Biotechnology Group report from Spring 2014 Seminar Series

3 Sep 2014

The spring-summer sessions of SCI's Biotechnology Group's sponsored series of Friday Seminars at the University of Westminster featured a list of distinguished, global speakers delivering talks on the interface of chemistry and biology on a wide ranging of topics.

Dr J K Watts (University of Southampton) introduced recent advances and his personal contributions to the burgeoning field of oligonucleotide biochemistry, aimed at both diagnostic and therapeutic use. With RNA sequencing now a key part of research across many fields, Prof T Dalmay (University of East Anglia) discussed evidence on the impact of oligonucleotide structure and ligation bias in the detection of differentially abundant small and large RNA species, and his solutions to overcome this key problem. Dr J Chubb (MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology) however presented alternative methods that enable study of transcriptional 'pulse' emergence at the single-cell level, overcoming whole-tissue or cell population homogenate kinetic measurement limitations in the understanding of the fundamentals of transcriptional activity.

Dr A Dariush (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge Cancer Research UK) expanded on the topic of improved imaging of biological activity by demonstrating how astronomy algorithms are of value in the analysis of digital pathological data- an open access tool available to the scientific community world-wide. Dr S I Moschos, MD (University of North Carolina) integrated the latest advances in understanding the impact of genome damage to melanoma diagnosis and treatment, bringing into focus the value of the –omics era and efforts like the cancer genome atlas in further stratifying and addressing this and other diseases.

Is the transcriptome though more or less important than the proteome? Prof J Baähler (University College London) delved into the quantitative relationships of coding and non-coding RNAs as well protein components in the fission yeast, highlighting the importance of cell cycle and size on the relative abundance of these biomolecules. In a similar fashion, Dr A Fassati (Wohl Virion Centre, UCL) discussed the importance of HSP90 in chromatin remodeling as part of the NF-kappaB axis in HIV-1 reactivation from latent T Cells, and how selective inhibitors might contribute to increasing protection against the development of AIDS. Protein targets were also at the core of Dr A Stoker's (UCL) talk on tackling childhood neuroblastoma, as his work focuses on oxovanadium inhibitors of protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTP) and approaches to eliminating their toxicity using glutathione inhibitors. Dr A Barr (University of Westminster) expanded further on the limitations around our knowledge of PTPs beyond cancer in diabetes and cardiovascular disease and how the lag in understanding their structure and function compared to other kinases is inhibiting therapeutic effort development particularly in the small molecule space.

Protein structure and approaches to understanding how various membrane-embedded and membrane-interacting proteins function was also the focus of Dr Tharin Blumenschein's (University of East Anglia) talk. The speaker demonstrated the value of examining diverse cases, such as host, plant and pathogen-derived proteins in increasing our understanding of these biophysical phenoma. Given the plethora of intracellular protein targets and the promise of cytosol-targeted biotherapeutics, Prof J Howl (University of Wolverhampton) discussed his efforts to engineer biologics sharing both therapeutic and cell-penetrant properties in overcoming the transmembrane delivery challenge.

Dr A Hine (Aston University) presented her award-winning technological advances in overcoming genetic redundancies in protein engineering (ProxiMAX) through saturation mutagenesis, a key rate-limiting steps in many a protein engineering project. Dr E Wright (University of Westminster) expanded further on tools to assist on glycoprotein function and therapeutic study, looking at the value of pseudotyped viruses in understanding and treating highly pathogenic viruses such as Ebola and Marburgh.

Translating biochemistry to understanding evolution and phenotypes, Dr J Day (UCL), discussed how molecular phylogeny has helped determine the evolutionary divergence of cichlid fishes in african freshwater environments. On the other hand, Prof Kieran Clarke (University of Oxford) described her work in developing a slow release, orally bioavailable form of ketone esters metabolised to beta-hydroxybutyrate in the gut, as alternative energy sources for both sports and clinical uses.

In the autumn series of the talks, the seminars will proceed beyond biology and chemistry to examine the interface of these two fields with electronics and engineering. Speakers from European academia and industry will expand on the most recent advances embracing biotechnology, chemistry and engineering in health monitoring and treatment. We look forward to seeing you in our seminars and receiving the valuable contribution of the Society's members to this burgeoning field of the twenty-first century.

Thank you for your interest in the Friday Seminar Series hosted by the Department of Molecular and Applied Biosciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Westminster and supported by SCI.

For any further questions please contact the series organiser, Dr. Sterghios A. Moschos, M.S.B. (, @DocMoschos).

The series is always happy to accept recommendations for extending speaker invitations. Please forward your interest or ideas to the organiser.

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