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.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Part 1 – https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/86966 (3.32 mins)
Part 2 – https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/86968 (3:10 mins)
Original programme URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/95311 (60 mins)
Review by June Adams
Around one third of UK households already buy meat alternatives, and the market is still rising as meat becomes more expensive. Being a versatile, nutritional, and super efficient meat alternative, could Quorn be the food of the future?
In two short sections from the third episode of his series Tomorrow’s Food, comedian turned science presenter Dara Ó Briain walks us through the process.
Production of Quorn starts with a single speck of freeze-dried fungus (Fusarium venenatum), reawakened and grown in a sugar-nutrient solution. In less than a week, it will grow to fill two ten-storey towers with 45 thousand tonnes of mycoprotein. Producing Quorn is ten times more efficient than rearing animals for meat, and contains less than half the calories and fat of beef mince and 78 times less cholesterol.
Turning the raw protein into edible products means further processing to give it the flavour and texture of meat. Freezing changes texture from a dough-like consistency to fibrous, as the ice crystals create fibrous bundles. Ingredients mixed in with Quorn before it is frozen creates the different flavours, and recipes can be tailored to suit the tastes of different countries, making Quorn incredibly versatile.
This clip might be of interest to microbiology or food technology students.
Broadcaster: Channel 4
Length: 3:16 mins
When an infant has an illness that will, in all probabilities, prove fatal their parents face an agonising choice. Do you follow all possible interventions, or do you reach a point where you recognise that it is in the best interests of the child to withdraw treatment?
This dilemma is brought into stark relief by Charlie Gard who, at the time of writing, is the subject of a High Court case at the Royal Courts of Justice. There are several aspects that make this case particularly tricky, and particularly interesting from a medical ethics standpoint.
Charlie was born in August 2016 with a rare mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. He is deaf and blind, it is tricky to know how much pain he is aware of at present. Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital want to move to a regime of palliative care only. A crowdfunding project has raised over a million pounds parents and his parents want to take Charlie to the USA where a doctor is willing to enrol him on a trial of nucleoside bypass therapy, an experimental treatment which has an extremely low probability of alleviating some of his symptoms. He will almost certainly still die.
The case shines a spotlight on different medical culture in the UK and the USA. In the UK doctors tend to take a more cautious approach whereas doctors in America are more willing to try experimental procedures if the patient (or in this case, their parents) want to try and have the money to do so.
For further coverage of the case see: The Guardian and ITV News and a later report from the BBC.
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Length: 6:53 mins
URL full original programme (60 mins): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0B9E458F
Review by June Adams
At the John Innes Centre in Norwich, a genetically modified “supertomato” has been produced which could help make us all healthier. Using genes from snapdragons, Professor Cathie Martin has genetically modified tomatoes to produce anthocyanins, making them appear bright purple. Anthocyanins are pigment compounds naturally produced in many plants, and in our diets are thought to help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. Tomatoes were chosen to host these genes because they are the most consumed fruit in the word, are added as an ingredient to many other foods, and are accessible to people on a low income. Continue reading
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Year: Originally broadcast 2011 (repeated periodically)
Genre: Radio, Documentary, History of Science
URLs: See below for each episode
Review by Eunice Muruako
Dr Geoff Bunn (Manchester Metropolitan University) presents a series of ten 15-minute programmes spanning 5000 years of cultural and scientific progress in understanding how the brain works.
Episode 1: A Hole in the Head (https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/90227)
The series begins with an introduction to one of the earliest forms of brain surgery, trepanation (3.00). Trepanation was the process by which a small piece of skull was cut away to relieve pressure believed to be caused by the build-up of fluid. Bunn explains that, even in the ancient world, connections were being made with how particular areas of the brain affected certain functions. We learn that Egyptian physician, Imhotep, understood that injury to one side of the brain could paralyse limbs on the opposite side (10.38).
