News

Mendel’s 200th Birthday Garden Party

Image credit: Joana Carvalho

Join us at RHS Wisley, Surrey, on 20th July 2022 for a garden party of science to celebrate Mendel’s 200th Birthday. Free registration for members, including lunch, 2022 award lectures, drinks reception and birthday cake by The Goldfinch Kitchen! ECR members can apply for a Scheme A junior scientist grant, and a Carer’s award is available to all members to help with attendance.  The event will also be available online.  For more information and details of how to register, see our events page.


Mendel Medal 2022 – Professor Azim Surani and Professor Davor Solter

The Mendel Medal 2022 was jointly awarded to Professor Azim Surani and Professor Davor Solter for discovery of genomic imprinting.  Genomic Imprinting has been pivotal for advances in epigenetics and mammalian development, showing that parental chromosomes retain a memory of their origin with heritable DNA methylation tags, which regulate the expression of parental alleles with a role in mammalian development, growth, behaviour and human diseases.  The integration of the imprinting cycle into the mammalian germline cycle allows for epigenetic resetting, including the erasure and reestablishment of imprints.  Genomic imprinting was critical for the evolution of placental viviparity, with a fundamental impact on strategies for mammalian development.

Azim Surani received a PhD at Cambridge University in 1975 under Sir Robert Edwards (Nobel laureate, 2010), working on early mammalian development.  After moving to the Animal Research Station Cambridge in 1979, he continued to investigate if both parental genomes are essential for mammalian development, which led to Genomic Imprinting in 1984.

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Surani was elected Marshall-Walton Professor at Cambridge University in 1992 and subsequently Director of Germline and Epigenetics Research in 2013 at the Gurdon Institute.  He elucidated the hitherto unknown genetic basis for mammalian germ cell specification in mice and humans and the mechanisms regulating the unique germline epigenetic program. He is also studying in vitro models of early human development, the germline and in vitro gametogenesis.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, and his awards include the William Bate Hardy Prize, a Royal Medal for mammalian development, Rosenstiel Award for epigenetic regulation of gene expression in mammals, ISSCR McEwen Award for Innovation, and the Canada International Gairdner Award for genomic imprinting and epigenetics.

 

Davor Solter, M.D. (1965), Ph.D. (1971) both from the University of Zagreb, Croatia.  Assistant and Associate Professor in the Departments of Anatomy and Biology, University of Zagreb Medical School 1966-1973.  In 1973 moved to the Wistar Institute, Philadelphia and became Member and Professor in 1981 as well as Wistar Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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In 1991 he was appointed Member of the Max-Planck Society and Director of the Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg.  From 2008-2014 Research Director, Institute of Medical Biology, A*STAR, Singapore and Professor, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.  Currently Visiting International Professor Siriraj Center for Excellence in Stem Cell Research, Mahidol University Medical School, Bangkok.  He was and is a member of numerous editorial and advisory boards and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, EMBO and Academia Europea.  In 1998 received March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology for pioneering the concept of imprinting, in 2007 Rosenstiel Award (shared with Mary Lyon and Azim Surani) for discovery of imprinting and in 2018 Canada Gairdner International Award for discovery of imprinting

Davor Solter contributed significantly to many areas of mammalian developmental biology, namely: differentiation of germ layers; the role of cell surface molecules in regulating early development; biology and genetics of teratocarcinoma; biology of embryonic stem cells; imprinting and cloning.  His current research interest focuses on genetic and molecular control of genome reprogramming and of activation of the embryonic genome.


Mary Lyon Medal 2022 – Prof Irene Miguel-Aliaga

Irene Miguel-Aliaga is Professor of Genetics and Physiology at Imperial College London, and MRC Investigator at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences.

Irene has an interest in the crosstalk between organs – in particular, how and why the intestine communicates with other organs, such as the brain.  Her lab was one of the first to tackle the study of the brain-gut axis using the powerful genetics of Drosophila: work that they have now extended to mouse and human models.

Irene and her team discovered that the brain-gut axes of males and females are very different, and that these intestinal sex differences impact food intake, gamete production and tumour susceptibility.  They have also investigated how the intestine senses nutrients, revealing unexpected
roles for metal sensing in the regulation of feeding and growth.

