March 3, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

On the news this week: fossils from the Cambrian Explosion; new treatment for prostate cancer starts clinical trials; and new method of diagnosing Parkinson's disease

First, thousands of soft tissue fossils have been discovered along a riverbank in China. Dating back to the Cambrian period, these fossils, which include parts of eyes, skin, brains and guts help to give clues about the Cambrian Explosion. The researchers collected over 4300 specimens including 8 types of algae and 101 multicellular taxa. Over half of the fossils discovered are new to science providing a unique insight into some of the earliest forms of life on earth.


Next, Clinical trials will start this year in patients with prostate cancer using a new type of treatment that capitalizes on a cell’s natural ability to clear out unwanted or damaged proteins. The treatment uses molecules called proteolysis-targeting chimaeras, or PROTACs, which look like dumbbells. On one side they bind to the target protein of the disease being treated and on the other side they bind to ubiquitin, the cell’s natural tag signalling that this protein should be destroyed. Though there are still questions about how PROTACs function, the hope is that this mechanism will be able to target and destroy proteins that other treatments could not.


Finally, a new method of diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is being developed using volatile compounds in sebum. The discovery was brought to light by Joy Milne, a retired nurse and a Super Smeller, who first noticed the odour on her now late husband years before he was diagnosed with the disease. The chemicals are found in oily sebum on the skin, not in sweat as was first through and can be isolated using gas chromatography mass spectrometry. The odour appears years before the onset of symptoms and it is hoped that early diagnosis could help with treatment in the future.


This week’s news was presented and written by  Harry Lampert, and Julia Langer, who are studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.


Banner image: Fossil at Silliman’s Fossil Mount; Flickr