Genetic diversity in potatoes (Earthrise)

The International Potato Centre collect and store tubers and other specimens in an earthquake-proof archive

The International Potato Centre collect and store tubers and other specimens in an earthquake-proof archive

Broadcaster: Al Jazeera

Year: 2015

Genre: Factual

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/290901

Since potatoes were first taken to Europe from Peru by the Spanish, they have become a staple food for large parts of the world. However agricultural practices in the recent past have tended to make crops rather inbred. This 8:37 clip from the Earthrise series shows the combination of modern science and old knowledge to reinvigorate the genetic diversity of potatoes.

Peru is home to the International Potato Centre (CIP). Scientists collaborate with indigenous farmers (the “Potato Guardians”) high in the Andes who provide tubers from wild variants. In return the centre provides them with new genetic varieties to field test; a process they term “repatriation”.

The centre stores dried tubers and potato berries collected by the farmers. In so doing they hope to be prepared for any future environmental difficulties, for example an anticipated shortage of water. Over 7000 samples with desirable traits are archived to preserve the diversity that may prove essential for future generations.

This clip would be of interest to students on botany or agricuture courses. There are sections with subtitles and no audio translation so this might limit potential uses.

DNP: A mitochondrial “uncoupler”

Ella Parry died after buying 2,4-DNP on the internet

Broadcaster: ITV 1

Year: 2015

Genre: News, Factual

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/290674

This 5 minute piece from the ITV news describes the tragic death of a student. Eloise Parry took slimming pills she had bought on the internet. Unfortunately the tablets in question contained 2,4-dinitrophenol (sometimes called “DNP”). DNP is a mitochondrial uncoupler; it is capable of inhibiting mitochondrial ATP synthesis without inhibiting any specific factor within the electron transport chain (ETC). It appear to do so by binding protons directly and, due to it being lipid soluble, simply carries them across the membrane, causing collapse of the proton motive force.

DNP was investigated as a slimming pill in the 1930s, but was banned for human consumption for exactly the reasons highlighted by this tragedy. Sadly Eloise’s death is not an isolated event; there have been previous UK deaths linked to DNP in the recent past (see this NHS Choices article for details).

As well as serving as a warning to students who might be tempted to try these pills, this incident might also fit illustrate the importance of maintaining the PMF in the context of a biochemistry lecture on mitochondria and the ETC. For more details see these pages at Rice University on mitochondrial poisons and this Wikipedia entry.

There is also a two minute BBC News version of this story (this link) and a second, longer interview with Eloise’s mum on the Victoria Derbyshire show via this link.

The story also received further coverage at the time of the inquest into Eloise’s death (see this clip)

Should I test my genes?

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis is a crucial element to tackling many of the genetic diseases covered in this programme

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis is a crucial element to tackling many of the genetic diseases covered in this programme

Broadcaster: BBC 2

Year: 2011

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/265684

Review by Amy Evans

As we uncover more about our genome, the more we are identifying genes associated with different diseases. In this excellent hour-long documentary Should I test  my genes: the price of life? film-maker Adam Wishart meets several people who may (or may not) have a genetic predisposition to a range of different conditions. Although the documentary does not go into much detail about the underlying molecular genetics of the diseases covered, this is a good programme to watch for anyone doing genetics modules that cover human genetics and/or any bioethics modules.

The broad range of topics covered include (with timings for useful clips):

Throughout the documentary, Wishart not only talks to families affected by the various genetic diseases, but also adds his own personal experience. For example, he has to decide if he wants to undergo genetics after his mother, and many other members of his family, had been affected by cancer. Continue reading

Life, Energy and Thermal vents (Start the Week)

radioBroadcaster: BBC Radio 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Radio, Discussion

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/290214

This episode of the regular Radio 4 programme Start the Week (45 mins) has an unusually biological focus. The studio guests are all authors of books or poems about biological matters.

  • Nick Lane (UCL) is author of several popular science books, including Life Ascending and the new The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? Amongst other things, he discusses the importance of singular event – eukaryotic cell engulfing bacteria cell that became mitochondria – in the development of complex life.
  • Helen Scales has a particular interest in molluscs. She discusses their versatility and offers insights into organisms that live on hydrothermal vents. Her second book Spirals in Time (about shells) is published shortly.
  • Luke Rendell (St Andrews) is author of The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins. He discusses the social life of ocean going mammals.
  • Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has had a poem about seahorses commissioned by London Zoo. He notes that they are often killed accidentally, but are also sought after by practitioners of alternative medicines. They also, it is noted, have the “bad luck of looking beautiful when dead”.

The programme finishes with an interesting brief discussion on the importance of language use in science, particularly the attractions and danger of metaphor. Metaphor can bring to life notions that it is hard for people to follow (Lane notes that most biochemistry, for example, is too small to see). and science. Motion acknowledges the inherent tension in marrying the language of hard science with lyric poetry, which Shelley had observed is “vitally metaphoric”. Even the fact that we term a group of whales a “school” is value-laden. The suggestion is made that there is a “sweet spot” in the appropriate use of metaphor such that it adds value without becoming a limit to enquiry.

This is not a programme that you would want to sit a class down to listen to together, but it would be a valuable 45 minutes for A level or undergraduate students interested in science communication.

