The specialist “embryo flushing” team can implant up to 1500 surrogates in a year.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Documentary, Magazine
A seven-minute clip from the popular BBC rural affairs programme Countryfile, looking at “embryo flushing” a modern IVF-based method that is replacing traditional selective breeding on many farms.
Embryos are removed from a pedigree cow using a saline flush and she is later fertilised by a bull in the traditional manner. The quality of the harvested embryos can be examined at the on-farm laboratory and the best placed into other non-pedigree cows. In this way it becomes possible for the cow with desirable characteristics to be the biological mother of perhaps six calves at one time. As the technique gains in popularity, the specialist can transfer as many as 1500 embryos in a year.
Other applications of this approach include being able to breed using the best genetic stock from around the world, and allowing for deep freezing of embryos as a safeguard against some catastrophic outbreak. The approach was recently used to re-introduce 100 long-horn cattle into Australia.
Why should sterile termites work so hard for the good of the colony?
Broadcaster: BBC 4
Review by Will Channell
What Darwin Didn’t Know (90 mins) is a BBC Four documentary presented by Armand Marie Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology at Imperial College, London. The 90 minute show looks at how over the past 150 years ‘Darwinian evolution’ has become a bedrock of evolutionary biology, despite changing rather dramatically since Darwin’s original theories in On the Origin of the Species.
The programme has two dimensions; a look back to Darwin and the origins of his theory, and then at the application of the revised theory in contemporary research. The programme manages to introduce complex topics and demonstrate them in ways any viewer can understand. The content is applicable up to and including undergraduates. Continue reading
The first film in the re-launched franchise is rich in ethical dilemmas
Broadcaster: Film 4
Year: 2014 (cinema release 2011)
Genre: Film, Fiction, Science Fiction
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the first of the re-launched film series (followed by the vastly inferior Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). The film is a veritable feast of bioethics issues. To find out more please take a visit to our sister site Bioethicsbytes (follow this link). The IMDb page for the film can be found via this link.
More details about the potential uses of this film for teaching can be found at Bioethicsbytes
Selective breeding of foxes over the past 50 years has been used to produce foxes that are especially tame, and especially aggressive
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)
This 8.5 minute clip is taken from Horizon: The Secret Life of Dogs and gives an overview of a long-term breeding experiment of Silver foxes in Siberia. The clip demonstrates some of the extraordinary changes that simple selective breeding (in this case for non-aggression) can make over a few generations and as such provides a model of how domestication may have taken place. It also highlights some of the side effects of this breeding programme (e.g. colour changes) which show remarkable similarity to some domestic dog characteristics.
As well as natural section I also teach artificial selection. There are a number of discussion points that can potentially come out of the clip. Firstly the power of simple selective breeding and that not all changes are due to GM! Secondly it illustrates that these genes are already in the population. As some foetuses were swapped reference can also be made to the nature v nurture argument. I think it also could be used to in ethical discussions.
WARNING: There is a word of caution, however, as the foxes are kept in conditions people may find distressing.
The programme gives a fascinating insight into the different dilemmas facing children with severe immunological problems
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Genre: Reality TV, Documentary, Fly on the wall
Review by: Prof John Bryant (University of Exeter)
“In this area of medicine, nothing is risk-free
If I were to say what mistakes we had made over the years, it would always be that we have gone too far. We should have stopped earlier. We have added to the suffering of this child and family. But …”
Great Ormond Street is the flagship London hospital for paediatrics. It has been the focus for a long-term “fly on the wall” series. In this moving and sometimes upsetting episode Fix My Genes (Season 3, episode 1, 1 hour duration) we are introduced to three children who were born with inherited conditions that affect their immune systems. In all three, the conditions are, to different extents, life-limiting.
Sibling donation: Herb is a lively five-year-old who needs a bone marrow transplant due to a rare genetic disorder, NEMO. Without it, he is ‘unlikely to reach his second decade.’ His six-year-old brother Rufus is a perfect match and their parents give consent for Rufus to donate bone marrow to save his brother. They are warned that with Herb’s condition there is a 10% chance of mortality. In this instance everything goes well and we see the happy outcome of the procedure, albeit that Herb was in hospital for several weeks before being allowed to go home. I note that we also meet Herb’s sister Lily, who, rather strangely, has started to show symptoms at the age of ten. She may at some time in the future need a transplant but certainly not for the present. Finding a matched donor would be an issue here. Continue reading
Model of an iron lung to explain to a child with polio what would be happening to them: “It looked like a coffin, and it effectively was a coffin. Three-quarters of people put into this died in the machine”
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Lorna McCall
In this documentary former BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders presents a fascinating and engaging documentary on polio. The programme looks into the development of an effective vaccine during the 20th century. The impetus for this project was spurred on by the global epidemic of polio which was paralysing and killing many children. Flanders has a personal interest since her father Michael – half of the music hall double-act Flanders and Swann – was wheelchair bound for more than 30 years of his life as a consequence of infection with the poliomyelitis virus during WWII. He died from polio-related complications when she was only six. Continue reading
Formal and informal research into the effects of electrical stimuli on brain function are being conducted
Broadcaster: Sky News
This is a short package (4 mins) from the Sky News breakfast show Sunrise. A reporter visits Andrew Vladimirov, described as part of a growing British community of brain hackers. Vladimirov uses a variety of techniques in an attempt to stimulate his brain function. As he points, the methods are used as part of various therapeutic programmes; he is looking to use the same approaches to achieve personal enhancement.
A second interview is conducted with Camilla Nord from UCL. She carries out research into transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) as a potential treatment for depression. Although she believes there may be some truth to the claims regarding brain hacking, she does caution against “playing with electricity at home”. Neither commercial nor home-made kits are currently subject to any UK regulation.
Notice that the side of the chameleon nearest the sun goes dark, whilst the other side is white
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Reviewed by Dr Steve Maw (University of Leeds)
This short clip (1 min 20 seconds) taken from the BBC series Life features the Namaqua Chameleon. At first sight a chameleon is an odd creature to find in the desert and that’s exactly the point. The clip is a good visual example of how species are adapted to their environment and here the chameleon’s colour-changing ability is used to good effect.
I use this clip within a more general discussion of homeostasis and so the Namaqua Chameleon is one example in series of behavioural, physiological and physical adaptions to maintain body temperature (the Warm up – Marine Iguana is another one I use). So I ask questions like ‘why is the chameleon black in the morning and grey later on in the day?’ which leads on to some physics and further discussion of external regulation of body temperature.