Episode 2: The Blood of Gladiators
Various philosophers had conflicting ideas about the role of the brain and its connection to the location of the soul. Aristotle, for example, considered the heart to have primacy over the brain because it was centrally located and developed first in the embryo (9.09). Whereas Galen agreed with Hippocrates that the body was ruled by the brain (12.37). Ailments which were previously attributed to the gods could instead be understood in terms of natural causes affecting the brain. Continue reading
Review by June Adams
In 2011, comedy writer Paul Mayhew-Archer (whose work includes The Vicar of Dibley) became one of about 127,000 people in the UK diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. At that time, he was told to expect “five good years”. Since then laughter, chocolate, medication and exercise classes run for Parkinson’s patients by the English National Ballet have helped keep his spirits up and his symptoms relatively in check. However with those five good years now passed, Paul begins to ask what the coming years may hold for him and his condition.
As you can imagine from the title, this is not a serious scientific documentary – but there are short sections that might prove useful to demonstrate different forms of intervention being used to understand more about Parkinson’s, to treat the symptoms and/or to find a potential cure. With the help of various Departments of Oxford University, Paul investigates:
- Tests for Parkinson’s, including development of a phone app that help doctors with an early diagnosis of the disease (this clip, 1.47 mins)
- Deep brain stimulation for controlling tremors (this clip, 3.30 mins), and
- News of a possible cure involving stem cells (this clip, 1.54 mins).
Along the way, Paul meets other people with Parkinson’s and discovers how everyone’s experience of the disease is different; each has a unique combination of symptoms, some of which are much more troubling than others. As he summarises in closing:
“A philosopher once said, I think it was Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” And Parkinson’s is like a particularly rubbish sort of box of chocolates. Every symptom, every chocolate is particularly disgusting. But some are more disgusting than others. And let’s hope, as I come to the end of my five good years, that I won’t end up with the orange cream.”
Length: 7 mins 17 secs
The growing menace of antibiotic resistance has been the subject of increasing press attention in recent years. In this clip from the BBC’s medical magazine show Trust Me I’m A Doctor surgeon Gabriel Weston investigates a potential alternative to antibiotics, the use of bacteriophage in an approach known as Phage Therapy. This apparently novel approach has actually been the subject of extensive research over many decades in the former Soviet Union, especially in the Republic of Georgia. Patients whose diseases are proving resistance to more traditional Western treatments based on antibiotics are now travelling to the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi to try this alternative. Continue reading
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Genre: Radio magazine
Review by Eunice Muruako
In this 4 minute clip from Inside Science, presenter Adam Rutherford interviews Professor Paul Sharpe from King’s College London about the use of stem cells to regrow damaged dentine. Sharpe and his team have used Tideglusib, a drug originally as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in order to regrow teeth.
Below a thin layer of enamel, there is a thicker layer of another material called dentine. Although enamel cannot be regrown, it is possible to stimulate immature stem cells to become dentine, offering a natural alternative to metal or porcelain fillings.
After the rotten area of the tooth has been drilled out, Sharpe and his team insert a swab impregnated with the drug Tideglusib into the hole. The drug stimulates the Wnt signalling pathway, activating more stem cells. So far the work has been done in mice. In doing so they are taking advantage of the fact that the drug has previously been put through extensive safety trials when being considered as a treatment for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Sharpe hopes this might speed the process to clinical trials for this novel dental application, though even then clinical trials are unlikely to start before 2018 at the earliest.
For further information see this press release from the King’s College website.
New “go for gold” advice from the Food Standards Agency is warning people not to overcook foods such as roast potatoes, chips and toast, as it increases their risk of cancer. The story was widely reported in the press on 23rd January 2017 (e.g. Browned toast and potatoes are ‘potential cancer risk’, say food scientists).
Useful broadcast media coverage includes:
BBC News at One: Is burnt toast a cancer risk?
(2 mins 40)
Channel 4 News: Feeling the burn URL: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/clip/87907
Today (BBC Radio 4): Can overdone toast be a cancer risk?
(4 mins 30)
Concern focuses on acrylamide, a chemical that is naturally produced when starchy foods (particularly those rich the amino acid asparagine, such as potatoes and cereals) are cooked at high temperatures (see Mottram et al and Stadler et al for underlying science, which actually dates from 2002). Continue reading
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.