Dr Peter Sarkies explains how network-based visualisation has revealed new insights into a genome feature known as a transposable element.
When we think of a scientific discovery, we typically imagine a “eureka” moment, in which someone in a white coat glimpses the result of an experiment and in one stroke, solves one of life’s major questions. However, it is important to realise that a key aspect of scientific progress involves the development of new tools that help make previously insoluble research questions accessible. One important example of this is tools that help scientists to see better. We’re all familiar with many of these tools and how they were instrumental in biology – from the microscope that enabled cells to be seen for the first time, through to more recent tools such as electron microscopy that made visible the fine inner structure of the cell, and X-ray crystallography enabling scientists to work out the position of each atom in a protein. What might be a little less obvious is how important more abstract modes of visualisation can be in helping scientists to make progress in understanding research questions. (more…)
This is an open letter from Mr Martin Lupton, Vice-Dean of Education to taught students in the Faculty of Medicine and their loved-ones.
Dear Students and their friends and families,
My eldest son has recently returned to University in the UK and, even though I work in both the health and education sector, I have to acknowledge that I have a certain level of anxiety about him. It is very difficult to read the news about all that has happened during this time of COVID and not to worry.
I am telling you this because I want you to understand that I have some inkling of what you may be feeling right now, particularly if you come from overseas or your daughter, son or relation, has just started their university life. The first thing I want to say is “Welcome to the Faculty of Medicine”. We are very proud of what we have achieved during this global pandemic; the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College has been a key player contributing to the world’s understanding of the virus, the mapping of the virus, teaching people about the virus and developing a new vaccine. However, that is not all that we have been doing. (more…)
What does it take to achieve a fair balance of women in science? Sophie Arthur shares her views on addressing the gender balance in STEM.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women’s Day have both come and gone in 2019 already, so why write this piece now? These discussions about celebrating the achievements of women in science, providing them with the recognition they deserve and the fight for more representation across all STEM fields are conversations we need to keep having all year round. Not solely on international awareness days.
Women in STEM and their achievements often go under the radar. After all, while Alan Turing was breaking the Enigma code, Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was taking a break from the silver screen and inventing a radio guidance system that ended up being the precursor to our modern-day Bluetooth & Wi-Fi. Also, while male scientists Andre Geim and Kostantin Novoselov may have won the Nobel Prize for working with graphene, Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 40 years earlier. So, it is well past time for us to reset the balance. (more…)
Dr Peter Sarkies looks at how evolution can quickly come up with new mechanisms to fight infection by adapting existing processes rather than inventing new ones.
It’s January and perhaps you’ve been hitting the treadmill in the gym in an enthusiastic bid to make good that New Year’s resolution to do more exercise. To a primitive human, it’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous contraption – expending huge amounts of energy simply to stay in exactly the same place; but remarkably, this feature of a treadmill is very similar to some aspects of evolution.
The examples of evolution that are most familiar to people involve organisms adapting to their environment, with the long neck of the giraffe perfectly suited to reaching the best leaves as a famous example. Probably the most active type of evolution by natural selection occurs in response to conflicts between organisms. A good example of this is the response of species, like humans, to infection by pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Humans are engaged in a constant race to evolve new mechanisms to fight infection, because the pathogens themselves are able to rapidly adapt to become resistant to each new strategy that the host comes up with.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of their wisdom.
Our second wise woman, research fellow Dr Alexis Barr, provides an insight into how she’s balancing family life with a research career.
I never realised that when I started a family that other scientists would be so interested in my work/life balance. I am frequently asked how I manage a research career with bringing up two young children, aged two and four. Thankfully, it’s not as hard as you might think, but having a partner who shares the responsibility helps enormously.
I know why researchers are keen to talk about this as it seems to involve squaring a circle. Before I had children, I couldn’t easily conceive how working in a lab 8am – 7pm every day and often ‘popping in’ at weekends could work with caring for children. The problem is that it doesn’t, well at least not if you want to spend time with your children (which I do – not least because they’re hilarious). But it turns out that this isn’t a problem as there are other styles of working. Like most scientists I know, we love what we do so we’re quite motivated to find ways to make it work for us. (more…)
Dr Peter Sarkies explains how information hidden in the evolutionary history of life on Earth has helped illuminate new insights into gene regulation.
In today’s challenging funding environment, studying evolution – the long-term history of life on earth – might seem somewhat frivolous. How could studying evolution contribute to pressing issues such as human disease? Responding to this, biologists often use a famous quotation from Theodosius Dobzhansky:
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Whilst this quotation certainly sounds impressive, it’s by no means obvious exactly what Dobzhansky meant, let alone how it helps explain why the study of evolution is important. To understand its significance, we need to look at the statement in a little more depth. (more…)