0 comments on “Publish or Perish @Bristol Improv Theatre – Recap & photos”

Publish or Perish @Bristol Improv Theatre – Recap & photos

‘Is Taylor Swift really swift?’ With this crowd-sourced question pulled from a top hat, the audience of Play This Show! loaded up Publish or Perish and took control of luckless PhD student, Tom, to start their journey into the world of fantasy academia.

As ever, the course of good research never did run smooth. Together, the audience faced down nagging undergraduates, impossible deadlines, shadowy senior management figures, office equipment come to life, and overcame them all. They drank coffee, they let down their friends, they gained and (mainly) lost health, they even became a fantastic machine for measuring cow manure. They survived. Just.

I loved being able to vote on the outcomes and the actors’ amazing ability to make things up on the spot. Also I’ve never laughed so much for so long… (the show) really brought an audience of strangers together in a way that I didn’t think was possible!

– Jennie, audience member and player

Thanks to everyone for coming and being such willing participants of this weird, hard-to-describe show. Putting you in control of the action can feel terrifying so we were genuinely blown away by the generous response and the imagination you demonstrated throughout. Huge thanks also to Alistair Aitcheson and his Incredible Playable Show in the second half- Who knew we’d all enjoy becoming supermarket managers so much?

Enjoy the pictures of the nonsense below (thanks to James Pepper for the photography) and look out for the next chance to ‘Play This Show’!

 

1 comment on “Play This Show double bill – 12th April at Bristol Improv Theatre”

Play This Show double bill – 12th April at Bristol Improv Theatre

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We’re teaming up with¬†award-winning game developer¬†Alistair Aitcheson¬†to bring you Play This Show,¬†a night of playable and improvised comedy featuring two shows like nothing else on stage- well, like nothing else on a Thursday night in April anyway.

Grab your tickets now from the Bristol Improv Theatre website

Publish or Perish

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Publish or Perish is the choose-your-own-adventure show where the whole audience gets to play together.

Alongside your friends, you’ll take control of a young scientist trying to make it through the strangest day of their life, guided by the all-knowing game master.

Mashing up daft songs, live action role play, deadly punning photocopiers, a lab full of improvisers and an unhealthy dose of audience suggestions, surviving the sci-fantasy world of Publish or Perish ultimately depends on your choices ‚Äď democracy taken to the next level!

After a fantastic couple of shows at Green Man Festival 2017, we’re really excited to be bringing this show to a hometown audience at the brilliant Bristol Improv Theatre. And if you caught it last year, there’ll be new cast members, new games and even more pop culture surprises to challenge your spur of the moment decision making skills.

The Incredible Playable Show

Created by game developer Alistair Aitcheson, The Incredible Playable Show is an interactive video game comedy show where you, the audience, take to the stage!

Become human buttons, take on the Power Rangers, zap each other with barcode scanners, and play Pac-Man using inflatable toys. Or sit back, and watch your friends literally become cogs in a hilarious machine!

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0 comments on “B is for Bat Echolocation”

B is for Bat Echolocation

Microbat Photo by Neal Foster

By Jonathan Farrow from The Thoughtful Pharaoh

Ever wish you could see in the dark?  It would make life a bit easier.  No more tripping over clutter on the ground or feeling walls for a switch.  Humans rely quite heavily on their sight, but some animals can make do by illuminating their surroundings with sound.

Bats are just such an animal. ¬†They belong to a privileged group of organisms including toothed whales (like sperm whales, dolphins, and killer whales) and shrews that use sound to see the world. ¬†By listening for the reflections of their¬†high-frequency clicks, bats¬†are able to build up an accurate picture of the world around them. ¬†The clicks are often too high for humans to hear, sometimes reaching as high as 110 kHz (human hearing generally goes¬†from 20Hz-20kHz). ¬†This amazing superpower is called echolocation but not all bats have it. ¬†Most microbats (usually small, insect-eating, with proportionally large ears) can echolocate using their throat to produce clicks, while megabats (larger, fruit-eating, with large eyes) usually can’t. ¬†Like most rules in biology, though, these distinctions aren’t¬†universal. ¬†Some megabats have evolved¬†echolocation by way of specialized nose structures and others are smaller than big microbats.

An example of a Megabat, waiting for Comissioner Gordon to turn on the signal. Photo by Gerwin Sturm
An example of a megabat, waiting for Comissioner Gordon to turn on the signal.
Photo by Gerwin Sturm
This little microbat can't wait to be free! Photo by Neal Foster
This little microbat can’t wait to be free!
Photo by Neal Foster

So now that you’ve been acquainted with the notion of echolocation and the bat family tree, let’s start talking about some neat things that bats can do with their special ability.

Jamming

Since echolocation is dependent on a bat receiving and interpreting the reflections of sound, it is particularly¬†susceptible to interference. ¬†The biggest source of interference is the bat itself. ¬†Bats produce some of the loudest sounds in nature and have some of the most sensitive ears to register the reflections that come back hundreds of times quieter. ¬†Imagine revving up¬†a Harley Davidson and putting a traffic cone on your ear to hear someone whispering across the room. ¬†It would probably hurt if you did those things at the same time. ¬†You’d be too rattled by the revving to be able to listen to the whisper. ¬†Bats avoid this by temporarily disconnecting their ears as they shriek, then quickly reconnecting them in time to hear the echo.

