I’m channel hopping but it seems to me there’s nothing that I want to watch. I feel like stopping but it’s easier to just sit and drop off.

“Did you know that if you focus really intently on something that takes as much energy as running across North America?”

Last week I helped out on my division’s stand for Science Week. The University of Manchester held a Science Fair for local schools to take part in some simple experiments and find out some new things about “science.” Our stand had a few games including a “Pin the Hormone on the Organ,” and tests to diagnose dogs with diabetes. I’ll just leave that there, I don’t think you need any more information right?..

So, whilst giving our little spiel the question (well statement? I mean I guess it’s a question as it starts with “did you know” but it doesn’t really seem to be asking anything worth while. Is it a rhetorical question? This is why I chose science, English is hard!) above was asked (stated? Goddamn not this again!). My colleague, a practicing clinician, experienced researcher and Head of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Gastroenterology, nodded politely and said “no I hadn’t heard that.”

Staring at something intently? Like maybe a screen? Is this some nonsense thought up to encourage kids to watch TV or play video games? Well I wasn’t one to let this chubby 10-year old get away with it… Thanks to DiabetesPro literally the day before I saw this little story, “Screen time linked to increased diabetes risk in children.” So, I could shoot down that child with facts!

Obviously, I didn’t as I’m not (that much of) a jerk. But I still think it made interesting reading, and as I don’t have any kids I am in the perfect place to tell people how to raise their children. 1 hour of TV a day folks!

Children who spend 3 hours a day watching TV have increased fat mass, skin folds and insulin resistance. So basically 9-10-year olds are getting pre-diabetic. Even when taking into account factors like physically activity, gender, adiposity (fatness) and socio-economical markers, there is still more insulin resistance in the kids who watch more TV.

It’s likely that the large amount of TV isn’t solely to blame, but the habits which arise from it. Children who consistently watch TV, particularly eating meals in front of the TV, snack more whilst watching TV. Moreover, this policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that children spend 8 hours a day engaging in some sort of media, and teenager more than 11. This included phones, computers and everything else, whilst admitting that a lot of this may overlap and therefore be exaggerated. But still they recommended limiting children’s screen exposure to less than 2 hours a day.

At the moment, it’s all correlative, so could be nonsense until more comprehensive studies are carried out, but stopping your kids snacking whilst watching TV 3 hours a day is probably a good idea.


Today’s quote is by Blakfish


I think part of being a parent is trying to kill your kids

So, I’ve covered a couple of things before about obesity; specifically watching Dr Giles Yeo and leptin. If you don’t know type 2 diabetes is kinda my jam, and obviously obesity can play a big role in causing type 2 diabetes. So obviously I was interested in this article stating that a modern lifestyle is to blame for making y’all chubby.

I’ve covered before (in those links above) that your genes play a massive role in if you put on weight. But Dr Yeo compared them to poker. “You can win with a bad hand, and you can definitely lose with a good hand.” And this study seems to show that especially.

Basically the incidence of the mutated genes isn’t increasing. So why are we getting fatter?

Walter and folks looked at the genes of almost 9000 patients born between 1900 and 1958. They compared 29 mutations, which have been linked to obesity, to generate a Genetic Risk Score (GRS) combining all changes. I won’t go into too much info, as it uses very complicated maths. Basically mutations can take away or add to the risk of obesity, so the GRS is a sum of the positive and negative influences. Get it?

The first cohort of subjects were the oldest, so basically people born before we began feasting for every meal. Interestingly, here was no significant connection between the GRS and the BMI of people. Even though the incidence of mutations and the value of the GRS was the same as for people born later, for some reason people didn’t get fat. As you work your way through the cohorts, looking at people born later, the association increases. This means that the GRS starts to mean more as you get younger patients. Also, the older people got the more likely they were to be obese, potentially due to the increased availability of high-calorie foods, and the sedentary lifestyle old folks tend to have.

This suggests that the modern environment plays a bigger role in whether or not you develop obesity.  So, what’s the happy haps?

