Wednesday, 4 April 2018

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology

Our 2017-18 programme continued on Thursday 22 March with a fascinating insight into the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology with Prof Bernard Hallet from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in his talk: 'Genome Editing by CRISPR-CAS9: Turning a Bacterial Trick into a Biotechnology Revolution”.

Prof Hallet (pictured below) described the biological and chemical basis of the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technique and how the development of targeted genome editing systems, such as CRISPR, and their applications has moved forward enormously in the last decade.  In the last five years the field has undergone a quantum leap with the introduction of CRISPR-Cas9, the bacterial immune system which can be used to edit genomes on demand.

Bernard outlined how this serendipitous discovery that bacteria contained DNA sequences which were repeated, and interspersed with unique sequences, latterly identified as viral DNA, derived from viruses that had previously infected the bacteria.


It was then found that close to the CRISPR sequences, genes were located coding for CRISPR-associated proteins (Cas), which have nuclease activity. Together with small guide RNAs (crRNAs) which have been transcribed from the CRISPR locus, one or more Cas proteins form ribonucleoprotein targeting complexes, with each contain a single guide sequence. The Cas nuclease (usually Cas9) then cleaves the target DNA, marked for degradation by base-pairing with the crRNA.

In 2012, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna proposed that the CRISPR-Cas9 system could be used for programmable gene editing, an idea that has since been further developed by many research groups for potential applications ranging from creating smart model systems for fundamental protein research to enabling bio-engineers to modify crops and farm animals, and translational scientists to develop novel treatment approaches for inherited and acquired disorders for which curative treatment options are not currently available.


This fabulous CRISPR-Cas9 story provides the perfect example of how basic bacterial research has moved the whole scientific community towards the next biotechnological revolution and sparked an extended Q and A after the talk itself.

Charpentier at Louvain-la-Neuve
The title Doctors Honoris Causa will be awarded by the Universite Catholique de Louvain to Prof  Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany for her discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system and to Prof Malcolm Bennett University of Nottingham, United Kingdom for his work on the root system of plants at a ceremony on 18 April.

The ceremony will take place at the UCL campus of Louvain-la-Neuve (Life Sciences Institute, ISV) on Wednesday April 18. For more information on this event and to register visit the UCL-ISV website.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

An Evening with Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff

On Friday 23 February, RSC Belgium was delighted to host an informal evening with Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff. The event took place at the British School of Brussels and was a hugely informative and entertaining soiree with one of Europe's most eminent chemists and science communicators.


Staged in a Cafe Chimique style, with refreshments available throughout the evening, Prof Poliakoff first gave a short talk on his work and career covering his research interests focused on supercritical fluids, continuous reactions and their applications to Green Chemistry.  He also talked about the Periodic Table of Videos, which he hosts.


Prof Poliakoff then answered questions from the audience for over an hour before further informal questions at the end. Our audience for the evening ranged from six to seventy and an excellent time was had by all.

During the evening we took a collection to support our Norman Lloyd Scholarships at Cardiff University and raised a further EUR 200 for the fund. Many thanks to all who contributed.


About Sir Martyn
Sir Martyn Poliakoff CBE FRS FREng studied at King's College, Cambridge, gaining his Ph.D. in 1973 on the Matrix Isolation of Large Molecules. Following time at the University of Newcastle he joined Nottingham University in 1979. He is Honorary Professor of Chemistry at Moscow State University. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the RSC and the IChemE and was awarded CBE in 2008 for "Services to Sciences", and knighted in 2015 for "Services to the Chemical Sciences". He was Foreign Secretary and Vice-President of the Royal Society from 2011 to 2016.

A taster for the Periodic Table of Videos is below - featuring Hydrogen.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

RSC Belgium 2018 AGM Report

The section's Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place on Friday  2 February 2018 at Les Amis Dinent Restaurant in Wezembeek-Oppem at 19h30 and was followed by the section's Annual Dinner from 20h00. The meeting opened at 19:30 with ten members present but a further eight members, who were unable to attend the AGM in person, had asked the Chairman to act as their proxy for the meeting if a vote was required thus achieving our quorum.

