Past events

Recent Galton Institute conferences


Other recent events

  • Recent Advances in Genetics: a Third Teachers\’ Conference

    Once again, this was a well-attended event attracting almost 60 teachers, mainly from the North of England.  The event was chaired by Robert Johnston and also present was the President of The Galton Institute, Professor Veronica van Heyningen.

    Robert Johnston opened proceedings with a brief account of the aims and activities of the Galton Institute and a look a look at its history and that of Francis Galton.

    The first speaker was Professor Andrew Read (University of Manchester), the treasurer of the Galton Institute. He spoke at length on Epigenetics, beginning with the obvious example of X inactivation. He went on to consider DNA methylation, histone modification and chromatin conformation. He believes that “if you want to understand how cells function, you must understand gene regulation and that requires an understanding of epigenetics”.

    Dr Emma Woodward (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) was next to speak on Precision Genomics for Cancer. She began by considering the spectrum of variants that can occur in a population and then concentrated on those that increase risk for breast cancer. The best known and studied are the BRCA1/2 genes which are both relatively common and, if present, cause a significant increase in risk. It is now possible to calculate a Polygenic Risk Score, enabling clinicians to decide which might be the best drugs to administer. There has been significant success with PARP inhibitors and such precision medicine is clearly the future for treatment of such cancers.

    The last talk before lunch was given by Dr George Burghel (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) who gave a lively and animated account of the 100,000 Genomes Project. He introduced the subject by describing the Human Genome Project and thought that it “changed everything” and opened the way for genomics. The key has been the development of 2nd and 3rd generation sequencing which have revolutionised the speed of such work and dramatically reduced the cost. Such large-scale studies have begun to dramatically improve diagnosis and prediction of rare diseases since the variants linked to such conditions have been identified. However there are still plenty of challenging issues to address including counselling and ethical considerations.

    After lunch Dr David Thybert (Earlham Institute, University of East Anglia) gave his thoughts on Genomic Approaches to Studying Evolution. He explained how Neutral Evolution and Natural Selection can both fix alleles in a population and showed how it is possible to compare genomes between and within species to identify which processes are taking place. He described his work on rodents such as the Deer Mouse and the Spring Mouse and said that studying such species is like using evolution as a “natural laboratory”. It also enables researchers to discover the molecular mechanisms behind the functioning of the genome.

    Dr Nuria Martinez-Cibrian (Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) spoke next on T-cell Therapy and Cancer. She concentrated her enthusiastic and well-illustrated lecture on the use of Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cells (CAR-T cells) to treat aggressive cancers.  She described how the patient’s own T-cells are removed, infected with retrovirus carrying the anti-CD19 gene, expanded in the laboratory then returned to the patient, all within 35 days. Success has been significant but there have also been concerns over toxicity effects which are being addressed. The two most common are Cytokine Release Syndrome and Neurotoxicity. Both can be serious but management of them is improving all the time.

    The final speaker was Professor Simon Hubbard (University of Manchester) whose talk was entitled What is bioinformatics and how do you become a bioinformatician? He described how the science of Bioinformatics has evolved since the 1980s and had been driven by work in protein structure and DNA sequencing. Nowadays, there is so much of this work being done that “we’re drowning in data” and there is a desperate need for more bioinformaticians. Much of the work involves assembling the long chains produced so quickly by modern third generation DNA sequencing so the exons, genes, promoters etc. can be identified. Professor Hubbard described the somewhat unconventional route his career has followed and stressed that a good bioinformatician isn’t by necessity an outstanding mathematician but mustn’t be scared of statistics and should be comfortable handling data.

    This was an intense day for the teachers who attended but feedback from them included: “an excellent and inspiring day”, “has helped me develop my knowledge and understanding” and “would recommend ALL Biology teachers to attend. I can’t wait for the next one!”

    Robert Johnston

    You can see the following presentations:

    Dr George Burghel\’s presentation here.

    Dr Nuria Martinez-Cibrian\’s presentation here.

    Professor Andrew Read’s presentation here.

