Education Development Lead – I work with scientists and teachers to develop new learning resources around Genomics
The most exciting thing that's happened this year in my research area:
There are so many exciting things happening in the field of genomics, it is such a fast moving field. The first human genome took 13 years to sequence, it now takes just minutes to generate genome data. This shift in technology means that it is now possible to undertake really big projects. Just recently it was announced that all complex living species in the UK are going to have their genome sequenced – that’s about 66,000 species – some new species may even be discovered! The Darwin Tree of Life project has just started and involves scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, EMBL-EBI, Natural History Museum, Kew Gardens, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh, Earlham Institute, University of Oxford and Marine Biological Association.
Sequencing all living things in the UK will have a big impact on our understanding of biodiversity, conservation and how species are adapting to environmental pressures such as climate change.
My latest work:
My current work involves working with scientists and teachers to develop new learning resources around genomics. All the resources we develop (which are free) can be found here: www.yourgenome.org.
I also run training sessions on genomics for teachers and most recently I have contributed to a new Primer book on genomics 16 year olds and above (due to be published next year)
Most recently Scientists at the Wellcome Genome Campus developed an initiative called Genome Decoders that enables students to help scientists identify and label genes in the genome of a parasitic worm called the Human Whipworm.
My favourite misconception about my area of science:
Your genes are your destiny!
When speaking with students something comes up a lot and that is the idea of Genetic determinism – your genes are going to give you particular characteristics or make you behave in a particular way. E.g Is there a” fat gene” or a gene for intelligence?
Whilst genes can play a huge part in the way that humans and other organisms develop, environmental factors can also play a big role too – from diet, stress and exposure to toxins or environmental mutagens, these can have an impact on our DNA and our development.
Risk of disease is another area that can be misunderstood. We try to discuss that in many cases of complex diseases simply having a variant or change in your DNA that may increase your risk of disease, it does not mean you are definitely going to develop that disease or condition. For example if you are slightly more predisposed to getting diabetes, environmental factors such as exercise and eating a healthy diet can lessen those risks. There can often be a combination of genes involved in particular conditions not just one.