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    Archive for the 'Life Sciences' Category

    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.


    Who attends foodbanks in the UK and why? The impact of food poverty on health and wellbeing

    By Guest Blogger, on 3 August 2015

    pencil-icon Written by Edwina Prayogo, UCL Centre for Behavioural Medicine PhD student

    (from l–r) Dr Angel Chater, Dr Mary Barker, Edwina Prayogo and Dr George Grimble

    (from l–r) Dr Angel Chater, Dr Mary Barker,
    Edwina Prayogo and Dr George Grimble

    UK foodbank use has unmasked food poverty – a condition that leads to poorer health and reduced wellbeing in millions of British people. I have been involved in interdisciplinary research that combines health psychology and clinical nutrition, with the aim of uncovering who attends London foodbanks and why.

    Alongside members of our UCL Grand Challenges-supported research group, as well as other experts, I was privileged to present our research to an audience of academics, health professionals and people working in NGOs at an event on 20 July.

    To start, Dr Angel Chater (UCL Life Sciences) described how the research arose from my MSc project at UCL. For this, I investigated fruit and vegetable consumption and the psychological wellbeing of London foodbank clients, and this developed into my current PhD project.

    Then, Dr George Grimble (UCL Medical Sciences) explained how his interest in the area of food poverty was piqued by his involvement as advisor to Channel 4’s The Food Hospital, during which he assisted in a ‘fibre challenge’ smartphone app experiment. He went on to replicate the experiment for an MSc project with foodbank clients, and in doing so exposed the very poor diet of many participants.


    SEVEN the play

    By Siobhan Pipa, on 11 March 2015

    Professor Peter Brocklehurst at SEVEN (Courtesy of Ben Sharman)

    Professor Peter Brocklehurst at SEVEN
    (Courtesy of Ben Sharman)

    As part of a series of events to celebrate International Women’s Day at UCL, the UCL Institute for Women’s Health put on a special production of SEVEN – a documentary play based on the lives of seven inspirational women from seven countries around the world.

    Presented as a reading, seven of the most senior men at UCL lent their voices to the female activists: Professor Michael Arthur (UCL President & Provost), Professor Sir John Tooke (Vice Provost, Health and Head of UCL School of Life & Medical Sciences), Professor David Lomas (Vice Provost-elect, Health and Dean of Medical Sciences), Professor Anthony Smith (Vice Provost, Education & Student Affairs), Professor Alejandro Madrigal (Pro Vice Provost for the America’s), Professor Peter Brocklehurst (Director, UCL Institute for Women’s Health) and Professor Anthony Costello (Pro Vice Provost for Africa & the Middle East and Director of the UCL Institute for Global Health).

    The play, which was directed by Tove Eriksson and organised by Asma Ashraf and Professor Judith Stephenson (UCL Institute for Women’s Health), depicts how these women overcame extreme adversity to become leaders for women’s rights, both within their own society and globally.


    We don’t know if God evolved, but belief did

    By Rebecca L Caygill, on 21 January 2015


    Written by Rebecca Caygill, Media Relations Manager

    How and when did organised religion begin? It’s a big question and one that Professor Steve Jones (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment) set out to answer before a packed Darwin Lecture Theatre last week in his Lunch Hour Lecture, ‘Did God evolve?’, on 20 January.

    After clarifying that he didn’t actually know if God evolved, Professor Jones spoke about where religion began and where science predicts it is heading, based on evidence. Starting with farming, he took us on an enlightening and amusing trip through the history of the evolution of religion.

    Evidence for the link between religion and farming goes back thousand of years not only in fertility rites for crops, but also to the story of Adam and Eve who were expelled from Eden to “till the ground”.

    Adam and Eve, St Mary's Eastham, Wirral Credit: Sue Hacker on Flickr

    Adam and Eve, St Mary’s Eastham, Wirral
    Credit: Sue Hacker on Flickr

    From studying maps of the Holy Land overlaid with modern locations, there may be truth in biblical texts about places such as the Land of Nod, where scientists have found farming originated with pigs, sheep, cattle and goats.

    With farming came an explosion in the population, which moved to the east and west, changing language along the way. Language is constantly evolving at the same rate – to notice changes within our own lifetimes, we only need to listen to old TV or radio recordings.