Compensatory Self-Improvement: The Hardy Way to Forging Possibility.

We spend much of our lives preparing to fulfill a goal or dream. We wish to become this or that and throw our whole energy into making it come true. Then, something comes along and shuts down the life we’ve been imagining for ourselves; the life that we’ve given our sweat and tears to. The line of work that you have educationally prepared yourself for is no longer in existence or you find it is not what you imagined it to be. The one person whom you thought you could count on through thick and thin has said goodbye to you, forever.

When doors to goals, dreams, and ways of being shut down, what do we do? Do we passively wait for prince or princess charming to show up on our doorstep, so we can start living once again? Do we buy lottery tickets hoping that our luck will change someday? If we wait for other people or good fortune to define a new way, we may be waiting a long time. Or, if we sink into passivity, self-pity and powerlessness (the 3 P’s of Giving Up), we can harm our physical and mental health.

We can make our good fortune, by the way we cope with stressful change. We have to cope by being resilient and hardy! But, we have to believe that we are important enough to keep trying to make our life work well (HardiAttitude of Commitment), that we have what it takes to thrive (HardiAttitude of Control) and that whatever hasn’t worked out for us is grist for our learning and personal growth (HardiAttitude of Challenge). The 3C’s of personality Hardiness give us the courage, motivation and strength to forge the best life possible.

Compensatory Self-Improvement

Some stressful circumstances are easier to turn around than others. You don’t like your job, then you quit and find a new one. If you don’t like your home, you put it up for sale and wait for it to be sold. But, what do you do when the work for which you were trained is obsolete, cancer gives you or a loved one only a few months left to live, or natural disaster takes away everything you own? There may be little that you can do to better these situations. Nonetheless, if you wish to get your feet back on the ground, you have to find another area of your life that you can improve that strengthens you physically, mentally and spiritually once again. These self-improvements open up new living possibilities. What is more, the more the self-improvement highlights your true desires, talents and abilities, the more power it has of making up for the original stressor that you could not change. This is why we call them Compensatory Self-Improvements. The challenge is to identify actions we can take in the present that will help us to find new directions, improve us in talent, ability, skill, or personality, while also being able to reduce the stressfulness of the change that initially set us soul-searching.

Take for example, Miranda. Unlike many of us, she did not have to find a career by exploring her talents, as what she was meant to do found her. One of Miranda’s first playthings was a toy piano. It was love at first sight, as they say, which culminated in giving concerts at Carnegie Hall at eleven years old, an education at the renowned Julliard School of Music, and representation by one of the largest talent agencies in the world. She was traveling all around the world giving concerts and making money, by her early twenties. It’s hard to believe that the career for which she had worked toward for so long would now become a source a great stress for her.

Life on the road wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. This lovely and lively young woman was alone 90% of the time. For Miranda, the life as an artist meant a lonely existence ahead of her. After much soul-searching, she brought to a close a life-long dream and sought out to find a new one. It wasn’t an easy task to tap into desires, talents and abilities that were eclipsed by her longstanding focus on music. But, she opened herself up to hunches about what may be possible for her now, despite the uncertainty of their outcome.

Miranda did find her way. She tuned into her talent for mathematics and abstract reasoning (features of musicality) and went back to school to get a Masters in Business Administration in robotic engineering. She anticipates the uses for robotics in industries like agriculture, farming, medicine and the military and designs applications for their development. She loves the creative, project nature of her work and approaches it like she was mastering a concerto ~ seeing how everything fits and comes together into a harmonious whole. Today, Miranda does not view leaving music behind as a loss, but rather as the first stage of unfolding a meaningful life journey.

Research is very clear that compensatory self-improvement is good for our health. This concept comes out of Dr. Salvatore R. Maddi’s pioneer study on resilience and stress at the Illinois Bell Telephone Company that was undergoing government deregulation at the time (Resilience at Work: How to Survive No Matter What Life Throws at Your, Maddi & Khoshaba; He found that the energy we put into turning around our lives by self-improvement is a strong buffer against physical, mental, and spiritual breakdown. Even if we can’t bring a lover or job back, return to our home, or cure an illness, we can still compensate for the stressful loss by self-improving ourselves in whichever ways we can.

Valerie Harper, the 1970′s sitcom star of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda is a great example of using compensatory self-improvement to forge possibility despite unchangeable circumstances (Valerie Harper speaks out on her brain cancer battle in new documentary: ‘It’s not controlling me!’). Despite having incurable brain cancer, Valerie signed up to compete on the television hit, Dancing With the Stars (2013). Her choice was a message to people to keep going no matter the challenges they are facing. Rather than sink into passivity, self-pity, and powerlessness, Valerie chose possibility; an affirmation of life while she is still living.

Valerie has got it right. It’s not that we have to keep building mountains at every stage of our lives. The idea is more that we keep finding ways to keep growing and learning, as this is what makes us feel most alive and engaged in daily living.

IV thrombolysis and renal function.


Objective: To investigate the association of renal impairment on functional outcome and complications in stroke patients treated with IV thrombolysis (IVT).

