May 092015
Benefits of exercise after study

Benefits of exercise after study

Exercise may help cement new facts in your mind. Regular exercise boosts brain health, and a fit brain is generally able to learn, think and remember better. Recent studies suggest that to maximise retention of information you have just learned you need to time workouts for just after your study session. The exercise doesn’t even have to be too intense. In a variety of experiments, people who cycled, did leg presses or even simply squeezed a handgrip shortly after or before learning did better on tests of recall in the hours, days or weeks that followed.

Jan 022014

Check it out!

There have been some great TV shows on this week and I’d recommend watching them on BBC iPlayer over the next couple of days.

The third series of Nature’s Weirdest Events is available and showing how events in nature can sometimes be weirder than fiction. In episode 1 they show that golf is more dangerous than you think with sharks on a golf course in Australia. If you are squeamish you might want to avoid the frog that shoots bones through its skin.

In episode 2 there are trees oozing red blood and France making multi-coloured honey. Also is that the sound of aliens?


One of the funniest, informative nature shows I’ve seen was Penguin: Spy in the Huddle. Various penguincams were used to get amazing footage. This week Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice was repeated and is currently on iplayer. The spy cameras sound like robots in Robot Wars- Icebergcam, Blizzardcam, Snowballcam, Snowcam and Driftcam. This intelligent predator isn’t always fooled by the cameras with some amusing results. There are also some amazing moments captured such as cubs emerging for the first time from dens, play fighting and courtship behaviours. Tonight the next series starts and looks at dolphins showing the amazing behaviour of dolphins in the wild. The spy cameras in this series use other animals molluscs, sea turtle and squid to get up close and personal with the dolphins.


The Royal Institute Christmas lectures are always worth watching and this year they were very relevant to the GCSE and A level biology specifications. The first lecture asks where do I come from? This looks at how the complex human body develops from a single fertilised egg cell. The embryonic development of a worm in shown live while we learn all about cell division and developmental biology.

The second lecture asks Am I a Mutant? This is particularly relevant to the GCSE specification as it examines Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The lecture explains how the amazing diversity in our planet has come about through mutation, adaptation and selection. Darwin makes a surprising guest appearance and gets to learn a few things himself! There is an explanation of the vital genes responsible for mapping out an animal’s body-plan. We also find out when a lizard is not a lizard….when it is a snake!

The last lecture asks Could I live Forever? The only certainty in life is death (and taxes). This lecture examines cell death (apoptosis) and whether it is possible for them to live forever. The programme also examines the ethics of intervening in evolution and modifying and manipulating genes. If we could live forever would we really want to?



Jun 022013

AS A level Biology

A level and AS level Biology

As well as looking through the posts on study skills tips and revision tips check out the links on my Pinterest boards. You will mainly be interested in the boards staring with A level then the topic name. Independent learning and reading around your A level subjects is really important. You should follow me on twitter Virtually Tutoring @Nicholls_Dr. I try to tweet any news and studies relevant to the Biology specification as well as occasionally writing about it here in the ‘Check These Out’ page..

If you are struggling to understand a particular topic you can often find useful explanations on YouTube. I am hoping in the next couple of years to produce some video tutorials for our specification on my channel

Do subscribe to my blog by email so that you get notifications when I add posts. My focus over the next year will be to add more content to help you understand and revise A level Biology.

Apr 252013

Check it out!

I’m really behind on blogging about biology in the news! Today I wanted to focus on studies that have been dome using stem cells. This is a topic that is relevant at both GCSE and A level. It is also at the cutting edge of science and has lots of potential.

The coolest recent work IMHO is printing 3D organs with stem cells. See this report in scientific American. It was also reported on the BBC.

You might be interested to listen to this great Podcast from the Naked scientist. There is a section on cell therapy which uses stem cells. Do listen to the whole Podcast though. In the gene therapy section you’ll hear interviews with my former colleagues talking about their current work on gene therapy (Professor Adrian Thrasher and Dr Stephen Hart).

One of the problems I faced in my research was trying to deliver gene therapy vectors to brain tissue to help with neurological symptoms. I was interested to read about this new bendable needle which was developed to deliver stem cells to the brain.

A new technique called nanokicking was developed by a research team in Scotland. This mimics natural processes that happen if we break a bone and it could help patients with spinal injuries grow new bone. The BBC report is here.

Another study looking at the division of stem cells will be of interest to my A level students as it looks at how stem cells use signal orientation to guide division. The study is looking at how to mimic the relevant signals when growing stem cells in the lab.

I have lots more articles to add but I’ve run out of time. I’ll update this so do check back. Don’t forget if you subscribe by email an email is sent emails when I add new posts to my blog.

