Watson and Crick discuss whether to tell Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin about their research
(originally broadcast 1987 on BBC2)
In the late 1980s, Horizon, the BBC’s flagship science series, took the unusual step of producing a feature length retelling of the events of 1951-52 leading to James Watson and Francis Crick solving the structure of DNA.
Inspired by Watson’s memoir The Double Helix, and with a screenplay by William Nicholson (who later went on to write the script for Gladiator), the production starred Jeff Goldblum as Watson, Tim Pigott-Smith as Crick and Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind Franklin.
A colleague recommends that students watch this on their own as a “flipped teaching” exercise prior to more academic sessions on DNA structure.
The film is known in the USA as “The race for the double helix” and is listed on IMDB under that name. The most recent transmission of this programme pre-dates Box of Broadcasts, and this copy is uploaded from a VHS copy. In consequence, the quality is sub-optimal, but clear enough.
Broadcaster: NHK World
(originally broadcast Aug 2015)
Review by June Adams
This short clip from the English-speaking Japanese channel announces the introduction of a regulatory body for genetic testing in Japan. Establishment of The Council for Protection of Individual Genetic Information (CPIGI) was prompted by a number of concerns. For example, companies offering tests Direct-to Consumer (DTC) genetic testing have not necessarily given sufficient diligence to the security of private genetic information, or to the interpretation of the results. This is especially true for diseases that result from the interaction of multiple gene products as well as the influence of environment on expression of those genes (so called GxE interactions). The clips cites diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease as examples where a correlation with a particular allele at a particular gene may be hard to quantify.
The CPIGI, which launched in Oct 2015 (after the initial broadcast of this episode) is an umbrella group for 25 companies and offers a checklist of over 200 items intended to enhance trust between genetic test providers and clients. This includes the importance of genetic counselling. The launch of CPIGI has been controversial (e.g. see here), especially regarding the lack of consultation.
See this post for details of clips from Newsnight and BBC Breakfast in 2014, regarding the UK launch of DTC genetic service 23andMe.
Reviewed by Emma Sterling
“They might be cute but the mess some dogs leave behind is unpleasant and can also be dangerous. That’s why Barking and Dagenham council in East London are doing this: encouraging dog owners to register their pets’ DNA.”
It may sound like a joke, but this clip from BBC Breakfast (6 minutes) covers the story on the latest plans by the East London Borough of Barking & Dagenham to combat the problem of dog mess on the streets. Aside from being unsightly, dog faeces on the street pose a health risk, mainly to young children, who could contract toxocariasis by unintentionally ingesting roundworm parasites after touching mud laced with faeces. Barking and Dagenham spend approximately £2.3million a year cleaning up dog excrement and, in times of austerity, it is increasingly important that this sum is reduced by encouraging people to pick up after their pets.
The borough have partnered with PooPrints®, a company specialising in the genetic analysis of dog waste to give residents the opportunity to have their dog’s DNA stored on a database. This would be of potential benefit to registering owners to allow them to identify their dog if it is lost or stolen. Most importantly, in the context of the story, it will eliminate their pet in inquiries into the identity of any dog whose faeces have been left in the street. If the owner is found, they will be sent a warning letter. If there is a second offense, then they will be fined £80. At the moment, the service is voluntary which could be a problem as some may be unwilling to potentially incriminate themselves. However, the service is free for the first 1,000 dogs, which could provide an incentive, and the suggestion is made that it might be factored into future rent agreements in order to be granted permission to use the local parks. Continue reading
Swaziland has declared the current TB epidemic a national emergency
Broadcaster: BBC 4
Reviewed by Emma Sterling
“It’s very difficult to cure XDR because we’re just giving what we have on the table. The reality of XDR is that it’s almost incurable.”
(WARNING: Distressing content): BBC 4’s long-format (90 minute) documentary TB: Return of the Plague, reports on the fight against tuberculosis (TB) in Swaziland, the country with the highest rate of infection in the world. Continue reading
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Review by Emma Sterling
“Circadian rhythms are a biological version of a clock inside humans and all other animals, plants and quite possibly in almost every living cell…These rhythms are a response to the most predictable condition of life on earth, that is, dark at night and bright during the day.”
“Circadian rhythms are one of the best examples of how genes relate to behaviour.”
In this episode of his series In Our Time (41 minutes), Melvyn Bragg talks with Professors Russell Foster, Debra Skene and Steve Jones about circadian rhythms, what they are and how they affect behaviour in humans and other organisms.
The programme includes a brief explanation about the subcellular process involved in circadian rhythms. In humans this takes place in what is described as the ‘master pacemaker’, formally known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). This is a group of 50,000 cells located in the hypothalamus that are essential for producing the rhythm. Approximately 12-14 genes and their protein products are involved in the molecular feedback loop with an oscillation of approximately 24 hrs. In some individuals these oscillations are slightly longer, in others slightly less. These differences can affect whether that person is a morning or evening person. Other factors that can affect these oscillations include polymorphisms in the genes that control this process, and external factors such as food, drink and caffeine but none of the aforementioned are as important as light. Continue reading
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
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Review by Amy Evans
This episode of the Radio 4 series Inside Science, presented by Adam Rutherford, offers some useful insights into the Y chromosome, and might be helpful when revising. The 6 minute clip tells you all the basic facts that outline sex determination in humans in a short amount of time.
In the segment, Rutherford interviews Henrik Kaessmann from Heidelberg, lead author on two newly published Nature papers on the evolution of the Y chromosome (see Origins and functional evolution of Y chromosomes across mammals and Mammalian Y chromosomes retain widely expressed dosage-sensitive regulators.
The Y chromosome’s primary purpose is to override the default sex setting, which is female, since it carries the SRY gene. According to Kaessmann, the Y chromosome (and also the X chromosome) were originally autosomes (i.e. ordinary chromosome of which we have two copies) and evolved to become sex chromosomes. This limited role explains why the Y chromosome is ‘losing’ genes; because it only needs to retain the genes needed in sex determination and other male specific functions. Despite this, Kaessmann suggests that the Y chromosome has actually been stable for 25 million years and this ‘decaying’ of the Y chromosome is actually the Y chromosome evolving. As well as male-specific genes it has been shown that the Y chromosome also retains some regulatory genes. The exact function of these genes is presently unknown, but they seem to be essential in processes other than development.
After talking about the Y chromosome the rest of the programme (which can be found at this link) also covers information on avalanches, aphids, lichens and the longitude problems.