So here’s my third video to the mini series, introducing the idea of genetic engineering in a way that hopefully won’t sound as scary as some people might find the idea.
Genetic engineering is a wonderful tool allowing us to take genes from a human and put them into bacteria. Because every organism’s genetic code is made up of the same As, Gs, Cs and Ts the bacteria can interpret the genes and make the protein products we need. Also, because bacteria are so small and multiply so often, we can have a bacteria factory making things like insulin that we can use to treat people.
I was able to have a go at genetic engineering at university to make bacteria produce a blood thinner and the fact that a whole class of 3rd year students could do this successfully without ever trying the technique before is incredible and shows how far we’ve come in using genetic tools to treat medical conditions successfully.
What’s also great is that the protein made from the gene is a human version, not a bacterial version, as the original gene is from humans. This cuts out a whole number of potential problems!
So have a look at my video and let me know what you think!
A quick additional note: if you do download the adobe voice app, they’ve selected my second video in the series as part of their inspiration feed on the homepage of the app! So you’ll be able to see that within the app as an example video!
This is the second video in my back to basics series, this time introducing the idea of genes being regulated differently in different cells. There’s more to it then just off or on but the concept is fundamental, especially in developmental biology (my broader field of work).
This time round with the video I decided to try and use the images that are readily available to any user to see how far I could stretch the app to my needs, and I think it worked out quite well for a non-specialised app!
Have a watch and let me know what you think. The video still stays along the ks4 science curriculum guidelines so hopefully it can be a useful resource.
Unfortunately this is quite a delayed post so I’d like to apologise for that but suddenly things got very busy around here…
I took part in the I’m a scientist competition from 10th March until my eviction on the 18th (sad to say I didn’t win!). I will start with this – I was not prepared for the sheer onslaught of questions, hard questions from the kids. I took part in a handful of live chats and I’m pretty sure I’ve worn down a few letters on my keyboard! Continue reading I’m a Scientist, get me out of here!→
Well it looks like the end of February/the beginning of March is one hectic time! Not only am I in the process of preparing libraries of 288 DNA samples to be sequenced, I’ve now been chosen to take part in ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here!’.
For the 10th-21st March, http://www.imascientist.org.uk will be hosting live chats between scientists like me and full classrooms of school pupils who can ask just about anything! It is technically an X factor-style competition between us scientists, who will be voted out one by one after the first week (by the students!) to leave a winner in each zone grabbing £500 to spend on a public engagement project. In addition to the live chats, there will be the opportunity for students to post questions to be answered whenever we can (as soon as possible seems to be key!).
I can be found in the ‘Extreme size zone’ which makes me feel like I have a lot of physics to brush up on!
It just so happens that national science and engineering week falls on the 14-23 March so hopefully there should be a lot of interest from schools (and pass the message on to teachers who can sign up classes for the event!). What I love about the idea behind this event is that it really puts us scientists on the spot. It often seems like when something is complicated we will brush over it to students and pupils in order to not have to think properly how to explain it. Well for these weeks there will be no hiding from questions, we will be judged and I have no doubt that I’m the words ‘I honestly don’t know’ will be coming out of my mouth at many points!
I am so looking forward to this and hopefully have some of my lab supporting me (bearing in mind our bioinformatician is an astrophysicist at heart!) and fingers crossed I’ll make it to the end to claim the prize money (which just so you all know, I will be spending on a sensory science learning resource for pupils with special educational needs or austism spectrum disorders that prevent them accessing the mainstream curriculum).
This year the RI Christmas lectures are titled ‘Life Fantastic’ and, much to my excitement, are focussing on ideas embedded in development. The three lectures will be broadcast on BBC4 at 8pm on 28, 29 and 30 December. They’ll be presented by Dr Alison Woollard from Oxford University who is a lecturer there as well as being involved in C. elegans (these things) development research. Her research and interests focus on fate determination of cells in development – a fancy way of saying how one cell of an embryo becomes part of your eye while the other becomes part of your gut etc. Needless to say I’m sure her enthusiasm for the subject, knowledge and lecturing experience will result in an interesting Christmas Lecture series.
So what are the Christmas Lectures? For anyone that hasn’t been shown them as a child or found them as they run out of Christmas labelled TV shows to watch the idea of watching a lecture in the festive season may seem odd. Well they’re aimed at ‘young people’ although that’s a bit general as the whole family can sit down and watch it. Parents will learn something just as their children will, although grown ups are also more likely to talk over sections to try and reassure everyone in the room that they know other stuff too. However with a target of ‘young people’ it does mean they try and make the lectures super fun and exciting (see last year’s focus on blowing things ups, making big bangs and large flames…). They lectures have been put on since 1825 (only skipping the second world war years) and some of the past videos can be found online here.
The lectures have 3 titles: Where do I come from? Am I a mutant? Could I live forever? More information on the three (and everything to do with the Christmas Lectures) can be found here. Now I like to talk for England and no doubt I’ll make my family watch the lectures then hope they’ll ask me questions as the ‘in-house expert’ but if there’s anything you might question as a result of the lectures and you don’t have an uber keen PhD student sat with you there is salvation! “I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here” is an outreach type website and organisation who are running an ‘ask a scientist’ online question and answer session throughout January which you can sign up individually or teachers can set up classroom sessions to engage a whole class. Find out everything you want to know and how to take part here.
Watch the lectures, learn something new, get excited about science and development (I am slightly biased in saying this is the best part of science…) and then ask questions! What more do you want for a public engagement activity?!
Ok, so this is very much a fun post for kids (or easily amused adults like myself). With Halloween fast approaching there’s a lot of ways you can combine geeky science knowledge with the celebrations. This is a great example of a simple, little known fact that makes everything seem ultra cool – tonic water fluoresces under UV light. The only slight hold back is you need to get hold of a UV light somewhere…
I guess this post is also an opportunity for me to say how important it is to get kids excited and intrigued by science and a lot of the time that won’t happen through the national curriculum. I know my love of science came from watching TV shows like CSI, How, Scrapheap Challenge and Braniac. Now all of those shows together make me sound like the biggest geek in the world but a lot of people not interested in science would watch those shows, it just so happened that as I was a child my mind was clearly heavily influenced by them and with an inquisitive personality science became my goal. The best my science classes had to offer me was burning wotsits and prawn crackers to learn about energy. It didn’t quite cut it. So I managed to convince my mum to get me a chemistry kit, however with no one to guide me, teach me and explain why the two liquids I was mixing smelt really bad it was never really fulfilling enough.
The one person I can say truly inspired me into a science career and seemed to understand my thirst for knowledge was my Grandad Derek. To me he seemed to know everything. He bought me a game from a carboot sale that, without me realising until he’d let me explore it for a few months, taught me binary. He let me ‘help’ him fix the electrics in his flat and explained how resistance, current and voltage were all interlinked. He taught me odds, probabilities and ratios to help me gamble…! Although his expertise and our interactions were mostly derived from physics and maths and I’m now in systems biology, he helped me stay interested in science when a lot of the stuff at school was putting me off. With luck, I managed to get a few better teachers along the way that inspired me to continue my interest however I always felt they were stifled by the national curriculum (an issue that is one of many teachers and I’m sure I’ll be speaking about their plight soon) but it was the science I learnt outside of school that really inspired me.
And so that is why I’m really sharing this link. This Halloween, everyone should make glowing jelly. Everyone should understand why the jelly glows. Everyone should show their kids and the children in their family this magical glowing jelly and explain that cool things like this are from science, not magic, and therefore science can be cool – although this may need a few more examples to convince some, but glowing jelly is a good place to start!