Following recording of apologies received, the minutes of our previous AGM of 10 February 2017 were approved with no corrections.  The section secretary, William Darnley then presented the Committee Report on the Section’s 2017 Activities. During the year the section organised twelve events, four evening lectures, two weekend social events, both of which were guided tours, the usual two school/outreach events and the ever popular Cafe Chimique. The committee attended an inter-section curling event in Kent in December, and finally, the committee did some fundraising to top up the Norman Lloyd Scholarship Fund. Membership of the section stood at 129, a slight dip on last of four.

Among the highlights were the lecture on energetic materials presented by Dr. Matt Andrews of MSIAC at NATO, the guided tour around the “Het Anker” brewery in Mechelen at the beginning of September and the lecture on “Copernicus: the EU’s Earth Observation Success story” back in February. Feedback from Cardiff University about Ms. Jessica Powell (the third recipient of the Norman Lloyd Scholarship) was very positive. The recipient for 2017-2018 was named as Ms. Ffion Cartwright. The report was unanimously approved (proposed by David Terrell and seconded by Brian Sutcliffe).

Section Finances
The treasurer, Julie Tupenny presented the 2017 financial report and accounts. On the 1st of January 2017, the net assets of the RSC Belgium Section were €5918 approx. The annual grant from RSC UK was €6000, somewhat less than the requested €7000. However, with careful management and a very successful Summer Concert at BSB the financial situation is good. The committee aims to keep the account at around €7000 due to Belgian regulations where the section officers are personally responsible for any deficit, and to the end a grant of €7000 will be requested from HQ.

The treasurer personally thanked Ralph Palim F.C.A the Hon. Auditor for his thoroughness in auditing and approving the accounts for the RSC Belgium Section for the year ending 31 December 2017. He will continue as auditor for the section accounts for 2018.

The meeting moved (William Darnley), seconded (Brian Sutcliffe) and unanimously adopted the audited accounts and the Treasurer’s report.

Chairman’s Remarks
Section chairman Tim Reynolds thanked the committee for their hard work and support during the year. We had hosted an interesting programme and survived financially despite a lower grant than that which had been requested.

In particular he thanked two members of the committee that were effectively stepping down from the committee at this AGM – Becki Scott and John Swift who had or were both returning to the UK. He also thanked William Darnley for stepping up to take over Becki’s role as secretary.

The Chairman also noted the sad loss of two very good friends and supporters of the section’s activities during 2017: Dr Ian Carson and Prof Istvan Marko.

The Chairman also extended a welcome to the newly elected committee members and the incoming Treasurer. He looked forward to our varied and interesting programme for the coming year.

Committee elections
Nominations for Section Secretary: William Darnley. Elected with no objections

Nominations for ordinary committee members: Jane Downing and David Terrell. Elected with no objections

The first meeting of the 2018 Executive Committee was held on 20 February 2018.

Closing remarks
The Treasurer said she had found a way to make a modest saving for the section each year, by switching to digital bank statements. This was greeted with enthusiasm by all members present.


All business being completed the meeting adjourned at 19:55 and the Annual Dinner commenced. You can access the draft Minutes of the 2018 AGM here. These minutes will be presented to the AGM of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Belgium Section in 2019 for approval.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Potteries of the Caribbean

Our last lecture of 2017 took place on Friday 24 November and was given by our departing section secretary Dr Becki Scott who described her recent scientific adventures in the Caribbean in ‘Potteries of the Caribbean’. The lecture took place in the social area behind Brel Theatre at the British School of Brussels.



The Caribbean has a rich and varied past, often represented by ceramic objects. Ceramic objects are usually prolific on archaeological sites and therefore form a focus for many interdisciplinary studies.

These remains can provide a wealth of information about past cultures, relating to style, manufacturing technology, and ultimately past trade and resource management. Stylistic and typological studies can be used to create relative chronologies for a site, while chemical and petrographic analyses are used to provenance the raw material(s) used in the manufacture of the object. Although fragments of ceramics are sometimes available for destructive analyses, many objects held in collections are not. Likewise, these precious objects cannot always be transported to laboratories for further study.

