Imperial College London

Gene driver flies and quantum finance: News from Imperial

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A fly on a yellow flower

Here's a batch of fresh news and announcements from across Imperial.

From a new way to tackle agricultural pests, to a grant awarded to develop quantum machine learning techniques for finance, here is some quick-read news from across Imperial.

Medfly modifications 

A fly on a yellow flowerResearchers have created the first gene drive for the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly), a global agricultural pest affecting food production. The team was led by Dr Nikolai Windbichler and Dr Angela Meccariello at Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, and included researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

Gene drives are genetic modifications that preferentially spread throughout a species, and which are designed to reduce the population. No gene drives have been released in the wild yet, but versions in malaria-carrying mosquitos have been shown to be highly effective in the lab. 

This success prompted the researchers to look at other pest species that could be susceptible to similar interventions. The team were able to target the process of sex determination in medflies, creating a gene drive that transforms genetic females into fertile but harmless XX males. The proof-of-concept demonstrates how gene drives can be applied to insect pests in the same group as medflies.  

Dr Meccariello said: “Our result demonstrate the untapped potential for gene drives to tackle agricultural pests in an environmentally friendly and economical way.” 

Read the full paper in Nature Communications

Quantum for finance 

A photo that depicts quantum financeDr Lukas Gonon, Professor Jack Jacquier and Dr Christopher Salvi, from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, are part of an Innovate UK grant to develop quantum machine learning techniques for financial data streams. Together with Rigetti Computing and Standard Chartered, they will develop techniques designed to enable financial institutions to process, interpret, and make decisions with complex data streams more effectively.  

Financial institutions need to continuously interpret complex data streams to extract information necessary for providing accurate credit risk evaluation, managing market-making services, and predicting emissions in the context of green finance, among other things. Using ideas from rough paths combining quantum computing with classical machine learning methodology for sequential data could offer more powerful resources for processing financial data streams, given the potential for quantum computers to process some types of information more efficiently than with classical resources alone. 

Dr Salvi said: “Making the software implementation open access is crucial to ensure further development of these tools both in academia and industry. The outcomes of our joint work can help strengthen the UK's efforts in quantum computing research.” 

Read more from Rigetti Computing

Hay there

A woman sneezing with hay feverNew research shows for the first time that measuring airborne allergen levels could help people with hay fever to better control their symptoms. 

Researchers from Imperial and King’s College London collected daily symptom and medication scores from adult participants and daily counts of asthma hospital admissions in London. They measured grass pollen counts, as well as the amount of a grass allergen protein called Phl p 5 in the air.

They found that measuring levels of airborne allergen was more accurate than measuring pollen counts, as each pollen grain can release a different amount of allergen protein each day. There is currently no regular monitoring of allergen levels in the UK or elsewhere. 

First author Dr Elaine Fuertes, from Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute, said the study found that grass allergen (Phl p 5) levels were “more consistently associated with allergic respiratory symptoms than grass pollen counts”.

The research is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

Climate workshop

Two people stand next to eachother.
Credit: Abdul Mustakin

Geraldine Cox, artist in residence at the Department of Physics, recently conducted workshops to help young people understand the climate crisis. 

Young people of Rochdale met at the Neeli Mosque to explore how our planet is changing, and potential solutions to combat this. They created artwork to reflect their learnings and influence people to make a positive impact on the planet.

The students were supported by scientists, artists, activists, and council representatives including from The Grantham Institute at Imperial, Manchester Metropolitan University, York University, Rochdale Council and the Manchester Climate Change Youth Network. 

Geraldine said: “It was wonderful to see such engaged participants. We hope to share the workshop materials and methods widely with faith and non-faith groups alike to create a wave of awareness and action.”

The initiative was funded and supported by the Rochdale Science InitiativeThe UK Science Festivals Network and UKRI. Discoveries and creations will be shared at the May 2024 Rochdale Science Initiative Festival anticipating 3,000 guests. The project was inspired by Brian Eno’s presentation to the Grantham Institute at Imperial emphasising the vital role art and culture can play in helping to tackle the climate crisis.

Japan prize

Professor Brian Hoskins smiles at the camera
Credit: Mike Finn-Kelcey

Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, from The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, has been awarded the ‘2024 Japan Prize in Resources, Energy, the Environment and Social Infrastructure.’

Awarded annually by the Japan Prize Foundation, the prize honours scientists and researchers worldwide for their original and outstanding achievements that have contributed to the peace and prosperity of humankind. 

Professor Hoskins’ award was announced at a ceremony on 23rd January, which was joint with Professor Mike Wallace, from the University of Washington. 

In the joint citation, the two scientists were commended for establishing a scientific foundation for understanding and predicting extreme weather events, with Professor Hoskins focusing on theory and computer modelling and Professor Wallace on results from observational data. The citation noted in particular that their work has led to understanding how weather in one region of the Earth can be affected by the weather in another.

Professor Hoskins said: “I am amazed and delighted by the award and citation, and particularly to share it with my friend and colleague Mike Wallace.”

You can watch the ceremony on Youtube.

All image credit unless otherwise stated: Shutterstock

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Bryony Ravate

Bryony Ravate
Communications Division

Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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Allergy, Food-security, News-in-brief, Research, Quantum, Grantham-people
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