From food fraud to forensics
In March the Analytical Biosciences Group once again held its annual flagship event, the Early Career Researcher meeting, this year with the help of the Chemistry Department at the University of York as their hosts.
AUTHOR: Henry Day
Those who work or study in the analytical sciences will know that there is no shortage of analytical themed conferences. However, the committee feel that this conference fills a gap by providing an opportunity to hear talks from across the entire spectrum of analytical biosciences, encouraging knowledge sharing and collaboration across a range of seemingly unrelated fields. To that end, the program of the two day event was deliberately broad and the speakers were asked to not only cover their particular research, but also to focus on the application of the analytical techniques they used.
The first session began with the first of six keynote talks. Dr Blánaid White from Dublin City University described the benefits of the COMET assay as a means of investigating oxidative DNA damage at the cellular level. Using a modified version of the COMET assay her group have gone on to support industry partners in demonstrating the benefits of selenium–yeast formulations as feed additives – to not only prevent DNA damage but also promote DNA repair.
This was followed by the first of our early career talks, from PhD student Harry Sherman, who described his work to understand the electrochemistry of cancer cells and its impact on lung cancer biology.
Next there was an impassioned talk from our second keynote speaker, Adrian Charlton, on the wide range of analytical techniques his team uses to combat fraud in the food industry, and this was followed by more talks and then lunch. Over lunch delegates were able to explore the wide array of posters than were on display.
The organising committee pride themselves on attracting speakers from both academia and industry, and Kate Groves from LGC group kicked off the afternoon session with a highly informative talk on the different mass spectrometry techniques she employs.
One of the highlights of the first day was a passionate talk from Alfred Attah who, thanks to Royal Society of Chemistry funding, had flown all the way from Nigeria to talk about the his application of Maldi-TOF mass spectrometry in characterising bioactive circular peptides in Drumstick seeds, giving us a personal insight into science in Africa.
Starting with last year’s conference, the organisers have begun including a short section on careers, alongside the usual research talks. This year, Robert Bowles from the Royal Society of Chemistry gave a short talk on careers in analytical chemistry, before leading a panel discussion in which the audience were able to pose questions. The panellists, some of whom came from academia and some from industry, had a multitude of experiences both in hiring and in applying for analytical positions.
To end the afternoon conference guests enjoyed a wine reception, kindly sponsored by Syngenta, while continuing to discuss posters and the earlier talks. Later that evening, the conference dinner was a good opportunity to cement earlier discussions with new acquaintances into future friendships and collaborations.
It always helps if the first talk the morning after the conference dinner is especially engaging and our keynote speaker Sarah Fiddyment from the Department of Archaeology at York, delivered in spades with a fascinating insight into European History and culture – with her analysis of ancient rare books and parchment. Sarah’s work, in a totally different field to most in the audience, is testament to the breadth and depth of analytical chemistry applications and of the fantastic scope of the Analytical Biosciences Group.
Keynote speaker Nick Tucker from the University of Strathclyde described his use of Next-generation DNA sequencing in the fight against bacterial resistance. By observing genetic evolution of bacteria in real time, his group have been able to search for new targeted therapies that are difficult for the bacteria to develop resistance to.
Lunch was sandwiched by a pair of talks from the University of Liverpool both focused on understanding the properties of stem cells to better enable their therapeutic use. The first by Eve Rogers, described the novel application of mechanical stretching to direct the cell’s circadian clock and successfully synchronise stem cells from different tissues. The second talk by Mohd Fuad, explained the development of new surface-modified materials for use as a minimally invasive tool for harvesting stem cells from blood vessels, without accessing bone marrow, and using this to generate new red blood cells.
The talks finished with an enthralling and sometimes gruesome talk by Julie Evans from Alere Forensics, whose most famous work was as the toxicologist for the Harold Shipman Murders.
To close proceedings, all that was left was for the presentation of the prizes.
This year thanks to generous sponsorship, three prizes were on offer, 2 for posters and one for short talks from the early career scientists.
The Syngenta sponsored poster prizes went to Mechelle Bennett from the University of Nottingham in first place, and Anna Giela from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture in second place.
Finally the Jasco sponsored short talk prize went to Marta Koszyczarek from the University of Manchester.
This closed another successful early career researcher meeting for the Analytical Biosciences Group. The committee would particularly like to thank Kirsty High and Elizabeth Dickinson for their work in organising this year’s event and the Chemistry Department at the University of York for hosting us. We would like to thank our sponsors Syngenta, Agilent, Jasco and the RSC journals Analyst, Analytical Methods and Lab on a Chip for their generous support. We hope that those who attended enjoyed the event and will be back again for next year’s meeting, which we plan to hold in Cambridge.
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