In June 2016, BBC current affairs programme Panorama conducted a whistle-stop tour around potential applications of CRISPR, the emerging gene editing technology.
In Medicine’s Big Breakthrough… Editing Your Genes (30 mins), Fergus Walsh talks to a number of key players in the field. These include Jennifer Doudna, credited as one of the co-creators of CRISPR as an editing took, George Church who is looking to humanise pig organs to reduce the likelihood of rejection, and Fyodor Urnov (from Sangamo Biosciences) who is trying to use the technology to tackle diseases such as AIDS and haemophilia. Alison van Eenennaam discusses genetic approaches to making horn-less cattle (which, she argues, is more humane than the current methods for removing existing horns). Walsh also visits biohacking entrepreneur Josiah Zayner, and Kathy Niakan from the Crick Institute who has the UK’s first licence to use CRISPR with human embryos.
The video is good at raising ethical as well as scientific questions. I can see this episode either serving as a very nice introduction to the topic, which students could be asked to watch before a face-to-face teaching session, or alternatively one or more of the vignettes could be used as illustrative clip(s) within a lecture.
A transcript of the programme is available via this link.
There are a several introductory videos about CRISPR on YouTube. These include one produced by The Royal Society, available via this link. It starts from quite a low level, and so is probably most applicable for a school audience. A second, longer, video produced by Kurzgesagt (German for “in a nutshell”) is available via this link.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Full original programme URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0B9E458F?bcast=121120092
Review by June Adams
The current worldwide demand for meat is huge, and growing faster than production rates can keep up with. How will we stop our commercial supply of meat from running out?
One way that farmers have tried to tackle the beef shortage is by producing cows that give more meat. Belgian blues are a type of cow that has been specially bred to have 20% more muscle than the average cow, equating to 900 more quarter pounders. They can be reared to weigh up to one tonne! However, the extreme looking breed is controversial and difficult to farm. Belgian blue cows are unable to give birth naturally, and the calves often suffer from joint and heart problems. Is there a way to increase meat production without overburdening livestock?
In this five minute clip from the series Tomorrow’s Food, Professor Mark Post has managed to grow a burger in a lab by extracting stem cells from a tiny piece of meat, which then multiplied for 8 weeks in an incubator to make new muscle tissue. It takes 30 billion cells to make a single burger. The process is faster and may require less energy than rearing a whole cow, but it produces a very small amount of meat that costs a lot; a lab-grown burger costs over $200,000. In order to reduce costs to make the process viable on the market, production would need to be scaled up drastically – Olympic swimming pool sized incubation tanks! With some work, hopefully lab-grown burgers will become cheap enough to be sold commercially in less than 10 years.
World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London (5th August 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23576143
Year: 2016 (originally 2014)
Hand (episode 1) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95314
Foot (episode 2) https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/91909
Review by Eunice Muruako
In two hour-long episodes, presenter George McGavin (Glasgow University) delves beneath the skin to expose the anatomy of the human hand and foot. The series sheds light on the various functions of the hand and foot by identifying the muscles, tendons and ligaments responsible for movement, and how the human anatomy compares with that of other animals.
Episode 1: Hand The dissection of the donor arm begins in the forearm to expose the muscles which give power to the hand for gripping and the tendons which attach each muscle to the bones in the fingers. The surgeon demonstrates how the tendons motion in the hand by tugging on the tendons to cur the fingers. The structure of the hand can be changed with heavy use – the X-ray of a frequent rock climber shows that the cortical bone (the hard outer layer of the skeleton) is thicker than in a non-climber the tendons and pulleys are also thicker, this allows their hands to maintain a firmer grip. Continue reading
Invention or discovery? The case is put that sufficient work needed to be done after Fleming’s observation that the Penicillium mould killed bacteria
This clips (8:50) involves former newsreader Angela Rippon putting the case for antibiotics to be the winner of a poll to identify Britain’s Greatest Invention. She has a vested interest in the choice, having been saved from TB as a child. All other inventions being considered (the jet engine, steam engine, fridge, television, mobile phone and concrete) pale into insignificance, she argues, as you cannot benefit from the other inventions suggested if you are dead. This argument may have prevailed, as antibiotics were declared the winner on the night.
In truth this is not a particularly great clip. The opening gambit that “antibiotics literally kill bacteria” is a simplification and the popular myths surrounding the role played by Alexander Fleming are trotted out. There are, however, two features that might make this worth sharing with students.
The first is the debate over whether antibiotics are a discovery or an invention. This is an example of a broader debate about whether natural products are “invented” (this was also at the heart, for example, of the tensions regarding the legitimacy of patenting human genes). Rippon suggests there was sufficient need to technological innovation for antibiotics to be an invention not a discovery. I would have to concur with this view, especially since the fluoroquinolones, my favourite family of “antibiotics”, are in fact entirely man-made. Continue reading
Broadcaster: BBC News (and BBC 1)
There has been growing concern about antibiotic resistance over recent years. One alternative is to use bacteriophage (phage), viruses that attack bacteria. The idea is not new, it was actively pursued in the former Soviet Union, but is now being investigated in a rigorous way in western countries.
In this 2.5 minute news story, Martha Clokie from the University of Leicester discusses the potential to use freeze-dried phage in place of antibiotics. The initial trials are due to take place with farm pigs.
For more on this story follow this link.
For other programmes on phage therapy follow this link.
Front row, left to right: Keith Fox, Jackie Leach Scully, Tony Juniper, David King, Trevor Stammers, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Jonathan Montgomery, Silvia Camporesi, Virginia Bolton, Ruth Stirton and David Wood. Steve Storey is on the extreme right-hand side of the second row.
Genre: Debate, Factual
On 11th June 2017, the final episode of the BBC’s ethical debate series The Big Questions was given over to a full hour’s discussion on the theme “Is interfering with genes ethical?”
As readers may know, this is an important and timely discussion. The emergence of CRISPR gene editing technology over the past three years has, for the first time, made it feasible to alter genes in situ and raises the potential/spectre (delete as applicable) of genuinely designer babies.
An impressive cast of bioethicists had been assembled to lead the debate (see caption of photo, above). A number of interesting and relevant points were raised. Despite the longer allocation of time, however, there was still a frustrating lack of depth on the topic. The focus was allowed to drift far too wide, embracing cryogenic preservation at one end of the spectrum and GM crops at the other. A moving account of the treatment of Steven Storey with his own stem cells was also not really on topic.
A full transcript of the episode is available via this link
For a list of older episodes of The Big Questions on bioethical themes see this link at our sister site Bioethicsbytes.