It was like finding a thing that shouldn’t be.

From an interview with UCSF scientist Cynthia Kenyon, for The Observer, about her career and how to live a long and healthy life

A recent interview I wrote for The Observer. 

A recent interview I wrote for The Observer. 

I recently wrote a feature for the Christmas issue of New Scientist about why doodling shouldn’t get such a bad rep…

I recently wrote a feature for the Christmas issue of New Scientist about why doodling shouldn’t get such a bad rep…

An interview I did with author Lone Frank, for The Observer

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Lone Frank: Find out what makes you tick

Genetic tests can offer deep insights into your future health. But would you really want to know?

By Catherine de Lange

Danish writer Lone Frank trained as a research scientist in biotechnology before becoming an award-wining science journalist. In her latest book, My Beautiful Genome, she turns her science on herself by embracing the latest developments in personal genomics to find out what these tests can tell us about ourselves and whether it’s a good idea to take them. She is the only female writer to have been shortlisted for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Why did you decide to investigate your own genome?
Genomics used to be like computers; for experts only. It was expensive. Nobody thought it would ever get out among the public. I heard about these first genome scans in 2008 and thought: this is momentous – now we can all get our own genetic information. We are at the beginning of a revolution where we can’t really see where it’s going, so I wanted to try it out for myself and see what it’s like.

What tests did you do?
I took tests that looked into my deep ancestry. I also had a genome scan where you can test variants that we know have to do with disease risks. You get a glimpse of what you could pass on to your children and also what diseases you might end up getting. I was tested for common breast cancer genes and also certain genes that are related to our psychological makeup.

Was there anything you were hoping to discover or that you were worried about?
I was really worried about the breast cancer genes, the BRCA genes, because my mother and grandmother both died of breast cancer very early. I had always assumed that I probably have them. They convey up to 80% chance of getting breast cancer: they are the genes that make women get their breasts removed preemptively, so I was really worried. I was also interested in behaviour genetics and depression, and what we know about how genes will help to determine our psychology.

Do tests that link personality and genetics lead to an overly deterministic view of – it’s not my fault, it’s in my genes?
One big message in the book is that genetic determinism is off. There is no geneticist out there who believes in genetic determinism or argues that it exists. Our genes are not our destiny. They are a hand of cards that we’re dealt and we can play them differently. How we live our lives will impact on our genes and how our genes are expressed – some will be switched on, some will be switched off. Our lives matter and it’s extremely important to get away from the false belief of genetic determinism…Read more

I recently reviewed a new photography book, The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen, for New Scientist. The idea is more than just a coffee table book though. The images have been etched onto a communications sateline and sent into space.
Click here to read my review on the New Scientist website. 
I also got Trevor Paglen to talk me through how he chose the images, some of which you can see in a this gallery.

I recently reviewed a new photography book, The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen, for New Scientist. The idea is more than just a coffee table book though. The images have been etched onto a communications sateline and sent into space.

Click here to read my review on the New Scientist website. 

I also got Trevor Paglen to talk me through how he chose the images, some of which you can see in a this gallery.

In this video I ask comedian Ben Miller some questions from New Scientist readers. 

Comedian Ben Miller is best known for The Armstrong & Miller Show on BBC TV. Fewer people are aware that he started a PhD in physics at the University of Cambridge’s prestigious Cavendish Laboratory before giving it up to pursue comedy. Rekindling his relationship with science, Miller has now written a book, It’s Not Rocket Science. I quizzed him about it for New Scientist’s CultureLab blog, and also asked him some reader questions in the video. Read the interview here.

(Image: Colin Thomas) 

Comedian Ben Miller is best known for The Armstrong & Miller Show on BBC TV. Fewer people are aware that he started a PhD in physics at the University of Cambridge’s prestigious Cavendish Laboratory before giving it up to pursue comedy. Rekindling his relationship with science, Miller has now written a book, It’s Not Rocket Science. I quizzed him about it for New Scientist’s CultureLab blog, and also asked him some reader questions in the video. Read the interview here.


(Image: Colin Thomas) 

Here is a review I wrote about the trend of self-quantification and the Nike + fuelband, for New Scientist. 

(Image: Bartholomew Cooke/Nike)

Here is a review I wrote about the trend of self-quantification and the Nike + fuelband, for New Scientist. 


(Image: Bartholomew Cooke/Nike)

New concerns over safety of arsenic in drinking water

                  Creative Commons/ Roger McLassus


Catherine de Lange for New Scientist

How safe is our drinking water? Baby mice have severe growth problems when their mothers were given water containing arsenic – at levels considered safe for humans – when they were pregnant and lactating.

Arsenic in drinking water has been linked to many health problems. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that water containing up to 10 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic is safe. As many as 25 million people in the US, and many more worldwide, get their water from unregulated wells and so drink water with an arsenic concentration that exceeds this level.

Joshua Hamilton at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and his colleagues gave water containing arsenic at 10 ppb to pregnant and lactating mice, then monitored the development of their pups…Carry on reading

While reading your article on bilingual brains (5 May, p 31), I felt that a lot of what it describes applies to me. I speak three languages. My English is not as fluent as my mother tongue, Russian, nor my second language, Ukrainian, but still good enough to “switch personality”.

Sometimes when speaking or writing in English I notice that I’m a different person. I make jokes that I would never make while using Russian. I act differently, and most importantly, I know that I think differently.

From Steve Sieradzki

In her article, Catherine de Lange writes of bilingualism: “It is almost as if you are two people”. How about us polyglots? I have been collecting languages since age 3 (I’m 88) at an average rate of one per decade.

So maybe it is almost as if I am more than two people…

Leesburg, Florida, US

Just some of the fascinating responses I’ve had to my feature on bilingual brains