The Art of Multitasking


Multitasking allows people to do more than one task at the same time, and is seen as a very efficient method of working. The art of multitasking is, in fact, very hard to master and most people fail to achieve it properly. The aim of multitasking is to conduct two jobs simultaneously, not just switch between each of the tasks and refocus concentration each time.

When the brain switches focus to deal with multiple tasks, this is known as interference and none of the tasks are learnt efficiently. This is because the  tasks “compete” to become the more prominent memory in the brain, which can ultimately reduce productivity by about 40 percent.

Due to this hugely common problem, a study was led by tudent Jasmine Herszage and Dr. Nitzan Censor, of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and Sagol School of Neuroscience in Israel in order to find a way to learn more efficiently and “reactivate the learned memory”. Dr Nitzan Censor said:

Our research demonstrates that the brief reactivation of a single learned memory, in appropriate conditions, enables the long-term prevention of, or immunity to, future interference in the performance of another task performed in close conjunction.”

As part of the study, participant were taught a sequence of finger movements on one hand. Once this had been learned. the participants were also asked to do the sequence on the other hand. These two tasks were able to be done without interference due to the original member (being able to do the sequence on one hand) being reactivated (being able to do the sequence on the other hand). This prevention of interference lasted for 1 month after the first task had initially been learned.

Dr Censor explains:

“The second task is a model of a competing memory, as the same sequence is performed using the novel, untrained hand. In other words, when a learned memory is reactivated by a brief cue or reminder, a unique time-window opens up. This presents an opportunity to interact with the memory and update it – degrade, stabilize, or strengthen its underlying brain neural representations. We utilized this knowledge to discover a mechanism that enabled long-term stabilization, and prevention of task interference in humans.”

It is hoped that this finding can be used clinically to help people undergoing  rehabilitation following brain injuries that impact memory in the future.

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How Does the Brain Respond to Exercise?


A group of research scientists at the Centre of Neural Science at New York University (NYU) in New York City have carried out a study to investigate what effect a single session of exercise does to a human. 

The researchers chose to focus on the effects of single session exercise as opposed to longer timing because it can be used to determine a better and more accurate understanding of longer exercise and if it will create long-term changes in the brain. As well as this, the scientists have also chosen to focus on behavioural changes in an attempt to find out the strengths and weaknesses of doing several single-session exercises rather than one long-session. The single session of aerobic exercise was approximated to be 1 hour long and through the study, it was found out that acute exercise improves mood, focus, and reduces stress.

Aerobic exercise has been shown to show positive results in three key areas: better executive function (the ability to plan, focus, and multitask), better mood, and lower stress levels. However, the most dramatic effect revealed from the study was the change in neurochemical levels -this includes dopamine (helps the brain to learn), serotonin (relieves anxiety and depression) and neuromodulators (“feel good” chemicals).

Wendy A. Suzuki, Ph.D., a professor of neural science and psychology in the Center for Neural Science at NYU and lead investigator said this:

Exercise interventions are currently being used to help address everything from cognitive impairments in normal aging […] to motor deficits in Parkinson’s disease and mood states in depression. Our review highlights the neural mechanisms and pathways by which exercise might produce these clinically relevant effects.”

The only potential difficulty for the researchers next is using these results found from rodents and using them to accurately identify behaviour in humans. As of yet, there is an insufficient amount of evidence regarding linkages between rodents and humans. However, the researchers are hoping this will soon change in the future.

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New ‘Smart Bandage’


A group of scientists from Swansea University are going to stage a trial (possibly within the next 12 months) for a ‘smart bandage’ that can detect the healing process of a wound and provide messages of this back to doctors.


The bandage is said to work through tiny sensors that can identify blood clotting and infections being placed inside the bandage, allowing information to be sent wirelessly to a doctors phone. By doing this, treatment will be more tailored to the specific individual and their individual wound, thus hopefully making the treatment more successful.

The deal between Swansea University Institute of Life Science and the Welsh Government will cost £1.3 billion and they have aimed to create a 5G test hub. Professor Marc Clement, chairman of the Institute of Life Science said:

 “5G is an opportunity to produce resilient, robust bandwidth that is always there for the purpose of healthcare. That intelligent dressing uses nano-technology to sense the state of that wound at any one specific time.


