Plants

Issue 24 | May 2016

Close up of a leaf

Plants

The plant kingdom is full of fascinating organisms that are responsible for much of what keeps life going. Join us to find out just what’s going on under the surface of the weird and wonderful world of plants. Quick confession: we couldn’t possibly hope to cover the entire plant kingdom in a single issue, so we’ve focused mostly on flowering plants.

Meet the plants

How plants make a living

A plant’s worldview is different from an animal’s

The secrets of plant cell structure

Chloroplasts and a cellulose cell wall are unique to plants – but plant cells have much in common with fungi, bacteria and animal cells too

Growth factors

All sorts of chemicals play a role in plant development 

Nine fine plants infographic

From food and drink to medicines and experiments, here are nine products and the plants that made them possible

Plant parts up close images

Browse these images to get a microscopic view of the plants that surround us

Keeping the world running

Hydroponics and the future of farming

How can we produce enough food to sustain an increasing population? Growing plants without soil could be the answer

Dwarf breeds of plants

Much of the wheat you eat comes from dwarf breeds. Find out how these are developed, what other foods they provide, and the pros and cons of growing them

The evidence on plant-based diets

Many believe that eating a plant-based diet is healthier and better for the environment

The pollen detectives

Tiny pollen grains can help solve crimes

A recipe for self-sufficiency

Plants use photosynthesis to harness energy from the sun

Photosynthesis poster

Order or download a copy of our classroom poster detailing photosynthesis and its many processes and parts. It complements our respiration poster nicely as well (if we do say so ourselves...)

Transgenic crops

Modifying the genetic make-up of a plant can improve crop yields or resistance to pests

Factor farming

Scientists and farmers can make the most of plant growth factors (hormones) to improve our food supply

Fuel the world

Harnessing plant energy reduces our reliance on fossil fuel

The flowers and the bees

Farmers rely on many plants being pollinated

The great RuBisCO and its amazing carbon fixation

Thanks to its role in photosynthesis, ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase oxidase (RuBisCO) is perhaps the most abundant enzyme in the world

Plant defence

Reaction times

Plants can respond slowly or quickly, depending on the stimulus

Electrical signalling

Plants, like animals, use action potentials to respond to stimuli

Hardcore plants

Plants are incredibly resilient organisms, surviving fire, ice and even nuclear disasters, finds Ellie Pinney

Carnivorous plants

The Venus flytrap is only one among hundreds of flesh-eating plant species. Find out about the many ways they catch and eat their prey

Keeping in contact

Plant cells can communicate chemically

Plant epigenetics

Plants pass along traits they acquire during their lifetime

Plant disease images

Browse these images to uncover some of the pathogens that affect plants

Plants that changed the world

Video: Award-winning plants

Our plant awards, filmed at the Eden Project, showcase the glamorous flowers, clever communicators, ultimate achievers and vile villains of the plant kingdom

Plants that changed the world: rice

Everything we’ve ever needed to know about rice, a staple food source in many countries

Plants that changed the world: soybean

War hero, global industrialist, maybe even supervillain – there are many faces to this versatile bean, finds Rob Reddick

Plants that changed the world: olive tree

Take a look at a tree that has been a long-standing source of sustenance

Plants that changed the world: coffee

Find out how a legendary goatherd, Pope Clement VIII and an unfaithful wife made coffee the world’s second most popular drink

Plants that changed the world: pine tree

This adaptable tree supplies much of the world’s furniture, paper and Christmas decoration

Plants that changed the world: chrysanthemum

This small white flower is responsible for the widely used natural insect repellent pyrethrum

Plants that changed the world: cinchona

This Peruvian tree that gave us the first effective treatment for malaria – as well as a refreshing drink

Historical aspects

The plants rooted in science fiction

Discover the best plants invented by writers for books and film and the real-life species that inspired them

Plant hormones animation: How IAA, the most common form of auxin, works

Explore the action of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) and see how scientists used experimental evidence to explain the role of auxins in a phototrophic response

Plants case study: Muriel Wheldale Onslow and the snapdragon

This plant biochemist worked with botanists, geneticists and biochemists to research patterns of inheritance and plant pigmentation

Plants case study: Barbara McClintock and maize

Much of our understanding of how chromosomes work is due to one researcher’s life’s work into the secrets of maize

Healing powers

Harvesting vaccines

Vaccines can prevent many illnesses, but first they must be grown

Fighting disease with pharming

Scientists grow antibodies in plant cells to combat Ebola and HIV

Sweet wormwood and artemisinin

The plant origins – and future – of malaria treatment

Community medicine chests

Traditional treatments often come from a community’s local habitat. How can these influence global modern medicine?

