Thursday 20 December 2012

Seasonal Greetings to all

This time of the year is one of heightened emotions and passions. The pleasurable, such as meeting friends and family, the sharing of gifts, of looking back on a year and getting ready for the the next one. The negative, such as the pressure to conform to consumption, the pressure to "enjoy yourself", the worries about the past year and what the future brings.

For me, the benefits of the good outweigh the burdens of the bleak. It is in this spirit that this years Christmas Card video was created. I hope that you can share in the fun that I had creating it, thinking of a positive message for all family, friends, colleagues and readers.

Whatever your circumstances, I bid you cheer for this season and happiness and prosperity in the coming year!

Chris. December 2012

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Why Your DNA is like a shiny film DVD – but cheaper to fund

A layperson's guide to your DNA and why  mapping it is important for future cancer and other treatments and prevention.

The sun rose today and the government announced that it was going to fund something big. £100 million will be spent  mapping the  DNA sequences of 100,000 sufferers of cancers and other rare diseases in the UK. This will be the start of a genetic revolution in medicine! How?

After your parents had enjoyed that creative night of passion, a solitary sperm and a giant egg (relative to the sperm) fused together. Now they shared the 3 billion plus bits of information. That information is encoded in your DNA.

Three billion bits of information fits comfortably onto a shiny film DVD. And as the digital information on the DVD recreates a wonderful film, the information in the DNA provides the instructions to create the incredible unique individual that is you.

We know, (OK, engineers and scientists know), how to make the film DVD with its microscopic digital instructions and read these on a DVD player.  We are only beginning to understand the very basics of small parts of the DNA that makes up our human genome. We can recognise bits of DNA as genes with particular functions like making haemoglobin or digesting your food. But, to be honest, we are still a very long way off understanding how all the instructions are transformed into the miraculous you and me.

So, the strategy behind mapping the DNAs of 100,000 sufferers of cancer and other diseases is: To see if there are any differences or common features in the information encoded in the 100,000 DNAs by comparing them. Comparing 3 billion bits of information from each individual within even a select group is going to be an enormous task. After all, three billion letters is about 1500 volumes of the fat Harry Pottter book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

Fortunately, mapping your DNA has become a lot cheaper. Let's  ignore the  billions of years of natural  evolution leading to humanity. Perhaps we should also draw a discrete veil over the financial investment in romance leading to the nights of passion that created you and me. Mapping your  DNA sequence currently costs between £5,000 and £10,000. This is about 1% of the cost of mapping the first human genome in 2011, estimated at £500m!

£100m is therefore quite reasonable for the 100, 000 shiny DVDs worth of DNA information. After all, a good studio production to create an equivalent film costs tens of millions of pounds, so the investment sum is equivalent financing this year's blockbusters. And if you use double sided BlueRay discs, you can store the information more conveniently on only 7500 disks!

It is going to take years just to do the mapping of the 100,000 human DNA sequences. It will take even longer for all the discoveries and research to lead to successful treatments. So this is for the long term.

However, there will a point in the future where an older you or our children can go to the doctor, have our DNA sequences mapped at relatively low cost - and receive preventative treatment tailored to our unique individual genetic heritage.

Friday 7 December 2012

Making a candle from a small orange

Small orange or citrus fruit, particularly the easy peel varieties, can be used to make a simple candle.
If you cannot see the flash slideshow, the images can be viewed here:

  • Take the fruit and cut the peel carefully around the equator, without damaging the flesh underneath.
  • With the handle of a teaspoon or a blunt table knife, carefully loosen the peel from the fruit flesh, so that each peel hemisphere is only attached at the centre.
  • Loosen the orange segments and then carefully remove the peel hemispheres.
  • In most cases, one hemisphere has a pith wick, this forms the candle base. Cut a circle or star out of the other hemisphere.
  • Cut the pith wick to just a centimetre length. Then pour some sunflower or other vegetable oil into the hemisphere with the pith wick and allow to soak for a minute or two.
  • Light the pith wick carefully, this may take several attempts as the pith carbonises and soaks up the oil.
  • Place the other peel hemisphere on top, Voila!

Jane's Cheesy Fish Pie

Jane Thomas introduced me to Fish Pie and this is her recipe:

Jane’s Cheesy Fish Pie

(Serves 4)


300ml milk
1 heaped tbs cornflour
75-100g grated cheese (mature)
Salt & pepper
200g White fish
3 or 4 mashing Potatoes
Knob margarine or butter

  • Make a basic, but slightly thick white sauce. Stir in grated cheese.
  • Add fish to sauce and stir well. Chris cooks the fish in the sauce instead of oven baking later.
  • Cook potatoes till soft and make a firm mash with a little margarine or butter
  • Pour fish and cheese sauce into an ovenproof dish.
  • Top with mashed potato, sealing edges.
  • Cook in oven 170 degrees C/Gas 5 for 35 – 40 minutes till beginning to brown on top. Chris just grates cheese on top and grills the pie for 5 mins to brown the mash.