Methods: In this observational study, we compared the estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) with poor 3-month outcome (modified Rankin Scale scores 3–6), death, and symptomatic intracranial hemorrhage (sICH) based on the criteria of the European Cooperative Acute Stroke Study II trial. Unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. Patients without IVT treatment served as a comparison group.

Results: Among 4,780 IVT-treated patients, 1,217 (25.5%) had a low GFR (<60 mL/min/1.73 m2). A GFR decrease by 10 mL/min/1.73 m2 increased the risk of poor outcome (OR [95% CI]): (ORunadjusted 1.20 [1.17–1.24]; ORadjusted 1.05 [1.01–1.09]), death (ORunadjusted 1.33 [1.28–1.38]; ORadjusted 1.18 [1.11–1.249]), and sICH (ORunadjusted 1.15 [1.01–1.22]; ORadjusted 1.11 [1.04–1.20]). Low GFR was independently associated with poor 3-month outcome (ORadjusted 1.32 [1.10–1.58]), death (ORadjusted 1.73 [1.39–2.14]), and sICH (ORadjusted 1.64 [1.21–2.23]) compared with normal GFR (60–120 mL/min/1.73 m2). Low GFR (ORadjusted 1.64 [1.21–2.23]) and stroke severity (ORadjusted 1.05 [1.03–1.07]) independently determined sICH. Compared with patients who did not receive IVT, treatment with IVT in patients with low GFR was associated with poor outcome (ORadjusted 1.79 [1.41–2.25]), and with favorable outcome in those with normal GFR (ORadjusted 0.77 [0.63–0.94]).

Conclusion: Renal function significantly modified outcome and complication rates in IVT-treated stroke patients. Lower GFR might be a better risk indicator for sICH than age. A decrease of GFR by 10 mL/min/1.73 m2 seems to have a similar impact on the risk of death or sICH as a 1-point-higher NIH Stroke Scale score measuring stroke severity.

Patient Awareness Is Key.

Results from a 2012 survey report show that an estimated 63% of adults in the United States take 1 or more nutritional/dietary supplements, indicating a 3% increase from the previous year.1 These supplements are often used in conjunction with prescription medications. While many health care professionals are aware of the significance of screening for drug–drug interactions, it is also critical to address potential drug–supplement interactions.

Some experts believe that drug–supplement interactions are not as easily recognized or managed and therefore necessitate a better understanding and more clinical interventions to improve overall patient care and safety.2,3 Results from a recent study reported that more than 50% of patients with chronic diseases or cancer may use nutritional supplements and because these patient populations are likely to take multiple medications, there is an increased risk for drug–supplement interactions.3 A drug–supplement interaction is considered to be significant if it changes a pharmacotherapeutic response or compromises a patient’s nutritional status.4

As the popularity of supplement use continues to escalate, health care professionals should ensure that patients are aware of the potential for drug–nutrient interactions. According to the Handbook of Drug–Nutrient Interactions, in some cases, potential drug–supplement interactions can be of clinical importance, but often go unrecognized by many consumers and even health care professionals.4 As a result, a drug–supplement interaction may be a contributing factor in ineffective therapy, adverse drug effects, and increased risk of deficiencies or toxicities and can negatively affect a patient’s nutritional status.4 The need to augment awareness about drug–supplement interactions is critical to patient safety, preventing potential interactions, and ensuring optimal therapeutic effects because some studies report that nearly 70% of patients taking prescription drugs do not inform their primary health care provider about their use of nutritional supplements.5 Health care professionals should encourage patients to maintain a comprehensive list of all medications, including supplements.

Many patients perceive nutritional supplements as being safe and natural without any adverse effects, and the consequences of potential drug–supplement interactions are not always widely understood or known.6 While drug–supplement interactions can be harmful to anyone, the elderly patient population may be considered at greatest risk because this patient population is more likely to take multiple medications, including nutritional–dietary supplements (Online Table 1).7-9

Table 1: Individuals at Increased Risk of Drug–Nutrient Interactions4,8-10
  • Patients with chronic diseases, especially those taking multiple medications
  • Elderly individuals
  • The pediatric population
  • Patients with poor or compromised nutritional status
  • Patients with poor overall health status
  • Pregnant women

Classifying Drug–Supplement Interactions

Interactions between drugs and nutritional supplements can be classified into 2 general groups—pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic interactions (Online Table 2).4,15-18

Table 2: Classification of Drug–Supplement Interactions 4,15-17
Pharmacokinetic interactions take place when an alteration in the absorption, distribution, metabolism, or elimination of the drug occurs. The action may increase or diminish pharmacologic activity. Examples of these types of interactions include those that involve the cytochrome P450 enzyme system.

Pharmacodynamic interactions transpire between drugs and supplements when there is any alteration in the action of a medication. These forms of interactions occur when the activity of 1 drug augments or antagonizes the other agent. Pharmacodynamic interactions are possible when the supplement’s pharmacology is comparable to or the opposite of the drug that the patient is taking.

