Mobile Networks may help to Maintain Crucial Water Supplies in Africa

Thompson et al ( have devised data transmitters which will use mobile phone signals to automatically text engineers when hand-held pumps, vital for rural water supply in Africa, are broken.  They hope to shorten the average time water isn’t available due to a broken pump to less than 24 hours.

Despite the overall positive message, I couldn’t help but be saddened by the sentence “It is now estimated that more people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to these networks than have access to improved water supplies.”

Full article here from the Matt McGrath at the BBC.


Antidepressants in Water Linked to Increased Expression of Autism Genes in Fish

Ingestion of antidepressants during pregnancy has long been associated with an increased risk of autism in the child, however recent work by Thomas et al has opened up another more concerning source of this potential interaction; antidepressants within drinking water.

Antidepressants, along with many other pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs, are present in waste-water, from human ingestion and excretion, and therefore are often also found in drinking water.  The concentrations of even the most highly prescribed drugs are often 1000’s of times lower than a prescribed dose in every litre of water, however the synergistic interactions which can arise from being exposed to a ‘cocktail’ of drugs at low levels is poorly understood.

Thomas’s work exposed Fathead Minnows to such a cocktail of specifically antidepressant drugs whilst they were carrying young.  The genes of the next generation were then tested to see if any were significantly enriched.  Many of the genes associated with idiopathic Autism were.  Genes associated with predisposition to autism, such as Rett, as well as disorders such as Parkinson, MS and Major Depression were also not consistently significantly enriched suggesting that the processes is not a general neuropathy affect but specific to autism.  In addition to increased gene expression the fish also demonstrated abnormal behaviour pattens and tended to panic more easily when startled.

It should be said, that although the article is interesting and definitely indicates more work in the are should be carried out, it should not have you running for the Evian.  There is after all a significant body of work to be carried out before you can leap from behavioural and gene expression changes in fish to a significant increased chance of autism in children from drinking contaminated water during pregnancy.  However I can only hope that this will lead to more research in water treatment and the affects which drugs can have within water, both for future human use as well as for sensitive species within the environment.  The group are now carrying out studies into mammalian responses to these drugs.

Article reference: Thomas MA, Klaper RD (2012) Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce Fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism. PLoS ONE 7(6): e32917. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032917

One method to rule them all?

Meindhardt et al ( are developing a method which can separate chiral molecules via nano and micro flow dynamics. Apart from small sample sizes and a non destructuve methodology the main benefit is that, after tuning, it’s non molecule specific i.e. the same equipment could separate all your compounds.

I’m currently running my 9th mobile phase experiment in chiral HPLC attempting to scrounge as many results as I can from our 1 (very expensive) column – I am so jealous of future researchers….
Thanks to @chemistryworld for writing ( and tweeting about this!

More Chirality than you can Shake a Stick at.

Just seen this article from Chemistry world, reporting that the number of chiral crystals has previously been underreported.  The main implication of this is that crystals which have been previously overlooked in drug discovery may have to be revisited as chiral properties often affect how a molecule will behave during biological interactions.  As someone who detects chiral compounds for a living, this can only be a good thing in my eyes!

Chinese Rivers – more polluted or more reported?

A recent article in Chemistry World reported 20tonnes of Cadmium had been released into Longjiang River last January and Phenol was leaked into the Yangze not long after, contaminating drinking water supplies for millions of people.

It is unclear however whether the rise in environmental incidents is correlated to an actual rise in pollution, due to inconsistent and poorly enforced policies, or a result of increasing awareness and recognition of the impacts of these incidents.

Duncan Steel’s lecture on asteroids and the potential for deep impact

The Raven’s Science Café has always appealed to me.  I guess it’s the romantic in me which imagined a cluster of academics debating and discussing current theories in such civilised surrounding as the Raven Pub.  It was not, as I’m sure you can anticipate, anything like this, however I was not to be disappointed.  The event was much more popular than I had envisioned with the top floor entirely full.  It was also much more professionally run with all the hall marks of a modern university lecture.  However this should not put you off as Prof Steels’ talk was highly amusing and accessible even for someone like myself, who didn’t know the difference between a meteor and an asteroid (just in case you also didn’t know – the former is just the light you can see, whereas the latter is the actual lump of rock). 

Unfortunately I had to leave during the break between the lecture and the questions however I can thoroughly recommend both Duncan’s talks and the Raven’s Science Café [].  Some of the things I picked up include:

– Asteroids are not round, as seen in many cartoon, unless over 2km wide (when their own gravitational pull draws them to a sphere).

– Never trust Wikipedia (as if we didn’t know this already), particularly as many scientists sons are prone to sabotaging their own father’s pages when bored!

– There is a belt of giant asteroids (easily big enough to wipe us off the planet) just outside Neptune.  Occasionally (we’re talking ‘occasionally’ in astronomical terms here rather than once a fortnight kinda time scale) Neptune’s gravitational pull acts as a giant slingshot and flings them into the inner solar system (where we are).  If this wasn’t daunting enough, they often break up into smaller asteroids, so instead on one massive one we’d be dealing with millions of them!

– It’s not like it is in the movies.  Although these events are predictable at the moment we don’t spot them coming very accurately till either the last minute or after it’s already passed us!  Duncan thought that to have any chance of dealing with a large asteroid we’d need decades of warning.

– No funding is awarded by the UK or the Australian (where is Duncan is based) governments for developing early warning systems.


There was loads of other interesting tit bits that I haven’t included, so I’ll definitely be popping back for next months installment.