Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense such as sound, leads to the involuntary and automatic stimulation of a second and sometimes even a third sense. It is thought that around 1 in 2000 people have some form of the condition, and it is thought to be caused by the brain having extra ‘links’ between areas that control the senses. There are possibly over 60 different forms of synaesthesia, but I’m going to be talking about one particular type: grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which is the most common form of synaesthesia.

Essentially, grapheme-colour synaesthesia is the association of letters or numbers (graphemes) with colours, and whilst it is very unlikely that a synesthete will report perceiving the same colour for all graphemes as another synesthete, there are some consistencies, such as red for the letter ‘A’ and yellow for ‘S’. Often, there tends to be no pattern for the colours perceived, although in some cases, it appears that more frequent letters tend to be paired with more common colours.

Experts who have studied synaesthesia believe it to be more common in females, left handed people, or those with above average intelligence. As well as this, it is thought that it could possibly be hereditary. Synesthetes also tend to share traits, such as getting confused between left and right; having a poor sense of direction; being perfectionists; being introverted and  being very creative.

There is evidence to suggest that hypnosis has been able to stop people from experiencing synaesthesia, but in reality, those with it tend to actually find it quite useful, as grapheme-colour synaesthesia in particular has proved useful for remembering names and telephone numbers, but for now, much more research is needed in this area of science before we can fully understand those who experience synaesthesia.

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Should we let gene editing become a thing of the future?

I have heard this argument come up again and again, online, in the media, and even at school, over whether it is ethical to allow scientists to genetically modify genes.

Until recently, it has only been possible for scientists to remove cells carrying faulty genes from a patient and replace them with healthy cells from either another area of their body, or from a non-sufferer of the condition caused by the faulty gene. However, earlier this year, it was announced that in China, a group of scientists had successfully performed gene editing, in which a section of DNA can be cut out, altered and then re-implanted.

However, naturally, this breakthrough was immediately met with a number of ethical questions, such as whether it was against human morals to allow it etc, and so that is what I am going to be pondering in this blog.

Firstly, let’s look at the positives: gene editing has opened up the potential to wipe out certain hereditary genetic conditions, such as Huntington’s Disease. This is because, previously, with genetic modification, it was possible that even if someone had their faulty gene carrying Huntington’s on it replaced, it was still possible that it may be passed on to their children, but with gene editing, scientists are hopeful that it could mean that conditions such as these could eventually become extinct. As a result of this, gene editing could save the NHS and other health services a huge amount of money that would be spent on carers and treatment for sufferers of diseases such as Huntington’s or cystic fibrosis. This money could, in turn, allow another breakthrough in another area of medicine that would allow more people to live a happy life.

On the other hand, many people have raised the question over whether it is ethical to allow scientists to genetically edit embryos, as there are fears that this could lead to ‘designer babies’ in which people start asking for ‘desirable characteristics’, such as hair colour, eye colour, mental ability, sporting prowess etc…

Furthermore, this area of science is still relatively new, and we have no idea what the long term effects could be, such as the possibility that, whilst editing one gene, what is the likelihood that we damage others, causing even more severe problems, or whether, genetically edited cells will be able to reproduce properly, or once they die is that it?

As for now, there is definitely more research needed into the pros and cons of gene editing, and the likely prosperity of it, should it be deemed safe enough to introduce into general public consumption.

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The Effect of Technology on Sleep

I recently read an article that talked about how spending too much time using technology is having a negative effect on our sleeping patterns, and whilst it didn’t surprise me, I was curious to find out more on what was actually happening.

Usually, when it becomes darker in the evening, our body releases a hormone called melatonin, which has the effect of calming the body and preparing us for sleep. However, the majority of phones and other electronic devices with an LED screen, emit wavelengths of light that can disrupt and supress the effect of this hormone, therefore making you feel less tired and more alert. This can result in it taking over an hour longer to fall asleep than usual, which if only a one off, may not be so much of a problem, but if like the majority of us, you are doing this repeatedly each evening, then you are not only setting yourself up to feel tired the following morning, but are also increasing your chance of being diagnosed with a number of health risks.

For example, a lack of sleep can reduce your body’s response to insulin, therefore putting you at a greater risk of developing diabetes or becoming obese. As well as this, because your brain has not had enough time to recover, you may find yourself unable to concentrate for much longer than 20 minutes at a time, and it can also reduce both short term and long term memory.

However, it’s not all bad news, as there are already some apps and devices which are ‘sleep aware’ and use reduced blue-green light emissions to minimise the effect they are having on their customers.

But perhaps the easiest way to avoid these problems is simply to turn off your iPod or iPhone so you don’t spend all your time on it. Experts believe you ought to leave at least an hour between switching off and going to bed to minimise the chance of being affected by it.

Thanks for reading!