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Dragonflies at Himalayan garden and sculpture park

The elements of life and medicines

27 April 2022

This event was one of a series of annual evening seminars run by the Yorkshire Branch of the Royal Society for Biology and the Central Yorkshire Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry, focussing on research at the interface of biology and chemistry. It was good to be back to a live event in the Department of Chemistry at the University of York after 2 years absence!

Professor Peter Sadler, University of Warwick, is an inorganic chemist who conducts research at the interface of chemistry, biology and medicine. His research group is exploring the use of metals in medicine, including for the treatment of cancer, viral diseases such as HIV, and as a constituent of novel antibiotics.

Professor Sadler is an eminent scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and a very entertaining speaker. He started by asking the audience which elements were essential for life and then took us on a very enjoyable romp through the Periodic Table to try to answer this question. Some of his conclusions were surprising, with certain elements (e.g. silicon) being included in health supplements, but with no evidence to show that they are actually required by humans. Other elements, whilst not needed to sustain life, are very useful in medicine (e.g. platinum compounds in treating cancer). Professor Sadler illustrated his talk with imaginative use of props including cereal packets, bottles of vitamins and bursting balloons. The audience was clearly receptive and engaged, as reflected in the number of questions from both biologists and chemists at the end of the talk.

The Yorkshire Branch would like to thank Dr Derek Wann and his colleagues from the Department of Chemistry in York for organising the seminar and refreshments this year.

Dr Lynda Partridge FRSB

Meet the RSB Yorkshire branch committee

11 October 2021

We decided to host this event with two goals in mind: To attract interest and potentially membership for the RSB and our committee, and to demonstrate our committee’s diversity. Our aim was to target students who are considering biology careers, particularly those who may not have heard about the RSB. Ultimately, we wanted this event to be informative and inspiring.

It started with a presentation where I introduced the RSB before talking about the committee. I introduced the Yorkshire committee covering their sectors, and what they do in their daily lives. One of the things we wanted to demonstrate is that there are a range of biology careers other than the traditional academic pathway.

We ran a Slido poll to understand our audience: whether they were students, what qualification they are studying for or they recently graduated with, if they were RSB members, or were interested in becoming one. Following this, a selected few committee members gave talks about themselves and their career evolution. We made sure that those who spoke were from a range of different backgrounds and sectors, and that we had an equal split between men and women. After a short break, the floor was opened for discussion.

The Slido poll revealed that our audience were mostly college, secondary school and university students who wanted a biology career, and were already RSB members. The discussion however became more about helping people towards a biology career rather than inspiring them to take up biology.

Despite this re-direction, the discussion was lively as conversations in the chat took place alongside the main discussion. Nevertheless, the key message that came through distinctly from this event is that a biology career isn’t a linear path. Instead, there are many twists and turns.

Dr Danae Dodge MRSB

Naturally nano – Exploiting magnetic bacteria for nanotechnology and biomedicine

28 April 2021

This was one of a series of annual joint seminars run by the Yorkshire branch of the Royal Society for Biology and the Central Yorkshire Section of the Royal Society of Chemistry, focussing on research at the interface of biology and chemistry. The seminars are usually delivered live at the University of York and this online talk replaced one that was cancelled due to COVID-19 in April 2020, before we were quite so au fait with holding online events!

Dr Sarah Staniland is currently a reader in bionanoscience in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and started her talk by outlining her career path. It was heartening to see that it’s possible to combine good research with teaching and having a family.

Dr Staniland then gave an excellent overview of her research on magnetic nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles have applications in biomedicine (e.g. in diagnostics and cancer therapy) but also in nanotechnology. For all of these applications, uniform size and shape is key and as is often the case, we can learn much by studying bacteria that have naturally perfected making magnetic particles known as magnetosomes.

Dr Staniland described promising research using natural and derivatised magnetosomes in tumour models. She also described various approaches for “mimicking” the processes used by bacteria to synthesise magnetosomes in a green, environmentally friendly way in the laboratory. Some of these approaches may be applied to design novel proteins for use in nanotechnology (e.g. data storage).

The online seminar was a very good substitute for the live event and probably reached a wider audience, although some of us did miss the refreshments traditionally served beforehand! We’ll certainly be interested in trying to hold “hybrid” events in the future, so that those who can’t travel to a live venue can still join in the experience.

