Genetics Unzipped

S3.22 The Past, Present and Future of the Human Genome Project

In this episode we bring you an in-depth interview with Dr Eric Green, director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute and one of the key instigators of the Human Genome Project, to talk about the past, present and future of human genomics.


S3.21 From Philadelphia to Baltimore: Tales of Chromosomes, Cancer Cells and Henrietta Lacks

In this episode we’re taking a road trip from Philadelphia to Baltimore, exploring stories of chromosomal cut-and-paste, cancer cures and Henrietta Lacks’ incredible cancer cells.

Back in episode 18 of this series we talked about the challenge of diagnosing and treating rare genetics diseases.  If you’d like to explore more, RAREfest – the Cambridge Rare Disease network’s festival of arts and science celebrating rare diseases is happening online this year on 28th November.  It’s an all-day free virtual festival featuring interactive exhibits showcasing cool science, visionary technology, and pioneering organisations improving lives and bringing hope to those affected by rare diseases, along with talks from experts, patients and family members, as well as art and films.  To find out more, head over to or book your place for free now:  RAREfest20 free registration


S3.20 The Future of Cancer: How Genomics is Transforming Research and Treatment for All

In this episode, sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific, we’re taking a look at how genomic technologies are transforming cancer care – now and in the future, and the importance of making sure that these advances are available to all.




S3.19 Making Babies and Getting Organised: Celebrating Hilde Mangold and Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch

In this episode we’re going back to the very beginning, telling the stories of the midwives of the field of developmental genetics, two talented researchers whose work helped to reveal the secrets of life in its very earliest stages: Hilde Mangold and Salome Gluecksohn-Waelsch.




S3.18 Rare, Well  Done: Progress and challenges in rare genetic disorders

In this episode we take a look at the progress that’s been made in tackling rare genetic disorders, and the challenges that remain.  And we hear from a prenatal genetic counsellor about how new tests are helping people carrying genetic variations make decisions about starting a family.




S3.17 Rebel Cell: Cancer, evolution and the science of life

In this episode we bring you exclusive excerpts from my new book, Rebel Cell: Cancer, evolution and the Science of Life, exploring where cancer came from, where it’s going, and how we might beat it.




S3.16 Sickness and susceptibility: The ancient war between genes and disease

In this episode, we’re taking a look at the ancient war between our genes and the pathogens that infect us, looking back thousands of years to the Black Death and before, all the way through to our very latest foe.




S3.15 Pimp my Genome: the wonderful world of Epigenetics

In this episode we take a look at the world of epigenetics – finding out if more than DNA passes on to the next generation, whether Darwin was wrong and Lamarck was right, and how to pimp your genome.




S3.14 The eyes have it: from genetics to gene therapy

In this episode, supported by the Medical Research Council, we discover how researchers are letting the light shine in, literally, by bringing discoveries about the underlying genetic faults that cause eye diseases all the way through to game-changing clinical trials of gene therapy designed to save sight.




S3.13 The Cancer Ladies: Maud Slye and Pauline Gross

In this episode we tell the stories of two women – one a scientist fascinated by dancing mice, the other a seamstress with a deadly family legacy – who both made significant contributions to our understanding of cancer as a disease driven by genetic changes, paving the way for lifesaving screening programmes for families.



S3.12 Out Standing in the Field: the highs and lows of genetics fieldwork

In this episode we’re off on our virtual travels, finding out about the highs and lows of fieldwork. From chasing butterflies up mountains to artificially inseminating kakapos with the help of drones and putting angry birds in paper bags until they poo, we talk to the researchers studying genetics and evolution in action.




S3.11 From one generation to the next: the life and work of Anne McLaren

In this episode we’re taking a look at the life of Dame Anne McLaren – one of the leading embryologists of the 20th century, whose work underpinned the development of the in vitro fertilisation techniques responsible for bringing millions of bundles of joy into the world, and much more besides.




S3.10 Out of Africa: uncovering history and diversity in the human genome

In this episode we’re taking a virtual trip to Africa to explore the genetic diversity in the birthplace of humanity, discover how researchers can read the cultural and historical stories written in the genome, and discuss the implications for the lack of diversity in our current genetic databases for global health.



