14 May 2016
“I can imagine how it will look, but I'll want to see it when I'm 90,” declared Sue Morris, manager of The Great Trossachs Forest Project as she directed our gaze to new broad-leaved tree plantings.
We were at the Inversnaid RSPB reserve near Loch Lomond, where spectacular scenery, perfect weather and our excellent guide were proving a winning combination for the branch's annual spring outing.
Sue's jocular birthday wish along with a minibus drive of over 20 miles from the Woodland Trust Scotland base at Glen Finglas hinted at the epic scale of the project: the creation and management of a mosaic of species-rich, natural forest habitats across some 16,650 hectares of The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, to be developed and managed for 200 years.
Our journey had passed by the Loch Katrine catchment maintained by Forestry Commission Scotland, the third party in this work started in 2009. As members of the BP-sponsored Scottish Forest Alliance established in 2000, the three neighbouring partners had recognised how a co-operative project could realise greater ambitions.
A grand tour presented evidence aplenty of progress towards that vision, including clear felling of non-native trees, tree planting, natural regeneration, management of grazing deer and feral goats, and the mutual benefits of farm-forestry partnerships, notably employing cattle as bovine ploughs to prepare ground for tree planting.
On a glorious day many visitors were making the most of a growing network of cycling and walking paths, visitor centres and nature trails, along with historical trails following the area's rich cultural heritage, from the art of the Glasgow Boys to the writing of Sir Walter Scott.
Recently designated the UK's latest, and certainly largest, National Nature Reserve, The Great Trossachs Forest offers biologists many rewards, and a visit is highly recommended.
14 November 2015
Branch AGM at The Byre Theatre in scenic St Andrews. This year's theme was communication in science.
Professor Bruce Whitelaw FRSB from the Roslin Institute combined ethical arguments for/against genome manipulation and science communications, very effectively. Bruce contrasted the older transgenic technology with the precise genome editing (GE) methods, only developed recently. So this was really cutting edge, illustrating how rapidly advances are being discussed in public and taught at schools. Bruce described his work using GE to create pigs resistant to African swine fever and talked about the highly publicised case at Great Ormand Street where a child was cured of leukaemia using GE.
Next Dr Lisa DeBruine from University of Glasgow and the Young Academy of Scotland gave lots of advice to scientists planning to communicate through the media. Lisa described how direct contact through science centres and exhibitions can be very rewarding but hard work and costly; funding is available through the RSB. Then of course there is social media: twitter or your own blog. Lisa mentioned The Conversation blog made of academics - join! Then there your press office, it is very important to get the press release right, to avoid being misquoted.
Finally, Dr Nicola Marchant FRSB (member of RSB Scottish branch council) talked about ethics in business. Nicola was a former chair of the bioethics advisory group at AstraZeneca. The key phrase "It's necessary for companies to do the right thing" was used by Nicola but what does this mean? Businesses needs to make money, to be sustainable and to balance this with ethical practices. Nicola showed the stats speak for themselves: companies which practice ethical management do the best. So it pays.
Recently companies have been reported to withhold negative data on drug trials. This is an example of poor communication, more than 78% of clinical trials are published. But in the end it is clear "business needs to do the right thing", remember what happened to Volkswagen recently? They tried to cheat on environmental controls and the company lost billions.
So effective communication helps!
11 November 2015
The 16th Science and the Parliament event organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) on behalf of the scientific and engineering community in Scotland, took place at Our Dynamic Earth. This annual event aims to promote engagement between members of the scientific community, MSPs and other policy makers in the Scottish Parliament and Government.
Janice Barr MRSB, Willie Rennie MSP (leader Scottish Liberal Democrats), Kezia Dugdale MSP (leader Scottish Labour Party), Dr Jane Magill RSB regional coordinator, Dr Jacqueline Nairn FRSB, Patrick Harvie MSP (leader Scottish Green Party), Professor David Coates FRSB and Dr Stephen Benn RSB director of parliamentary affairs
The Scottish General Election themed event started with a warm welcome from Professor Alan Alexander, general secretary of The Royal Society of Edinburgh, and Professor Dominic Tildesley, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Professor Neva Haites set out the outstanding achievements of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and how the RSE strives to enable evidence based science to inform politicians and to shape policy.
