Organic farms support more species

English: Organic apple orchard in Pateros, Was...

On average, organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms, say Oxford University scientists

On average, organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms, say Oxford University scientists.

Researchers looked at data going back thirty years and found that this effect has remained stable over time and shows no signs of decreasing. Continue reading “Organic farms support more species”

Tiny old Britain? It’s only good for study and travel, says China’s state media

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 5:03pm

Daniel Ren

  • fa4415ba0842ce59bdd82c087fb07375.jpg
The British prime minister meets Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong. He is leading a 100-strong business delegation. Photo: AP

As British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a charm offensive at Shanghai Jiao Tong University yesterday, a state-owned newspaper derided the United Kingdom as merely a destination for Chinese students and tourists.

During the 40-minute meeting with students from the alma mater of former president Jiang Zemin , a relaxed Cameron took questions from the floor. The approach paid off.

“He exhibited humour, confidence and clarity of thought,” said Zhang Yang, a student at Jiao Tong. “We enjoyed the open atmosphere and his style of talk.”

When Cameron revealed that his old tutor at Oxford University, Vernon Bogdanor, criticised his work via e-mails even 25 years after he had left the university, the 300-odd students burst into laughter.

Vote now on our poll: Britain is no longer a ‘big’ power and is only good for tourists and students. Do you agree with China state media’s assessment?

Cameron is leading a 100-strong business delegation to China to encourage investment and he has posted pictures of his meeting with top businessmen, including Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, on his Facebook page.

Continue reading “Tiny old Britain? It’s only good for study and travel, says China’s state media”

Quantum world record smashed

Contact: University of Oxford Press Office


University of Oxford



A normally fragile quantum state has been shown to survive at room temperature for a world record 39 minutes, overcoming a key barrier towards building ultrafast quantum computers.

An international team including Stephanie Simmons of Oxford University, UK, report in this week’s Science a test performed by Mike Thewalt of Simon Fraser University, Canada, and colleagues. In conventional computers data is stored as a string of 1s and 0s. In the experiment quantum bits of information, ‘qubits’, were put into a ‘superposition’ state in which they can be both 1s and 0 at the same time – enabling them to perform multiple calculations simultaneously.

In the experiment the team raised the temperature of a system, in which information is encoded in the nuclei of phosphorus atoms in silicon, from -269 °C to 25 °C and demonstrated that the superposition states survived at this balmy temperature for 39 minutes – outside of silicon the previous record for such a state’s survival at room temperature was around two seconds. The team even found that they could manipulate the qubits as the temperature of the system rose, and that they were robust enough for this information to survive being ‘refrozen’ (the optical technique used to read the qubits only works at very low temperatures).

’39 minutes may not seem very long but as it only takes one-hundred-thousandth of a second to flip the nuclear spin of a phosphorus ion – the type of operation used to run quantum calculations – in theory over 20 million operations could be applied in the time it takes for the superposition to naturally decay by one percent. Having such robust, as well as long-lived, qubits could prove very helpful for anyone trying to build a quantum computer,’ said Stephanie Simmons of Oxford University’s Department of Materials, an author of the paper.

‘This opens up the possibility of truly long-term coherent information storage at room temperature,’ said Mike Thewalt of Simon Fraser University.

The team began with a sliver of silicon doped with small amounts of other elements, including phosphorus. Quantum information was encoded in the nuclei of the phosphorus atoms: each nucleus has an intrinsic quantum property called ‘spin’, which acts like a tiny bar magnet when placed in a magnetic field. Spins can be manipulated to point up (0), down (1), or any angle in between, representing a superposition of the two other states.

The team prepared their sample at just 4 °C above absolute zero (-269 °C) and placed it in a magnetic field. Additional magnetic field pulses were used to tilt the direction of the nuclear spin and create the superposition states. When the sample was held at this cryogenic temperature, the nuclear spins of about 37 per cent of the ions – a typical benchmark to measure quantum coherence – remained in their superposition state for three hours. The same fraction survived for 39 minutes when the temperature of the system was raised to 25 °C.