You combine all of that intelligence so the clinician knows the performance of the specific wound at any specific time and can then tailor the treatment protocol to the individual and wound in question.”

At the moment, patients have to go back to their doctor at an agreed time. However, this has caused problems due to the wound being infected or the wound needing more time to heal. This is why the idea of a ‘smart bandage’ is very promising as it is hoped to significantly increase the ease of dealing with wounds and provide efficient treatment likewise.


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New Cystic Fibrosis Treatment


Cystic fibrosis is a genetic diseases that prohibits people from being able to breath over time.  At the moment, there is no cure for the disease (although there are many treatments) but a new potential form of treatment has been found to work significantly better than the others.


The research was done by an international team of researchers from the George Washington (GW) University in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the University of Perugia and the University of Rome (both in Italy) who discovered a drug that could potentially treat the progression of cystic fibrosis – THYMOSIN ALPHA 1 (Ta1) – also known as ‘Zadaxin’ which is already used in treating many viral infections and disorders such as HIV.

This drug has been known to have a role in immunity and reduces inflammation as well as being able to correct genetic defects. As a result, during the study the researchers found that the Ta1 corrected the defects in the tissue of mice and improved the activity of Cystic Fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) that is associated with balancing he levels of salt and water in the lungs.

Allan L. Goldstein, Ph.D., study co-author and Professor Emeritus in Residence of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences said this:

“Right now there are multiple treatments for cystic fibrosis, and while these have improved life expectancy dramatically, there is still only a lifespan of about 40 years for patients. No one treatment can stand alone. We developed a single treatment that can potentially correct the genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis and decrease the inflammation that happens as a result.”

Hopefully, this finding will enable Cystic Fibrosis to be tackled more efficiently, and maybe even work towards a potential cure.


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Protein Responsible for Allergic Diseases has been Found Out


A group of scientists at VIB-UGent have discovered the ‘master protein’ TSLP that is responsible for a large number of allergic diseases like asthma and eczema.


Allergic diseases are a huge burden to the people suffering from them. Unfortunately, the cause of allergic diseases is not known and it has been estimated to be caused by genetic, environmental and molecular factors. Yes, there are treatments that can reduce the intensity of the symptoms of allergic diseases. However, there is no absolute cure and hopefully through this discovery, scientists can be one step closer to achieving this.

As well as finding out about the TSLP, the scientists have also been able to develop a molecule that can inhibit the TSLP’s activity, thus showing how promising their discovery is in finding a cure for allergic diseases once and for all.

For future developments, the team lead by Professor Savvides are going to work with another team led by Rudi Beyaert and with VIB’s Technology Transfer department to follow up on their discovery and test the molecule that they found to be successful against TSLP on animal models for a variety of different allergic reactions.

I’d like to end on a quote from Prof. Savvas Savvides:

“We strongly believe in our discovery’s potential in the development of new therapies against allergic diseases. At the same time, we hope that the insights and tools we have generated in this study will catalyze further developments in the field. The TSLP story is far from done, as recent reports have added intriguing new twists to TSLP’s function. We will take advantage of our pole position in the field to continue to contribute to our understanding of this fascinating protein. Nonetheless, our priority now is to identify possible industrial partnerships to actually develop a novel therapeutic tool.”

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Scientists Find Bacteria That is Resistant to ‘Last Resort’ Antibiotic


Tigecycline is the antibiotic that is used as a last resort when no other antibiotic is effective. However, this will not be able to be the case any more as a group of Spanish investigators have found that there is a bacteria that has become resistant to this ’emergency’ antibiotic – the bacteria resides in hospitals and has been found to be adapted to living on dogs.


“This is extremely important for public health” said Bruno Gonzalez-Zorn, DVM, PhD, professor of microbiology at the Veterinary School and Health Surveillance Center, VISAVET, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain, due to the bacteria – Klebsiella pneumoniae – being repeatedly exposed in hospitals through hospital-acquired pneumonia bloodstream, wound and surgical site infections, and meningitis. This study was a shock to the researchers who did not expect that the last fully effective antibiotic exclusively used in hospitals only to have become  human-pathogen resistant.

