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, 21 November 2012

IB3 at The Revolution will be Bio-Based

Blog by Paul Dalgarno, IB3 at Heriot Watt University

It was a great privilege for myself and my colleagues from the Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering (IB3) and the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology (CMBB) to take part in the ESRC “The Revolution will be Bio-Based” public exhibition on Saturday 10 November. As a research led institute our work at Heriot-Watt University is based on asking, and occasionally answering, fundamental questions on biology and marine conversation. However, this event allowed us, and the visitors, to explore some of the wider reaching aspects of our work and the impact it has had, or may have, on economics, culture and society in general.

The IB3 team are at the forefront of inter-disciplinary research in cell biology, using genes from fluorescent marine organisms, such as the luminescence sea anemone on display, to probe proteins inside living cells. By combining this state-of-the-art cell biology with input from physicists, mathematician and engineers we push the limits of cellular imaging and microscopy. Our exhibition demonstrated the huge impact that fluorescence proteins and gene technology has had on modern biological science, an impact that cannot be underestimated. It led to the 2008 Chemistry Nobel price and a global industry which is now at the heart of modern biological science. It was a pleasure to discuss with the public the underlying science, importance and the role fluorescence has had on our research and biological science in general.

Our exhibition, generously supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC), and Leica Microsytems, who provided a state-of-the art fluorescence microscope for public demonstration, was split into three sections. First researchers from CMBB had the living example of a naturally fluorescent sea anemone sourced from local Fife waters. Along with a touch tank of local marine life (starfish, crabs and shrimps) this display highlighted the importance of cold water marine conservation. The fluorescent microscope provided by Leica allowed members of the public to look at fluorescently labeled cancer cells, which proved to be very popular. Finally custom-made exhibits explained bio-fluorescence and the physics behind 3-dimensional imaging techniques being developed in IB3. Together these displays took members of the public from marine biology to optical physics in three short steps.

IB3 and CMBB regularly take part in public outreach activities, which are essential so that scientists can get out of the lab and explain what they do to the public, who in many cases fund this type of research. However this event offered much more than the typical demonstrations: by encouraging us to discuss with the public the role our research has had, or may have, economically and culturally. It was a true pleasure to engage with interested members from the public, from all backgrounds and ages. All the volunteers greatly enjoyed the experience but more importantly the public seemed to enjoy the day.

The event was a great success and we would like to thank the organizers, the visitors, the other exhibitors and the speakers for making this so and we look forward to seeing you at our next outreach event.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

In-Vitro meat - Gauging the yuck factor...

by Cameron Duguid - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

Our research trip was fascinating, with a spectrum of interesting topics discussed, it seems a shame to inadequately summarise the whole thing.

After talking with Neil Stephens and watching his talk on in-vitro meat, for me, the argument for its development has only become more complex, with many grey areas adding to this. For example- how do you gauge the yuck factor? With food being such a subjective area, it will definitely be influenced by being figuratively and literally a matter of taste. Personally there are many things that contribute to the ickyness, however, I’m only going to focus on one, partly because it’s the one thing/phrase that has stuck in my mind, but also, it’s for just that reason that it’s important. After 3 days of information overload, with such complex interconnected topics, phrases and acronyms can easily be glossed over, even if they are of great importance.

Fetal Bovine Serum

It has been proposed that this month, at a date that seems to be pretty closely guarded, the first in-vitro burger will be eaten. The cells to be formed into a burger, as with most lab-grown animal cells, are currently grown on Fetal Bovine Serum. Possibilities in using a type of algae as a growing medium have been proposed. At present cells are often sensitive to differences between batches of FBS, a transition can be made mixing some of the present serum with the new serum as an intermediary stage. However, if this small transition is sensitive, then the extension to growing on algae seems a bit of a leap.

To obtain ‘FBS’ there is a need for extensively farmed cows, as only a proportion will happen to be pregnant at the time of slaughter. So the current techniques in cell culture don’t seem too harmonious with both the animal welfare/meat alternative side, and environmental concerns with land use, water and gas emissions.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Blogger’s Block

by Lindsay Goodall - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

I have been a bit blocked recently when I’ve tried to write my blog. I think it’s because I’ve been so busy over the past few weeks. I’ve been to a convergence workshop, a STIS seminar on Syngenta, the Innogen coffee morning, a Changing World lecture, an anthropology seminar on sperm banks in China, I’ve been reading a lot and trying to participate as much as possible. Now the challenge is to wade through all this new-found information to find some clarity and focus. Yet the more I discover the more I need to know, and the research phase of my residency could easily continue exponentially. I sympathise with the scientists working on the ENCODE Project. How do you know when to stop searching for new information and start to process the raw data?

While carrying out my research, I’ve become as fascinated by academia as I am with all things genomics, and surprisingly I’ve realised there are so many similarities between university life and the film and TV industry. For example, there is the constant pressure to seek funding, produce new work and keep on top of new developments and technology; the uncertainty about where your next project or commission will come from or where it will be based; there is a need to network and make contacts both locally and internationally; and there are lots of opportunities to travel and work with new partners and collaborators.