S3.09 Twisted history: the true story of the double helix

The names of James Watson and Francis Crick are inextricably linked with the discovery of the DNA double helix.  And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll also know that credit is due to Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins and Ray Gosling too.

But what about Elwyn Beighton, Fred Griffith or Rudolf Signer?  In this episode we’re unwinding history to uncover some of the less well-known stories behind the discovery of the structure and function of DNA.


 S3.08 Nothing about me without me: involving patients in genomic research

As the tools and techniques for DNA and data analysis become cheaper and more organisations get in on this fast-growing field, it’s vital to make sure that the most valuable research resource – human lives – doesn’t get overlooked in the rush.

In this episode, recorded at the recent Festival of Genomics in London, we find out why it’s so important to make sure that both academic and commercial research studies are done with rather than on participants.


S3.07 An accidental invention: the story of genetic fingerprinting

35 years ago this month, a small team of scientists at the University of Leicester published a paper that changed the world.  We take a look at the story of genetic fingerprinting, and some of the very first ways that this game-changing technique was put to work.




S3.06 Can you have a ‘perfect genome’? Myths and misconceptions in genomics

In this episode in partnership with the Genomics Education Programme, we’re taking a look at some of the common myths and misconceptions surrounding genomics and genetic tests. Are mutations always bad? If you’re more like your mum, does that mean you’ve inherited more of her genes? And is there such a thing as a perfect genome?




S3.05 – Poop, pus and the Manhattan Project: How we learned to spell the genetic alphabet

If you know a bit of biology, you might know that the genetic code of DNA is written in just four ‘letters’ – A, C, T and G.  You may even know that these letters are the initials of the names of the molecules that make up the double helix, known as nucleotide bases: adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine.  But where did those strange-sounding names come from?  In this episode of Genetics Unzipped, we go from poop to pus to atomic weapons on our journey to learn about the discovery of these vital chemicals and how they got their names.



S3.04 – Race to the bottom

In this episode, we’re hunting for the ghosts in our genomes, telling the story of the discovery of the double helix in Lego, and finding out how to argue with a racist.





S3.03 – Fish, facts and fiction, from Haeckel’s embryos to Tiktaalik

In this episode exploring great ideas in genetics, we’re discovering our inner fish – finding out whether we really do go through a fishy phase in the womb, and looking at the legacy of Tiktaalik, the first fish to walk on land.




S3.02 – Hidden family secrets revealed by genetic testing

It’s been impossible to ignore the rise in direct-to-consumer and medical genetic testing over the past few years.  And as the cost of whole genome sequencing falls – and the potential personal, health and financial value of genomic data rises – this trend is only likely to continue.  But do people really realise what they’re signing up for when they spit into a tube or squirt out a blood sample?  As we head into the next decade, ethical issues like informed consent and privacy for genomic testing and research are becoming impossible to ignore – especially as your genetic information doesn’t just belong to you but is also shared with your blood relatives.



S3.01 – Investigating the icons of evolution, from Darwin’s Finches to the March of Progress

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re exploring a couple of iconic images in evolution – the much-parodied March of Progress, portraying the inexorable journey from monkey to man, and the famous finches of the Galapagos islands, which are supposedly the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  Where did these infamous images come from, and do they really show what everyone seems to think they do?


Mini-series: New Light on Old Britons – Galton Institute Symposium 2019

A stellar lineup of speakers covered the latest research into the early history of the British people. Who were these ancient Britons? Where did they come from and what were they like? What’s the real story behind the romantic myths about the Celts? And what can modern genetic and archaeological techniques tell us about their lives and loves?  Discover the answers in this short series of podcasts and videos from the conference, produced by Georgia Mills and Ed Prosser for First Create The Media.   Visit the Galton Institute website to find out more about the society or follow them on Twitter @GaltonInstitute



028 Sperm wars, sneaky sheep, substandard stallions and more

In this episode we’re bringing you highlights from the Society’s Centenary Conference, held up in Edinburgh last month.

We’ve got stories of sneaky sheep, substandard racing stallions, the Vikings of the Scottish Isles and a ceilidh with a scientific spin. Plus, news from the front lines of the sperm wars.




