This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Brain Awareness Week 2012/Outreach resources

Some of the resources we used for our visit to ThinkTank museum in March (available to download from SlideShare).

Keywords: genetics, neuroscience, outreach, science, activities, wordsearch, puzzle, quiz, brain awareness week

Monday, 21 May 2012

Don't Destroy Science (or the reputation of people with genuine concerns)

RESEARCHERS at Rothamsted Research are currently conducting a field trial of a genetically modified wheat crop engineered to express a naturally occurring repellent of aphids, a major crop pest. Many crops and plants already do this, so it makes sense to see whether it might prove an effective tool in a staple species that we rely on so heavily for food. We face two issues: a global food demand increasing inexorably, and a global abuse of pesticides, which are wreaking havoc on the environment. Thus, if successful, the crop could be used to help in the fight against both problems, as the plant would create its own natural deterrent, increasing the efficiency of yield and boosting food output. We don't know if it will work, so we have to experiment.

Genetic modification is always a sensitive issue, so the researchers have taken every effort to avoid contamination of other crops, given that the trial is in the open air. This is not just common sense and efforts to appease objectors but a legal requirement. For more information on the science, I recommend this article by the Guardian, and this article by my friend Nelly, who works at Rothamsted (though on a different project).

An anti-GM campaign group called Take The Flour Back has vowed to demonstrate against the trial on May 27. It is their right to be able to do so. People will have misgivings and a discussion ought to ensue about the ethics and practicalities of the trial. Yet though the scientists have offered to talk, the protestors have said no. On the contrary, the protesters have vowed not simply to demonstrate... but to 'decontaminate' - that is, to destroy the crop.

This is illegal, irresponsible and unjust, but most of all it is counter-productive.