Science Education in Europe: Plotting a course for the future?

Somewhat belatedly I have been catching up on a couple of reports about the future of Science teaching in Europe. Both were prompted by widespread concern that school science in its present form is not meeting the needs of society for the 21st Century. The decline in students’ attitudes towards science – apparently universal across Europe – is a particular worry.

Science Education Now: A renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe was published in 2007 and Science Education in Europe: Critical reflections in 2008

Published in 2007, Science Education Now: A renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe was written at the behest of the European Commission with the specific objective “to examine a cross-section of on-going initiatives and to draw from them elements of know-how and good practive that could bring about a radical change in young people’s interest in science” (p2).

The second paper, Science Education in Europe: Critical reflections follows on from two seminars held in 2006 at the Nuffield Foundation in London. The final report was published in January 2008.

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When the sum is better than the parts: combining the power of comparative genomics and experiments on model organisms

I have been doing some reading for a while now on the ethics of research involving model organisms, particularly the potential for studies on lower species to offer insights into human disease (and thereby contribute to the 3Rs). Some of my musings on the topic can be found here.

Aware of this interest, a colleague recommended that I read a 2004 paper published in the journal Cell. I am very grateful that he did, since the study really has the “wow” factor – demonstrating beautifully the potential of comparative genomics, experiments on model organisms and knowledge of human disease to work together to produce new insights that would have been much harder if any one component was missing. The paper is Comparative genomics identifies a flagellar and basal body proteome that includes the BBS5 human disease gene by Li JB et al. The following notes are my attempt to summarise the best bits.

The importance of cilia and basal bodies in disease
The role of cilia in respiration (and the detrimental effects of smoking on their function) were features of the school biology curriculum when I was a child. However, research over the last ten years or so has demonstrated that cilia have surprisingly diverse roles in development, from determination of left-right symmetry in the body, through to formation and function of specific organs such as the kidneys (for more detail see the Wikipedia entry on Ciliopathy or, if you have access permissions,  Badano et al (2006), The ciliopathies: an emerging class of human genetic disorders Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 7:125-148). Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) is one disorder associated with non-functional or malfunctional cilia. The clinical features can be varied, but include obesity, mental retardation, progressive-onset blindness and polydactylism (i.e. possession of extra digits). Continue reading

Discussing Eugenics in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Filmhouse

From November 20th to 22nd 2009 I took part in the Bioethics Film Festival at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. Now in its fifth consecutive year, the festival is believed by the organisers to be the only regular film festival on biomedical ethics anywhere in the world. At four sessions over the weekend, screening of the relevant film(s) was followed by a 30 minute discussion led by a panel of invited contributors.

Theme for the fifth festival

The theme for this year’s festival was eugenics, the “self direction of human evolution”. Attempts to influence the genetic quality of future humans have involved both promotion of the inheritance of ‘good’ genes (positive eugenics) or limitation of the transmission of ‘bad’ genes (negative eugenics). Most popular in the early twentieth century, many current developments in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and gene therapy are also considered to be eugenic.

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