How to feed your gut microbiome on a budget

By Anna Slater

“Gut health”. We’ve all heard it, the latest buzzword that is trending all over the internet. But what’s good about this trend is that it’s not your regular ‘fad diet’, in fact the research is growing exponentially and has shown that your gut microbiome plays a really important role in our physical and mental wellbeing. The gut microbiome is found in the large intestine and describes the diverse ecosystem of bacteria that resides here. Each of us consists of about 100 trillion microbial cells, 10 times more than the number of human cells in our body! They do lots of great things for us, such as digesting food and absorbing nutrients, in particular dietary fibre and keeping our immune system healthy from any harmful pathogens. The most important discovery in the field of research is that individuals who ate more than 30 different plant based foods a week had a more diverse colony of gut bacteria than those who ate less than 10. We all know that on a student budget it can be difficult to get diversity in on a budget, so here are my top tips for feeding your gut bacteria at a lower cost.

  1. Bulk out meals with cheaper cupboard staples, such as chickpeas, lentils or beans. On average tins of these tend to be around 50p and contain all the gut loving fibre that your microbes will enjoy. You don’t even have to remove the meat from the dish if you enjoy this, it just makes sure you’ve got more fibre and plant based protein. Also, the more vegetables you bulk out the portions with the more food you will make so even if the vegetables are a little more expensive you may save in the long run
My prawn, sweet potato peanut butter curry – lots of hidden gut loving ingredients such as chickpeas and lots of added vegetables

2. Rotate your fruits and vegetables. If it’s hard to eat 30 plant based foods a week, just try not to stick to one food all the time. One challenge I’m doing at the moment is to try and get one fruit and vegetable in my shop that I don’t usually go for. This week’s is pineapple and sweet potato! Even using different colours of the same vegetables, such as peppers or onions, each different colour counts as more variety.

Food Love GIF
Via Giphy

3. Try buying frozen vegetables. Lots of people have the misconception that frozen fruit and vegetables are less nutritious, but sometimes they can actually be higher in nutrients as they are picked and packaged and frozen in hours which retains the nutrients more than storing at room temperature.  These options can be very cost effective and last longer than fresh vegetables.

4. Plan your meals for the week so that you know exactly what you need to buy and are less likely to shop. If you write everything down in a list, you are more likely to stick to it, rather than buying lots of random expensive ingredients and not knowing what to cook. I am a serial meal prepper so I love to make big batches of meals, so I find it really helpful to have a plan when I go to the supermarket so I know what I’m eating for the week.

Always making industrial quantities! This is my vegetable filled chicken lasagne

5. Have a go at experimenting with more herbs and spices. Did you know they also count as a ¼ of a plant point? If you add herbs and spices it can really make a dish more flavourful as well as being flavourful for those gut microbes to digest!

Would your blood glow?

By Sarah Holder

The Beginning 

All the way back at the start of my second year at Newcastle University, the thought of a placement year was a nice one, but I never thought I’d be one of the lucky few to be offered one! When I came across the advert for the job at Labcorp Huntingdon, I knew it would be the only intern position I wanted to apply for. The role sounded perfect and it was located only half an hour from my home village. I sent off my initial application and then received an invite for an interview! And then another! And another! I couldn’t believe it when I received a phone call in January to say I had been offered the intern position for Immunology and Immunotoxicology 2022-2023. Brilliant! 

Background to my Project 

Human blood is made up of several major components including plasma, platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. White blood cells are involved in the body’s response to infection and need to be tested separately to the rest of the blood components to see the best results.  

Via Giphy.

Infections can come in the form of viruses or bacteria. Viruses present markers called epitopes on their surface which the white blood cells use to identify what they are. Bacteria don’t directly present these epitopes but via white blood cells they infect which present their epitopes for them. When these epitopes are come across in the bloodstream, specific white blood cells release chemicals called cytokines to activate the immune response and fight the infection. We were adding epitopes artificially in the form of our stimulants to elicit a response from six different human donors and judge the stimulant that gives the clearest response across the six blood samples.   

My Project 

My project during my time on placement at Labcorp had two parts. Improving the white blood cell isolation method and investigating white blood cell responses to positive controls we added to them and attaching fluorescent green and red markers to the different cytokines produced. We had longer to plan my project than expected so it didn’t get into the lab until May, creating more pressure for everything to go smoothly once it was underway. If anything had gone drastically wrong, we wouldn’t have had enough time to order the reagents required for another attempt. The images taken at the end were full of fluorescent spots so the project worked! 

Via Giphy

My project has provided a future method for FluoroSpot assays to be carried out at Labcorp on our Huntingdon site which will hopefully be able to bring more revenue into I&I. Future research into the method we developed for my project could be done to optimise it further and make it a more streamlined process. 

