Dr Peter Sarkies looks at how evolution can quickly come up with new mechanisms to fight infection by adapting existing processes rather than inventing new ones.
It’s January and perhaps you’ve been hitting the treadmill in the gym in an enthusiastic bid to make good that New Year’s resolution to do more exercise. To a primitive human, it’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous contraption – expending huge amounts of energy simply to stay in exactly the same place; but remarkably, this feature of a treadmill is very similar to some aspects of evolution.
The examples of evolution that are most familiar to people involve organisms adapting to their environment, with the long neck of the giraffe perfectly suited to reaching the best leaves as a famous example. Probably the most active type of evolution by natural selection occurs in response to conflicts between organisms. A good example of this is the response of species, like humans, to infection by pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Humans are engaged in a constant race to evolve new mechanisms to fight infection, because the pathogens themselves are able to rapidly adapt to become resistant to each new strategy that the host comes up with.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of their wisdom.
Our second wise woman, research fellow Dr Alexis Barr, provides an insight into how she’s balancing family life with a research career.
I never realised that when I started a family that other scientists would be so interested in my work/life balance. I am frequently asked how I manage a research career with bringing up two young children, aged two and four. Thankfully, it’s not as hard as you might think, but having a partner who shares the responsibility helps enormously.
I know why researchers are keen to talk about this as it seems to involve squaring a circle. Before I had children, I couldn’t easily conceive how working in a lab 8am – 7pm every day and often ‘popping in’ at weekends could work with caring for children. The problem is that it doesn’t, well at least not if you want to spend time with your children (which I do – not least because they’re hilarious). But it turns out that this isn’t a problem as there are other styles of working. Like most scientists I know, we love what we do so we’re quite motivated to find ways to make it work for us. (more…)
Dr Peter Sarkies explains how information hidden in the evolutionary history of life on Earth has helped illuminate new insights into gene regulation.
In today’s challenging funding environment, studying evolution – the long-term history of life on earth – might seem somewhat frivolous. How could studying evolution contribute to pressing issues such as human disease? Responding to this, biologists often use a famous quotation from Theodosius Dobzhansky:
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Whilst this quotation certainly sounds impressive, it’s by no means obvious exactly what Dobzhansky meant, let alone how it helps explain why the study of evolution is important. To understand its significance, we need to look at the statement in a little more depth. (more…)