Rhiannon Cleghorn and Rebecca Brown from Lossiemouth High described their recent trip to Botswana. Both pupils delivered lessons to 10-17 year olds on the subject of hydrogels, using a learning resource supplied by the RSC. Rhiannon and Rebecca described how they met the challenges of running hands on science sessions with limited infrastructure. Their enthusiasm for their subject was tangible.
In a series of presentations and discussions, a range of MSPs set out their vision for the future of science and engineering in Scotland. Contributors included Dr Alasdair Allan MSP (Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland's Languages), Kezia Dugdale MSP (leader Scottish Labour Party), Liz Smith MSP (Scottish Conservative Party), Willie Rennie MSP (leader Scottish Liberal Democrats) and Patrick Harvey MSP (leader Scottish Green Party).
In recognition of excellent academic performance, the RSB Scotland branch awarded prizes to the top performing students in higher biology, higher human biology, higher biotechnology and advanced higher biology for 2015. The Top Biology Student in Scotland also received an award in recognition of academic excellence and engaging the wider public in biology.
Details of the awards for 2015 are:
Biology Higher: Jack L Bauchop, St Modan's High School
Biology Advanced Higher: Elaine Duncan, Hutchesons' Grammar School
Biology Advanced Higher: Rachel E McLeod, Balerno Community High School
Biology Advanced Higher: Karen T Hase, Ellon Academy
Biology New Higher: Gregor N Duncan, Cults Academy
Biology (Revised) Higher: Rebecca Poon, George Watson's College
Biology (Revised) Advanced Higher: Sophie B Nash, Stirling High School
Biology (Revised) Advanced Higher: Zenab Ali, James Gillespie's High School
Biology (Revised) Advanced Higher: Brandon C F Shek, James Gillespie's High School
Human Biology Higher: Baran Karakus, St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School
Human Biology New Higher: Gordon McNicol, Paisley Grammar School
Human Biology (Revised) Higher: Rachel A Imray, Culloden Academy
Biotechnology Higher: Emma Ewen, Perth College
Top Student in Scotland: Ines Alvarez Rodrigo, University of Edinburgh
10 and 17 October 2015
Funded by a RSB regional grant, our newly designed cloth-kit family of 'brain beanies' was debuted at the Midlothian Science Festival. The annual, two week festival provides a wide range of science activities to a diverse audience of all ages and backgrounds.
Our activities aim to demonstrate brain weight and size using the beanbag 'brains'. Our first venue was the festival's gala day at the Lasswade Centre, hosting many activities and attracting an attendance of over 400. Small children enjoyed the challenge of picking up the adult brain (1.4kg) with both hands and trying to put it on their heads. Lots of conversations ensued about the brain and children enjoyed colouring-in and making brain hats, which outlined the main areas of the cortex.
Animal brain beanies became beloved pets ("our dog must have a bigger brain than that!") and the relationship between the brain and behaviour was discussed. Many were surprises about the small size of dinosaurs' brains.
Mayfield Library, a smaller venue, attracted over a hundred people. Many children spent a longer time here, chatting whilst colouring in. This led to the waiting adults asking more in-depth questions about the brain, with everyone enjoying handling the beanies.
At both events we were supported by volunteers from Edinburgh University, neuroscience PhD students Sze Ying, Konstanze Simbringer and Ana Maria Rondelli, to whom we give our thanks.
28 May 2015
Over one hundred delegates from across Scotland attended our 20th teachers' conference at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. The theme for this year was aimed at the new "Curriculum for Excellence" Biology courses, specifically for the new Higher Biology qualification.
The originator of the event, Professor Jack Jackson, chaired the proceedings with his usual aplomb reminding us that biology teachers were the innovators and researchers of the future. The first two lectures addressed two areas of biology that have not formed a large part of previous courses, namely parasitism and food security, delivered by Professor Elisabeth Innes and Professor Rachel Norman respectively. Both were well received and gave the audience a fascinating insight into these two important areas. Next, Geoff Morgan, one of the development team for the new Higher, described the various processes and decisions that were made in framing the course, outlining how the systems approach could be used to get the best out of it.
