A-level students at the School of Medicine at West Lancashire College were inspired by talks from three biochemists Dr Jill Madine, Dr Nigel Jones and Professor Sonia Rocha during November and December 2019. Students learnt about the research carried out within our research groups relating to diseases and their underpinning mechanisms and the career paths each of us followed to reach our current positions. The students were some of the most attentive audience members we have ever spoken to asking questions that wouldn’t be out of place at large International Scientific Conferences. We hope to welcome some of the students for summer work experience placements in IIB.
46 year 12 pupils and 4 teachers from Shrewsbury School visited IIB on Wednesday 8th January to discover the amazing technology and facilities we have within the institute. The day organised by Dr Jill Madine began with an unmissable opportunity to promote UG courses at Liverpool from Dr Andy Bates, School of Life Sciences. The pupils then learnt about a wide range of applications using the available technologies from Dr Marie Phelan, Dr Linda D’Amore, Dr Gareth Wright and Professor Pat Eyers. In the afternoon the students got to see the facilities up close and ask questions during tours of Barkla X-Ray laboratory of Biophysics, NMR Centre for Structural Biology and Centre for Genomic Research from PhD students Liam McCormick and Kangsa Amporndanai.
Guest post by Rosie Maher, IIB PhD student
This summer I welcomed a 16 year old student from The King’s School Chester who took part in the Nuffield Research Placement Scheme. Before starting her placement Charlotte had plans to apply for medicine after finishing her A-levels but was curious about other medical related professions within biomedical science and biochemistry. Charlotte was appointed a position with myself, working in the Centre for Proteome Research within the Institute of Integrative Biology. Her four week project was titled “Identifying Proteins in Saliva to Diagnose Disease” and was a continuation of work that I have completed for my PhD.
During Charlotte’s four week stay she learnt three techniques that are used routinely in our lab; SDS-PAGE, zymography and western blotting. By the end of her placement she had produced some very interesting novel data, complementing the work that I have completed. It was a great experience to teach and supervise Charlotte, especially in an area of medical related science that she hadn’t heard of. I am now looking forward to her presenting this data at the Nuffield Celebration Evening in October.
Louis worked with Natasha for a full week during February 2018. They did a variety of experiments and simulations together:
- Plasmid Preparation. Bulking up plasmids using bacteria, performing a midi plasmid prep.
- Cell culture. Growing up 3T3 cells from frozen, ready for plasmid transfection.
- Time Course Imaging. Bacterial colonies, grown from swabs of Louis’s phone, were put in suspension and filmed under a light microscope to observe their proliferation.Polarity Simulations. Louis ran simulations of cells breaking symmetry. By changing reaction strengths Louis worked out the key molecular components.
Louis doing bacterial work for time course imaging. Growing 3T3 cells from frozen stocks. DNA extracted using midi plasmid prep.
On Friday 9th March 15 chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for a workshop in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine and Dr Marie Phelan. This visit has been an annual event for the past several years which the students look forward to in order to gain enhanced understanding of NMR to help with their A-level courses and also gain an insight into what goes on in an academic research environment. The students were given lectures on the basic applications of mass spectrometry and NMR from Stephen Moss (School of Physical Sciences) and Dr Marie Phelan. This was the followed by practical workshops where the students carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare and run NMR samples along with how to interpret the data. Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day. This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). This final part of the day is always the most exciting for the students where there is no hiding that they actually dropped their sample and scraped it off the desk!
PhD student James Torpey along with internship students Daniel Thomas and Raven Chandramohan helped with the day providing practical and theoretical advice.
This journal is founded by year 12 students from Liverpool Life Sciences UTC with support from Senior Editors from Liverpool and Wigan UTC, University of Sheffield and Dr Hannah Davies, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool. Hannah’s involvement began a couple of years ago working with the students to design and run projects incorporating cell culture as a research tool supported by a Biochemical Society Outreach grant (link to previous posts). This journal provides an excellent way for students to engage with other young scientists around the world and develop their skills in written scientific communication and networking. Through reporting their research findings they will develop important skills that will be invaluable in their future careers. The journal has received a lot of attention and positive feedback. We praise all of the contributors and editors for their hard work and hope that the BSJ will continue to grow in the coming months and years. Please visit the first edition of the journal here.
Their placement involved testing a semi-high-throughput screening method for anti-cancer drugs using cell-migration as their readout. They worked with a Glioblastoma cancer cell line during their time in the facility and shared the following comments about their experiences:
“I believe that this summer placement at the University of Liverpool was the greatest experience of my life, and I will always remember it as the reason I firmly decided that this was the career in which I needed to pursue. I believe that this summer was an eye-opening experience into the real world of science, specifically cell microscopy, and it gave me countless new ideas and theories which I will take away with me into the future, and hopefully begin to research into myself one day. The placement inspired me to want to carry on pursuing science for the rest of my life and fed my ambition to achieve in a new world which I now see with many more possibilities than I had originally perceived.”
“This summer was not the same of all my previous summer, it was amazing and interesting because I spent it in department which I’d like before to be on, I learnt a lot of useful things: using high demand microscope, experiment skills as well as the importance of organisation, planning and time management for each project. This placement gives me the chance to recognise the enjoyable feeling of practical and research world. Also this project allows me to deal comfortably with analysed imaging software which I am never deal with before, these wonderful software will make me think more deeply about the experiment, is not the same of the past (just follow the instructions).”
Earlier this year sixth formers from Shrewsbury School visited the IIB, hosted by Professor Alan McCarthy.
After listening to lectures around the IIB’s key research themes, the students were given a guided tour.