Provenance
Becki was involved with a couple of projects focusing on the provenancing of ceramic objects from the Lesser Antilles. Ceramic fragments from excavation contexts in the Caribbean had been sent to Europe for destructive chemical and petrographic analyses. However, larger, more complete objects in collections on the islands of Grenada and St. Vincent could neither be sub-sampled nor exported.

Becki developed a method of using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (pXRF) to analyse these objects. In other words, she took the instrument to the objects, rather than the objects to the lab. The result of this work has meant that objects, which would otherwise not be analysed geochemically, could be used to contribute to studies determining the cultural interactions between the islands of the Lesser Antilles.

Find out more about Becki's Caribbean adventures and her work in other areas on her blog.

Bye-bye Becki
The event will also be a chance to say ‘au revoir’ to Becki (pictured below with her pXRF spectrometer) as she is now working at Greenwich University in the UK and is resigning as section secretary. However Becki did manage to make a final appearance for RSC Belgium as part of our curling team in December.


Dr Rebecca Beasant Scott – Becki - has been an active member of our section committee, which she joined in 2012, and has acted as section secretary for the past two years.

Born and brought up in Norfolk, Becki had an early interest in archaeology and took a BA in the subject at the University of Wales, Lampeter including a dissertation that focused on an area of south Norfolk that may have been in continuous occupation and use from the Iron Age to today. Joke?

She then took an MA in Cultural Landscape Management at Lampeter, followed by a MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield University awarded in 2008 for which she won the Inforce Prize for best overall academic performance.

This was followed by a PhD at Cranfield on the investigation and characterisation of colourless glass from forensic and archaeological contexts using multiple interdisciplinary analytical techniques.

A postdoctoral position at KU Leuven brought her to Belgium to research on the use of trace elements to provenance archaeological glass in 2010-2011. Followed by a second post-doc position in Leiden University in The Netherlands. Becki has now returned to the UK where she is employed as an Analytical Geochemist at the University of Greenwich on its Chatham campus.

Curling in Kent

Who knows where England's only curling rink is? We do - it is near Tunbridge Wells in Kent! And on 2 December 2017 a representative team from RSC Belgium went "Curling in Kent" with members of the RSC Kent local section at their annual curling event.

The venue was Fenton's curling rink near Tunbridge Wells in Kent and the RSC team (pictured below) consisted of section chairman Tim Reynolds, recent ex-section secretary Becki Scott (now a resident of Kent), Helen Lee (Mrs Chairman) and two locally recruited 'ringers' (friends of the chairman) Sally Wellsteed and Richard Hucker.

The venue was cunningly concealed deep in the Kentish countryside but was eventually tracked down just in time for a hot lunch of lasagna followed by two hours of curling.


Curling has been an Olympic Winter sport since 1988 and is one of the few events everyone can try. It is fair to say that curling is a game that is easy to play, but may take several lifetimes to master... however it was great fun and RSC Belgium aims to return in 2018.

The game is suitable for young and old, and can be played as a social or competitive sport. As England's only dedicated ice curling rink, Fenton’s offers a unique opportunity for people to give curling a go or just meet up for some fun. And there was very little sliping over thanks to the special 'sticky' shoes supplied by the venue.


Warm welcome
The Kent section have been organising a curling event for a few years now and the main protagonist, Dave Alker (pictured left, below), clearly saw the 2017 edition as a great opportunity to practice for the 2018 winter Olympics in South Korea.


This years' participants were a mixture of ‘regulars’ i.e. those who had embarrassed themselves on the rink in previous years, and newcomers. The participants ranged from 18 to 80 and included members, guests and partners as well as RSC staff member Stephanie Comte from the Networks team in Cambridge (pictured above with Tim Reynolds) and, of course, our Belgian contingent. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Dave and the Kent section are working for the 2018 event that will take place on 8 December 2018 at Fenton's. See you there?

Jessica: our Third Norman Lloyd Scholar

Jessica Powell,  the third recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University, has finished her first year at the university in 2017. Jessica (pictured below), who hails from Llandovery, was interviewed by Cardiff University’s Development and Alumni Relations office at the end of the year.


What degree are you undertaking and why did you choose the course here?
I am currently undertaking a masters in chemistry at Cardiff University, I chose the course here because of the high-level facilities and teaching available.

