It is well understood that the progression of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion disease involves the conformational change of the prion protein from its normal confirmation PrPC to an ‘abnormal’ conformation PrPSc, that can itself autocatalyse the transformation. The end point is the massive destruction of brain tissue giving the characteristic spongiform structure in which the brains of infected mammals are substantially shot through with holes. What is less clear is how the conformational conversion can possibly cause the latter effects. I had followed before some of the interesting work of Neena Singh and colleagues on this, showing the intimate involvement of iron metabolism, so I was very pleased to hear her seminar on this exciting topic.
The next major event was a meeting of the Board of the UK Collaborative for Development Sciences, (UK-CDS) of which we are a founding member. Part of this meeting involved a review of the activities and effectiveness of the first 5 years of the Collaborative. The UK-CDS provides a very useful forum for the exchange of ideas and the co-funding of activities in this important space.
Much of the UK’s strength in biology comes from the rigorous quality control measures that we apply to our research activities, and the Society of Biology recognised that this should also apply to teaching activities. To this end, they have organised a scheme (whose development we sponsored) for the accreditation of appropriate courses, and I was pleased to attend the announcement by David Willetts in the Palace of Westminster of the first set of winners.
I also attended a useful meeting held at Defra and led by Minsters Lord Taylor and Jim Paice on the (substantial) risks and (possibly more limited) opportunities arising from climate change, based in part on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment. A good number of these risk pertain to agriculture, where there was widespread recognition that research had a very major part to play, both in food and non-food crops, and where the existing threats from the arrival of ‘novel’ diseases of crops and livestock have already been manifest.
When this blog appears, I shall be attending a high-level meeting on the Bioeconomy in Europe, under the auspices of the Danish presidency of the EU. It promises to be a very useful forum for articulating the importance of the BioEconomy in Europe, and the role of scientific research in developing it further.
Finally, I enjoyed reading a short piece on the use of RNA aptamers as fluorogenic metabolite sensors, and another on the surveillance of animal influenza for preparedness against pandemics, while I was pleased to see the online version of a paper based on fluorescence-activated cell sorting assessing a number of important contributions to cellular longevity in baker’s yeast.
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- Davey HM, Cross EJM, Davey CL, Gkargkas K, Delneri D, Hoyle DC, Oliver SG, Kell DB, Griffith GW (2012) Genome-wide analysis of longevity in nutrient-deprived Saccharomyces cerevisiae reveals the importance of recycling in maintaining cell viability. Env Microbiol:in press
- Kell, D. B. (2009). A systems biologist ponders how disparate ideas can sometimes come together beautifully. Nature 460, 669
- Paige JS, Nguyen-Duc T, Song W, Jaffrey SR: Fluorescence imaging of cellular metabolites with RNA. Science 2012; 335:1194
- Peiris JS, Poon LL, Guan Y: Surveillance of animal influenza for pandemic preparedness. Science 2012; 335:1173-1174
- Singh, A., Isaac, A. O., Luo, X., Mohan, M. L., Cohen, M. L., Chen, F., Kong, Q., Bartz, J. & Singh, N. (2009). Abnormal brain iron homeostasis in human and animal prion disorders. PLoS Pathog 5, e1000336. Full free text
- Singh, A., Qing, L., Kong, Q. & Singh, N. (2012). Change in the characteristics of ferritin induces iron imbalance in prion disease affected brains. Neurobiol Dis 45, 930-8