Hybrids and chimeras: Mythology, history and science

Last week two papers were published about human and other chimeras, one in Cell on ‘Interspecies chimerism with mammalian pluripotent stem cells’ and one in Nature entitled ‘Interspecies organogenesis generates autologous functional islets’. The first one caused a bit of a stir in the newspapers. About 70 newspaper articles covered this potential scientific breakthrough in All …

Making Science Public: 2016 blog round-up

This has been a weird and momentous year. For me personally and, even more so, for the world. In June this year we celebrated the almost end of the Making Science Public programme, which I directed between 2012 and 2016. At the end of September I retired, after working for more than 25 years at the University …

Origins of life; origins of synthetic biology

I was sitting on a train to London the other day reading a fascinating article on the early history of synthetic biology. In this post I just want to share some interesting insights I gleaned from that paper, as it’s always a good thing to know a bit more about the history of a field …

Meanings of RRI: The missing link between theory and practice

This is a guest post by Alasdair Taylor, Industry Programme Manager at The Royal Society, formerly a research chemist at the University of Nottingham. This blog post is based on the author’s article (co-authored with Sarah Hartley and Warren Pearce), ‘Against the tide of depoliticisation: The politics of research governance’, published open access in Policy & Politics. …

The Carbon Neutral Lab: Science, culture, values

This week we held our yearly Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) Strategic Advisory Board Meeting. The meeting took place in the Carbon Neutral Laboratory which houses the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry. This building has become quite famous because it burned down last year, was rebuilt and opened this year. I should say from the outset …

Gene surgery – Genchirurgie

On 22nd October 2016 Roland Jackson tweeted that he was going to Berlin to participate in a trilateral meeting of English (Nuffield Foundation on Bioethics), German and French bioethics committees on gene/genome editing. I tweeted back and asked whether there would be a report; he tweeted an older press release by the German Ethics Council …

CRISPR and genome editing: Real and imagined

For several years now there has been a buzz around a new advance in genomics called genome (or gene) editing. “Genome editing is the deliberate alteration of a selected DNA sequence in a living cell.” Scientists have been able to do gene editing for a while, but to find and replace any sequence in any …

iGEM comes to Nottingham

I recently mentioned the ‘word’ iGEM when chatting with a ‘lay’ person about synthetic biology; whereupon the lay person looked at me quizzically and wondered what an iGEM was. Was it like an iPhone, but for gems? Somebody who overheard this exchange chipped in with a comment that made us all laugh. He said that …

CRISPR – and the race is on (again)

At the weekend I was reading an article in the Guardian about a team of Chinese scientists trying to use CRISPR/gene editing for the treatment of cancer; and I sighed. The article contained some of the standard and, I believe, quite worn-out tropes that pepper coverage of advances in biotechnology: playing God, designer babies…, as …

Assembling a synthetic human genome: Science and the politics of openness

There has recently been some commotion in the field of synthetic biology about a meeting held at Harvard on 10 May 2016 at which scientists discussed the creation of a synthetic human genome. The meeting was a closed, invitation-only meeting. In a field of science that takes pride in its openness and transparency, this created …