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Several years ago, an expecting mother was carrying identical twins: a rare and joyous occasion, but known to happen from time to time. At her 14 week scan, something more remarkable was discovered- one of the identical twins was a boy, and the other a girl.

The surprised mother was told that her babies were ‘sesquizygotic’ or in plainer English ‘semi-identical’. Incredibly, at the time of fertilization, 2 sperm fertilized the same egg which produced three sets of chromosomes (1 from the mother and 2 from the father).

This formed three cells and two of these with the correctly matching DNA started developing into foetuses. Remarkable, and unlike fraternal twins who share 50% of their DNA, the twins are understood to have 100% of their mother’s DNA and 78% identical on their father’s side. Putting them at an obscure percentage of similarity to both fraternal twins and siblings or identical twins.

The only other case recorded of sesquizygotic twins documented that both were intersex. This also applies to the Australian twins. The twins have a certain percentage of XX chromosomes (female) and XY chromosomes (male). The girl has now had her ovaries removed while the boy’s testes are being kept an eye on.

This is a really fascinating area of biology – we encourage all biologists and medics to look into this very rare case to give an incredible interview.

More and more research points to the idea that a healthy gut is an absolute priority for a generally healthy body. The latest illness scientists are looking at in relation to gut health is cancer.

They claim that certain bacteria (specifically firmicutes) within the gut may help patients be more receptive to anti-cancer treatments. A team of French researchers did experiments on mice, transplanting gut bacteria from two human groups – the first group were successfully treated cancer patients and the other group who did not respond to treatment.

The mice were then routinely injected with cancer cells and checkpoint inhibitors over the next fortnight. Mice who had been injected with the gut bacteria of cancer survivors were shown to respond much better to the treatment compared to mice injected from the other group.

The experiments with mice are promising but the next step is to apply it to humans. Researchers are looking into using either spores or ‘poop pills’ (fecal matter in the form of a pill) from cancer survivors.

Of course, lifestyle is very important and scientists pay close attention to the inter-relationship between diet, bacteria diversity in the their reception to cancer treatment.

Biologists and Medics can definitely benefit from delving into this fascinating area of medical research for a fantastic personal statement and interview.

Since the 1970s, over 90 amphibian species have been driven to extinction by a particular fungus called ‘Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis’. This fungus which goes by the short-hand name ‘Bd’ is now considered to be one of the most deadly pathogens in the world. In addition to the 90 extinct species, 124 species are critically endangered to the point where a recovery seems unlikely.

Amphibians contain the protein keratin in their thin skin which BD attacks and eats through until it starts to affect the organism’s organs. The amphibian will start excessively shedding their skin and have a reddish colour.  Eventually the affected organs result in the creature having a cardiac arrest and then death.  Unfortunately, the disease is able to spread very swiftly and easily in infected waters and is incredibly difficult to keep under control.

The disease originated on the Korean peninsula and was quick to spread throughout the entire world due to infected animals being exported as trade goods to other countries. In total now, 1 in 16 amphibians species has been affected but researchers argue that the overall effects.

Activists are fighting for minimal transportation of amphibians around the world to assuage the deadly effects of Bd on ecosystems. At the very least, every single amphibian being traded should be tested for Bd which is not something that is currently in place.

Biologists would be wise to explore the devastating effects of Bd on ecosystems as a potential research topic for the personal statement. Geographers can focus on the human handling of ecosystems that help to propogate the disease on a global scale.

In the dusty and hot depths of northern Israel, something remarkable was recently discovered in the Zhevulun Valley by the precious stone mining company Shefa Yamim.

Geologists struck on a mineral embedded in sapphire with the extraordinary and extraterrestrial property of being harder than Diamonds – something only alien gems in outer space are known to possess. Subsequent density testings do indeed reveal that this trumps its established Diamond competitor.

The mineral was found close to Mt.Carmel which serves as the inspiration for its name ‘Carmeltazite’.  It has also been trademarked by Shefa Yamim with the name of ‘Carmel Sapphire’. Its legitimacy has been further supported by the International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, giving it official status as a new mineral.

This incredibly rare mineral has its origins in the era of the dinosaur when Israel was a highly volcanic area, with over a dozen volcanic vents constantly spewing out molten lava.

Carmeltazite is similar in its molecular structure to ruby and sapphire (aside from its being rarer with a higher density) and varies in colour from black, blue, green and an orange-y brown.

Unfortunately, saving up to give your loved one a Carmel Sapphire engagement ring may be out of most of our budgets, as the stone’s special properties make it more valuable than even diamonds.

Humor aside, the discovery of Carmeltazite is incredible and delving more into its structure as well as researching other new minerals could be a great way for geologists and natural scientists to have the edge at interview.

