Oxford University Scientific Society - Michaelmas Term 2008

Genetic Fingerprinting and Beyond

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, Royal Society - Second Week - 22nd October 2008

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986 for his distinguished work in genetics. Since 1991, he has been one of the Royal Society's Research Professors, he works in the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, and his Royal Society professorship is funded with support from the Wolfson Foundation.

Research interest: Genome diversity

During early investigations into the variation and evolution of human genes, Sir Alec Jeffreys discovered a remarkable property concealed within human DNA. "We'd got to the point where we could detect single copies of human genes which led to one of the first observations of introns, non-coding sections of DNA that split up genes. But when I came to Leicester in 1977, I wanted to move away from the study of split genes, and to marry the new techniques of molecular biology with human genetics," he explains.

His plan was to use gene detection techniques not only to look at the structures of genes but also to understand inherited variation between people. "We knew about heritable variation in gene products such as blood groups, but we were looking for inherited variation at a far more fundamental level, namely in DNA itself.

Source: Royal Society

Getting in and out of mitosis

Professor Tim Hunt - Third Week - 29th October 2008

Dr Tim Hunt is a Biochemist. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Biochemistry entitled "The Synthesis of Haemoglobin". In 1982 he discovered cyclins, which turned out to be "Key Regulator(s) of the Cell Cycle", and led to a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001 together with Lee Hartwell and Paul Nurse. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and many other distinguished societies. Dr Tim Hunt is a Principal Scientist at Cancer Research UK. His main research interest is in Cell Cycle Control. Cell cycle transitions the onset of S-phase, entry into mitosis and exit from mitosis require altered activity of the appropriate cyclin-dependent protein kinases (CDKs): thus cyclin E together with Cdk2 normally initiates DNA replication, and cyclins A and B together with Cdk1 promote entry into mitosis. The decline in Cdk activity by programmed proteolysis at the end of mitosis is equally critical for cell cycle progression. If the kinase levels stay high, cells arrest at the end of mitosis. Dr. Tim Hunt is interested to understand how CDKs trigger cell cycle transitions, and how the timing of cyclin proteolysis is regulated. (adapted from Cancer Research UK and Trinity College Cambridge)

Old and new role of CDKs in the maintenance of genome integrity

Dr Fumiko Esashi - Fourth Week - 5th November 2008


Cancer can develop when cells incur damage to their genome and proliferate without control: hence, faithful recovery of damaged genomic information is extremely important for growing cells to prevent carcinogenesis. Interestingly, increasing evidence indicate critical role of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) in this process, which is classically known as master regulators of cell proliferation. Nevertheless, it is largely unknown how CDK activities are linked to repair of damaged DNA at the molecular level.

Our main research interest concerns the role of CDK phosphorylation of the familial breast cancer susceptibility gene product, BRCA2. Inherited mutations in BRCA2 confer a strong predisposition to breast, ovarian and other cancers. The underlying basis of carcinogenesis is thought to be linked to defects in DNA repair. We have previously shown that BRCA2 is phosphorylated by CDKs at multiple sites, and that this phosphorylation plays a important role in error- free repair of broken DNA. We discuss further how BRCA2 is regulated by CDKs phosphorylation for its role in DNA repair at molecular level, and its relationship to other cellar events in the presence of DNA break.

Snap-shot MRI and Beyond

Sir Peter Mansfield - Fifth Week - 12th November 2008


Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI) emerged from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in the early 1970s. It was clear from the first images that a conceptual breakthrough was required to speed up the imaging process from around one hour for those early images to something more acceptable in medical diagnosis. This step forward came in 1975–6 with the realization that single- shot images could be obtained in principle by exploiting the properties of spin- echoes commonly used in NMR. The thinking was that a spin-echo train, produced by rapid periodic reversal of the magnetic field gradient, contained picture information in one dimension. To encode the data along the orthogonal axis, a low level read gradient is applied while the spin-echoes are forming. This process is commonly known as echo-planar imaging (EPI). Typical imaging times for EPI lie in the range 20–60 msec. Rapid gradient modulation causes high acoustic noise levels. We are currently engaged in trying out methods to reduce noise.


Sir Peter Mansfield is a fellow of the Royal Society. He is a British physicist who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Nobel Prize was shared with Paul Lauterbur, who also contributed to the development of MRI. Sir Peter is Emeritus Professor of Physics at University of Nottingham In the early 1970s, Sir Peter's vision allowed him not only to understand how to transform Nuclear Magnetic Resonance into a medical imaging technique, but also to foresee what would be required to make the technique clinically useful and to identify many of the potential areas of application for MRI in clinical medicine. Over the following decades he has been driven to realise these potential applications, with his work often being years ahead of its time. He is responsible for introducing a new understanding of important aspects of the physics of NMR and image formation, as well as the invention of many of the techniques and features of the scanner equipment that were needed to make clinical MRI a reality. Today, MRI scanners are used in hospitals all over the world and over 60 million investigations with MRI are carried out every year. Award of the Nobel Prize is testament to the profound impact that this eminent physicists work has had on the practice of medicine.