  • A meeting to celebrate the centennial of R.A. Fisher’s landmark paper: 100 years of quantitative genetics theory and its applications: celebrating the centenary of Fisher 1918 was held in Edinburgh on 9 October, 2018.  The Galton Institute co-sponsored this meeting and the lectures are available to view:

    Nick Barton – The infinitesimal model

    Sharon Browning – Identity by Descent and the Correlation Between Distant Relatives

    Ed Buckler – How to get to plant breeding 4.0, given that Fisher was right?

    Heather Cordell – Regional IBD analysis (RIA): linkage analysis in extended pedigrees using genome-wide SNP data

    Josselin Clo – How does selfing affect the genetic variance of quantitative traits? An updated meta-analysis on empirical results in angiosperm species

    Daniel Crouch – The genetics of the human face

    Michael Goddard – The Fisher Memorial Lecture – Genetic architecture of complex traits.  Quantitative genetics 100 years after Fisher (1918)

    Jarrod Hadfield – Hamilton’s rule in multiple dimensions

    Chandana Basu Mallick – Making sense of GWAS: understanding the genetic basis of human hair shape using mouse models

    Richard Mott – Structural variants as quantitative traits

    Josephine Pemberton – Quantitative genetics of free-living populations: successes and challenges

    Himani Sachdeva – Introgression under the infinitesimal model with linkage

  • Almost 60 secondary teachers from across the country attended this conference on 28 June aimed at increasing delegates’ knowledge and understanding of some fast-moving topics in genetics which are now appearing on A-level syllabuses. \

    The conference was chaired by Robert Johnston who began proceedings with an introduction to the aims and activities of the Galton Institute.

    The first presentation was given by Professor Graeme Black from the Centre for Genomic Medicine in Manchester. He considered ‘Gene sequencing and genetic screening techniques’. He described how Sanger sequencing had led the way but now ‘next generation sequencing’ is revolutionising work in this field. However, it generates enormous amounts of data which must be handled and interpreted by bioinformaticians. He gave examples of genetic ophthalmic disorders that have been studied in this way and concluded with a consideration of how ethical issues will arise as such work becomes more widely used.

    Dr Rob White from the University of Cambridge gave the second talk on ‘HOX genes and regulation of gene expression’. Having first considered the history of HOX genes in Drosophila melanogaster, he went on to look at how they code for transcription factors that bind to DNA at specific sites in almost all animals. Nowadays they are regarded as ‘micromanagers’ that regulate a large number of regulatory genes, at a variety of different levels. Some also appear to control neuronal circuitry in the CNS.

    Professor White went on to address the complex issue of gene regulation, describing ‘enhancers’, ‘cohesion complexes’ which control loops in the DNA, ‘insulators’ which act as fences within the genome and regulatory domains in the genome called ‘Topologically-Associated Domains’ or TADs.

    The final talk of the morning was given by Professor Bryan Turner from the University of Birmingham who discussed ‘Epigenetics: environmental and genetic factors’. He regarded epigenetics as ‘powerful’ and looked at how it allows us to interact with our environment and how it enables us to “escape the tyranny of our DNA”. He considered the nucleosome to be the beating heart of epigenetics as it is a sophisticated signalling agent, affected by the environment. He believed passionately that DNA is deterministic but is useless without epigenetic factors and wondered whether epigenetic changes were germ-line heritable. If so, perhaps Lamarck wasn’t quite so wrong after all. He concluded with a brief look at the role epigenetics may have in treating cancer using ‘Histone de-acetylase Inhibitors’.

    Following lunch, Dr Andrew Wood from the University of Edinburgh spoke about the fast-moving topic of ‘Gene editing (CRISPR/Cas9): principles, current and future uses’. He began by describing the basic principles involved using engineered endonucleases to make double strand breaks in DNA. He regards it as a “universal toolkit” for reverse or forward genetics, much of the early work having been carried out on C.elegans. He considered future potential uses in somatic gene therapy, both in vivo and ex vivo and questioned how far germline editing would be allowed in the future and whether it would be both acceptable and safe.

    Dr Rhona Macleod from the Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine addressed the conference on ‘Genetic counselling’, what it involves, how to train as one and how it has become a part of a much larger team in the Clinical Genetics Service. To help explain her role, she considered some real cases in a large family with a history of breast cancer. She explained how she approaches issues, allowing families time to understand the problem and helping them make the right decisions for themselves.