What’s the best thing about studying at Cardiff?
The best thing about studying in Cardiff is all of the opportunities that are made available to you throughout your degree, which allow you to broaden your knowledge and build skills that will be useful in the future.

Do you have a particular career in mind after you graduate?
After I finish my degree in Cardiff I am hoping to join the army as an officer, where I know that the analytical, problem solving and presentation skills, which I have developed during my degree will be of great use to me. 

What’s was your favourite module during your first year of study?
During my first year of study my favourite module was the foundations of physical chemistry, the module presented the key mathematical and physical background to explain the fundamentals of physical chemistry.

Do you have any hobbies outside of studying?
Outside of studying I play netball for the chemistry netball team in the IMG league, and I also take part in rifle shooting, in which I competed at a national level, representing Wales at a senior level over the summer.

What difference has this scholarship made to you?
The scholarship has allowed me to gain access to a wider range of textbooks and resources which helped me greatly during my first year, and will continue to assist my studies during the remainder of my course.

If you could say something to the donor who gave you this gift, what would it be?
I would like to thank the family of Dr Lloyd and the Royal Society of Chemistry in Belgium for this scholarship, it allowed me to excel in my first year of studying chemistry at Cardiff university, and further allowed me to gain a more in depth knowledge of all aspects of this course. 

We wish Jessica all the best for the future and every success in her future studies at Cardiff.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and Cardiff University in memory of our old friend and supporter Norman Lloyd. Norman was himself a student at an institution that is now part of the university. The funds raised provide an annual scholarship of £1,000 for an undergraduate student, usually in their first year of study. The scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales. The next Norman C Lloyd scholar will be selected in October.

If you would like to donate to the Norman Lloyd scholarship fund follow this link and specify that you wish to donate to the Norman Lloyd Scholarship fund in the comments box

Fourth Norman Lloyd Scholar announced

RSC Belgium is proud to announce that the fourth recipient of the Dr Norman C. Lloyd Scholarship at Cardiff University has been selected and is enjoying their first year at the university. Ffion Cartwright is from Llandovery and started her MCheM degree in Chemistry at the end of September.

Pictured below, Ffion originates from the small village of Mold in North East Wales, but is enjoying living and studying in the Welsh capital. She received the highest A Level scores of her cohort. The scholarship is given to new students to the Cardiff School of Chemistry who are of high academic standing and a resident of Wales.


In a letter thanking the section for sponsoring her award Ffion wrote:

"I would like to thank the Royal Society of Chemistry Belgium and all of Dr Lloyd’s family and friends for awarding me this generous gift.

It is a great honour to now be associated with Dr Lloyd, he had accomplished so many things in his time as a chemist in Barry, Cardiff, Michigan and Brussels. I have been very inspired by his story.
To be awarded this scholarship in his memory has made me feel so proud and has given me even more drive to do well in my degree. So, I intend to use the money on resources and textbooks which will greatly help my studies.

I am originally from a small village in North East Wales so the change to living in a city so far from home has been very daunting, but I have settled in well. I have lived in Wales all my life, so I have a great affinity towards my country, which is the main reason why I chose Cardiff for my place of study. Also, studying in Cardiff has given me the chance to continue my studies of the Welsh language. I have learnt Welsh from a very young age up to A level standard and did not want to lose the opportunity to use the language.

I decided I wanted to pursue a career in chemistry four years ago, as I enjoyed chemistry in school and had been inspired by the life of Marie Curie to study science. My love of chemistry is only growing through my studies and I am enjoying my degree immensely.

I would like to reiterate my thanks to all that have contributed toward the scholarship and those who have chosen me to be receive it, it means a lot to be recognised in this way and I am very grateful for this opportunity."

We all wish Ffion every success in her studies at Cardiff.

The scholarship
The Norman Lloyd scholarship was set up by RSC Belgium in collaboration with Norman’s family and Cardiff University in memory of our old friend and supporter Norman Lloyd. Norman was himself a student at an institution that is now part of the university. The funds raised provide an annual scholarship of £1,000 for an undergraduate student, usually in their first year of study, at the Cardiff School of Chemistry.

If you would like to donate to the Norman Lloyd scholarship fund, please contact the RSC Belgium secretary.