‘These lifetimes are at least ten times longer than those measured in previous experiments,’ said Stephanie Simmons. ‘We’ve managed to identify a system that seems to have basically no noise. They’re high-performance qubits.’

There is still some work ahead before the team can carry out large-scale quantum computations. The nuclear spins of the 10 billion or so phosphorus ions used in this experiment were all placed in the same quantum state. To run calculations, however, physicists will need to place different qubits in different states. ‘To have them controllably talking to one another – that would address the last big remaining challenge,’ said Simmons.

Belgium considers granting euthanasia for children


Belgium government, which has already legalized euthanasia for adults is now envisaging extension of this procedure to children. Should the bill be approved, Belgium will be the first country to adopt such measure. The same project also includes granting rights for euthanasia to adults with early dementia

The question about whether children have the right to ask for their own deaths has again split the society, as advocates assert euthanasia for children, with their parents’ consent, might be the only way out of what might become an unbearably painful trap, while the opponents still claim that children are unlikely to be reasonable deciding whether they want to end their own lives.

Belgium has been the first to introduce euthanasia for adults in 2002, and since then, the number of reported cases per year has gone from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012. In the process doctors sedate the patients before giving them a lethal injection.

Various forms of what might be approaching actual euthanasia are legal in a n handful of countries in Europe: the Netherlands only allow euthanasia under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent. There is also assumption present that infants can be euthanized without doctors being held responsible or taken to court is they act appropriately. Otherwise, euthanasia is only legal in Luxembourg, if talking about Europe. However, the so-called assisted suicide, when doctors only assist a patient to die without actively killing them, is legal in Switzerland.

As far as the US are concerned, only the state of Oregon grants assisted suicide requests, but only for age appropriate residents with a terminal illness.

The euthanasia-expanding bill in Belgium is proposed by the Socialist party, however, the Christian Democratic Flemish party not only opposed the legislation, but is also planning on challenging the bill in the European Court of Human Rights if it passes. The final decision needs the parliamentary approval and could take months.

Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard pointed out that “it is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die.”

Leonard also noted that alternatives like palliative sedation make euthanasia unnecessary, at the same time relieving doctors of the burden of killing patients. Palliative sedation consists in sedating patients with life-sustaining support withdrawn, so they starve to death.

The debate of whether this procedure is ethical enough has gone far beyond Belgian borders. Charles Foster, medical law and ethics professor at Oxford University, is convinced children are incapable of making an informed decision about euthanasia, as this concept is hard even for comprehension of the adults.

Mr Foster noted, “It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more. Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”

Voice of Russia, Washington Post

Unhealthy lifestyles will see British children die before their parents

Research from British Heart Foundation warns of health problems affecting a generation, from lack of exercise to dietary issues

Adam Withnall

Monday, 12 August 2013

The unhealthy lifestyles of today’s children could see them die younger than their parents because of heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions, a new study has shown.

In a “wake-up call” to parents, schools and the Government, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has worked with the University of Oxford to publish its first ever supplement dedicated solely to coronary heart disease statistics and causes among children and young people.

The study has found that with around 30 per cent of that group being overweight or obese, less than one in five children in the UK eating their five a day, and a minority doing recommended levels of daily exercise, the 50-year trend of reducing cardiovascular disease is set to be reversed.

BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “These figures are a warning that many of our children are in grave danger of developing coronary heart disease in the future if they continue to live the same lifestyle.”

And medical director Professor Peter Weissberg wrote in a foreword to the study: “Over the past fifty years there has been a substantial and unprecedented reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK. This trend could reverse if we fail to tackle the rising tide of obesity in our young people today.

The research identified a variety of bad habits which, picked up in childhood, represented a real danger going on into adult life. These including skipping breakfast, with half of 13-year-old boys and a third of girls avoiding the meal on a regular basis.

Figures also showed that half of all children have chocolates, sweets, and soft drinks every day.

“It’s pretty bleak and totally unacceptable,” Mr Gillespie told The Times.