Drug–Supplement Interactions

There are a host of potential drug–supplement interactions, and many clinical studies have investigated their significance and effects (Online Table 3). One study reported that there are several herbal and dietary supplements that can cause drug–supplement interactions, especially among patient populations that are being treated for central nervous system (CNS) or cardiovascular disorders.3,11 Results from this study also found that some classes of pharmacologic agents with the greatest potential for drug–supplement interactions include antithrombotic medications, cardiovascular medications, sedatives, antidiabetic agents, and antidepressants.3,11 In addition, results from a recent study found that agents such as warfarin, insulin, aspirin, digoxin, and ticlopidine had the most interactions reported with herbal and dietary supplements.3,10,11 The study also concluded that supplements containing St. John’s wort, calcium, magnesium, iron, and ginkgo had the greatest number of documented interactions with prescription medications.3,11 Researchers concluded that by enhancing communication between patients and clinicians regarding the use of prescription drugs and supplements, many of these potential interactions could be decreased or even prevented.3,11,12

Table 3: Examples of Potential Supplement–Drug Interactions9,15,18

Dietary/Herbal Supplement Drug/Micronutrient Interaction Precautionary Measures
Vitamin A or vitamin E
(high doses)
Warfarin Increases anticoagulation effects Take only recommended daily required intakes
Vitamin B6 Levodopa Levodopa antagonism, decreased effectiveness Avoid B6 supplementation or, if possible, recommend levodopa/carbidopa combination
Phenytoin and phenobarbital Decreased serum level of phenytoin and phenobarbital Monitor patient levels routinely
Vitamin B12 Metformin, anticonvulsants, ascorbic acid supplements, antacids, antibiotics Decreased absorption of cyanocobalamin Clinical significance is unknown
Vitamin D Phenytoin , carbamazepine,
or barbiturates
Increase metabolism of
vitamin D
Ensure adequate daily intake of vitamin D
Vitamin K Long-term therapy with
broad-spectrum antibiotics
Vitamin K deficiency induced by decreased gut flora Ensure adequate Vitamin K intake
Warfarin Decreased anticoagulation, increased risk of thromboembolism Keep daily intake of vitamin K consistent
Folic acid Phenytoin May inhibit folic acid absorption, leading to megaloblastic anemia
(note: Folic acid supplementation may de-
crease the serum phenytoin level and interfere with seizure control due to subtherapeutic levels of phenytoin)
Monitor phenytoin level routinely and monitor for megaloblastic anemia; consult with neurologist regarding supplementation
Niacin Oral hypoglycemics Decreased hypoglycemic effects Monitor blood glucose regularly
Iron Tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones Decreased antibiotic and iron absorption Take antibiotics at least 2 hours before or 6 hours after taking iron
Calcium Corticosteroids Inhibits Ca2+ absorption from gut, thus increasing risks for bone fractures and osteoporosis Recommend Ca2+ supplementation.
Magnesium Tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, and levothyroxine Decreased antibiotic
Separate dosing by 2 hours before or 6 hours after antibiotic
Garlic Supplements
  1. Warfarin
  2. Saquinavir
  3. Oral Contraceptives
1) Increased anticoagulation
2) Decreased drug level
3) Decreased effectiveness
Evidence unknown;
consult primary health care provider before use
St. John’s wort 1)      CYP3A4 substrates ( ie, simvastatin, alprazolam, tacrolimus, and warfarin)
2)      Digoxin
1)      Reduced drug level
2)      Decreased drug level
Consult primary health care provider and avoid combining with known drug interactions
Ginseng 1)      Antidiabetic agents

2) Monoamine oxidase inhibitors

1) Possible additive effect of hypoglycemia
2) Interaction possible based on reports of manic-like symptoms
1) Consult primary health care provider and maintain routine blood glucose
2) Avoid combination of the 2 agents
Ginkgo Warfarin Possible additive effect Use with caution or avoid combination
Melatonin MAOIs, SSRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants Increases melatonin level Consult primary health care provider
Coenzyme Q 10 Certain chemo drugs May increase or decrease toxicity of certain chemo
Consult primary health care provider

MAOIs = monoamine oxidase inhibitors; SSRIs = selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Adapted from references 9, 15-18.

Studies have also demonstrated that even though there are several possible drug–supplement interactions, only a moderate number of them have significant interactions, and antithrombotic agents were most likely to interact with supplements and have many documented interactions.6,10,13,14 For example, patients on anticoagulant therapy were at greater risk of increased anticoagulant activity when the therapy was in combination with supplements that have antiplatelet properties, such as fish oil, garlic, ginseng, ginkgo, or flaxseed oil.15,16 Studies have also reported that St. John’s wort decreased therapeutic levels of agents such as verapamil, statins, antiretrovirals, and digoxin.15 St. John’s wort has been associated with serotonin syndrome in patients taking prescription psychotropic agents.16 In addition, when used in combination, St. John’s wort has been reported to induce the metabolism of drugs such as indinavir, oral contraceptives, and cyclosporine.16