After a lunch in one of the many fine rooms in Surgeon's Hall, Kate Andrews of the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (SSERC) led a hands-on activity for delegates on an approach that can be used to help students investigate perception. SSERC also provided a pack of materials for each school present that was very well received.
Feedback from attendees showed that this event remains very important in teachers' CPD calendar and comments from delegates were overwhelmingly positive. Thanks should also go to the organisers, Intelligent Events, and to the exhibitors whose wares for the CfE courses attracted much attention in the breaks for coffee and lunch.
16 May 2015
Members and guests gathered at SCENE's Loch Lomondside base on a bright and blustery day. The rich natural beauty of the site, set in secluded woodland on the west shore beneath high hills, soon drew many admiring comments.
The Centre was established by the University of Glasgow in 1946 in a collection of ex-army huts, in a pioneering move towards field-based environmental study in Britain. It has evolved from such humble origins to encompass multi-disciplinary research in ecology, evolutionary biology, physiology and disease ecology alongside a continued commitment to teaching, as its director Colin Adams described in a fascinating history. Recently rebuilt to exacting environmental standards through a mix of grant-aid and private donations, the Centre has gathered many 'green building' awards.
Further presentations on speciation in fish and behavioural ecology in birds and fish, from Colin, Barbara Helm and Neil Metcalfe, promoted wide discussion of both the details of research and wider issues, notably the distinction and balance between fundamental and applied work. Among many insights gathered from a tour of the facilities, the devious methods for attracting and collecting mosquitoes and biting midges prompted knowing comments given the latter's local notoriety.
The day concluded with Barbara's guided woodland walk above the loch to examine nest boxes. Earlier, we had learnt how remote measurement of blood flow using thermal imaging can be used to monitor stress in birds. While such high-tech research progresses, the walk demonstrated that value is still placed on data collection reliant on the naturalist's traditional skills with eyes, ears and a simple step ladder.
Grateful thanks are due to our hosts, together with their enthusiastic post-doctoral colleagues and graduate students, for their generosity in providing such a rewarding visit.
9 February 2015
Professor Tim Benton FSB, UK Champion for Global Food Security and professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, gave the 12th Peter Wilson Lecture "Feeding the Future" at a packed Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Tim started the proceedings by outlining the many drivers that affect food security, including population growth, increased prosperity, the desire to eat more protein (usually meat), and more people living in cities. There is also climate change, which is going to reduce our capacity to grow food in many parts of the world.
All these factors will lead to more competition and instability on the world. The market always claims, if there is a demand, it will always be satisfied – but can it? Tim asked the big question whether we can do this sustainably by at first asking what "sustainable" means.
One useful definition by Brundtland is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". There are many possible solutions, some simple and others requiring the development of novel technologies: increased production through better management and land use, and the use of novel technologies (e.g. genetic improvement of crops and livestock).
But there is also the reduction of waste, which is so prevalent in the developing world. In the developed and affluent world we also eat too much, and so another useful quote, this time by Tim Lang: "The rich have to consume less and differently so that the poor consume more and differently". The lecture was followed by a lively Q & A session, included discussion around the implications for animal welfare (should we abandon welfare issues? Everyone said no), market forces and many others.
Finally, Stuart Monro of the Scottish Consortium for Rural Research gave the votes of thanks for what was a very successful lecture with everyone looking forward to the 13th Peter Wilson Lecture next year.
15 November 2014
Each year the Scotland branch organises a public event to highlight a rapidly developing area of the life sciences. This year's topic was 'Big Data and Precision Medicine'. Organised and chaired by John Coggins, more than 50 people attended the Science Show Theatre at the Glasgow Science Centre.
Recent advances in human genetics, coupled with the availability of very detailed information for individual patients is leading to major changes in healthcare. In future the focus will be about getting the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time, through stratified or precision medicine. This involves examining the genetic makeup of patients and their differing responses to the drugs designed to treat specific diseases.