Life on Placement 

I was lucky enough to not only secure a placement but secure a placement I could commute to from my home. Thankfully, my parents were happy to have me back for another year! While the 6:45am wakeup call wasn’t my favourite, I could spend my evenings visiting my friends from home, which was lovely. I worked a mixture of 8am-4pm and 8:30am-4:30pm throughout the week and it was nice actually being able to catch a glimpse of daylight in the winter when leaving at 4pm instead of both arriving and leaving in what feels like the dead of night every day. 

Every month a department social was held by the I&I Social Committee. My favourites were the Halloween bar crawl, Christmas party and lab getaway weekend to a lakeside cabin with the team.  These really helped me to feel part of the team during my time working at Labcorp. 

Via Giphy

Summary 

I would really recommend a placement year to anyone considering one, the lab experience gained is a perfect CV addition for life after university and the additional skills of working in a team and independently while in an industry setting are invaluable. I was very fortunate and had the best line manager in terms of supporting my transition into a working environment, this was aided massively by the chocolate that magically appeared on my desk every Friday. I’m not sure what my future after university is going to be yet, but thanks to my placement year I know I can join a workplace and adapt to fit in very quickly, and training can be provided if I feel I have any gaps in my knowledge for my future role. No question is a stupid question! 

Why Can’t Science be Funny?

By Emily Longman, BSc Biochemistry

Edited by Maddie Wildridge

Tom and Jerry Reading – if only scientific journals were as fun!

I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say if they wrote academic papers the same way they wrote Tom and Jerry cartoons, I’d be reading them a lot more! So why don’t they? 

There are 3 reasons: 

  1. They want to avoid confusion 

The aim of academic writing is to convey a complex idea with concision and without confusion to fellow academics. By adding quips or breaking free from the pretty rigid model of academic papers, one risks readers getting distracted, and missing the point of the paper.  

  1. They don’t want to “dumb it down” 

A lot of the time academics associate digestibility and informality with having to “dumb something down” which certainly goes against the aim of academic writing for likeminded academic readers. 

  1. The fear of peer reviews 

Although it sounds shallow, it’s especially important that those reading your paper like it, as the pillars of academic publishing are peer reviews. A paper won’t make it anywhere near my screen if the peer reviews frown upon it. So many writers bow down to the peer review system for approval in the name of their paper’s progression.  

Peer Review Panel – I imagine many people have different opinions on scientific articles.

Considering this, it’s true that breaking a tradition by cracking a joke is a risk that might not pay off… 

But I’m not asking for an hour long stand-up gig about RNA! Merely a funny title, a bit of intentional alliteration perhaps? Just some variation from the (although novel and fascinating) DULL papers we students have to read. 

I’ve found a few papers that have done just that, and you tell me if these would catch your eye: 

These had me giggling! (You can never go wrong with a Barbie reference.)  

My housemates and I were laughing at these titles last night, and it made us realise how easy it is to get bogged down by the weight of studying a science degree, or working a science-based job. Science is serious for good reason, we’re often discussing diseases affecting thousands of lives, but it’s important to show a balance. I chose a Biochemistry degree because I had FUN in labs at school, not because I wanted to be serious and intellectual all the time.  

I’m a big fan of the Science journal, not just for the published papers, but for their science humour column, and their blogs. The informality is inclusive and far less intimidating than the impenetrable, science jargon stuffed papers. I strongly believe that a bit of humour goes a long way in academic publishing becoming unique and approachable without sacrificing complexity and content.  

If you’re also the type of person to rather read a blog than a paper, or if you’re interested in learning some more creative skills to use for bioscience careers outside the lab, then you might enjoy the science communication module Newcastle provides that sparked me writing this article in the first place! 

Check out the module here! 

Author: Emily Longman

My Experience as a Year In Industry Student

By Joel Tyler, BSc Physiological Sciences

Edited by Maddie Wildridge

Reckitt is a Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) company with offices and employees spread out across the world. Founded in 1870, Reckitt started off by selling laundry starch in Hull, now, Reckitt operates in a range of markets and is the owner of various health and medicinal brands such as; Neurofen, Strepsils, Dettol, Vanish and Durex to name a few.

Examples of some Reckitt products sold around the world

My placement year was a lab-based role involved in working for the brand Veet, this included both formulation manufacturing and analytical testing for the depilatory cream products currently available to buy in shops as well as a new product being developed and to be released in the near future.

A Day in the Life

Using a Light Microscope to examine the structure of a hair sample

Due to the fast paced environment (as an FMCG company), I found that there was always something to do all the time and the days/weeks were fairly similar. This is because of the constant manufacturing of different formulations of new products to be tested under different stability conditions, and then followed by analytical testing of the formulations to identify which was the best product.