Dr Staniland’s talk is available on the RSB YouTube channel.

Dr Lynda Partridge FRSB

Autumn Symposium “Beyond Test Tube Babies: Harnessing the Assisted Reproductive Technologies”

14 November 2020

When Dr Emma Jones first suggested this theme, we envisaged that the event would be held in a lecture theatre at the University of Sheffield. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and we found ourselves planning our first-ever virtual symposium!

Bill and Allan

Professor Bill Holt (left) and Professor Allan Pacey (right)

Some of us viewed this with trepidation, but thanks to Emma’s careful organisation and expert assistance from central RSB (especially Harriet McAra), the meeting was a great success, with more than 70 people registering. We had two excellent presentations from experts in their fields.

"Can we support wildlife genetic diversity using reproductive technology? What about species that are already extinct?" Professor Bill Holt, visiting professor, Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine University of Sheffield and honorary research associate, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Washington DC.

In the first presentation, Professor Holt gave a fascinating account of the current uses of reproductive science techniques to support the survival of wild and captive species. We were told about the non-invasive technique of faecal sampling, which allows monitoring of fertility cycles, sex ratios and pregnancies by measuring hormone levels.

This approach has been successful in helping the conservation of Mohor gazelles in captivity in Spain, whilst in Canada it has even been combined with DNA analysis to allow monitoring of individual caribou in wild populations.

Professor Holt also spoke about the more familiar technique of artificial insemination, which has been used to improve the genetic diversity and survival of the black footed ferret, a species brought back from the edge of extinction in the US.

In perhaps the most famous example, the giant panda in China, we learned that natural mating may give the best results, provided that detailed studies on endocrinology, social behaviour and mate choice have been undertaken.

After hearing about widespread attempts to conserve amphibians under threat from the fungal infection, chytrid, Professor Holt turned our attention to the more controversial area of “de-extinction”. In theory, using the latest reproductive techniques (e.g. cloning), extinct species such as woolly mammoths or the Tasmanian wolf might be brought back to life. Of course, this raises a large number of important ethical and biological issues, which really need to be addressed. Perhaps fortunately, such approaches have so far met with very limited success.

"Male infertility: do we have a sperm crisis?” – Professor Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology, Department of Oncology and Metabolism, University of Sheffield.

Professor Allan Pacey gave an entertaining and interesting presentation on male fertility. Although human sperm were first visualised using a primitive microscope by Anton von Leenwenhoek, a Dutch draper in 1678, it appears that studies on male fertility have been very much neglected since.

Professor Pacey suggested six convincing reasons for increased research into male fertility: a gradual decline in sperm count in recent years (at least in the West), the increasing age of paternity, the increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of testicular cancer, poorer general health in men with known fertility problems and the findings from surveys that suggest young men are having less sex than in previous generations. In addition, in 30 - 50% of cases where couples have difficulty conceiving, the problem can be attributed to deficiencies in sperm production.

After describing sperm physiology and development, Professor Pacey addressed treatments for male fertility that include artificial insemination (AIS), in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and the use of donor sperm.

Finally, although there are few obvious lifestyle factors that affect sperm number/health, Professor Pacey presented data from a very recent publication by his group that indicates that looser underwear and lycopene (found in cooked tomatoes) can be beneficial.

Both talks led to a number of interesting questions, indicating good audience participation, although we missed being able to give the speakers the applause they deserved!

Dr Lynda Partridge FRSB

Autumn Symposium "Clean Water"

16 November 2019

As the human population continues to grow, water pollution is a major global problem that affects our own health and that of our aquatic ecosystems. This symposium addressed the problems faced in maintaining “clean water” in the 21st century and ongoing research that may offer potential solutions.

Professor Lorraine Maltby (University of Sheffield) gave an excellent introduction to the topic, explaining the value of fresh water ecosystems to our wellbeing, and current threats to these including changes in land use, climate change, pollution and invasive species. Of some concern, the EU Water Framework Directive reported that 86% of UK rivers failed to reach “good” ecological status in 2016. Professor Maltby illustrated her talk with examples of her own research carried out in Sheffield and other parts of Yorkshire, including the recently infamous village of Fishlake.