One particular species of bat, the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), has been recently observed messing with its competitors’ signals. ¬†By emitting a special signal right when another bat is about to catch an insect, the bats make each other miss. ¬†It’s the bat equivalent of yelling “PSYCH!” when someone is about to shoot a free-throw. ¬†Unlike the obnoxious friend though, the bat version¬†actually works. ¬†The bats’ success rate drops by about 80%. ¬†It’s such an effective strategy that two bats will even hang out near each other, jamming each others’ signals every time one swoops in for a bug, until someone gives up.

Adapting

The same species of bat that jams also lives in close proximity to natural gas fields in New Mexico.  Some of the rigs have compressors that emit a constant, loud noise that can interfere with echolocation calls.  For the Mexican free-tailed bats, whose normal calls fall within the same frequency range as the compressors, the loud wells are avoided when possible.  The bats have also begun to change their calls, making them longer and in a more restricted range of frequencies.  This strategy would make the calls more easily distinguishable from the background din and marks the first time human-made noise has been shown to interfere with bat life.

Sneaking

We know that humans can’t hear a lot of what the bats are “saying” when they are building up a sonar picture because our ears aren’t sensitive to the right frequencies. ¬†This makes sense because, for the vast majority of humans, it really doesn’t matter what the bats are saying. ¬†It’s a whole¬†other issue if you’re a moth about to be eaten. ¬†There’s a lot of (evolutionary) pressure to hear the bats coming in order to avoid getting eaten. ¬†Some noctuids, a rather large family of moths, have evolved bat-sensing ears that warn the insect of impending disaster. ¬†If the bat is far enough away, the moth will make a break for it, otherwise it will just start flying erratically in random directions to try and make the bat miss. ¬†The Pallas long-tongue bat (Glossophaga soricina) still manages to get a meal by using only ultra-high-frequency, low intensity calls to find moths and by going silent on approach. ¬†This stealth mode doesn’t trip the moth’s defences.

Stealth bats.  Also happen to have the fastest metabolism of any known mammal. Photo by Ryan Somma
Stealth bats. Also happen to have the fastest metabolism of any known mammal.
Photo by Ryan Somma

For more information on echolocation and bats, check out:

The Bat Conservation Trust, a UK charity devoted to all things bat

This Scientific American article about how echolocation works

This study about Mexican free-tailed bat jamming

This study about Mexican free-tailed bat adapting

This study about Pallas long-tongue bat sneaking

0 comments on “A is for Axolotl”

A is for Axolotl

By Jonathan Farrow from The Thoughtful Pharaoh

Imagine a creature that never grows up, can regenerate limbs without scars, and has a sort of slimy, alien-like cuteness. ¬†Sounds like a critter you’d like to meet, right? ¬†Ambystoma mexicanum, the axolotl, lives all over the world in aquaria but their only wild habitat is under severe threat. ¬†Chances are that neither of us will ever meet a wild one and that is a shame.

This fascinating amphibian, through a quirk of evolution, is neotenous.  This means that it never really leaves the tadpole stage.  Where most salamanders and frogs will leave behind external gills and develop lungs to breathe on land, the axolotl decides it is perfectly happy and stays put underwater with beautiful gill fans collecting the oxygen it needs.

Image by Faldrian
This axolotl is a strong, independent amphibian that don’t need no lungs or terrestrial environment. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Image Creddit:¬†Faldrian

Not only does this incredible creature never grow up, but it can also totally regenerate lost limbs.  This makes it a valuable model organism for scientists to study in the lab.  The exact mechanism behind this regeneration is still being investigated, in hopes that one day a technique for human regeneration will be discovered, but there are some interesting findings that have already come out.

The generally accepted theory was that when a limb was cut off, the axolotl would send a signal to the stump that would turn the cells at the end to pluripotent stem cells. ¬†These cells would be able to duplicate and grow into any tissue and are similar to the cells found in embryos. ¬†Recent research out of Germany, however, showed that¬†the cells at the end of the stump don’t revert to a totally embryonic state. ¬†They are still able to grow into tissues, but only certain kinds of tissue. ¬†The part of the stump that was muscle¬†remembers that it needs to grow muscle, whereas the part that was nerve remembers that it needs to grow nerve.

Step-by-step limb regeneration.  From the lab of James Monaghan
Step-by-step limb axolotl limb regeneration.      From the lab of James Monaghan

Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City is the only place in the world the axolotl can be found in the wild, making them critically endangered according to the IUCN.  They used to live in another nearby lake named Chalco, until that was drained for fear of flooding.  For hundreds of years the axolotl was abundant enough to be a staple in the diet of locals, but now they are nearly impossible to find.  In a 2002-2003 survey where over 1800 nets were cast over the entirety of Lake Xochimilco, scientists could only find 42 of the little amphibians.  The first thing to understand about axolotl decline is that calling Xochimilco a lake is kind of a stretch.