He said: “We’ve got a generation growing up which will buck that trend and potentially they will be the generation that lives less long than the generation above them. It really is as stark as that. If that isn’t a wake-up call, then what is?”

And Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, told the newspaper: “This isn’t wishy-washy open-toed sandals stuff. If we really want to compete with India and China we need fit, healthy adults.

“We’ve got used to the idea that our children aren’t going to be as well off as us, but we haven’t got used to the idea that they won’t be as healthy,” he said.

The BHF said it was expanding its “Hearty Lives” scheme to combat the problem, committing £1.2 million in order to set up seven new community projects.

Mr Gillespie said: “The projects, run in partnership with local authorities, the NHS and non-profit organisations, will use a range of interventions to help.

”These include employing a dietitian to work with children struggling with obesity in Manchester and running weight management programmes for teenagers in Scotland.

“Through our new Hearty Lives projects we are committed to working with local communities to give young people most at risk of heart disease a healthier start in life.”

Maybe it’s time for a little human enhancement – Morally enhancing drugs added to our Water Supply

Sam de Brito                             Published: December 23, 2012 – 3:00AM


‘There’s something in the water.” That’s what we say when we observe a bunch of locals behaving in the same, odd way, but maybe it’s also the answer to some of our thornier social problems?

Tap water has a host of different elements to it, including naturally occurring minerals, as well as chlorine and fluoride added by officialdom to disinfect the good drop and fortify our teeth.

It’s said if you want to quietly murder a city, poison its water supply, so it follows if you want to uplift same metropolis, why not pop some antidepressants in the drink instead?

Mass doses of psychoactive drugs might sound ridiculous at first blanch but the concept of ”morally enhancing” our population was recently aired by two professors of philosophy, from Britain’s University of Oxford and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In their new book Unfit for the Future: The Urgent Need for Moral Enhancement,  Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson argue that while humanity’s ability to shape its environment has accelerated wildly, our morality has failed to keep pace.

”Where our ancestors’ tools shaped the few acres on which they lived, the technologies we use today have effects across the world, and across time, with the hangovers of climate change and nuclear disaster stretching far into the future,” the professors write.

”The pace of scientific change is exponential, but has our moral psychology kept up?”

A quick glance at human history shows it’s always been easier for us to harm others than to help them. For this reason, we developed a sense of morality that makes us feel bad when we hurt the people closest to us; in our family, tribe or village.

Unfortunately, that’s often where it ends. But  our actions as consumers and citizens can adversely affect far more people through environmental degradation and climate change, as well as our  apathy to wars where people who don’t look like us are dying.

Humanity’s tendency to focus on the near future and those closest to us also means political leaders are loath to force voters into painful compromises (carbon tax, anyone?) because we just don’t feel a strong enough sense of altruism about strangers in distant lands.

Savulescu and Persson speculate this is where ”moral enhancement” could be used in future. ”Our knowledge of human biology – in particular genetics and neurobiology – is beginning to enable us to directly affect the biological or physiological bases of human motivation, either through drugs, or genetic selections or engineering,” they write in Philosophy Now.

”We could use these techniques to overcome the moral and psychological shortcomings that imperil the human species”, i.e. you don’t give a crap about climate change? We’ll put something in the water to make sure you do care.

Before you start screaming Brave New World, consider how many human ”enhancements” we already embrace – from prosthetic limbs and vaccines to genetic modifications.

Others might argue better moral education is the answer but if the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus and Kant haven’t made an impression, I’m sceptical Mrs Stringbag’s high school ethics class is going to cut much ice. Or save the polar ice caps from melting.

Tap water with your meal, sir?

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Hacking your BRAIN: Scientists reveal they can find out your pin number, and even where you live – all using a cheap headset

  • Technique  uses a freely available headset often used to control games
  • Researchers  used it to watch for numbers a person recognised, which triggered a spike in a  certain type of brain activity
  • Say it  could be used by police to interrogate  suspects


By Mark Prigg

PUBLISHED:06:45 EST, 27  August 2012| UPDATED:15:01 EST, 27 August 2012

It sounds like something out of a futuristic  sci-fi blockbuster, but scientists today demonstrated how they can ‘hack’  someone’s brain to find out their pin number – using a cheap  headset.

