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    From tadpole guts to Nobel Prize: John Gurdon’s UCL Prize Lecture in Clinical Science

    By Guest Blogger, on 19 November 2015

    Written by James Arrich and Isobel Weinberg, both UCL PhD students

    Do all the cells of the body possess the same set of genes? This was the question facing a young John Gurdon as he embarked upon his PhD 60 years ago. His research has transformed the way we understand biology in a way that holds promise for the treatment of many common diseases. He received the Nobel Prize in 2012 and on 10 November he visited UCL to give the UCL Prize Lecture in Clinical Science and receive the accompanying medal.

    John Gurdon made an unpromising start to his scientific career: at school, he was ranked last out of 250 students for Biology, and was required to give up science and study Classics. Nevertheless, he later chose to switch his degree from Classics to Zoology and then embark on a PhD in cell development.

    Professor Sir John Gurdon, UCL Nobel Prize winner

    Nobel Prize winner Professor Sir John Gurdon

    Ground-breaking work soon followed. His PhD centred upon the technique of nuclear transplantation.

    That is, he would transplant the nucleus of one cell into an egg cell whose own nucleus had been removed (it had been ‘enucleated’) and then watch to see how this egg (with its transplanted nucleus) developed.

    In a famous set of experiments, he took a specialised gut cell from a tadpole and transplanted the cell’s nucleus into an enucleated egg. Astonishingly, he demonstrated that such eggs (with their transplanted ‘gut’ nuclei) could develop into healthy frogs. That is, the nucleus of a gut cell that was wholly specialised to absorb nutrients still possessed all the genes required to make an entire new frog.

    The implications were huge. Not only did all the cells of an organism possess the same genes, but clearly some factors in the egg cell could revert an adult, specialised cell into a stem cell capable of generating any other cell type. The phenomenon was termed nuclear reprogramming and Gurdon has spent the rest of his career unravelling the mechanisms that underlie it.

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    Grant Museum Show’n’Tell: Soda Lakes

    By Irrum Ali, on 29 October 2014

    Cichlid fish. Image courtesy of  Dean Veall and Antonia Ford

    Cichlid fish. Image courtesy of
    Dean Veall and Antonia Ford

    The Grant Museum of Zoology is just one of UCL’s many interesting and engaging museums, conveniently located almost directly opposite the Quad, and so, perfect for a fly-by lunchtime visit.

    The museum hosts plenty of events throughout the year including its exciting Show’n’Tell series. I took the opportunity to go along to an edition and hosted on Wednesday 22 October.

    Home to no less than 68,000 fascinating objects, the museum’s collection covers everything from the Tasmanian tiger and Dodo to brain matter and skeletons from species right across the animal kingdom. I heard from a UCL researcher who was asked to showcase just one object from the vast options on offer and tasked with sharing all they know about it to a keen and inquisitive audience.

    It was certainly a unique experience to be surrounded by thousands of specimens as the talk took place at the heart of the museum among the many exhibitions. The event began with a short welcome and introduction to the museum, including an overview of its 170-year history, by our host for the hour, Dean Veall (Grant Museum, Learning and Access Officer) who then introduced PhD student Antonia Ford (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment).

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    UCL 2013 Prize Lecture in Clinical Science with Professor Gary Rukvun

    By news editor, on 6 November 2013

    pencil-iconWritten by Lucy Bell, UCL MBPhD student

    gary-ruvkun-2

    Professor Gary Ruvkun

    The UCL Prize Lecture in Clinical Science, held this year on 30 October,  is one of the university’s most exciting events – the annual invitation of one of the world’s most distinguished scientists to receive an award and speak about their career and research to a UCL audience.

    This year’s recipient was Professor Gary Rukvun of Harvard Medical School, whose pioneering work in the discovery of microRNAs – small RNA species with potent regulatory effects – has arguably changed the accepted paradigm of cellular function over the past 20 years, showing that the functional products of genes are not always proteins.

    It has also paved the way for a brave new world in genetic research, in which the functions of genes can be rapidly deleted and reconstituted; a level of manipulation unprecedented in molecular biology.

    After an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Berkeley, California, and several years of travelling and tree-planting across the Americas, Professor Rukvun embarked on doctoral training in genetics at Harvard that would eventually bring him to his research into the tiny roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans.

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    Genomics and Medicine, with Aroon Hingorani

    By James Heather, on 19 March 2013

    DNA double helix (courtesy of the National Human
    Genome Research Institute via
    Wikimedia Commons)

    In recognition of February’s status as National Heart Month, Professor Aroon Hingorani recently took to the stage for a Lunch Hour Lecture about the opportunities and challenges associated with using genomics to improve personal and public health.

    Genomics is the study of genomes – all of the DNA contained in the cell of an organism.

    The ability to read, or ‘sequence’, DNA has been improving exponentially over the last few decades and we can sequence far more DNA than ever before, in less time and at a lower cost.

    One of the most significant recent developments in this field was the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. This ambitious undertaking provided scientists everywhere with a blueprint of what our genomes look like.

    By comparing DNA test results to this template researchers can identify the differences that might cause disease.

    However, things are rarely that simple in medicine.

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