Keeping the doctor away

Many phytochemicals have a health benefit for humans

Do plants make us feel better?

Scientists think being near greenery could improve our health

Plants that changed the world: cinchona

This Peruvian tree that gave us the first effective treatment for malaria – as well as a refreshing drink

Medicinal plants images

Explore images of plants that have been used to treat human ailments

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices: Martin Cheek

Meet Martin, a researcher looking for new plant species

Real Voices: Pippa Greenwood

Meet Pippa, a horticultural broadcaster and writer

Real Voices: Patricia Wiltshire

Meet Patricia, a forensic botanist

Thorny issues

The big banana question

The Cavendish banana is under threat – how can we save it? Or should we look for alternatives?

Sustainable production

How can we increase production of nutritious food while still conserving the environment?

The cocoa tree and the threats it faces

An introduction to Theobroma cacao and its biggest enemy: black pod disease

Activities and lesson ideas

Happy Cells card game with plant, animal, bacterial and fungal cells

Play our downloadable activity to check your knowledge of what organelles are in these different types of cell

Plant hormones animation: How IAA, the most common form of auxin, works

Explore the action of indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) and see how scientists used experimental evidence to explain the role of auxins in a phototrophic response

Further resources and activities on plants

As well as our ‘Big Picture’ content, the Wellcome Trust funds other organisations and initiatives that have produced the following related activities and resources

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Fat

Issue 23 | January 2016

Scanning electron micrograph of adipose tissue, showing lobules rich in adipocytes

Fat

Fat is a word that carries a lot of weight, conjuring up topics as diverse as obesity, hibernating animals, and what we eat and how we cook it. In this issue, we get to grips with the greasy world of fats and lipids to find out what they do, not just inside us and other organisms but also in the world around us.

It’s a fat, fat world

Infographic: Fat by numbers

A snapshot of the role of fat in our lives

Facing fats

Fats are all around us

A brief history of fat

An apertif of fatty facts

At your service

We use fat for a variety of activities

Fatty fads

Like many things, fats come in and out of fashion

Trading fat

Selling high-fat food can be big business

Fat chance: careers in lipids

Fancy a career working on fat?

Fat in our food

Don’t take your vitamins

It is possible to have too much of a good thing

Death in small doses: exploring the dangers of bioaccumulation

A bad dinner choice can mean more than disappointment

A lovely spread

The history and health aspects of butter, marg and other spreads

Chick chick chick chick chicken

Kiri Degon traces the history of chicken in our diets

Video experiment: Do we favour fatty foods?

Use the data from our curry-tasting experiment to see if people prefer higher fat foods to lower fat ones

Fat, diets and health

Friend or foe?

Our relationship with fat? It’s complicated

Weight across generations

How can weight be influenced in the womb?

Fat and obesity

How does fat relate to obesity?

Higher or lower?

Healthy eating guidelines can be confusing

Foods that do you good

Looking at foods that promise to make you healthier

Diets for disease

Can what you eat improve the symptoms of a disease?

Living without leptin

This hormone helps tell us we’re full

Focus on cholesterol

Close-up on cholesterol

Cholesterol is a necessary part of all of us

Animation: Cholesterol transport

This animation explores the molecules and mechanisms our bodies use to make sure cholesterol gets to where it is needed.

Fat in organisms

Building supplies

Fat helps give our bodies shape

Go with the flow

Membranes are fatty, fluid barriers

At the cellular level

Fatty membranes separate inside from out

Fat on the brain

We need fats for our nervous system

Storage hunters

Plants use lipids for a variety of functions

Fat as a fuel

Fatty acid primer

Saturated or unsaturated? cis or trans? Get to grips with how the carbon bonds in fatty acids can be arranged with this quick guide

Storing fat

How we make triglycerides – one way that the body stores fat

What’s inside your fat cells?

Inside the world of white, brown and beige fat

Meltdown

How we respire stored triglycerides to release energy

Ethical questions

Ethical aspects of fat: exploring the effects of palm oil use

The pros and cons of the global palm oil market

Ethical aspects of fat: what if we used more biofuels?

Exploring one option to reduce our use of fossil fuels

Ethical aspects of fat: should the UK implement a fat tax?

Denmark tried a fat tax – should the UK?

Ethical aspects of fat: exploring the effects of selective breeding

Looking at the dilemmas produced by selective breeding

Ethical aspects of fat: can people be shamed into losing weight?

