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The dark side of protein science

dark side of protein 2

Alexander Ward

dark side of protein

Alexander Ward

dark side of protein 4

Alexander Ward

16 December 2015

As part of the Pint of Science Festival, researchers from BrisSynBio participated in the ‘Dark Matters’ event. The event was held in Friska café, Bristol, and involved scientific crafts and discussions between researchers and the public.

For the second year running the Pint of Science Festival came to Bristol, hosting a total of 18 events over the course of three days.  The aim of the festival is to encourage scientists to go out and meet the public in the familiar and informal environments of pubs.  Events combined people’s love for science and beer, whilst providing an opportunity for researchers to showcase their research using interactive and alternative formats.

This year scientists from BrisSynBio organised the event ‘Dark Matters’. Director of BrisSynBio, Professor Dek Woolfson, along with Gail Bartlett, Jack Heal, Drew Thomson and Chris Wood, ran the event which took place in Rise/ Friska on the triangle.

The theme ‘Dark Matters’ was billed to Dek’s team and instead of following the conventional route of focusing on dark matter in the context of the cosmos, the team decided to take an alternative approach by focusing the event around the dark matter of protein space. Analogous to the idea of dark matter, protein science focuses on the protein structures that could theoretically exist but are not present in natural biology.

The night started with a short talk from Dek, who introduced the audience to the notion of the dark matter of protein space, and went on to explain that it is possible to invent new protein structures if we understand how proteins fold up into functional 3D shapes.

After a short break for beer, the scientists worked with the audience using plastic and paper models to create new proteins that might be part of the dark matter of protein space. A discussion was held where the audience were encouraged to chat about potential benefits, as well as possible pitfalls, from doing this type of research.

The event was well attended with Rise/Friska filling up with more than 60 people. The majority of the audience were not scientists, but the consensus appeared to be that this was ‘fun’ research that should be conducted. Engagement activities such as this event are not only a way of creating awareness of important research, but also offer a valuable way of gaining public perspective on research issues that one day may impact their lives.

Dek said: ‘The main things that I get from these events are the joy of being able to enthuse about our research, and learning how to get it across to people who are not necessarily scientists. This is demanding but rewarding.  On the night the audience was really engaged, and they dreamed up some wonderful new protein shapes through their model building.’


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