Irene trained as a biochemist in Barcelona, Spain and she received her PhD in Genetics from the University of Oxford (UK).  She investigated how neurons develop during postdoctoral work at Harvard (USA), Linköping University (Sweden) and NIMR (now Crick Institute, UK).

Irene was the recipient of an ERC Starting Grant and currently holds an ERC Advanced Grant.  She was elected to the EMBO YIP programme in 2012, to EMBO in 2017 and to the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2019.  She was also awarded a Suffrage Science Women in Science award in 2018.

Irene will receive her medal at the Society Mendel’s 200th Birthday event on 20th July, 2022.


Haldane Lecture 2020 – Jonathan Pettitt

Jonathan Pettitt will present the 2020 Genetics Society Haldane Lecture at the Royal Institution from 7:00pm – 8:30pm on Tuesday 14th June 2022:

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”  Non-Darwinian routes to the evolution of life’s complexity.

Image: Jonathan Pettitt, adapted from Ernst Haekel, Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 14: Peridinea

The standard view of evolution is that complex living things arise through gradual refinements of simpler precursors; each successive version becoming better adapted through natural selection, leading to exquisitely refined, complex mechanisms.  But there is another route for life to evolve complexity.  Rather than being fine-tuned creations of natural selection, complex features can arise simply because biology is messy and noisy.  In this talk, Professor Jonathan Pettitt will explain how living systems tend to make simple mechanisms more complicated than they need to be.  He will show how such ‘unnecessary complexity’ can both restrict and expand an organism’s evolutionary potential.

The event will be held in hybrid format, enabling all members to attend either remotely or in person.  Non-members are welcome.

Theatre attendance:
To enable the Ri to meet current regulations, tickets for theatre are limited and must be booked in advance via Eventbrite.

Cost:
Non-Genetics Society members – £16,
Concession – £10,
Ri members and Ri patrons – £7.
Genetics Society members – FREE using the secret code emailed to members.

Remote attendance:
To receive a link to the live event, please book in advance using Eventbrite, following the instructions.

If you are a member and do not receive the email, please, contact Theteam with your membership number.

There will be a drinks reception for members from 6pm.  We look forward to seeing you there!


Hap-pea Birthday Mendel!

To help the Genetics Society in celebrating Gregor Mendel’s 200th birthday anniversary on the 20th of July 2022, we invite you to submit artwork based on Mendel’s discovery of the rules of inheritance! The best artwork will be featured on the cover of a special issue of the official journal of the Genetics Society, Heredity, and will win some money.

Who can participate:

Students from primary and secondary schools based in the UK.

How can you participate:

Submit an image of your artwork that depicts Mendel’s work.It can be a drawing, collage, sculpture, or other creative composition. Please send a high-resolution image of your submission, with the artist’s name, age, materials used and school’s name to theteam@genetics.org.uk with the subject line: ‘Hap-pea Birthday Mendel’. Each student can submit up to three pieces of artwork.

Deadline:

13th May 2022

Prizes:

The winning student will get a £100 voucher and their school will get £500 towards science equipment. The winning artwork will also feature in a special issue of Heredity (https://www.nature.com/hdy/), celebrating Mendel’s birthday.

Judges:

All artworks will be judged by the Genetics Society committee.

If you want to find more about Mendel’s work:

https://gregormendel200.org/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mehz7tCxjSE

https://www.twinkl.co.uk/teaching-wiki/gregor-mendel

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/gregor-mendel-and-the-principles-of-inheritance-593/


Public lecture: Genomic “Dark Matter” and its role in health and disease

As part of our Spring Meeting in Edinburgh we will have a public lecture Genomic “Dark Matter” and its role in health and disease on Wednesday, 13th April at 7pm.  The event will be hybrid, so there will be a live audience and an online audience via Zoom webinar.  The event is free to attend but you need to register for either the live event or online.


National Career’s week

It’s National Career’s week! If you want to find out more about a career in genetics check our our career’s webpage featuring many examples of career paths outside academia.


2022 February Newsletter

The February 2022 issue of the Genetics Society Newsletter is now available for download.

