Fun at the Frontiers in DNA Repair Conference

sophie_400x400Guest post by Sophie Cowman (@SophieCowman)

On 12th September 2016 I was fortunate enough to attend The Frontiers in DNA repair conference (@DNArepairBerlin) held in Berlin, Germany. The aim of the conference was to bring together scientists working on DNA repair, and highlight recent advances within the field. Initial talks focused on the mechanistic side of DNA repair such as lesion removal, telomere protection and events surrounding replication stress. Later talks highlighted how we can translate these findings into a clinical setting to treat inherited genetic disorders and cancer. All the talks were very interesting and inspiring, enabling me to gain further insight into the different mechanisms employed by cells to maintain genome integrity. It was fascinating to observe the different types of assays and experiments used by other groups to answer their specific research questions. I hope to apply some of these valuable and creative techniques in my own PhD. One particular highlight of the conference was the opportunity to present a poster of my PhD work so far. There was much interest in my poster, particularly with regards to the clinical impact. During the poster session I had the opportunity to talk to the leading researchers in the field and was able to gain valuable feedback and suggestions for my future work.

Overall, the conference was a thoroughly enjoyable and valuable experience which has enabled me to expand my DNA repair knowledge as well as pick up useful experimental tips and tricks. I would like to show my gratitude to the Herbert and Dorothy Catlow Postgraduate endowment fund which made this trip possible through their generous travel grant.

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Shrewsbury School visit for Life Sciences Technology Day @tsm_biology

Guest post by Dr Torin Morgan, Head of Faculty, Shrewsbury School

Shrewsbury School

RAJC and his set listening to PhD students explaining the use of mass spectrometry to identify proteins at the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Proteome Research

On Friday 6th November all Lower Sixth Biologists took a day out to visit the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology. We were hosted by Professor Alan McCarthy, one of the UK’s leading microbiologists and the Head of Admissions and Recruitment for the School of Life Sciences (and also a Governor of Shrewsbury School).

Biosciences in the 21st Century are increasingly focused on understanding the information contained inside living cells in the form of DNA (the ‘genome’) and proteins (the ‘proteome’).  Pre-U Biology places great emphasis on practical applications and so this visit was a tremendously valuable opportunity to for us to see the cutting-edge technology being deployed by this world-leading research department.

In the words of some of our pupils:

“The trip to Liverpool University was an interesting and memorable experience. We had a full morning of lectures before attending tours. The lectures were pretty fascinating, even though the topics the speakers touched on were slightly above our understanding. The final lecture by Prof Rob Beynon (Head of Biochemistry at the University) really caught my attention, as I never knew proteins play such a major role in sustaining our lives. After a brief break, we were taken on tours. We saw some high-end technologies being used by both researchers and students. Quite a few of us were astonished by how expensive the equipment was (£800,000 for a next-generation DNA sequencer!). In the final tour, we met Mike – a student who was about to get his PhD in biology. Apart from explaining how he managed to crystallise proteins to study their structure, he told us what being a student at a university is like and gave us some useful advice on how to make the most out of it.”

“The lectures were on a variety of topics. Most were about the advanced techniques used to understand the processes going on inside cells; there was also one by Dr Raphael Levy on the way evidence is misused by the media (especially the Daily Mail!) to report and distort news of scientific discoveries. He reminded us to always ask for evidence! (http://askforevidence.org/index)”

“I found the tour of the x-ray crystallography laboratory especially interesting. Researchers can now generate a three dimensional image of a molecule by using x-ray crystallography. The molecule causes x-ray beams to diffract in different directions and this data can then be used to construct and image of the molecule.”

“One aspect of the day that I found particularly interesting was cell imaging. Following a colourful and inspiring lecture delivered by Dr David Mason, we acquired a new understanding of how we can view cells and observe their features. The lecture certainly lived up to its name, ‘Seeing the world in 5-dimensions’: after covering the obvious first 3 dimensions, XYZ, a splash of colour and the element of time brought the images to life.”

“The most incredible technique I saw was laser capture microdissection, in which an individual cell was shown being cut from a sample using a laser before being propelled (again by the laser) into a waiting test tube. This tiny, targeted tissue fragment could then be subjected to DNA sequencing!”

Whatever their level of interest in Biology, the pupils will find themselves thinking back to the trip over the coming days and months, and, as it keeps resonating with theory in their Pre-U course, their appreciation for what they saw will grow.

Fascination of Plants Day at Liverpool World Museum

Report by Geraint Parry.

On May 16th the World Museum in Liverpool hosted its third Fascination of Plants Day (FoPD) in collaboration with scientists and educators from the University of Liverpool.

Before the doors opened!

Before the doors opened!

The organisation of an indoor event is one of the few reasons to hope for a rainy day but sadly it was nice and sunny in Liverpool! Nevertheless about 500 visitors passed through the exhibition, each spending at least 20 minutes learning about many aspects of plant science.

Everyone likes a free gift so the exhibit from Ness Botanic Gardens was very popular! Rose Froud and Andrew Lambie showing visitors of all ages how to make pots out of newspaper and then helped them plant either sunflowers or runner beans!

Dr Geraldine Reid from the Museums botany department set up a microscope where the visitors were challenged to try and find locally discovered new Diatom varieties.

Rose Froud from Ness Gardens rolls newspaper plant pots

Rose Froud from Ness Gardens rolls newspaper plant pots

Elsewhere techniques of plant science ancient and modern collided as dried and mounted specimens from the botanical collections were situated alongside a DNA sequencer that University of Liverpool researchers had used to sequence the wheat genome. This machine has recently been donated to the museum for future exhibitions and formed the second-stage of an exhibit that allowed (mostly) kids to extract strawberry DNA and then ‘load’ it onto the sequencer! Rumours are unfounded that this is the start of octoploid Strawberry Genome Project…… The group from UoL was led by Dr Geraint Parry and Professor Anthony Hall, ably helped by members the Life Science Outreach team.

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Preparing to extract strawberry, ready for the sequencer!

Overall it was extremely gratifying to see plenty of smiling faces leaving the exhibition clutching their DNA extractions and temporary plant pots!! Hopefully they’ll be back again next year!

Outreach by School of Life Sciences Undergraduates

Life Science students at Ness Gardens: On Saturday 14th March a group of undergraduates from the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Outreach Group took part in the Family Science Discovery Fair at Ness Gardens.  Around 300 visitors attended the event, getting stuck in with Strawberry DNA extractions and making DNA models from sweets with the students. Our undergraduate team were met by many intrigued members of the public from young children to adults.  Genetics student Juhi Gupta who is president of the group said “This was a great opportunity for us as undergraduates to be involved in. We were honoured to represent the undergraduate student community from the School of Life Sciences”.

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About the Undergraduate Outreach Group: The Life Sciences Undergraduate Outreach Group was set up in May 2014 and consists of 30-40 School of Life Sciences Students from across our degree programs. They aim to take their love of science out to the public, whether that’s school children or interested adults, and to inform and inspire them to want to know more about Biology.

The group received a grant from The Friends of the University in Sept 2014 to develop activities of their own, but are also keen to get experience by helping with other people’s outreach activities. If you would like their help at your event please let Kate Hammond or Juhi know.

Over the past year or so they have exhibited at the Big Bang Fair Northwest, the University Pop-up Shop and the St Helen’s Skills Show, and have also helped with activities run by academics from the School of Life Sciences, the Institute of Integrative Biology and the Institute of Global Health.