All potential nutrient–drug interactions are too numerous to mention, but examples include the use of calcium, magnesium, and zinc, which may decrease the absorption of antibiotics such as tetracyclines and fluoroquinolines.8,9 Metformin and antiulcer agents may diminish absorption of vitamin B12 and folic acid, while individuals taking antidepressants may have lower levels of vitamins B6, B12, and D.8,9 The use of garlic supplements has been known to interact with anticoagulants and pose an increased risk of excessive bleeding.8,16 Individuals taking CNS drugs are at greater risk for interactions as well.8,9 Supplements such as ginkgo and ginseng may interact with these types of drugs. In addition, agents such as antiseizure drugs often adversely affect certain B vitamin levels, and several are classified as antifolates.8,9,16

Prior to recommending any nutritional supplements or a new medication, health care professionals must evaluate a patient’s medical history and medication profile to screen for potential drug–supplement interactions or contraindications. It is also crucial that patients be made aware of these potential interactions as well as understand the importance of notifying their primary health care provider of all supplements that they are taking, including alternative and complementary products. In March 2012, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine held a meeting to discuss the issue of dietary supplement–drug interactions. A summary of the meeting can be found at The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine websites also provide excellent resources on drug–supplement interactions. The NIH Drug–Nutrient Interaction Task Force also provides excellent patient resources on its website at

Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in Haymarket, Virginia.


  1. “America’s Take on Vitamins” survey reveals: nearly two out of three US adults take vitamins or supplements. PRNewswire website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  2. Boullata J. Drug and nutrition interactions: not just food for thought. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2013;38(4):269-271.
  3. Herbal and dietary supplements can adversely affect prescribed drugs, says extensive review. Science Daily website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  4. Boullata JI, Barber JR. A perspective on drug-nutrient interactions. In: Boullata JI, Armenti VT, eds. Handbook of Drug Nutrient Interactions. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 2004.
  5. Donaldson M, Touger-Decker R. Dietary supplement interactions with medications used commonly in dentistry. J Am Dent Assoc. 2013;144(7):787-794.
  6. Tsai H, Lin HW, Simon Pickard A, Tsai HY, Mahady GB. Evaluation of documented drug interactions and contraindications associated with herbs and dietary supplements. Medscape website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  7. Mason P. Important drug-nutrient interactions. Proc Nutr Soc. 2010;69(4):551-557.
  8. Bobroff L, Lentz A, Turner R. Food/drug and drug/supplement Interactions. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  9. Huckleberry Y, Rollins C. Essential and conditionally essential nutrients. In: Krinsky D, Berardi R, Ferreri S, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 17th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012.
  10. Sood A, Sood R, Brinker FJ, Mann R, Loehrer LL, Wahner-Roedler DL. Potential for interactions between dietary supplements and prescription medications. Am J Med. 2008;121(3):207-211.
  11. Tsai H-H, Lin H-W, Pickard AS, Tsai H-Y, Mahady GB. Evaluation of documented drug interactions and contraindications associated with herbs and dietary supplements: a systematic literature review. Int J Clin Pract. 2012;66(11):1056. DOI: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2012.03008.x.
  12. Drug supplements may interact with drugs. Natural Standard website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  13. Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL. Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2000;57:1221-1227.
  14. Norred CL, Brinker F. Potential coagulation effects of preoperative complementary and alternative medicines. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7:58-67.
  15. Gardiner P, Phillips R, Shaughnessy AF. Herbal and dietary supplement: drug interactions in patients with chronic illnesses. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(1):73-78.
  16. McQueen C, Orr K. Natural products. In: Krinsky D, Berardi R, Ferreri S, et al, eds. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 17th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012.
  17. Drug–supplement interactions. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database website. Accessed October 2, 2013.
  18. Agins AP. ADA Quick Guide to Drug-Supplement Interactions. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2011.

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Kissing the key to finding Mr Darcy

Man kissing a woman

Kissing helps us assess potential partners if, like a Jane Austen heroine, we cannot wait forever for Mr Darcy to come along, a study suggests.

Scientists believe kissing helps people judge the quality of a potential mate through taste, smell and fitness.

Once in a relationship, the Oxford University study found kissing was a way of getting a partner to stick around.

Women were found to value kissing more highly in long-term relationships.

An online survey of 900 adults by the Oxford team, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, showed that men and women who were more attractive or had more casual sex partners were more selective in choosing mates, and those groups valued kissing more highly.

This suggests that kissing helps in sizing up a potential partner, the study says.

‘Social cues’

Professor Robin Dunbar, from the department of experimental psychology at Oxford University, said courtship in humans was complex and involved a whole series of assessments before men and women decided to carry on their relationship.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

How long do you wait for Mr Darcy to come along when you can’t wait forever and there may be lots of you waiting just for him? ”

Prof Robin Dunbar Oxford University

“Initial attraction may include facial, body and social cues. Then assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship stages, and this is where kissing comes in.