“In this issue we are exploring diversity and inclusivity in genetic research. Feature articles cover studies on genetic diversity in underrepresented populations, research that aim to make data and information more accessible to families and communities, and research careers in countries with limited resources. It is a complex and varied topic, and the following articles provide a thoughtful glimpse into many issues and fascinating research topics:

Human variation is an interesting phenomenon observable at many levels of our existence, but perhaps most fascinating at the molecular level. Nothing attests to each human’s uniqueness as well as the DNA. […] Many of the underrepresented populations exhibit the greatest genetic diversity. Their genomes have evolved in response to their unique environment and lifestyle choices, therefore, this inequity means that vast amounts of genetic variants are missed since they are either absent or present in low frequencies in the European population

(Oyewumi Akinpelu, page 32)

[P]recision medicine seems to be closer than ever. However, not all populations will benefit equally. Nor will the architecture of diseases be fully understood without the adequate representation of all human diversity

(Maria Jose Palma Mart nez, page 35)

We continue to explore the career evolution and impact of research experience on the past years Summer Studentship grant winners: students shared their experience and hopes with us in “Genetics Society Summer Studentship – Share your story”, page 42. For more interviews, see issue 85.

The Newsletter is growing! Be prepared for new material, from “picture of research” to book reviews and scientific games! Would you like to be part of this change? For more information see page 58.

If you have any comments or suggestions for future themes or articles, please send them to me: newsletter@genetics.org.uk

Enjoy!

Best wishes,

Margherita Colucci


FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND GLOBAL COVID-19 GENOMICS TRAINING PROGRAMME LAUNCHED

A new, global training programme that aims to provide deeper understanding about SARS-CoV-2 genomics and biodata, and how this knowledge can be used to prepare for future pandemics has been launched by COG-Train.  This is a partnership between Wellcome Connecting Science (WCS) and the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, alongside their international collaborators,
including Wellcome’s Africa and Asia programmes.

The first course in this programme − The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic − launches on 7 February 2022 and will be hosted online on the FutureLearn platform.  This course is the first in a series of five, all of which will be released online.

It is free to learners across the world and will show how genomics has improved the response to COVID-19, how COVID-19 vaccines and other therapies are developed, and how sharing genomic sequencing helps healthcare professionals understand disease epidemiology, allowing them to give better advice to policy makers and governments.

It was developed with an international audience in mind, with scientists working on SARS-CoV-2 genomics based in Argentina, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Thailand, and the UK contributing their knowledge and expertise to this course.  A larger group of experts from Asia, Africa and Latin America have provided advice on the training needs in their regions.

The first course will provide a broad introduction to COVID-19 genome sequencing, and is designed for anyone interested in learning more about the genomic response to the current pandemic.  This includes early career researchers, healthcare professionals, science journalists, policymakers, and those working in public health, or anyone who wants to know more about how genomics has helped
to shape the global response to the virus so far.

A series of more technical online courses for researchers and healthcare professionals will follow.  These will concentrate on multiple topics, such as sampling and data acquisition, and the associated legal and ethical issues along with the sequencing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, including the identification of new variants.  In addition to this, one will focus on genomics in clinical practice and the implications for public health policy, including how to advise policy makers and health ministries.

The wider programme will also feature ‘train-the-trainer’ courses, supporting scientists and healthcare professionals to learn about bioinformatics analysis and sequencing.  This is so they can acquire the knowledge to develop and deliver their own courses, and train more healthcare workers in their own countries.

A ‘remote classroom’ model will be used to increase the reach and impact of the learning materials, with training being delivered simultaneously in multiple classrooms across many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  This allows the knowledge and the experience gained from this pandemic to be shared globally.

Overall the programme will help create a global network of experts and frontline workers who will share data, support and advise on further developments in the fight against COVID-19, or other infectious disease outbreaks.

Dr Catherine Ludden, Director of Operations for the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) and Director of COG-Train, said: “Alongside Wellcome Connecting Science and the Unviersity of Cambridge, we have created this programme for those working at the frontline of the pandemic all over the world.  As genomics continues to play a key role in the fight, it is vital that healthcare workers and researchers are provided with free access to training to develop their knowledge and skills in genomics.  We want to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to support them so that globally, we are more prepared to track SARS-CoV-2 and any other pandemics in the future.”

Dr Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, a member of the focus group for COG-Train, from the Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, University of the Philippines Manila said: “The pandemic underscored the huge roles that genomics and bioinformatics play in public health response to emerging infectious diseases.  This training gives opportunities for countries with limited resources to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to address their own needs and to prepare them towards precision medicine, the future of healthcare.”

Dr Gerald Mboowa, who contributed to the course content, from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the importance of integrating as well as strengthening pathogen genomics in every National Public Health Laboratory or Institution disease surveillance programme.”

