Welcome to the Genomics Forum blog

Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

E. coli blues in Manchester

by Steph Wright - Genomics Forum Events Manager 

On Thursday 30th August I took a wee trip down to Manchester to play with some E.coli, all in the name of events research. When I say ‘play’, I mean partake in some citizen biology, or DIY Bio for those in the know. It’s all the rage these days in the US and increasingly so round the rest of the world. The playground was Manchester’s MadLab’s new hackspace and the gamesmaker (topical I know) was their DIY Bio group led by Asa Calow, a computer scientist by day, an amateur biologist by night. The session was titled Self-cloning Bacteria (AKA genetic modification for beginners) and it basically involved genetically modifying E. coli and if successful, it would turn bits of the agar plate blue.

“What on earth is DIY Bio?” I hear you cry so let me tell you a bit about it. It’s a movement that originated in the US and it’s a form of citizen science i.e. science carried out by amateur scientists or in some cases, non-scientists. Do It Yourself Biology has been made possible by the reduction in costs of lab equipment in the last decade and its origins is very much in line with hacker culture  (not the malevolent hacker that the media has portrayed, but more the geeky finding-out- how-stuff-works-under-the-cover hacker). DIY Bio is about anyone and everyone practising biology outwith a professional laboratory whether it’s in a garage or hackspace (communal workshop space). Why would people do this? It could be for fun, as a hobby, for the pursuit of scientific knowledge or a chance for people to pursue biology outwith academic or professional institutions.  For more information about the movement, check out www.diybio.org

5th Sept 2012 – day 2 as a Forum Filmmaker-in-residence

by Lindsay Goodall - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

I was filming an interview with Victoria Wood yesterday so wasn’t at EGN, but Cameron was in and attended the team meeting and found out about some of the events which are coming up, and about some of the people who are going to be visiting over the next few months. Not wanting to miss out on anything I decided to spend the morning diarising the meetings, events and workshops which I want to attend.

I started off on the EGN forum ‘events page’. There is so much going on, from a workshop about Convergent (Bio) Technologies to an evening reception celebrating the work of Gengage; and of course the Innogen 10th Anniversary Celebration in Edinburgh would clash with a discussion on Whole Genome Sequencing in Medical Practice in Cardiff!

From the EGN website I followed links to the Human Genome Organisation, ESRC Festival of Social Science, Café Scientifique, What Scientists Read and many more sites with events in Edinburgh and beyond.

My diary is now looking very full and healthy and I can’t wait to get stuck in. A whole new scientific world is opening up to me and it is very exciting. I feel the door to the academic part of my brain, which has been mostly shut since graduating from my Masters in Visual Anthropology in 2005, is slowly creaking open and I am re-learning to read sentences containing words such as ‘hegemony’ and ‘heuristic’ and ‘interdisciplinarity’.

3rd Sept 2012 – First day as a Forum Filmmaker in Residence

by Lindsay Goodall - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

Today I started as Documentary Filmmaker in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Forum. I was so thrilled to be offered this post – I even came out of the interview last week buzzing with what I’d learned and full of curiosity at the world around me. I was also really excited that Forum had decided to appoint two filmmakers, and so today I would meet my new filmmaking colleague, the animator Cameron Duguid

Cameron and I spent most of the morning talking about our past work, what we hope to do in this role, the people we both know, and how to approach the residency. We then got stuck in to our research. I started with The Gen – the ESRC Genomics Network’s newsletter – and a brand new notebook in which to take notes.

The first note I wrote was “social and ethical consequences”. I need to keep this at the forefront of my mind whenever I am reading, researching and chatting to EGN colleagues about their work.

As an anthropologist I do not need to learn about the technicalities of the science, but want to look at the people and communities that the science affects and what implications this has for the world around us.

There are so many common assumptions about the life sciences, and genomics in particular, that as a filmmaker there is a vast opportunity to enter into some very heated, topical and pertinent debates where the science clashes with real life humans, and tempers can flare, issues are contested and conflicts arise. This is one of the reasons why I really wanted to undertake this role.

Filmmakers in Residence – Week One of the Journey

by Cameron Duguid - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

After a bit of orientation, learning the ways of the coffee machine, trying to cement names in my cloudy brain, it was time to get settled into the office! Not quite sure if I’ve ever properly had one of those. After reading the first sentences from the handful of copies of The Gen I had been given, Lindsay, my fellow filmmaking resident arrived. With a fair bit of ‘so do you know?’, and ‘…ah, so you went to school with so and so!’ it was then on to- ‘now just what is this thing called genomics?’ What do you know about it? Nearly everyone I’ve told about my new position has returned a slightly quizzical face, and to be fair, I’ve been returning that face straight back.

I had heard word that the Forum would be wrapping up in May 2013, and with this there would obviously be a lot of loose end tying and what not to be done. However, sitting in on a monthly team meeting, there seemed to be a long line of events, conferences, workshops, visiting fellows- definitely no dwindling down to be done!