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.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Thanks from Granny Sandie!

by Sandie Robb, Senior Education Officer - Discovery & Learning, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

When Naomi first contacted me to work with her on a Scratch Pantomime with children in Edinburgh, I was very excited by the idea but I must admit I didn't quite know what it would involve or how successful it would be. I also didn't know I would end up as Granny, so keeping in character here are a few words from Granny Sandie:

"Well me dearies, it still amazes me that after only a few hours the children performed from scratch such a good show. At the start all I wanted was a bit of piece and quiet, a little afternoon nap on my chair with my blanket keeping me nice and warm but I was awoken by 13 excitable children! And very glad I was too as it was a delight to join them on stage." 

The following Friday the children visited Edinburgh Zoo. The afternoon started with a handling session featuring some of our smaller animals including an African royal python. The children learnt about vertebrates and invertebrates and about body coverings from fur, feathers, to skin and scales. Then a visit to two of our most popular animals Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the giant pandas, including learning about the importance of breeding programmes. We also visited our Budongo Trail, the chimpanzee enclosure and then up to the big cats with many other animals on route.

Back in our Education Centre, it was wonderful to hear how much information about endangered animals, the story of the Mauritius kestrel and their experiences of the panto that the children had retained from the previous week.

It was a delight to work with these children and despite the fact that in normal circumstances I would prefer to be considered younger than my years, I am actually proud to be remembered by them as Granny Sandie!

I have to thank all those involved and especially Naomi - a great idea and a great medium to deliver our message. I also hope to repeat the project with other youth groups.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The stories have been told. Ann Lingard

by Ann Lingard - Novelist, journalist, former ESRC Genomics Forum Visiting Research Fellow

Two hundred people had booked tickets for our "Tell them our stories" event in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre! Why so many? Someone commented that people have always been fascinated by the exhibits in the Surgeons' Hall Museum; it has long been one of the City's 'must-see' places, and indeed, the Tansey & Mekie 'History of the Museum' (1978) refers to a time when 'Visitors of the lower classes, mechanics, sailors and soldiers have uniformly been quiet, careful and most orderly…visitors of the lower classes seem to take more interest in the specimens than those of the higher, many of whom, especially ladies, merely walk through the rooms without looking at the objects particularly.'

The programme included me talking about my background research on some of the exhibits, and reading extracts from my partly fictionalised stories of the 'donors'; poet and novelist Diana Hendry talking about her work as Writer in Residence at Dumfries Infirmary, and how she had come to write a poem about the Museum's 'Man with Three Legs'; and Andrew Connell, the Museum's Collections Manager, talking – in front of a background of constantly changing images from the Collection – about new uses for the Collection.

So the three of us represented a broad range of interests in the exhibits, perhaps appealing to a mix of medical historians, poets, writers, ethicists and scientists.

Monday, 18 February 2013

What an exciting week!

by Naomi Webster, Education and Interpretation Officer, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
and Genomics Forum Bright Ideas Fellow

I knew that I had set myself a challenge in trying to put together a scratch pantomime with a conservation message and our preliminary discussions with LYT- Discover and North Edinburgh Arts highlighted complications I hadn’t considered such potentially low literacy rates. So I rapidly threw my draft script out of the window and realised that the children’s parts would definitely need to be improvised during the rehearsals but we might be able to use an adult narrator to keep the story on track – in case their creativity headed off somewhere unexpected! 

Friday lunchtime rapidly approached and we headed out to North Edinburgh Arts Centre to see how many children would be taking part. Having had my expectations set rather low, we were thrilled when 13 children turned up – the lure of a trip to Edinburgh Zoo having proved a great incentive! And it was a great excuse to work with Sandie – Senior Education Officer at RZSS – and a not-so-secret panto enthusiast like me!

Having kicked off with some evaluation to get an idea of the children’s baseline knowledge, Sandie and I were excited to discover that the children’s knowledge was actually higher than we expected. A recent school project on rainforests and regular viewing of Deadly 60 being two sources they mentioned! Despite this prior knowledge, the children quickly got into the swing of the games, learning all about the layers of the forest, physically illustrating Gerald Durrell’s cobweb quote “The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider’s web. If you touch one thread, you send shudders through all the rest. People are not just touching the web, we are ripping great big holes in it.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Any improvements on 1.5million?

by Cameron Duguid - Documentary Filmmaker in Residence

I really can’t quite believe that the 5 months is all but up! 3 days a week really doesn’t seem enough to digest even a tiny portion of the diverse research done within the Genomics Forum.

Lindsay and I have been conducting some very interesting interviews, ranging in subject (amongst many other things) from implantable defibrillators and whether we are our DNA with Gill Haddow, to innovation in agriculture and interdisciplinary research with Ann Bruce… So many interesting topics, but also, as always, so much potential for heading off on any number of tangents!

Alongside filming with Lindsay, watching back and digesting interviews, I have still been getting stuck in to trying to animate the chemical world. My original idea for trying to model proteins and DNA more accurately has been compromised a little, I’ve realised a balance needs to be met between accurate representation (as far as this is possible!) and some simplification for clarity! Feel like I keep talking about trying not to stray away from the complexity, yet, paradoxically, the only way to understand and appreciate scale and complexity is through simplification. And after cutting out many wee molecules, I must admit the idea of simplification does prove a little appealing!

I quite often get caught up with calculations while trying to work out interesting comparisons. I think continually dealing with gigabyte files has made it really hard to grasp the shear size of these numbers. I was trying to get a handle on this recently by imagining how many of these Commodore PET ‘2001’ 4K computers from ’77 it would take to hold a Human Genome. Now, I could well have gone wildly wrong somewhere, but I made it about 1½ Million, but as I say, I could quite easily have gone awry. I’m going to have to check some of the figures with some more reliable minds! Any improvements on 1.5million?