First EI LEGO sequencer, human DNA and endangered species: Earlham Institute does Norwich Science Festival

18 October 2018

Running our largest public engagement programme to date, we will be at Norwich Science Festival from 19 - 27 October, at the Forum and Norwich Cathedral.

With eight talks on life science research; from pink pigeons and koalas to killer fungus and sexy plants, you can explore the latest genomics techniques and technology that decode our living systems - including live human sequencing, the first ever LEGO DNA “channel” sequencer and a conservation trail!

Ocean Day, 19 October

Dr Tarang Mehta will be appearing at the festival for his second-year, speaking on “A kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and sustainable plates: diving into cichlid fish diversity”. As one of the largest vertebrate families, with at least 1,650 identified cichlid species (estimated 2-3k species overall), the cichlid is a shining example of genetic variation. EI has been studying their diversity in the African Great Lakes to find out more about how the remarkable cichlid has evolved at such an impressive rate.

Nature Day, 20 October

Continuing with vertebrate genomics, Dr Will Nash will be asking: “What can we learn from a high koala-ty genome?”. Alongside their Australian partners, this year, EI played an instrumental part in the first study of the koala genome - a milestone for species conservation and marsupial evolution research. Dr Nash explains EI’s bioinformatics expertise behind this internationally renowned project helping this vulnerable species.   

Camilla Ryan will be sharing her insight on the “Pink Pigeon’s Peril” and how EI is leading the revival of a close to the brink species living on the island of Mauritius. Genetically rescuing this unique species, Camilla and the research team partners at UEA are aiming to conserve the endangered pink pigeon by increasing its genetic diversity and tackle the negative impact of inbreeding.

Dr Mark McMullan rounds off Nature Day by discussing another devastated species - the Ash Tree in his talk: “Trees on the brink: evolution of the deadly ash dieback disease”. Detailing how this killer fungus is closing in on our 80 million ash trees in the UK, and how EI is helping to map its genome to seek out resistance genes and stop the pathogen’s population invasion of the beloved ash tree.

Engineering Day, 23 October

Prof Federica di Palma gives an inaugural lecture at the UEA on one of our main specialisms at EI, vertebrate genomics. By studying the unique differences between non-traditional model organisms such as the faithful cichlid and the fluffy bunny, we can identify complex evolutionary traits to discover what sets them apart.

Dr Nicola Patron gives us a new perspective with her talk “Building with Biology”, focusing on the advent of biomanufacturing and using synthetic biology techniques to engineer plant genomes. By drawing genetic information from bio-based products, natural-based alternatives can aid agriculture and medicine.

Technology Day, 24 October

Dr Rob Davey will be sharing his data science wisdom with this talk: “Down the tubes! Data science, the internet, and you”.  With the era of ‘big data’ and the huge amounts of data that we process through our supercomputers at EI, Dr Davey asks how is data generated on the cutting-edge of science? How do we keep this open and accessible, and how are you involved.

Dr Peter Bickerton will be hosting an interactive session about the growing underground movement of biohacking and how this can be applied to global food security: “Biohacking: Design your future food”. Previously working at an innovative indoor sustainable farming start-up and a Thought for Food Ambassador, Dr Bickerton delves into how genomic breakthroughs can design your own food.

NRP Day and Family Day, 27 October

Culminating our series of talks, Dr Bickerton will be explaining: “What is the Earlham Institute?” Through a weird and wonderful journey of life on earth, Dr Bickerton will show how EI is making a real-life impact on our future world by decoding living systems through advanced genomics, bioinformatics and mathematics.

To keep things interactive, we will be hosting two original activities. Follow our Pink Pigeon Trail to seek out why and how the species is threatened with extinction. Then go and see our amazing live ‘Ned-ome’ which will analyse human DNA with a groundbreaking portable, real-time genome sequencer, running alongside the first-ever LEGO sequencer which will sort cells to match specific species in our wide catalogue of genome blueprints.

Event lead and Scientific Communications Manager Dr Peter Bickerton, explains the importance of EI's science in a public forum: "It's crucial for scientists to talk about their work with the public, especially when advances such as ones we are showing off at the Science Festival have such relevance to everyday life. Genomics and bioinformatics have the power to revolutionise how we understand not just people, but all life on earth, and that can only help to improve our own lives and the health of the environment. We're excited to showcase this in such an innovative, interactive and fun ways this year!"

Notes to editors.

Notes to editors

Images can be found: 

For more information, please contact:

Hayley London

Marketing & Communications Officer, Earlham Institute (EI)

  • +44 (0)1603 450 107

About Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research Institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £5.43m in 2017/18 - as well as support from other research funders. - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.