Professor Jeanette Rotchell introduces Sullied Sediments 678 510

Three shorter talks followed, all from researchers based at the University of Hull engaged on the Sullied Sediments project. As Project Lead, Professor Jeanette Rotchell introduced this exciting initiative, which has 12 partners including public, private and voluntary sector organisations in the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sullied Sediments is developing and testing new tools to assess, treat and prevent contamination from pollutants found in the sediments in our waterways. Dr Andrew Bowa described fascinating research using natural pollen particles that act like tiny sponges to take up drugs and chemicals, and which may be used for water treatment. Samantha Richardson, a PhD student on the project, spoke very eloquently about her work in developing paper-based devices that were simple enough for volunteers to use to assess pollution in local waterways. This citizen science approach is helping to engage the local community with the issue of “clean water”.

Over the lunch break, participants were treated to interactive demonstrations of research being carried out at the University of Hull. These proved so interesting that some attendees had to be reminded that the talks were about to start again!

Natalie Lamb, (Anglia Water/University of Sheffield and also Chair of the RSB East Anglia Branch), gave a very lively and entertaining talk about her PhD research, which is aiming to reduce or eliminate the chemicals that are added to our drinking water. The audience were particularly interested to see photographs of the artificial pipe system that Natalie has built in a shipping container to facilitate her work.

Finally, Dr Pattanathu Rahman travelled all the way from the University of Portsmouth to presented case studies of his research on using biotechnological approaches for dealing with metal pollutants in water. He delivered a tantalising glimpse of the possibility of using microbes to convert waste contaminants such as iron oxide into valuable products.

Despite some attendees having to cancel due to local flooding, this was a very successful and obviously highly topical symposium that generated considerable lively debate. The branch is very grateful to all of those in Hull who helped in hosting this event.

Dr Lynda Partridge FRSB

Frontier of Sciences IV

16 March 2019

FoS 1 2019

This year’s selection of talks was delivered by our first ever all female panel: Dr Frances Westall of CNRS, France, Professor Christine Foyer FRSB of University of Leeds and Dr Klara Capova of Durham University.

The topics delved into a wide spectrum of scientific knowledge and study including volcanic rocks, hydrothermal vents and the origin of life; antioxidants and redox and sensing mechanisms and, the ultimate question of what is life and where do we come from?

As in previous years, Dr Sohan Jheeta organised and promoted the event with sponsorship from the Royal Society of Biology; the Astrobiology Society of Britain; and the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as, for the second year running, the generous donation of the excellent state-of the art venue by KPMG.

This year’s meeting was very well attended, with our audience exceeding 100. Over 60 people took time to complete feedback forms which were extremely encouraging – indicating that, overall, the audience was happy with the choices of subject matter, presentation and quality of visual materials, this despite the public address system not functioning properly!

Next year, in order to further extend the reach of the event, Dr Jheeta will sponsor one “scientific fringe” speaker who can deliver a talk on a subject not necessarily covered by the mainstream (e.g. nano-robotic exploration of outer space) and which would be outside the traditional societies’ scope. This should invigorate the meeting and encourage an even greater participation by the public.

The future of these Frontiers of Sciences meetings is looking extremely bright.

Dr Sohan Jheeta FRSB

Symposium on Ancient DNA and AGM

10 November 2018

Ancient DNA (aDNA) is a field that has revealed so much already about our evolutionary genetic past and that of other species, especially when combined with other archaeological scientific disciplines. We therefore found it pertinent to theme our symposium this year on this subject, held at the University of Bradford.

Our social media officer Dr Danae Dodge opened the symposium with a brief introduction to aDNA. We then heard from four speakers that illustrated the breadth of the field.

First, Mrs Keri Brown (Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre) presented case studies that emphasised the differences between the key technological revolutions of the field. Also from the same institute was Professor Terry Brown, who spoke about how aDNA can be used to study past diseases. After lunch, while our members convened for our AGM, the rest had the opportunity to get a tour of the Bradford archaeological department.

We then resumed the symposium with Dr Philip Murgatroyd (University of Bradford) talking about the Lost Frontiers- the multidisciplinary project that aims to study the past environment of Doggerland.

Lastly, Dr Eva Fernández-Domínguez (University of Durham) explained what aDNA can tell us about the people that spread farming throughout Europe.

Overall the symposium was a success with discussions spilling out of the lecture theatre into the breaks, and the audience was diverse; ranging from the public, biologists of course, other scientists and even other aDNA researchers.

