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
Broadcaster: BBC1 & Sky News
Genre: News package
Should you complete a course of antibiotics or stop taking them as soon as you feel better? Received wisdom, and current policy, is that you ought to continue the course to ensure that the bacteria causing the problem have been eliminated. However, a new paper The antibiotic course has had its day in the British Medical Journal argues that there is no evidence base for the existing practice and, given the known correlation between exposure to antibiotics and the development of resistance, we ought – as a bare minimum – to be conducting appropriately-controlled trials to examine the impacts (good or bad) of recommending shorter treatment regimes.
The paper received a variety of coverage in both the print and broadcast media. The two links here are to discussion of the work on the BBC Six O’clock News (1, 2.2 mins) and Sky News (2, 2.4 mins). Both clips have their own merits, but if you want to pick one then, on this occasion, I’d go with the Sky News clip. Both packages include historical footage of Alexander Fleming, but the Sky piece has more thorough explanation of the arguments.
For further coverage see my Journal of the Left-Handed Biochemist post on the paper, and this article from the Daily Telegraph.
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