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

ucyow3c19 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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2015 UCL and the Wellcome Trust Science Policy Question Time

ucyow3c2 November 2015

pencil-iconWritten by Mr Greg Tinker and Dr Olivia Stevenson (OVPR)

pp1Five things we learned about the pressures on science in the UK

In advance of the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), an event organised by UCL and the Wellcome Trust, in the style of the BBC’s ever-popular Question Time series, sought to answer some of the most pressing questions facing the science community today.

Graeme Reid, Professor of Science and Research Policy at UCL, stepped into David Dimbleby’s shoes, putting questions from a lively audience of more than 100 people to an expert panel.

The panel included representatives from academia, funding bodies and the media and Professor Reid described their contributions as “brave, quick-thinking and well informed”. But what did we learn from their lively exploration of key science policy issues?

The science community wants to stay in the EU, but can they persuade the public?

Unpp2like the BBC’s Question Time, there was broad consensus among the panel and the audience that Britain’s membership of the EU is vital: for science research; for the growth of knowledge through EU students at UK universities and through world-leading research collaborations and partnerships. But panellist Alun Evans, Chief Executive of the British Academy, sounded a note of caution, suggesting that this debate, like the 2014 Scottish Referendum, won’t be fought on details, such as science funding. While this is “regrettable”, scientists “need to come up with arguments that make a difference to public opinion”.

Universities, or at least their Vice-Chancellors and Provosts, are likely to campaign to remain in the EU ahead of the 2017 referendum. But panel member Adam Smith, Assistant Communities Editor at the Economist, noted that, as institutions seek to fulfil their role as places of debate, will those outside universities accept that they need to be neutral spaces where all arguments can be heard?

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UCL Communication and Culture Awards 2015

Siobhan Pipa13 May 2015

Last Thursday saw staff from across UCL gather together to await one of the most hotly anticipated announcements of the year. No not the General Election results – I am, of course, referring to the winners of this year’s UCL Communication and Culture Awards.

Professor Michael Arthur

Professor Michael Arthur

Organised by UCL Public & Cultural Engagement and UCL Communications & Marketing, the awards, now in their second year, recognise the fantastic work done throughout the UCL community in spreading awareness of research and teaching through the media and cultural platforms.

This can include working on television, radio, blogging, festivals, public events, arts projects and exhibitions.

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Get your career going: a conference for early career researchers

ucyow3c22 February 2015

pencil-iconWritten by Dr Sonali Wayal, Research Associate, UCL Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research

The Early Career Forum's Conference Organising Committee

The Early Career Forum’s Conference organising committee

UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care’s Early Career Forum held its ‘Get your career going’ one-day conference on 19 February 2015. It was attended by PhD students and early career researchers from UCL Population Health Sciences.

The morning kicked off with coffee, pastries, and networking. “I wish I was advised about the importance of acquiring skills beyond just the PhD” was the inaugural sentiment of Professor Robert Miller, who chaired the conference. The conference was tailored to provide insights into how to advance your career both inside and outside of academia.

The first presenter, Dr Fiona Stevenson, gave a talk on ‘Teaching in Higher Education’. Her top tips for becoming a lecturer were to acquire a breadth of teaching experience which could involve giving lectures, developing course materials or doing small group teaching or tutoring. Proactively seeking teaching opportunities by contacting course administrators about your specialist skills or setting up new courses can be one way of getting such experience.

Following this, Professor Robert Miller, in his talk ‘Getting Your Paper Published’, emphasised the significance of choosing an appropriate journal to publish your study results by understanding the target audience, the content/focus of your research, the journal’s impact factor and the rejection rates of journals. Making pragmatic decisions based on the best audience for your work and the likelihood of your paper being accepted is important.

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