Researchers from the University of  California, University of Oxford and University of Geneva figured out a way to  pluck sensitive information from a person’s head, such as PIN numbers and bank  information.

They used a freely available games controller  costing just £190 ($299).

Researchers used a cheap headset called an Emotive, available to buy online for £190 (£299) for their research, and used to to accurately guess pin numbers and even where someone livesResearchers used a cheap headset called an Emotive,  available to buy online for £190 (£299) for their research, and used to to  accurately guess pin numbers and even where someone lives

The scientists took an off-the-shelf Emotiv  brain-computer interface, a device that costs around $299, which allows users to  interact with their computers by thought, and is often used to control  games.

The scientists then sat their subjects in  front of a computer screen and showed them images of banks, people, and PIN  numbers.

They then tracked the readings coming off of  the brain, specifically a signal known as P300.

The P300 signal is used by the brain when a  person recognizes something meaningful, such as someone or something they  interact with on a regular basis.

It is released by the brain around 300  milliseconds after recognition occurs, hence its name.

The team used a picture of President Barack  Obama to test the readings, and saw a spike of recognition from  participants.

They were also shown their home, which caused  a similar reaction.

‘These devices have access to your raw EEG  [electroencephalography, or electrical brain signal] data, and that contains  certain neurological phenomena triggered by subconscious activities,” says Ivan  Martinovic, a member of the faculty in the department of computer science at  Oxford.

‘So the central question we were asking with  this is work was, is this is a privacy threat?’

The team found they could find a person’s  home 60% of the time with a one in ten chance, and had a 40% chance of  recognising the first number of a PIN number.

The £190 ($299) Emotive headset, which is available to buy onlineThe £190 ($299) Emotive headset, which is available to  buy online

In the paper that the scientists released,  they state that ‘the P300 can be used as a discriminative feature in detecting  whether or not the relevant information is stored in the subject’s  memory.

‘P300 has a promising use within  interrogation protocols that enable detection of potential criminal details held  by the suspect,’ the researchers said.

The Emotiv headset, which is usually used to control games. Researchers found it can be used to work out a person's PIN number and banking details by monitoring brainwavesThe Emotiv headset, which is usually used to control  games. Researchers found it can be used to work out a person’s PIN number and  banking details by monitoring brainwaves

Read more:

Compound discovered that boosts effect of vaccines against HIV and flu: polyethyleneimine (PEI) 100% Letahl Flu Protection

Contact: University of Oxford 44-018-652-80530 University of Oxford

Novel vaccine additive to enhance the body’s immune response shows promise in mice

Oxford University scientists have discovered a compound that greatly boosts the effect of vaccines against viruses like flu, HIV and herpes in mice.

An ‘adjuvant’ is a substance added to a vaccine to enhance the immune response and offer better protection against infection.

The Oxford University team, along with Swedish and US colleagues, have shown that a type of polymer called polyethyleneimine (PEI) is a potent adjuvant for test vaccines against HIV, flu and herpes when given in mice.

The researchers were part-funded by the UK Medical Research Council and report their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Mice given a single dose of a flu vaccine including PEI via a nasal droplet were completely protected against a lethal dose of flu. This was a marked improvement over mice given the flu vaccine without an adjuvant or in formulations with other adjuvants.

The Oxford researchers now intend to test the PEI adjuvant in ferrets, a better animal model for studying flu. They also want to understand how long the protection lasts for. It is likely to be a couple of years before a flu vaccine using the adjuvant could be tested in clinical trials in humans, the researchers say.

‘Gaining complete protection against flu from just one immunisation is pretty unheard of, even in a study in mice,’ says Professor Quentin Sattentau of the Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University, who led the work. ‘This gives us confidence that PEI has the potential to be a potent adjuvant for vaccines against viruses like flu or HIV, though there are many steps ahead if it is ever to be used in humans.’

