Category Archives: Science News

Biology A Level 2015 – Content or context?

By now I’m sure you will have all looked at the various options for which specification to choose from. For my department the first question was did we want to choose a context based or content based course. The traditional courses are content led, this means that the topics are discreet and are just taught as individual topics, rather than the context based courses which give a context to each section of the specification. For example, the context may be the blood and you would teach various topics from that context, such as cells, immunity and hormones.

As teachers we always give context to what we are teaching and in this way the content based courses are more flexible as you can arrange topics how you want and apply your own contexts where relevant. However, the content in the context based courses seems to be more current and interesting.

Once you decide which approach to take, the task of deciding which exam board to choose is actually quite tricky. Now that coursework as such has been removed from the qualification, the differences between the options are very slight. The content is much the same across all exam boards and so it just comes down to the type of assessment, style, resources, loyalty and personal preference.

Please fill in this poll and write in the comments your opinions and thoughts regarding this important decision.


Would you eat this burger?

Today in London the first ever lab-grown hamburger was cooked and eaten. Would you eat meat grown in a lab? Before you answer the question you should know more about how the burger was made and more importantly, why?

How the burger was made?
It was made by Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University in Holland using using stem cells taken from a dead cow. These are muscle specific stem cells that are then provided with nutrients so that they can divide over and over again by mitosis. The cells naturally come together to form small fibres called myotubes. These are electrically stimulated to make them contract and relax, this builds the muscle fibres just like going to the gym. They are then combined with fat grown in a lab and a few other additives such as beetroot for colour and then pressed into a burger. Therefore only a few cells are needed to make a whole burger, and potentially tons of meat.

Watch the video below to learn more about stem cells.

Why was the burger made?

  • We currently have a huge demand for meat in the world. The increase of the middle classes in countries such as India and China has further increased demand for meat and also the cost. Artificial meat could therefore provide a cheaper alternative to real meat.
  • The population is increasing at an exponential rate. Current methods of producing meat will not be sustainable in the future and so artificial meat may be a good solution as it can be grown using 99% less land. Using less land for animals means more can be used to grow crops such as fruit and vegetables which are healthy and much needed as the population continues to grow.
  • Current methods of meat production are very bad for the environment. A lot of energy is used to farm meat, from producing the feed to housing and slaughtering the livestock. However the major issue is methane. Ruminants such as sheep and cattle release a lot of methane due to their digestive system. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This is contributing hugely to global warming and consequently climate change. In contrast, lab-grown beef uses 45% less less energy and produces 96% less greenhouse gases (Source: Environmental Science and Technology Journal).
  • Another issue is animal welfare. Many vegetarians and vegans have taken the life choice not to eat meat because they disagree with how animals are treated in the production of meat. Meat grown in the lab avoids the need to grow animals and slaughter them in the way we do now. Only one cow would be needed to make thousands and thousands of burgers.

Watch this video to see a nice summary of these issues.

What are the problems with lab-grown meat?

  • It costs about £250,000 to make lab-grown beef. However in the future when the cost of the technology involved becomes cheaper it could be economically viable to make meat on a mass scale. The question is will it ever be cheap enough to actually be used by the countries where it may be needed the most?
  • The taste of the meat may not be as good. At this afternoon’s tasting Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: “It’s close to meat, it’s not that juicy, the consistency is perfect”. It’s therefore expected that other additives will need to be used to make the meat taste better and also make it more healthy then regular meat.
  • Perhaps we should be focussing on managing our current issues with food such as food wastage – at the moment we throw away a 6th of all food!
  • The thought of growing food in a lab this way can be off-putting to people.

So now you know the details, have you made up your mind? If you’re still not sure watch this TED talk by Prof Mark Post and see if he can convince you.

Please comment below with your opinions on this amazing scientific development.

Photo credit: David Parry/PA

Earth Hour – I will if you will

Switch off your lights at 8:30PM today to take part in Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is the single, largest, symbolic mass participation event in the world. Today millions of people in 7,001 cities and towns across 152 countries and territories will switch off their lights for an hour in a symbolic show of support for action on climate change and a more sustainable future.

If you’re based in Edinburgh, like me, there are loads buildings going dark for Earth Hour – Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Parliament, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy, the Balmoral Hotel, Camera Obscura and the National Monument have all confirmed their lights are going out for the Hour.

To find out what else is happening across the world, or to look up an event in your local area just click here.

No Smoking Day 2013

Today is officially No Smoking Day, so if you want to swap your fags for swag check out the WeQuit website for information, support and tips to help you kick the habit for good.

No Smoking Day 2013 v2

When I was at school smoking was everywhere. At 16 you could legally buy cigarettes, smoking was allowed inside pubs and clubs, tobacco was advertised on billboards, and tobacco brands were the prominent sponsors of Formula 1. However, times have now changed and it was only reported in the news last week that UK Ministers will soon be introducing plain packaging for cigarettes and a ban on smoking in cars carrying passengers under 16.

However, two-thirds of smokers start smoking before the age of 18, and studies show that just one cigarette a month is enough to get teenagers addicted for life. So if it’s young people who start smoking, the big question is will any of these changes deter school children from starting the habit in the first place? Tell me what you think by commenting below.

And if you’re unsure as to how smoking harms the body then why don’t you watch Gunther von Hagens, of Bodyworlds fame, explain the dangers of smoking in the video below.

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