The finding is very important as it now leaves the possibility for dog-owners and other in close contact to dogs to get infected with the Tigecycline-resistant pathogen from the hospital, thus making the last resort antibiotic vulnerable. The researchers now hope to find out which hospital is the centre of the spread of the Tigecycline-resistant pathogen through genome sequencing (‘figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome’).

As a means of reducing the effect of the new discovery, the research team said this:

“Treatment of pet animals with antibiotics should be done with care, and minimized, the same as with humans and food animals.”

As I have already mentioned in previous blogs, the problem of antibiotic resistance is become more and more of a serious problem. Now that pathogens have become resistant to the ‘last hope’ of antibiotics, the search is heavily on to find and produce new antibiotics as soon as possible.

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Being a ‘Night Owl’ Could be a Genetic Problem


A new study has shown that there could be a genetic mutation which changes the human circadian clock (this controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy) and makes people become ‘night owls’.


Night owl behaviour is known to be seen by people who stay up late at night and struggle waking up in the morning. It is diagnosed by sleep clinicians as ‘delayed sleep phrase disorder’ or DSPD for short, and it has also been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and diabetes.

The research was led by Michael Young, Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and head of the Laboratory of Genetics at The Rockefeller University in New York who worked with his team to claim that the CRY1 gene could undergo a mutation changes our ‘internal clock’ that makes our body realise when it is time to sleep. This usually happens through our circadian rhythm that follows a 24 hour cycle responding to the amount of light and darkness in the environment – this is how it is decided when it is time to sleep. However, the colleagues have managed to find that carriers of the genetic mutation in the CRY1 gene (that changes the genetic code of only one letter) had irregular sleeping patterns.

Alina Patke, a research associate in the laboratory of principal investigator Young said this:

“Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,”


“It is as if these people have perpetual jet lag moving eastward every day, in the morning, they are not ready for the next day to arrive.”


“An external cycle and good sleep hygiene can help force a slow-running clock to accommodate a 24-hour day, we just have to work harder at it.”


This discovery has managed to shed some light on the behaviour of the ‘night owls’ in our society and fortunately, it doesn’t affect them permanently. As Patke said, the effects of the mutation can be fixed though strict sleeping routines thus allowing people to be able to be ready for the  day ahead again.

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Acne Could Be Caused by Skin Bacteria


A new study from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) claims that acne could be caused due to imbalances in skin bacteria as opposed to by a specific strain of bacteria.



Acne is a skin disease that usually occurs during puberty. It is inflammatory and results in the appearance of blackheads (black and on surface of skin) , whiteheads (small and under the skin) and more types of pimples. About three-quarters of 11 – 30 year-olds get acne at some point and it can even be linked to the genes. Usually the most affected areas of the body due to acne include the face, neck, chest, shoulders and back due to there being more sebaceous glands in these areas (the areas are more oily which clogs the pores).

Propionibacterium acnes or, P. acnes for short, is a bacterium that contributes heavily to acne development, however it is not the only bacterium that does this as P.acnes is abundant in individuals with and without acne. The bacterium formed the basis of the study by studying the skin follicles of 38 people with acne and 34 people without acne through DNA shotgun sequencing (‘Shotgun sequencing involves randomly breaking up DNA sequences into lots of small pieces and then reassembling the sequence by looking for regions of overlap’). Through this search, it was found that the difference between people with acne and without acne was in the strains of P. acnes. Whats more, ‘adults with acne had higher levels of virulence-related genes in P. acnes, the team reports. These included genes linked to the production of bacterial toxins that promote inflammation and poor skin health.’

Dr Li,  the study leader, said this:

“This study suggests that the makeup of the bacteria in the follicles can reflect, as well as influence, the skin condition in acne or healthy skin,”

From these findings, the researchers hope to encourage the use of personalised ace treatment based on specific conditions and intensities of acne and the imbalance of the skin bacteria. The team believe that for accurate and successful treatments to be brought out to the public, it is very important to fully understand the bacteria related to acne. One possible method of treatment could be through the use of probiotics that target the harmful bacteria and encourage the produce of beneficial bacteria to restore the balance between skin bacteria. This way, there will be no need to kill all the bacteria on the skin as the beneficial ones can provide a guide of the type of bacteria that is wanted on the skin.

