Imperial College London

Menstrual matters and greenhouse gases: News from the College

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Dr Anita Mitra

‘Gynae Geek’ Dr Anita Mitra

Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From an exploration of changes in menstrual cycles during COVID-19, to a new report charting rising levels of atmospheric methane, here is some quick-read news from across the College. 

COVID-19 and periods research

Imperial’s Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Anita Mitra – known as the ‘Gynae Geek’ on Instagram – specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology and is running an online survey investigating how common changes in the menstrual cycle have been during COVID-19 in the UK, and what lifestyle factors have impacted this.

Dr Mitra said: “I really want to continue answering questions that are important to people, like ‘why are my periods so painful?’ or ‘why do I have discharge?’ A lot of patients have unanswered questions and want to know more about their health. Since lockdown began in the UK, I noticed a lot of people saying their periods had stopped or were more painful and I wanted to dig deeper.” Within two hours of posting the online survey, Dr Mitra had received over 2,000 responses and since then, over 12,000 people have responded.

“We’re keeping the survey open for another two weeks and anyone who has a menstrual cycle is welcome to complete it.

Face timing

Neotropical bats show a wide range of diets and facial shapes to match – from long-snouted nectar feeders to flat-faced fruit eaters. Researchers had previously determined (see video above) that these diverse faces evolved as a result of heterochrony – differences in the exact timing and rates of processes during embryo development.

Now, the team, led by Imperial researcher Dr Arkhat Abzhanov, have uncovered some of the cellular mechanisms explaining for the first time how heterochrony works. They found that bats with long faces maintain high level of cell proliferation in the snout tissue for much longer than bats with ‘normal’ faces, whereas same cell populations in their short-faced relatives race through this stage of development. 

The team are now looking for the genetic changes that resulted in such species-specific differences in cell behaviours.

Read the full paper in EvoDevo: ‘Differential cellular proliferation underlies heterochronic generation of cranial diversity in phyllostomid bats

Cheaper algorithms

Illustration of data pointsMachine learning algorithms are used in numerous applications, from discovering new drugs, to modelling climate change and teaching robots to perform human-like actions. New and improved methods for using machine learning algorithms can be found by using statistical models to predict their performances.

However, automated searches for new methods are often extremely costly in terms of computing power, leaving them out of reach for most companies. Now, a team from Imperial have devised a new way of ‘sampling’ that slashes these costs without sacrificing accuracy.

The team’s paper recently won an honourable mention for outstanding paper award at the International Conference in Machine Learning. Read more about their work on the group's blog.

Atmospheric methane increasing

Be?chatów Coal MineLevels of methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, increased in 2017 to 150 percent above pre-industrial levels, reveals the latest Global Methane Budget report from the Global Carbon Project. As well as contributing to climate change, methane leads to the production of ozone, a harmful pollutant for humans, plants and ecosystems.

One of the report’s authors, Imperial’s Dr Apostolos Voulgarakis, said: “There has to be a discussion on methane mitigation that establishes it as a key player in climate change. This recent rapid increase comes from sectors like animal farming and industrial-scale gas leaks.”

By 2050, unchecked global warming could reach 3-4°C, leading to increasing extreme weather and massive socio-economic disruption. The report underlines the need for policies to control methane emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, such as replacing oil and natural gas in homes and cars, as well as farming fewer animals.

Read the full report in Earth System Science Data: ‘The Global Methane Budget 2000–2017

Image: Kamil Porembi?ski via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 

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Andrew Youngson

Andrew Youngson
Communications and Public Affairs

Hana Amer

Hana Amer
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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Martha Salhotra
Communications and Public Affairs

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Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications and Public Affairs

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Email: h.dunning@imperial.ac.uk

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