Norwich Science Festival 2018: The Molecular World Inside You

Hans Pfalzgraf, a researcher at UCL, gave a fascinating talk about the molecules found inside the human body. Primarily, the molecules which Hans found most exciting and wanted to share his knowledge of. Hans started out by showing two images of DNA, one which was twisting clockwise and the other anticlockwise.

He explained this, with two similar images of string twisted around themselves in a loop. He then went on to quiz the audience on their knowledge of the types of proteins found in the body. This lead into him talking about a type of protein that he found fascinating called “motor proteins”. Named because they used energy in the form of ATP to move. The first motor protein was called “kinesin”, and it practically “walked” along to transport cargo. The second motor protein was called “ATP synthase”, which produces ATP. Another protein, which technically isn’t a motor protein, called “Topoisomerase II”, was used to cut strands of DNA to allowing another strand of DNA to pass through the gap.

This was important, Hans explained, because since DNA is very long, it tended to become coiled around itself. Hans introduced the idea of chirality – whether something is identical when mirrored or not – which is important because DNA is chiral (not identical when mirrored) and will not function properly when mirrored. He mentioned how it applies to drugs, which can have different, potentially harmful effects when mirrored. Hans concluded, with highlighting the significance of the subject of his talk, explaining how blocking the function of topoisomerase II could be used to kill bacteria and cancerous cells.

Though he explained everything in as much detail as he could, the basic knowledge required to fully appreciate his talk meant that it might be lost on younger children. None the less, to the average person with an interest in science it was an engaging talk. He met his audience in the middle, teaching them, while also encouraging them to recall their own knowledge.

Ivo Reynolds-Moore

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