Four speakers gave presentations on this exciting and rapidly developing area:
In a visionary presentation Professor Dominiczak introduced the topic of stratified/precision medicine and explained how the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre at the new South Glasgow University Hospital Campus is providing Scotland with the opportunity to be a world leader in this field.
Professor Pell described the data that are routinely recorded by the health sector and other sectors. With fascinating examples she demonstrated how these data, when they are linked, can be invaluable in understanding the factors that impact on health and what can be done to improve it. She also explained how vital it is to protect patient anonymity and build public confidence in the use of such data.
Dr Sibbald argued that, if we are not to be overwhelmed by the escalating costs of health care, particularly in the face of ageing populations, we need to rethink how medical care is delivered and to decrease the time delays in introducing new therapies. There was much to learn from the commercial sector on how to benefit from the vast amounts of data now available. This will require a major cultural change to facilitate the sharing of data between the public and private sectors and a significant shift to spending on better, faster, more sensitive diagnostic tests and especially on preventative medicine.
Professor Grimmond used the analogy of DNA as the cell's computer hard drive to illustrate the complexity of cancer. He emphasised how our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer has dramatically improved and how rapid sequencing techniques have made it affordable to use genomics to map out what drives each cancer type. Through massive international collaborations cancer atlases are becoming available which are allowing oncologists to find the Achilles' heel in cancers, one patient at a time. Cancer is not just one disease. Lung cancer, for example, could be hundreds of distinct cancers, each defined by specific molecular characteristics requiring different treatment approaches. This makes research and treatment more challenging but the payoff for patients will be enormous. Treatment is determined by key molecular 'hubs' that must be targeted within cells and is only administered to patients whose tumours have these 'hubs'.
12 November 2014
For the past several years, the science and the parliament event has been organised by The Royal Society of Chemistry on behalf of the scientific and engineering community in Scotland. This event is aimed at promoting engagement between members of the scientific community, MSPs and other policy makers in the Scottish Parliament and Government. The 2014 event focussed on the contribution of science and engineering to 'Science Education in Scotland'.
A warm welcome was extended by Bristow Muldoon (Scottish parliamentary liaison officer for the Royal Society of Chemistry and head of policy advice for the Royal Society of Edinburgh) and Professor Lesley Yellowlees (past president, Royal Society of Chemistry) at the outset of the meeting. This was followed by an excellent, thought provoking presentation by Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (president, Royal Society of Edinburgh) on 'Why Girls Don't Choose Physics'. Later discussions explored 'Science in Schools' and the interface between science in schools/universities and industry.
In recognition of excellent academic performance, the Society of Biology awarded prizes to the top performing students in higher biology, higher human biology, higher biotechnology and advanced higher biology for 2014. The top biology student in Scotland also received an award in recognition of both academic excellence and engaging the wider public in biology.
Details of the awards for 2014 are:
Top biology student in Scotland: Kirsty Hooper, Edinburgh Napier University
Biology higher: Thomas Parker, Largs Academy
Biology (revised) higher: Matthew J Henderson, George Watson's College
Biology advanced higher: Alice Burnett, High School of Dundee
Biology (revised) advanced higher: Alexander H Gough, James Gillespie's High School
Biotechnology higher: Kyrie P Grasekamp, Dollar Academy
Human biology (revised) higher: Jennifer M Young, Marr College
Human biology higher: Benjamin Plant, St Ambrose High School
Human biology higher: Lauren Crossley, Notre Dame High School
Human biology higher: Kingshuk Ghosh, Aberdeen Grammar School
31 May 2014
On a glorious cloudless Saturday morning at the end of May, Tom Cunningham, reserve manager at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, led a guided tour around Tentsmuir Point. Tom escorted the group through Tentsmuir Forest, over the dunes covered with sand-binding grasses and out onto expanse of Tentsmuir Sands.
The dynamic nature of the reserve was brought to life by Tom’s descriptions of the history of the site, the management of the reserve, and the impact of River Tay currents and North Sea tides. In addition, the vivid memories of member Fiona Maisels revealed the extent of recent changes on this shape-shifting landscape.
