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Research news from BBSRC

12 January 2005

The following stories appear in the January 2005 edition of Business, the quarterly magazine of research highlights from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Human nose more complicated than a jumbo jet
Winter colds can give you a blocked up nose that stops you smelling chimney smoke, roasting chestnuts, warming winter puddings and other seasonal scents. Researchers at Imperial College London have now discovered that the airflow through the nose that helps you to experience smells is actually more complicated than the airflow over a jumbo jet’s wing. Their research using very accurate transparent 3D models may help to develop new products to unblock stuffy noses and novel methods of drug delivery through the nose.
(Page 18)


Dr Bob Schroter, Imperial College London, Tel: 020 7594 5049, E-mail:
Dr Denis Doorly, Imperial College London, Tel: 020 7594 5175, E-mail:

A Morse code for human cells
Morse code is a simple, effective and clear method of communication and now scientists believe that cells in our body may also be using patterns of signals to switch genes on and off. The researchers have studied transcription factors, the signalling molecules inside cells that activate or deactivate genes. They found that the strength of the signal is less important than the frequency pattern used. The discovery may have major implications for the pharmaceutical industry as the signalling molecules that are targeted by drugs may have more than one purpose. The number of number and frequency of signals, like the dots and dashes of Morse code, could have different purposes, all of which could be modified by a drug.
(Page 16)


Professor Douglas Kell, University of Manchester, Tel: 0161 200 4492, E-mail:
Professor Michael White, University of Liverpool, E-mail:

Stem cells could reveal secrets of illness in later life
Mums to be have known for some time that what they eat when pregnant affects their unborn child but now researchers at the University of Nottingham believe that our mothers’ diet during pregnancy may affect our predisposition to illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure in late life. As experiments on unborn babies and pregnant mothers are clearly impossible the researchers have turned to embryonic stem cells to examine their theory that a foetus’s response to the mother’s diet could affect the methylation process which controls gene activity as an organism grows and develops.
(Page 4)


Dr Lorraine Young, University of Nottingham, Tel: 0115 924 9924, E-mail:

Biting back at the flies
When you go on holiday does one member of your family get bitten more than others? Research at Rothamsted is aiming to identify the chemical reasons why certain individuals amongst both cattle and humans get consistently bitten more often than others. A group headed by Professor John Pickett has identified that the number of flies affecting herds of cattle depends on whether certain individuals are present in a field. They used this knowledge to isolate a number of chemical compounds that act as attractants or repellents to biting flies. Building on this work another researcher, James Logan, has found that similar patterns are evident in humans who also differ in their attractiveness to mosquitoes. He is now isolating the compounds in human odours that are responsible and the work may one day lead to natural and effective insect repellents.
(Page 14 )


Professor John Pickett, Rothamsted Research, E-mail:
James Logan, Rothamsted Research, E-mail:

What lies beneath
Some of the most damaging crop pests attack plants below the ground, but researchers at the University of Reading have now given us a better understanding of what goes on beneath our feet by using technology similar to a hospital CAT scanner to watch subterranean insects attack plant roots. Underground pests are particularly damaging as they can cause significant damage to a crop and a reduction in yield before their unseen attack is even diagnosed.
(Page 26)


Dr Scott Johnson, University of Reading, E-mail:



The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

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