I love David Mitchell. Proper love him. Ever since the first episode of his sitcom, Peep Show, I’ve harboured an ill-advised crush that has been the cause of much hilarity amongst my friends. I loved him through the podgy phase, the slightly sweaty phase, the endless-voiceovers-on-dubious-tv-ads phase. My persistence paid off when he emerged, circa 2010, like a butterfly from a chrysalis – thinner, beardier, handsome, presenting left wing TV shows and marrying girls’ girl Victoria Coren. I was smug. I thought he could do no wrong.
He could. He did.
In a baffling rant in a recent column in the observer (ok, not so recent, but I’ve been busy, yeah, so deal with it), David Mitchell went crazy over the ridiculousness of telomeres (we’ll get to what telomeres are immediately after the ranting has finished). From what I can make out from his ramble, the main problem seems to be that they’re too ruddy complicated. Damn you, science! In a rather incoherent outburst, Mitchell first attacked journalists who attempt to simplify science with metaphors, then went on to bemoan the fact that science language is so complex that he can’t follow it. I think, although I can’t be sure, that his basic point is this – ‘I’ll never properly understand science, so what’s the point in trying? And why should I care anyway?’
But David – telomeres are amazing! Telomeres keep you alive! Telomeres won a Nobel prize for heavens sakes! And here’s why I think they’re so cool.
Let’s not beat about the bush – Alzheimer’s disease is a real bitch. The most common form of dementia, accounting for over 60% of dementia cases in the elderly, it’s estimated to affect more than 1 in 40 people over the age of 70. The symptoms are notorious – problems with memory, bouts of confusion, loss of liguistic skills, mood changes – and these changes can completely affect a sufferer’s personality or sense of self. It’s no wonder, then, that Alzheimer’s disease has such emotional connotations for so many people.
Alzheimer’s is currently a disease with no known cure. The latest drugs can, at best, temporarily halt the march of dementia in a certain subset of patients. After my granddad was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s, I began to wonder why this was the case.
Synthetic Biology was not a term I’d ever come across before my boyfriend announced he was taking a job working on it. So, being a curious type, I looked it up. According to syntheticbiology.org (the natural first calling point for lazy googlers) synthetic biology is A) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, or B) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. To translate from jargon, synthetic biologists aim to manipulate existing biological ‘parts’ and put them together in new ways to generate organisms with new functions. This still sounds pretty vague to me, but it’s important to pay attention to synthetic biology. Regardless of how familiar you are
My name is Jenny and I am a developmental biologist. It’s a hopeless addiction, brought about by the awe inspiring process of making a baby. Get you mind out of the gutter! I’m talking about the process by which a single egg cell, fertilised by a single sperm, grows and divides over and over again to make the 100,000,000,000,000 cells present in a human body. What’s more, these cells don’t just replicate but also somehow organise themselves into lungs, a heart, bones, blood, eyes, a brain and much more. The day that I realised that I could get paid to spend my time trying to understand how this happens was the day I felt that I was finally onto a winner.