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

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!

A key part, after 10 years, would be the assessment of the work done in that time, the actual outcomes compared with the original expectations, and to what extent the expectations shaped the outcomes... What with the final EGN conference, the commemorative edition of The Gen, and so much more, it was looking like a busy time ahead. The diversity of the work done within the network was sharply evident, trying to jot down and decipher acronyms while grasping their research area proved a little challenging, especially with my scruffy writing. So many interesting topics and areas to investigate, from defence biotech & bio-security, to the genetics of scent/sweat and attraction!

Having worked on films about stem cells, I feel like I have a grasp on some of the science, but as an animator it’s quite easy to get caught up in the chemical/physical processes, and how to represent them, the proteins, the DNA/RNA, the workings of the cell... Not looking further into the actual implications of the genome, all of these curled up strands of information packed with potential in each cell. Where do you draw a line between the proteins that make us and the DNA that MAKES us? When did genetics become genomics, if – indeed - it did at all? After reading many more articles, the one the sticks in my mind is pretty much the first- Genes and Responsibility, regarding whether genetic traits associated with violent behaviour can be taken into consideration when sentencing. My mind is a bit blown by this, and I am reminded of back when I did try and read some philosophy, and Sartre saying something about being monstrously free. Just when do we emerge out of the chemical soup, mobilised proteins and stuff, and become self-conscious creatures, and just where does responsibility lay?

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