University of Reading Research Blog

Coronavirus: why we’re using llamas to help fight the pandemic

The search is on for effective treatments to combat the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Given the lengthy development process for vaccines, one major immediate priority is the development of selective antibodies that can neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19. And a particularly exciting new advance is the recent development of “nanobody” technology.

Nanobodies are smaller, more stable types of antibody taken from the immune systems of camelid species – such as llamas, alpacas and camels – that could be more effective at fighting disease. A recent report confirmed that llama nanobodies could neutralise the SARS and MERS viruses and could also be engineered to fight SARS-CoV-2.

Fifi the llama is among those providing blood samples for COVID-19 research. 


The untapped value in upcycled food by-products

Every year about 30% of the total food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted both at food supply chain and consumption level, corresponding to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes. Fruit and vegetable loss represents the wasting of food as a commodity, but production also includes wasting of important resources such as land, water, fertilisers, chemicals, energy, and labour. Dr Simona Grasso from the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, talks about what needs to change to encourage more novel ways of producing nutritious sustainable food.


Is racism and bigotry in our DNA?

As part of The Conversation‘s ‘Life’s Big Questions’ series, Tom Oliver, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and author of ‘the Self Delusion’ explains why humans, although fundamentally cooperative, need to work collaboratively across borders to address racism and bigotry and overcome the global challenges of the 21st century. The article was first published in The Conversation in April 2020.

montage of images of peoples faces


What future do airlines have?

As announcements of redundancies in the airline industry continue, Jorge Guira, Associate Professor in Law and Finance, and colleagues from the Universities of Southampton and Cranfield, outline the scale of the challenges facing airlines today.

Empty chairs in airport lounge


Advanced cyclone forecasting is leading to early action – and it’s saving thousands of lives

On May 18, a massive tropical cyclone with sustained winds of nearly 150 miles per hour was barrelling across the Bay of Bengal towards the low-lying coasts of East India and Bangladesh. Here Professor Hannah Cloke, OBE, explains the importance of predictive models in reducing the impacts on people caught in the path of such supercyclonic storms.

cyclone Amphan Google Earth


Improving the effectiveness of COVID-19 Testing

There is a pressing need to develop accurate and safe COVID-19 antibody tests that can be conducted at home. Following the recent launch of a fundraising and volunteering campaign Dr Al Edwards, School of Pharmacy, talks about what an antibody test is and why it is vitally important to ensure they can be used safely and effectively at home in order to beat COVID-19.


Tackling the economic and social challenges caused by COVID-19

Our health service is battling to save lives everyday as medical researchers work with pharmaceutical companies to try and find a vaccine for COVID-19. The virus is also having an enormous impact on everyone’s daily lives regardless of whether they contract the disease and there are many worrying consequences of a world in lockdown that need to be investigated. What for example, are the long-term effects of social distancing and staying at home?



Peru’s war on drugs is an abject failure – here’s what it can learn from Bolivia

When Peruvian government forces began eradicating coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, without warning in a remote corner of Peru’s principal coca growing region last November, they were met by growers armed with sticks and rocks. The security forces backing the eradication brigades responded by firing bullets and tear gas, seriously wounding five farmers.


New Life Sciences Building – a guided tour

We have seen considerable growth in our Life Sciences research and teaching in recent years and the new Health and Life Sciences building, due to open in autumn 2020, is purpose-built to accommodate this. The move into the building will bring about closer integration of the School of Biological Sciences, consolidating the School from five separate buildings into one. Along with teaching labs and seminar rooms, research labs and write-up areas, the building will also include a state-of-the-art Bio-Resource Unit, a new home for the Cole Museum of Zoology and its collections, a café and social space.


Why children need to play with their friends as soon as they can

Approximately 1.4 billion children worldwide are currently living under partial or full lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, and in many other countries across the world, it has been six weeks or longer since children last played, in person, with a friend. Initial data collected as part of my ongoing research shows that 63% of British parents already perceived their child (aged five to 11 years) to be feeling lonely in the first few weeks of lockdown. We estimate that this is an increase of around 40-50% compared to normal levels. Lockdown is putting children’s mental health at risk.

When lockdown is lifted, children should be allowed to play with their friends as soon as possible. In the meantime, technology provides some ways for children to connect with their peers.

Schools should encourage play when lockdown is lifted. Image by manseok Kim from Pixabay