ABOUT Stephanie Swift

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Stephanie Swift is a British postdoctoral scientist at McMaster University, Canada, where she works to understand how viruses interact with the immune system. She writes about lots of different aspects of science, and is very pleased to live in a wonderfully intricate world full of glorious things to write about.


Stephanie Swift: All Posts


Seafood offers up a mouthful of man-made garbage

Posted 15 August 2016 by Stephanie Swift

Public opinion is divided when it comes to the pleasure of eating oysters and other sea creatures that stare boldly back at you while you eat them. Like Marmite®, you either love it or you hate it.   Now, researchers at the University of California, Davis have added an extra level of complexity to this debate by showing that the seafood we eat regularly contains man-made rubbish that has made it out to sea. The team caught and sampled a... Read more

Kiss Me Under the Parasitic Angiosperm

Posted 18 December 2015 by Stephanie Swift

Mistletoe is held in high regard at this time of year. No Christmas decorations are complete without a garland of cheerful mistletoe hanging on the door, or suspended prettily from the rafters as an incentive for festive romance. In nature, though, many species of mistletoe, such as Viscum album, are actually parasitic pests. They plug directly into the veins of other plants, and shamelessly siphon off water and nutrients. Viscum album is a hemiparasite, so it gets most of its... Read more

Fish oil capsules probably won’t boost your brain

Posted 6 February 2015 by Stephanie Swift

My mum and dad are troopers. Every morning, they down a tablespoon of fish oil in an effort to stave off old age and dry rot. And they do it without any obvious signs that swallowing a few millilitres of fishy oily stinky liquid is probably the worst way to start a morning. Clearly, they're from a more stoic generation. Since fish oils – or more accurately, the omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) in fish oils –... Read more

Where should I send this darned manuscript, anyway?

Posted 12 December 2014 by Stephanie Swift

As an academic scientist, this question usually hits you right after you've written your results section, but haven't had a chance to square up to the pit of seething hell that is the discussion. It's a blissful point where you can stop and carve out a moment to joyfully delay the inevitable. There are a few ways to choose which journal will have the honour of taking on your magnificent manuscript. Nail, meet hammer The bluntest approach is to go... Read more

Trials funded by rich patients could help find cures for us all

Posted 7 November 2014 by Stephanie Swift

Disease can affect any person, rich or poor. While your bank balance can’t really protect you from getting sick, it could potentially buy you – and many other patients – access to a better treatment for your disease. A new “plutocratic proposal” put forward by Alexander Masters enlists wealthy patients to both fund and participate in clinical trials alongside other patients who could benefit from an otherwise untested new treatment. Developing a new treatment can be a long and expensive... Read more

Tracking the Daily Microbiome

Posted 1 September 2014 by Stephanie Swift

Humans are essentially 90% bacteria. These bacteria pepper our skin and hang out in our digestive tracts, helping to break down complex carbohydrates and keeping bad bugs in check. We know how the human microbiome (our collection of bacteria) gets seeded during the birth process, and we know how bacterial populations change in the aftermath of a biological apocalyse, such as their human host taking a course of antibiotics. Yet we know very little about how the microbiome changes on... Read more

Plastic bags responsible for outrageous lack of cute pink piglets

Posted 28 July 2014 by Stephanie Swift

Credit: Margaret Ackland, Plastic Bag, Oil on Linen Most of us now subscribe to the idea that plastic bags are bad for the environment. Hence, droves of people turn up at their local supermarket with a sturdy jute bag in tow. Now, there’s evidence that the items that get placed into plastic bags also have a terrible time, especially if they’re biological in origin. Take the case of pig farmers in Spain. In Spring 2010, 41 farms across Spain reported... Read more

The science behind FIFA’s footballs

Posted 16 June 2014 by Stephanie Swift

Lovers and haters of the World Cup alike can’t fail to be amazed by the skills of some professional footballers. Like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo. But while some footballers have been blessed by biology, it’s not just the combined genetic talent of a player or a team that leads to a stunning win or a sorry loss. According to scientists at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, the aerodynamic performance of a football can introduce a skill set all... Read more

Watching it Burn: Soil Microbes vs. Wildfires

Posted 5 May 2014 by Stephanie Swift

Wildfires can devastate ecosystems across the world. In 2012, over 67,000 wildfires raced across more than 9 million acres of land in the US alone. Fuelled by wind and parched vegetation, wildfires burn through everything in their path: plants don’t stand a chance, and even mobile animals struggle to outpace the flames. But what impact do wildfires have on the beasties that live deep down in the soil? For example, soil-dwelling microbes, like bacteria? These incredibly important organisms help ecosystems... Read more

Swimming with Viruses

Posted 21 April 2014 by Stephanie Swift

You can find viruses everywhere: in the soil, in the clouds and in animals. According to scientists from the University of Oldenburg in Germany, there are also a ridiculous number of viruses buried at sea, in the sediments of the oceans. These sedimentary viruses don’t lie dormant on the seabed, but actively replicate down in the fathoms, even in the gyres of the ocean where most forms of life can’t be sustained since organic carbon is a scarce commodity. By... Read more