Tag: Epigenetics

Painting pictures of genomes

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…)

Exploring the evolutionary treadmill of genome defence

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.


Think peach: the true symbol of breast cancer awareness

 Breast cancer awareness

Breast cancer researcher, Dr Luca Magnani, looks beyond the pink ribbon campaign to find the true symbol of breast cancer awareness.

It’s that time of year once again: Instagram and Twitter will adopt a light shade of pink, companies will adorn their products with the ubiquitous pink ribbon, all to remind us of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To a breast cancer scientist such as myself, October always brings out ambiguous emotions. On one side, it serves as a reminder of all the great research and results that we have achieved. Statistics show that things are getting better for many women, as mortality rates have halved in the last 20 years. October also prompts many of us to remember that there is nothing better than prevention when talking about breast cancer. Early screening measures have revolutionised outcomes for women; it’s very likely that almost 50% of the lives that were saved depended on catching the cancer earlier. (more…)