Favourite Thing: I love getting a new set of data and trying to understand it’s particular features. It’s like getting a new toy or puzzle. Solving and understanding the puzzle is a great feeling.
Grey Court School, Sevenoaks School (6th form), University of Sunderland and University of Manchester.
BSc (Hons) Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, PhD Medicinal Chemistry
Manchester and Dundee
I’m a Senior Bioinformatician
University of Dundee
Me and my work
I study the genetics of skin diseases together with medics.
Every living creature has a genome made up of DNA. DNA is made up nucleotide bases which we represent with the letters A, C, G and T. Different creature have different lengths and sequences of these letters usually called chromosomes. Humans have 23 chromosomes and 3 billion letters.
Individuals of the same animal have very similar, but not identical genomes. The differences in the genomes from different people are what make us slightly different from other: brown eyes versus green, different heights, etc. Sometimes the differences also make us more likely to get a certain disease e.g. cystic fibrosis, breast cancer, Huntington disease. By analysing these differences in people with certain conditions we can work out what effect these changes have to the normal functioning of the body and eventually find ways of treating or even curing the diseases.
My Typical Day
Writing programs, discussing scientific problems with colleagues, talking about my data and results.
I work on quite a variety of projects. The advantage of being a computational biologist is that you are quite in demand from other scientists. I spend much of my time with other scientists planning experiments, analysing data or preparing to publish results.
Scientists who work in the lab are now capable of generating so much more data from their experiments than they are able to handle on their own. They need help from people who can ‘crunch the data’ into something manageable i.e. computational biologists. This kind of help is called collaboration and is a cornerstone of science: if there is something you want to do, but can’t do it yourself, you find someone who is willing to work with you and collaborate with them.
What I'd do with the money
I will probably use it to help make improvements to the GenomeScroller project I’m involved in.
The human genome is a code written with four letters (also called bases): A, C, G and T. Everything that makes us human is encoded in these four simple letters. It sounds easy but there are 3 billion of them and we have developed an art/visualisation installation that scrolls through every single letter of the human genome called GenomeScroller.
In theory it could show you all 3 billion letters, but you would have to wait about 9 months non-stop, 24 hours a day, to see them all. I say in theory as we have not been able put it anywhere for more than two weeks.
You can see some photos and videos on the website we created for it: www.genomescroller.org
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, inquisitive, not-too-serious (I know that’s a cheat)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Prince, although I mostly listen to dance music. I know that doesn’t make sense.
What's your favourite food?
Steak (well done of course) and chips
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Travelling the world – nothing can beat pushing your boundaries and discovering something new
What did you want to be after you left school?
Originally a fighter pilot, but when I found out I was colour-blind and couldn’t be a pliot, a scientist
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Of course. Nothing serious, but had a few detentions.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Chemistry – you got to set fire to things. What’s not to like?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Tough question. You’re always trying to do better and better science. The best thing I do is go to conferences around the world and talk with scientists about science.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My interest in understanding the world around me and watching programs like Horizon and David Attenborough on TV.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A computer programmer and/or a frustrated scientist
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Tell us a joke.
Q. What’s brown and sticky? A. A stick
This is an example what sequencing data looks like.
This an example of GenomeScroller running 16 40″ full HD screen. It was really impressive.