At the end of 2017, over 2,000 school students from across the UK, Europe and the USA, took part in the 25 Genomes: Mapping Nature’s Code project through I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!, coordinated by Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement. By voting, alongside the public, these students helped to choose five species to have their entire genomes sequenced as part of the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s 25 Genomes Project. This project marked the 25th anniversary of the Institute by sequencing and sharing the genomes of 25 iconic British species of plants and animals.
Schools involved in voting for a species were also invited to enter a competition to win a trip to visit the Wellcome Genome Campus – home to the Wellcome Sanger Institute – as it celebrated its anniversary year. Students were challenged to create a piece of work that described their experience of being involved, and St Dominic’s Grammar School, a girl’s secondary school in Belfast, were the winners with this video entry:
And so on 13th December 2018, St Dominic’s A-level biology students travelled to the Wellcome Genome Campus for an overnight stay, an in-depth tour of some of the research labs, and discussions with a range of Sanger Institute scientists.
The visit kicked off with a welcome dinner at the Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre, followed by an after-dinner talk by Dr Fiona Behan (Translational Cancer Genomics, Sanger Institute). Fiona, who studied Molecular and Cell Biology at Trinity College Dublin, talked about her current research at the Sanger Institute, focussing on the identification of new drug targets across a range of different cancers.
We all enjoyed listening to Dr Behan explain the complex nature of her lab work and how her experimental findings contribute to the development of cancer treatment drugs.
The next day students visited the newest space on Campus dedicated to the public – Open Lab – and met Dan Mead, coordinator of the 25 Genomes Project, who answered questions about the project’s processes, successes and surprises. The Sanger Institute mainly works on human diseases, so sequencing blackberries and starfish required some ingenious approaches!
Here we were able to tour the state-of-the-art lab facilities in which the 25 Genome Project was carried out, speaking with a scientist about the progress of the sequencing procedure and also the importance of genome sequencing to the future of science.
They also met Dr Marcus Lee (Malaria Parasite Drug Resistance, Sanger Institute), who spoke to them about the complexity of the human malaria parasite and the importance of genomic technology in manufacturing preventative drugs against the disease.
Students also got a rare chance to visit the Sanger’s Cellular Generation and Phenotyping Facility:
We had the opportunity to visit various stem cell labs where scientists were hard at work isolating and observing lab-cultured stem cells. We learnt how these cells would potentially be used to treat Alzheimer's.
Their trip was finished off by a tour with Becky Gilmore, curator of the Curious Nature exhibition, which explores the five categories of species sequenced for the 25 Genome Project through films, pictures, and objects.
As a result of the trip, many of us have been inspired by the work they observed and are highly considering a career in research.
Connecting Science and the Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement team are committed to supporting the development of the next generation of scientific researchers, through an extensive programme of activities aimed at schools and educators. By enabling immersive visits to an active research Campus and interactions with leading scientists, the team aims to provide the sort of experiences that can change the perception of what science involves, and the career opportunities it presents.
Many thanks to Louise Finnegan from St Dominic’s who provided the excepts for this piece.