The authors suggest a few things. The average calorie intake in the States has increased by a whopping 22% (in woman; only 7% in men – still bad though). Sugar-sweetened drinks increase the risk hugely, and consumption of these bad boys has increased rapidly. I’ve just watched a live cast from Physiology 2016, where Prof John Blundell showed that when given a choice people choose energetically dense food.And now we live in a time when folks can access calorific food simply, and cheaply. Another reason may be because we’ve gotten lazy. Although Prof Blundell mentioned that even exercise cannot undo a high calorie diet. Demereth et al carried out a similar study, but had a more complicated explanation; epigenetics!

I have talked about epigenetics before, but probably in real life rather than here as it’s a bit of a head scratcher. Simply put your DNA contains all the data needed to make you. However, to stop DNA from just being accessed all of the time you need something to control it. This can involve modifying the DNA directly, usually by sticking something onto it. This can increase or decrease the rate of which genes are transcribed (i.e. made) (kind of…). Crucially epigenetics don’t actually change the DNA, just the way it is read. And obesity can cause quite a few epigenetic changes. This means that the expression of the proteins involved in obesity and other nasty things can be changed, simply by becoming obese. It’s like an ironic* perpetual motion machine.

Think of your DNA like a fancy library, like one with a museum. All of the day-to-day books for children and idiots are accessible all the time. But those old, fragile books are kept under lock and key, and can only be used in a controlled environment. Now the easiest way to get access to the books is to bribe the librarian with a pile of greasy donuts. Most of the time anyway; perhaps sometimes the librarian shuns your treats and tells you to do one.

Now imagine your big fat grandad has gone around opening and locking doors and eaten the keys. That’s right, epigenetic changes can pass from one generation to the next. Someone at ENDO 2015 said it can pass over two generations, but I can’t remember who, so let’s just let that hang there…

(Since I originally wrote this piece, this came out. The study shows that incidence of Type 2 Diabetes is increasing, and that the percentage of younger people getting the disease is increasing. If you don’t know, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes usually go hand in hand.)

*American ironic. Not proper ironic


Today’s quote is from Stephen King.

The Build

Bluedot is over, and our project was a success! We spent a very tiring weekend explaining to everyone how astronauts exercise, whilst blowing up balloons, giving out stickers and setting off bottle rockets. A few people did ask how we managed to build it all, so I figured I’d write a little something about our apparatus here.



So, after The Physiological Society approved my outreach grant I went on a spending spree. I purchased bike pumps, lengths of tubing, balloons, brackets, screws and nipped to the local B&Q. I’m a bit in love with the wood cutting machinery at B&Q. It’s is basically a big circular saw connected to a frame which takes up an entire wall. It can cut wood to any size you want. As I’m awful at saws, I was excited to measure things up and pass it off to the folks at B&Q.

I came home with a car full of treats, and starting drilling away. I basically made a big box of wood, which can be taken apart, and rebuilt, quickly. I drilled holes to allow the tubing to pass through, and hide it away inside the box. I used a jigsaw to cut a little square in the lid, so insert a big upright bike pump, and led a tube out of the front of the box. Simples.


Using a loads of rubbish from labs I connected tubes together, and built a little stand for the empty bottles to sit in. Charlotte drank herself through roughly 900 bottles of Pepsi Max to give me a load of empty bottles.


I had to toy around with a couple of things to actually bung up the bottles. I originally planned to jam a cork in, drill though it, snap a sterile pipette and jam that through. Then connect my tube to  the other side of the stripette and Robert’s your dad’s brother!

However, I soon realised that sellotape wrapped around the tube would work just as well. And when I saw as well, I mean better. And a roll of sellotape is much simpler to carry around then all of that junk.

So there you have it. Although if you’re making it at home, you can do it much simpler, by drilling a small hole through a cork, jamming it into a two little bottle with 200-300 mL water in, then feed the needle from your bike pump through, pump away and enjoy!

