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Frontier Bioscience Resources

Pushing the boundaries of knowledge to make amazing surprising and potentially life-saving discoveries.


A selection of our favourite Frontier Bioscience stories click on an image below to reveal the story of the picture.

Genetic Mystery

Professor at the University of Cambridge, Sir David Baulcombe’s research could change the future of crop breeding strategies.

Offspring inherit DNA from each parent. For certain genetic traits, there are alternative inherited forms known as alleles.

An example in humans is dry earwax and wet earwax. Each sort of wax is determined by a gene and two different forms exist (alleles) —one encoding dry earwax and one for wet earwax.

Wet earwax is dominant and so if one copy is inherited, the offspring will have wet earwax regardless of the other inherited allele. Whereas for dry earwax, both inherited alleles from the parents must be present. However, paramutation is a genetic phenomenon that changes the way these traits can be inherited.

Paramutation is a change that leads to the spread of a trait throughout the population regardless of the trait being dominant. This is because the paramutation effect is ‘infectious’ and able to spread from affected to non-affected alleles.

Professor Baulcombe will exploit these effects in tomato pigmentation resulting in the spread of yellow colouring in the offspring. This work will identify vital mechanisms, expanding our critical understanding of the epigenetic effect and gene drive at a much greater depth.

Frontier Fellow

Dr Estrella Luna-Diez, a BBSRC Future Leader Fellow, is leading research into enhancing plant immunity.

Luna-Diez’ frontline research will contribute to the fundamental knowledge of genetics and could have potential agricultural impacts, in the UK and globally. As plant pathogens acquire resistance to pesticide and fungicide treatments, there is a growing need to find alternative methods to deal with current and emerging diseases.

Luna-Diez is researching the effect of β-amino butyric acid on the immunity of tomato crops to the filamentous pathogen Phytopthora infestans. The use of amino butyric acid provides protective broad range immunity to several plant diseases.

Luna-Diez’ pioneering work aims to tease apart the mechanisms behind these advantageous trait changes.

Insect Symphony

Cutting edge research by Dr Berthold Hedwig into sound pattern recognition could lead to advances in machine hearing development and improving hearing aids.

Pattern recognition is an important feature in many key aspects of life, from mating in insects to complex communication in humans. Understanding this process is the goal of Dr Hedwig, from the University of Cambridge, using an elegant model system – the cricket.

Crickets rely on sound recognition via calling songs during mating, recognising specific chirp durations and intervals. Specifically, female crickets undergo a behaviour change on recognition of a preferred pattern, moving towards the source of the sound.

Dr Hedwig’s research, funded by the BBSRC, will make significant contributions to the understanding of pattern recognition in crickets, leading the way towards understanding this process in other classes of life.

Illuminating Research

Dr Neil Kad and his research team, funded by the BBSRC, are currently studying all the components of DNA repair (NER) at the single molecule level simultaneously for the first time.

Dr Kad, from the University of Kent, recognised the growing need to improve imaging technologies to study complex systems. The primary research is working to understand the essential process of DNA repair in bacteria, known as nucleotide excision repair (NER).

Using DNA tightropes and fluorescent quantum dots (See picture), Kad challenged the traditional views of DNA repair. This led to the discovery of novel enzyme interactions during the repair process.

The development and use of novel research technologies is of utmost importance for the future, increasing and challenging our current knowledge.