    Professor Andrew Read from the University of Manchester gave the final talk on ‘Precision medicine’. He began by stressing that this is not a new form of medicine but that modern biotechnology will allow improvement in three areas: diagnosis, prediction and treatment. He introduced the role of SNPs and GWAS as diagnostic tools and went into some detail in considering pharmacogenetics, an area of precision medicine which offers considerable hope in the treatment of certain diseases. There is huge variation between people in how drugs act, are metabolised and eventually eliminated and with a better understanding of this, it becomes easier to identify the ‘effective dose’ for a patient. He finished with a look at how cancer treatment can be individually targeted using precision medicine.

    Finally, Katherine Cresswell and Steven Edwards from Nowgen described the role of the Nowgen Centre and explained what opportunities are available to young people who want to find out more about the research that is done and who may want to be involved in public engagement exercises.                                                                                                                             Robert Johnston

    You can see the following presentations:
    Professor Andrew Read\’s presentation here.
    Professor Bryan Turner\’s presentation here.
    Dr Rob White\’s presentation here.
    Dr Andrew Wood\’s presentation here.
    Mr Robert Johnston\’s presentation here.

  • \Our first conference for teachers was held on 30 June 2015 at Nowgen in Manchester, focussing on the new areas of genetics on the A-level specifications.

    Robert Johnston chaired proceedings, opening with a brief history of the Galton Institute.

    Professor Andrew Read, from Manchester, gave the first talk on Genome Organisation followed by Professor Graeme Black from Manchester who spoke about sequencing methods and applications of genomics in the morning session, while in the afternoon he discussed Gene Therapy.

    Professor Heather Cordell from Newcastle gave an informative explanation of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and Genetic Drift while Dr Diego Villar Lozano from Cambridge considered Gene regulation at the genome level.

    Professor Rosalind John from Cardiff addressed the conference on Epigenetics and Dr Bella Starling closed proceedings by describing Nowgen’s work in public engagement.

    Delegates’ comments included:

    “Quite simply the best conference I have attended whilst I have been in teaching.”

    “I left feeling very motivated and refreshed.  I was reminded of why I chose to pursue a career teaching A-level Biology.”

    “It was the first time in years that I have been to an event to increase my subject knowledge. I really enjoyed it and will be looking out for more.”

    A report of this conference was published in the Summer 2015 newsletter.

  • \2013 marked the anniversaries of two momentous developments in genetics research: it was 10 years since the publication of the ‘gold standard’ human genome sequence, and 60 years since Watson and Crick identified the structure of DNA. To celebrate these events, the Galton Institute sponsored Nowgen – a centre of excellence in public engagement, education and professional training in biomedicine – put on a conference for young people studying A-level Biology on 9 December 2013.

    Over 80 A-level students from colleges around Greater Manchester came together to celebrate genomics; they met genetic scientists, who worked with small groups in interactive sessions to explore the latest research.

    The concepts introduced during the day were specially chosen to complement the A-level syllabus and to stretch students thinking about genomics and its impact. Feedback from both students and teachers was excellent, with over 97% of the students reporting that they enjoyed the day and learned a lot. The laboratory visits around the University and Central Manchester Hospitals, together with the practical activities, were highlights of the day for most students. Teachers were extremely impressed with the content and organisation of the day, with one describing it as “a fantastic and inspirational day”.

    A report of this conference was published in the Spring 2014 newsletter.

100 Years of Galton Lectures

For over 100 years there has been an annual Galton lecture. The range of topics over such a period has been considerable. A full list of the lectures is available to download


Galton Lectures on video

2018: Professor Robin Lovell-Badge - Genome editing to study regulation and regulation of genome editing.

2017: Professor Bartha Knoppers - Eugenics: The (Un)Ethical Trump Card?

2016: Professor Dame Linda Partridge, FRS - Nutrition and Lifespan

2015: Professor Alan Bittles - Patterns of consanguineous marriage across the world

2014: Professor Andrew Wilkie, FRS - Lionel Penrose and the paternal age effect for mutations - sixty years on


Galton Lectures on video