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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.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

19 September 2012 - Week Two!

by Lindsay Goodall - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

N and I were sitting in Time 4 Thai on North Castle Street having a quick catch up lunch. It’s the first time I’d seen her since starting at the Forum, and I was telling her what I’d been up to last week and told her all about the Caryl Churchill play I’d been to see at the Traverse on Tuesday.

It’s about a father and his son, sons, who are clones, and about the son(s) confronting their, his, their, father, and it raises questions about the essence of identity, and the ethics of human cloning, and the discussion afterwards touched on everything from post-Marxist playwriting to medical tourism and the selling of organs; and from science as a commercial enterprise to how much of our genome we share with gorillas; and one audience member raised the question whether scientists should be held morally accountable for the science and technology they create; and then there was also a debate about economics and the right to bear children and then someone made a point about the semantics of the phrase ‘to have children’; and then the archetypal mad scientist who cloned Dolly the Sheep claimed that she’s not really a clone after all, just a genomic copy.
I concluded by telling N that it’s a really well-known play and when it premiered 10 years ago it even starred Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig.
“Mmmm, I’d like to clone Daniel Craig” replied N before biting into a crispy vegetable spring roll.

Peter Arnott, playwright in residence at The Forum, directed the rehearsed reading of A Number and was kind enough to do an on-camera interview with me in between rehearsals. The video will be on the Forum website soon along with some highlights from the Q&A.


The latest edition of TheGen hit my desk hot off the press last Wednesday morning. This edition includes an article which focuses on the journey over the last decade since the Genomics Network was formed, as well as exploring current work and up to date events. One area I’m keen to research further as part of my residency is how far the life sciences have come in the past 10 years – what were the expectations and promises back then and what has been achieved and delivered? What are the societal implications of what scientists now know and understand? And how has the Forum managed to generate debates about society and genomics out with the scientific world? And, of course, what does the future hold?
As the Network celebrates 10 years and the Forum prepares to come to an end in spring next year, these are questions which will become increasingly pertinent over the next few months. In November life scientists and social scientists will consider some of these issues at a symposium in Paris, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of the symposium.


Chris Berry dropped into the ‘residency office’ the other day, and we had a great chat about epigenetics. (Did I just write that? Three weeks ago I didn’t know what epigenetics was). Chris was telling me about Dr Paul Shiels who spoke at a Genomics Forum event at the Book Festival, covering his research on “the Glasgow effect” – the hypothesis that there is a genetic link between deprivation and ill health, which could explain why Glasgow has such a poor health record.

As a resident (though not a native) of Bridgeton in the East End of Glasgow, where life expectancy for men is around 53 years, I wanted to know more, so started to do a bit of research. I find it astounding that the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas of Greater Glasgow is reportedly as much as 28 years, and that compared with the rest of Scotland, Glasgow residents have a 92% higher risk of anxiety and are nearly one and a half times as likely to have a heart attack.

If external factors such as poverty, deprivation and stress can influence genetic code, and thus change the genetic code of generations to come, what are the impacts of this government’s policies during recession? Will the Commonwealth 2014 Legacy Framework which aims to improve health, provide better housing and reduce poverty in Glasgow have its own influence on the genetic code? How long does it take before improvements in health, housing and social standards are reflected in our genes? Should I move to the West End for the sake of my future children’s genes?

Epigenetics and “the Glasgow effect” are definitely areas I’d like to look at in more detail, and hope during my residency I will have the chance to speak to some of the academics working in this field.

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