“In choosing partners, we have to deal with the ‘Jane Austen problem’: How long do you wait for Mr Darcy to come along when you can’t wait forever and there may be lots of you waiting just for him? At what point do you have to compromise for the curate?”

Prof Dunbar said that Jane Austen, whose works of romantic fiction included Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, realised that people were extremely good at assessing where they were in the “mating market” and pitching their demands accordingly.

“It depends what kind of poker hand you’ve been dealt.

“If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates,” he said,

Feelings of affection

If kissing plays a part in selecting a partner then it also plays an important role before sex in short relationships and at a range of different times in committed relationships, the study found.

The study found that kissing was particularly important to women in long-term relationships.

This may be because it plays a role in increasing feelings of affection and attachment among couples, the researchers suggest.

Previous research had found that women placed greater value on activities that strengthen long-term relationships because being pregnant and raising children is easier when two parents are present.

In another study in Human Nature, researchers from Oxford suggest that women’s attitude to romantic kissing also depends on where in their menstrual cycle and their relationship they are.

Women valued kissing most at the start of a relationship and around the time they were most likely to conceive in their cycle.

Depression risk ‘starts in the womb’

Children whose mothers are depressed during pregnancy have a small increased risk of depression in adulthood, according to a UK study.

Medical treatment during pregnancy could lower the risk of future mental health problems in the child, say researchers at Bristol University.

Pregnant woman

The study followed the offspring of more than 8,000 mothers who had postnatal or antenatal depression.

The risk is around 1.3 times higher than normal at age 18, it found.

The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry. Lead researcher Dr Rebecca Pearson told the BBC: “Depression in pregnancy should be taken seriously and treated in pregnancy. It looks like there is a long-term risk to the child, although it is small.”

She said it was an association, not a causal link, and needed further investigation.

Prof Carmine Pariante of King’s College London‘s Institute of Psychiatry said the development of an individual’s mental health did not start at birth but in the uterus.

“The message is clear – helping women who are depressed in pregnancy will not only alleviate their suffering but also the suffering of the next generation.”

Prof Celso Arango of Gregorio Maranon General University Hospital, Madrid, said stress hormones may affect the child’s development in the womb.

“Women with depression would ideally be treated before getting pregnant, but if they are already pregnant when diagnosed with depression it is even more important that they are treated as it will impact on the mother and child.”

The researchers think different factors may be involved in antenatal and postnatal depression, with environmental factors such as social support having a bigger impact in postnatal depression.

The data comes from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – a long-term health research project, also known as Children of the 90s.

More than 14,000 mothers enrolled during pregnancy in 1991 and 1992, and the health and development of their children has been followed in detail since then.

Treating Severe Burns in the 21st Century: Meet the Skin Gun.

Scientists from the United States have been developing a technological feat that would drastically reduce the recovery time for people experiencing severe burns and wounds. It isn’t new, per se (it has been in development for at least 5 years, building on several previous models), but it’s new (and interesting) to me. Alas.. Here we are.

Image Credit: A.D.A.M.

Traditionally, when one suffers severe second or third degree burns, doctors must go through the tedious process of grafting, where they surgically remove healthy sections of a person’s own skin and tissue which is subsequently reconstructed and replaced with the damaged skin. This process can be long, fraught and painful. There is also always the possibility looming that the body will reject the tissue taken from the donor site or it could become infected.

Meet the Skin Gun:

Credit: Nat Geo

Credit: Nat Geo

In order to bypass some of the downsides of skin grafting, scientists from all over the world have been looking for an alternative method for burn patients. In doing so, ‘The Skin Gun,’ as its called, was created. (By a team from the University of Pittsburg’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine) The technology requires that a doctor remove healthy stem cells from an undamaged area on the victims body (through a biopsy). After the stem cells are isolated, they are used in conjunction with a water-based solution, which is then sprayed on top of the burn. (similar in mechanics to an aerosol spray-paint can)

Almost immediately afterward (the process generally only takes about an hour), the wound is wrapped with a special dressing that is equipped with a set of tubes that send antibiotics, electrolytes, glucose, and amino acids to the wound. (They are pretty much an artificial version of arteries and veins, which work similarly with functions in the body)


The result of a skin graft. (Source)

Within days, the stem cells successfully encourage cellular regeneration of the inflicted area, allowing the wound to heal in only a mere fraction of the time (eliminating most of the risks involved with the traditional skin grating method). Whereas, in the past, skin grafts can take several months to a year to finish in completion. Cosmetically speaking, the healed skin is still quite jarring with the latter method.

Practical Methods:

At the moment, the technique can only be used on second degree burns (and it is still quite expensive), but in the future, its usage could be increased exponentially. Perhaps even being used for reconstruction of the breast after a life-saving mastectomy. It could eventually be used to break apart scar tissue internally, ridding a person of unsightly scars.

To see the results before-and-after, this is little Zed Merrick, who burnt his chest area after dumping a hot pot of tea on himself:


GM yeast brews fuel from rubbish.

US researchers have used genetically modified yeast to enhance the production of biofuels from waste materials.

