Here’s a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.
From AI being used to identify key proteins in cell degradation, to a shellfish component being used in sustainable computer memory devices, here is some quick-read news from across the College.
AI for autophagy
A team led by Dr Tolga Bozkurt, Dr Doryen Bubeck and colleagues in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover key regulators of autophagy – a form of cell degradation that is important in biological development, aging and numerous diseases. The team showed that DeepMind’s AI system AlphaFold can be used to accurately predict protein complexes that control autophagy in plants and humans.
Autophagy is a process by which cells break down and recycle damaged or unnecessary cellular components as well as infectious agents. Autophagy regulators play a crucial role in this process by recognising and binding to specific cellular components or pathogen molecules to tag them for degradation. Understanding the function of these regulators can provide insight into how cells maintain their health and respond to stress and infections.
AlphaFold is a machine learning-based protein folding prediction system developed by DeepMind. It accurately predicts protein structures and has been hailed as transformative for our understanding of how life works. Here Imperial researchers have used a variation of the tool - AlphaFold2-multimer - to discover protein complexes that control which cellular molecules are degraded by autophagy and when.
Discovering new autophagy regulators could potentially lead to new therapeutic strategies for conditions such as cancer and neurodegeneration.
Read the full paper in PLoS Biology.
Breakthrough for computer memory devices
A new paper published in ACS Applied Electronic Materials suggests it may be feasible to use chitosan - a sugar that comes from the outer skeleton of shellfish - in computer memory devices. The work describes a new approach to resistive switching memories, which combines nanogap-structured electrodes and natural nanomaterials.
The research team, led by Imperial honorary research fellow Dr Niloufar RaeisHosseini, of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, created the memristive devices using an inexpensive, natural, biocompatible, and disposable material called chitosan.
Dr Raeis Hosseini, who is currently a lecturer at Cranfield University, said: “We created programmable biomemristive devices with high on/off ratio and reliable characteristics for memory applications. This work is significant because it highlights the fabrication of memristive devices using cost-effective solution-processed methods under ambient conditions. Moreover, the assimilation of carbon quantum dots to chitosan’s molecular structure improves the memristive properties.
“Our paper creates a paradigm for future studies of biodegradable and flexible memories by implementing coplanar 10-nm separated electrode structures.”
Read more: “High On/Off Ratio Carbon Quantum Dot–Chitosan Biomemristors with Coplanar Nanogap Electrodes” by RaeisHosseini et al.
Cardiovascular disease and Down syndrome
An international group of experts has come together to produce a review of best practice for treating cardiovascular disease in people with Down syndrome.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in individuals with Down syndrome, but the issue of disparity in care for people with the condition compared with the general population is often overlooked.
Working with the charity Down Syndrome international (DSi), the review, led by Imperial’s Professor Konstantinos Dimopoulos and Dr Andrew Constantine, has summarised the available evidence in 10 key areas.
It aims to provide clinicians with the knowledge needed to effectively care for people with cardiovascular conditions and Down syndrome, highlighting best practice in diagnosis, treatment, lifelong follow-up, and prevention of complications.
Professor Dimopoulos, from Imperial’s National Heart & Lung Institute, said: “The current work highlights best practices, gaps in knowledge, and common pitfalls in the care of people with Down syndrome.
“Through this work, we aim to improve standards of clinical practice, raise awareness and, ultimately, inform the development of international practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular disease in people with Down syndrome.”
Read the full paper in Circulation.
In January, 15 European and 9 Latin American organizations, including Imperial, held the first virtual meeting of FIRE-ADAPT, a project that will investigate how integrated fire management (IFM) contributes to biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and value for local communities.
FIRE-ADAPT will investigate the benefits of fire in nature and society by integrating diverse areas of knowledge, from both the academic and operational world. It is an international, collaborative and interdisciplinary research project, focusing on the role of IFM in climate change adaptation in tropical and subtropical regions.
IFM is an important practice in many ecosystems used to maintain biodiversity. As well as preventing fires, IFM includes controlled burning. Fire can act as a catalyst for promoting biological diversity and healthy ecosystems, reducing buildup of organic debris, releasing nutrients into the soil, and triggering changes in vegetation.
FIRE-ADAPT is the first network of scientists and professionals in IFM between two continents. A key feature of FIRE-ADAPT is the realization of the study hubs located in three regions in Latin America and three in Europe where research, training and knowledge exchange meetings will be held.
Powering past coal is not enough
Two new studies, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, demonstrate how there needs to be a much stronger set of national policy pushes across the world to phase out coal fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Accompanying these studies is a “News and Views” article by the Grantham Institute’s Dr Ajay Gambhir, published in the same journal, summarising the studies and reflecting on what they mean for fossil fuel phase out policies.
Both new studies are based on integrated assessment models – computer simulation tools commonly used to develop low-carbon pathways. They incorporate representations of a major international initiative called the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), committing countries to phase out coal-fired power generation in the coming years.
“The modelled emissions pathways consistent with the PPCA commitments still result in a very high use of coal, far too high to limit global warming to 1.5C – as required by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change”, said Dr Gambhir. “This means the PPCA needs to be much bolder in its ambitions if we are to remain below the 1.5C threshold”.
Read Dr Gambhir’s article in Nature Climate Change.
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