Sabre rattling: A rocket revolution

A special Brit Week in Science

Sabre rattling  A rocket revolution

Welcome to a special Brit Week edition of Week in Science. From blue marbles to an intelligent knife, we've got it all this week thanks to industrious Britons and their amazing discoveries.

Britain has been at the forefront of scientific discovery for centuries. From physics and chemistry to biology and nanomaterials, the UK is a research powerhouse. We've had some truly great Britons change the world with their science, including the likes of Darwin and evolution, and Newton and gravity to name but just a few. And that doesn't even cover the engineering greats that made a lot of the modern world happen.

So, let's quit waffling and let's get cracking with this week's British-led science news, with a bit of science history thrown in for good measure.

Britons discover the first exoplanet colour is ocean blue

A team of astrophysicists, lead by Tom Evans from the University of Oxford, have finally been able to identify the colour of an exoplanet first discovered back in 2005.

You see, most planets are observed in non-visible wavelengths of light like infrared. That gives stargazers the size, shape and other properties of the various planets, but not the colour of them. Unfortunately, Hubble's resolution just isn't high enough to discern planet from star at that distance. Instead the Brits waited until the planet passed behind its star, allowing them to find out which wavelengths of light were lost at that precise moment. The result turned out to be a deep ocean blue, despite the planet not actually having oceans owing to it being a giant ball of gas. Still, we now know we're not the only deep blue marble floating through the galaxy. [APJL]

Did you know we discovered penicillin?

British scientific success isn't a new thing. Penicillin, the drug that kick started the antibiotics revolution, was discovered in good old Blighty. The story goes that back in 1928 a biologist was studying Staphylococcus bacteria on a traditional petri dish in an old lab in St Mary's Hospital (now part of Imperial College London), when he left the window open. A fungal spore flew through the window and landed on the uncovered plate.

That biologist was Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered that the bacterial lawn on the plate showed a halo effect, with a circle totally devoid of bacteria surrounding the now growing tiny speck of blue-green mould. The reason for the halo was that the fungus secreted an antibiotic agent into the medium within the petri dish, which killed off the surrounding bacterial cells. That chemical was later isolated and turned into penicillin (named after the Penicilliumfungus), the starting point of modern antibiotics as we know them today. Another revolutionary piece of British science of which we should all be proud.

Britons discover that the obesity gene makes you fat by keeping you hungry

Six years ago we discovered that there really was a gene linked with obesity called FTO. Now researchers from University College London have shown that it fails to dampen hunger following meals and increases your desire for high-calorie foods.

FTOcomes in multiple variants, with type "A" linked with an increased likelihood of obesity. An FTO genotype of "AA" increases your risk of obesity by whopping 70 per cent, while a single "A" increases your obesity risk by around 30 per cent, which half of all white Europeans have. It seems obesity-linked variants of FTO fail to suppress ghrelin -- a hormone known to stimulate appetite -- which leaves people forever hungry. It also seemingly stimulates an addiction-like response to calorific foods. So next time you crave something fatty or just can't sate your hunger, you might want to blame your genes. [JCI]

Britons create the world's first pee-powered phone

Researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory have produced a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that harnesses the abundant supply of urine your body produces to power up a Samsung phone.