The new method solves some of the problems in using waste like straw to make bioethanol fuel.

The scientists involved say the development could help overcome reservations about using land for fuel production.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.


Many states around the world have plans to replace gasoline with bioethanol, but this has typically been by changing land-use from food crops to biofuel.

“Start Quote

We sort of rebuilt how yeast uses carbon”

Dr Jamie Cate University of California

Just this week, a representative of South Africa’s farming community announced that sorghum harvests would need to increase five fold to meet their government’s commitment to incorporate at least 2% bioethanol in petrol.

Sorghum is South Africa’s second biggest summer crop and is a staple food as well as being used in brewing and livestock feed.

However, scientists are now seeking more sustainable routes to generating biofuel – routes that would have a lighter impact on food prices and production.

Breakdown breakthrough

One is to consider using non-conventional plants such as seaweed. But among the most radical ideas is the suggestion that biowastes should be used to produce bioethanol, which is added to petrol replacing some fossil fuel.

“Wastes present a major opportunity in this respect. We have to start to think about wastes, such as sewage or landfill waste as resources – not problems to be disposed of,” Dr Gavin Collins, an environmental microbiologist at the National University of Ireland, Galway, told BBC News.

Using microbes to make fuel from biomass involves breaking down large complex biopolymer molecules.

These are indigestible to most bugs, and attempts to incorporate them into fuel production have slowed down the biotechnology, creating bottlenecks.

Biofuel boom.

Fuel plant

The European Union also has a declared aim that 10% of its transport energy should be from renewable sources, such as biofuels, by 2020.

To help meet this target, Europe’s largest biofuel plant opened this week at Crescentino, Italy.

It is designed to generate 75 million litres of ethanol a year from straw and a crop called Arundo donax, which can be grown on marginal land, and does not compete for resources with food.

One chemical that is produced when processing biowastes is a large sugar molecule called xylose.

When you try and use yeast to ferment xylose, rather than making alcohol for fuel directly, it generates acetic acid – essentially vinegar. This is poisonous to the yeast, and stops the fermentation.

Breaking down xylose and making acetic acid non-toxic are the two major problems that must be solved if biowastes such as straw are to be fermented to make fuel.

Now, US biotechnologists appear to have solved both problems, by developing a genetically engineered strain of yeast that simultaneously breaks down xylose and converts acetic acid to fuel.

“Xylose is a sugar; we can engineer yeast to ferment xylose,” said University of Illinois Prof Yong-Su Jin, one of the authors of the study.

“However, acetic acid is a toxic compound that kills yeast. That is one of the biggest problems in cellulosic ethanol production.”

The yeast digests the sugars in oxygen-poor conditions, making the process more efficient than digesters that rely on active mixing of air into the system.

Microbe driven

A new pathway, not yet discovered in nature, has been genetically engineered in the lab. This breakthrough means yeasts can be used much more efficiently to convert biowaste into biofuel.

“We sort of rebuilt how yeast uses carbon,” said principal investigator Dr Jamie Cate, of the University of California at Berkeley

One hurdle to implementing the discovery is that the new yeast that has been developed is genetically modified, and it is not yet clear how easily GM yeasts might be accepted for use on an industrial scale.

Dr Gavin Collins, however, remains upbeat about the prospects for biotechnology.

“We probably know the function of only about 0.01% of all living microbes on Earth,” he said.

“It may be that many of them can efficiently degrade even complex plant material and other wastes under anaerobic conditions. They may be present in nature but we haven’t found them yet.

“However, just look at what we have been able to do with the small fraction of microbes we understand – everything from antibiotic production; food and alcohol production; and biofuel production.

“Just think what we could do, or what we might discover, if we understood the function of just another 1%.”

New data on badger TB spread.

Herd-to-herd transmission of bovine TB in cattle accounts for 94% of cases, according to new data.

Further analysis of scientific evidence from the Krebs badger culling trial found around 6% of infected cattle catch TB directly from badgers.


The figure rises to about 50%, when cattle infected by badgers pass it on to other herds, say Imperial College London scientists.

The government is to decide shortly whether to extend pilot culls.

A six-week trial of badger culling in Somerset has now ended, but the firm behind it has asked for more time after its marksmen fell short of killing the target of 70% of the badger population.

A similar trial in Gloucestershire is still ongoing. An application has been made to extend the trial, but it is not known how many badgers have been shot.

The role of badgers in spreading bovine TB has been hotly debated as part of discussions about whether badgers in England should be culled to control the spread of the disease.

No ‘single way forward’

The scientific evidence for and against badger culling comes from the £50m Randomised Badger Culling (Krebs) trial.

The study, which ran from 1998 to 2005, found evidence that culling could reduce TB in herds inside culled areas, while increasing TB in areas nearby.

Mathematical modelling revealed that in high TB areas badgers accounted for roughly 50% of cases in cattle.