Oxygen, Energy Conversion, Life and Health

Professor John Walker - Sixth Week - 18th November 2008


Oxygen evolving life may have begun on earth about 3,400 billion years ago. The interpretation of geochemical evidence, for example in the Buck Reef Chert, is disputed, but evidence from fossilised stromatolites in Australia is perhaps more convincing. Modern oxygen evolving photosynthesis requires more than 1000 proteins, many of them organised in complex membrane bound structures. Light energy from the sun is trapped in carbohydrates and fats, providing our food with its calorific value. We release the energy by respiration, consuming in the process most of the oxygen that we have breathed in. More than 1000 proteins are involved in cellular respiration, and about 100 of them proteins are organised in the inner membranes of mitochondria as the respiratory enzyme complexes that function as molecule machines to convert the redox energy derived from energy in food-stuffs into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of biology. The final synthetic step is achieved by a remarkable molecular machine with a mechanical rotary action. Its closest man- made analogue is the Wankel rotary engine. The rotor of the biological machine is driven at about 100-200 rpm by a trans-membrane proton-motive force (analogous to the electron-motive force in electricity). The mechanical action of the rotor drives the chemistry of the formation of ATP from ADP and phosphate in the three catalytic sites of the enzyme. How this biological machine works, the medical consequences of dysfunctional energy conversion, and the possible evolutionary origins of the rotary machine will be discussed in the lecture.


Professor Sir John Walker was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997, together with Professor Paul Boyer, for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate. His award winning work, which provided insight into the way that life forms produce energy, was conducted at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Walker is the Director of the Medical Research Councils (MRC) Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge. He is the Chairman of the MIB Scientific Advisory Board.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, of LAccademia Nazionale dei Lincei and of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and an Honorary Fellow of St Catherines College, Oxford. He was knighted in 1999 for his contributions to the field of molecular biology. He has received honorary doctorates of science from numerous universities, including UMIST.

Extended Tour of the Bodleian Library

Special Extended Tour - Seventh Week - 26th November 2008

As a replacement for the lecture that has been canceled on Wednesday 26th November, OUSS has organized a subsidized extended tour of Bodleian Library. This will cover:

Visit Duke Humfrey's medieval library, still in use today but where generations of famous scholars have studied through the ages, amongst them, 5 kings, 40 Nobel Prize winners, 25 British Prime Ministers and writers such as Oscar Wilde, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. Explore the 17th century Convocation House and Court, where Parliament was held in the Civil War. Plus a variety of reading rooms each with their own individual splendour including the architectural icon of Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera, the first rotunda library built in Britain. Explore the hidden underground tunnels and passages leading to the bookstacks where over 7 million volumes occupy nearly 188km (117miles) of shelving. Bodleian restricted number of visitor at a time, so place will be allocated on first PAY, first serve basis. The tour start at 11.30 and last about 1.5 hours. Normal price is 12 pounds, but this event is subsidize to 6 pounds, ONLY FOR OUSS MEMBER. Non-member can still join the tour at full price. Payment can be done in cash if you attend today seminar or pidge a cheque made payable to "OU Scientific Society" to Siu-Po Lee, Exeter College.

Vision Impossible

Professor Colin Blakemore - Eighth Week - 2nd December 2008

Professor Blakemore was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1997-1998 and Chairman in 2001-2004. He has been described by the Royal Society as "one of Britain's most influential communicators of science". He is committed to promoting dialogue between scientists and the public, and to defending medical research using animals despite regularly receiving threats of violence from animal rights extremists. Over the years he has contributed to radio and television programmes, including the BBC Reith Lecture in 1976 and the 13-part BBC2 series The Mind Machine. He has published several books for the general public including Mechanics of the Mind (for which he won the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science), Images and Understanding, Mindwaves, The Mind Machine, Gender and Society and The Oxford Companion to the Body.

Professor Blakemore studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and then completed a PhD at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1979 he became a Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford University. From 1996–2003 he was the Director of the Medical Research Council Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford, and he has been Chief Executive of the MRC since 2003.

Joint Event with Oliver Wyman

Lecture 1: "The economic outlook: The news behind the headlines"
As western economies are confronted by recession, the global outlook looks bleak. Learn more about the major trends affecting todays economy and how you can approach these commercial issues when preparing for an interview.
Date: Thursday 23 October 2008
Time: 6-8pm
Location: St Johns College, Garden Quad Auditorium, OX1 3JP

Lecture 2: "The rising cost of living"
With the cost of living hitting the headlines on a daily basis, rising commodity prices is one of the key issues affecting life for many in the UK. Learn more about the drivers of these price rises and what they for business, non-profit organisations and consumers. The lecture will provide the latest insights from a number of industries - great interview preparation on one of todays hot topics!
Date: Tuesday 4 November
Time: 6-8pm
Location: Saïd Business School, Lecture Room 5, Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HP

Lecture 3: "Bursting the credit bubble"
The lecture will consolidate your understanding of the main drivers of the credit bubble, how it came to an end and the implications for the financial services companies and their customers in the UK and global economy.
Date: Tuesday 11 November
Time: 6-8pm
Location: Saïd Business School, Rhodes Trust Lecture Theatre, Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HP