks afterwards.


It turned out that a plant protein called BetV1 – the commonest allergen in pollen – is a target of IgE in humans infected with schistosomiasis.

Tyagi’s research adds to one of those definitions: environmental and food proteins that are similar to those parasite proteins against which IgE is an observed marker of protective immunity. Defining allergen-like molecules in parasites and understanding their link to the unregulated IgE response, will help with the discovery and design of molecules for future treatment of allergic conditions.