It is conceptually possible for a human to go on a space walk around the upper atmosphere with nothing but an air supply and chemical hazard suit, like those worn following the chemical attack in Salisbury.

This is because between altitudes of 50 – 60km, Venus’ atmospheric pressure is around half that at Earth’s sea level, equivalent to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.  It is also around 20 – 30°C, which is why NASA are currently planning a conceptual manned mission there named the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC).

Venus is often named Earth’s twin as they share a similar size, surface composition and atmosphere with complex weather system.  Venus is only 30% closer to the Sun yet it has a much younger geological landscape with an average surface temperature of 460°C, which means it may rain molten bismuth and lead on some of its mountain peaks.  The geological landscape formed by volcanoes is similar to Earth’s terrain and it is thought that it replicates the environment that Earth had much earlier in its life cycle. 

Another similarity with ancient Earth are the sulphuric acid clouds found around the same atmospheric region as the planned HAVOC mission.  These are responsible for the bright blue appearance of Venus and it reflects around 75% of incoming light.  But they pose a challenge to any planned expedition due to their highly corrosive properties.  This can be overcome though by coating an exterior components with Teflon and other plastics that are highly resistant.  Plans are for an airship that would float around the desired atmospheric region, filled with breathable air which is less dense than the Venusian atmosphere. 

Physics applicants can consider the geological history of the two planets and how their histories might have diverged.  Chemistry applicants can research the properties of Teflon and other man-made materials with high resistance to corrosion and consider their uses.

Seb Oliver and Peter Hurley are professors of astrophysics at the University of Sussex.  Peter Hurley suffers from cystic fibrosis.  Together they had the idea of applying a technique used to distinguish and match galaxies captured on different telescopes to the data collected about patients with cystic fibrosis (CF).

CF is a genetic disease and the gene is carried by one in 25 Europeans.  In the UK around 10,400 people have the condition and it radically reduces life expectancy.  It is currently incurable and treatment to most successfully impede its effects depends largely upon being put on the right medication, of which there are many different options.  Improving patient prognosis relies upon greater understanding of the long-term impact of the medication on different patients.  This is made more challenging due to the long time frame of CF treatment and that it is a rare disease.  The main problem though lies in the necessary anonymisation of patient data and the resultant break in threads of individual patient’s data, due to clerical errors and changes in data such as body mass index (BMI) not being identified.

What the two professors have done is to apply a computational framework that calculates the probability that a pair of celestial objects in two images are the same and parallel this with an alternate theory that they might be two different objects that just happen to be adjacent.

The analogous comparison with CF patient data is clear factors such as age and gender.  But often this is not sufficient as information that is likely to fluctuate, such as BMI, can lead to broken links in individual patient data.  The key factor in their framework is the inclusion on an analogous model taken from the fact that galaxies will appear to have different brightness levels when viewed through different telescopes, due to the wavelengths of light that they are reading.

Physics applicants can further research the mathematical models used in astrophysics to differentiate objects.  Medicine applicants can consider the importance of patient anonymity when their data is analysed as well as how maintaining the threads of data will help in their analysis.   

On the 12th of August 2018, following technical problems and delays, the Parker solar probe finally started its record-breaking mission towards the sun. Named after the astrophysicist Eugene Parker, the solar probe is programmed to fly into the sun’s corona (an aura of plasma surrounding the star) and ultimately come within 6.1 km of the sun’s surface. Travelling at around 724,000 kph, the probe will hitchhike on Venus’ gravitational orbit seven times to come closer and closer to the sun.

Several measures have been put in place to protect the probe and its equipment from the scorching temperatures. The spacecraft will be protected by a state-of-the-art carbon heat shield, and has built-in sensors to rapidly compensate in case it turns and exposes its equipment to the full heat of the sun. Although the plasma that makes up the corona reaches well into the millions of degrees Centigrade, the probe will only be exposed to a breezy 1,400°C due to the very thin structure of the corona, which means that the probe won’t actually touch that many of the superheated plasma particles; “think of putting your oven on and you set it at 400 degrees, and you can put your hand inside your oven and you won’t get burned unless you actually touch a surface”, explains Nicola Fox, a solar scientist at Johns Hopkins University and part of the Parker probe team.

Through this ground-breaking mission, scientists hope to solve some of the sun’s best-kept secrets, for example; why is the corona so much hotter than the surface of the sun? And what lies behind the solar wind, the term coined in the 1950s by Eugene Parker to describe the gas that speeds away from the sun at over a million miles per hour?  When Parker first proposed this idea, he was scorned by the scientific community. But in time, research came to vindicate him, and we now know that such a wind does indeed exist and has a significant impact on the solar system. “We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” says Fox. “It’s incredible to be standing here today.” Parker himself is rather more prosaic: “I’ll bet you 10 bucks it works”.

