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Genome editing - a talk for Year 6 pupils

Published on 26/03/18

Fascinating talk by Dr Russell, a leading scientist for Cancer Research UK, at the Junior School.

On Thursday 15 March we had the privilege of a visit by Dr Alasdair Russell, a leading scientist from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute based at the Addenbrooke’s Biomedical Campus, and the husband of Mrs Russell, our Head of Year 3. Dr Russell came to deliver a Junior Inspire Talk to Year 6, under the title, ‘Genome editing will change the world as we know it...forever!’.

Dr Russell began by building on the pupils’ existing knowledge about the structure of human body organs to explain the deeper organisation of cells and the genetic mechanisms within: DNA, RNA and proteins. He rose to the challenge of explaining all this in a child-friendly way and everyone in his audience was clearly fascinated.

A series of interactive activities, including passing along ‘Chinese whispers’ to illustrate how mutations arise in genes due to repeated copying, and being asked to stand near a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ sign to show how they felt about a series of thorny bioethical issues, helped to bring many of the big themes in the talk vividly to life.

Dr Russell’s talk certainly lived up to its billing, as he described his personal involvement in research using the latest ‘CRISPR’ gene editing technology in helping patients with cancer, as well as the incredible advances being made around the world to apply the technique to a range of problems. The lively Q&A session which followed the talk testified to how stimulating it had been for the young audience, with some members still seeking to ask more questions well into break time!

We are very grateful to Dr Russell for taking the time out of his busy schedule to come and speak to us. He has left us with much food for thought, both of a scientific nature and also in terms of the wider philosophical and ethical questions which the coming generation will face as a consequence of the dramatic advances in genome technology. Year 6 pupils showed that they are well equipped to start thinking about these.