Therefore, my normal day would start with a team meeting to discuss where everyone was at with formulation/testing work and to discuss steps/processes going forward or if anything had failed/gone wrong with the batch. After, I would go to the lab to complete any formulation/analytical testing which needed to be done.

I enjoyed this working routine as it meant I gained far more lab experienced than I initially thought I would, it was always very clear what work I needed to be doing and I was always given lots of support if things ever went wrong. I would say I definitely wasn’t treated as a ‘student’ but a very integral part of the team which also surprised me!

Student Project
In the second half of my placement, I organised and created a project alongside my line manager which involved testing the tensile strength of hair using a texture analyser and a brand new test method. I also presented my results to the rest of the Veet brand to explain my findings.

Hair sample being tested in the Texture Analyser to investigate the tensile strength

During my project I had to test thousands of individual hair samples and as a result became the most experienced within the lab at using the texture analyser, this meant that I had the opportunity to present and perform samples to higher up executives within the company (and even the Global Head of R&D) which was an amazing experience.

A Becomix machine used to formulate and manufacture different depilatory creams during my placement year

Why I Chose To Do a Placement
I decided during first year of my degree that I wanted to do a placement, specifically a lab based placement, because I was enjoying being in the lab at university but I was curious if I would enjoy working in a lab as a full time job to give myself an idea for post graduate jobs.

Having completed my full year, I now know I could happily work in a lab after university, so applying for lab based roles isn’t a big risk but also that I know I can work efficiently and thrive under the environment. My placement gave me many challenges along the way (which is natural when learning new things in a short space of time) but I gained valuable and employable experience in overcoming these obstacles and realised that I feel confident within a lab setting.

I Would Highly Recommend a Placement!
Completing my placement year was definitely one of the most important things I have done within my life. The obvious reasons being all the different skills and attributes which I learnt/developed along the way, but also, the experiences which are available in just one year really surprised me, with the huge amounts of social networking needed to be done for my day to day job, I found myself naturally speaking to and shadowing other departments, creating professional relationships which will last for life. So I would say even if you are even considering to apply for placements, just go for it because you won’t regret it!

Getting ready to go to University

It’s coming to the end of August and there is only one thing you can think about – leaving home and going to University! Here are some tips on what you should take, how to cope with homesickness and more…

What should I pack?

Deciding what to pack for University can be a huge challenge. There are so many items you use everyday that you don’t even think about! We’ve written a short list of things to get you started:

  • Duvet and pillows
  • Sheets for bedding
  • Device chargers
  • Toiletries
  • Laptop for study
  • Cooking utensils (yes, you may have to cook)
  • Laundry basket
  • Clothes hangers
  • Clothes horse (great way to save money on drying!)
  • Important documents
  • Medicines

This is not an extensive list by far and is only meant to provide you with ideas of the basics which you will need.

How can I cope with homesickness?

The first thing to say when discussing homesickness is that you are not alone in this. Most people who go to University will experience homesickness at some point, so discussing this with friends is key! Additionally, bringing items to University that remind you of home (such as photos of friends and family) can really help. Just remember there are a lot of support networks at University whether it is friends or staff members, so please utilise this. Finally, your family are only a phone call away if you need them. Keep yourself busy and distracted with friends and activities and you will start to feel at home in no time!

Where should I visit in my first week?

In your first week we would definitely recommend looking around the University and familiarising yourself with campus. There is nothing more stressful than getting lost and being late to your first lecture! (trust me, I know).

There are also so many beautiful areas of Newcastle to explore. Check out the restaurants and bars on Grey Street, marvel at the view of the Monument and take in the breeze at the Quayside! There is also gorgeous beaches only 25 minutes on the Metro from the town centre (I would recommend Tynemouth – that is my favourite!)

Tynemouth: Great British Break | Travel | The Sunday Times
Tynemouth: Great British Break (thetimes.co.uk)

Finally…

Most of all – don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Moving to University can be exhausting so if you need a night to yourself to relax then do it! Everything will still be there for you the next day. Good luck and have the best time!

Look on the sunny side! It’s Easter!

We can all agree it’s been an eggs-hausting term (brace yourself, I have so many egg puns it’s not even bunny!), but we’ve made it through the dark winter mornings and January blues, and Easter is finally in sight! Some of you might be desperate for this break, I for sure am, and some of you might be desperate for a month of exam prep and catching up on lectures…but it’ll come as no surprise to you that I am once again preaching about balance!

Continue reading “Look on the sunny side! It’s Easter!”