Genome Editing is a hot topic, with the potential to have a real impact not only in scientific research but also on people’s lives. To engage the public with this topic, our researchers paired up once again with the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute of Radiation Oncology to take genome editing to supermarkets, shopping centres and high streets in the local area, part of this year’s MRC Festival of Medical Research.
Our work on genome editing
Our hands on stand focused on how genome editing is being used by our researchers to study and fight diseases such as cancer and viruses. Passerbys were first encouraged to have a go at finding (and changing) a specific sequence of DNA, and learn how DNA encodes for information by writing their own name using DNA code. They could then explore two different ways in which genome editing is being used to study and fight disease at our Institute. In one activity children were encouraged to find the ‘sick’ cells inside a giant bone marrow and turned them inside out to cure them. The activity illustrated how researchers at our MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, are using genome editing to treat blood diseases, such as anaemia, by fixing patient’s sick cells using genome editing. A second activity explored the concept of genetic screening and showed how the MRC Human Immunology Unit is using genome editing to turn off genes in cells, one gene at the time, and then observing how cells cope with infections by different viruses such as HIV, Zika or influenza. The small, handheld, activity was paired with a timelapse video showing the real scale in which these screens take place in our labs
Reaching new people
As has been in the case in previous years, the stand was taken to shopping centres, supermarkets and high streets in cities and villages outside of Oxford, namely Newbury, High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Banbury, Witney and Swindon. These locations were chosen to engage with a new audience that may not be as likely to interact with Oxford researchers on a regular basis. The public, which included a range of ages, from young children to their grandparents, were very receptive to the activities, and thanked our researchers for taking the time to talk to them and for their important research. Over 6 days our researchers interacted with over 800 people. Many thanks to everyone who took part!
Engaging pupils online
The MRC Festival of Medical Research takes place between 14-24 June 2018. MRC-funded units, centres and institutes showcase and discuss their work through events and activities around the UK and in Africa. This year the festival also included a special ‘MRC Festival zone’ in the popular online public engagement project ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here!’ where scientists answer questions from pupils online and vote for their favourite scientist to win £500. David Grainger, a PhD student in the Porcher lab is participating. So far he has had to answer some questions close to their area of research (such as ‘how to stem cells make choices’) and others a bit more personal (such as ‘what football team you support’ – the answer is that he is a rugby fan!). We wish David all the best for his last week answering questions!