My ESOF2012: Day 2

 Porridge with the Prof

Prof Ferguson and myself at "Porridge with the Prof"

Prof Ferguson and myself at “Porridge with the Prof”

PIt was a early start today as I was attending “Porridge with the Prof“, which brings together early stage researchers with professors and professionals from the scientific world. Today I had breakfast with Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI. Trained as a dentist, he became a professor of developmental biology with an interest in birth defects and went on to be co-founder of the biotech company Renovo.

He talked a bit about his early work on cleft palate formation in alligator and crocodiles, while doing so he discovered temperature specific sex determination. He also said that he feels that each PhD should have two PIs, preferably with slightly different backgrounds, which will allow for different perspectives.

When I asked him about Hoffmann’s comments the night before about how grants require impact statements, milestones and task packages, he said that he thought it a bit naïve saying that “you are competing with others for little money.” He said that any body can write an impact statement, we have to remember that the statement may not turn out to be wrong. Makes me wonder what the true value of those statements.

Equity and Climate Science

Mary Robinson giving her keynote address at ESOF2012

Mary Robinson giving her keynote address at ESOF2012

After breakfast, I attended the keynote speech by Mary Robinson, who is one of ESOF2012 patrons. Her talk, “Equity and Climate Science” looked at climate change not from a science point of view, but rather in relation to human rights. She talked about how the fruits of science need to be used wisely as it can have a deadly science, such as nuclear weapons. She shared an interesting thought about all those climate change conferences that governments seem to enjoy, saying that politicians often come back with little to show for their efforts, yet they are not being challenged by the public on this. Finishing her speech, she talked about the possibility of establishing an “Ombudsman for Future Generations”, an independent person with the sole task of thinking about the world we are leaving behind.

Exploding Myths on Nuclear Reactor Security, Harm Reduction and GMOs

Next for me was the session with the above title. Nuclear reactor technology is something I have a passing interest in and being a geneticist, anything GMO related always gets my attention. First up was Dr Roland Schenkel, a German nuclear energy consultant who talked about how media reported the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant disaster finishing by saying that “to develop a technology means learning…aeroplanes of today are not like aeroplanes of 100 years ago.”

Following Dr Schenkel was Dr David O’Reilly, the group scientific director and member of the board of British American Tobacco, who talked about harm reduction in relation to tobacco use. While I feel that he might be somewhat biased, he did make a very good point about the Irish Government. Over the past number of years, despite all the Irish Government has done, the rate of smoking in Ireland hasn’t really dropped. This is an interesting point, something I think I might look into myself.

The final person to present was Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission, who talked about GMO. Stating at the outset that she was “not pro-GMO, just pro-evidence”, Prof Glover talked about the myths around GM foods and that the public’s perception of GMOs came from its bad start, with a lack of information. She reminded us that GM food is more tightly regulated than anything else and that we need to inform the public about GMOs.

A Conversation With James Watson

Well, what can I say, James Watson is one of the biggest name you can get in genetics and getting to see him right in front of me was exciting to say the least. For the most part, the conversation with Luke O’Neill provided nothing major I haven’t heard before from Watson, but he did talk about the “War on Cancer” commenting on RTÉ News that a cure for cancer would be found within five years if we devote all our attention to it. But I feel that this is somewhat foolish to say. After all, cancer is not a single disorder bit a whole host of things going wrong at once and a single silver bullet is unlikely to appear any time soon.

RNA as a Key Molecule in the Origin of Life

After lunch I went to Renée Schroeder’s talk on RNA. While the lecture was basic, telling me the sort of stuff I knew from my undergraduate, it did get me thinking about how RNA could have acted in the pre-DNA/pre-Protein world.


Tomorrow is policy day at ESOF2012, and once again, I’m not sure what I’m going to just yet. Shall report back tomorrow, but now, sleep!


One Response to My ESOF2012: Day 2

  1. Pingback: My ESOF2012: Day 4 « The Splice of Life

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