A week has passed since we celebrated 10 years of developing healthy lives here at the Institute of Developmental Sciences (IDS), Southampton, UK.
I’ve been doing a science communication internship alongside PhD the past few months which was in the lead up to this event. My main role has been to increase the awareness of the IDS and the research that goes on behind our pod doors. I filmed interviews with various IDS academics, edited the footage and shared via our social media channels. I was involved in the main event too on the 8th November 2017 which was an absolute highlight… I had the amazing opportunity of interviewing a few special people!
“fundamental research into the processes by which the environment of the developing embryo, fetus and child lays the foundations for health and chronic disease risk across the life course”
– Prof. Mark Hanson, Director of IDS
Part 1: Celebrating 10 years of IDS research and the future.
The IDS is split into different research themes which formed the basis of the day event. I could go into so much awesome sciencey goodness for you but instead I thought I’d share some #uosIDS tweets from a few of us. What better way to give you short sharp fun snippets of science?!
Developmental physiology and medicine
Nutrition and metabolism
“If you can’t explain the research you do down the pub then you’re missing a trick” #uosIDS
Part 2: “Building Superhumans?” – Debating the ethics of altering development
Okay so this was BRILLIANT! In the evening we had our very own Question Time style debate. We were fortunate enough to have a fantastic panel to answer the audience’s very thought-provoking questions.
Chair: Lord Prof Robert Winston (middle)
Panellists: Dr Adam Rutherford (science writer and broadcaster), Jamie Raftery (The Holistic Chef and healthier diet advocate), Shelley Rudman (Olympian and fitness trainer), Prof. Neena Modi (medical researcher and President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health).
So how did this work? College/A-level students submitted their questions they wanted to ask the panel about altering human development and here’s what was picked out!
1. What are the panel’s ideas of a superhuman?
2. Do you think anyone given enough training can become an Olympian?
These two questions led onto the discussion between nature vs. nurture (genes vs. environment), and that both are pretty important. With regards to question no.2, Shelley Rudman highlighted that to be a successful athlete it’s not 100% about your physical condition, but training your ‘frame of mind’ is also vital.
3. We all need a ‘healthy diet’ but how do we determine what ‘healthy’ means for an individual person?
The panel agreed that a balanced diet is key. An interesting point Jamie Raftery mentioned was something we discussed in an interview beforehand, that a diet which works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. We’re all different and so we need to work out our own balanced diet. Personalised diet is a form of personalised medicine, pretty cool concept right?! Dr Adam Rutherford raised the fact that according to scientific data, diets don’t work. Fad diets actually end up leading to weight gain! Prof. Neena Modi said we should give our children a whole range of foods, flavours and textures to give them the best chance of a healthy diet, and that if given a choice between unhealthy and healthy food, children tend to gravitate to the healthy stuff over time!
4. As it is now cheaper than before for genome mapping, should everyone have their genome mapped so that we can design or give interventions for diseases much earlier?
There was definitely a difference in opinion here! Some were in favour as it would be interesting to know what your genome says about you and your future health, but for those reasons, some would rather not know what lies ahead of them! Getting our genome mapped would be so fascinating, but what’s more important is knowing the results on a larger population scale, not just a few individuals. Could everyone’s genome be read at birth?
5. How do we draw the line between genetic modifications which improve health and those that give other perceived beneficial traits?
The opinions of the panel were divided on this one. Interesting, Prof. Neena Modi highlighted that by choosing who we have children with we’re actually selecting the traits we want to be carried on into the next generation. Is that a form of genetic modification? Advances in scientific technology are of course happening, and so we’ll see what happens in the future, but there could be some ethical dilemmas to figure out!
6. Should anyone be allowed to be a parent?
What a question to finish on! You could just see the whole audience lean out of their seats to see what the responses were going to be. Not surprisingly, a few of the panel did not want to respond with their personal thoughts! It’s a tricky one. The against side of this question were comments about how people such as paedophiles and murderers shouldn’t be allowed due to major impairments in their mental state. But we can’t live in a society which actively stops some people from conceiving children. That just leads down a nasty road and not very ethical! Lord Prof. Robert Winston threw the eugenics word into play! We of course already have framework in place to take children out of ‘bad’ homes. So although we can’t stop the reproductive process, and therefore the ‘nature’ side of development, we can to some extent tackle the ‘nurture’ element.
As you can probably tell this was a fantastic debate which gave me a lot of food for thought.
I just want to finish off with my personal highlight!
There are some exciting things coming from my work here, so watch this space!
Now it’s your turn! How do YOU feel about these questions?! Let me know in the comments below!
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