Broadcaster: Radio 4
Genre: Conversation about science and working as a scientist
Duration: 28 minutes
and on iPlayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09rxr3t
The Life Scientific is a regular series on Radio 4, in which Physicist Jim Al-Khalili (and regular media contributor) talks to other leading scientists about their work. It is always an interesting listen because it peels away the false impression that science is a coldly calculated process to reveal some of the human experience involved in conducting research.
In February 2018, Prof Al-Khalili spoke with clinical geneticist Sir John Burn about his life and work. Prof Burn manages to juggle a number of roles; he is Professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University, where he combines basic science research at the Life Science Centre, a ground-breaking research institute he co-founded, with clinical work at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He is also the Genetics Lead for the UK National Institute of Health Research and chairs spin-out company QuantuMDx, which is developing bedside DNA testing kits that could offer diagnosis in a matter of minutes.
There were many aspects of this episode that make listening to it half an hour well spent for any student of molecular bioscience. In particular, the programme gives a beautiful insight into the impact that genetics and DNA sequencing is playing in contemporary medicine (and the bigger role yet to come). Burn has been a pioneer of genetic testing in medicine and an enthusiast for benefits of routine genomic testing to facilitate personalised medicine (see, for example, his 2013 British Medical Journal article Should we sequence everyone’s genome? Yes). Continue reading
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
Research led by Roy Kishony uses a “morbidostat” to deliberately develop antibiotic resistant bacteria
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Josh Sutton
Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is currently one of the largest problems facing modern medicine. The rise in cases of multiple drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are only the best-known examples of a wider issue. In this Horizon documentary from 2012, the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance is covered, as well as reflections on the new treatments and drugs that scientists are developing to combat the growing resistance threat.
The importance of antibiotic resistance is immediately highlighted in the programme, with the story of a soldier put into a critical condition after his legs were blown off. His perilous state was actually due to an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria he went on to develop: MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. This infection could only be treated with antibiotics of last resort, which were toxic to both the bacteria and the soldier himself. Continue reading
One sperm sample from a chosen bull might be used to father as many as 500 daughters
Broadcaster: BBC 1
This is a seven-minute clip from a “heroes of farming” special episode of Countryfile. This section looks at the importance of selective breeding of animals in agriculture. It looks back to Robert Bakewell, pioneer of the deliberate mating of selected livestock to breed in certain traits, and follows it all the way through to the contemporary applications. These include the potential of using modern electronic tags to make more scientifically-informed decisions about which animals are actually growing best, and cutting-edge genomic breeding. In the latter, male calves have their DNA analysed when they are a day old, so that their genes likely to improve yields of milk production in daughter cows can be checked. Sperm from bulls considered the best can then be collected and used in breeding programmes right around the world. The clip includes the amazing, and slightly disturbing, statistic that “Corinthian”, not yet two years old, has fathered about 10,000 daughters.
Hayley Francies from the Sanger explains to Channel 4 reporter Tom Clark how the organoids are a more realistic tool for cancer research than typical monolayer cells
Broadcaster: Channel 4
This 3.2 minute clip from Channel 4 looks at the use of organoids. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have, for the first time, grown tumours from 20 different colon cancer patients using matrigel to encourage the cells to form 3D “miniorgans” rather than growing in a monolayer as is more typical for cultured cells. Each organoid is different, reflecting the genetic errors in the donor, effectively a copy of the individual patients cancer grown in the lab. As a result a collection of tissues suitable for screening of existing and new drugs have been generated which may help both to select the most suitable drug for a given patient but also to improve our understanding of the cancers.
Sophie has cystic fibrosis. Gene therapy might free her from a rigorous daily routine
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Amy Evans
“Picture a world where cancer was cured by a packet of pills”. Miracle cure, an episode of the BBC Horizon series, looks at the promises and hopes to come following the sequencing of the human genome and how, a decade on from the initial publication of the complete sequence, the information gained from the mammoth effort has been helpful. This is a good program for anyone interested in the human genome project, the growing “genomics” field and bioethics.
This program follows three people, each with a different genetic condition, in order to find what genomic might mean for them; Sophie has cystic fibrosis, Emma had cancer and Tom is an alcoholic. It is interesting that they included addictions, such as alcoholism, since this is a more controversial condition, which not many people would think as having a genetic component.
A strength of this programme is the emphasis placed on the interaction of these genes with the environment in developing these conditions. On the down side, they don’t mention epigenetics which would have be interesting (I suspect if it was made now, they would have included this). They also do not go into much detail about the specific genetics of the conditions. However the key topics covered are is given but it covers key topics:
Gene therapy: http://bobnational.net/record/291933 (16 minutes; this clip is spliced from three sections on gene therapy). It is interesting to hear how well the gene therapy trials progressed after the release of the human genome sequence and this section touches on the ethics of ‘playing God’ in gene therapy. Sophie meets Rhys Evans who was an early recipient of gene therapy for CF. She also visits scientists looking at gene delivery.
For more information on gene therapy and cystic fibrosis follow this link. Continue reading
Samples from children with rare diseases and their families are sent to the Sanger Institute for genomic analysis
Genre: Factual, Magazine Show
This 5 minute piece from BBC One’s flagship magazine show (3rd December 2014) looks at the role being played by genomics and supercomputing to reveal the underlying basis of rare diseases. The Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD) project targets illnesses with an unknown cause. The section takes the example of Freya who has a range of symptoms including developmental delay and albinism. She and her family are having their DNA examined to see if the genetic mutation(s) responsible can be be identified. Freya is pictured at home using the DNA swab in her mouth to collect her genetic material which is then sent to the Sanger Centre in Cambridgeshire for analysis. So far, over 1000 children have taken part in the research and for about a third the genetic basis of their condition has been determined.