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Origin Day Lecture: Audience Question Four

Updated Tuesday, 24th November 2009
Could the panel list the tools of science that we can use at home to develop the future of biology?

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Armand Leroi (as Chair)

Gentleman, right there in the centre, can you get a microphone up to him?  And who else has a question?

Male speaker (in audience)

Could the panel list the tools of science that we can use at home to develop the future of biology?

Armand Leroi (as Chair)  

The tools of science that you can use at home, gosh, Randal you’re in, how about - well tell, I mean no, let’s recast this, I mean because Darwin was a do-it-at-home sort of chap, very much so.

Randel Keynes

Yes, I’ll just give you some clues.  One theme that I enjoy talking about is Darwin as a laboratory scientist, because he never, I think he almost never set foot in a proper scientific laboratory as we would understand.  He used his home, his grounds and the countryside around as his sort of outdoor laboratory, and among the things that he used were his wife’s corset stays, which he used in a beautiful model of how an orchid fires its pollen at passing insects for cross fertilisation.  He used his wife’s muslin to bag plants for pollination experiments again, he then went into the laundry and got out a clothes peg, the kind that had just recently been patented, and used it for a brilliant experiment to see how a plant root growing downwards, how strongly it can push the earth sideways as it moves and it’s brilliant.  I won't explain it, but how he translated the movements one way then into a form in which he could measure it and so on.  The point is not that there’s any one single thing around the house that you can use, I would suggest that we could all do well to remember Darwin’s example, and it’s not about one thing, it’s about just anything.  What he did brilliantly throughout his life was whenever he saw a way of solving a problem that involved something that lay outside the boundaries of accepted practice, good practice, he didn’t hesitate to reach out, to try it, see whether it worked.  I think what I would say is just anything.

Sandy Knapp

Plants are quite important though.

Armand Leroi (as Chair)

I know plants are important, and I would say…

Peter Bowler

….anything other than just sitting there watching the TV in a completely passive way.

Sandy Knapp

And I would echo that this actually.

Randal Keynes

Yes. They've always used before.

Armand Leroi (as Chair)

You know, my first reaction is, you know, everybody’s going to have their own sequencing machine, you know, in a kitchen sink in just a few years.  But my second thought is to take, you know, Peter’s point and Knapp and I of course there were sequencing as it were, there was the high tech equipment of Darwin’s day, and I guess he had an okay microscope, but he wasn’t a big lab scientist, it was really the simplicity of his experiments with the penetration of his thoughts, that’s, it’s not going to be kit that’s holding you back from being a new Darwin.



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