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Unit 52 – To Build A Genome

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

The passage below has been adapted from an article by Clive Cookson and was originally published in the Financial Times, July 2012.

 

Craig Venter, king of the genome, has been uncharacteristically quiet for a couple of years since his laboratory created the world’s first synthetic life form, a microbe whose genes were made entirely from inanimate chemicals. Some critics downplayed Venter’s achievement in 2010 because he did not make a novel form of life. The project was a technical tour de force, a demonstration that scientists could move on from reading to writing genes, but it reproduced an existing microbe called Mycoplasma mycoides, with just a few “watermarking” additions to distinguish its DNA from the natural bacterium.

Now his teams are well on the way to making synthetic microbes distinctly different to anything in nature. “We have a design contest to come up with a genome designed completely in a computer,” Venter says. “Three different versions of the genome are being constructed now and we hope to know by the end of the summer whether any of these designs will work as a living cell.”

The designs are all attempts to find the “minimal genome”, the least DNA with the fewest genes capable of sustaining a free-living organism. The smallest microbial genome in nature belongs to Mycoplasma genitalium, with 525 genes encoded in 580,000 chemical “letters” of DNA. The question is how much DNA is truly essential for life and how much is unnecessary clutter resulting from undirected Darwinian evolution. More…

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Unit 42 – Researching Treatments for Bone Marrow Oedema

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

The passage below is an extract from ‘Short-term outcome of painful bone marrow oedema of the knee following oral treatment with iloprost or tramadol: results of an exploratory phase II study of 41 patients’, by M.E. Mayerhoefer et al. originally published in Rheumatology (2007) 46 (9).

It was the goal of this study to compare the effect of oral treatment with the vasoactive iloprost to the effect of symptomatic treatment with tramadol, with regard to the outcome of painful isolated BME of the knee. While we were able to exclude all causes for reactive BME, and also a history of trauma suggesting mechanical BME, we were not able to reliably exclude minor to moderate axis deviations compatible with mechanical BME, because only standard antero-posterior and lateral radiographs of the knee joint, but no long radiographs of the entire lower limb, were available. Therefore, the BME observed in our patient population was regarded as either ischaemic or mechanical.
In recent studies, iloprost, which is currently registered for the intravenous therapy of peripheral arterial occlusive disease, thrombangiitis obliterans and Raynaud’s phenomenon, has been presented as an effective novel approach for the management of BME. Iloprost inhibits platelet and leucocyte activation, induces vasodilatation, counteracts vasospasm, protects the endothelium and reduces vessel wall permeability. Because it is believed that the main factors responsible for the development of BME are thrombo-, fat- and air-embolization, obstruction of venous and pre-capillary drainage or elevated venous pressure and decreased arterial perfusion, vessel wall injuries and decreased fibrinolysis, iloprost may represent a truly causative treatment option.
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Unit 36 – Visualisation

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

The following passages about Visualization have been adapted from Mind Games – Inspiratioal Lessons from the World’s Finest Sports Stars by Jeff Grout and Sarah Perrin

 

Passage 1
Visualization is an important element of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP trainer Graham Shaw explains that the reason why visualization works from an NLP perspective is that the mind doesn’t actually know the difference between a real or an imagined experience.
Shaw recalls a story told him by his skiing instructor. A man turned up for a ski course a year after attending the previous one – but he had vastly improved during the year’s gap. The instructor asked him where he had been skiing and he had found that he could remember the route he used to ski down. He told the instructor he’d skied down it a hundred times in his head. Of course, in his head, he had skied it perfectly. According to Shaw, if we imagine an experience powerfully enough, we have the opportunity to programme our minds to do something successfully every time.
Shaw says that one of the ways visualization helps athletes is by creating positive ‘filters’. Everyone automatically creates their own filters through which they view the world. These filters can be supportive or limiting, depending on the individual’s past experiences and response to those experiences.
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Unit 34 – Experimental Monkey Business

Difficulty: Medium/hard

Time: 6 minutes

The following passage has been adapted from Not A Chimp – The Hunt To Find The Genes That Make Us Human, by Jeremy Taylor

Researcher, Brian Hare, decided to create an experimental set-up where he could frame the ‘seeing-knowing’ question in the context of competition for food between dominant and a subordinate chimp. The two chimps were separated by screens, which could be raised or lowered, from a central chamber which contained two barriers made out of opaque cloth bags. Both animals were allowed to watch while the experimenter placed two pieces of food in the central chamber, sometimes in the open and sometimes behind one of the barriers. Then both chimps were allowed into the chamber. The dominant, of course, took all the pieces of food it could see, and if both pieces had been placed in the open, it grabbed the lot. Occasionally, however, the experimenter had placed a piece of food behind one of the barriers in a way that was difficult for the dominant chimp to monitor. The question was whether or not the subordinate would preferentially go for the food only it could see, because it had been placed on its side of a barrier. The subordinate was given a very slight head start to encourage it to compete with the dominant and to ensure that it was not simply reacting to the dominant’s behaviour on release, but on the remembered ‘who saw what?’ condition when the chamber was baited.
Their measure of the choice the subordinate made was based on the completeness of its approach (half-way toward the barrier), and full approach, when the subordinate crossed the half-way line in the right direction.
Their results showed that subordinates did indeed go toward the food that only they could see much more often than the food that both they and the dominant could see (because it was either out in the open or the dominant had seen it placed behind a barrier). This suggested to Hare that they did understand something about seeing and not seeing. But did they understand anything about seeing being equivalent to knowing?
In a follow-up experiment the subordinate was always allowed to witness one piece of food being placed on its side of one or another of the barriers. In the first condition, the dominant was also allowed to witness the action; in the second condition the dominant was not allowed to see and was thus ignorant of food location; and in a third condition the dominant was misinformed about the food location in that he was first allowed to watch the food being placed, but the food was switched while his screen was subsequently lowered. The screen was always completely lowered on the dominant’s side for a few seconds before the subordinate, then the dominant, were released into the chamber. If the subordinate had remembered whether or not the dominant was looking, in the past, at the crucial moment when food was either placed or switched, and if he could thus compute that looking was akin to seeing (was akin to knowing), he should approach and retrieve the food more often when the dominant was either uninformed or misinformed about where it was, and thus avoid a bashing. He did.
More…

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Unit 29 – The Science of Towels

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 6 minutes

One of the questions here is slightly Section Three-esque, however, knowledge of chemistry should not be required to answer the question. The main challenge with this unit will be getting it all done in under 6 minutes, as the questions themselves are not too difficult. 

 

The passages below have been adapted from a series of articles from Why Can’t Elephants Jump, published by New Scientist and edited by Mick O’ Hare.

 

Passage 1
Some garments made of 100 per cent cotton will hang-dry on the washing line without creases, while other pure cotton items end up covered with stubborn creases that only a steam iron will shift. Why is this? Is it the quality of the cotton, or perhaps the species of cotton plant it comes from? And while we’re on the subject, some cotton towels never really absorb the moisture from your body, however many times they are washed, while others – initially resistant while new – age into the job perfectly well after visiting the washing machine. What’s going on?
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