They gave this report in their newsletter:
“The research facilities at Liverpool are, without exception, world class. We saw their next generation DNA sequencers, capable of reading an entire genome in just a few days; their ‘GeneMill’ for making synthetic DNA; and a ‘laser capture microscope’ that can cut out a single cell from a thin section and capture it for genetic analysis.
“We visited a humming lab filled with mass spectrometers able to detect in real time the chemical fingerprints that differentiate healthy from diseased tissues. We saw the x-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging suites that are the workhorses in the ongoing effort to model the actual 3D structures of proteins, and in one case we were shown a novel drug being tested against an intricate virtual model of a mutant enzyme.”
This year our fruitful collaboration with Liverpool life sciences UTC has continued and we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Laura Hurst on the success of her Year 13 Project.
Laura has been working on our Neuroblastology programme at UTC and designed and carried out an experiment to investigate the neuroprotective effect of lemongrass on brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Laura has cultivated SHSY5Y neuronal cells, exposed them to amyloid beta protein (protein involved in neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease) and explored the protective effect of lemongrass on these affected cells. Laura has now finished the project, written an excellent report and presented her findings to her peers and the teachers at the school.
This is her abstract from her report.
This project’s main purpose is to explore the potential neuroprotective effects of lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) and how these effects can be utilised in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The rates of this disease have greatly increased over the past few decades and so the development of new pharmaceuticals is increasingly important to society. To test the hypothesis of lemongrass having neuroprotective effects two well plates were set up with neuroblastoma cultures, one of which had beta amyloid protein (one of the key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease) added. Three different solutions of lemongrass essential oil were also added (0.1%,0.5%, and 1%) as well as two control groups containing either F-12 Ham’s nutrient media only or 100% ethanol. The results of the experiment suggested that an increase in lemongrass solution reduced the concentration of cells per mm² but increased the viability of the cells in the amyloid beta protein plate. 0.5% lemongrass solution almost doubled the viability of the neuroblastoma from 37.04% in the media only control group to 68.61%. These results support both the Amyloid hypothesis and the hypothesis established for this project, and so it can be concluded that lemongrass has potential as a treatment to Alzheimer’s disease if further research is carried out.
The school are so impressed they are using her work as a model to show students and teachers alike how science project work should be conducted and reported.
We would all like to congratulate Laura on her fantastic success and wish her luck in her dreams to pursue a career in neuroscience!
In more good news, Dr John Dyer at UTC is involved in the process of arranging an exchange programme to enable students from different schools in Europe to work on extended projects at different sites dependant on their interests. UTC (in collaboration with the University of Liverpool) is hoping to make the neuroblastology project their specialty! So hopefully soon we will be welcoming students from across Europe to learn cell culture techniques and do more exciting experiments.
by Jo Griffin
We busk a little differently to most people. Having assembled from various locations around the UK, warming up with hot drinks in a pokey central London Starbucks, we play our favourite game. When you check out the next BES Annual Meeting (you know you want to), be sure to keep your eyes peeled for it. It will change your life.
As a BES Roadie, I’ve received public engagement training, helped develop busking activities and had the opportunity to attend music festivals and science festivals across the country. The end goal being to better my science communication skills and inform people outside the world of science on diverse matters such as ecology, and the research I conduct for my PhD.
These activities are great for engaging people and spreading the word of ecology, however, there are communities that we are still struggling to reach. As stated in the BES ‘Making Ecology for All’ report from 2013, members of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community are significantly less likely to be in a STEM profession when compared to White counterparts. In 2010/11, BAME individuals made up 16.7% of all biological science students. This is an underrepresentation when compared to both the total for all STEM subjects, 20.1%, and for all subjects, 18.4%. There are no excuses for this gap; in the 21st century I am appalled that recent figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that no British University is employing a Black academic in a senior management role. This must change.
Now back to our London ‘Poo Game’ trip. The Windsor Fellowship has collaborated with the Royal Society to provide a mentoring scheme for Year 13 Black students living or studying in Greater London, who are studying STEM subjects. This is where we, the BES Roadies, come into the picture. We were given a one hour slot during a day long workshop, to communicate ecology to the students. Jessica opened the session with a brief introduction to the BES and the importance of science communication. We then split the cohort into four groups and took one group each to demonstrate our busking activities. Karen got to play ‘Pollinator Top Trumps’, Arron had ‘Who’s Poo?’ Jessica was on the ‘Mushroom Game’ and I demonstrated the use of taxonomic keys using the ‘Festival Animals’ busk that we took to Wychwood festival back in June. The students rotated around the different activities before reconvening in the seminar room where I then gave a short talk on my research.
I am used to communicating my work to academics back in my University department and at the odd conference. Entertaining a room of A-level students however, was a pretty terrifying prospect. When I asked if anyone had heard of the term ‘symbiosis’ some students nodded their head with a vague look of recollection whilst others shook their heads. Using examples such as corals, the bobtail squid, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plant roots and deep sea tube worms, I got the students on board with the concept. Explaining the use of fruit flies and their symbiont to study host-shifts was a little trickier, I was nervous that this was where I might lose them. To my surprise, I was bombarded with questions. From the development and maintenance of symbioses and coevolution to the nitty gritty techniques I used to achieve my work and collect data, these students were the most inquisitive and enthusiastic audience I have ever had. It was an enormous pleasure to spend time with them. If I haven’t persuaded them that parasites and mutualists are just about the coolest things to study, then at least they will have left the session with a broader understanding of the term ecology. I hope that we will continue to engage with a diverse range of communities in the BES and look forward to reuniting with the Roadies for more science communication.
If you would like to become involved with the BES Roadies, please see upcoming public engagement and training events on the BES website: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/learning-and-resources/public-engagement/