MRC WIMM staff and students were enthusiastic participants of this year’s Oxford IF, the annual festival of science and ideas in Oxfordshire. Engaging with topics from genome editing to skull development, our researchers had three stands throughout the festival and interacted with several hundred visitors:
Cut and paste
A team from across our Institute (including the participation of the Ahmed, Hughes, Nerlov, Ogg and Roberts groups) was in the Oxford Town Hall on the 13th of October to engage the public on the topical issue of Genome Editing. Visitors had a go at cutting and pasting giant DNA molecules, and learnt about the potential of this new technique. Younger visitors (and sometimes grown ups!) could compete against the clock to ‘edit’ sick cells in the bone marrow, an activity inspired by the research at our MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, while a more adult audience could learn about how genome editing allows researchers at the MRC Human Immunology Unit to study how cells can fight deadly viruses such as HIV and Zika.
Using Virtual Reality to study skull development
Also on the Oxford Town Hall, the Wilkie and Goriely groups collaborated with Steve Taylor in the MRC WIMM Centre for Computational Biology to present to the public their work on craniosynostosis in a new and engaging way. Craniosynostosis is a condition affecting 1 in 2,000 children, and characterised by the premature fusion of the bone plates in the skull, restricting space for brain growth. Visitors could hold and play with a variety of hands on activities (including inflatable brains!) and test their newly acquired knowledge in a virtual reality game.
Visit the Blood Factory
Meanwhile in the Oxford Academy in Littlemore on the 21st of October, members of the Cerundolo, de Bruijn, Dong, Jackson, Nerlov and Ogg groups took visitors on a journey through the science of blood. Visitors enjoyed making ‘blood’ using jelly beads representing the different components of this vital liquid, and listened to their own blood flow while learning about hormones and the transport highways within our body. Another favourite with visitors was our immune cell game, where both young and old played the role of immune cells detecting and fighting an infection.
The Oxford IF is the annual festival of science and ideas in Oxfordshire, aiming ‘through a range of events and activity, inspire and support people of all ages and backgrounds to access ideas from research and innovation for the encouragement and exploration of individual and global potential’.