Marvellous Medicine at Meet the Scientists

Guest post by Rorie Hather

Meet the Scientists” is a regular programme of events that takes place at the World Museum Liverpool and organised by the University of Liverpool’s Faculty of Health and Life Science with the support of the Wellcome Trust.  On Saturday 26th November the event drew again a large turnout of visitors. The overall theme was “Marvellous Medicines”. It focused on where our medicines come from, the different methods we use to treat diseases as well as the future of modern medicine. The day involved research teams from across the University of Liverpool lending their time and resources to run eight interactive stalls aimed at ensuring a fun and informative day for the whole family, regardless of age.

Two stalls out of the eight stemmed from different research teams within the Institute of Integrative Biology.  Dr. Raphaël Lévy’s team together with colleagues from the Institute of Translational Medicine (Toni Plagge and his student Joe Robertson) had a stall on “stem cells and nanoparticles”. Dr. Madine’s amyloid group utilised Lego pieces to show how proteins interact with one another and how this impacts their research into neurodegenerative and cardiovascular amyloid diseases.

gold

Golden? The beautiful colours of gold nanospheres and nanorods in water. The infrared absorption of some of these nanomaterials can be used to image cells in tissues.

The stem cells and nanoparticles stall attempted to translate the ongoing UK Regenerative Medicine Platform work into interactive games to help understand just how small nanoparticles are, as well as showing where stem cells are found within our body and the possible contributions they may be able to have to modern medical science.

A “pin the organ on the human” game was also run, involving visitors placing organ cutouts onto an outline of a human they drew onto a whiteboard, hopefully in the correct place. This game helped to show where exactly our organs are located, and how they each hold stem cells vital to our ongoing health and regeneration. (The freely available resources developed by Eurostemcells are available here if you wish to try this yourself.)  In total, 7 people help run the activity throughout the day: Sumaira Ashraf, Joe Robertson, Elizabeth Grimes, Joan Comenge, Rorie Hather, Angela Midgley and Raphaël Lévy

Dr. Madine’s group used a highly popular tactic among many of the younger visitors. Their game, invented by Kieran Hand and James Torpey, involved using Lego pieces to demonstrate how small molecules can dock to target proteins implicated in the diseases they research. Children were sent on a scavenger hunt around the different stalls to find the hidden complementary shape of Lego that would fit to their existing protein. On their stall, PhD student Kieran Hand said one of their aims was to raise awareness of light chain amyloidosis – a disease that is often left out of the limelight, yet impacts a similar number of people as motor neurone disease. The prizes that had been assembled to give to children who were successful in the drug discovery hunt ran out by 2 pm, showing just how busy the event was. Hammed Badmos also helped on the stall during the day.

The Meet the Scientists series continues into the new year, with the next event, “Brainiacs”, taking place on the 21st January 2017. It will explore the complexities, faults and cures that surround the human brain.

Find out more about future events here.

Institute of Integrative Biology away day

Thursday the 24th of November, the Institute of Integrative Biology had its away day at the Crypt of the Metropolitan cathedral. The event was packed with good science from molecules to ecosystems. Some of the highlights of the day were captured via Twitter by the attendees using the hashtag #iibawayday. Below is a summary of the day via these Tweets (Storify).

11 Nuffield students visited IIB this summer

This past summer, the Institute of Integrative Biology has once welcomed Nuffield students, just, many more than last year. Thank you to Jane Hurst, Michael Gerth, Philipp Antczak, Violaine See, Luning Liu, Dave Mason and Raphael Levy for providing these placements.

 

 

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.

Adventures in (nano)science – Nuffield Research Placements

Nuffield Research Placements (previously Nuffield Science Bursaries) provide over 1,000 students each year with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Raphael Levy’s group has hosted students last summer and this summer. 

Last year we hosted Katie and Liam; this year we hosted Yasmin and Jack. You can find out more about what they did in the lab by looking at the Storify of their tweets:

Katie and Liam; Adventures in nano(science) [1]

Yasmin and Jack: Adventures in nano(science) [2]

Yasmin and Jack in the lab; summer 2015

The Big Bang North West

The Big Bang Near Me is a programme of events that get young people excited about science, technology, engineering and maths.  The Big Bang North West, organised by MerseySTEM, took place yesterday, Wednesday 8th of July, with nearly 6000 thousands children coming to Aintree Racecourse to visit a number of exhibitions from a variety of parners, and to present their own scientific projects as part of the national science+engineering competition.

The School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Integrative Biology staff and students were present and supporting the event in a variety of ways. So many in fact that this post will remain for a few days “in construction”: I hope that colleagues will give more details of their involvement in the comments section and I will update the post as needed!

Institute of Integrative Biology Exhibit

Daria Pastock, Chris Corbin, Amy Eacok

In the comments section, please add details of the activities that were on the stand and the people involved, thanks!

Project Patient 0

Beth Levick, Cassandra Raby, and Amanda Minter.

Beth and her team ran an amazing project on infection spread. In the end, they had 120 individual participants recorded over 40 different groups. They are planning to do further analysis of the data so watch this space!

Beth, let me know in the comments everyone who was involved, the number of people infected, etc (feel free also to write a separate post just about this project if you wish!).

Judge of the NSEC regional heat competition

Raphaël Lévy 

I had been invited by former student Zoe Chapman, communication officer for MerseySTEM to judge projects. It was good fun. I learnt about black holes, hydrophobic coatings, the hydrodynamics of cycle helmets, throrium as the future (?)of energy production, and a few essential science tricks to survive in case of an (infectious) apocalypse.

The judging team:

Aquaponics Jens Thomas, Paul Myers and Dan Groom

Jens, Paul and Dan  from Farm Urban had a beautiful stand next to the main stage showing off their new @VydroFarm growing system and demonstrating their “Build Your Own” aquaponics systems for schools. Although the VydroFarm can grow 140 lettuces every 28 days and glows a psychedelic pink with its full spectrum Valoya grow lights, it had trouble competing with fishy and fishy; the two goldfish in our aquaponics system named by Paul’s two-year old daughter. It was a great day and we had a tremendous amount of interest in our systems and workshops. During our spare time we learnt how to milk a cow, extract DNA from strawberry’s and discussed the potential mechanisms through which caterpillars may change colour.

‘Meet the Future You’

Kate Hammond

Kate Hammond took part in the ‘Meet the Future You’ event organised by Tomorrows Engineers. Students got the chance to quiz a group of STEM professionals about our careers, including Kate (a lecturer in Genetics and Molecular Biology), an engineer from Landrover and Sarah who designs nuclear reactors for submarines (very cool!). The students asked us everything from what we do each day, to what inspired us to take up our career to, most crucially, how much we get paid.

Kate Hammond at the

Kate Hammond at the “Meet the Future You” event #BigBangNW

Life Sciences Outreach Society

Juhi Gupta, Hannah Sharp, Lauren Evans, Sapphire Rogers, Ant Smith, Amal Abdulkadhir, Hannah Smallwood and Amy Gillespie. Dr Hammond helped with the set up of the workshops.

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Juhi says:

Us students from the Life Sciences Outreach Society joined in with the fun and excitement at this year’s fantastic Big Bang Fair! Returning for a second year, with the DNA Sweet Models and Strawberry DNA extraction workshops, we inspired yet more merseyside pupils. We got lots of great feedback from both the staff and pupils intrigued by our science – we certainly had lots of fun too!