These goats have been genetically engineered to produce spider silk in their milk
This excellent episode from the 2012 series of the BBC science programme Horizon looks at the emerging field of synthetic biology. Presenter Adam Rutherford conducts a tour round some of the key developments:
- Transgenic goats that produce silk protein in their milk;
- “Synthia” the bacteria assembled from an emptied cell and DNA ordered over the internet;
- Specially constructed gene modules known as “Biobricks” and the associated international genetically engineered machines (iGEM) competition;
- Biodiesel production;
- DIY biology (“Biohacking”);
- Nanotube biocapsules; and
- Synthetic neurobiology.
There is a longer post about the ethical aspects of this episode on the sister-blog Bioethicsbytes. Summary notes, with timings, are here.
GSK have an automated system for retrieving any of the millions of compounds in their chemical archive
Genre: Factual, Documentary
An hour-long episode of the BBC’s flagship science series Horizon about the development of pharmaceutical drugs. The programme looks at prescription medicines and also at non-prescription use of drugs such as Ritalin and Modafinil for cognitive enhancement (Warning: the episode involves footage demonstrating the best-known physiological effect of Viagra).
I have used a 3 minute clip from this episode which demonstrated the robot used by GlaxoSmithKline to access the archive of over 2 million chemical compounds which get screened to try and find a lead compound to interact with a new target. Just a handful will make it through to tests in humans.
Transplant of olfactory ensheathing cells from the olfactory bulb into a man’s own spine allowed reconnection between his brain and his lower limbs
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Factual, News
In October 2014 research described as “more impressive than man walking on the moon” was published. Stem cells from Darek Fidyka’s olfactory bulbs (from the top of the nose) were used to repair damage to his spinal cord, reconnecting his brain with his lower extremities. A one-hour Panorama special looked in detail at what had been achieved. The coverage was notable for the balance in which the magnitude of the breakthrough was tempered by realism about the fact that, to date, this is just one patient and there is a need to see this replicated by different researchers in different labs.
A number of other news programmes covered the story on the same day. These include:
- Channel 4 News John Snow starts this 10 minute piece by stating that it is not often that you can report a truly remarkable breakthrough. In addition to coverage of the main story it also contains a very interesting studio interview with two women who are themselves wheelchair users following earlier accidents. Neither is certain that from their current vantage point they would want to undergo this treatment and argue for better recognition of disabled people in our society http://bobnational.net/record/251814
- BBC News at 10 This clip (6 mins) includes a package that summarises the key issues, plus a separate piece featuring Daniel Nicholls, whose father David funded some of the breakthrough research and an interview with Geoffrey Raisman who emphasised that the work was still at an early stage http://bobnational.net/record/251812
- ITV News A 3 minute summary of the story and an in-studio interview with Geoff Raisman and David Nicholls http://bobnational.net/record/251874
The BBC news website also has a written version of the story Paralysed man walks again after cell transplant (including links to a short video clip)
Through happenstance Sylvia believed she knew who had received her donor eggs. Would they want to make contact?
In 1991 Sylvia made an anonymous donation of eggs at the London Fertility Centre. A chance observation in a newspaper allowed her to identify the recipient of her egg, thanks to a newspaper article. The programme (50 mins) follows Sylvia as she makes contact with the woman and her twin children. It also tells the story of Sylvia’s own son Eliott, who was himself conceived with donated sperm.
A repeat of this programme broadcast on the channel Really in 2013 is also available.
Cancer medicines that are not approved for use in Wales are available to patients in England – an example of the “postcode lottery”
Broadcaster: BBC1 (London)
Genre: Factual, News magazine
The term “postcode lottery” emerges from the fact that access to particular drugs and treatments can vary depending upon where you live. In the clip (8 mins 25), Annie moved from Wales to live with her daughter in London to be eligible to receive the anti-cancer drug Avastin. Another woman, Rose, is still living in Wales but relies on using up her pension pot and fundraising by friends in order to receive Avastin privately.
Apple and Facebook have announced provision of egg storage as part of a package for female workers
Genre: Factual, News
This package from Newsnight (6 minutes) discusses the proposal by technology companies Apple and Facebook to pay for egg freezing as an inducement to encourage more women to join or stay with the company.
Other news programmes also covered the story (e.g. BBC News at Ten). The story was also reported as a text-based web story.