Vaccination Wars (Unreported World)

Some papers have run campaigns calling for a boycott of polio vaccine

Some papers have run campaigns calling for a boycott of polio vaccine

Broadcaster: Channel 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/289825

In most countries of the world, polio has been tamed by effective vaccination. The disease is only endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. This 24 minute programme looks at the activities of the vaccination teams in Pakistan who continue in their drive to immunise the nation’s children. In 2011 the CIA pretended to be a vaccination team to search for Osama Bin Laden, and this is one factor contributing to growing resistance. Lies about the manufacture and harmful side effects of the vaccine are pedalled. The Taliban vociferously oppose the vaccination programme and some of the team have been murdered (four were shot during the time the programme was being filmed).

In the face of these threats, the vaccineers have had to adapt their methods – including boarding trains as they wait for a few minutes at a station with the hope of vaccinating all children aboard. This in itself may not be enough, children need at least five doses of the vaccine to be protected, but they will treat who they can, when they can.

In other drives, the team go house-to-house, including in areas where there is open hostility. For this they receive pay of £1.50 per day. Frequently their offers to vaccinate children are rejected.

An interesting ethical quandary occurs 12 minutes into the episode. Finding some children home in the absence of their parents, the team go in and give the vaccine to a baby before trying, unsuccessfully, to bribe another boy to come out of hiding under a sofa to receive treatment. Continue reading

The £10 Million Challenge (Horizon)

Following a public vote, the money was eventually awarded to the battle against antibiotic resistance

Following a public vote, the money was eventually awarded to the battle against antibiotic resistance

Broadcaster: BBC 2

Year: 2014

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/283788

Review by Lorna McCall

Although 2014 may have been the first time many people had heard of it, the Longitude Prize is not new. In fact it was the combination of the 300th anniversary of the prize and the 50th anniversary of the Horizon TV programme that led to this highly publicised competition to find a worthy winner of £10 million pounds to make a significant impact in tackling one of six key problems: antibiotic resistance, paralysis, malnutrition, carbon emission from jet engines, inadequate supply of fresh water and living with dementia.

This summary focuses on the four most biologically-related topics. Each section is available as a specific clip (click on subheadings below for links).

Antibiotics (7.5 minute segment, starting at 05:28)

The first area of research discussed in the programme relates to appropriate use of antibiotics (see this link for clip). The rise of antibiotic resistance over the years means that 5000 patients in the UK already die every year due to treatment being ineffective. It is important to have antibiotics in order to prevent small infections becoming deadly; or to prevent infection in the first instance for example during routine surgeries. Continue reading

The Private Life of Plants

Britain's most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants

Britain’s most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2013 & 2014 (originally shown 1995)

Genre: Documentary

The classic six-part series featuring David Attenborough – no notes yet, please feel free to offer recommendations for teaching using these programmes.

Episodes (50 mins each)

  1. Travelling http://bobnational.net/record/253535
  2. Growing http://bobnational.net/record/253536
  3. Flowering http://bobnational.net/record/289579
  4. The Social Struggle http://bobnational.net/record/289580
  5. Living Together http://bobnational.net/record/289581
  6. Surviving http://bobnational.net/record/289582

 

3D Bio-printing

This programme focused on the emerging potential for 3D printing of organic material

This programme focused on the emerging potential for 3D printing of organic material

Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4

Year: 2015

Genre: Radio, Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/287864

Howard Stableford anchors this 30 minute documentary on the growing applications of 3D printing to bioscience.

As long ago as 2005, a bald eagle had a damaged beak repaired using 3D printing. Stableford talks to a team who are working on a 3D printed seawall and reef structures, that has nooks and crannies suitable for various organisms to live, in a way that is not possible with more typical engineered materials. It is like producing a city for the anticipated biolife likely to live in that area. The reefs have a natural appearance and replacing existing areas lost in previous developments. It may be possible to adapt existing processes to work with living tissue.

Bio-printing involves material that incorporate “viable living cells”. This is not about printing tissue directly, but is more an extension of existing tissue engineering approaches, in which cells are persuaded to develop into tissues. A temporary scaffold is used to direct the required shape. Currently a “soup” of cell suspension is introduced into a scaffold. 3D Bio-printing would incorporate cells into a scaffold in new orientations, rather than actually printing a tissue. The question is posed whether parallel advances in 3D printing and DNA manipulation techniques, might allow us to reach a point where we could print an organism.

Of course this would be far from trivial. If you knew the entire internal 3D layout of an organism you might be able to print this. This is unlikely. Making an egg instead, provided with the relevant genetic information and nutrients would be more feasible but even this is a long way off.

The strength of this programme is the enthusiasm for those willing to push boundaries, to see what is possible with these emerging technologies. However, although the programme overall was thought-provoking episode, floating possibilities, there was little solid content. In that sense it was rather reminiscent of an old episode of Tomorrow’s World, which – of course – Stableford also used to present.

Partial nephrectomy using robotic technology with firefly imaging (The Cure)

Tissue still receiving blood flow fluoresces green due to the "firefly" dye - this allows contrast against other tissue (in this case a tumour)

Tissue still receiving blood flow fluoresces green due to the “firefly” dye – this allows contrast against other tissue (in this case a tumour)

Broadcaster: Al Jazeera

Year: 2014 (repeat)

Genre: Factual

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/262956

In this 11 minute segment from Al Jazeera’s medical science programme The Cure, presenter Rafik Bedair investigated the use of novel technologies to reduce the amount of tissue removed from patients with kidney cancer. Since we have two kidneys, the traditional response to discovery of a tumour in a kidney has been to remove the whole thing (total nephrectomy).

There are several significant downsides to total nephrectomy, including a long recovery time, a large scar and increased risk of subsequent kidney issues now the patient is operating off one kidney not two.

Continue reading