Exploring the effects of ‘fat-shaming’

Ethical aspects of fat: who’s to blame if a child is overweight?

Are parents responsible for their child’s weight?

The science behind slimming drugs

Exploring how slimming drugs work, and if they’re safe

Historical aspects

The Peckham Fat Boy

Ross MacFarlane on a big star from the past

A lovely spread

The history and health aspects of butter, marg and other spreads

Chick chick chick chick chicken

Kiri Degon traces the history of chicken in our diets

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices: Marie-Pierre St-Onge

Meet Marie-Pierre, an assistant professor at Columbia University in the USA

Real Voices: Stephan Dombrowski

Meet Stephan, a health psychologist at the University of Stirling

Real Voices: Elaine

Meet Elaine, who lives with a metabolic disorder called Gaucher disease

Activities and lesson ideas

Video experiment: Do we favour fatty foods?

Use the data from our curry-tasting experiment to see if people prefer higher fat foods to lower fat ones

Further resources and activities on fat

More resources related to fat from the Wellcome Trust, producer of ‘Big Picture’

Animation: Cholesterol transport

This animation explores the molecules and mechanisms our bodies use to make sure cholesterol gets to where it is needed.

Fat chance: careers in lipids

Fancy a career working on fat?

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Go Further: A practical guide to extended science projects

Issue 22 | May 2015

Go Further: A practical guide to extended science projects

Have you ever wanted to take an idea a little bit further, or research a topic more deeply? An independent research project could be just the thing for you. We have pulled together lots of advice on how you could do a scientific research project.

Below you can find information on how to do extended science projects and how to conduct them ethically, together with some additional advice for teachers and schools. Our practical guide to extended science projects along with our guidance for both students and teachers on conducting projects ethically are also available in the downloadable resources section as PDFs.

Introducing extended projects

What is an extended project?

Find out what’s involved in this additional qualification

Why do an extended project?

Here are five good reasons to take this qualification on

Why do a STEM extended project?

Researching a topic in science, technology, engineering or maths can help you develop new skills

The university view on extended projects

Don’t just take our word for it

Choosing your topic

Identifying the right idea for your extended project

Start with an open mind, and then narrow the focus

What type of extended project should you do?

Use our flow chart to help you decide whether a dissertation, practical investigation or artefact is right for you

In need of inspiration?

There are many organisations that can help you with your extended project. Here are just a few

Who’s who?

People who can help you with your extended project

Planning a practical project

Step by step

Breaking down the work will make your project manageable

Planning an investigation

Incorporate these steps into your scientific research

Planning an artefact

Incorporate these steps into your design process

The importance of ethics

Consider ethics early and often in your extended project

Handling data

Defining data

Find out about the different ways researchers define data

Qualitative vs quantitative

Learn the difference between the two main types of data

Recording your data

Take a methodical approach

Keeping your data safe

Always have a backup 

Analysing data and drawing conclusions

Looking for significance

Writing up

Reporting your investigation

Explain the work you’ve done to others

Keep a record

Describe the design process

Know your literature

What research has been done before 

Bibliography basics

Keep track of your resources

Personal perspectives

Real Voices interview: Alice

Meet Alice, who is now studying Biological Sciences at university

Real Voices interview: Anita

Meet Anita, who is now studying Biology and German at university

Real Voices interview: Charlotte

Meet Charlotte, who is now studying Pharmacy at university

Real Voices interview: Tal

Meet Tal, who is now studying Aerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies at university

Real Voices interview: Cameron

Meet Cameron, who is now studying at university

Additional advice for teachers and schools

The overall process of an extended project

Key points to consider in your school

Supervising an extended project

A few tips to help you choose your approach

Team projects

Extended projects need not only be for individuals

Resources for extended projects

Ensure your school has what it needs to support these projects

Ethics guidance for students

Introducing ethics

What does working ethically mean?

Ethical frameworks

How to address ethical issues

Ethical research – activities and case studies

Examples of how to implement ethical frameworks into research

Right from the start

What ethical considerations do you need to think about when planning your project

Good plan?

Does your project raise ethical concerns? 

Best-laid plans

Keep thinking ethically throughout your project

Right the way through

How to work with and present other researchers’ work within your project

Right at the end

Discussing ethical issues in your final report

Ethics guidance for teachers

About this ethics resource

How can you and your students best use this resource?

Introducing ethics – teacher notes

What ethical issues do your students need to think about and how can these be addressed?

Ethical frameworks – teacher notes

Ways your students can address ethical issues

Ethical research – teacher notes

Examples of how ethical frameworks are integrated into research

Right from the start – teacher notes

What ethical considerations do your students need to think about when planning their project?