Finally, we would like to thank the speakers for giving their time, Jamie Moloney who (while he attended in a personal capacity) put up a Yorkshire Wildlife Stand, the University of Bradford especially Dr Steven Picksley for hosting the symposium, Dr Lynda Partridge for facilitating the day, and the volunteers Meg Graham and Tracey Chapman.

Dr Danae Dodge MRSB

Four Societies Joint Meeting: Frontiers of sciences II

10 March 2018

Repeating the success of 2017, our third joint society meeting in Leeds again proved to be a well-attended and popular affair. Thanks to the extremely generous KPMG, who donated their state of the art lecture theatre as well as many other services, the venue turned out to be an impressive location for the event.

The original sponsors, the RSB, and the Royal Society of Chemistry, were joined this time by the Astrobiology Society of Britain and the Royal Astronomical Society, ensuring that a wide spectrum of science was covered. Thanks also go to the organisers who ensured 70 keen and enthusiastic attendees on the day, despite the appalling weather.

Yorkshire Frontiers 2018 website

Once again, we were able to recruit some excellent speakers to the cause: Dominic Papineau of UCL, whose subject was ‘Bio-signatures in the Eoarchean rock record’; Peter Stazewski of Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, who talked about ‘the chemist's challenges of the future: how to animate dead matter’; and Sergio Ioppolo of Queen Mary University of London, who discussed ‘the star formation process’, with emphasis on the several physical and chemical steps.

Unfortunately, our 4th speaker Frances Westall of CNRS Orleans Campus had to cancel at the very last minute due to severe illness, but Dr Sohan Jheeta stepped into the breach and delivered a presentation on ‘recent advances towards the origin of life’.

Feedback data was collected after the session, together with interesting and positive comments, encouraging us to maintain this annual event.

Dr Sohan Jheeta FRSB

Joint seminar on the origins of life

18 March 2017

Meeting sponsored by RSB, Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics

Following the inaugural tri-society meeting in 2016, this years event proved even more successful, with over 80 attendees coming from as far afield as Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester, with a sizeable contingent hailing from across Yorkshire.

resized Frontiers of Science 18-3-17 Group photo-uncropped

That the meeting attracted such large numbers is testament to the quality of the speakers and also that it was held in the easily accessible Parkinson Building at Leeds University. The audience was satisfyingly diverse, ranging from 6th formers through experienced academics and the general public, who were both fascinated and inspired by the thought provoking topics.

Some excellent and positive feedback came out of the session, which encourages us to organize similar events annually. Many thanks to our fantastic speakers:
Elias Chatzitheodoridis, National Technical University, Athens, spoke on Martian meteorites and the physicochemical conditions that produce niche environments for chemical evolution of life; Mark J Burchell, University of Kent, spoke on organic materials delivered from space; and Nick Lane, of University College London, spoke on the origins of heredity in protocells.

It was a very interesting day, and great to have longer lectures to fully explore subjects. “I’ve been inspired to investigate several subjects further in order to find a suitable research topic for my future career” said one attendee. Another commented: “I found the symposium very interesting, even as a law student. I would like to congratulate all the speakers and to say that these kinds of symposiums improve the general knowledge of everyone from different areas of study.”

Dr Sohan Jheeta FRSB

York Birds Of Prey Centre visit

19 June 2016

Yorkshire Birds of prey visit smallTwo dozen branch members and guests gathered to enjoy falconers demonstrating their art, enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of birds of prey. The York Birds of Prey Centre holds over 80 different raptors, and a range of birds were presented to our group including a fledgling Chilean Blue eagle taking its first steps, hawks, barn owls and a magnificent Golden Eagle. Much of the time was spent hearing about the birds, interacting with them up close, and watching them fly amongst us. Seeing a Golden Eagle up close is just unforgettable.

Dr Steven Picksley FRSB


Astroscience Meeting

23 April 2016

This maiden Astroscience Meeting - a new venture involving collaboration between the members of the Royal Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Physics (IOP) was held on Saturday 23rd April 2016 at the University of Leeds.

To begin, Dave Waltham asked 'Why is the Sun so Big?' His new research showed that the Sun, although larger than 95% of its neighbours, is the optimum size for formation of inhabitable zone which permits life to have arisen on any of its planets. This being in spite of the fact that smaller stars last much longer and therefore a randomly selected inhabited planet is much more likely to orbit a small star.

