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.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Behind the scenes..

by Cameron Duguid - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

'Topographies of the Genome' - Deborah Robinson
Well, how time flies with so much is going on- I’m a good few steps behind with this!

After a hectic 3 day trip to Lancaster, Cardiff and Exeter my mind is buzzing. A wide range of enlightening and thought provoking meetings, and a great chance to see sequencing in action. I’ll write more on our trip once my flitting thoughts have settled a little!

Over the previous weeks it has been inspiring to talk with and attend seminars by Deborah Robinson with interesting ideas on engaging with science in art. Of huge relevance to me as I feel that, having started off at art college, I have moved away from the open artistic projects I worked on in college, towards more conventional documentary making and science communication- less critical and not drawing in an abstracted ways from science and scientists. I have a tendency to get caught up in trying to find ways to illustrate molecular goings on, rather than outwardly observing.

I've visited a few labs in different countries, and have definitely subconsciously assessed their cleanliness (Lausanne- super clean: closer to home- possibly less so! Although I may have been influenced by bad decor and a lack sparkling stainless steel) However, actually thinking of the dust under a lab machine as a subject for art, as with Deborah's Genomic Dirt project I find really inspiring. That kind of more divergent thinking is really interesting, and in no small way part of a picture of the daily life of scientists.

Labs are often thought of as clean and sterile places. However from my experience, with a lot of work being done in offices and enclosed whirring machines, away from extractor hoods, the idea of dust creeping in really seems to tune in with the everyday work of scientists. From my experience the repetitive and somewhat mundane nature of some aspects of lab work has been apparent, I always find the fastidious work of scientists really impressive.

In a small way there are parallels with my work as an animator. People quite often think of it as being a little more exciting than it is! I’m not knocking it, as it’s always exciting and worth it for seeing the results, however the reality of the more monotonous aspects are that it can be a bit taxing on patience and my back!

The area where it really differs though, is that with every frame click, I am on the way to getting a result, be it 1/25 of a second, or if I have more of a time constraint I can take it down to maybe 12 frames a second. I may not quite know how it will turn out, but I do know there will be clear result easily measured in time. I’m very interested personally in how scientists keep engaged with their work when a lot is hypothetical and timescales not that clear.

Outwardly, science can often appear to move in leaps and bounds, with the fastidious work behind the scenes a bit obscured by the way it is presented in the media. With so many pulls between funding and the need for showing the potential, how do you gauge the potentials against the degree of promise, and how much is driven by funding and the hype machine? And how do you balance the ethical concerns of the work against these promises? So many complicated interconnected relationships and ethical questions that I’ve often thought about, but also often pushed to the back my mind.

One image that always sticks in my mind is being shown an incredibly complicated and expensive machine looking for cells in the pancreas which may have the potential for regeneration. I was told it had been running for many years, almost consistently. It is able to sort through thousands of cells every second, isolating certain cells with certain proteins detected by a laser. These cells could be of great importance to diabetes research as they may show potential in replacing the Pancreatic cells lost in Type1 diabetes. Once and if they are isolated there would be so much more work to be done in growing and investigating these cells. Just when does a machine like that get turned off? With so much ‘what if’, it does seem a bit like stopping your lottery numbers- but with no clear odds.

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