OSB archive
OSB archive

Did you miss? Christmas round-up

Pete Wilton

Highlights from Oxford science in the news over Christmas:

Could that Christmas chocolate and wine have done you some good?

As newspapers including the Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail reported, Oxford research focusing on the elderly suggests it just might.

Oxford and Norwegian researchers found that small amounts of chocolate, wine and tea can significantly boost the cognitive performance of the over-70s.

Flavonoids, micronutrients found in all three foodstuffs, may be behind the effect (although the researchers say other factors specific to these foods can't yet be ruled out).

Let in the lynx
Would reintroducing the lynx to Britain be the best way to control deer populations?

In the run up to the publication of the State of Britain's Mammals report David Macdonald of Oxford's WildCRU told The Independent lynx would provide a natural way of controlling deer numbers.

David comments that we shouldn't worry about sharing our landscape with these wild cats: 'There is enough food – there are all these roe deer that people are having to control and the lynx could help out... As far as I'm aware, there is no recorded case of lynx being any danger to people.'

Txt ur mood 
A system that enables clinicians to monitor a patient's moods by text message can help in the treatment of mental illness.

Developed by Oxford's Department of Psychiatry, with Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health, the system contacts patients every day and asks them to text back a letter code that corresponds to their mood.

As BBC Online report this simple approach enables clinicians to plot a patient's mood swings, monitor the effect of medication and identify when a face-to-face appointment or further assessment is needed.

Oxford's John Geddes said: 'When I see the patient in clinic I pretty much know how they have been... Basically, with this system we would hit the ground running and we can focus on trying to help them and their treatment.'

A new kind of 'walking' molecular machine might one day shift cargo around 'nano-factories' according to New Scientist.

They report on work by Oxford's Andrew Turberfield and colleagues into a 'nanobot' with DNA feet which 'walks' along a DNA track. Clever design ensures the Oxford nanobot doesn't detach itself from or destroy the track as it moves - there's no backtracking either as it can only move forward.

Andrew comments: 'At the moment, the nanobot has taken a single step but our ambition is to make it move 100 nanometres or more... We can already stop and start our motor by controlling the amount of fuel we add, but we could add other control signals to make walkers interact with each other, and could easily attach a cargo to the region that links the two legs.'

Species showdown
Finally, what animal could humans not live without?

During a debate at the Earthwatch Institute broadcast on BBC Radio 4 five scientists slugged it out to decide which species was irreplaceable.

After being put to an audience vote George McGavin of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History won the day with his persuasive argument in favour of bees.