STR Trek: the Next Generation

By Dr Lisa Smith, senior lecturer in criminology, University of Leicester and Professor Mark Jobling, professor of genetics, University of Leicester.

Book tickets to see the inventor of forensic DNA profiling, Sir Alec Jeffreys Hon FRSB being interviewed by Professor Alison Woollard FRSB on stage at the Science Museum at the RSB’s fundraising event on 16th May 2016.

Today, thanks partly to TV’s CSI franchise, everyone is familiar with the DNA profile – super-sensitive, and individually unique. But go back 40 years, and DNA-based forensic analysis did not exist. Instead, there was an industry that analysed not DNA itself, but its products – proteins. It started in 1900 with the discovery, by Karl Landsteiner, of the ABO blood group. He realised that this system could exclude a suspect from depositing a blood-stain at a crime-scene. Given the small number of different types, the average power of exclusion was low, but this increased once enzyme variants in blood were included. Because each variant is inherited independently, the frequencies of types (alleles) for each system could be multiplied, increasing discrimination. Read more »

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The fight against multidrug resistant bacteria

By Arthur Neuberger, PhD student at The University of Cambridge

Being selected to present my research at the House of Commons in London as part of SET for Britain 2016 was both an exceptional honour and a unique opportunity to raise awareness of potentially the biggest threat to human health that our global society faces today: multidrug resistance.

The World Health Organization ranks multidrug resistance as one of the three greatest risks to global human health, the others being climate change and malnutrition. And indeed, if we don’t take action against multidrug resistance now, we might soon be thrown back to a 19th century situation in which basic infections, for instance those contracted in the course of routine surgical procedures, would be lethal in a majority of cases – not to mention the inability to administer some of our most efficacious cancer treatments. Read more »

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Science for society – bringing responsible research to life

By Melanie Smallman, deputy director, UCL Responsible Research Innovation Hub

Given the power of science and innovation to transform our world, we need to make sure that it works with and for society. But what does this mean in practice? What does it mean for research and researchers?

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) is a theme that is building momentum across the research community. Indeed, as one of the cross-cutting themes in the European Commission’s Horizon2020 programme, it should be of interested to any researcher aspiring to work on a European funded project. Read more »

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Imitating art imitating life

By Gina Degtyareva, a biology undergraduate at the University of Bristol 

My heart was split between arts and sciences for a long time until I was choosing my A-levels I realised that they can be combined in many ways. One of these ways is wildlife and nature photography. I love this area of photography because I love biology and it enables you to explore and learn about the creatures of the world without leaving your home. Our environment is constantly changing and photography also gives you the chance to capture moments that will never be repeated. Read more »

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What makes a good conservation photograph?

By Davide Gaglio, amateur photographer and student at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

Describing what photography is for me is already a very difficult task. When we narrow the topic to ‘conservation photography’ it becomes even more challenging. Is not easy to judge when a photograph including wildlife or a natural resource is able to convey protection of the environment effectively.

For acclaimed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore the ‘nature photograph’ shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The ‘conservation photograph’ shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background. In agreement with that, I think an image aiming to raise awareness of environmental issues should not only document the issue but must include the right mixture of originality, drama and beauty. Read more »

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The macro-problem of microplastics

By Matt Turley AMRSB, NERC-funded PhD student at the University of Brighton and policy intern at the Royal Society of Biology

The presence of plastics, particularly microplastics, in the environment has received increasing attention in recent years, with the UK government launching an inquiry last month (closing 15 April). Microplastics are particles of plastic smaller than 5mm, often containing a range of toxic chemicals. They are not new pollutants, but it is only recently that we have begun to understand the scale of the problem. They are introduced to the environment either directly, such as via toiletries or cleaning products, or indirectly via the breakdown of larger plastic products, of which around 300 million tonnes are manufactured globally. Read more »

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The proof is in the shoeprint

By Gina Degtyareva, communications intern at the Royal Society of Biology

Has anyone ever told you that you have a distinct walk? Or that they can recognise you by your stride? Well that can actually be quantified and measured in your shoeprint.

It is common knowledge that fingerprints are unique to an individual and are a good way of identifying a person, but have you ever thought about the information that can be recovered from your shoeprint? It’s not just the brand and style of shoe that can be discerned. Although this is useful information it is limiting due to the finite number of styles and many people owning the same shoes.

Footprints are the third most common type of evidence found at a crime scene. Forensic analysis of footwear prints is a fast growing field employing various imaging techniques to gain specific information from a shoe print so it can help in the identification of a suspect. By making images of shoe prints from a crime scene you could estimate the height, weight and gait of a suspect from the unique wear patterns on the sole of their shoe. You could also estimate roughly how fast a suspect was moving and even with how much force they kicked a surface. The shoeprints starts to become a rich and useful piece of evidence. Read more »

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People with disabilities in STEMM: challenges and future directions

By Gabriele Butkute, science policy assistant at the Royal Society of Biology

I recently attended the Future directions in STEMM for people with disabilities conference, organised by the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee (STEMM-DAC) of which the RSB is a member. It taught me a great deal about disability support, compassion and resilience.

Disability in the United Kingdom 2014: Facts and figures a report by the Papworth Trust, provides us with a lot of useful information to assess the scale of the issues surrounding disabilities in the country, and I find most of the findings worrying:

It is clear that the problems disabled people face while studying and in a workplace are huge and they deprive us of talent that people of all abilities and can bring.

Inclusion of people with disabilities in STEMM education and employment was the main topic of the conference, which raised issues regarding recruitment, induction, outreach and technical skills development. Read more »

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What is an alternative to impact factors?

Rebecca Nesbit MRSB has put together videos of advice from Nobel Laureates speaking at Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative events.

Impact factors are flawed – we all know that, we all agree. But where do we go from here? They are a simple way to judge a researcher, and this is very welcome if you are comparing lots of applicants for jobs or grants. Read more »

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