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Department of Biochemistry

Science Day 2017 (4)


The Cambridge Science Festival is held each year during a two-week period in March. This Festival provides the public with opportunities to explore and discuss Science through talks, demonstrations, hands-on activities, film viewings and debates.


Science Day 2017

Science Festival Theme: Getting Personal

Department of Biochemistry Theme: Personalised Health


Science Day Logo (pink)



Our 2017 Event was held in the Hopkins Building on Saturday 18th March and was hosted by Gerard Evan, Jules Griffin and Trevor Littlewood. The event was themed around the title of ‘Personalised Health’ where visitors of all ages could participate in hands-on activities such as:




  • Changes in your DNA Cause Cancer
    Tiny changes in DNA happen as you get older. Each change is very rare – there is about 1 in 30,000,000 chance.  Only very few of these changes can cause cancer. Visitors could throw a Velcro ball at the DNA to see if they hit part of the DNA that will cause cancer.
  • DNA Sequence Bracelets
    DNA contains the blueprint for life. This activity is an enjoyable way of exploring the basics of DNA sequences. Make both strands of the DNA and you can choose to wear the DNA of a different animal or plant. Don’t forget that DNA is a chemical code that is made up of four bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (A, C, G and T for short). In DNA, A pairs with T, and C pairs with G. Using different coloured beads, visitors could create DNA bracelets.
  • How to be a DNA Sequencer
    Each of 37 trillion cells in a human body contains about 3 metres of DNA comprising 3 billion letters. It is now possible to determine the exact sequence of the four letters that comprise the DNA language in an individual’s cells in just a few days. The DNA is chopped into small pieces and the sequence of each piece decoded.  The thousands of sequences are then assembled into a whole genome by a machine that recognises small overlaps of matching sequence. You can also do it by hand (assuming that you can spare a year or two).  Visitors could generate a sentence (a gene) from the scraps of words (DNA bases) to see if any of the “genes” contained mutations.
  • Mutations Cause Cancer
    A mutation is a change that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or as the result of environmental factors such as UV light and cigarette smoke. It is estimated that 100-200 new mutations are acquired each generation. However, mutation can also disrupt normal gene activity and cause diseases, like cancer. Cancer is the most common human genetic disease; it is caused by mutations occurring in a number of growth controlling genes. Sometimes faulty, cancer-causing genes can exist from birth, increasing a person’s chance of getting cancer. Mutations in a gene called KRas are commonly found in many types of cancer. The mutations alter the activity of the KRas protein such that it is active all the time and cannot be switched off. Visitors could examine the mutant KRas sequence and how it affects the structure of the protein.
  • Preparation of Strawberry DNA
    DNA is the building block of all living things. Do you know what it looks like? Can you guess what it would feel like? With this workshop, visitors could use a soapy solution to burst open strawberry cells releasing the DNA into solution, after this the DNA was isolated so visitors could see exactly what it looks like.
  • The Structure of DNA
    DNA has a ‘double helix’ structure. Much like a spiral staircase, it has two single strands that join and twist together. The ‘steps’ of the staircase are made up of the four bases of DNA (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine). These bind together in complementary pairs (A with T, C with G). Visitors could build their own DNA double helix.
  • Personalised Health and Medicine
    While you might be what you eat, you are also what you excrete! Personalised medicine is aimed at getting the right medicine to the right people. While genetics play an important part in the equation there have also been advances in examining urine in understanding what makes us different. Studying urine has been around for a lot longer than you think. Rather than taste urine, these days we can use a variety of analytical tolls to detect different molecules in urine. Using pipettes, visitors could test 'urine' (apple juice) for diabetes.


There were also two talks which took place in the Biochemistry Library, Hopkins Building:


Science Day Volunteers


Departmental Volunteers: Phil Barry, Srinjin Basu, Amy Bithell, Lucia Correia, Caia Duncan, Chris Green, Michael Hood, Dan Hill, Aishwarya Jacob, Fynn Krause, Daniel Levy, Xuefei Li, Rory Little, Caitlin Littlewood, Elsa Loissel, Stephanie Low, Amy Marshall, Jennifer Mizen, Helene Mobbs, Sandy Norton, Oana Sadiq, Latika Soogumbur, Liz Willstead, Marta Wylot, Yunjia Zhang

External Collaborators


GE Healthcare

Each year, GE Healthcare hold one or more demonstrations at our Event. Thank you to Penny Hamlyn and Richard Fowler for their help and support.