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Catarina AmorimRSS Feed of this column.

After many years as a scientist (immunology) at Oxford University I moved into scientific journalism and public understanding of science. I am still at Oxford Uni but now I write about any bio... Read More »

A study just published in the journal Nature by researchers in France, Portugal and Spain looks for the first time at the effects of climate change on the tree of life (that aggregates species according to their evolution/genetic similarity) to find that the whole of it will be affected. But this is not all bad news because even if the tree is to become “thinner” it keeps its structure as there will be no major losses of biodiversity contrary to what other studies had suggested (this would occur if localized “branches” were totally eliminated).
A software that can drastically reduce CO2 emissions (and energetic costs) on computers all over the world has been developed by Portuguese scientists and is freely available to anyone interested.
Contrary to what many of us would predict most female animals are not monogamous. Not even swans or penguins, those (supposedly) hallmarks of monogamy. Also surprising is the evidence that in most cases the female deliberately looks for the multiple sexual partners since female multiple mating (known as polyandry) is costly, risky and seems to bring no benefits to the females involved.
A major blow to the free radical theory of aging, which has lead the research in aging for more than 50 years and fuels a multimillionaire anti-aging industry has just been published by Portuguese scientists from the University of Minho.

According to the theory, free radicals provoke oxidative damage and this is the cause of aging. The new work, however, shows that not only is possible to slow down aging in cells with high levels of oxidation but more, that a free radical (H2O2) is behind the high longevity seen with low caloric diets (a well known method to increase lifespan) turning upside down the way we see anti-aging therapy and research with major implications for the field.
One of the biggest challenges of transplants is the need to suppress the immune response - so the new organ is not rejected - while keeping it strong enough to be able to fight all kinds of disease. As the high numbers of rejected organs show, this is a tricky balance. But a discovery by Maria Monteiro and Luis Graça, two Portuguese scientists, could help solving the problem, at least in the liver. They have found a new type of white blood cell – baptised NKTreg (reg from regulatory) – that, remarkably, once activated, migrate into this organ where it suppress any immune response in its vicinity (but not elsewhere).

The basal ganglia is a series of highly connected brain areas localised deep in the cerebral cortex that recently has attracted interest of neuroscientists when it was linked to learning, and discovered to be affected in a number of disorders of the addictive and obsessive spectrum, but also in Parkinson’s disease (PD). And now researchers think they have understood why as they found that neurons in this area signal the beginning and the end of voluntary actions.