My first exposure to the concept of genetic disease was during my internship at a deaf school. I found it incredible that the assortment of four bases could have such a tangible effect on health and development. This sparked my curiosity in the theory of genetic mutation, and was my first introduction to Biochemistry.
Attending the Eton Universities Summer School taught me many new concepts and experiments relating to biochemistry. During a lesson, I inserted genetically modified pGLO plasmids into E.Coli. The plasmid contained a gene coding for green fluorescent protein, controlled by the Arabinose operon. While learning the underlying theory of the control system, I was drawn to the Lac Operon. I found it paradoxical how something as simple as bacteria could evolve such an intelligent system as the CAP/Cyclic AMP complex for preferentially choosing glucose as a metabolite. The practical helped me to understand the importance of experimental data in creating and learning about new scientific theories. This, in part, is what drives my ambition to participate in research after my degree.
Wanting to learn more about genetics, I read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, but instead found myself immersed in his chapter on ageing, and the Medawar theory of late acting genes. While it is true that selective pressures to remove late acting genes from the gene pool are few, I couldn’t imagine how conditions could exist that would only express genes late in life. I instead aligned more with the free radical theory of ageing, explained by Nick Lane in his book, Oxygen. By reading another of his books, Power, Sex, and Suicide, I learnt more about the mechanism of this theory, and the role of free radicals in intracellular signalling and gene expression. Maybe the late acting genes Medawar spoke of are normal genes that are periodically expressed in cell function; when the cell is under long term oxidative stress (i.e. from an electron leaking transport chain) the genes’ transcription factors could be oxidised, resulting in their continuous expression. The altered proportions of proteins produced could then have a detrimental effect on cell function, and contribute to ageing. While this may not be correct, reading Nick Lane’s books gave me a new perspective on the mechanics of ageing, and opened my mind to a theory that I hadn’t agreed with previously, by contextualising Medawar’s theory.
While reading A Very Short Introduction to Molecular Biology, I was struck by a segment on regulatory RNA molecules. I was particularly fascinated by the concept of RNA used in the regulation of gene expression. This led me to a Nature article about Riboswitches: RNA molecules that can bind to a ligand and change their physical conformation. This happens in the expression region of the riboswitch, and determines whether the RNA is transcribed or not, i.e. by forming hairpin loops, or cleaving itself. In this way, RNA can control itself using a system that is both simple and immediate. Taking biochemistry at degree level would allow me to learn more about cell function and control, but would also let me explore the full breadth of the subject, by using chemistry to explain biological processes.
Taking Further Maths has helped my ability to think both logically and analytically, which is particularly useful when I am introduced to new concepts in both my reading and A-Level studies. These skills have also helped me to achieve a silver award in the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge. I particularly enjoy statistics, and the perspective it brings to Biochemistry. Correlating physical conditions to gene mutations can bring us an insight into the role a gene plays in an organism.
Outside academia, I enjoy reading, playing hockey, and taking part in drama productions, both on and off stage. I want to study biochemistry because it offers both an explanation of the way that we as people live and breathe, and an understanding of microscopic worlds.