HIV, flu and herpes are some of the most difficult targets to develop vaccines against. HIV and flu viruses are able to change and evolve to escape immune responses stimulated by vaccines. There aren’t any effective vaccines against HIV and herpes as yet, and the flu vaccine needs reformulating each year and doesn’t offer complete protection to everyone who receives it. Finding better adjuvants could help in developing more effective vaccines against these diseases.

Most vaccines include an adjuvant. The main ingredient of the vaccine – whether it is a dead or disabled pathogen, or just a part of the virus or bacteria causing the disease – primes the body’s immune system so it knows what to attack in case of infection. But the adjuvant is needed as well to stimulate this process.

While the need for adjuvants in vaccines has been recognised for nearly 100 years, the way adjuvants work has only recently been understood. The result has been that only a small set of adjuvants is used in current vaccines, often for historical reasons.

The most common adjuvant by far is alum, an aluminium-containing compound that has been given in many different vaccines worldwide for decades. However, alum is not the most potent adjuvant for many vaccine designs.

‘There is a need to develop new adjuvants to get the most appropriate immune response from vaccines,’ says Professor Sattentau, who is also a James Martin Senior Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.

The Oxford University team found that PEI, a standard polymer often used in genetic and cell biology, has strong adjuvant activity.

When included in a vaccine with a protein from HIV, flu or herpes virus, mice subsequently mounted a strong immune response against that virus. The immune response was stronger than with other adjuvants that are currently being investigated.

The team also showed that PEI is a potent adjuvant in rabbits, showing the effect is not just specific to mice and could be general.

Another potential advantage of PEI is that it works well as an adjuvant for ‘mucosal vaccines’. These vaccines are taken up the nose or in the mouth and absorbed through the mucus-lined tissues there, getting rid of any pain and anxiety from a needle. Mucosal vaccines may also be better in some ways as mucosal tissues are the sites of infection for these diseases (airways for respiratory diseases, genital mucosa for HIV and herpes).

Professor Sattentau suggests that: ‘In the best of all possible worlds, you could imagine people would have one dose of flu vaccine that they’d just sniff up their nose or put under their tongue. And that would be it: no injections and they’d be protected from flu for a number of years.

‘It’s just a vision for the future at the moment, but this promising adjuvant suggests it is a vision that is at least possible.’


Notes to Editors

* The body’s immune system is made up of two arms: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The adaptive immune system consists of the antibodies and immune cells (T and B cells) the body develops specifically to combat a particular foreign agent.

The innate immune system had been thought of as playing a more primitive, non-specific role in protecting against invaders like viruses and parasites. However, it is now realised that the innate immune system is essential in kicking off any immune response. It needs to be activated first to generate an adaptive immune response.

But the innate immune system doesn’t just press the start button. It tailors the body’s adaptive immune response, deciding on what particular mix of antibodies and T cells is needed and teaching them what to attack.

It is the adjuvants in vaccines that stimulate the innate immune system. So having the right adjuvant can help the body produce the most appropriate immune response to protect against future infection.

* The paper ‘Polyethyleneimine is a potent mucosal adjuvant for glycoproteins with innate and adaptive immune activating properties’ is to be published in the journal Nature Biotechnology with an embargo of 18:00 UK time / 13:00 US Eastern time on Sunday 26 August 2012.

* The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, European Commission, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Dormeur Investment Service Ltd.

* Professor Sattentau is an investigator in the Jenner Institute at Oxford University and a James Martin Senior Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University.

* For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.

* The Oxford Martin School

is a unique interdisciplinary community within the University of Oxford. The School fosters innovative thinking, deep scholarship and collaborative activity to address the most pressing risks and realise new opportunities of the 21st century. It was founded in 2005 through the vision and generosity of James Martin, and currently comprises over 35 interdisciplinary research programmes on global future challenges. The Oxford Martin School’s Director is Ian Goldin, Professor at the University of Oxford.

* Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school.

From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.

A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other