Dr Treasa Creavin, Head of Conferences and Online Training at Wellcome Connecting Science said: “Sharing international expertise and knowledge about genomics is important to help health agencies around the world to identify and inform public health strategies to control disease outbreaks like COVID-19.  This programme provides free, accessible training for people globally who are working at
the forefront of COVID-19.  It will use a unique blend of online courses, virtual versions of train-the-trainer and remote classrooms to deliver high quality training that can strengthen the capacity of scientists worldwide.  This programme can also help create a network of professionals, so that information and support can be shared freely.”


Haldane Lecture 2021 – Matthew Cobb

Matthew Cobb will present the 2021 Genetics Society Haldane Lecture at the Royal Institution from 7:00pm – 8:30pm on Tuesday 22nd February 2022:

Dreams and nightmares of the genetic age

Image: Cotton is one of many GMO crops. Credit: southerngal via Pixabay

For the last 50 years, new genetic techniques have transformed science. They’ve been turned into technology, putting food in the fields, healing bodies and, hidden from history, constructing terrifying weapons.

Join Matthew Cobb as he explores how every new development has been rapidly counterbalanced by fears of disaster. From genetically manipulated humans, to the inadvertent or deliberate release of dangerous organisms.

In this talk, Matthew shows how genetic engineering has shaped the last half century as surely as the atom bomb shaped the post-war world. Exploring science, business, culture and protest, he reveals the alarming power of the new genetics and explores how it can be controlled.

Theatre attendance:
To enable the Ri to meet current regulations, tickets for theatre are limited and must be booked in advance via Eventbrite.

Cost:
Non-Genetics Society members – £16,
Concession – £10,
Ri members and Ri patrons – £7.
Genetics Society members – FREE using the secret code emailed to members.

Remote attendance:
To receive a link to the live event, please book in advance using Eventbrite, following the instructions.

If you are a member and do not receive the email, please, contact Theteam with your membership number.


Sir Kenneth Mather Memorial Prize 2021 – Robert Hillary

I am delighted to have received the Sir Kenneth Mather Memorial Prize.  I want to extend my gratitude to the Genetics Society and the University of Birmingham.  I would also like to thank my brilliant PhD supervisors Dr Riccardo Marioni, Dr Kathryn Evans, Prof Craig Ritchie, Prof Ian Deary and thesis chair Prof Caroline Hayward who nominated me for this award.  I feel very fortunate to have had such supportive supervisors and mentors to guide me through my PhD and beyond.

I embarked on a Wellcome-funded PhD programme in Translational Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh.  My PhD thesis was titled: ‘A multi-omics approach to understand the role of plasma proteins in cognitive ageing and dementia’.  The overarching aim of my work was to determine whether blood-based molecular markers can predict dementia risk.  First, I performed genome- and epigenome-wide association studies on the levels of over 400 blood proteins measured in either The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 or Generation Scotland.  I applied these data to causal analysis methods and found a small number of blood proteins whose levels might causally associate with dementia risk.  Second, I showed that an existing blood-based predictor of mortality termed ‘DNAm GrimAge’ robustly associated with multiple measures of brain health but did not associate with the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

I am now working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer, Edinburgh and hope to pursue a fellowship to continue my work in molecular epidemiology and common disease.


Call for Papers

Special issue of Heredity in honour of Mendel’s 200th birthday.

Mendel (born 20 July, 1822) is best known for his three laws of inheritance:

1) Law of independent assortment

2) Law of dominance

3) Law of segregation

However, the field of genetics has been enriched by considering exceptions to these laws.  Examples include: epigenetics and genomic imprinting, epistasis, paramutation, gene conversion, meiotic drive, social effects, symbiosis and the microbiome, quantitative genetics, cultural inheritance.

Heredity is seeking submissions of short essays, reviews, perspectives or research articles that address how Mendel’s ideas have fuelled development of understanding of such “exceptions”.

The Genetics Society is sponsoring the special issue and would welcome representation across their membership.

Please send expressions of interest (by 20 September, 2021) to heredity-journal@ glasgow.ac.uk with “Mendel” in the subject line.  Full papers will be due by 20 December, 2021.


Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith is awarded the Buchanan Medal

The Genetics Society is thrilled to congratulate our new President, Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith FMedSci FRS, on being awarded the prestigious Buchanan Medal 2021 by the Royal Society for “her pioneering work in epigenetics, her interdisciplinary work on genomic imprinting, the interplay between the genome and epigenome, and how genetic and environmental influences affect development and human diseases“.

Professor Ferguson-Smith’s achievement will be celebrated at the Royal Society’s Anniversary Day on 30 November 2021.


Welcome to New Committee Members

The Genetics society welcomes two new committee members: Anita Hashmi (Shadow Postgraduate Representative) and Dr Natalia Bulgakova (Website Editor).

Anita is a second-year postgraduate researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University studying the genetics of African herbivores and the impact of conservation action on communities in Kenya.  Her research focuses on the practical application of genetics to resolve conservation issues alongside the influence of conservation strategies, such as the designation of national parks, on the lives of local communities.   Anita’s reasons for wanting to join the Genetics Society Committee were twofold: to continue the excellent work of the Society in public engagement and highlight diversity in our community of geneticists.  Through this position, she hopes to highlight and celebrate our differences as people and as researchers, especially within the postgraduate research community.

Natalia is a lecturer at the School of Biologies, University of Sheffield.  Natalia’s research focuses on cell-cell adhesion, which is the mechanism that connects individual cells in our body together.  She studies the regulation and roles of cell-cell adhesion during development and tissue homeostasis using Drosophila as a model. Natalia’s research greatly benefits from her passion for developing and applying computational approaches for analyses of data from microscopy and next-generation sequencing.  These approaches allow the extraction of quantitative, high-quality information to better understand the cellular and genetic mechanisms of animal development.  During her postdoc at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, UK, Natalia gained experience as a website editor, which she currently applies to her lab’s website.  She hopes to bring this expertise to help the Genetics Society to maintain an up-to-date inclusive world-wide-web presence.

Anita and Natalia are looking forward to being a part of the Genetics Society Committee.


2021 Postdoc Appreciation Week

Postdoc Appreciation Week (PAW) is a celebration of the fantastic contribution postdocs and researchers make towards research and academic life in general.  It’s a special time to showcase, recognise, and celebrate their efforts, and thank them for all they do!

Originally an initiative from the National Postdoc Association in the USA (National Postdoc Appreciation Week), it is now also celebrated in the UK, with the first-ever UK/ROI-wide events organised in 2020 by a consortium of UK and Irish Universities.

In 2021, PAW is taking place from Monday 20 September to Friday 24 September 2021.  It will culminate in the day-long National Postdoc Conference 2021 (#NPDC21) on Friday 24 September.

During PAW, please use #LovePostdocs and #NPAW2021 in your Tweets!


2021 July Newsletter

The July 2021 issue of the Genetics Society Newsletter is now available for download.

In this issue, “change” is the keyword. 

Through a series of interviews, we explored the changes from their undergraduate role and the career evolution of the past years Summer Studentship grant winners. Where are they now? What impact that research experience had on them? Find out more in “Genetics Society Summer Studentship – Share your story, Part 1”, page 23. 

Big changes happened in the Society too. While we say goodbye to our previous president, Laurence Hurst, and thank him for all his great work and dedication to the society, we have welcomed our new President, Anne Ferguson-Smith. Anne is the Pro- Vice-Chancellor for Research and the Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics at the University of Cambridge. She is an expert on genomic imprinting and focuses on mammalian developmental geneticist and epigeneticist. Please, go to page 22 to know more about her and what she hopes to achieve over the next 3 years. 

Finally, there are aspects in research and, more generally, in the scientific world that cry for change: with Dr Stuart Ritchie, we explore misconduct and fraud in science and the solutions that “open science” proposes, talking about his latest book “Science fictions: how fraud, bias, negligence and hype undermine the search for truth”. 

I would like to draw your attention to the opportunity of contributing to the special issue of Heredity. In July 2022, this special issue will be celebrating Mendel’s 200th birthday with short essays, reviews and research articles on “exceptions” to Mendel’s laws. We would like to invite you to submit your piece (more information on page 20). 

Looking forward to this special issue, we propose “How genetic linkage was discovered” by Antonio Marco (page 39): focusing on Mendel’s laws of heredity, this is an overview of the discovery of genetic linkage in which William Bateson, the founder of The Genetics Society, was also involved. 

Enjoy! 

Best wishes,

Margherita Colucci