6.1 biologists hear from leading scientists


By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

Biologists in 6.1 travelled to the Apollo Theatre in London to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of A Level Biology Live.

First was 2009 Nobel Prize winner and President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan (pictured above), whose many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of ribosomes. Ribosomes exist in their millions in every cell, and are the site where genetic information is read to synthesise proteins from amino acids. He began work on ribosomes in the late 1970s and eventually discovered their complex three-dimensional structure in 2000, with the aid of X-ray crystallography.

Next, Professor Robert Winston – who was the Bedales Eckersley Lecture speaker in 2013 – spoke about manipulating human reproduction, from his work in vitro fertilisation, through to regenerative medicine such as stem cell research and epigenetics, which may turn out to be the most important biological development in the years to come. However, he warned that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.

Dr Jenny Rohns’ entertaining talk was entitled ‘Revenge of the Microbes’. She explained how there are one hundred trillion bacterial cells on our bodies, and how more and more are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria go through around 500 generations in just one week, which give them an enormous advantage as they can evolve resistance to antibiotics extremely quickly.

Dr Adam Rutherford’s lecture focused on DNA, which he described as “the saga of how we came to be who we are today”. He told the fascinating story of how the body of Richard III (who was found buried under a car park in Leicester) was identified by DNA analysis and announced that everyone from Western European descent would be related to the British Royal Family if we traced our family trees back through enough generations.

Finally, we heard from Professor Sarah-Jane Blakemore from UCL about the complexities of the teenage brain and her team’s cutting edge experiments, which reveal how behaviour is affected by environment and how we relate to each other through this period of our lives. She explained that adolescence is a period of great vulnerability, but also one of enormous creativity, which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Overall these lectures showed us just a few examples of the enormous range of scientific enquiry that encompasses the subject of biology and how it continues to shape our lives.