Scotland branch would like to extend a special thank you to Tom Cunningham for sharing his love of this site, and for arranging the start of summer!
29 May 2014
Every year we hold a conference with teachers and researchers to share news, make new friends, and with over 100 participants this was not a problem.
Lorna Marson a transplant surgeon from Edinburgh University started with a lecture on the practical, ethical and moral issues raised by organ donation matched by lively debate with the audience. During the conference there was some discussion on the need for statistics in the biology curriculum.
Catriona Harris an ecologist from St Andrews University illustrated this very clearly in the task of counting marine mammals which requires sophisticated mathematical models to account for the uncertainty in our observations. Download presentation
Kate Andrews from SSERC worked with the audience to show a new practical on the role of nutrients in plant growth. What impressed me was a quote from a pupil after an exam "I could see the experiment in my head when I was writing the answer". Clearly showing why we need practicals in the biology curriculum. Download presentation
Clare Halpin from Dundee University covered the controversial "Food versus Fuel" debate. Clare talked about using alternative crops, and the balance between the application of modern genetics and genetic manipulation of crops.
Pat Monaghan from Glasgow University talked about interdisciplinary approaches to study lifespan. Trying to predict lifespan is difficult "... baldness, grey hair and wrinkles are not predictive of lifespan but the length of our telomeres are." Of most concern to me was the news that stress shortens your lifespan and this stress effect can be passed on by your partner!
Scott Bryce from SSERC concluded the day with examples of IDL or Interdisciplinary Learning, where problems in experimental biology need approaches from all the sciences, maths and even art. For me, this is how I have worked all my life "I consider myself as a scientist with a passion for biological problems and not simply a biologist".
24 February 2014
Every year we unite with the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Consortium on Rural Research to invite a distinguished lecturer to address a biological topic of great public interest.
This year Dr Alan Belward, head of land resource management at the European Commission's Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra, Italy spoke on: Running out of land – a new global challenge.
Land is not often considered a non-renewable resource, but it should be. The land meets most food, fuel and fibre needs of our rapidly growing human population and shapes Earth's climate too - competition for this finite resource is fierce. Satellites provide a unique vantage point from which to determine how, when and where the use of land resources is changing.
Alan Belward's brilliantly illustrated talk introduced some of the policies that impact global land-use and highlighted the very important role that Earth-imaging satellites play in the continual and accurate monitoring of land use. You can hear his lecture in full on the Royal Society of Edinburgh website.
16 November 2013
Mindful of ambitious renewable energy targets, our annual symposium focused on biologists' role in such technologies.
While first generation biofuels (e.g diesel from plant oils, ethanol from sugar crops) compete with food production for land, cellulose in plant waste as a potential fuel resource does not. Enzymic breakdown of cellulose yields sugars for fermentation.
Professor Claire Halpin of Dundee University explained, in practice the efficiency of the process is restricted by lignin, the waterproofing and strengthening component of cell walls. Her research on barley employs genetic technologies to identify genes controlling lignin biosynthesis in a first step towards possible development of new varieties with lignin content modified in favour of biofuel.
From left to right: Dr James Pearce-Higgens, Dr Kevin O'Dell (Scotland branch and panel chair), Professor Claire Halpin, Dr Jennifer Norris.
Aggressive tidal flows in Orkney waters have placed the Islands at the forefront of marine energy development, the European Marine Energy Centre being the world's first and only grid connected testing site.
EMEC research director, Dr Jennifer Norris, addressed concerns over the technology's ecological impact. Are installations' moving parts hazardous to marine mammals and diving birds? Does noise and physical intrusion cause species displacement? Evidence is elusive as data collection from remote and hostile undersea locations is difficult, but EMEC's integrated approach following multiple and innovative data sources should provide answers.
Finally, Dr James Pearce-Higgens, principal ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology asked, 'should we get in a spin about wind farms and birds?' In the UK, where sensitive habitats and favoured sites for wind farms tend not to overlap, evidence does not support serious concern over collision mortality. Nevertheless, James' study of upland birds at wind farms shows reduced numbers from disturbance at construction sites and in-place turbines, with curlew and snipe particularly vulnerable. Clearly, a planning consideration for any wind farm proposals in bird sensitive areas.