Good plan? – teacher notes

How to adapt projects that raise ethical concerns

Best-laid plans – teacher notes

Ensure your students keep thinking ethically throughout their project

Right the way through – teacher notes

What ethical issues do students need to consider when working with and presenting other researchers’ work?

Right at the end – teacher notes

How your students can integrate ethical issues into their final report

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Space Biology

Issue 22 | June 2015

Space Biology

Big Picture’s first 21 issues have been firmly grounded on planet Earth. Now we’d like to look at an even bigger picture – the universe. Space biology looks at life in space from several perspectives: how it began, where it might be, and the effects of space as a rather extreme habitat. 

Join us on our journey to explore the past, present and future of life in space. Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles below and check out our multimedia content and activities.

How did life begin?

Infographic: Space biology

Our universe in a nutshell? In this infographic, we try to get to grips with some astronomical numbers

Beginnings

How did our planet – and the life on it – get started?

Planetary puzzles

Why is Earth habitable while other planets are not?

Biosignatures

Signs of life on other bodies

Life as we know it

Do we know what we are looking for?

Carbon’s central role

The sixth element on the periodic table supports life as we know it

Origins of life

This article, first published in our ‘Evolution’ issue, asks: how did life on Earth get going?

The possibility of silicon-based life

All life as we know it is carbon-based. But what about life as we don’t know it?

Bodies of evidence

Staying strong

The challenge of keeping fit in space

Out of this world

Long-term low gravity can seriously affect the human body

Radiation

A critical limiting factor for life in space

Radiation in depth

What is the effect of radiation on astronauts? What damage can it do?

Mind games

Much is discussed about space’s physical effects, but what about its mental effects?

Double duty

Twin studies in space

The unusual suspects

Extremophiles in the spotlight

Space innovation

Helping healthcare

The trickle-down, spin-off technology from our exploration of space

Launching vaccines

Future benefits of space exploration

Crystal clear

There are benefits to studying proteins in space

Astronomy and medicine

Looking at the stars could benefit our health, but in surprising ways

Watchful eyes

Space satellites monitor Earth, providing useful data for health research

Farming in space

What are the challenges of creating a food source in space?

Experimentation

Video experiment: Responding to extremes

Our film studies the effect of global warming on the crustacean Daphnia by observing its heart rate when surrounded by different temperatures

Video experiment: Is there life in there?

Watch our film, which touches on the Viking space probes to Mars and involves a practical comparison of sand samples

Video experiment: What’s your limit?

Explore the limits of life on Earth in a practical activity involving yeast exposed to different conditions

Setting up an experiment in space

What modifications need to be made?

Big and small

Grappling with the numbers

Space away from space

How can you re-create these conditions at home?

A short history of space biology

A taster of the biological experiments that have been carried out on the International Space Station

Ethical questions

The case for and against human spaceflight

Should we go into space ourselves or just call the shots from home?

Foreign objects

What might space travel unknowingly introduce to Earth? And what about the other way around?

Genetic selection

Are you born an astronaut? Read our background information and decide for yourself

Is space research worth the cost?

Should we be spending so much money on research in outer space, when there are many worthy projects back on Earth?

Privatising space

Who owns space (and the research done there)?

Historical aspects

A short history of medicine in the stars

A short history of medicine’s relationship with astronomy and astrology

A short history of human space travel

Retrace the steps we took to the stars

A short history of space biology

A taster of the biological experiments that have been carried out on the International Space Station

Activities and lesson ideas

Activity: Relative size

A fun way to think about magnitude and scale

Quiz: Making sense of space

How well do you know life in space? We test your knowledge, from biosignatures to extremophiles

Activity: Location, location, location – space edition

If we want to live on other worlds, where could we go? This activity is useful for younger age groups

More lesson ideas on magnitude and scale

Getting to grips with scale is a major challenge when exploring space biology

Further resources and activities on space biology

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce activities and resources related to space biology

Video experiment: Responding to extremes

Our film studies the effect of global warming on the crustacean Daphnia by observing its heart rate when surrounded by different temperatures

Video experiment: What’s your limit?

