6th Form biology students had the opportunity to listen to an enlightening talk yesterday by Professor Lawrence D Hurst FMedSci FRS on evolution and genetics. He is the professor of Evolutionary Genetics and Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution, in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at The University of Bath.
Professor Hurst was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2015 and is a leading authority on evolution of genetic systems. He showed that the genetic code is adapted to minimise errors, synonymous mutations in mammals are under selection and gene order is non-random. He was first to recognise the impact of gene expression levels on protein evolution. Professor Hurst spearheaded novel approaches to evolutionary genetics deriving fitness from underlying biochemistry to predict the outcome of laboratory models. This led to fundamental insights into causes of gene dispensability, dominance and variation in gene family size. Professor Hurst, collaborating with cell biologists, identified the human-specific pluripotency gene network and discovered human naïve stem cells.
He began his talk focussing on colour blindness and why are some people colour blind? There is a mutation in the colour receptors that alter the maximum wave length this in turn ensures different colour processing. Within evolution why did this mutation spread within the population? He compared the loss of the ‘Black Moth’ due to de-industrialisation in some areas allowing for cleaner air making tree bark became paler and so the moth became more visible to predators. Is colour blindness as a result of evolution and genetics?
He covered genomes and our likeness to chimps and what makes us different. He also discussed how our functions around reproduction differ, body form and reproductive activity. He covered our unique evolution of language and how research with a family with speech and language disorders resulted in there being a single mutation.
He explained genetic code and how we are continuously generating random variant codes which are not fully understood. What is known is that the generated codes do not vary greatly from the natural codes but for what purpose? We have between 20-25,000 genes, the question is why is there so much DNA between genes, why is it transcribed and how did it evolve? Why do we express some genes from one of 2 copies our parents including taking those that are negative genes? Finally why are most mutations recessive? Questions that could be answered by our biology students in the future if they choose to go in to genetic research.
We would like to thank Professor Hurst for his time talking and engaging with the students. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the lecture.