One of my more pleasurable annual tasks is producing the volume of Mill Hill Essays. I commmission between 5 and 10 essays, mostly from authors at the Institute, then edit them and oversee the production. Print copies of the essays are sent to various universities and libraries and miscellaneous others, and they are also published on our website. I have got into the habit of plugging them on here so here we go again – the Mill Hill Essays 2013 est arrivé. This year they are a bit later than intended so apologies if you have been eagerly awaiting their arrival. This year there are six essays, one art project and four mini book reviews.
Cellular Alchemy: the science of reprogramming cells by Ben Martynoga
Ben is a postdoc in our Systems Biology Division. He chose his topic just before last year’s Nobel Prizes were announced, but I don’t think he had inside knowledge. He describes the ability to reprogramme cells as a kind of alchemy and explains the mechanisms of reprogramming and its potential, highlighting the work of John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka.
Bacteria maketh the man by Marc Veldhoen
Marc used to be a postdoc in our Division of Molecular Immunology, but moved to start his own lab at the Babraham Institute a couple of years back. He looks into our guts, and at the bacteria there – they are all around us and inside us. While some bacteria are harmful to humans, causing disease, other bacteria are essential for our health and play an important role.
Rob is also a postdoc, in our Division of Parasitology. He was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship a little while back and used it to travel to Malaysia to do some fieldwork on Plasmodium knowlesi, which is a parasite that causes malaria in macaques can sometimes also cause human disease. He writes about the history of this parasite and how it has become more significant for human health.
(E)MERGE by Carolien Stikker and Thomas Elshuis
Carolien and Thomas are independent artists. Their joint art project is based on visual research material from some of NIMR’s scientists.
Beyond the DNA code by James Turner
James is a programme leader in the Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics. This essay is a complement to Ben’s essay above, but focuses more particularly on the epigenetic mechanisms that control how genes are expressed in cells and the role of chromatin in regulating genes. I kept hearing about chromatin and its importance but I was never quite sure what it was all about, so I was glad to receive this essay – and of course to read it.
The jellyfish revolution by Donald Bell
Donald works in the Computer Image Analysis Lab, and has written about biological imaging. He describes the history and applications of GFP (green fluorescent protein) in biological imaging. This protein found in jellyfish has had a big impact on biological research.
Are we too clean for our own good? by Davina Sui Ann Chao
The NIMR Human Biology Essay Competition attracts around 100 entries each year from local schools. Year 12 students are invited to choose from a list of half a dozen preset topics and write a 1,000-word essay. The winning essay has the chance of being published in the Mill Hill Essays. This essay was the winning entry in the 2012 competition and explains the hygiene hypothesis.
The past two volumes of the Essays have included a series of short book reviews by Institute staff. My powers of persuasion seem to be waning and very few reviews came in this year (well, only one actually). Hence you will find my name on most of the reviews below. I review two short novels written by fellow OT blogger Steve Caplan and the biography of Griff Pugh.
- Book review: My beautiful genome: Exposing our genetic future
- Book review: Matter over mind
- Book review: Welcome home sir
- Book review: Everest – the first ascent. The untold story of Griffith Pugh
And now for the bad news. This is going to be the last of the Mill Hill Essays. There have been 16 volumes since 1995, and about 150 essays, but they stop here. We are looking at producing an anthology next year of some of the best essays, but not sure yet.