Explore the limits of life on Earth in a practical activity involving yeast exposed to different conditions

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Peter Woolman

Meet Peter, who’s studying for a PhD in astrobiology

Real Voices interview: Brigitte Godard

Meet Brigitte, a flight surgeon with the European Space Agency

Real Voices interview: Dasha Ausiannikava

Meet Dasha, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, who studies halophiles

Real Voices interview: Simon Sheridan

Meet Simon, a space scientist working on the Rosetta mission. Find out why his educational journey was a bit “longer than normal”

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Immune System

Issue 21 | January 2015

Pollen allergen

Immune System

The immune system is what keeps us healthy in spite of the many organisms and substances that can do us harm. In this issue, explore how our bodies are designed to prevent potentially harmful objects from getting inside, and what happens when bacteria, viruses, fungi or other foreign organisms or substances breach these barriers.

What’s it all about?

Immune system by numbers infographic

A snapshot of immunity and allergy

Animation: Developing immunological memory

Watch or download our animation, which shows how the levels of antibodies change during the specific (adaptive) immune response

Poster: The immune response

Get to grips with the immune response with our poster, free to download or order

Staying alive

What’s the immune system for?

Know thyself

How does the immune system know you’re you?

Defences down

Different factors can suppress our immune systems

Measured responses

The immune system can overreact

A tale of two diseases

The immune system is involved in both types of diabetes

That’s disgusting!

Disgust helps protect us from disease and illness

Invasion and infection

Know your enemy

Our bodies are homes to millions of organisms

Ways in

Barriers help protect our insides from outside

Going viral

How diseases spread

Second-line defences

The innate immune system gets to work fast

Out of sight

Some infections are with us for life

Cold or flu?

People sometimes confuse these very different viruses

Bacterium and virus images

Microbes are all around us, and some can cause illness or disease. Get up close with some viruses and bacteria in this gallery of nine images

Allergen and parasite images

Browse these 20 images to explore some of things that might get up your nose, into your blood or even make your gut their home

Case study: TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis

The specific immune response

Animation: Developing immunological memory

Watch or download our animation, which shows how the levels of antibodies change during the specific (adaptive) immune response

Getting into specifics

B cells and T cells give us an immunological memory

Present and correct

Antigen recognition is a key part of the immune response

Appliance of antibodies

We can exploit the ability of antibodies to bind to a specific antigen

Antibodies attack

Antibodies are specialised proteins that bind to antigens

Rejection

Organ donation requires a good match between donor and recipient

Immune response component images

Explore the 18 different cells and molecules of the immune system as shown in the Immune System magazine and poster

Building immunity

Long-term protection

There are several different types of immunity

A shot in the arm

Vaccines come in different forms

Outbreak

How can science keep up with Ebola?

Underexposure

Is being exposed to dirt good for you?

Investigating immunotherapy

New therapies are looking to use the immune system directly

Nine facts about pregnancy and the immune system

Why aren’t fetuses rejected? How can pregnancy help certain conditions? How does breastfeeding help the baby? And more...

Swallow your pride

Can parasites help treat autoimmune disease?

Vaccines: how and when are they given?

Rob Reddick explores how vaccines are designed to work most effectively in the body

Vaccines: what’s inside?

What goes into vaccines, and why

Vaccines: how well do they work, and are they safe?

The facts about vaccines

Ethical questions

Vaccination: who decides?

Personal choice and public safety may clash

Organ donation: whose consent?

A potential donor’s wishes may not be known – read through the background information and decide whether you agree with presumed consent

Infectious disease research: what’s allowed?

Keeping deadly viruses secure in the lab

Case study: TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Brittany Elce

Meet Brittany, a sixth-form student who has Crohn’s disease

Real Voices interview: Ann Lee Hussey

Meet Ann, a volunteer with Rotary International working on polio immunisation campaigns

Real Voices interview: Bobby Gaspar

Meet Bobby, a paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital

Video: Living with early-onset arthritis

Meet Charlotte, a young mother with severe rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that attacks an individual’s joints

Historical aspects

The history of vaccination

Jenner, vaccines and Blossom the cow

The history of germ theory

Germ theory and two of the scientists behind it: Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch

The history of blood types

What are blood types, and why are they important?

The history of antibodies

Experiments that led to the discovery of antibodies

The history of the major histocompatibility complex

How we came to discover the MHC

Infectious disease in history images

Get a taste of how infectious diseases and research have been thought about historically with these eight images

Activities and lesson ideas

Guess Which Immune Component! game

Our card game is the perfect way to revise the roles of the different cells and proteins that make up the human immune system

Lesson idea: Design a poster for poo transplants

It might be hard to imagine, but researchers are examining the potential for poo transplants in treating a number of conditions including bacterial gut infections

Immune system by numbers infographic

A snapshot of immunity and allergy

Additional lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Immune System’

Here are more ways to use our issue in the classroom

Further resources and activities on the immune system

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce the following activities and resources related to understanding the immune system

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

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