I’ve put a lot of my life into making it possible to fly in space at all.

Everyone knows exercise is important right? It helps you lose weight, increase muscle mass, makes you feel good, decreases health problems and according to The Oatmeal eat obscene amounts of amazing terrible food. But I bet you didn’t know how important exercise is to astronauts, did you?

Think about it. Crew members on the International Space Station can spend months in “microgravity,” or as you probably call it “floaty floaty space times.” Because of this they do not use their muscles properly. It’s hard to imagine, but just by standing up and walking around you actually use a lot of your muscles, and prevent them from just wasting away. So, just imagine what happens in space when all of this day to day exercise is cut out.

Crew members can lose up to 25% of their muscle mass after a stint on the International Space Station. Which you’ll recognise as about 25% more than you ideally want to lose. Sarcopenia, a disease literally meaning “poverty of the flesh”, occurs when you lose about 1% of your muscle mass. And generally to over 50s!

Some of you weedy, gym-phobic jerks are probably all like “so what? I don’t got me no muscles and I been doing just fine.”

Firstly, you are not fine, that was an appalling sentence and you should apologise for it. Secondly, skeletal muscle (the type of muscle you think of when you generally think of muscles) is the biggest organ in your skinny little joke of a body. Skeletal muscle makes up all of you. In only the most extreme circumstances is there something in your body bigger than muscle.

Mostly, it’s fat. Which is pretty darn gross.

Aside from the obvious, muscle wastage can lead to lots of problems. Rates of Type 2 Diabetes increase, and those suffering from sarcopenia often undergo complications following surgery. It can even cause bone loss. It sucks, is what I’m trying to say.

Futhermore, remember how you can’t be an astronaut because;
A) you’re not smart enough
B) ain’t lucky enough
C) and most importantly here, you would fail all of the physical challenges given to trainee astronauts

These folks are literally the best we have to offer. They’re so good at what they do, they get to dick about in space doing it.

“So, exercise right? That is what fixes it right? Right?”

Better, but stop saying “right?” Asking rhetorical questions in a seemingly relaxed, but secretly pain-stakingly crafted manner is my thing you twerp.

And yes. Although, remember that microgravity I talked about before? What type of exercise can you do when things weigh nothing and you just float around? It’s not like you can just strap someone onto a treadmill can you?..

Luckily those folks at NASA are crazier than you think. They have manufactured a treadmill (called COLBERT) with two bungee cord straps and braces. This means that crew members can be harnessed and attached to the treadmill. This means they can run just as normal.

But why would you run, when you can ride a bike in space? Like I said them NASA smarties are also a little bit zaney. CEVIS is basically a box with pedals on it. Again, you get strapped into it, but it means you can ride whilst you float around.

So, that’s your cardio done. As microgravity affects everything it is important that crew members exercise all muscle groups. Enter ARED, the advanced resistive exercise device; a goddamn beast of a machine. ARED uses piston-driven vacuum cylinders to simulate exercise. Crew members lift bars to push the cylinders closed, like a bicycle pump. What is so special about ARED is the flexibility. Not only can the amount of vacuum be changed to increase the amount of “weight” but the machine can be altered to mimic lots of different exercises.

Having trouble picturing any of this? Well how about you get yourself over to The Bluedot Festival. It’s a new festival at Jodrell Bank, showcasing the best in music, art and science. And we’ve been chosen. We’ll be there all day Saturday and Sunday showing people how to #exerciselikeanastronaut. Yeah, I stick hashtags on things now. On the ISS crew members attempt to exercise for 2 hours a day. We’ll be knocking out a week’s worth of exercise in just two days.

So, come along and check us out. And then stick around for 65daysofstatic, Caribou, Everything Everything, Polinski, DJ Shadow and so many more artists. Brian Cox and Robin Ince will be there, and everyone loves him right? Come on, it’ll be fun. We can blow up some things*.


* things may include balloons.

Today’s quote is from Chris Hadfield.