Astroscience-Meeting 2016

Group photograph with speakers Professor Dave Waltham, Royal Holloway; Dr Mukesh Bhatt, Birkbeck College; Professor Martin McCustra, Heriot Watt and the Chairs of the RSB, the RSC and the IOP (Professor Val Randall, Dr Christine Rogers and Dr Mike Ries)

Mukesh Bhatt followed with a discourse on how the newer and constraining definitions of life provided by astrobiology are likely to have a clear impact on the way legal and ethical decisions are made. The issues he brought to light involved the difficulty in actually defining 'life' (since despite drawing on all available religious, philosophical and scientific knowledge – there is still no cohesive or formal definition of what life actually is). The meaning of personhood in particular may well be applied to extremes.

Finally, Martin McCoustra, in his talk entitled 'Stars 'r' Us' highlighted the details of the rich chemistry that exists in space, describing the essential role of the chemistry in the universe which was then delivered onto the Earth to kick-start life. The deficiencies and drawbacks of gas phase chemistry were also explored along with the crucial role played by soot and stoor in developing the chemical complexity of the universe.

Dr Sohan Jheeta MRSB

Wentworth Castle Gardens

16 August 2015

The branch's visit to Wentworth Castle near Barnsley was well attended. Our volunteer expert guide described the history of the only Grade I listed gardens and parkland in South Yorkshire and the £15m restoration of it since 2001, with its 26 listed structures, including a full-sized mock castle.

Wentworth Castle Gardens

Politics and family rivalry led to the Grade I listed house being built in 1764 in competition with nearby Wentworth Woodhouse. In 2003, its Grade II* Victorian conservatory was an unsuccessful competitor on the BBC's Restoration programme, but the initiative to restore its former glory succeeded only in 2013, at a cost of £3.7m.

Our guide spoke of the challenges resulting from the gardens and parklands' varied ownership, including some improvements in private ownership in the 20th and early 21st centuries, some limited recovery of some garden features by the local authority after 1948, then restoration by Wentworth Castle Heritage Trust since 2001.

We heard about the contradiction between objectives of the grants that funded restoration and the limited resources and skills available for maintenance by volunteers and a tiny staff of employees compared with the 18th century.

In the afternoon, the branch's Chris Collins described the work of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, commemorated by an obelisk in the gardens. Wortley Montagu was famous for introducing a smallpox inoculation ('variolation') into England 75 years before Jenner developed the cowpox vaccination in 1796.

Chris Collins MRSB

Summer Outing

12 July 2014

Through a clearing sea fret (coastal fog), Yorkshire branch members arrived at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Centre at Flamborough South Landing. After an introductory talk by our host and guide Ant Hurd, the Centre’s manager, the group went down to the shore on a retreating tide.

The sea fret also retreated off shore to reveal the magnificent chalk sea cliffs of Flamborough Head, rising to 400ft in places, which were to be the centrepiece of our day. The very low tide allowed us to look at pretty well all the classic shore zones and seaweeds and to rummage in rock pools. Among the finds were a very well camouflaged flat fish, the solitary sponge Sycon ciliata and an enraged (to the startlement of one member) swimming crab (Necora puber).

Yorkshire members at South Bay Flamborough edited

View more photos from the outing

We saw evidence in the Living Seas Centre of much larger denizens of the deep passing by – with recent records of whales and dolphins and porpoises along the Yorkshire shores up to Whitby.

On the top of the cliffs with sunshine above and the fret well out to sea, Keith Clarkson, site manager at RSPB Bempton Cliffs led the group on a guided walk of the best viewpoints. We saw ample evidence to back its claim as “the best place in England to see, hear and smell seabirds”. The place is home at times to over 200,000 seabirds including gannets, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and fulmars. Despite some of these having departed after breeding there was still plenty to see, hear and certainly smell. There were some good questions, such as “why is a Guillemot’s egg that shape?” The answer is that it appears to stop them rolling off the cliff. 

At the end of the day, the more adventurous put to sea from Bridlington to view the bird colonies, cliffs and stacks, whilst the timid and elderly went home looking for a restorative and a rest after a grand day out.