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Komodo Dragon Blood Could Help Develop New Antibiotics


A new study has shown that the blood of a Komodo Dragon could help to produce new antibiotics to help tackle the problem of more and more infections becoming resistant to current antibiotics. 


An antibiotic is a drug that fights infections caused by bacteria, and antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the affects of an antibiotic. This is becoming a big threat to public health as every year, more and more people are dying due to infections that previously could have been treated by antibiotics, thus making the need for new antimicrobial medications is heavily increase. British studies have claimed that 10 million people a year globally die due to infections resistant to antibiotics, thus showing just how important it is for new antibiotics to be produced quickly.

However, this isn’t a problem that can be solved easily – no new antibiotics have been developed in the past 30 years, showing just how difficult it is to produce new antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO) have even warned that we are on the edge of entering a ‘post-antibiotic era’ so now scientists and researchers all over the world are making antibiotics a top priority.

Luckily, Monique Van Hoek and his colleagues of the School of Systems Biology at George Mason University in Manassas, VA have found that Komodo Dragons could provide some hope in producing new antibiotics. Apparently, a peptide found in its blood known as VK25 allows the Komodo Dragon – the largest living species of lizard in the world – to rarely get ill even after eating decaying flesh and saliva with harmful bacteria. The peptide has been found to have mild antimicrobial properties, so researchers have shuffled 2 of the amino acids present in the VK 25 to make it more effective. This new synthesised peptide has been named ‘DRGN-1’.

Van Hoek said:

“The synthesized peptide DRGN-1 is not a Komodo dragon’s natural peptide; it’s been altered to be stronger in terms of both potency and stability,”


“Synthetic germ-fighter peptides are a new approach to potentially defeat bacteria that have grown resistant to conventional antibiotics. The antimicrobial peptides we’re tapping into represent millions of years of evolution in protecting immune systems from dangerous infections.”


The peptide managed to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus) in mice, so the researchers are now hoping to try and get the same results in other animals and eventually, humans.


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The Science Behind Exam Stress


Being a student currently studying A levels, I have first hand experience of stressing about exams, and I am sure many of you reading this blog have experience also. This form of stress is known as exam anxiety and is a common form of stress for people undertaking exams, although some people suffer with it more than others.


So, lets start off by talking about stress in general. Stress is the body’s way of coping with any demand and is a natural response to protect the body in times of danger. Hormones are released from the body causing the heart to beat faster and blood pressure / body perspiration to increase. These hormones can also give the body more strength and energy in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Psychologist Martyn Denscombe found via social research that exam stress is caused due to four reasons…

  • Educational consequences associated with the outcome of the exam – Usually, 3 A grades are required at A level to get into medical school for example
  • Self esteem regarding the outcome of the exam – people tend to feel more confident about themselves if they can receive high grades in exams
  • Judgements from friends and parents – people might think their friends will laugh at the if they don’t do well or their parents will be disappointed
  • Fear of disappointing teachers – if you don’t do well in exams after doing well in class all year, teachers may be disappointed

Too much stress can actually make it almost impossible to focus on exams and recall the information studied. When the body is stressed, a stress hormone called cortisol is released that is able to reduce the speed of memory retrieval in humans. Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott researched about cortisol found that even sleep can increase levels of cortisol – if an individual has 6 hours of sleep instead of the recommended 8 hours, there will be 50% more cortisol in the bloodstream.

So, the question that you are all probably wondering, HOW DO YOU REDUCE EXAM STRESS?

  1. START REVISION EARLY as this will reduce the chance of chronic stress building up over a period of time. Starting revision that little bit earlier will give you the time to go over the content you need more times, thus increasing the chance of you remembering it in the actual exam.
  2. PLAN REVISION – the amount of time spent by people actually deciding what subject to revise could definitely have been used to fit in that extra exam paper.
  3. DO NOT CRAM THE NIGHT BEFORE – this may seem like a good technique but it will actually just make you even more stressed and more likely to forget the content in the exam hall. Instead, spend that evening calming yourself down by going on a walk or having a relaxing bath.
  4. TAKE DEEP BREATHS – if you feel yourself getting stressed try to calm yourself down by drinking plenty of water and breathing in and out – this will make you feel much more comfortable and ready to start the exam.

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