Applicants for Physics, Natural Sciences, or Engineering might be interested in learning more about the solar probe’s mission and the research and questions that lie behind the mission. Those particularly interested in astrophysics may wish to read Eugene Parker’s 1958 paper on solar wind.

On the 25th of July 2018, scientists announced an exciting discovery: promising signs were identified of a potential lake lying beneath layers of ice on Mars’s south pole. Researchers have long harboured suspicions that there might be water lurking on the planet, but the research led by Roberto Orosei of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics is the first to point towards a proper body of water, and a large one at that—the lake is estimated to be around 12 miles in width.

The lake was spotted using low-frequency radio wave technology which can penetrate deep beneath the thick layers of ice. However, the low frequency also means that the results gleaned are not as precise, because the resolution of the reflected signal is relatively low. Because of this, the team’s conclusions are not yet certain, although they are confident that the existence of a lake is the most likely option presented by the data.

Could extraterrestrial life be swimming around in this polar lake?  It is certainly not a welcoming environment. Firstly, the temperature presents an obstacle to life. The lower limit for the majority of organisms on earth is around –40° Celsius; the ice layer on Mars is around –68° C. Secondly, for the water to exist in liquid form at such low temperatures is has to be very salty—another condition that poses a challenge to life. Similar conditions do exist on earth, for example in deep sea brine pools or in Antarctica’s subglacial lakes, and certain organisms (known as extremophiles) have adapted to life in or around these conditions. So although a Martian lake might kill off even the hardiest of such terrestrial species, it is not unthinkable that Martian organisms may be able to survive there. Finding out whether this is indeed the case would likely involve drilling below the ice, something which is not only beyond our current technological abilities but which would face opposition from the scientific communities. However, signs of methane variation in the planet’s atmosphere has been picked up as a possible sign that Mars’s liquid water may host life.

Applicants for physical and biological science degrees alike may be interested in the ongoing discussion about the potential Martian lake. How likely is it given the evidence that such a lake really exists? How likely is it that life can thrive and survive there?

We’re all aware of the negative effects of human activity on the environment on Earth. But what about in space? Increasing and largely unregulated activity from various states and corporations is filling up the space around our planet with orbiting trash and threatening the future of space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty, formulated in 1967, states among other things that bodies such as the moon and asteroids cannot be used for private development and that nations must monitor the space activity of private companies.However, the problems of this current era were not foreseen or covered by the treaty. There are now over 17,000 satellites orbiting Earth, and it is increasingly cheap and easy to get in on the game. As the space industry develops, there may well be other kinds of clutter jostling for space as well. Collisions between these objects could create a barrier of debris preventing further travel. There is as yet no way to deal with these issues, and no overarching authority to regulate activity.

However several space scientists, lawyers, and policy experts are collaborating on the first Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space. The Institute sees space as common property and therefore a common responsibility. They aim to implement long-term strategies and to find solutions to the growing problems so that people around the world can continue to explore space and to use it fruitfully but sustainably. A comparable example would be the oceans, where the cumulative actions of corporations and nations can have enormous implications for the environment and for humans around the globe.

Students interested in space travel and technology, law, international politics, or environmental issues may wish to think about what problems we may face in the future and how we can tackle them, with reference to analogous environmental or legal situations on Earth.

Jupiter is renowned for having more moons than any other planet, proudly sporting a known sixty-seven orbiting bodies, with over a third of the moons we have discovered to date.

Recently, astronomers have discovered twelve new moons circling Jupiter to add to its already impressive collection. These new natural satellites are relatively small, measuring a mere few miles across, which is why they haven’t been found until now. Discovered by Scott Sheppard and his team at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, the new moons were found using a 520-mexapixel dark energy camera attached to Blanco 4-metre telescope in Chile. The collection of new moons has been found to include one with some rather strange habits!

The majority of the newly discovered moons travel in a two-year retrograde circuit around Jupiter. They are thought to have been formed from collisions between large parent bodies and asteroids/comets. The next couple of moons mirror the direction of Jupiter’s rotation, however much closer to the planet. These moons are thought to have been made by a different process – the breakup of a single larger moon. The final moon is somewhat of an oddball, orbiting in progade and crossing the paths of several other moons. Sheppard described the moon as ‘driving down the highway in the wrong direction’ and adding that head-on collisions were likely to occur.

This dissident moon will be named after the Roman god Jupiter’s great-granddaughter, Valetudo, which also means ‘anything goes’ in Portuguese and is a form of high-contact martial arts.

Students applying to study Physics might wish to investigate Jupiter’s other moons and the new forms of technology that allow astronomers to spot new objects in space that were previously un-observable.

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