Mike Smith CBiol MSB (with material and photography from Jane Pottas)

Spring Retired Members Lunch

6 March 2014

Twenty-two members and their guests gathered at 'The Food Academy' restaurant, in Leeds, for their regular, biannual, lunch. The restaurant is now well-established and is located on the expanding 'Printworks' campus of Leeds City College. The purpose of the restaurant is mainly training students who intend on working in the catering industry.

Supported by the Society of Biology, those present at this time enjoyed an excellent meal, served and prepared by well-trained staff. Attendees included those mostly from the Yorkshire branch area but also came from the neighbouring East Midlands branch. It was an occasion for both renewal of old acquaintances and the making on new ones.

I was particularly pleased to see several new patrons present. The relaxed atmosphere of the meal provided the opportunity for engaging conversation and for the exchange of mutually interesting anecdotes. All this was enhanced by, as one guest put it, "access to some very good, locally brewed, ale". I would recommend this event to anyone who is eligible and, in particular, anyone who has yet to try it.

Barry Canham CBiol MSB

Food, Glorious Food

16 November 2013

A summary of talks from our Annual Symposium entitled "Food, Glorious Food – what do we need, how do we keep getting it and how safe is it?"

Dr Wayne Martindale, Sheffield Hallam University

A world population of 9 billion people by 2050 will lead to a reduction of protein from animal sources. Dietary protein will be maintained by other means such as the fungal protein product 'QUORN' that has a lower carbon footprint than other protein sources. There will be massively less food wastage in the home, by retailers and processors and there is likely to be food more tailored to individuals. Better planning of meals and the use of frozen foods has been demonstrated to significantly reduce food waste.

Professor Tim Benton, UK Global Food Security Champion, University of Leeds

Global food security is not just about preventing starvation but also about ensuring peace as "Everyone is only 9 meals away from anarchy."
1) The human population is growing
2) Much of that population is getting richer ("Richer people eat more.")
3) Increasing urbanisation and remoteness from sources of food.
Waste and over-consumption are perennial problems: the food waste generated by Europe and North America is equivalent to the whole food production of sub-Saharan Africa whilst over-consumption / obesity cause 20% of deaths globally.
Action is needed at international and national level to minimise risks and maintain food supplies. We should also learn to change our diet and only "eat meat as a treat".

Dr Eric Ober, National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge

Yields of cereals are increasing slowly, but over the last few years there have been signs of stagnation so breeding programmes continue. Newer breeding programmes use genes from wheat ancestors to produce a 'super-wheat' to provide better resistance to drought, heat and disease. There is still a role for older varieties and Dr Ober described experiments on the optimisation of conditions for growth and yield by looking at limiting factors, such as water supply and light levels with these. There is a considerable gap between experimental and farm yields (the 'yield gap'), so farming practice needs to improve to realise that potential.

Dr Qasim Chaudhry, Food and Environment Research Agency, York

Use of nano-technology will lead to lighter weight, more hygienic and 'smarter' packaging that will allow longer shelf-life and less waste. When the packaging includes nano-particles it will be able to detect spoilage making the 'use by' date redundant. Other applications lead to simpler diagnostics in veterinary practice and agricultural use e.g. pest control uses both in diagnosis and as a carrier system for insecticides. There remain some concerns about nano-particles in the environment.

Dr Martin Hemmingway, ALcontrol Laboratories, Rotherham

'Horsegate' earlier this year reminded everybody just how difficult it is to be sure of what they are eating. But contaminants can be distinguished and even traced to their origin by techniques routinely used in analysis. These include the antibody/protein technique ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay), PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)/DNA techniques and Stable Isotope Analysis.

Michael Smith MSB

Retired Members Lunch

7 November 2013

This lunch was at a novel venue, the Old Print Works in Leeds, which is the new home of Leeds City College. Only opened 6 weeks before, the restaurant is in a newly built part of the campus which has better access and car parking compared to the previous site. The surroundings are very pleasant, and a Leeds Brewery hand drawn Pale Ale went down very well.

Unusually, the meal was a la carte, as the restaurant is now open for meals from breakfast, through lunch, high tea and early evening. Disappointingly only 12 attended, but all enjoyed their meal, once the fish cakes that turned out to be Scots Eggs were returned to the kitchen! Despite service being a little slow (as judged by a few, I like eating French style and we meet to discuss biology and other matters of mutual interest) the food was both excellent and interesting. The college gave a very reasonable discount because of these problems (a baked Alaska turned over in the kitchen!).