It is well worth following me on Pinterest and checking out my boards regularly as I try to pin useful websites for pupils and parents when I find them.


MOM update

I know I’m only a few days in to extending my practice by having a practice in the morning but it is already starting to feel like part of my morning routine. I guess the test will be keeping it up at the weekend.

I am still thinking through the question Gillian posed about meditation prompting memories. I know I have had similar experiences but I’m not sure it was during mindfulness practice. It tends to be when I am using relaxation techniques. When I have more time I’ll try and dig deeper on this issue.


Mar 252013

Immortal organisms

It is great to teach students who are so interested in biology that they have developed biological obsessions. I’m dedicating this article to my year 13s as they love to try to side-track me in class by discussing immortal organisms as much as possible 🙂 The question is have I really managed to find a new immortal organism they didn’t know about?

When we think of being immortal it is usually the concept of physical immortality. This is the much sought after state where you could live forever, avoiding death and remaining a conscious entity with a physical body. This remains a concept in science fiction movies and not reality. However, in biological terms we can consider some cells and organisms as immortal. To learn more about immortal cells I would recommend starting by reading the popular science book ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot. Immortal organisms are those which do not age or reach a point in their life where the body stops aging. The organisms achieve this by being able to regenerate.

Most organisms are not able to achieve biological immortality. The Hayflick Limit explains why almost all cells and organisms die of old age and not immortal. This principle is that there is a limit on the number of times a cell population can go through cell division and produce healthy cells. At the end of the chromosomes there are short sections known as the telomeres. As cells undergo repeated divisions they shorten until they reach a critical length and this then stops any further division. When this happens in an organism it can no longer produce new cells to repair and replace old and damaged cells. Theorganisms that have achieved biological immortality can produce new cells while bypassing the difficulties associated with telomere shortening.

Brown Hydra

Hydras do not experience aging process and they can survive for millions of years. They are animals which live in pollutions free water you really need to view them with a microscope. Hydra do not seem to age or die of old age and they have amazing regenerative capabilities. When there is plentiful food they reproduce asexually by producing a baby hydra bud which then separates into a separate organism (a clone). Many hydra can also reproduce sexually when conditions are good. When injured or severed they can regenerate (morphallaxis) and their stem cells are capable of indefinite self-renewal.


Tardigrades are also known as water bears because they look like tiny bears as they slowly lumber about in the water. They are about 1.5mm long and are simple organisms with a basic nervous system and no circulatory or ventilator system (they breathe through their skin). When conditions are bad they are able to survive in a state like a very deep sleep (Cryptobiosis) for up to hundreds of years. They basically slow their metabolism down by a huge amount. In fact it is possible that they could stay in cryogenesis for thousands of years (take that Hans Solo!!). Some can survive temperatures of close to absolute zero (−273 °C) temperatures as high as 151 °C, 1,000 times more radiation than other organisms, and without water for up to 10 days.

One of the most impressive immoral organisms is hydrozoan Turritopsis dohrnii, an immortal jellyfish.

immortal jellyfish

Their cells are able to transdifferentiate. This means that a specialised cell such as a mouth cell can return to its undifferentiated state and they differentiate to become a different cell type such as a muscle cell.  This means that in their life cycle they can revert back to an earlier stage of development. They revert to an undifferentiated ball of cells, rearrange their cells through transdifferentiation, and become a new polyp which can form new polyps and a new colony. Provided they avoid predation they can theoretically survive indefinitely in the ocean.

Pando trees

It is not just microorganisms and animals that are biologically immortal. Pando trees (a type of Aspen tree in Utah, America) are one of several immortal plants and they are about 80,000 years old. These trees are actually clonal colonies, interconnected underground by their root system. They can withstand forest fires and other environmental difficulties as the root system can produce more clones even if the organism above ground is burnt.

So the big question is has a new immortal organism been identified? The organism in question is a mouse. The mouse is not naturally biologically immortal but by using artificial cloning scientists have produced ‘immortal mice’. The research is summarised in the Scientific American issue from the 8th of March. Japanese researchers have used somatic cell nuclear transfer (the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep) to produce cloned mice. This in itself is not new but until now attempts to reclone cloned animals have not been very successful. The researchers have managed to improve the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique five times and this meant that they were able to sequentially reclone mice over 25 generations. The researchers believe they could continue to reclone the same mice infinitely. The question is that since they were made artificially should we say they are biologically immortal? Vote now and why not leave a comment to say why you decided to vote a certain way.

Would you include the mice in a list of biologically immortal organisms?