By Richard Sinclair, Head of Biology
In January, a group of 6.1 Biologists travelled to the Apollo Theatre, Victoria, to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of the Science Live: A-Level series.
Firstly we heard from Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore from UCL, who spoke about the complexities of the teenage brain and her team’s cutting edge experiments which reveal how behaviour is affected by the environment and how we relate to each other through this period of our lives. Sarah-Jayne explained that adolescence is a period of great vulnerability, but also one of enormous creativity which should be acknowledged and celebrated.
Next was Professor Robert Winston, who was the speaker at Bedales’ Eckersley Lecture in 2013. He spoke about manipulating human reproduction from his work on in vitro fertilization 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. He warned though that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.
Dr Jenny Rohn’s entertaining talk was entitled Revenge of the Microbes. She explained how there are 100 trillion bacterial cells on our bodies and how more and more are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria go through around 500 generations in just a week, which gives 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, Dr Ben Goldacre talked about the importance the media should play in correctly reporting scientific research, focussing on the MMR scandal in particular. Although Andrew Wakefield, the author of the MMR report, was blamed by journalist as the only one at fault, Dr Goldacre argued that the media were equally guilty as missing trials, badly designed research and biased dissemination of evidence were reported at the time as important scientific breakthroughs, while evidence showing no link to autism from the MMR vaccine published in peer reviewed academic journals was ignored.
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.