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These findings confirm that badgers do play a large role in the spread of bovine TB. These figures should inform the debate, even if they don’t point to a single way forward”

Professor Christl Donnelly Imperial College London

A new more detailed analysis published in the journal PLOS Currents Outbreaks found that of this 50%, 6% was because of primary transmission from badgers to cattle, with the remainder coming from cattle that had been infected by badgers passing the disease on to other herds.

Research leader Prof Christl Donnelly told the BBC: “The results show that both badgers and cattle are important in this transmission system – that we’re getting introductions from badgers and they’re being amplified spreading from herd to herd.

“The 6% figure tells you about introductions into herds and that tells you that 6% of the introductions into herds come from badgers; 94% of them come from other cattle herds.”

She said the estimates came from early in the Krebs trial and further control measures had been introduced since then to reduce cattle to cattle transmission.

Prof Donnelly added: “These findings confirm that badgers do play a large role in the spread of bovine TB. These figures should inform the debate, even if they don’t point to a single way forward.”

Ministers and the NFU say badger culling is needed to control TB in cattle.

Around 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers. However, animal rights groups say scientific evidence does not support the policy of shooting badgers in an attempt to control the disease.

Dead star eats water-rich asteroid

Artist's impression of an asteroid being torn apart
The scientists suspect the remains of an icy asteroid have been pulled on to the white dwarf star

Astronomers have detected the tell-tale signs of a shattered asteroid being eaten by a dead star, or white dwarf.

The Hubble telescope spotted the event some 150 light-years from Earth.

The researchers tell Science Magazine that the chemical signatures in the star’s atmosphere indicate the asteroid must contain a lot of water.

This makes it the first time both water and a rocky surface – key components for habitable planets – have been found together beyond our Solar System.

The dead star is called GD 61. It has long since burnt through its nuclear fuel and has shrunk down to a dimly glowing ember.

But its gravity is still intense, and it is shredding rocky objects in its vicinity and pulling the debris into its outermost layers.

Runaway process

Hubble and the Hawaiian Keck observatory record how this inflow of material taints the star’s atmosphere.

They detect elements such as magnesium, silicon, iron, and oxygen – the chemical ingredients of rock minerals.

But what piques the scientists’ interest is the abundance of oxygen.

This is far too high to be explained just from the in-fall of rock, and indicates that whatever is being dragged on to the dwarf must also contain a lot of water.

The team’s calculations point to the source body being an asteroid at least 90km across and composed of perhaps 26% by mass of water.

This water content is very similar to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main belt of our Solar System and the target of a Nasa probe in 2015.

By way of comparison, the Earth is a very dry object, containing just 0.02% by mass of water, and much of this was probably delivered by comets and asteroids.

The astronomers – from the universities of Cambridge and Warwick, UK, and from Kiel, Germany – speculate that a similar water-delivery system could also have occurred in the GD 61 system, which is very likely to have had rocky planets in its heyday.

Sun’s future

Lead author Dr Jay Farihi told the BBC’s Science In Action programme: “The reason that we can say that is that the planet-formation process starts with things as small as dust grains. They grow into things as big as pebbles and boulders and then as large as asteroids. Once you get to things as big as asteroids, planets are essentially inevitable – it’s a runaway process; you simply cannot stop it.

“Having asteroids and no planets is logically possible but it’s very likely physically implausible. So, we know there were rocky planets [in GD 61] because we can see the rocky building blocks; and we know there was the potential to deliver water to their surfaces because we’ve seen at least one very water-rich and large asteroid.”

Of the 1,000 planets so far identified beyond our Solar System, none has been definitively associated with the presence of water.

For most of these objects, all that is known is a few details such as distance, size, density and the time taken to orbit the host star. The Hubble-Keck observations therefore represent the first time water has definitively been put in immediate contact with a far-off rocky surface, says Dr Farihi.

The GD 61 system also gives us a glimpse of what is likely to occur one day in the vicinity of our own star – the Sun. Billions of years into the future, it too will burn out and shrink into a white dwarf, consuming asteroids and other debris.

“I think alien astronomers would then be getting pretty similar information to what we’re getting on GD 61,” Dr Farihi, from the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, explained.

“I guess it would depend on what time they looked and which asteroid they were lucky enough to catch. But we know of water-rich asteroids in the outer main belt and I think there would be a good chance that they would see a signature of something like the asteroid Ceres. And in that case, if the alien astronomers speculated about habitable planets – well, if they’re looking back at our system, in that case they’d be correct.”

New ideas for how Earth core formed.

Filaments of iron link up in a network that allows metal to flow to the core deep in the Earth
Filaments of iron link up in a network that allows metal to flow to the core deep in the Earth.

Experiments on samples of iron and rock held at immense pressures have led to new ideas of how Earth’s core formed.

Scientists from Stanford University have shown that iron metal will flow through rocks 1,000km beneath our feet.

Using sophisticated X-ray imaging, they watched molten metal moving through rocks, squeezed to huge pressures between the tips of pairs of diamonds.

Their results suggest that Earth’s core did not form in a single step, but grew in a complicated sequence over time.

The depths of Earth are complex and multi-layered.

