Research Picks March 2016

Ten years of metabolites

Metabolomics is the study of chemical processes that generate metabolites in living things, more specifically it is the “systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind”. The term has a similar etymology to genomics, proteomics and other “omics” studies. An analysis of data and interpretations covering a period of ten years has allowed researchers in Germany to offer new recommendations surrounding the use and deployment of metabolomic databases in biomedical and pharmaceutical research. The most important point being the conclusions drawn regarding metabolomics should be standardized and assessed in an approach similar to the peer-review process carried out in histopathology (diagnosis based on changes in tissues).

van Ravenzwaay, B., Kamp, H., Montoya-Parra, G.A., Strauss, V., Fabian, E., Mellert, W., Krennrich, G., Walk, T., Peter, E., Looser, R. and Herold, M. (2015) ‘The development of a database for metabolomics – looking back on ten years of experience’, Int. J. Biotechnology, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp.47–68.

Long-term fire safety

The advice for people to stay indoors and keep their windows tightly closed when there is a local fire that does not affect them directly but is producing lots of smoke is sensible. Unfortunately, it becomes impractical when a long-lasting industrial or a controlled burn fire affects a region for weeks, months or even years. Scientists at Public Health England have taken an evidence-based approach to the protection of members of the public during such prolonged fires. From their analysis, a universal approach emerges that minimizes acute risks to health and discusses the different roles of the various responders. “Public health risk assessment must be an integrated part of a wider approach agreed by multi-agency responders; in this way it can influence operational strategies and ensure that public health is protected during such fires,” the team concludes.

Stewart-Evans, J., Kibble, A. and Mitchem, L. (2016) ‘An evidence-based approach to protect public health during prolonged fires’, Int. J. Emergency Management, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp.1–21.

Understanding coastal Sri Lanka

Understanding the changing geography of the coastline of Sri Lanka during the Holocene period that began about 10,000 years ago could help predict future effects of climate change and specifically rising sea levels on the island, according to Japanese researchers. Sea-level changes can play an important role in the evolution of local geomorphology and bathymetry on the west to the southeast coasts of Sri Lanka, the researchers explain, with mud dominant sediments being critical. While Sri Lanka is “tectonically” stable sitting as it does on 2-billion year old Precambrian strata, and so less prone than other parts of the developing world to earthquakes, an island will always be vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Ratnayake, A.S (2016) ‘Evolution of coastal landforms during the Holocene Epoch along the west and southeast coasts of Sri Lanka’, Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.60–69.

Deleting the echo

People who use hearing aids often suffer from distortion of sounds during conversation because of reverberations from walls and ceilings, particularly in large buildings such as concert halls, churches and other venues. Researchers in India have now developed a new algorithm for a modern digital hearing aid that can suppress the combined effect of late reverberation and masking noise for speech enhancement using a channel selection method. Tests show much-improved signal-to-noise ratio and better clarity of conversation and compares well with earlier approaches to removing reverberation from sampled sound.

Singh, S., Tripathy, M. and Anand. R.S. (2016) ‘Suppression of combined effect of late reverberation and masking noise for speech enhancement using channel selection method’, Int. J. Signal and Imaging Systems Engineering, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp.118–125.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.