Biology: Geneticist Dr Alexandra Whale Visits Bede's

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Last Tuesday, the Bede's Biology department hosted a lecture by scientist, Dr Alexandra Whale. 

Her talk was truly fascinating and fully captured her lower and upper sixth biologist audience. For 50 minutes, she spoke enthusiastically and with humour, revealing the fascinating breadth of applications of her work, leading the students on a journey from not knowing anything about DNA research to feeling utterly enthralled by its relevance.

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Also covered some of the major concepts in the upper sixth syllabus such Polymerase Chain Reaction, Alex’s talk started with a detailed insight on her personal career path: From B grades at A level she then gained a First reading Genetics at Manchester University.

Following this, she then successfully completed a PhD whereby she wrote a scientific paper on the faulty gene responsible for the congenital birth defect of Cleft palate. 

Alex inspired her listeners by revealing that she jumped on every opportunity to gain valuable work experience in labs, even if it meant carrying out repetitive work such as analysing blood samples in labs all day.

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At 35, a mum of two and a Triathlete, she is now a Senior Research Scientist working at LGC in Teddington, London and a major player in the Genetics world.

Alex gave attendees some fantastic insights into why measuring DNA is so important in this day and age. For example, LGC were responsible for revealing, through DNA analysis,  that horse meat was found in many products branded as ‘beef’ just a few years ago.

With some potential Medicine applicants in her audience such as Chloe Durrant and Joseph Berharne, she captured their attention by revealing that her research has been involved in developing alternatives to Amniocentesis by which we can now identify tiny abnormalities through analysing tiny samples of fetal DNA found in maternal blood.

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Also, with cancer touching so many of our lives, it was no surprise that it was interesting to hear that, thanks to her PCR techniques, we can now measure even the tiniest level of cancerous DNA within a blood sample. The word ‘remission’ can now be taken to new levels of accuracy thanks to her work.

The final section of the lecture revealed the vast array of things that one can do with a science degree, from Academia and Research, to work as a Food Biochemist, Forensic scientist, Medical Engineer or in Project Management, Patent Law, Marketing and Sales.

She highlighted the need for Masters-educated scientists to write about science in newspapers, mentioned that there was a big demand for science graduates to join the research teams for science based documentaries and films and, in doing so, I think I saw some of our Sixth Formers stopping to imagine names alongside David Attenborough’s!

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Special mention should go to Claudia Stephens, Joseph Berharne and Ivan Vukusic for asking some excellent questions, and thank you Dr Whale for taking the time to come and speak to us!

 

Learn more about the Biology department at Bede's >