027 Uprooting the tree of life: Darwin, DNA and De-extinction

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re uprooting the tree of life – asking whether we should believe our eyes or our sequencing machines when it comes to deciding what makes a species.  Plus, the greatest comebacks of all time – we look at the science of de-extinction and find out whether Jurassic Park could ever become a reality.




026  The future is now: Curing HIV, advancing CRISPR therapies, predatory phages for superbug infections and advice for a healthy life

In this episode we’re reporting back from the Manova Global Health Summit, exploring the latest advances in health technology such as CRISPR-based gene therapies, infection-fighting viruses and a potential cure for HIV.  Plus veteran health columnist Jane Brody’s advice for a healthy life, and reflections on progress in cancer from US journalist and advocate Katie Couric.




025  When ‘Becky’ met Bateson: Edith Rebecca Saunders, the mother of British plant genetics

The history of genetics has a few famous partnerships – such as James Watson and Francis Crick or Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod.  But there’s one pair without whom this podcast wouldn’t exist at all, and that’s Edith Rebecca Saunders and William Bateson, who founded The Genetics Society one hundred years ago.




024 Exploring the Poop-ome, from the microbiome to metagenomic

We’re getting our hands dirty by delving into the poop-ome – the trillions of bacteria that live inside our guts and make up what’s known as the microbiome.  Rather than simply being a bunch of bugs, the microbiome is now believed to play a role in virtually every aspect of health and disease.  But what are they up to?  How do we even know what species are in there?  And can you blame your stinky farts on your gut bacteria?



023 Mergers and Aquisitions

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re looking at mergers and acquisitions – but in a biological rather than a financial sense.  We find out what happens when two cells decide to move in together, unpack the history of genetic engineering and bleat on about the story of Dolly the Sheep.




022 Big Questions about the Big C

In this episode we’re digging into some of the mysteries around what’s often seen as the ultimate genetic disease, finding out how low doses of radiation might affect cancer risk and why tumours start in some tissues and not others.




021 In case you missed it…

In this episode we’re bringing you a selection of our favourite bits from the year so far that you might have missed.  We’re taking a short summer break and will be back again with new episodes from the 12th of September. In the meantime, I’ve picked a few highlights from our earlier episodes that you may have missed. I hope you enjoy listening to them, whether again or for the first time, as much as producer Hannah and I enjoyed making them.




020 Age, Sex and Death

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re telling tales of sex and death, and exploring the very darkest side of genetics.




019 The Genetic Time-machine

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re telling tales of sex and death, and exploring the very darkest side of genetics.





018 Cut. Paste. Copy. Repeat.

In this episode from our centenary series covering 100 ideas in genetics, we’re exploring the dark heart of the genome, untying nature’s shoelaces, and looking back at the discovery of RNA splicing.





017 Happy 100th Birthday to Us

In this episode we’re celebrating the actual birthday of the society – founded on the 25th June, 100 years ago – with past president, Nobel laureate and winner of the Genetics Society’s first centenary medal, Sir Paul Nurse.




016 Genetics by Numbers

In this episode from our centenary series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re unravelling the story of the double helix, cracking the triplet code, and sketching out a Punnett square.





015 Up the Garden path

In this episode we’re diving into the valley of hybridisation, visiting the Society’s medal-winning Mendel-based garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Plus, the importance of playing with your genes.




014 The Seeds of a great Idea

In this episode from our series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we’re taking the train to London with William Bateson, seeking the secrets of snapdragons, and unravelling the next generation of DNA sequencing technology.





013 The Zero Dollar Genome

Dr. Kat Arney talks to George Church about his plans for the ‘Zero Dollar Genome’, and finds out how one scientist’s interest in personal genomics got a little too close to home.




012 Strands of Life

In this episode from our series exploring 100 ideas in genetics, we explore the discovery of chromosomes – the strands of genetic material within every living cell – take a look at Lyonisation, and solve the case of the missing chromosomes.




011 Darwin Vs. Mendel

What would have happened if Darwin had read Mendel?  And what if they’d been on Twitter?  Plus, something else that Darwin would have loved – an ambitious project to sequence the DNA of everything across the tree of life.






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