At the surface, the rocks forming the foundations of our cities, the stones that we build our lives upon, also provide the raw materials for society – metals, fuel, water and nutrients.

These are no more than a thin geological veneer on the planet. In many respects, the deep Earth remains as much of a mystery as Jupiter or Mars.

But new research in the journal Nature Geosciences gives new clues about how Earth may have taken shape and built its core.

A group of scientists, led by Stanford’s Prof Wendy Mao, have shown how metallic iron may be squeezed out of rocky silicates more than 1,000km beneath the surface to form a metallic core.

Ceramic mantle

If you were to follow Jules Verne on a journey to the centre of the Earth, you would find a chemistry dominated by just three elements, until you got almost half the way to the centre – that’s the first 3,000km of your journey.

Oxygen, silicon and magnesium (plus a little bit of iron) make up more than 90% of Earth’s blanketing “ceramic” mantle.

Electrically and thermally insulating, the mantle is like a rock-wool blanket around the core. The minerals of the mantle are the stony part of the planet. But as you delve deeper on this “thought field trip”, things suddenly and drastically change.

With more than half your journey ahead of you, you cross a boundary from the stony mantle into the metallic core. It is initially liquid in its upper stretches, and then solid right the way to the centre of the Earth.

The chemistry changes too, with iron forming almost all of the core, segregated into Earth’s dense inner sphere.

The boundary between the metallic core and rocky mantle is a place of extremes. Physically, Earth’s metallic liquid outer core is as different to the rocky mantle that overlies it as the seas are from the ocean floor here near Earth’s surface.

Liquid iron can percolate through rocks deep beneath our feet.
Liquid iron can percolate through rocks deep beneath our feet.

One might (just about) imagine an inverted world of storms and currents of flowing red-hot metal in the molten outer core, pulsing through channels and inverted “ocean” floors at the base of the mantle.

The flowing of metal in the outer part of the core gives Earth its magnetic field, protects us from bombarding solar storms, and allows life to thrive.

How Earth’s core came about has puzzled Earth Scientists for many years. Experiments on mixtures of silicate minerals and iron, cooked up in the laboratory, show that iron sits in tiny isolated lumps within the rock, remaining trapped and pinned at the junctions between the mineral grains.

Droplets of iron

This observation has led to the view that iron only segregates very early in the life of the planet, when the upper part of the rocky mantle was in fact super-hot and molten.

It is thought that droplets of iron rained down through the red-hot magma ocean to settle at its base, resting on the solid deeper mantle, then sinking as large “diapirs” driven by gravity through the solid mantle to eventually form a core.

The paper by Crystal Shi and Wendy Mao begins to paint a different picture.

“We know that Earth today has a core and a mantle that are differentiated. With improving technology, we can look at different mechanisms of how this came to be in a new light,” said Prof Mao.

Using intense X-rays to probe samples held at extreme pressure and temperature squeezed between the tips of diamond crystals, the researchers find that when pressure increases deep into the mantle, iron liquid begins to wet the surfaces of the silicate mineral grains.

This means that threads of iron can join up and begin to flow in rivulets through the solid mantle – a process called percolation.

It also means that iron can begin to segregate if the rocks are deep enough, even when the mantle is not a molten magma ocean.

Earth core
Lying 5,000km beneath our feet, the core is beyond the reach of direct investigation

“In order for percolation to be efficient, the molten iron needs to be able to form continuous channels through the solid,” Prof Mao explained.

“Scientists had said this theory wasn’t possible, but now we’re saying – under certain conditions that we know exist in the planet – it could happen. So, this brings back another possibility for how the core might have formed.”

Commenting on the results, Geoffrey Bromiley, of the University of Edinburgh, UK, who was not involved in the study, told the BBC: “This new data suggests that we cannot assume that core formation is a simple, single-stage event. Core formation was a complex, multi-stage process that must have had an equally complex influence on the subsequent chemistry of the Earth.

“Their deep percolation model implies that early core formation can only be initiated in large planets. As a result, the chemistry of the Earth may have been ‘reset’ by core formation in a markedly different way from smaller planets and asteroids.

“As such, we might not be able to use geochemical data from meteorites to constrain the bulk composition of the Earth. This is currently an important assumption pervading Earth Science.”

The results were reliant on recent advances in 3D imaging of minuscule samples using powerful synchrotron electron accelerators that generate intense beams of X-rays.

Similar to medical imaging, these sorts of experiments are revealing the nanoscale properties of minerals and melts. But they are also leading to new understanding of how huge objects like planets form and evolve.

Dr Bromiley and his colleagues are now investigating the influence of other factors, like the deformation that asteroids and other bodies might have experienced on their chaotic pathways through the early Solar System, on their formation.

He added: “The challenge now lies in finding a way to model the numerous processes of core formation to understand their timing and subsequent influence on the chemistry of not just the Earth, but also the other rocky bodies of the inner Solar System.

“We are increasingly observing metallic cores in bodies much smaller than the Earth. What process might have aided core formation in bodies that were never large enough to permit percolation of core forming melts at great depths?”