Wolverine from the X-men is pretty awesome. Not only does he have a hairdo to die for and claws coated in adamantium (ask you nearest nerd), he also has the power to self-heal. As a naturally clumsy person, if I could pick a superpower then regeneration would be amongst my top choices, along with the clichéd invisibility and maybe a super-human metabolism. Excitingly, whilst many superhero powers remain just that, super, a breakthrough in stem cell technology may have brought us mere mortals a step closer to mimicking Wolverine’s healing powers*.
Phew! All this hardcore science chat is tiring. Time to lighten up for a minute or two.
This week the first allinthegenes column was published in Essex newspaper the Harlow Star. Hopefully the blog will now be a regular feature on the Harlow Star website. You can check it out if you want, although be warned; it’s not dissimilar to what you’ve already read.
Thirty years ago this month, scientists introduced a foreign gene into plant cells for the first time. Genetically modified (GM) plant technology was born. But, almost 20 years after the research was first used commercially, no GM crops are sold in the UK. Indeed, the use of GM plants is strictly regulated throughout the EU. This is in stark contrast to other developed countries such as the USA, Canada and China, where the supply of staples such as maize, cotton and soya beans now comes predominantly from GM plants. So why has the UK been so slow to follow in the footsteps of other global powers?
In my previous blog posts I have mentioned the importance of a good relationship between science and the media a couple of times. The MMR jab scare perfectly exemplifies the danger of a breakdown in this line of communication. With measles cases still rising, the papers are full of articles about where it all went wrong; who was to blame, and how such a fiasco could be prevented from happening again. In thinking about this, it’s very easy to point the blame squarely at the media. The journalists reporting the scare failed to understand the science, or lack thereof, behind the claims. But scientists must also take a more active role in maintaining a good relationship with the media.
The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) published an exposé this weekend on what they call ‘the terrible plight of animals’’ at Imperial College London. A member of the group spent seven months working as a technician at the University’s animal facility, secretly recording the researchers and rodents in their day-to-day lives. The 10 minute long film is uncomfortable to watch, even as someone who believes that vivisection is necessary. But this is not because the BUAV’s spy managed to uncover routine torture, as they would have you believe. It’s because, if there were alternatives, no one would choose to put animals through surgery and euthanasia in a captive environment. Unfortunately, what this piece of propaganda neglects to mention is that the research being carried out is vital. There are no alternatives.
Margaret Thatcher passed away this week, but did you know that prior to her prime ministerial duties, the Iron Lady worked as a research chemist? In a completely unrelated train of thought, I’ve been pondering the five most “evil” scientists of all time….