Science news November 2017

Science News November 2017

Here is Science News and advances in science, medicine, engineering, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship in November 2017. Let us know what you science news you have heard of, seen on the TV, read in newspapers, or found on the  Internet. And tell us what has inspired you and made you curious. We will post it on this web site.  email us at for any interesting breakthroughs in your country.

Science News Nov 24th 2017 Why are bees so political? Neonics strike

Because they have stopped buzzing. Bees are being killed by insecticides used in agriculture. This is Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ all over again.

But good news for bees, similar to when DDT was banned in the 1960’s, the UK is now going to support an extended ban on the insecticide under scrutiny today, the neonicotinoids (neonics).

The neonics are very toxic and have caused the collapse of the honey bee numbers. However the debate remains highly contentious and polarised. The supporters of the use of these chemicals are paid by the companies that make them. New evidence has now been published where good quality field trials have been done. The authors conclude that the neonics are causing bee death. The company scientists are still arguing.

Do you know how these chemicals kill the bees? Do you know what the alternative insecticides are? Our society is dependant on our farmers producing quality crops in high yield. But they have to be safe to eat in the short term and the long term. And they must not kill off the very insects that pollinate them. What will farmers use instead?

As a young scientist, make your arguments more persuasive by knowing the science behind the hype.

Do you know the difference between a honey bee and a bumble bee?

Read more at:

Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees Woodcock1 B. A. et al , Science  30 Jun 2017:Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1393-1395 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1190

Chronic exposure to neonicotinoids reduces honey bee health near corn crops Tsvetkov N et al, Science  30 Jun 2017: Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1395-1397 DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7470


Science News Nov 24th 2017  Arctic apples, are we ready for them?

How would you like an apple that doesn’t ‘go off’, that is, go brown, when peeled and left. It means that bags of pre-cut apple slices can be bought which will last much longer. This has become reality for some shoppers in the US Mid West.

In February 2015, the US Department of Agriculture, (USDA), approved the first genetically modified (GM) apple. It is called an ‘Arctic Apple’ and doesn’t go brown because the natural reaction of polyphenols in the apple being oxidised to quinones has been much reduced by blocking the enzyme, polyphenol oxidase. Obvious advantages are longer shelf life and reduced waste. However objections were raised, in particular about possible market disruption, especially the export market to countries with deep scepticism about GM foods.

This month, November 2017, the product hit the shelves. Surely the answer is educated consumer choice. Transparency with clearly labelled packaging stating that the Arctic apple is GM. That hasn’t happened; the bag has a QR code on it linking to this information. Pity.

But why does the apple have this mechanism? What is the selective advantage? One suggestion is that the polyphenol oxidase genes are associated with pathogen resistance so silencing them could lead to problems with pests and disease. The manufacturer disputes this in the case of the ‘Arctic Apple’. 

Read more at:

Engineered apple tests US consumers’ appetite Amy Maxmen Nature 551, 149–150 (09 November 2017) doi:10.1038/551149a

Nonbrowning GM apple cleared for market           Emily Waltz Nature Biotechnology 33, 326–327 (2015) doi:10.1038/nbt0415-326c


Science news November 2017 – 14th Nov. It’s the chicken that came first!

A new enzymatic pathway has been discovered in ancient anaerobic (no oxygen) bacteria called Chlorobium limicola. The pathway makes Ergothioneine, which is interesting because it is an antioxidant. Scientists used to think Ergothioneine could only be made in an aerobic (with oxygen) environment, starting with the amino acid histidine. But now it has been shown that it can be made without oxygen  by a new enzyme.

Why is this interesting? Ergothioneine is an antioxidant but that activity wouldn’t have been needed in pre oxygenated earth, so its likely to have had other functions. It would have been present in these anaerobic bacteria before microbes evolved to photosynthesise and make oxygen. If it was, it could have been the ready-made protection in the right place at the right time.

A phylogenetic analysis of bacteria capable of making ergothioneine shows that many millennia ago, there was a split and whilst the organisms remained capable of making this chemical, one branch did it aerobically and the other anaerobically.

Apart from answering the chicken and egg question – it had to be the chicken making ergothioneine of course – it is a fascinating new biosynthetic pathway to investigate. Calling all biochemists.

Read more about Science News November 2017:

  1. Anaerobic origin of ergothioneine   Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2017 Oct 2;56(41):12508-12511. doi: 10.1002/anie.201705932. Epub 2017 Sep 1.
  2. Biochemistry: The surprising history of an antioxidant Ruszczycky et al Nature 551, 37-38 Nov 2017


Science News November 2017 14th Nov.  New Skin: a fantastic example of translational research.

What is ‘Translational research’? It is when basic scientific findings lead to treatments for disease. A superb example of this has lead to a little boy in Germany being given a massive improvement in the quality of his life.

He was born with a genetic disease caused by mutations in genes encoding the basement membrane component of skin, laminin-332. The disease is called Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB) and the result is that skin cannot stick properly. It is very debilitating, painful and can be fatal.

The work started in the laboratory with stem cell research and resulted in an entire, fully functional epidermis being made. Autologous (from the patients own cells) transgenic keratinocyte cultures were used. Treatments normally take a long time to be approved for use in humans, but government regulators acted quickly and sensitively, and the doctors and staff were able to treat the boy by effectively replacing his skin.

A further discovery from this case is that scientists now know that the human epidermis is sustained by a limited number of long-lived stem cells, not previously known. The potential of this study in other gene therapies is great.

If the research is this good, it doesn’t take a double blind trial to prove it’s effectiveness. In this example it took just one patient, who is now a very happy boy.

Read more  about Science News November 2017:

Regeneration of the entire human epidermis using transgenic stem cells Hirsch. T. et al

Published online in Nature 8th November 2017 doi:10.1038/nature24487

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