June 2016. What's the best sign of life? Look for them all!
|Sara Seager's group published a completely new approach to searching for life in Astrobiology this month. The only possible way to detect life on worlds around other stars today and for the next 20 years will be to detect their effect on the atmospheres of those worlds. But what gases to look for? On Earth we know what gases life produces, but different life might make different smells.
Our approach is to compile a list of all possible gases, and work backwards to the ones we would not expect a 'dead' planet to make, and which we can detect from Earth. This paper describes the first steps in this project, the database itself. A major piece of work, this was featured on the cover of Astrobiology. The database itself is now available at this web site.
Apr. 2016. Are biotech investors skilled and experienced? New data suggests not
I lIN a study out in J. Commercial Biotechnology, a group of researchers at Warwick University that I headed report on an analysis of investment patterns in biotechnology across the world. One striking conclusion was that most investors in biotech companies have almost no experience of investing in biotech companies. The image of an investor as experienced industry guru, someone who has seen 100 deals and can guide you in your path to success, is rarely real.
June 2015. Prosper and Live Long: increased lifespan means increased useful life
Lifespan is increasing in the Western world. But is this useful, productive life, or are the extra years all ones of illness and disability? Our new study shows that, for professionals in the West, increases in lifespan over the last 100 years have been more than matched by increases in productive life.
We studied the life histories of writers and musicians, people who do not usually 'retire' but carry on working as long as they can. Their life expectancies were almost the same from 1600 until about 1920 - even World War I did not affect them much. But about 100 years ago their average age at death started to go up, at about 2.5 years/decade. And their productive lifespan increased at the same rate. This suggests that, for those motivated to do so, the extra years of life given by Western nutrition, environment and healthcare can mean extra years of useful, productive life. The spectre of years of useless, disabled dependency is at least in part a myth.
Dec 2014. Strange photosynthesis on strange worlds
Sara Seager, Andras and Zsom and I have published our paper on photosynthesis on planets with hydorgen atmospheres. Exoplanet searches have found anew class of planet - "Super Earths" - not seen in our solar system. Bigger than Earth but smaller then Neptune, these worlds could hold an atmosphere dominated by hydrogen. On such planets, life would have to take methane and turn it into biomass, unlike the Earthly process of photosynthesis that takes carbon dioxide and build plants (which we then eat). Our paper shows that this is possible, actually uses less energyt han terrestrial photosynthesis, can use infra-red light, and astonishingly can take place on planets as far from their star as Saturn is from the Sun. Plants on such worlds would make hydrogen, not oxygen, which would make then hard to detect from afar, but is not imcompatible with the evolution of complex life. Click on this link for the paper, and here for Dirk Schulze-Makuch's blog on the paper
Feb 2014. Our study shows VC funding failing but biotech thriving anyway in UK.
I lead a study done with Dr. Stella Wooder (Cambridge) and David Munoz Guzman (Warwick) looking at how biotech companies are funded around the world for since 2005. The work, published in Journal of Commercial Biotechnology, and this press release, reports that VC backing for early, innovative companies has dropped off almost entirely outside the USA, with few investments and little money per investment. Instead, VC funds are going into established, later stage businesses. TThe paper provides the statistics to see what it really happening in the biotech industry underneath the hype and PR of interested parties. See also my book Venture Capital and the European Biotechnology Industry
Nov 2013. Our paper on using biomass estimates gets coverage in New Scientist.
Several years ago Sara Seager had a brilliant idea for predicting whether we could detect life on another world if that life was not like Earth life. The only way to detect life on another world that we know of, apart from going there and looking, is by detecting the gases it puts into the atmosphere. But how much gas? What gasses? So she devised an idea to work backwards from the amount if life that would be needed to make a given amount of gas. The resulting paper (see this link to the ArXiv pre-print) was written up in New Scientist magazine (and Sara got a biographical sketch in the same issue as an authentic genius!)
I do planetary geology by the nose in Yellowstone. On vaction in Yellowstone, I was struck by how you could do surface geochemistry with a nose, rather than with a mass spectrometer. This short set of pages is meant to stimulate you to do the same (safely, of course)
June 2012. Glythera raises £2M ($3.1M).
Glythera is a start-up company that I have been on the Board of since its formation in November 2007. Glythera has chemical technologies for improving the properties of protein drugs. In June 2012 we won investment of £2M from IP Group and North East Technology Fund to develop the Company's technology. Click here for Glythera's web site and the more detailed press release, and here for all my company involvements.
Aug. 2011. I appear in "Thru the wormhole with Morgan Freeman".
Briefly! Sara Seager and I appear on a programme discussing what shape aliens might be. A bit outside my normal comfort zone of their chemistry, but, heck, worth a shot. As a result, I now have an IMDB entry. How weird is that?