13 November 2013
For the past several years, a 'Science and the Parliament' event has been organised by The Royal Society of Chemistry on behalf of the scientific and engineering community in Scotland. This year's theme was Science in Health.
All scientific disciplines clearly have an essential role to play in tackling global healthcare challenges, but the work of policy-makers is equally important. A presentation, therefore, by the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing was particularly interesting and relevant.
The scientific programme included excellent presentations relating to systems medicine, large-scale food poisoning outbreaks, water quality, advances in human genome mapping, veterinary vaccine development, advanced medical imaging related to cardiovascular disease and social and behavioural dimensions of sexual health.
Scotland has emerged as a globally-leading nation for health researchers wishing to exploit a particularly well-advanced system of data recording and accessibility.
Representatives of four political parties in the Scottish Parliament delivered presentations and inevitably questions were focused on the practical implications for the future of science funding in an independent Scotland.
The day concluded with prizing giving to school pupils achieving the most outstanding examination results.
Congratulations to: Calum MacDonald, Webster's High School; Katie Campbell, St Columba's School; Alice Burnett, The High School of Dundee; Donald Taylor George Watson's College; Marc Walton, Aberdeen Grammar School; Merike Mikkov, Forth Valley College; Amy Taylor, James Gillespie's High School; Emily L Miedzybrodzka, George Heriot's School; Daniel Ross, Squair Perth College.
Emma Bissett (left) from the University of Dundee was presented with the Top Biology Student in Scotland 2013 award by president of the Royal Society of Chemistry Professor Lesley Yellowlees.
The event remains a useful forum for the Society and other learned societies in Scotland to project their relevance in a governmental context and our individual and collective availability for MSPs to consult on a wide range of issues affecting the country.
6 June 2013
The Society of Biology’s Scotland branch continues to organise the Annual Teachers’ Meeting to inspire, challenge, and motivate the network of biology teachers, corporate supporters, and community partners in Scotland. This year’s event at Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow had over 100 delegates from across the science education community.
In addition to providing inspirational speakers and networking opportunities, the event also celebrates the academic achievement of our biologists of the future by presenting awards to those who achieved the highest marks in the SQA examinations in biological subjects. This year’s recipients were: Graham Bryden, Kelvinside Academy, Biology Higher; Alexandra Marie Reid, Stirling High School, Biology (Revised) Higher; Zuzanna Kowalczyk-Okodugha, Perth College, Biotechnology Higher; Kirsty Alison Brown, Forth Valley College, Human Biology (Revised) Higher; Emily Jamieson, Grove Academy, Human Biology Higher; Nadia Claire Capaldi, St Ninian’s High School, Human Biology Higher; and Lindsey J Johnston, George Heriot’s School, Biology Advanced Higher.
Thanks to Intelligent Events and the Scotland branch committee for organising the event, and to our DART publishers and SSERC for sponsorship.
Speaker biographies and presentation abstracts are available in the full programme. The presentation slides are available below.
Professor Darren Monckton, University of Glasgow
The Genetics Revolution: Whole genome sequencing is coming, ready or not
Professor Rowan Parks, University of Edinburgh
Surgical solutions to biological abnormalities
Professor Dorothy Crawford, University of Edinburgh
The Invisible Enemy: Microbes and us
Jim Stafford, Consultant in Science Education
Where now for school biology in Scotland?
16 March 2013
Our guide Duncan Robertson provided a truly engaging and entertaining tour of the Pioneers of Science Gallery at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. This remarkable building contained portraits of famous historical figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots, Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Robert Burns, through to more recent pioneers in science, sport and the arts.
Duncan's tour spanned from James Watt to Professor Sir David P Lane, it crossed disciplines and periods of Scotland's history to provide a great event.
More information about arranging a visit can be found on the National Galleries website.
Dr Jacqueline Nairn CBiol MSB