Researcher shines light on mystery of reindeer's changing eye colour at Christmas-themed Café Scientifique
Posted Friday 6 December 2013
Nobody has ever come up with a definitive explanation for Rudolph's fabled red nose, but visitors to Kingston University's December Café Scientifique session will be able to learn all about the curious case of his colour-changing eyes. Geneticist and DNA expert Dr Juliet Dukes, a senior lecturer from the University's School of Life Sciences, will be taking centre stage to explain away the mystery of why reindeer eyes change from gold to blue depending on the season and what the implications of this knowledge might be.
The starting point for the research, carried out while Dr Dukes was based at University College London, was wondering why reindeer did not suffer from snow blindness - a condition that affects humans living in a similar environment. "Reindeer have been around for maybe as long as 1.6million years whereas humans are only about 200,000 years old, so clearly they've had time to adapt in a way we haven't," Dr Dukes said.
Once Dr Dukes and her fellow researchers started investigating using eyeballs from reindeer herded by the Sami people in the Arctic Circle, it became clear that something remarkable happened with their vision. "As soon as we took the retina out, the back of the eye was startlingly different in colour and visible to the naked eye," she said. "In summer it was gold and in winter it turned blue.
"The tapetum - the mirror at the back of the eye - is made out of bundles of collagen which are spaced out differently from season to season so their reflection of light varies. This scatters more blue light throughout the retina, which aids their perception of ultra violet light - an ability humans don't have that helps them to be more aware of things like predators."
Nobody had yet had a chance to examine other polar wildlife such as penguins, polar bears or foxes, Dr Dukes added, but it could be that this was something common to other species that had also had to adapt to similar conditions.
The increased understanding of reindeer's visual ability has revealed some alarming information about humans' impact on their territory and behaviour. "The team we worked with in Tromso in Norway noticed how the migratory routes of reindeer tended to avoid power lines, perhaps because they could see the corona of the electricity leaking out," Dr Dukes said. "This demonstrates the effects humans have on the environment and the possible consequences. In the same way that building roads can separate animal populations and hinder their breeding, power lines may do the same and this could have implications for their survival."
Kingston residents and science enthusiasts keen to learn more about the topic can join Dr Dukes at Woody's Bar in Kingston on 10 December for the seasonally-themed Café Scientifique event, which is open to the whole community. "Café Scientifique is part of a national movement to try to explain scientific topics to a broader audience in an informal, non-intimidating atmosphere," she explained.
While she is there, Dr Dukes may even be able to clear up some myths about Rudolph's famous red nose. "Unlike in this country where deer's noses are wet like those of dogs, reindeer noses are furry - they have to be because of insulation in the cold, so people couldn't see the colour underneath anyway," she said. "There's no formal scientific explanation for the legend of Rudolph's red nose, but one interpretation is that maybe the reindeer consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms while eating moss and lichen and metabolised it, and somehow people ingested the urine and saw red noses as a result."
Café Scientifique has spread to more than 40 towns and cities around the United Kingdom since it started in Leeds in 1998. The idea is based on Café Philosophique, which philosopher Marc Sautet launched in France in 1992.
- The free event will run from 7 to 9pm on Tuesday 10 December at Woody's Bar and Kitchen, Ram Passage, Kingston, KT1 1HH.
- Find out more about research and courses in life sciences at Kingston University.
Posted Wednesday 4 December 2013
In November, a highly successful knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) between Kingston University's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing and Kent-based security company, Selectamark has been awarded a Grade A (outstanding) – the highest possible ranking – by the Technology Strategy Board.
The Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing was awarded the two-year KTP, worth nearly £120,000, in 2011....
Posted Thursday 28 November 2013
Kingston Law School is set to become a leading destination for researchers thanks to a £5,000 donation from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to help digitise a unique historical document archive.
Insolvency expert Dr John Tribe runs the University's Muir Hunter Museum of Bankruptcy. After the death of the leading QC in 2008, his family donated all his legal papers to Dr Tribe. The most valuable part of Professor Hunter's collection relates to his involvement in the drafting of the Cork Report in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which shaped Britain's current insolvency rules and regulations."It's an invaluable archive and it means Kingston will become the seat of the history of bankruptcy and insolvency," Dr Tribe said....
Posted Tuesday 19 November 2013
A Kingston Law School professor is assisting the Government with the evaluation of a major pilot scheme which will, for the first time, allow vulnerable witnesses, including children, to have their cross-examination pre-recorded for court.
The Ministry of Justice has asked Professor Penny Cooper to sit on the official advisory group for the high-profile project, which is running at courts in Kingston, Leeds and Liverpool. The pilots will be scrutinised and undergo detailed assessment before decisions about any further expansion are taken....
Posted Monday 18 November 2013
An aeronautics student from Kingston University has been recognised as one of engineering's brightest young talents after winning the Leader of Tomorrow category at the prestigious 2013 Automotive Supply Chain awards.
Final year Master of Engineering student Sabine Brosch was nominated for the honour after applying the skills she has been honing during her degree to the University's Formula Student electric racing car project. "The first I knew about the awards was when I got an email in the summer from one of my lecturers saying I'd been put forward. The news I'd won took me completely by surprise," Sabine said. "The KU e-racing project wasn't connected to my course work, but the whole process of designing and building a prototype for an electric racing car with other students with similar interests really appealed to me, so I jumped at the chance to get involved."...
Leading human rights lawyer Leslie Thomas predicts Mark Duggan ruling will be watched the world over
Posted Friday 15 November 2013
The outcome of the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, which sparked the London riots in August 2011, will be watched by the whole world, a leading lawyer has predicted.
Leslie Thomas, who graduated from Kingston University in 1988, was speaking after returning to his alma mater to be named an Honorary Doctor of Laws. He is representing the Duggan family at the inquiry into the shooting by police officers on 4 August two years ago. The incident was a catalyst for rioting across London which spread to other parts of England and pictures of the city - due to host the Olympic Games just one year later - in flames were beamed around the world....
International collaboration crucial in preparing mental health nurses to provide high quality care, senior academic says
Posted Wednesday 13 November 2013
A leading mental health expert from Kingston University and St George's, University of London has called for greater international research collaboration to underpin the care offered to support severely disturbed people.
Professor Mary Chambers said that, although the challenges faced by countries when trying to improve quality of care for people with mental health issues often differed, there was a great deal of common ground and sharing ideas could be hugely beneficial....
Posted Tuesday 12 November 2013
An archaeology team led by a Kingston University academic has delved back into a Neolithic site at Damerham, Hampshire, and uncovered a sink hole of material that may hold vital information about the plant species thriving there 6,000 years ago.
Dr Helen Wickstead said the find was completely unexpected and had initially confused the team digging on the farmland. This is the sixth year of the project at Damerham, about 15 miles from Stonehenge, with four areas of the temple complex excavated during the summer. The surprise came in the largest of the openings, approximately 40 metres long, where careful extractions revealed a layer of uncharacteristic orange sand and clay. Typically the archaeological survey would involve mapping and cataloguing such finds as bone, pottery and tool-making waste fragments....