"Lake" Xochimilco.  Basically a network of canals surrounded by farms.
“Lake” Xochimilco. Basically a network of canals surrounded by farms.

This small, restricted environment is a closed system, meaning it does not drain anywhere.  It is also surrounded by farms which provide much of the food needed to feed Mexico City.  Agricultural runoff from the farms and pollution from the nearby megacity accumulate, causing severe damage to the ecosystem and endangering the few axolotls that remain.

The axolotl is an incredible animal at severe risk of extinction in the wild. ¬†It is the Peter Pan of the animal kingdom, refusing to¬†grow up and hiding from hooks. ¬†It’s most amazing power, regeneration, is still being studied and one day may prove the key to human limb regrowth. ¬†For all this and more, the¬†axolotl is most definitely an interesting thing.

Some captive axolotls, like this one, are leucistic (a condition similar to albinism that causes animals to become white).  Aren't they cute? Image by Henry M√ľhlpfordt
Some captive axolotls, like this one, are leucistic (a condition similar to albinism that causes animals to become white). Aren’t they cute?
Image by Henry M√ľhlpfordt

For more information on this beautiful creature, follow the links below

Weird Creatures with Nick Baker did a great documentary on axolotls which is available on Youtube.

The IUCN has put the axolotl on its red list of endangered animals

The German team who study axolotl limb regeneration

0 comments on “ENTER THE BAT CAVE Ft. Batwoman Heather Nichol”

ENTER THE BAT CAVE Ft. Batwoman Heather Nichol

Plunge into the depths of one of Bristol‚Äôs darkest bat caves ‚Äď a place where the echoes of lost souls linger and haunt the footsteps of all those who enter. Fleeting silhouettes of winged creatures lay claim to these walls, and the stench of guano weighs heavy on the air‚Ķ

OK, so in reality we just turned off all the lights in the Bristol Improv Theatre, and the Rising Ape team forgot to wash, but bear with us for a moment. Rising Ape returns with a night of bat-themed madness. Bring a team and stretch your wings in the quiz. You better know your long ears from your short snouts, your Dracula from your Orlok, and your Slazenger from your Gunn & Moore. But as bat researchers stuck in a terrifying cave, we don’t expect you to just sit there all night. Be prepared to get up close and personal, untangling these creature’s fascinating secrets for yourselves with help from some special guests. To conclude the night’s eerie proceedings, real-life Batwoman Heather Nichol will share her personal journey into the world of bats.

Tickets available at http://improvtheatre.net/calendar/enter-the-bat-cave/

Tickets also available on the door.

Enter the Bat Cave... there is no exit.
Enter the Bat Cave… there is no exit.

More about Heather Nichol: Heather has been involved in bat conservation for the past 5 years. She was first introduced to the world of bats during her undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds, and has since taken part in various conservation projects, including a project that discovered the first know breeding colony of Alcathoe bats in the UK. Heather has just completed a Masters by Research at the University of Bristol studying one of the hot topics in ecology at moment: bat fatalities in wind farms in Britain.

0 comments on “Welcome to the new age of antibiotics”

Welcome to the new age of antibiotics

By Alex Hale

“I have been trying to point out that in our lives chance may have an astonishing influence and, if I may offer advice to the young laboratory worker, it would be this – never to neglect an extraordinary appearance or happening.”¬†Alexander Fleming

Nearly 30 years after the discovery of the last antibiotic, a new bacterial culturing technique may end the drought of new medicines.

Scientists have discovered 25 new antibiotics using a new lab technique which will hopefully discover many more. One of these new antibiotics, called teixobactin, has shown promising results in treating gram-positive bacteria such as MRSA and bacterial tuberculosis. The researchers are also hoping that harmful bacteria won’t gain resistance to teixobactin for at least another 30 years, as it uses an unusual multi-pronged attack that will be much harder for any germs to combat. It hasn’t been trialled on humans yet, but the test mice have responded very well. If human trials also go well, it may finally be possible to treat some of the nasty multi-drug resistant superbugs that have been troubling doctors for many years.

Although it’s fantastic news that a new antibiotic has been discovered, the main

Traditional testing of antibiotics in vitro. Image credit: Graham Beards
Traditional testing of antibiotics in vitro. Image credit: Graham Beards

story here is the new technique.  Traditionally, bacteria are grown on agar plates in a lab, but this new technique uses soil as the culture medium where bacteria feel at home and are happy to grow. This may not sound as interesting as a new superbug-killing drug, but teixobactin comes from the 99% of bacteria that have never been cultured, and without this technique it would never have been! This 99% is an untapped treasure trove that researchers were unable to culture in a lab environment until now, and this unexplored group could hold the secret to treating any number of infectious diseases.

If these new antibiotics are everything that they appear to be then it’s an easy bet that the team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, will be up for a Nobel Prize. Perhaps they will have a more positive message than Alexander Fleming, who in his Nobel Prize speech for the discovery of Penicillin, couldn’t resist presciently warning everyone of the dangers of over use.

It has all come just in the nick of time as well, as we were all starting to prepare for the worst. A horrid future of antibiotics slowly becoming useless as more and more bacteria became resistant to them. Hopefully, that is no longer the case.