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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, 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.

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