The next meeting will be Thursday 27th March 2014 at 12:30. Usually, there has been a good improvement in service after the additional months of training. It is likely that a set meal with choices will be arranged for that meeting. Recommended!

Paul Bartlett MSB

Explore the shore day at Boggle Hole

5 October 2013

A successful "Explore the Shore" day at Boggle Hole was led by Jane Pottas and Paula Lightfoot. Boggle Hole Youth Hostel was the venue for the day and managers, Andy and Peta Nugent, and their staff could not have been more hospitable.

The Hostel is conveniently situated only a stone's throw from a pristine rocky shore. Fourteen members took part, including individuals and families and a couple of dogs. They enthusiastically searched out species to identify on the shore and back in the classroom at the hostel.

Approximately 100 species were identified including a stalked jellyfish, several species of fish, snails, bryozoans and over 30 seaweeds. All records for the day will be uploaded to the National Biodiversity Network database.

The weather was wonderfully warm and sunny, everyone had a good time and we all learnt something new about this fascinating environment. More days on the shore are on the cards.

Jane Pottas

AGM with Royal Society of Chemistry

29 May 2013

Professor Tony Hardy, chair of the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) scientific committee gave an illuminating lecture entitled: European Food Safety a Biologist at Large.

Food crises of the 1990s meant it was necessary to set up national Food Standard Agencies in European countries. Professor Hardy described the decision making framework and the role of chemicals in food production. Pesticides are intrinsically poisonous and therefor pose a risk to consumers, bees and other fauna which may have knock on effects on the food chain.

The EFSA was set up in Brussels in 2002. Their remit included risk assessment, risk communication and independent scientific advice. The EFSA collects information independently, looks at evidence and communicates risk assessment. They oversee topics such as plant health, contaminants, animal food, animal welfare, food additives and novel foods.

Professor Hardy then described the ways in which data are presented showing toxic effects and the levels at which there is no response. Outcomes can be variable but there are several hot topics including chemicals that have an effect on the endocrine system such as: Bisphenol, Aspartame (because of its inclusion in soft drinks). Others topics include cumulative risk exposure, uncertainty, animal cloning, genetically modified organisms and food health claims.

Food safety is a top priority and there is no such thing as a zero risk.

To find out more check out the EFSA website and subscribe to their Highlight magazine.

Jennifer Burnett CBiol MSB

Himalayan garden and sculpture park

18 May 2013

The 2 month long drought in Yorkshire had ended a little earlier in the week, so 21 intrepid members and guests crashed through some deep floods and heavy rain to reach the Himalayan garden, located at an altitude of 850ft. at the "Head of the Valley" (Hutts).

Following a welcome refreshment break, Hannah briefly introduced the park. When the new owner decided to build a garden there was a period of intense removal of "Super ponticum" (the native invasive rhododendron) and Japanese knot weed. Although planting only began in 1998, because of high rainfall and acid soils (between ph 4 and 6), establishment of the Rhododendron, Cornus, Azalea, Camellia, Pieris and others was rapid. There are now over 1000 varieties of species and Hybrid Rhododendron, with many plants being grown from seed collected on recent plant hunting trips to the Himalayas, China and Korea.

Yorkshire - Leopard  Himalayan garden and sculpture park Grewelthorpe  Paul Bartlett 2w - website

Leopard by Hamish Mackie at Himalayan garden and sculpture park, Grewelthorpe © Paul Bartlett

Fortunately, following a while admiring flowering plants in the nursery area, with some plants being purchased, the storm passed and the magnificence of this north facing garden could be explored at will. The late spring meant that many Narcissi were still in abundance but, unfortunately, many of the larger plants had only flower buds. Unexpected to many of us, was the excellence of the 54 sculptures, all beautifully displayed, some in the open others partially hidden by the planting. Almost all were influenced by biological forms, from naturalistic prowling leopard, guinea fowl and roebuck to stylised steel mushrooms, magnolia and stork. Very striking were a mosaic sycamore wing and a huge swift.

With the weather clearing there was more than enough for all of us to agree that this was a wonderful way to celebrate the "Fascination of Plants Day". The garden is only open for a few weeks in May and June, but we would recommend a visit to this magical landscape next year. Thanks to Chris Collins on the committee for the excellent arrangements.

Paul Bartlett MSB