Biology in Action Trip to UCL

London F18

On December 7, a group of MPW A-Level students who are all passionate about biology attended a series of “Biology in Action” lectures at the UCL Institute of Education. A total of five lively and enjoyable sessions introduced us to cutting-edge research and future prospects in the field of biological sciences. The speakers were leading researchers and communicators who imparted their passion and knowledge, enabling students to excel.

The first speaker, Nazneen Rahman from the Institute of Cancer Research, outlined the role of gene therapy in curing serious illnesses, such as cancer or infection by HIV. She emphasized the fact that only 5% of the world`s population are predisposed to cancer: the others only develop it when they are affected by various factors, such as obesity or smoking. Nazneen explained the work mechanism of genetic testing, involving DNA sequencing, analysis and interpretation of the results.

Our second speaker, Paul Sharpe from King`s College London, presented the role of craniofacial development in evolution, with the examples of various animals changing from one breed to another. It takes only five generations for the dogs to completely change breed, which is an amazing discovery in the field of evolutionary changes.

After lunch, Eric Alton, of Imperial College London, discussed the role of gene therapy in treating cystic fibrosis. Alton identified two ways to achieve the delivery of a new healthy copy of the CF gene into the lungs: one is by using fat globules (liposomes); the other involves a new carrier virus. In the near future (2017), both methods will lead to the world`s largest trial to see if gene therapy can improve the lungs of CF patients.

Next up was Simon Watt, biologist and founder of the science communication company “Ready, Steady, Science”. As presenter of the BAFTA award winning Channel 4 documentary series Inside Nature’s Giants he showed scientists going under the skin of some massive animals to figure out what made them tick. We looked at some of the fascinating science that didn`t make the final cut.

Finally, Julian Ma, from St.George`s Hospital Medical School, talked us through the role of GM plants and plant biotechnologies in vaccination. Three quarters of the world`s population depend on plants for treating illnesses and 30 million children do not receive essential vaccination each year.

This was a wide-ranging and fascinating set of lectures that entertained us while also feeding our enthusiasm for the subject.

Nikita Sergejevs